The Amateur Amateur: Looking Foward to Last Year

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
January 2019

Winterfest 2018 sale table
The "for sale" table at Winterfest 2018: Everything must go!

Last Year:

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had hoarded a staggering amount of anachronistic electronic gear, and even more came from agencies cleaning out their out-of-date communications equipment.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.

Next Year:

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 dead repeater
Dismantling a dead repeater

Last Year:

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.

Next Year:

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....)

trio on roof
A ham, a communications professional, and a hospital employee tracking down a radio problem

Last Year:

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 hospital's highest 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.

Next Year:

The 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 cable needed.

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
Bridgecom BCH-220 1.25 meter band transceiver

Last Year:

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 least try 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.

Next Year:

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.

Last Year:

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 Florida.

I hope it was anything I said.

Next Year:

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.

Last Year:

A great deal of my Amateur Radio activity during 2018 was spent sitting in front of my computer doing ARES administrative tasks.

Next Year:

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.

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