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Radio Today Video Review

ZL9CI Campbell Island

Written and filmed by James Brooks, 9V1YC

Reviewed by Radio Today editor, Steve Telenius-Lowe, G4JVG

This professionally-produced video is arguably the best amateur radio video yet made. It tells the story of the January 1999 amateur radio expedition to Campbell Island, one of New Zealand’s sub-antarctic islands in the Southern Ocean. The expedition became a record-breaker, making over 96,000 contacts, more than on any previous such expedition.

The expedition group was fortunate indeed in having James Brooks, 9V1YC, amongst its number, for James, in addition to being a top CW and SSB operator, is a professional video producer and cameraman based in Singapore. And it shows. The technical quality of the video is excellent; there are no jerky hand-held sequences on this film! The audio quality is excellent throughout too, with every word of the actuality footage clearly audible. Often one thing which lets down an otherwise well-made amateur video (amateur in both senses of the word) is the narration. Again, top marks to the ZL9CI team, who used what sounds like a professional New Zealand voice-over man for the job (sadly, he wasn’t named in the final credits).

The group travelled to Campbell Island from Wellington, New Zealand, on board the Braveheart, a converted Japanese research vessel which was refitted especially for the expedition. She is the veteran of a number of National Geographic expeditions to remote parts of the world, and the group was in safe hands with the very experienced captain and crew. One of the film’s lighter moments comes when the captain, affectionately known as Captain Ahab, shakes his head in disbelief at the antics of the expedition operators, saying he’d never understand radio amateurs - yet apparently still quite admiring their skills.

One of the restrictions placed on the group’s permit to land on Campbell Island was that the island must not be occupied over night. Every night, before midnight, the group had to take the tender back to the Braveheart, only returning to the island at first light. To monitor this, and to ensure there was a minimum of disruption to the island’s wildlife, one of the expedition members was Jason Christiensen, an employee of the New Zealand Department of Conservation, which administers the island. Although a licensed radio amateur in his own right (callsign ZL2URN), Jason is not a DXer and in one scene he is shown attempting to cope with the ‘pile-ups’ which result each time ZL9CI went on the air. His plaintive cries of "come on guys, give me a break!" as he struggles with numerous simultaneous callers should make everyone realise that there’s a lot more to this DXpeditioning lark than just taking a radio and antenna to a remote island.

Of course not all radio amateurs are interested in DXing, and it’s fair to say that most amateurs who are not interested in DXing would not want to read an article on a major DXpedition in a magazine like this one. Yet I defy any radio amateur not to be held in thrall by this video. For it is not just the story of an amateur radio expedition. It is also a true life adventure story, a story of a disparate multi-national and multi-ethnic group (the members came from New Zealand, USA, Canada, Japan, and Ireland, both North and South) working together to achieve a common goal. It’s a history film, explaining why Campbell Island, once inhabited by sheep farmers, whalers and sealers, became uninhabited. It’s also a wildlife film that wouldn’t discredit Sir David Attenborough, with one extraordinary sequence showing a shot of a one-tonne elephant seal’s trunk and mouth up so close up you can almost smell the stench of fish on his breath!

The video gives a far better indication of the sheer scale of such an undertaking than any magazine article ever could. ZL9CI had up to eight stations, each with linear amplifiers, operating simultaneously. There were two antenna fields, one for SSB and one for CW, separated by some 300 metres, and covering each band from 6 to 160 metres with monoband or duoband antennas. When ZL9CI came on the air, with six stations at once, over 11,000 contacts appeared in the log on the first day alone! That’s more than most radio amateurs will make in a lifetime of operating. There must have been an enormous amount of planning necessary to pull off such an operation.

There are one or two scenes which are, perhaps, slightly too long. For the radio amateur these may include the outward journey to the island (although this does give a very good impression of the distance involved and the sheer remoteness of Campbell). For some (including many radio amateurs, it must be said!) periods of Morse code at 30 - 35WPM may not make a great deal of sense. That aside, whether or not you’re interested in DXing, this is a beautifully-made film, capturing the stark wild beauty of one of the last-remaining truly remote places on earth. The video is a ‘must’ for any radio amateur interested in DXing. It would also be ideal for a radio club. There’s sufficient historical and natural history content to make it of interest to the whole family - the kids will love the scene-stealing seals!

For me, the best bit was when G4JVG worked the expedition - yes, of the 96,000 contacts made, the only European SSB QSO captured on the video was the single contact made by your editor, on 20 metres long path one morning. So now there’s no excuse, I’ve really got to go out and buy the video!

60 minutes

Available in EU from: Declan Craig, EI6FR, 167 St. James's Road, Greenhills, Dublin 12, Ireland, e-mail: westnet@iol.ie, price US$35 or £21.50 inc P&P. Sterling cheques should be made payable to Declan Craig, US dollar cheques / money orders to James Brooks. The video will be also available at the RSGB HF and IOTA Convention at Windsor on 9 / 10 October at a ‘respectable’ discount.

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Last updated 02 October 1999