The Amateur Amateur: Going Off-Script
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Calling the St. Louis Metro ARES
net. Calling the St. Louis Metro Amateur Radio Emergency Service net. This net
meets every Wednesday at 7:30 PM local time on this repeater for the purposes of
training, handling traffic, and encouraging amateur participation in emergency
I've read those lines so
many times that, if they unearth my remains ten-thousand years from now,
they'll probably find the words ingrained in my DNA. They are the beginning of
(guess what?) the St. Louis Metro ARES weekly voice net script.
The bones of the script are about
thirteen years old, having been created when St. Louis County ARES (as it was
then called) was started under Emergency Coordinator Steve Wooten, KC0QMU. Not
long after that event, I was tapped as the net manager. Version 1 of the script
was written, then re-written, used for a while, modified again, and... well,
you get the idea. It has morphed more times than the Power Rangers.
We are now on Version 16, and it
seems to have outlived all of its predecessors. I've even heard segments of it
used in other Amateur Radio nets. I can't take credit for writing the script,
as there were various contributors, but there is a lot of me in it. In many
ways, it's my baby.
All amateur radio operators are welcome to
participate. You will need to use a CTCSS tone of 141.3 Hertz to activate this
I am the net manager, but I am not the only net control
operator. I have a small group of dedicated volunteers who help me. Together,
we rotate "net duty" so that everyone gets an opportunity to participate, and I
get to stay sane.
Nevertheless, I monitor every net, so, I have heard the
script read aloud countless times. Sometimes I even recite it along with the
duty net controller (not over the air, of course). And afterward, when my wife
Nancy (N0NJ) asks, "How did the net go?", I occasionally find myself rambling
off passages from the script.
There's also a very good chance that I mumble the entire script
into my pillow while I sleep.
This is a directed net. All participation will be under
the supervision of the Net Control operator.
I am <<YOUR NAME and PERSONAL CALL SIGN>>. I
am the Net Control operator for the St. Louis Metro ARES net this evening, and
as such I will be operating under the call sign N0ARS.
One day, two separate thoughts that
had been percolating in my mind collided. The first thought was that I'd been
considering alternate net scripts just to keep the weekly net "fresh". The second
thought was that I could probably run an entire net without actually referring
to the written script.
Well, those two ideas actually
seemed to contradict each other. But then I had another idea. (I have lots of
ideas. They just aren't necessarily brilliant ideas.) My new thought was, can I
somehow make this into an exercise?
Alright! Now I had a way to make
this work. It would satisfy the requirements of all three ideas: (1) It would
certainly be something "fresh" (2) I would run the net without having a script,
and (3) it would be an exercise.
Here is the premise, as I explained
over the air just before calling the net. The St. Louis Metro ARES weekly voice
net is, most of all, a training net. It emulates a "resources net", one that is
called during the early stages of a disaster to determine who would be
available, where they were, and what equipment they had. I would be simulating
a situation in which the Emergency Coordinator had contacted me and instructed
me to start up a resources net, and I'd replied, okay, I can do that.
Only, I wasn't at home.
And, I didn't have a script with
So, I would have to wing it. I
would have to rely on my memory.
Surely I could do this. I knew the
script by heart. No problem, right?
we begin, I will pause for Emergency and Priority traffic. If you have
emergency or priority traffic, please call now.
I explained all this at the
beginning of our last regular ARES weekly net. And, I must admit that when I'm
not actually reading from a prepared script, my on-air dialog is full of the
key words "Um" and "Ah", so I sounded anything but professional during my
commentary. But, the net participants didn't snicker or make snide remarks (on
the air, at least), so I pressed on.
Now I was in safe territory. I started
reciting the script from memory. Yes sir. "Calling the St. Louis Metro ARES
net. Calling the St. Louis Metro Amateur Radio Emergency Service net..."
Everything appeared to be going
well, but I had the sense that something wasn't quite right. I didn't think
that I had flubbed or missed anything, but somehow the speech I was delivering
seemed, well, too short.
This is N0ARS, St. Louis Metro
ARES. Anyone wishing to check in, please call now with just your call sign or
your call sign and the words 'short time' if you cannot stay.
I kept on going. I was sure that I
must have skipped over sentences, or perhaps even whole sections of the script,
but nothing came to mind. I was a little distressed that, when it really
counted, I couldn't literally rattle off the whole script error-free. But,
that's what an exercise is all about, right? Making mistakes and learning from
I had no idea how big a
mistake I had made until I was in the process of calling back each of the
operators who had checked in. One of them referred to me as W0SRC.
"That's the call sign of the
repeater," I said. "The ARES call sign is N0ARS..."
I'd forgotten the part of the
script where I would normally give the ARES call sign.
Sweat broke out on my brow. I'd not
only missed giving the ARES call sign, I hadn't given any call sign
since my initial announcement. I hadn't just messed up, I'd messed up big time!
Talk about an embarrassing moment!
I stammered an apology and
continued with the net. Needless to say, I started using the ARES call sign
frequently, sometimes as often as two or three times in a single sentence. My
use of the words "Um" and "Ah" dramatically increased as well.
Somehow, I managed to finish the
net. I sat back and reflected on what had happened. Yeah, I'd made a boo-boo.
Had I learned anything from the experience?
Well, I now know for sure that I
can read a script quite well, but am far less adept at extemporizing while on
the air. I guess I also learned that I have difficulty accessing my memory while
simultaneously flying by the seat of my pants. I am a mere mortal. (I'll have
to check the Basic Emergency Operations Manual to see if mortals are allowed to
be net managers.)
Assuming that Steve doesn't fire
me, and that the other net controllers don't hold a palace revolution, it will
be a long time before I go off-script again.
|Ed Berkel, AE0EB|
|Dolores Guittar, KD0CIV|
|Jeffrey Jacks, AD0XX|
|Henry Schaper, KA0AWS|
|Jon Schaumann, W0KZ|
|Gary Timm, KD0CNZ|
|Roy Tribble, K0TRB|
..and everyone who has served as a net control operator for
St. Louis Metro ARES in the past.