The Amateur Amateur: Can You Hear Me Now?

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
January 23, 2006

The radio was definitely in weird mode. I had no idea what it was doing. I just knew that it was no longer transmitting or receiving.

I thought it was over. I really did. Having replaced the mobile transceivers in both my car and my wife Nancy's car, I foolishly believed that we'd seen the last of our problems with car-to-car communications. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Firmly attached control head

I may have damaged the dashboard cosmetically, but this control head is now firmly attached.

White marks on volume knobs

When the white marks point up, the volume is properly set.

Microphone buttons inadvertently being pressed

A case of not knowing what the right hand is doing. In this picture, it is inadvertently reprogramming the transceiver.

The year-end holidays are a complicated time for us. We typically visit Nancy's family in central Missouri, and, this year, circumstances dictated that we drive separately. If we are on the road at the same time, we pass the long miles chatting with each other on the ham bands. We weren't during the outbound trip, but were during the trip home.

These trips usually tell me when something is amiss with one of our mobile transceivers. We've experienced dead radios, speaker plugs coming loose and even antennas gone airborne, but I wasn't expecting any problems this time because all of our equipment was fairly new. So, I was very surprised when Nancy didn't respond to my initial calls. Surely nothing could be wrong with her transceiver. Perhaps she simply hadn't turned it on.

No. That wasn't very likely. So, our trip barely begun, I pulled off the road and waited for Nancy to do the same. She did, and I hopped into her car to see what was wrong.

Nancy had indeed turned on her transceiver. She just hadn't heard my transmissions. The volume knob on her radio was turned all the way down.

That happens a lot. There is just something about mobile transceiver control heads that attracts stray fingers, palms, wrists, arms, coats, gloves, purses, elbows, and everything else in the car that might be in motion. Nancy told me that visitors to her car always reach for the control head and say, "What's this thing?" as they jab away at the buttons. I had partially solved the drifting-volume-control problem on my own transceiver by setting the knobs where I wanted them, then using typewriter correction fluid to paint little white marks on them. A quick glance tells me if a knob isn't set where I expect it to be.

I turned up Nancy's volume control and promised to make white marks on her transceiver knobs as soon as we got home. I returned to my own car, and we resumed our trip.

Sometime later Nancy called and said, "The control head just fell off of my dashboard."

Sigh. This just wasn't our day.

I had tried not to make any visible marks on Nancy's car when I installed her new transceiver (see my October 2005 column "Don't Hurt My Car!"). The control head was held in place with a combination of screws, shims, duct tape, and hope. It appeared to be stable, but it frequently came loose when there was tension on the microphone cord. I usually fixed it by adding thicker shims and more duct tape.

"Don't try to put it back," I answered. "I'll fix it when we get home."

Thankfully, nothing worse happened to Nancy's radio. She was still able to communicate with me, even with the radio's control head dangling by a cable.

Although my own transceiver's control head was much more firmly secured, I scrupulously avoided putting my hands anywhere near it. I knew how easy it was to unintentionally press a button. So I was caught completely off guard when the radio made a beep-beep sound.

I called Nancy and said, "My radio just made a funny sound."

There was no reply.

I shook my head in disbelief. I hazarded a quick look at the control head display to confirm what I already knew. Yep. The radio was definitely in weird mode. I had no idea what it was doing. I just knew that it was no longer transmitting or receiving.

I couldn't understand what had happened. I knew that I had not touched the control head. The only thing I had touched was the microphone's PTT button. Sudden comprehension dawned on me. I looked down.

The microphone was still tightly clutched in my right hand, with several of its buttons mashed firmly against the steering wheel.

I had put my transceiver into weird mode remotely from the microphone keypad.

There seemed to be an infinite number of ways to mess up this radio.

I experimented some with the microphone buttons and was able to get my radio working correctly. I called Nancy and said, "Can you hear me now?"

"Yes, what's wrong?" she replied.

I took a deep breath, sorted my thoughts. "Never mind. I'll tell you later."

We got home without further misadventures. The next day I put white marks on Nancy's volume control knobs as promised, and--with many apologies and assurances that we could easily replace it--I firmly bolted the control head of her transceiver to a blank panel on her car's dashboard.

As for preventing the transceivers from going into weird mode again, I just don't know. Perhaps I could epoxy some of the buttons.

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2006 American Radio Relay League

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