Abbotsford Christmas Parade
The Taylor County Area Amateur Radio Club(now known as the Black
River Amateur Radio Association) first became involved with
assisting with the annual Abbotsford Christmas Parade in about
1982. As I recall it, Pat Galvin(formerly of Abbotsford) was
the chairman of the parade at that time, and attended a meeting of
the group to request our assistance with the parade by
providing logistical(support) radio communications for the
parade. The group has been involved with the parade ever
The parade has been in existence since 1972.
Basically, what the group does, is position it's people all along
the parade route, using 2-meter hand-held radios to keep in
contact with each other, as well as with a "net control operator",
who operates a "base station" unit located in the "announcer's
trailer" near the middle of the parade route. They relay a
vast variety of information, including, but not limited to:
- Break-downs of floats, either before, or during, the
- Details on lost children. The information is relayed
to the "announcer's trailer", so that an announcement of the
lost child can be made over the parade's public address(PA)
system, and, hopefully, the parents will hear it.
- Monitoring of the sound coming from the speakers along the
parade route, and reporting any failures to the net control
station, for later follow-up.
- Monitoring the spacing between various floats(and walking
- Notifying the "announcer's trailer" of any changes in the
parade line-up, from the starting point(or floats that are
forced to "bow out" later, due to a mechanical failure along
- Relay information related to crowd control issues.
- Relay information, and messages, for parade officials &
organizers, local law enforcement, etc.
What makes this parade so unique is that, basically, is does
NOT permit ANY commercialization! Businesses are not
permitted to run a "business float" in the parade, and no
business names are permitted to be displayed on any of the
floats. This is truly a parade geared towards small
children, as the floats(and walking characters) have themes that
revolve around beloved children's characters: Disney
characters, childrens' stories, etc.
In the earlier years of the parade, it used a somewhat
portable public address(PA) system amplifier(100 watts) and a
single pair of speakers, to provide sound, via a volunteer
announcer, for the parade. That was an old,
tube-type amplifier, and in one earlier year, it blew a fuse,
either before(or during) the parade. A member of the
Amateur Radio group, Marc Winzenried(formerly of Abbotsford),
fabricated a "poor man's fuse" from an empty foil chewing gum
wrapper, and was able to get the PA system up and running again!
Back in those days, the "announcer's position" was moved
around a lot. One year, it was located in the top floor of
a vacant building downtown, along the parade route. In
later years, it was located on a wooden platform, that was
mounted on the back of a pickup truck. For many of those
years, the platform was NOT enclosed, and there was NO HEAT, so
the announcer(and net control operator) were VERY COLD,
especially on windy evenings!
In the mid-1990's, I wrote a grant proposal to the Christensen
Charitable Foundation, to replace the old public address system
with a new(300-watt) PA amplifier, and to mount speakers all
along the parade route(at that time, just along 1st Street),
that could all be tied together, and fed from the
amplifier. Thanks to the foundation, this occurred in
I also came up with a set of "cue cards", for the announcer to
use, that contained information on, for example, the history of
each float and group of characters, the year that they first
joined the parade, and the float's physical dimensions(size,
number of Christmas lights, etc.).
Another earlier project of mine was to figure out a way to
share the parade with the elderly and disabled, who were
unable(or unwilling), due to health or physical reasons, to
brave the early December wintery weather.
As an Amateur Radio operator, I
have been involved with fast-scan Amateur Television(ATV) in the
past, and I figured that I could use ATV to "beam" the
parade, "live", from the parade route, to 3 locations
remotely: Green Vista elderly apartments, Valley Crest
elderly apartments, and Continental Manor(now known as Golden
Living) nursing home.
So, with assistance from Marc Winzenried(Amateur
Radio operator WA9ZCO), formerly of Abbotsford, but now living
in the Green Bay area, and Dean Andrewjeski(Amateur
Radio operator K9PT) of Mosinee, I installed
antennas and ATV "downconverters"(receivers) at those 3
locations. The "downconverters" receive the UHF Amateur
Television signal, and then convert the signal to either
VHF TV Channel 3 or 4, for viewing on a regular TV set.
The "downconverter" signal was fed into the distribution system
at all 3 locations, so, the evening of the parade, I simply
needed to throw a switch that then allowed the parade to be
viewed, "live", that evening, from all 3 locations.
