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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Saturday, 23 April 2011 11:26 UK
Right royal radio

Northamptonshire Communications Club
Worldwide celebrations: Northamptonshire Communications Club

Tom Bateman
Today programme

The UK's 60,000 amateur radio enthusiasts are being given special permission to change their call signs in celebration of the royal wedding.

A dark blue van is parked at the edge of a field in Northamptonshire.

In the fading evening light, a 50-foot antenna towers from the back of the vehicle and two wires stretch out towards the trees on either side.

Chris Darlington from Northamptonshire Communications Club sits in the driver's seat at the controls of his shortwave amateur radio.

"I've worked the world with it," he explains as the black box in front of him hums and crackles.

Among the regular destinations of his broadcasts are Australia, New Zealand, Tanzania and "believe it or not" the Falkland Islands, says Chris.

But tonight there's a unique subject for the conversation among Chris and his global correspondents - next week's marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Northamptonshire Communications Club
Chris Darlington has spoken to more than 10,000 other radio enthusiasts

The telecoms regulator Ofcom has agreed to issue temporary licences, meaning the UK's 60,000 amateur radio enthusiasts can change their call signs to mark the royal wedding.

The use of the letter "R" in a UK call sign will signify that the operator is celebrating the event.

A call sign is a series of letters and numbers unique to each amateur radio user which allows enthusiasts to identify each other and establish which country they are in.

"We're at the forefront here with the wedding one," says Chris.

His friend and fellow amateur radio enthusiast Gary Bansil suggested the idea of a royal wedding call sign for the Northamptonshire club, he explains.

"Gary said 'how about GB4RW for the royal wedding?' I said, 'go for it mate'."

Chris turns a dial and finds a frequency to hear if he can muster worldwide interest in the new royal wedding call sign.

A squelching sound erupts from his radio set, while the needle of an instrument panel bounces back and forward in response to his voice.

'A real buzz'

Chris makes his "CQ call" - the ham radio equivalent of saying "is anybody there?"- and after a few moments a faint voice with a US accent replies.

"Very good," says the American user before announcing that he's "Rod" in Boston, Massachusetts - an impressive 3,000 miles or so from Northampton.

"I'll listen for any special event next week for the wedding," says Rod.

Within just a few minutes Chris has made contact with half a dozen more radio users around the world.

Phil in Nova Scotia in Canada wishes the royal couple congratulations.

There are best wishes from Nic in northern Italy and Frank in the south of the Netherlands.

But it's a return to the UK that brings a stronger signal and clearer messages of support for the royal husband and wife to be.

"Wolf" in Ruislip reports that he's been married for 43 years and will be holding a street party on the day of the wedding.

Commemorative card
This commemorative card features the royal wedding call sign

"Good luck to them, that's all I can say," he announces, before signing off.

In an age of smartphones and broadband internet access, the allure of amateur radio may seem puzzling to many.

But one member of Northamptonshire Communications Club, who claims to be the UK's youngest amateur radio licence holder, explains the appeal in a single word: "Fun".

"It's just good to speak to different people and operate on the radio," says Kyla Bansil, nine.

And it's not all over when the radio is switched off.

Enthusiasts exchange postcards containing their call signs as a physical record of the radio communication.

Chris, who says he already has around 100,000 such postcards, is preparing to send his specially designed commemorative cards marking the royal wedding call sign.

"I get a real buzz," he responds when asked what he gets out of amateur radio.

The buzz might have to go alongside the sound of static and hiss, but there's no denying how much this hobby means to this group of enthusiasts - especially when there's a royal wedding on the way.

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