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A ham’s ham – Doug McArthur VK3UM SK

Date : 06 / 03 / 2016
Author : Roger Harrison - VK2ZRH

The news came as a shock to all; Doug McArthur VK3UM passed away on Monday 21 February 2016, following a stroke the previous day. Sudden. Unexpected. A blow to his wife, Bev, and family, and to all who knew Doug personally, professionally, and indirectly through his amateur radio activities.

Although licensed for almost 60 years, Doug was probably most well-known – across Australia and around the world – for his moonbounce exploits over decades, in particular with the 8.6 metre dish he commissioned in 2001. In 2006, using this dish on 1296 MHz, Doug gained a moonbounce DX record on 10 June 2006, working CT3/DL1YMK in Portugal, a distance of 18,342.3 km.

Making a mark

Doug could truly be described as a ham’s ham. Over the course of the years he pursued his hobby, Doug made his mark wherever he went – geographically or electronically. He was an inveterate home-builder, right from his teenage years in Adelaide when, over 1956, he and a bunch of school mates - Brian Endersbee, Brian Tideman, John Hilditch and John Drew – all built simple transceivers for the 288 and 576 MHz bands using components from the military surplus store, Waltham’s, in Adelaide. They believed at the time that a licence was not necessary. The enthusiasm of youth! They used their erstwhile “pirate” rigs to chat amongst themselves and for fox hunting. The 1m band was undoubtedly the Facebook of ’56 for that bunch of Adelaide lads. Nevertheless, they were all licensed “and legitimate” before the end of 1957, Doug securing VK5KK.

Doug’s interest in radio steered him to a career in radiocommunications and broadcasting, which led to working overseas, to Alice Springs in the 1960s and later, Darwin, where he worked for Radio Australia.

In the Northern Territory, he took up the callsign VK8KK and became a devotee of slow scan TV on the HF bands, and of Morse code “sent by hand and received by ear”. On the bands 50 MHz and up, Doug focused particularly on weak signal propagation modes. While in Alice Springs, he got his first “taste” of working moonbounce, hearing his own echoes from the moon on six metres.

But, fate intervened – Doug and family were swept out of Darwin with Cyclone Tracy, which devastated the city on Christmas Day in December 1974.

Back to taws

Doug picked up his career in Victoria, and VK3UM at Chirnside Park became a stalwart of the VHF bands, pursuing weak-signal working via various scatter modes, aircraft reflection and inevitably, moonbounce on two metres and 70 cm. On the latter band, he built an array of sixteen 16-element KLM Yagis, later increased to 24 Yagis.

When Doug retired, he and his wife, Bev, moved to rural Glenburn in the Yarra Ranges region northeast of Melbourne. They named the property “Tikaluna” (it’s an anagram – think about it – Doug’s sense of humour). He then set about purchasing the 8.6 metre dish, owned by Telstra and located at One Tree Hill. Moving and installing it was quite a saga, interrupted by a stroke in late 1999.

Undaunted, in characteristic fashion, Doug worked at recovering with the help of family, and commissioned the big dish in mid-2001. His first QSO with it was on 432 MHz on 26 July, with Peter SM2CEW.

Doug secured a high power permit from the licensing authorities (now the Australian Communications and Media Authority – ACMA) for his moonbounce operations on 144 and 432 MHz some decades ago. He was instrumental in working with the WIA and the ACMA to loosen up the regulations on amateurs running powers greater than provided in the licensing conditions.

Doug spent a lot of design effort and experimental time developing and optimising the dual-band feed for his dish, to work on 70 and 23 cm. His most-recent 70 cm high power amp, built around a YL1056 metal-ceramic, forced-air cooled tetrode, was home-built, as was its three-phase power supply. It is capable of 2 kW output, but normally ran at 1.2 kW. On 1296 MHz he used a solid-state high power amp developing 550 W output.

Doug was conferred with the WIA’s Ron Wilkinson Achievement Award twice, a rare thing: first in 1988, and again in 2003. Ron Wilkinson VK3AKC was a well-known VHF-UHF operator and homebrewer over the 1950s-1980s who distinguished himself by making the first moonbounce contact from Australia on 1296 MHz with a huge homebrew dish, hand-built transverter and kilowatt power amplifier. Hence, the award is for special achievement in any facet of amateur radio and is only available to amateurs from VK call areas.

The true spirit

Along the way, Doug developed some key software applications that are now used by moonbouncers world-wide. His EME Calc package, for assessing and simulating every aspect of an EME station’s operation, was last updated on 14th February.

The EMR Calc software Doug developed for assessing any amateur station’s compliance with electromagnetic radiation safety standards, is known and used around the globe. The ACMA look to it as the authoritative tool for assessing Australian amateurs’ compliance with local electromagnetic radiation safety legislation.

In the true amateur spirit of open sharing, Doug made these important applications freely available for download from his website: www.vk3um.com.

In 2011, Doug was featured in an article on ham radio in The Age newspaper, titled “Ham radio far from over or out”, which gave strong, positive publicity to the hobby. The article was also syndicated to the Sydney Morning Herald and regional newspapers. You can read the article online, here: http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/ham-radio-far-from-over-or-out-20110705-1h135.html

Doug was a WIA member since 1956, and staunch a supporter. He served on various WIA committees over many years, and freely provided technical advice to the Institute and anyone who asked. He was a featured speaker at the WIA’s Annual Conference and AGM in Darwin in 2011.

Being naturally gregarious, Doug gave many lectures at club meetings over the years, and in particular at GippsTech, the premium technical conference held annually in Victoria. Every presentation began with a joke – usually of the lengthy, “shaggy dog yarn” style.

Doug was a larger-than-life character and lived life to the full. Whatever pursuit he took up, he gave it his all – family, sport, technical lectures, lunch, dinner, socialising, amateur radio.

The funeral to celebrate his life was held on Friday, 4 March, at 2pm in Lilydale. The WIA was represented by Hon. Secretary, David Williams VK3RU, who reported that some 120-130 people turned out, comprising family, local, interstate and overseas connections, associates and friends. David estimated that about one-quarter were amateurs. The eulogy was delivered by long-time friend since school days, John Drew VK5DJ, which was followed by Doug’s life story presented by his son Peter and daughter Cheryl.

He was 74. Too young to leave us. Valé Doug McArthur VK3UM.

Photo: Doug is pictured against his 8.6 cm dish, sited next to his EME shack. Inset: Doug at the WIA Annual Conference and AGM in Darwin, May 2011.


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