Downtown, on the parade route, I had mounted a transmitting
antenna on a tower of a building that had previously been used
to house a radio & TV shop. I could then hook up my
Amateur Television(ATV) transceiver, and a color camera, to that
antenna. Another Wausau-area Amateur Radio operator, Mike
Matakovich(Amateur Radio operator N9IAB) would then come over
from Wausau to assist me in operating the equipment.
I did this beginning in 1989.
By 1996, Abbotsford had cable TV access, and the Abbotsford
School District was given a local public access channel.
At that point, I discontinued the annual ATV parade
transmissions. Instead, from that point in time, onward,
someone from the Abbotsford School District would set up a
camcorder on the parade route, the evening of the parade, and
videotape the parade, for later editing and subsequent
displaying on the school district's public access cable TV
channel. My only remaining involvement with this project,
was to set up and provide additional lighting for the "camcorder
Another big improvement for the parade, in later
years, which I had pushed for, was the eventual
construction of an enclosed(and heated) "announcer's
trailer", which, during the rest of the year, is kept in
storage, but each December, is relocated to downtown Abbotsford,
along the parade route(see Photo Gallery, below).
No longer does the parade announcer(OR the net control
operator) need to deal with the cold, and sometimes, the wind
and snow(and occasionally, rain). No longer do they need
to worry about their cue cards, or other paperwork, being blown
away, or that paperwork, and the electronic equipment, being
snowed(or rained) on.
The "announcer's trailer" can be hooked up to AC electrical
service, and 2 small electric space heaters are used to provide
And there is a short metal pipe, attached to one side of the
trailer, which acts as a sort of "mini tower", that an antenna
can be mounted on, so that the net control operator can use it
with the base station, for communicating with the other Amateur
Radio operators with their handheld radios.
And there is a ladder going up the side of the trailer, which
has a flat roof, so the "camcorder person" can be located on the
top of the trailer, for purposes of videotaping(filming) of the
parade. Up until I moved to Wausau, WI, I was also in
charge of setting up the high-intensity floodlights on the roof
of the trailer, to provide the "camcorder person" with more
lighting, in order to get a good view(picture) of the parade
route right in front of the trailer.
So, over the years, the Abbotsford Christmas Parade has been
improved, and expanded, including in a "technical" context...
One of the oldest entries in the parade: Puff The Magic
Dragon. Built by John Bremer, an Abbotsford resident, now
deceased. A couple of CO2 fire extinguishers are mounted in
it's nostrils, and give the effect of Puff blowing(snorting)
smoke. It is always a big hit with the kids(and the
The Star Wars X-Wing Fighter...
The Toy Train. This is also a long-time part of the annual
Abbotsford Christmas Parade. It was constructed by Walt
Hopperdietzel of Abbotsford, now deceased.
The Pirate Ship. It has a "working" ship's wheel, which is
actually used to steer the float as it goes down the street, and
makes it's turns at the street corners(intersections). The
pirate ship's cannon can actually be fired(in actuality, CO2 fire
extinguishers are used to emulate the firing of the cannon).
The "Batmobile". This float was originally constructed
by John Hutman, of Abbotsford(now deceased). An ingenious
design actually gives the impression of flames being emitted from
the back of the Batmobile.
Dean Andrewjeski(Amateur Radio operator K9PT) of Mosinee, shown
installing the Amateur Television(ATV) and other equipment,
required to allow the live video feed from the Christmas parade to
be shown on the TV sets at the nursing home in Abbotsford.
Marc Winzenried(Amateur Radio operator WA9ZCO), formerly of
Abbotsford, but now living in the Green Bay area, shown mounting a
directional Amateur Television(ATV) 440 MHz beam antenna on the
tower at the Green Vista senior citizens apartments, in
Abbotsford. Another location to which the parade video was
beamed live, during the Christmas parade.
Back in the years, prior to cable TV arriving in Abbotsford, we
used to use Amateur Television to send a LIVE video feed of the
parade to the nursing home and senior citizen apartment complexes
in Abbotsford. In one year, we actually gained access to the
old National Guard armory in downtown Abbotsford, after the
property had been sold to a private individual. Pictured is
Marc Winzenried(Amateur Radio operator WA9ZCO), formerly of
Abbotsford, but now living in the Green Bay area, who was serving
as the "net control operator" for the Amateur Radio communications
network of operators, down on the parade route, along the
street. The Amateur Television antenna, connected to my ATV
transmitter(shown in the picture), is mounted on a tower of an
adjacent building, which had previously been a radio & TV
shop. The camera operator was Mike Matakovich(Amateur Radio
N9IAB), of Wausau, WI, and he was positioned on a balcony of the
building, overlooking the parade route.
