July 28, 2014

From A Radio Scanner's Point of View - Bruce Atchison

The blessing of writing without aiming for a particular demographic is that we can venture into creative forms of literature without being reprimanded by our editors. I believe this is good practice since it forces us to structure our stories or poems in unfamiliar ways. It also keeps us out of creative ruts.

Just for fun, I wrote a short story devoid of narration. All I used in it was dialogue and sound effects. It's as if the reader is sitting in front of a radio scanner which is tuned to an amateur radio frequency. The resulting conversations tell the entire tale.

I titled my fiction story Autopatch after a component of a radio signal repeater which allows hams to access the telephone lines while in their vehicles or on foot. In my story, two men are chatting on the repeater when one spots a car accident. Since the cell phone reception in that particular area was poor, the ham used the keypad on his radio to dial into the autopatch and contact the RCMP.

Writing this tale was quite challenging for me. Though I made sure to have the hams identify themselves by name and call sign, I still became confused. After strenuous editing, I straightened out who was speaking to whom.

Choosing the sound effect words was also arduous. Repeaters have courtesy beeps, so named because it allows a second or two between transmissions. If anybody needs to use the repeater to contact some one or for emergency communications, the others on the frequency will be able to hear and let that ham speak. Since those beeps are often at a relatively low pitch, I chose "boop" to represent the courtesy beep.

I also strove to make sure Autopatch was as realistic as possible. This included interruptions. Many amateur radio repeaters use Morse code to identify themselves with their own call signs. I used  "dah" to indicate dashes and "dit" to indicate dots. Quite often, repeaters will send these bursts of code over top of a conversation. The other person in the conversation usually needs to ask for a repeat of what the interrupted person said.

Another difficulty I faced was the use of call signs. Out of respect for my fellow hams, I didn't want to use one belonging to a living person nor one from an amateur who passed away. Then I realized that I could use the call signs of local repeaters for the hams in my story and my own call sign, VE6XTC, for the repeater they were using.

As for where I'll publish my labour of love, I have no idea. The CBC might dramatize it in their three-minute stories feature or some literary magazine might find it worthy of publication. Whatever happens, I hope my experimental prose is seen in print or pixels. How sad it would be to do so much work for naught.


  1. Fascinating concept, Bruce, and very much a challenge. Thanks for a little peek into the ham radio world!

  2. Bruce,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences as you ventured into a new way of writing. Since I have my ham license I totally understood what you're describing. It sounds like your piece would be perfect for radio :)

  3. What a challenge! You obviously did a lot of research. I feel your satisfaction in being stretched in all directions but bringing it all together in the end. I hope you find a market for this unique story.

  4. I would love to read this, Bruce, it sounds interesting!


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