Radiotelephone Frustration – McInnes Island c. 1970s – 2000

What a convenience! What an expense! What a frustration!

Radio telephone

Anyone who has used a radio-telephone on the BC coast will agree with me. It was great to have semi-private communications rather than using the government-installed ALAN (Automated Lightstation Alarm Network) phone which was not private, and also broke down. It was expensive to have a privately owned radio-telephone but so nice to be in contact with the rest of the world. 

But sometimes this convenience just added a few more gray hairs to my head. Here’s one example of a conversation! (there are probably many more if anyone wants to add one) 

**********************************

[heard over the radio-telephone speaker, a ringing sound of a telephone as I keyed the microphone (pressed the press-to-talk (PTT) button to get contact with an operator)] 

Operator: Swindle Island [our normal Telus stand-by channel to receive/place phone calls] 

Myself: Hello operator, this is McInnes Island  . May I have privacy please. 

[“privacy” allowed us to have some modicum of secrecy on the radio-telephone line as it blanked out our side of the conversation to other listeners so they could not hear our registration number or other personal details e.g. bank account numbers, etc.] 

Operator: Privacy is on McInnes 

Myself: This is McInnes Island, N117459. I would like to place a call to area code 615-250-2172. 

[heard over the radio telephone speaker, telephone dial tones; telephone ringing sound] 

Business: Welcome to XYZ Travel. At the tone press ‘1’ for English, press ‘2’ for French. 

[as I am talking into a microphone I had no touch-tone dial pad so could not reply] 

Business: Sorry, nothing heard. Have a nice day! 

[phone call disconnected] 

[heard over the radio telephone speaker, telephone dial tones; telephone ringing sound] 

Operator: Swindle Island 

Myself: Hello operator, this is McInnes Island. May I have privacy please. 

Operator: Privacy is on McInnes 

Myself: This is McInnes Island, N117459. I just placed a call to area code 615-250-2172. Would you please stay on the line this time, operator. I had a problem just now when I was connected as I could not talk to anyone. Their answering machine needed a tone for English or French. 

Operator: OK, I can do that, but we are not allowed to enter any personal information. I will credit you for that last call. 

Myself: Thanks. That’s OK. I just want to get connected to anything but the answering machine! 

Operator: OK, McInnes, you are connected. Please go ahead. 

[operator goes offline] 

Mountain-top repeater

Business: Hello. Welcome to XYZ Travel. If you wish to book a flight please press “1”; if you wish to check the status of your travel plans, please press “2”, and on and on . . . Sorry, nothing heard. Have a nice day! 

[phone call disconnected] 

[heard over the radio telephone speaker, telephone dial tones; telephone ringing sound] 

Operator: Swindle Island 

Myself: Hello operator, this is McInnes Island. May I have privacy please. 

Operator: Privacy is on, McInnes 

[We normally always got a different operator so I had to explain it all again] 

Myself: This is McInnes Island, N117459. I just placed a call to area code 615-250-2172. Would you please stay on the line this time, operator. This is the second time I have tried to connect. In the first their answering machine needed a tone for English or French. The next time it needed to know what I wanted to do, again by pressing a number. Can you help please? I would like to book a flight. 

Operator: OK, I will do that, but we are not allowed to enter any personal information. I will credit you for that last call. 

Myself: Thanks, that’s great. I just want to get connected somehow! 

Operator: OK, McInnes, you are connected. Please go ahead. 

[operator leaves the line] 

Business: Hello. Welcome to XYZ Travel. Thank you for booking through us. All of our operators are busy right now. Please stay on the line and we will get back to you as soon as an operator is free. 

[elevator music plays] 

[fifteen minutes passes with same message repeated every few minutes and music playing constantly] 

For your information, the radio-telephone worked this way. To prevent a customer from being charged extra minutes, the isolated mountain-top telephone repeater would disconnect automatically after about five minutes of extended silence. To prevent this we would key the microphone every few minutes to keep the line open. 

After fifteen minutes of standing and keying the mike, I let the mike button go and waited for the time-out. Ten minutes later it had not timed out and I am watching my wages disappear into the telephone company’s pockets. 

Finally, after twelve minutes I switch channels and key the mike to ring another repeater. 

Operator: Bella Bella 

Myself: Hello operator, this is McInnes Island. May I have privacy please. 

Operator: Privacy is on McInnes 

Myself: Thank you. This is McInnes Island, N117459. (you always had to identify yourself first) I have tried two times in the last 15 minutes or so through the Swindle Island repeater to make a phone call to area code 615-250-2172. The first time I was stuck at their answering machine. The operator cancelled the call and I tried again. Again I was stalled at another answering machine. The operator finally got me through to another answering machine which held me offline for ten minutes as their operators were busy. When I finally got fed-up and waited for time-out, the Swindle Island repeater would not time out and is still open. Would you please cancel it and credit my account for the lost time. 

Operator: Yes it is open McInnes. This was your call on Swindle? 

Myself: Yes operator [I just explained it to you!]. Please cancel it as the repeater is not timing-out. 

Operator: OK, McInnes, call terminated. We will credit your account and also report the problem to our technical staff. 

At times I thought I was back in these days!

Myself: Thanks operator. I will try again another time. 

The Telus operators were always great. They had their rules and helped us all they could but the system could be most frustrating, especially those darn answering machines! 

– John Coldwell – Retired Principal Keeper from McInnes (1977 – 2001)

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