by Helen Beringen

Being called a ‘Ham’ may not be too flattering for most people, but for Western Australian retiree John Stephens it is a badge of honour.

That’s because the 85-year-old has been a ‘Ham’ for most of his life – an amateur radio operator that is.

What started with childhood tinkering with crystal radio sets has progressed into his Christian witness through a community radio station in Albany, Western Australia.

This labour of love includes rising at 4.30am every Sunday to host the Christian Breakfast show on Albany’s Great Southern FM radio station, which he has led for 20 years. He also started a Bakelite Radio show on Thursday afternoons, which features music from the 1920s through to the 1950s.

It was during the days of Bakelite radios, which were the first commonly used moulded plastic radios of the 20th century, that John discovered his love for radio.

John’s talents were directed into Christian radio early in life, through his local church in suburban Perth.

‘As a young child of four years of age, I was taken to the Church of Christ Sunday school at Maylands by two young girls who were neighbours and lived across the road from my parents’, John says.

It was through the church that John became involved in Christian radio.

‘Churches of Christ had a Christian radio Sunday school operating out of one of the commercial radio stations in Perth and country stations in Northam’, John says.

‘This was a live program with young people representing several of the local churches attending the studio and singing on each Sunday morning.’

While at high school, John’s love for the technical elements of broadcasting led him to the technical production of radio, through work experience as a control room operator.

This led to an apprenticeship in electrical engineering after completing high school, culminating in a 38-year career in technical education.

‘I was also encouraged by one of the members of our Maylands Church who had been a radio operator in the navy during WWII to study for AOCP, which is the Amateur Operator Certification, commonly referred to as a “Ham’s licence”. This means you can operate your own radio station on shortwave and talk to other “Hams” around the world’, John says.

‘I was successful in achieving a call sign, VK6KJS, and became an active SWL – shortwave listener. This enabled me to listen to Christian broadcasting stations around the world. I still maintain that call sign today!’ That guided John along another volunteering pathway – the Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC). FEBC is a global media ministry spreading the gospel to inspire people to follow Jesus Christ, broadcasting in more than 50 countries in 30 different languages.

Since retiring in 2000, John has continued that Christian witness at the crack of dawn each Sunday, with his own 6am to 9am Christian program on Great Southern FM (100.9 FM), which broadcasts to the southern area of Western Australia.

John’s grateful for the support of Christian groups such as the LCANZ’s Lutheran Media, which supplies its Messages of hope outreach ministry’s radio spots he shares with listeners, along with Christian hymns and songs.

Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.

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Messages of hope

Lutheran Media’s Messages of hope radio programs are broadcast by more than 800 commercial, community and Christian stations around Australia and New Zealand, as well as into Papua New Guinea and Asia, the latter via shortwave.

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