Under the light of a 60-Watt bulb in his ‘radio shack’ at his home at Kannanchery here, M. Sanil Deep has travelled the world through his HAM radio for three decades.
Mr. Deep, or VU3SIO as he is known in the wireless world, is a lucky man. He has not lost any memory to the vagaries of time. In fact, he can pull them out, one by one, at a moment’s notice from his antique iron boxes, caress, and relive them.
His memories are in beautifully printed colours, picturesque, multi-lingual, of distant countries he has never been to and friends he never met in person.
One of them is a Thank You card showing the moonlit Adriatic Sea. The blue-lettered scrawl on its side reads ‘Dear Sanil, nice to hear you while flying over the Adriatic Sea, - Don.’
“Don is a commercial pilot. I patched onto him while he was flying the Balkans in July 1999. We talked about the weather. He sent me this card as a memory of that brief conversation. These boxes are full of such memories,” Mr. Deep said.
Thousands of such cards, stashed away in bundles inside the boxes, are testaments to his dedication to his hobby as an amateur radio operator or HAM. A recent recognition has come from the American Radio Relay League, which awarded him its prestigious Diamond DXCC Award.
For the bank employee, the century’s events, culture, and wars have unfolded through snatches of conversation in the background of loud static and hollow whistles from the radio.
It’s Sunday. The transceiver is lit-up in his shack —an upstairs room in his home — and searching for signals across the seas. Maps, radio parts and posters from radio stations hang on the walls. Mr. Deep tunes in scouring the European radio frequency.
“It usually takes after 5 p.m. for the Americans and Europeans to come aboard,” he says during a break, before he dives back into the airwaves.
“CQ…CQ…This is VU3SIO. Is anybody there? Please come on air,” he speaks into the microphone, fingers lightly adjusting the transceiver knobs. The answer is blank static. The fascination for radio started in 1974, he says. “I got hooked to the radio, it was an analog version. I used to listen to foreign stations such as Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Australia which played English songs,” he said.
In time, he explored with other radio frequencies and hit extinct ones such as Radio Luxembourg, the German SUDWESTFUNK, Radio Suriname, Radio Mediterranean in Malta, and even Radio Baghdad — Voice of the Republic of Iraq in 1984.
He sent letters to the radio stations, detailing the time, the frequency and the name of the programme as proof that he had listened to them. They wrote back, thanking him for his interest. Today, he has a collection of such ‘radio listening’ cards from 140 stations across 108 countries.
One of such cards is from Virgin Radios in London, advising in Cockney slang to not drink and drive. “Smarty pants, don’t drink and drive. Be a wise Johnny, share a cab,” it says.
“One day, I kept turning the knobs on the radio and got catches of conversation. Hollow and out-of-world. I was curious, the voices mostly talked about weather and their home. They were all sorts, even Russians during the heights of Cold War. I later got to know they were HAMs. That was the beginning of my passion,” he said.
In 1988, he went to Anil Koliyot, another amateur radio operator in Kozhikode, for advice. In the next two years, he got an amateur HAM licence.
“And the journey started for me,” he said.
“In case of natural disasters, we are the second line of communication,” he said. He was enrolled as a radio operator in rescue missions when the tsunami hit the west coast of Kerala in 2004. Recently, he was deputed by the National Institute of Amateur Radio in the rescue missions when disaster struck Uttarakahand. He says HAMs, as a rule, avoid discussing business and politics. “It is a hobby. We talk about music, culture, family, and technicalities of our hobby,” he said.
So is language a problem? “I used to have trouble understanding them initially. But the Europeans, Russians, and the Chinese have picked up English over the years. They speak much better now,” he said.