Amid the crisis, hams continue to be "radio active"
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 coronavirus crisis.
In recent weeks in Johnson County alone, 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 have decided not to assemble at their usual meeting places to avoid possible exposure to the virus that has had millions of Americans sheltering in place or staying close to home at the very least. But even while they are holding their virtual meetings, these hams are 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 Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club have been "meeting" on the air Saturday mornings a couple of hours after they normally would have been getting together at the Hy-Vee Market Grille near 151st Street and Black Bob Road for breakfast. By then the "meeting" of those who used to regularly make their way to the Hy-Vee in the 7600 block of State Line Road early on a Saturday morning for what was affectionately known as Breakfast with Beryl, is 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 have been "hooking up" somewhere in the sky to keep in touch with each other since they know they won't be meeting face to face at their usual meeting place, the Hardee's at 10500 Metcalf Avenue.
Our club currently relies on the Johnson County Emergency Communications Service repeater, 145.47 MHz, in conducting its weekly Tuesday evening net and the informal Saturday morning "gatherings." 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 their equally informal Saturday morning "gatherings," and members of the JCRAC can be heard at 145.290 MHz weekday mornings and on Thursday evenings. But as long as there is a transmitter of information (e.g., our club's Jim Andera, K0NK) and a receiver of that information (e.g., our club's Del Sawyer, K0DDS), information can be exchanged by hams around the clock, of course.
Jim told me recently 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 should come in handy if conditions deteriorate during the current crisis to the point that area hospitals are experiencing "difficulty with communications," as each of these hospitals is equipped with an amateur radio station "to help provide backup communications."
In discussing the present 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, Del recently reminded club members over the air one Saturday morning that "we hams have the opportunity and advantage of staying busy." Del 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 later that same Saturday that a stay-at-home order for Johnson County, Wyandotte County and Jackson County, Mo., had been issued.
In an email I received from Del that same day, 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, had come up with that stay-at-home contest and was putting together another one for the following week. The creator of Ham 101, a class designed to help newly-licensed hams get started in the hobby, Herb told me recently 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, Herb 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.