Buried in a back room of the Idaho Bureau of Disaster Services, located in the basement of building 600 at Gowen Field, volunteer amateur radio operators continually prepare to provide emergency radio communications in case there is a loss of commercial telephone service. They are members of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), a program sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission, but which is administered by the Bureau to ensure statewide, regional and national radio communications during major emergencies and disasters. This Christmas, however, RACES members changed roles from emergency communicators to Santa's helpers.
Teaming up with Cancer Kids Worldwide, the Treasure Valley Tumor Institute and St. Luke's Hospital, RACES members installed a radio station in the hospital lobby. Under the watchful eye of charge nurses, patients were wheeled to the hospital lobby for a chance to talk directly to Santa at the North Pole. HF radio was used to talk with Santa because the static and heterodyne made the radio call sound very, very long distance indeed.
While Gary Peek, affectionately known as "The Gentle Giant" was preparing the kids for their talk with Santa at the North Pole, other RACES members talked with family and staff to gain personal information that was transmitted to Santa's helpers behind the scenes on UHF and VHF radios. The kids were amazed to hear Santa talk about their most prized possessions, pets, favorite teachers, friends and hobbies. There seemed to be no limit to how much Santa knew about each boy and girl. The Gentle Giant enhanced the moment with comments like, "how does he know all that?" Questions the kids could not answer.
The first patient to talk to Santa was a beautiful young lady of 16 who was obviously too old and too sophisticated to take talking with Santa seriously. She leaned over to the microphone and started the conversation to the North Pole with a casual, "hello". Following two minutes of dialog with Santa, who obviously knew everything about her, "Princess" said in a suddenly whispered and questioning voice, "Santa?" Younger kids were absolutely dazzled by the personal knowledge that Santa had at his disposal. Not only did he seem to know what they wanted for Christmas, he even knew what they were wearing, what toy they were holding and who was with them at that very moment. The result was radiant smiles, as big as all outdoors.
But that wasn't all. Nurses, with the look of concern that their young charges might become overwhelmed by the excitement of the moment also became the target of Santa's all-knowing persona. Reciting the names of their children, pets, hobbies and desires, Santa caused adult wonderment which turned into fun and excitement for the hospital staff as well as for their young patients.
Christmas is a time of giving. But the volunteer radio operators who donated their time and equipment each felt strongly that they were the ones that had been on the receiving end of Christmas. Just look at the smiles of the patients who talked to the North Pole by amateur radio and you will see why.
Reprinted with permission by the Idaho Bureau of Disaster Services.