A wake-up call for amateur radio?

Yesterday, this letter to the editor was published on the website of The Review of East Liverpool, OH:

Ham radio usage needs fixed

Dear Editor:

Attention amateur radio operators, it is easy to forget where amateur radio is and what we are here for.

First let me give you a story. A man sat in his car out of gas during freezing weather, on January the 29th of this year. He was a Ham operator and he had called several times for assistance. No answer came.

For those of you who know a little about sub-freezing weather, you can go into hypothermia in less than an hour inside a car and it takes 20 minutes outside.

This man never got any help from the radio but his son, knowing he was stranded, walked 5 miles to where he was with a small can of gas that held about a gallon-and- a-half. They made it home safely, no thanks to Amateur radio assistance.

You wonder why I didn’t help that man inside that car … well that man was me. You see, at home I monitor the local repeater, but now I have lost my faith in Ham radio.

People you need to listen up, if were not going to monitor local repeaters of call channels on a 24-hour basis, than Ham radio is not worth saving. Is this the message you want to send to those who are after our frequency?

Amateur radio is for the recognition of emergency communication first, and a privilege to use it as a hobby second -not anything other than that.

Start monitoring those frequencies, and set up a schedule for volunteers on a 24-hour basis. If we are to live up to our name, then we need to listen to those calls of emergency, with your local clubs.

This could have been a bad car accident happening in the early-morning night, with severe bleeding, or worse.

We must not fail those who need us in these times.

I do want to thank the officer who gave my son a ride back with gas, and we did get home safely.

Walter Kernaich
East Liverpool

So, is someone monitoring your repeater?



  1. I wrote a more detailed response on eham, but I can’t disagree with Mr. Kernaich more. Amateur Radio is not an emergency service, and it is inappropriate to call for amateurs to be press-ganged into monitoring the amateur bands at all hours for emergency traffic.

    This rant is made all the more absurd given that Mr. Kernaich acknowledges, though only in the briefest of mentions, that the proper emergency services (namely the police) did respond just as expected.

  2. Johnny KD5LWU says:

    I have drove across the United States listening and making calls on 146.52 and only talked to 3 hams on .52 in 4 days of travel. I even tried a number of repeaters with no answer. I was appalled! I listen to my repeater from the time I get up in the morning until I go to bed about 2:00 A.M. We also need people to list to our national calling channel 146.52

  3. Did you not prepare for travel in severe midwest/winter weather? provisions and amenities for such a situation? Cell phone? Did you tell other family members of your travel plans or travel route? you can’t blame your thoughlessness on others, nor expect others to come to your rescue just because you were thoughtless and unprepared. What a shame people like you reflect so poorly on HAM ops!

  4. Situations such as this always catch my attention. Although I have called for and received help a number of times on local VHF/UHF repeaters, I’ve had a similar experience many years ago – pre-mobile phone era – that make me sensitive to anyone asking for help.

    It was a January afternoon in an upper mid-west state and I was on a long distance cross-country trip. Temps were well below zero and the wind was blowing snow. My engine suddenly failed. After calling for assistance on several local 2m repeaters with no response, I found several locals chatting. I broke in and described my situation. One of the hams said he was blind and could not help. The other told me to try another repeater, one that I had already tried with no response. Astounded, I pondered my situation for 15 minutes and began making some hard decisions on self-preservation. Fortunately, a highway patrol soon happened to drive by going the opposite direction. A ride was offered to a nearby city where I found help.

    UHF/VHF repeater use seems to be waning in many parts of the US. Monitoring repeaters 24/7 may be an honorable goal but may not be realistic, especially in rural areas. I do believe, however, that hams can and should do a better job of monitoring and offering assistance when needed.

  5. Should we encourage hams to monitor their local repeater and 146.52 MHz? Yes
    Should we expect 24/7 coverage? No
    Should we complain about a ham radio issue by writing a letter to a newspaper? No (this is really dumb).

    73, Bob K0NR

  6. Dave N8SBE says:

    The amateur radio VHF/UHF FM service (and expectations) has changed over the years. Those that used repeaters since their inception are incredulous that no one answers when they call. The rest just shrug and dial for assistance with their cell phones.

    So where’s the real answer? Possibly somewhere in the middle. Amateur radio is a volunteer service, and just like any volunteers, we don’t appreciate being berated for not responding to what might be considered unreasonable demands of others — unreasonable being in the mind of the volunteer, and no one else can make that decision for him/her.

    It’s dangerous to assume that anyone can demand that a repeater be monitored 24/7 x 365 by volunteers. Where do the demands end, and the volunteers’ time and willingness to serve start? No one should be shamed into volunteering for any reason, no matter how noble it seems in the mind of the demander(s). That’s the quickest way I know of to drive volunteers away in droves. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, no one has the right to criticize.

    When I was young (much younger than I care to admit) I once tried pleading and berating an empty repeater for what I considered was rightfully mine — directions to some place I was trying to drive to in the local city I was living in. It annoyed me no end that no one was responding mid-day, becuase I just KNEW that they were all ‘keeping quiet’. Looking back on that, I am still quite embarrased about the whole thing, and I’m certain that I sounded like a flaming idiot.

    Bring a cell phone and emergency supplies on road trips. A ham radio is certainly nice to have, but I no longer assume that everyone is waiting with bated breath to talk to me, or to offer whatever assistance they can, in response to my distress calls.

  7. I guess everything I was going to say has already been said. Amateur Radio can be a good resource for emergency situations, but it is not an emergency service. That’s a modern fallacy.
    It can be pretty fun to plan for emergencies and do a lot of if-then scenerios in your head, then build bug-out packs to grab in case the end of the world happens on your watch. But Amateur Radio was all about experimentation and working with exciting new technology at the beginning. The whole point of the Amateur or Ham terminology was because of experimenters walking all over communications between ship and shore, and other commercial communications before the airwaves were regulated 100 years ago.
    Nowadays it seems some people think they are Amateur Police officers, or Ham Soldiers, or Amateur commandos.

  8. Why in the world would you write to a local newspaper to complain about a problem with repeaters? What outcome did the writer expect, and how would it come about?

    To someone reading the letter who is not a ham, the most likely take-away point is that ham radio isn’t terribly useful in emergencies. That, and that hams are too cheap to buy cell phones. Nicely done, sir; your Amateur Radio Goodwill Ambassador badge is in the mail.

  9. I saw this earlier in the week and was very disappointed that one of our fellow hams had the gall to write their local newspaper to berate ham radio in their time of ignorance.

    If this happened 20 years ago, you may have been able to find more on the air, and if not, many repeaters had autopatch. With the prevalence of cell phones, many of the repeater operators have dropped autopatch to save money.

    I loathe that 2 meters is so quiet everywhere, but berating other hams is no way to drum up activity. In fact, it will likely have the opposite effect (at least for them).

  10. Sorry Dude,

    I couldn’t hear my radio, as I was out at the pump filling my car…

  11. He starts “it is easy to forget where amateur radio is and what we are here for.” And indeed, he proves that statement with his story. Amateur radio is not primarily an emergency service, though it may be helpful is such situations.

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