The Amateur Amateur: Big Trouble in Deadzone

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
and Nancy J. Hoffman, N0NJ
September 2017

Gary / The Marshal

Marshal Gary

As I climbed off my horse, it seemed like it would be a perfect day. The deputy tipped his hat and bid me good morning. The sun was shining, a mild breeze was blowing, and the streets of Ham Town were quiet. Too quiet. I had an uneasy feeling that things wouldn't stay that way.

It was 7:45 AM on a Friday morning. I got out of my SUV and walked over to the entrance of the Department of Public Health building. Since it wasn't open yet, I rapped on the glass door to get the guard's attention, and after our usual ritual, he let me in. I climbed the stairs to the second floor, found my contact, Mr. K., and exchanged a few pleasantries with him. By 8:00 AM I was in the conference room where the emergency communications gear was located. I turned on the two Amateur Radio rigs. (If they didn't fire up, there was no point in hanging around, but they both came up fine.) There was mostly static on the HF transceiver, and the usual "pre-test testing" chatter on the dual-bander. I got out the station logbook, prepared a FEMA ICS-309 form, and spread my script before me. I was ready to run the monthly Hospital Amateur Radio Net.

Nancy / The Sheriff

What was all that racket about? I left the sheriff's office and followed my ears. Unsurprisingly, they led me right to Deadzone's one and only tavern. Fearing the worst, I pushed open the bat-wing doors and stepped inside. Yep, I was right. The wild bunch was back in town.

It was 8:00 AM on a Friday morning. I'd made my way up to the second floor of the hospital's main building and was heading for the nurses' conference room. I was praying that it would be empty, but it wasn't. For the second month in a row, it was packed with people. The previous month, I'd simply turned around and gone home. This time, however, the people in the room indicated that their meeting was over, and that I could perform the scheduled Amateur Radio tests. I was grateful, until, after squeezing through to the back corner where the Amateur Radios were located, I realized that they didn't plan to actually leave. It was going to be a rough morning.

Gary / The Marshal

"Ahem," I said, clearing my throat. Everyone in the telegraph office turned to look at me. The noise quickly died down.

I was supposed to make the pre-net announcement at precisely 8:08 AM, and then send a "net on" signal to the repeater. I kept waiting for the chatter to stop, but the participants were well into their conversations, apparently having forgotten all about the upcoming net. Somehow, I squeezed in and announced that the monthly St. Louis Hospital Amateur Radio Net would start at 8:10 AM. I didn't know if I had talked over anyone, but the air sure was quiet after I let go of the microphone key.

Nancy / The Sheriff

Tavern/Telegraph office

Deadzone didn't have a dedicated telegraph office. All of the telegraphy equipment was located in a cramped corner of the tavern. I jostled my way through the crowd, grabbed a stool, and sat down. I readied the sounder and key, but it was going to be tough to hear anything over the raucous mob. Nevertheless, I was going to do my best to get a message through to Marshal Gary.

The nurses' conference room wasn't very large to begin with, but every time I visited, it seemed as if they had crammed more stuff into it. I was crushed up against the tiny end table where the Amateur Radios, phones, DVD players and whatnot were located. Barely able to move, I powered-up the two radios and tuned them to the H.A.R.N. frequency. I could hear activity on radio number 20, but not on radio number 21. No surprise there. I had already confirmed that number 21 wasn't receiving, and had been given permission by Mr. P., my hospital contact, to remove it and send it in for repairs. But, there was no way that I could pull out the end table to get at the radio's connectors and such, not with the room being so full of people. That task would have to wait for another day.

Gary / The Marshal

The Sheriff over in Hertzville answered my call, but Sheriff Nancy didn't reply when I called her. I tried again, but there was nothing but an ominous silence. Right away I knew something was wrong in Deadzone.

I took a sip from my water bottle, cleared my throat, and picked up the microphone. I watched the seconds count down on the clock, and at exactly 8:10 AM, pressed the key and started reading the net script. I finished by indicating that I would call the hospitals that were scheduled to test their radios that month. Glancing at that month's list, I said, "Calling Downtown Main Hospital, come in please."

Downtown Main responded, giving me the names and call signs of the operators manning the Amateur Radio equipment there.

"Thank you," I said. "Calling Northeast Hospital."

No reply.

"This is KB0H, net control for the St. Louis Hospital Amateur Radio Net, calling Northeast Hospital. Come in, please."


Now I was worried. My wife, Nancy, was supposed to be at Northeast Hospital. We'd both left home at the same time. What had happened?

Nancy / The Sheriff

I pressed the key, but nothing happened. Worse than that, the sounder was silent. Somebody had cut the telegraph line.

It was very noisy in the conference room, but I did hear net control (my husband, Gary), calling. I pressed the microphone PTT button and said, "This is Northeast Hospital, Nancy, N0NJ."

I let go of the key and waited. All I heard was silence. I tried calling again, but didn't even hear the repeater's courtesy tone. Good grief, had both radios died on me?

Gary / The Marshal

The sheriff's of Hertzville, Vail, Tropo and all of the other towns in territory had checked in, but not Sheriff Nancy. I tried to convince myself that she'd just encountered some minor inconvenience, but my gut said otherwise.

I went through the entire list of scheduled hospitals, then went through again to try to pick up the few that had not responded the first time. One more hospital answered, but not Northeast. I knew that Nancy had been unable to test the radios the previous month because someone had scheduled a meeting in the conference room at the same time. I presumed that had happened again... but I still had a nagging feeling that something worse had happened. I wanted to phone her to make sure that she was alright, but (1) my mobile phone got no signal inside the Department of Public Health building, and (2) I still had to test the DOPH radios on a few more nets. I wouldn't be free until about 9:30 AM.

My stomach turned over uneasily.

Nancy / The Sheriff

I was outnumbered and had no way to call for help. The only thing I could do was to stick a note on the door of the sheriff's office and ride out of town for re-enforcements.

Well, there was nothing I could do. The room was still packed with people, so I couldn't even attempt to disconnect the radios. I filled out an ICS-309, noting, basically, that both radios were out of commission, and stuffed it into the station logbook. I'd write duplicate for Gary once I got home. Trying to make my way to the copy machine and back was out of the question.

Gary / The Marshal

I left the telegraph office and headed out to find Sheriff Nancy.

Mr. K. came into the conference room just before 9:00 AM. The Amateur Radio equipment shared a table with the MOSWIN radio (Missouri statewide emergency radio system), and by coincidence, that system also tested on the second Friday of the month. That's why I used a headset when tuning in the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Amateur Radio HF net, which also started at 9:00 AM. Mr. K. usually had better luck that I did, hearing the scheduled MOSWIN net about 3 out of every 4 times. I didn't fare quite as well, only being able to pick up the HF nets a third of the time. We both finished up and completed our logs. We said goodbye, and I headed home, fervently hoping that nothing had happened to Nancy.

Sheriff Nancy: There's big trouble in Deadzone, Marshal.
Marshal Gary: Sure looks that way, Sheriff.

Sheriff's badge

", that's the story," Nancy concluded. "I put an ICS-309 on your desk."

I shook my head and pondered. One radio wouldn't receive, but we were reasonably sure that it was a well-known filter problem for that model Kenwood. Northeast Hospital's Amateur Radio number 20 had already encountered that problem and had been repaired. It seemed, radio 21 was following suit.

But now number 20 wouldn't transmit? That was new. And from what Nancy described, it seemed like it was trying to transmit, but not getting anywhere.

Obviously, we were going to have to spend some quality time in the nurse's conference room at Northeast Hospital.

Stay tuned for further adventures of the troubled town of Deadzone.

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