More than just DX News

3B8DB - The Old School Radio Amateur

While holidaying on Mauritius in December 2016, I tried to visit a few local Amateur Radio operators. Some of them are using state-of-the-art technology, while others prefer more traditional approach to this communications hobby. Taher, 3B8DB, likes the old-fashioned way. He lives in the middle of the island on a plateau, where it is cooler, in a densely populated area. I had his address, but wasted an hour looking for a street name and a house number. No way, this is a country of predominantly oral communication. One has to ask to find out the name of a village or a street, signs are very sparse and mostly illegible. Be prepared to use French language sometimes, although English tongue is official here. Anyway, Taher gave me instructions on the phone and I found his house. The antennas are not visible from the main street.

Taher, 3B8DB, is now 75 years old but seems to be younger. He received his Amateur Radio licence 46 years ago, soon after Mauritius had become independent. Taher worked for many years as radio operator and technician in the meteorological service, but is now retired. He was trained by the British Royal Navy at the Vacoas station, not far from his present QTH. The station covered large parts of the Indian Ocean.

The radio room of 3B8DB is filled with radio transceiver and accessories. Not all items are in working condition. Taher likes to repair and fix all kinds of electronic equipment, but getting spare parts and components is extremely difficult. The cost of shipping anything to Mauritius is scary; it can be 5 times higher than the value of an item.

The HF antennas of 3B8DB on the roof. Left - an old Hy-Gain TH3-Jr for 14-21-28 MHz, which was completely restored by Taher, right - a home made 3 element Yagi for 24 MHz from recycled aluminium tubing. In spite of being 75 years old, he does all the antenna work himself, using tricks and ingenuity.

Taher likes older transmitters with tube finals as they are less prone to fail, and sturdy hand keys for sending telegraphy. He does not use any computers in conjunction with the radios.

This vertical R7 antenna has been refurbished and is ready to be erected on the terrace. Soon will Taher get on 40 meters using this antenna. There is not enough space for an 80-meter radiator and the level of man-made noise in town is very high, so there are no plans for low-bands. When cyclone alerts are issued, the antennas must be taken down or else they will fly away.

Taher can tell many interesting stories, not only related to radio. He is also a qualified expert in massage, keen on health foods and lifestyle.

Taher, 3B8DB, is a member of the local Mauritius Amateur Radio Society. There are almost 30 members in the club. Two of his granddaughters are among them, and they hold B-class licences, allowing the use of VHF bands only. A cross-band repeater - 144 MHz/432 MHz - is operational in the island and it is also linked to the French island Reunion, some 200 km to the west. Mauritius has many relatively high peaks and the line-of-sight communication is hampered.

I always recommend visitors to contact local radio amateurs before going to a country without ample supply of radio components and materials. Sometimes bringing a relatively small item can be well appreciated, even vital for keeping a DX-station on the air. The DXpeditions are efficient but short-lasting, a resident active operator is there year-round.

Henryk Kotowski, SM0JHF
December 21, 2016