Gardner’s Jim Andera, call sign K0NK, says he and other amateur radio operators across the country strive to be ever-ready should they called upon to help with communications in a local or national emergency. Photo courtesy of Rick Nichols
Special to The Gardner News
So when you’re near me
Darling, can’t you hear me
The love you gave me
Nothing else can save me
– from ABBA’s 1975 song “SOS”
While amateur radio operators may not be able to help you rescue that romance you’ve been trying to revive, they are good at long-distance relationships, especially when “social distancing” is the proverbial law of the land, and many of them can use their acquired skills to literally send an SOS, three “dahs,” then three “dits,” then three more “dahs,” if need be, across the airways, in communicating important information through Morse code during an emergency such as the present one.
In Johnson County alone, within the past week the members of no fewer than three amateur radio clubs or social groups associated with the hobby have “gathered on the air” to vocally exchange pleasantries and inquire about the well-being of each other because they had already decided not to assemble at their usual meeting places to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus that now has millions of Americans sheltering in place or staying close to home at the very least. But even as they were holding their virtual meetings, they were ever-ready at the drop of a hat to swing into action on behalf of the community at large in moving messages from Point A to Point B.
Members of the Olathe-based Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club “met” on the air Saturday morning a couple of hours after they normally would have gotten together at the Hy-Vee Market Grille near 151st Street and Black Bob Road. By then the “meeting” of those who regularly make their way to the Hy-Vee in the 7600 block of State Line Road early on a Saturday morning for what is affectionately known as Breakfast with Beryl was long over, everyone having said their “Hello” and asked, “How are the rest of you guys doing?” before wandering off to their kitchens to get a second cup of coffee. And weekday mornings, members of the Johnson County Radio Amateurs Club “hooked up” somewhere in the sky to keep in touch with each other since they knew they wouldn’t be meeting face to face at their usual meeting place, the Hardee’s at 10500 Metcalf Avenue.
But by late Saturday morning, amateur radio operators, or hams, throughout the greater Kansas City area and beyond had been given a golden opportunity to become more involved in the effort to thwart the spread of the virus and to treat those who had either already tested positive for it or were exhibiting symptoms of having possibly contracted it. The opportunity came in the form of a message with the heading “Ham Doctors need your help” that had just been posted for dissemination on the electronic message board Larry’s List by Brian Short, call sign KC0BS, president of and frequency coordinator for the Kansas Amateur Repeater Council.
He wrote: “I am trying to gather N95 masks for my niece KF5ZXR and nephew KC0QIO. They are both ICU physicians on the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the national ‘reserve’ of equipment has yet to show up. My goal is to be able to send 50 masks to each of them. I had 5 in my prep kit, and I am asking you to check yours and see if you have some you can spare. Message me directly if you find some you would be willing to donate to this cause.”
The call sign KF5ZXR belongs to Margo Short, KC0QIO to Jack Short.
Hams wanting to respond to the message with offers of masks or potentially valuable leads were able to contact Brian Short through either the email address he had provided or over the airways. With respect to the latter, the Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club currently relies on the Johnson County Emergency Communications Service repeater, 145.47 MHz, in conducting its weekly Tuesday evening net, those affiliated with Breakfast with Beryl use the Ararat Shrine Amateur Radio Club’s repeater, 145.13 MHz, for weekly Monday evening and Friday evening nets, and members of the Johnson County Radio Amateurs Club can be heard at 145.290 MHz on Thursday evenings. But as long as there is a transmitter of information (e.g., Gardner’s Jim Andera, K0NK) and a receiver of that information (e.g., Olathe’s Del Sawyer, K0DDS), information can be exchanged around the clock, not just at certain times on certain evenings.
Both Andera and Sawyer, a former Gardner businessman, are members of the Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club. Andera told me Friday in an email that “hams work to maintain a perpetual state of readiness” through the work they do in connection with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network and similar organizations. He also mentioned the Kansas City Hospital Emergency Amateur Radio Team (KCHEART) network, which would come in handy if conditions were to deteriorate to the point that area hospitals were experiencing “difficulty with communications,” as each of these hospitals is equipped with an amateur radio station “to help provide backup communications.”
In discussing the current situation, which has plenty of people stuck at home watching re-runs of old television shows and re-broadcasts of NCAA men’s basketball tournament games played, five, 10, 20, 40 years ago or longer, Sawyer told his fellow club members over the air Saturday morning, “We hams have the opportunity and advantage of staying busy.” Sawyer was primarily referring to an amateur radio contest he had participated in earlier in the week, an event he dubbed “the KC Quarantine Party” afterward only to learn late Saturday afternoon that a stay-at-home order for Johnson County, Wyandotte County and Jackson County, Mo., had been issued. That order went into effect Tuesday.
In an email I received early Saturday afternoon from Sawyer, he reported that 45 hams competed in the contest, that he made 14 contacts, that the winner of the contest made 24 contacts, and that a contest for the following week was being planned. “It was fun and a learning experience,” he said.
Herb Fiddick, NZ0F, came up with last week’s contest and has been putting together the one for this week. The creator of Ham 101, a class designed to help newly-licensed hams get started in the hobby, Fiddick told me Friday in an email that he thinks “there may be an increased role for amateur radio in the near future” but that it is his impression that “everybody is still adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and not planning very far ahead yet.” He went on to report that hams “remain in close contact” with the agencies they serve and that he had personally been in touch with both ”Johnson County and Overland Park emergency management and the Salvation Army.”
All in all, Fiddick observed, “hams seem to have adapted well to the isolation” that has been created by the closing of restaurants, bars and theaters, government-mandated limits on the size of gatherings and business-mandated limits on travel by their employees. “We’ve converted a lot of activities and face-to-face social gatherings and meetings to radio-based nets, etc.,” he noted.
For more information about amateur radio in the United States, visit the American Radio Relay League website at www.arrl.org.