The Amateur Amateur: Looking Forward to Last Year
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
The "for sale" table at Winterfest 2018: Everything must go!
The first thing that comes to mind about last year is Winterfest 2018. It
was, obviously, held in winter. It was run by the St. Louis and
Suburban Radio Club, and was the premier hamfest in the St. Louis,
Missouri area. My involvement in it was that I helped to man the
St. Louis Metro ARES
tables. One table held brochures and such, and the other table held
donated items that we were trying to sell.
We had a massive amount of stuff on the “for sale” table.
Some was from a Silent Key who had hoarded a staggering amount of
anachronistic electronic gear, and even more came from agencies
cleaning out their out-of-date communications equipment. As Steve,
KC0QMU (our ARES Emergency Coordinator) had strict instructions from
his wife that he must
get it all out of their garage, we were practically giving the stuff
away. If you were looking for junk, our table was the place to go.
And a lot of people found us.
Winterfest 2018 was a really wild ride.
Our ARES group will have tables at Winterfest 2019, but I'm not sure how
much we will have to sell this time around. It could be a lot,
depending on whether or not Steve was able to find somewhere other
than his garage to stash it all. I'm telling you, we had a lot
of stuff last year, and though we sold quite a bit, there was plenty
left over. I don't know what happened to the remainder. Steve may
have donated it to Mister Dumpster, or he may have found an unused
bunker somewhere. I guess I will find out at the next hamfest.
It's very likely that we will
also have tables at Halloween Hamfest 2019 (take a guess at when that
will be held). This one is run by the St. Louis Amateur Radio Club.
In the past, we have also had tables at other area hamfests, but some
of them moved to very distant or inhospitable locations, and others
tend to have marginal attendance. Each year Steve and I consider
returning to one or more of these outliers, but so far we haven't.
Too far, too little return.
Dismantling a dead repeater
One of the more memorable events
in which I was involved was the removal of a defunct repeater from
the basement of the St. Louis County Park Ranger station. My physical
health being at a low point, my primary jobs were to take photos and
to kibitz. (I think I did actually make one useful suggestion.) It
was cold and it was cramped. What surprised me was that it wasn't
particularly dusty. Is mine the only basement that is?
Anyway, Steve and Bob, K0BRM,
braved tight spaces and bruised knuckles and managed to dismantle the
Jurassic-era repeater in situ, and then struggle it up a steep,
narrow staircase. I am still in awe.
As yet there is no repeater work
on the St. Louis ARES schedule, but the potential is there. The group
runs one 2 meter and one 70 centimeter repeater. Neither is in its
prime, nor in the best of health. Generally, local clubs allow us to
access their repeaters for exercises and deployments, as ours simply
don't have very good coverage.
All of that may change this year, as we may
inherit newer repeaters from an agency with which we have a
Memorandum Of Understanding. These newer repeaters should, at the
very least, be easier to program than our current ones. Ideally, they
should also have better area coverage.
None of this is written in stone,
so I will try not to get too excited yet. (But, I hope, I hope, I
hope, I hope....)
A ham, a communications professional, and a hospital employee tracking down a radio problem
Over the last few years I often
found myself on the roofs of various institutions, most notably
hospitals. The view was always spectacular. Sometimes felt like I was
Batman, waiting for the breeze to unfurl my cape, at which point I
would leap into the void...
Fortunately, I kept forgetting to take my cape with me.
The thing about these rooftops is that it seems
like you can see forever, and it seems
like the hospitals' Amateur Radios should be able to reach every
repeater within 50 miles, but it just isn't so. There's always
something blocking the signal. In the case of the hospital Steve and
I visited in 2018, the Amateur Radio antennas were not on the
building, they were on its lowest
building. Even then, we couldn't get a decent signal out as far as
the parking lot. The two of us, plus one professional communications
person and one hospital employee spent a morning examining antennas,
coaxial cables, surge protectors, and everything else in sight. It
was eventually determined that lightning had probably taken out both
Amateur Radio antennas and
their cables. Kind of odd, but replacing the antennas and cables did
seem to fix the problems.
visits to hospital rooftops tended to be Steve asking me, “Are
you doing anything tomorrow?” rather than events plotted on a
spreadsheet months in advance, so I can't say whether or not any will
take place in 2019. At a guess, I'd say: Probably. More and more area
hospitals are getting involved with the local Hospital Amateur Radio
Net and installing equipment. And, the antennas tend to be installed
in the worst possible places. Add to that virtually every hospital is
undergoing remodeling or expansion, and the antennas frequently get
damaged, lost, shadowed, or otherwise rendered useless.
There is also the possibility
that some hospitals will retrofit the feedline to send the
transceiver signals via CAT5, greatly reducing the amount of coaxial
So yeah, I'll go ahead and say
there is a very good chance I'll find myself way up the top of
another building, imagining that I'm Batman.
Bridgecom BCH-220 1.25 meter band transceiver
At the end of 2017, I both received a Bridgecom BCH-220 hand held
transceiver for Christmas, and gave away a few at our ARES
end-of-year get-together. That being the case, I figured I should at
to use the 1.25 meter band more often. As it happened, Max, K0AZV,
started a regular Sunday night net on one of the local 220 MHz
repeaters. I could just barely reach the repeater with my hand held,
and my shack 1.25 meter transceiver is, well, not exactly premium
equipment. So, I tried, but didn't have a lot of luck.
I just gave away twelve more
BCH-220s at the 2018 ARES end-of-year get-together. I've heard that
activity on the Sunday night 220 net just surged, so I guess I will
have to make a greater effort to get on the band this year.
I foresee spending a lot of
money, either for a better 220 MHz base station, a better antenna, or
(gulp) my own repeater.
I found myself running a lot of
nets during 2018. I was net control operator for ARES nets, Hospital
Amateur Radio Nets, and one Skywarn net. As net manager, I also had
to juggle the who-what-when of a lot of those activities. Schedules
were always in a state of flux, and recruiting new net controllers
was nearly impossible. I did have one promising new recruit, but just
as he was getting the hang of running a net, he decided to move to
I hope it was anything I said.
Well, for 2019 I've already lost
another net control operator, but gained a new recruit. I hope at the
very least to hang onto the volunteers that I have. They are all fine folks.
A great deal of my Amateur Radio
activity during 2018 was spent sitting in front of my computer doing
ARES administrative tasks.
I would really like to spend more
time down in my shack and on the air. Will I manage to do that? Find
out in next January's column.
(Email = [email protected])