Next to my favorite transceiver sits an FL 2100B amplifier, ready for use should I care to integrate it with my transmitter and tuner. I haven't used the amplifier since probably March 1978, when I met ZL2QW during a CW QSO. I think that it's still operational, but I am not certain: I have moved my station twice since retirement--perhaps something, has jiggled loose? About decided to begin using the amp again (this time not for DX but for traffic handling), I opted first to conduct a strictly nonscientific survey of linear amplifier use by other traffic handlers. So, via the National Traffic System, CW mode, I distributed about thirty (30) messages—sent to CW and SSB ops who were active both locally and throughout the traffic system-- asking if an amplifier was used for traffic handling. Among the eighty-six (86) percent who responded to the survey question, fourteen (14), or fifty-three (53) percent of the respondents stated that they used an amplifier periodically. Nothing earth shaking here!
Meanwhile, in the process of remodeling my basement, where my station is located; I originated a wire at the breaker box, and carefully routed it between newly installed wall studs so as to terminate within easy reach of my amplifier. When all was finished, my amp was ready to be fed by its own private conductor. But, before placing the amp in service, I mulled over a question: asking myself if, after going to the effort to install a power line for the amplifier, I had fine-tuned basic traffic handling processes, controlled by me, to the extent that an amplifier would make a difference. In other words, a loud signal pushed by ineptness was an issue to be confronted. So began an inventory and assessment of my traffic handling behaviors. My sked assignments were posted at my operating desk, a reminder of when to switch on the rig, what frequency to find, and the station to meet. The sked assigment agenda, I admitted, left much to be desired. Lazily, I attempted to convince myself that all the operational aspects were just automatic responses by now: things would just fall in place as the communications encounter played out. Wrong! I uncomfortably recalled the times when I had to ask the other station to stand-by while I adjusted my key, or made an adjustment to the typewriter, or tightened up an antenna contact, or corrected a message routing, or drafted a message, or. ...Well, after admitting my foibles, I knew that there was much more involved than " ...switch on; contact. ..”
By now the concept of power was taking on additional dimension. Wattage was one thing; while efficiency and capability, something else. I had the additional wattage if I wanted it, but what to do about upgrading efficiency and capability? Again, the concept of power emerged, but now aligned with the state of preparedness. Egads! I could become more efficient were I to be better prepared.
All levity aside, being prepared--and preparedness evolves through both training and basic preparations for a communications exercise--is the difference between a sloppy sked and a professional exchange of information. In order to better be prepared for a traffic handling schedule, I have developed a menu that prepares me for the events which evolve once I switch my rig to the "on" position. Very simply, my check list includes the following:
CONDITION OF EQUIPMENT: adjustments needed? properly tuned? on frequency? signal quality?
MATERIALS/AIDS AVAILABLE: paper; typewriter; computer; area codes; zip codes; email addresses; telephone numbers; 1og book/records
KNOWLEDGE OF COMMUNICATIONS ASSIGNMENT: frequency; sending or receiving station; previous difficulties with the sked; net control aids; stations assigned to various functions
KNOWLEDGE OF FREQUENCY CONDITIONS: test frequency before the sked; plan alternate frequencies; know alternate traffic routing options
PROPER MESSAGE ROUTING: all messages to be sent are accurately routed? All messages received are correctly addressed?
PROPER MESSAGE FORMAT: numbered? handling instructions? preamble? address?; text(and count)?; signature? legal text?
PLAN STRATEGIES: QSY options; QNB options; sked delay options
PROPER APPLICATION OF THE SELECTED MODE: reliable? Copyable appropriate speed for conditions and other operators?
NET CONDUCT: accurate QNZ; prompt QNI when called by the net control station; prompt adherence to net control instructions; avoid traffic relay delays; properly employ net control functions when serving as net control
MENTAL PREPAREDNESS: good attitude? up to the challenge? willing to help others? patient and polite? promoting amateur radio?
RECORDS AND REPORTS: accurate notations of time and message count; QNI, QTC, QNB, and QSY info; frequency conditions; unusual or illegal activities; reports to net managers filed on time
ADVANCEMENT OF AMATEUR RADIO GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: have I presented myself and my station as good models? have I effectively completed my assigned communications tasks? have I caused others to enjoy traffic handling? have I been of some encouragement to new traffic handlers?
My preparedness agenda, of course, will continue to develop and become
more complete as I encounter additional traffic handling experiences. And,
indeed, I am always ready to obtain new information and constructive criticism
from the more capable operator. All in all, my amplifier, should I actually
need to use it, is ready to be activated; but, the traffic handling preparedness
exercises must be fine-tuned and they must be used continually because
being prepared is being empowered.