National Radio Centre – Promoting Amateur Radio!

National Radio Centre – Promoting Amateur Radio!

The RSGB National Radio Centre at Bletchley Park plays an important role for amateur radio, both for its historic merits as well as its ongoing commitment to the promotion and development of the hobby in the UK. As a major supporter of amateur radio and the NRC, Icom UK is pleased to have supplied two of its latest SDR radios, the IC-7300 and the IC-9700, to allow the NRC's team to demonstrate as well as promote amateur radio on the air.

The National Radio Centre is a major asset for the RSGB and has been immensely successful. In 2017 the centre welcomed 23,000 visitors and this has increased in 2018 to more than 55,000 visitors. Year to date in 2019 (end of September) the centre has seen just over 80,000 visit the NRC to see amateur radio in action…. a major success story.

The National Radio Centre officially opened on 11 July 2012. Its primary goal is to promote amateur radio as an integrated technical hobby and encourage people to become radio amateurs. Its other goals are to help increase awareness of the hobby, so that (for example) neighbours might be more informed when a planning application or EMC issue arises. On a broader level, the centre plans to demonstrate that amateur radio can be part of a wider STEM application and that a career in engineering (particularly radio communication engineering) is very worthwhile.

The centre has three main areas …

Area 1 - Foyer
This area demonstrates the important role wireless and intercepting radio signals played in the success of Bletchley Park. This includes information about the military wireless intercept stations, the role of the Voluntary Interceptors and the Secret Wireless War.

Area 2 - Technology area
There is a theatre zone running a short film which illustrates the continued importance of wireless in society today; a history timeline outlining the important milestones in wireless development; an interactive display of the Electromagnetic Spectrum explaining how radio waves are propagated and used at different frequencies; a series of hands-on demonstration cabinets, explaining the fundamental aspects of radio, such as oscillation, resonance, modulation; and finally the Future Zone which is an area looking at some possible future developments in radio use including an overview of software-defined radio (SDR).

Area 3 - Radio room
Volunteers demonstrate amateur radio from LF (80m) through to UHF (70cm) bands, running CW / SSB / AM / FM / FT8 / JT65 / D-STAR, as well as tracking several amateur satellites. This area is where the new Icom radios can be found.

Icom UK has supplied two of its latest amateur radio SDR radios to the NRC in addition to the GB7BP D-Star repeater which is onsite at the centre.

The IC-7300 is used (with TX disabled) for visitors to tune around the amateur bands giving practical hands-on experience of using a high-grade modern SDR transceiver. The IC-9700 is the NRC’s flagship VHF/UHF transceiver for 2m / 70cm operation, running CW / SSB / FM simplex and repeater / D-STAR digital amateur radio.

The main benefits of having the latest Icom SDR radios at the centre:
• Existing amateurs can try new aspects of the hobby
• An amateur whose licence has lapsed can get active again and back on the bands
• Encourage people into the technical hobby by using some of the latest technology available commercially on the amateur market

These radios allow the NRC to demonstrate many exciting aspects of amateur radio to visitors and inspire them because of:
• Ease of use and small physical footprint – nicely accommodated on the radio bench
• A huge range of bands available in just two radios (IC-7300 / IC-9700)
• The ability to demonstrate/run several radios simultaneously when the radio room is busy with different groups of visitors
• The opportunity to run D-STAR repeater QSOs, which previously the NRC was unable to demonstrate to visitors

Martyn Baker (G0GMB) National Radio Centre Coordinator, said, ‘The radios are in operation every day and despite heavy usage they have proved to be very reliable and easy to operate. The volunteer team has readily adopted them.’

The NRC is staffed and managed by 45 enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers. The volunteers are fundamental to the running of the NRC and ensure that it is open for the visiting public…without them the centre could not function!

From time to time, the volunteers help to run special events; these have included workshops covering:
• Build a Radio
• Youngsters on the Air (YOTA) days
• Introduction to Amateur Radio
• Foundation Licence training and exams
• Special event displays supporting Bletchley Park’s 1940s weekend

Martyn said, ‘In addition to active radio amateurs we regularly engage with radio amateurs who have allowed (perhaps for family or work reasons) their licence to lapse and we actively encourage them to return to the hobby.

Many visiting radio amateurs come from abroad, often from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA. All remark on a fantastic facility helping to promote amateur radio and encourage interested persons to become SWL’s and study for their licence.

Martyn said, ‘Although the NRC is open to the public in line with Bletchley Park opening hours, we do welcome private radio club visits by prior arrangement during the evening, where members can have dedicated access to the NRC facilities and enjoy operating the various radios comprising the station GB3RS.'

One of the major things that has come from the support is that how well visitors have responded to is D-STAR. Running D Star repeater QSO’s has added a new dimension to the NRC radio room because:
• Audio quality is crystal clear (for the untrained (visitor) ear, listening in to an SSB QSO is hard work)
• Most operators are quite ‘chatty’ on D-STAR, so it is nice to be able to demonstrate a ‘real QSO’ (not just a 59, QRZ, who’s calling, typical of many HF QSO these days.)
• Hence, because of the above reasons, it is much easier to arrange for a visitor to pass a ‘greetings message’ across the airwaves via a D-STAR QSO – this is the experience that so many visitors enjoy and remember

Martyn Baker said, ‘Both the RSGB, and in particular the NRC, are most appreciative of the provision of both the IC-7300 & IC-9700, as, without them, it would be much harder to inspire visitors and potentially recruit new interest in the hobby of amateur radio.’

Visitor numbers are expected to be higher this year and that is down to the hard work and dedication of Martyn and his team of volunteers. Icom is delighted to be supporting the National Radio Centre in its promotion of amateur radio.

To find out more about the National Radio Centre visit and if you are a member of the RSGB, don’t forget you can get into Bletchley Park and the NRC for free by downloading a voucher at:


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