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Meet Venugopalan, a ham operator, with a penchant for vintage radio devices

M Venugopalan at his ham radio station at Thuravoor

KOCHI: In Kerala (India) among the hundreds of radio amateurs or hams, M Venugopalan of Thurvaoor, a retired Air Force Group Captain, stands out for his collection of vintage radio equipment. At his home, named Harivarsham in Thuravoor, he maintains and repairs communication equipment dating back to the Second World War era.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, involves the non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, private recreation, and emergency communications using the radio frequency spectrum. Venugopalan has a particular interest in Morse code communication, which was the standardised method of communication used by ships, the military, and amateur radio operators before the communication revolution.

“Morse code is still used by a limited number of hams. Through this wonderful hobby, I communicate with around 350 profiles across the world. I spend around two hours a day communicating with them,” Venugopalan said.

Obtaining a ham licence used to be a laborious process before 2000, requiring police verification as well. However, the rules have since been simplified, allowing operation in non-restricted areas across the country. While some people use ham radio to assist the government in rescue operations during natural disasters, Venugopalan considers it a hobby.

“Some people claim that they use ham radio to help the government in rescue operations during natural disasters. For me, it is a hobby. During the 2018 floods, I was serving at Sulur Air Force Station in Coimbatore. I came to Kochi and operated the ham radio helping the district administration in locating flood victims,” he said.

Venugopalan boasts the largest collection of radio communication equipment and Morse keys in India, dating back to the 1930s. He plans to establish a ham radio museum in honour of his mentor, Prof R Jayaraman, the former principal of Trivandrum Engineering College, where Venugopalan studied mechanical engineering.

“I acquired my ham licence at the age of 15 in 1977. Following that, I pursued my BSc at Ernakulam Maharaja’s College and later enrolled in Trivandrum Engineering College. Despite being a civil engineer, Prof Jayaraman, a self-trained expert in electronics communication, played a pivotal role in honing my skills. Together, we established a club station at the college.

However, upon completing my engineering course, I joined the Air Force, which compelled me to put my passion on hold due to certain restrictions. I served as a pilot officer, specialising in the Russian Ilushin-76 transport aircraft. Fortunately, the Air Force relaxed the restrictions on ham radio operations in 2000, and in 2014, I reignited my passion under the new call sign VU2MV,” he added.

Venugopalan served in the Air Force for 32 years and retired as the chief of quality assurance in the rank of Group Captain. “Ham radio is a specialised hobby that I pursue experimentation and non-commercial intercommunication. Additionally, I have a passion for collecting old communication equipment, and I have been fortunate to receive rare pieces as gifts from my friends.

One notable example is the BC348 N, a receiver used by American bomber aircraft during World War II, along with US-made Drake TR3 and TR4 transceivers from the 1960s. Prof Jayaraman generously shared his collection of amateur radio magazines dating back to the 1960s with me. As part of my plans, I intend to establish a library within the museum where young enthusiasts can come and learn about communication and engage in amateur radio operations,” he explained.


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