Harnessing the power of radio: a journey from curiosity to connectivity

Thursday, 06 July, 2023

Harnessing the power of radio: a journey from curiosity to connectivity

Hello, I’m Alex Stewart, the founder and Managing Director of WombatNET — a Wellington-based service provider with a keen focus on the radio industry and evolving communication methods. My journey into the radio industry began not from a calculated career choice, but from a spark of interest ignited by a simple question.

I was around 12 or 13 years old, spending time in a rural beach settlement outside my hometown, Whanganui. My father was there for work, and I was just a kid, known to be tech-savvy, but certainly not an expert. The locals, aware of my affinity for technology, asked if I knew of any ways to improve their subpar connectivity. This question, simple as it may seem, sparked my interest in radio-based technologies and set me on a path that I continue to traverse today.

At 14, I founded WombatNET. The company was born out of a vision to eradicate New Zealand’s digital divide; a lofty goal for a teenager, but one I was determined to pursue. As the market evolved and new players entered the scene, we scaled back our focus to the Wellington region. This decision allowed us to use the region as a ‘testing ground’ of sorts, a place where we could develop, test and implement an array of technologies new to the country. The creation of WombatNET happened entirely by chance, but it was a chance that I seized with both hands.

The radio industry is a fascinating world. The more I learned, the more I realised the immense power these small pieces of equipment held. It felt like I had suddenly understood the mechanics behind Thor’s hammer! But, like any industry, it has its challenges. In New Zealand, we often face the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ when trying to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s a cultural phenomenon where people are criticised or resented because of their achievements. But if you’re strong enough to push past all that, the potential benefits to you and society could be massive.

In 2021, I was personally awarded Young Wellingtonian of the Year. This was something I did not expect to receive (I had yet to prepare a speech!), but it made me feel that my work for the region and its communities was appreciated. This recognition was not just a personal achievement but a testament to the impact that WombatNET was making. It was a feeling that made me always want to keep going and do even better.

To the younger generation, I say this: the radio industry is a vast and exciting field. There are an incredible number of different roles in this industry, and if the one you want doesn’t exist, make your own just like I did! Radio tech is here to stay — so make it your own. Depending on your role, you may have lots of room for error. You get to fiddle and experiment with technology and computers on a whole new level. There is something here for everyone, jobs pay well and apprentices often find themselves effortlessly gliding into their careers.

The radio industry is not just about technology; it’s about connecting people. It’s about ensuring that everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to the digital world. It’s about bridging the digital divide and creating a more inclusive society. And the best part? You don’t need to be a tech wizard to make a difference. All you need is a spark of interest, a willingness to learn, and the courage to seize the opportunities that come your way.

Alex Stewart (18) is the founder and Managing Director of WombatNET, a Wellington-based service provider with a focus on the radio industry. He founded the company at 14 with a vision to eradicate New Zealand’s digital divide. In 2021, Alex was awarded Young Wellingtonian of the Year in recognition of his contributions to the region and its communities.

Top image credit: iStock.com/Wirestock

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