The Amateur Amateur: Return to Deadzone
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Yeah, it will reach... if I hold up the power supply
Connecting the transceiver directly to the outside coax
It all started when my wife Nancy (N0NJ) discovered that neither of the
two Amateur Radio transceivers at Northeast Hospital was working. She
was a performing a routine test of the radios by checking into the
monthly Hospital Amateur Radio Net when she discovered the problem. I
chronicled that event in a tongue-in-cheek column I called Big
Trouble in Deadzone.
I ended the story with the line, "Stay
tuned for further adventures of the troubled town of Deadzone."
Little did I know how prophetic that sentence would turn out to be.
Not long after Nancy's discovery,
the two of us went out to the hospital to give the radios a more
thorough examination. One of them, we found, was suffering from a bad
receiver filter, a known problem with that model Kenwood. Its
companion radio had already developed the same problem and had been
repaired. Both radios should, however, be able to transmit just fine.
And yet neither could activate nor hear any repeaters in the area.
I set both radios to a simplex
frequency and ran down to the parking lot of the hospital with my
handheld transceiver. I found a shady spot where I could actually see
the hospital's Amateur Radio antennas. I keyed up my handheld and
All I heard in return was a short burst of static.
"Switch to other radio," I said.
Another burst of static.
"N0NJ from KB0H. Do you read me?"
"...ming...ine.........NJ," was all that I heard.
I went back up to the conference room where the radios were located.
"I heard you fine on the working radio," Nancy said.
"I barely heard you at all," I replied.
There wasn't a lot more we could
do at that point. We pulled the transceiver with the faulty filter,
went home, and sent a report to Mr. P., our contact at the hospital.
I connected the troubled radio to my own antenna and found that it
transmitted just fine. It just couldn't receive very well. I boxed it
up and sent it out for repairs. I also sent message to Steve Wooten,
KC0QMU, the Amateur Radio Emergency Coordinator for the Hospital
Amateur Radio Net.
Time passed. Things move very slowly in the corporate world, and hospitals
are no exceptions. While checking out the equipment at a nearby ARES
served agency (Steve and I are members of both ARES and HARN... Steve
is in charge of both), we decided to swing by Northeast Hospital to
give the Amateur Radio antennas a quick look. (See my column A
Whole Bunch of Site Visits.)
We confirmed that whatever was wrong involved the antenna systems,
not the transceivers themselves.
Well, okay, but both of them at the same time?
More time passed. We're busy
guys, and so is our contact at Northeast Hospital. But after a while,
I got a message from Steve asking if I wanted to go out to the
hospital with him to meet up with Mr. P. and a technician from Warner
Communications, the hospital's radio contractor.
Sure thing, I said. I had
something of a personal stake in the affair. And besides, I still had
the hospital's newly-repaired Kenwood transceiver sitting in my
basement. I figured they'd want it back sooner or later.
Coaxial cable perilously close to lightning surge cable
Steve inspecting the coaxial cable
Steve and I arrived at the
hospital early on a Friday morning and found that the lobby was
closed for renovations. We followed the labyrinthine detours and
eventually made our way to the floor where our contact, Mr. P. had
his office. He was dashing from meeting to meeting, so his co-worker,
Ms. S., was assigned to take his place.
Ms. S. took us to the conference
room where the Amateur Radios were located. If anything, it looked
even more cramped than the last time I had visited.
"I want to take a look up there," Steve said, staring at the
ceiling. "Can we get a ladder?"
Ms. S. nodded and set out to find one.
Let me note here that Steve and I
had different theories about what the problem might be. From what
we'd been able to see from the parking lot and out various windows,
the antennas seemed to be intact. We agreed that they were probably
okay and that the coaxial cables were at fault. We disagreed on
where, exactly, the fault was.
We knew that there was a
transition from black coaxial cable outside to white coaxial inside.
Steve believed that's where the problems lie. He felt that the
connections had come loose, gotten fried, or failed in some other
way. That's why he wanted to get into the ceiling. He wanted to
locate that transition point.
I, on the other hand, had focused
on the outside cables having been run very close to the lightning
grounding cables. I felt that any good surge through the grounding
cables would have been enough to cause the adjacent coaxial cable to
Ms. S. returned with a nice
rolling ladder. We had to move the furniture around to get it into
the room, but did finally get it into place.
Steve scrambled up the ladder,
moved a ceiling tile, and immediately found the black-to-white cable
transition point. There were surge protectors between the two, and
they were well grounded.
Confident that he had found the problem, Steve took everything apart.
"Everything looks okay," he said, frowning. "All the parts are
intact, there are no scorch marks, nothing. I don't understand."
Things were looking better for my theory.
But Steve hadn't given up yet. He turned to Ms. S. and said,
"Can you get me a taller ladder?"
Ms. S. was a wizard at finding
things. Within minutes she had procured the tallest ladder that would
fit into the room. Steve made his way up it, and the top half of him
disappeared into the ceiling.
"What are you up to?" I asked.
"Do you think the transceiver's power cable will stretch this far?"
"Ummm, maybe, if I hold up the power supply."
Steve's idea was to connect a
transceiver directly to the outside coax, bypassing the inside coax
altogether. So, that's what we did.
(left to right) Randy, Steve, Ms. S.
Randy and Steve examining the antenna connection
It didn't make any difference.
The transceiver's signal still wouldn't get out. But, at least we had
eliminated the inside coax and the lightning arrestors as possible
About that time, Randy from
Warner Communications arrived. He was already aware of the problem,
so Steve recapped what we had tried and had discovered.
While Steve and I are innovative
Amateur Radio operators, Randy was a professional. He connected a
very serious looking watt meter to the coax, took a reading, and
said, "Looks like there's no antenna."
Having done everything possible
inside, Ms. S. led us to the secret door that led onto the roof. We
all trooped outside and made our way to where the Amateur Radio
antennas were located.
"They look intact," said Steve.
The rest of us nodded.
Now, to test my theory. We examined the coaxial cables, from the
point where they exited
the building, all the way to the antennas. There was no sign of
damage. No cuts, abrasions, or signs of melting. Nothing at all.
So much for that idea.
Randy removed one of the antennas
from its mast. There was plenty of weatherproof tape wound around the
connector, so another theory went down the tubes. He unwrapped it,
disconnected the antenna, and examined everything.
No damage. Everything looked fine.
Randy placed a dummy load on the end of the coax, and we all went back down
to the conference room.
His watt meter still showed that nothing was getting through.
Well, we had at least had found the culprit. Something was wrong with the
outside coaxial cables, not the antennas. We still didn't know why,
but at least we knew what needed to be replaced. Randy said that he
would write up a report for the hospital. We straightened up the mess
that we had made in the conference room and left.
It still bothers us that we don't know what happened to the coaxial
cable, especially both of them at the same time, but I suppose
that eventually we will find out.
I guess I'll have to warn Sheriff
Nancy that the Deadzone Saga is not over yet.
(Email = [email protected])