“Have you been a good boy this year?” Santa Claus asked
“Yeah,” Brantlee Leiker, 5, replied shyly.
“Well, good for you,” Santa replied, then asked what Brantlee wanted for Christmas.
That’s not an unusual exchange between the jolly old elf and youngsters this time of year, but this one had a different twist. Santa was at the North Pole on Saturday afternoon communicating with Brantlee and his sisters, Danika, 7, and Emerson, 6, via amateur radio. The girls and their older sister, Kali, 10, had talked to Santa earlier and returned with Brantlee and their grandmother, Karla Bennet.
Members of the Ellis County Ham Operators Club provided the setup Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt’s, 2704 Vine. Although some personal circumstances kept them from getting out much publicity about the event, they were pleased with the turnout, said club member John Begler, Ellis.
The group had thought about different locations, but didn’t want to be someplace where Santa already was appearing in person and cause some confusion for children, he said.
Begler works part-time at Vanderbilts, and store manager Graydon Clapp suggested the club set up there. The store likes to have an activity or promotion about once a month to bring people in, he said.
“This is fun stuff we can get behind,” Clapp said.
Begler and fellow ham enthusiasts Marion Miller, Victoria, and Greg Mai, Russell, set up with a small short-range radio on a VHF simplex frequency, while Ron Bennet performed as Santa from his Hays home.
Bennet just happens to be the Leiker siblings’ grandfather, but the children gave no sign they recognized the “ho ho ho” on the other end of the signal.
The ECHO club members said they quickly discovered an advantage to the radio communication they hadn’t considered.
“There were several kids who commented they like doing this rather than going to the mall and sitting on Santa’s lap,” Begler said.
“This is KXMAS,” Begler said in between visits with children, giving a made-up callsign. “Santa is standing by in the radio room. Is there someone who would like to talk to me?”
Justin Weilert, 4, knew exactly what he wanted to say to Santa.
“I want more cows,” he said as Miller held the microphone for him.
“Cows?” Bennet replied in character. “I don’t know about cows, but I could get him some reindeer.”
“I don’t think that will work, Santa,” Justin said, after prompting from Miller.
Justin gave Santa another challenge in asking for a remote control combine.
His sister Jayleigh, 8 1/2, asked for a remote control race car and Little Pet Shop toys.
Older sister Jaylynn, 12, even took the mic to ask for a pair of neon green boots.
Jersey Fabrizious, 9, told Santa she wanted a trampoline and wished him a merry Christmas. She and her mother, Jessica, hadn’t known about the promotion when they came in to shop, but store employees led them to the table so Jersey could talk to Santa.
The group plans to offer the radio chats with Santa again next year.