Radio Amateur Class B licencee Rafidah Muhammed tells Rozana Sani of the friendship, goodwill and charity flowing through amateur radio operations
THE sudden afternoon downpour makes it gloomy in Bangi, Selangor. So much so that the atmosphere in an action-adventure hobby store tucked away in a block of unassuming shoplots takes on a mysterious air.
Packed with gadgets and collectibles, this is where Rafidah Muhammed, 40, spends a big portion of her time. Here she runs hobby store RNJ Venture in Bangi, Selangor with her husband, former national weightlifter Ahmad Janius Abdullah.
The venue is also headquarters for the Association of Two-Way Radio Communications Fans of Selangor (Persatuan Peminat Komunikasi Radio Dua-Hala Selangor, or better known as Pradas), a society which provides amateur radio fans a platform where they can learn about and train in constructing, experimenting and communicating using two-way radio equipment legally.
Rafidah is one of the few female committee members in the association. Apart from being the treasurer, she is also an Amateur Radio operator — also called ham radio operator — having earned a Class B licence from the Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in 2008 that enables her to operate radio equipment from a home, a vehicle and anywhere in the country.
“I’ve always been keen on exploring new things,” says the Jasin, Malacca-born.
As a child, for example, Rafidah was involved in sports. She was part of her primary school netball team since Standard Four. When she went on to do her accounting degree at Universiti Utara Malaysia, she played netball for the varsity. Rafidah volunteered in the 1998 Commonwealth Games and met her husband Ahmad Janius, then an army commando who represented Malaysia in weightlifting. Romance bloomed and they got married in 1999.
“When my husband retired from the service in 2004 to set up RNJ Venture, I helped out part-time while working in accounting. I left to join his business full-time two years later. Some time in 2007, my husband spent some RM1,000 on radio equipment. Given our situation at that time, I was annoyed. But instead of scolding him, I decided to learn more about amateur radio,” says Rafidah.
A NEW HOBBY
Rafidah’s research led her to Pradas. Set up in 2007, it has members from all walks of life mainly in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur who communicate via hand-held radio units or mobile radio set-ups and antennas in vehicles using the 142.800mhz frequency, which is a commercial frequency allocated by MCMC. Members include young people and retirees, teachers and students, engineers and doctors, mechanics and technicians, and even homemakers.
“Pradas is like a training ground for newcomers in the amateur radio world. Transmitting through 142.800mhz frequency only, I can liken it to Facebook where we make friends and put out status, information and give comments. But instead of text, we broadcast live on air.
“There are those who respond and there are those who listen. I can’t explain it but there is a sense of camaraderie among us,” says Rafidah, adding that there is always someone on air to listen and talk to 24 hours in a day.
With an aim to have more ham radio operators in the country, Pradas — a commercial band— provides members first-hand training and knowledge on the proper handling of equipment, procedures and the do’s and don’ts as stated in radio guidelines issued by MCMC.
Training is conducted by licenced radio operators. As most members do not yet have amateur radio licenses, Pradas issues callsigns, which are regarded as identities with a prefix and a suffix, to members to use on the particular radio frequency. This callsign promotes self-discipline and trains newcomers on using proper procedures when they become licensed radio operators.
Always up for a challenge, Rafidah sat and passed the Radio Amateur Exam for a Class B licence in 2008.
“It is a two-hour exam with 100 multiple-choice questions. Topics include radio operating practices, telecommunication rules, basic electrical theory and relevant telecomunications law and regulations,” she says. She received her MCMC issued callsign 9W2JSJ (Nine Whiskey Two Juliet Sierra Juliet) upon passing the exam, and stayed in touch with other hams in her area using the VHF band.
The next step for Rafidah is to get the Class A licence which will allow her to use voice, morse code or computers across all ham frequencies and bands.
As a member of Pradas, Rafidah truly enjoys the friendship forged through two-way communications radio.
“There was one instance some two years ago when a Pradas member sent out a distress call late at night. One of his car tyres was punctured on the Middle Ring Road 2 highway. Those who listened in passed on the message and highlighted it on air and immediately someone came to his rescue. From that incident, I knew if I had my radio unit and if I encountered trouble, I have friends I could rely on.”
To strengthen the bond among members, Pradas also holds convoys and gatherings three to four times a year, apart from holding its annual general meeting.
“We hold goodwill programmes to help orphanages and also helped out during natural disasters like the 2011 landslide in Hulu Langat which wiped outan orphanage.”
Pradas has a rescue unit headed by Shukor Hashim, a licensed ham operator, who responds to distress calls detected through the various radio frequencies.
“Sometimes when disaster strikes, the amateur radio service is the only source of communication, with others out of service, like it was in tsunami-hit Acheh. Using the simplest radio set-ups and antennas, amateurs can communicate with each other during emergencies.
“We have been heavily involved in providing communications supporting rescue missions during the recent floods in Dengkil by relaying information from members to the respective authorities,” says Shukor.
He has 13 radio devices in his car which are on round the clock to track emergencies and search and rescue missions. He has spent more than RM30,000 on the devices. He also likes to work on electronic circuits, building his own radios and antennas, like many other Pradas members.
Pradas intends to muscle up its abilities to assist the relevant agencies in emergency rescue missions.
“We are in discussions with Rela Selangor volunteer corp to have cross-membership. This will enable our respective members to provide assistance in any programmes involving the two organisations. We are also extending membership to car clubs,” says Pradas president Mohamad Fadzil Omar.
Mohamed Fadzil says Pradas will be holding a class for members and non-members on Dec 19 to prepare for the Radio Amateur Exam.
“Technology-wise, we’re looking into how we can use digital technology. The frequency is the same but the technology will enable us to broadcast data and this creates countless possibilities for members,” he says.
And, of course, there are plans to increase the 1,200-strong membership.
As a key administrative personnel at Pradas, Rafidah looks forward to welcoming more people to the world of two-way radio communications.
“There’s nothing like that feeling of going on air and getting to befriend people. This hobby gives you that high,” says Rafidah.