Amateur Radio Series by Cynthia Wall, KA7ITT

In the late 1980’s, Cynthia Wall published Night Signals, a young-adult fiction book that prominently featured amateur radio in an engaging story about a wilderness rescue. Over the next ten years this was followed by five other books which featured the same two main characters in different, and often perilous, adventures. As in the original, amateur radio played an integral role in some way in each plotline. Though portions are now a bit dated, the stories generally hold up well, and the depictions of radio technology and practices are all accurate for their time period. That is probably not surprising given that the author had been a licensed amateur radio operator for twenty years when the first book came out and all of six of them were all released under the auspices of ARRL. The geography of the Pacific Northwest, and the author’s home state of Oregon in particular, is also realistically portrayed and, in some ways, almost another character in the stories.

The books are contiguous in nature and they progress through time in the same order in which they were released, but each work can also stand on its own. Written at a level suitable for those 10-14 years old, these compact paperbacks can also be an enjoyable light read for adults. They are now out of print but are often available for a modest price in the used book market, or they may sometimes be found in the local public library.  Highly recommended!

Series summary, individual book descriptions, and photos by Edward Lener, AK4IS, July 2020

Night Signals (1989)

Plot summary – After a disappointing prom, high-school senior Kim Stafford, KA7SJP, meets Marc Lawrence, KA7ITR, on the air and quickly finds they have much in common. When Marc doesn’t check in from his hike in the Cascade Mountains as originally planned, Kim follows her instincts and alerts the authorities. She won’t give up her efforts to ensure that Marc is safe and soon becomes a part of the rescue team. Meanwhile, alone and injured, Marc does his best to treat his wounds and uses his ingenuity to improvise a power supply and communicate his location via his damaged radio equipment.

Technical notes – This first volume is a good introduction to amateur radio and includes topics such as Morse code, basic amateur radio operating practices, and wilderness search and rescue.

Hostage in the Woods (1990)

Plot summary – Now in her first year of college, Kim Stafford, KA7SJP, has been volunteering at a local hospital and is joined for the Christmas holiday by her friend Marc Lawrence, KA7ITR. While getting supplies for a party, Kim crosses paths with bank robbers who have come to the hospital to free their partner, who was shot during a recent holdup. The robbers mistake Kim for a nurse and bring her as a hostage. They demand that she treat the injured man, however, his wounds are far too serious. Knowing this, Kim repeatedly tries to get word out about what has happened to Marc and any others she can contact and to make her escape from the remote cabin where she is being held before it is too late.

Technical notes – This volume includes such topics as Morse code, improvised antennas, repeaters, packet radio, and police operations.

Firewatch (1993)

Plot summary – Working a summer job after her first year of college Kim Stafford, KA7SJP, is stationed at a Forest Service lookout tower in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. Kim quickly masters her new responsibilities and takes advantage of the mountaintop location to communicate via radio all over the world. She even relays a critical message about a ship in distress to an understandably confused Forest Service dispatcher. Her boyfriend Marc Lawrence, KA7ITR, checks in regularly over the air and joins her at the tower whenever he can. But all is not as idyllic as it might seem as a prolonged drought leads to dangerous fire conditions and two unsavory characters put Kim and Marc’s lives in real danger.   

Technical Notes – This volume includes such topics as HF radio, working DX (contacting far away stations), and wilderness fire firefighting.

Easy Target (1994)

Plot summary – Now in her sophomore year of college Kim Stafford, KA7SJP has a falling out with her boyfriend Marc Lawrence, KA7ITR, after he pressures her to make a lifelong commitment. She goes to the Oregon State University Marine Science Center for the spring term. While there she gets involved in trying to help solve a series of mysterious deaths involving apparently healthy whales. She also has a series of run-ins with a group of three men who, unknown to her, are transporting drugs. The story of the migrating whales, the mysterious deaths, and the drug runners all are closely intertwined. When Kim and Marc find a hidden stash and turn it over to the local authorities, they don’t realize that they are suddenly in great danger.

Technical notes – This volume includes such topics as foxhunts (finding a hidden transmitter), marine radio, and annual whale migrations.

Disappearing Act (1996)

Plot summary – During a summer break from college Kim Stafford, KA7SJP is invited to join a family for a cruise from Ensenada to Seattle and serve as a nanny for their three young children. She jumps at the chance for a nice vacation and an opportunity to see Marc Lawrence, KA7ITR, at one of the ports of call. Unfortunately, among the ship’s entertainers is an ex-con looking to make a big score. When he kidnaps the family’s youngest son during a magic act, Kim reaches out to Marc and the pair spring into action to assist in the search.

Technical notes – This volume includes such topics as learning the Morse code alphabet, packet radio, hidden transmitters, hostage negotiation, and even the Federal Reserve banking system.

A Spark to the Past (1998)

Plot summary – Unlike the others, the final book in the series ventures into the realm of science fiction. While demonstrating an antique radio transmitter, Kim Stafford, KA7SJP, and Marc Lawrence, KA7ITR, are transported back in time to 1845 along with a fellow Ham’s five-year-old child, Bobby. All three suddenly find themselves part of a wagon train making the trek west on the Oregon Trail. Each also has a new identity as Kimberly, Marcus, and Robert, and to their surprise find not only are they readily accepted as members of the group but that they also somehow seem to have memories of their own life there in the past. Faced with these inexplicable dual realities, the trio resolve to keep everything about the future secret. Even so, their unusual behavior soon creates suspicions among their fellow travelers. For example, Marc hides their modern 2-meter transceivers in crude wooden boxes so that he can relay directions back to Kim and the rest of the wagons as they struggle to make it through the mountains before winter sets in. The group encounters many hardships and trials along the way, including the death of some members, and personal journal entries show how they coped. Kimberly and Marcus were to pledged be married once they reached their new home in the Willamette Valley, and Kim and Marc must now decide whether to do the same.

Technical Notes – This volume includes such topics as spark gap transmitters, improvised power sources, mistrust of science, stealth operations, and early pioneer history.