Another view of the equipment line-up, the year that we were
located in the old armory building on First St. in downtown
As the years progressed, the Abbotsford Christmas Parade committee
constructed an enclosed "announcer's trailer", on wheels, that,
each year, could be relocated along the parade route, at the
northwest intersection of Birch and First Streets, along the
parade route. The trailer was equipped with electrical
outlets(shown in the photo above) and we would use two electrical
space heaters to heat the interior of the trailer with.
About this time, cable television had arrived in Abbotsford, and a
public access cable TV channel was given to the Abbotsford public
high school. So, I ceased the use of Amateur TV to do live
coverage of the parade with and, instead, a camcorder(and a camera
operator) were provided by the school district, and we would place
the camcorder & camera operator on the roof of the
trailer(NOTE: not shown is a detachable metal ladder(currently
left attached) that was used by the camera operator to gain access
to the roof top of the trailer. Each year, for the parade, I
would also go up on the roof and set up some floodlights that the
camera operator would use to provide himself with better lighting
for the camcorder. Following the parade, school district
personnel(and, I believe, the students, too) would edit the parade
video footage, which would eventually be "aired" on the school's
public access cable TV channel. Also note the metal pipe,
mounted in the far left corner of the trailer, which is used for
mounting an outside antenna, for connection to a 2-meter band
Amateur Radio transceiver, which the designated net control
operator would use to communicate with the other Amateur Radio
operators that would be assigned to positions along the parade
route. NOTE: In more recent years, the announcer's trailer
is stored INSIDE the locked Christmas Parade storage building,
partially seen in the above picture, when it is not actually set
up for the parade itself.
Another view of the "announcer's trailer", the actual evening of
the Christmas parade, in a more recent year. Christmas
lights are hung on the trailer, and are lighted, the evening of
the parade, to provide it with a more "festive" holiday
appearance. Note the glare from the floodlights that have
been placed on the roof of the trailer, to provide better lighting
for the camcorder.
Here is a photo of Dewey Frey, who was an announcer for radio
station WIGM/WKEB of Medford, WI(now retired), who, for many
years, provided us with announcing services for the Christmas
parade. Radio station WIGM/WKEB of Medford, WI
was, at one time, a long-time member of the Abbotsford Chamber of
Commerce, and, years ago, had a branch studio located in downtown
Abbotsford, from which Dewey would broadcast for one hour, once a
week. In the photo above, I believe he is reading off one of
the cue cards that I originally created. I used to update
the cue cards every year for the parade. Also, shown below
Dewey, on the shelf, is the old, tube-type, McGohan-brand public
address(PA) amplifier that we used to use to feed the light
pole-mounted outside speakers located up and down First Street(the
old parade route).
Another photo of some of the equipment(including the old PA system
amplifier) inside the announcer's trailer.
Another photo(shot) of the interior of the announcer's trailer,
showing the net control operator's position. The net control
operator the year that this photo was taken, was Marc
Winzenried(Amateur Radio operator WA9ZCO), formerly of
Abbotsford, but now living in the Green Bay area. The "net
control operator" served as the central point of contact for the
Amateur Radio communications network of ham radio operators,
down on the parade route, along the street. For example, a
lost child could be communicated to the net control operator,
who could immediately turn to the parade announcer, standing
next to him, and an announcement could be immediately put out
over the PA system, through the ouside speakers along the parade
route, in an attempt to contact the parents(or guardian), and
they could be reunited in that way.
Another view of some of the equipment inside the
announcer's trailer. This was from one of the last years
when I did "live" TV transmissions of the parade, to the nursing
home and senior citizen apartment complexes, in Abbotsford.
Another view of some of the video equipment from inside the
Another view of some of the video equipment from inside the
announcer's trailer. This one shows a WHOLE bank of video
monitors being used for monitoring the parade with.
Some wooden shelving being used to hold some of the video
equipment used in conjunction with the parade.
And, finally, a view of the newer, solid-state, public
address(PA) system amplifier, that was being used for the
Abbotsford Christmas Parade: a Biamp Systems Advantage RPM
Series PA. This particular unit has actually been replaced,
in 2012, by an even newer, smaller(and, might I add, LIGHTER!),
solid-state PA system.