Abbotsford Christmas Parade
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 since.

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:

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 1996.

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 person".

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 heat.

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 grownups, too!).

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 Abbotsford.

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 announcer's trailer.

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.

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