NPN Through the Years

Our first North Pole Network activities took place in 1976 at St Jude Hospital and Rehabilition Center (as it was then named) in Fullerton, California, where April Moell WA6OPS was the Director of Occupational and Recreational Therapy. Members of the Southern California ATV club brought ham television equipment into the hospital so that patients could see Santa as they talked to him. Getting good pictures on 434 MHz throughout the hospital was not easy, and the audio was also a problem because we were using a wide-coverage repeater with frequent malicious disruptions. In this photo, April introduces a Rehabilitation unit patient to Santa as the patient's husband watches and an ATV club member adjusts the TV gear.

We made lots of improvements for 1977. Video was transmitted through the in-house distribution system, so patients could watch Santa on the TV sets in their rooms, as they talked to Santa on ham radio, on a secure simplex frequency this time. There were lots of pediatric patients like this one (and his little brother --- look closely to see him as everyone looks up to the room's TV).

Santa also visited with the adult rehabilitation patients again in 1977. The assistant holding the Drake TR-33 with attached synthesizer was a St. Jude psychologist.

Karen Gallant WB6DCB held the radio for April as they visited this St. Jude pediatric patient in 1978.

North Pole Network had expanded to include Childrens Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) by 1978. NPN at CHOC was always done with radio only, no TV.

1980 was the last year for Santa on TV (Santa-vision) at St. Jude. Santa didn't like to have to get dressed up and be on-camera continuously for several hours, and young patients' own imagination was quite adequate to convince them that they were actually talking to the North Pole. So we decided to go radio-only after that, so Santa could be comfortable and talk to them directly from his office next to the workshop.

CHOC has pediatric patients from infants through the teens, and if they are old enough to talk, they all enjoy talking to St. Nick. This is from 1981.

April was hospitalized in Los Angeles during Christmas 1982, but the show went on at CHOC. Winkie Sonnefield, Director of Physical Therapy at St. Jude, was the radio contact.

April was back in 1983, with a new hair style and a new radio.

In 1986, we began giving out lapel buttons to everyone who talked with Santa. April is wearing one, but it's barely visible.

These photos are from 1988. Note that parents love to watch their kids talk to Santa, and sometimes the parents talk, too. Note the iron lung in the lower photo, something you don't see often nowadays.

From the CHOC bulletin board in 1990.

April's sister Christie KØIU handed out buttons in 1993.

In the summer of 1994, Santa had a special off-season talk with some pediatric rehabilitation patients at St. Jude hospital so that a crew from Group W Productions could film the event.

The program was titled "There Really is a Santa Claus" and featured interviews and evidence from believers around the country. Jack Perkins was host.

April told Jack how every year Santa sends a message that he wants to talk to hospitalized children in Orange County on ham radio, and that radio propagation conditions are always nearly perfect. Unfortunately, the TV crew member responsible for captioning wasn't perfect.

Another patient tells why she believes. The program aired first on the NBC network for Christmas 1994, then on various networks for several years thereafter.

In 1997, CHOC asked if a crew from KTTV could tape NPN activities, and we agreed. They even got Joe Moell KØOV in front of the camera, a NPN first.

Marguerite Beal, a Recreational Therapist from CHOC and our contact there almost from the beginning, told how much NPN means to the patients.

April introduced Santa to the English-speaking patients as usual.

Jackie Schaffer WA6AKP helped with the Spanish-speaking patients, as she has done in recent years.

More shots from the KTTV report, which aired during "Good Day LA" with Steve Edwards on Christmas morning.

In 2000, NPN's 25th year, we went to Healthbridge Children's Rehabilitation Hospital (HCRH) in Orange for the first time, where this young lady tried to reel in the mike.

Of course we also visited CHOC in 2000. April had to wear a mask to visit this patient in isolation.

From NPN 2002, a young patient getting some exercise by a CHOC nurses' station gets a greeting from St. Nick.

In 2003, this mother and child couldn't stop laughing as they talked to the North Pole from a CHOC playroom.

April Moell WA6OPS makes a test call to the North Pole from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in 2004, assisted by Emily Baxter, a CHOC Child Life Specialist (at left).

Paul Broden K6MHD helps a nurse talk to Santa (left) and gowns up for visiting a young patient in an isolation room (right) during North Pole Network 2005. Paul was the Lead Communicator that year because April was at home with the flu.

In addition to CHOC, NPN again visited HealthBridge Children's Hospital during North Pole Network 2006, where April connected this patient to St. Nick.

In 2008, this patient at Childrens Hospital was truly amazed that Santa knew all about him. 

Text and images ©1976-2008 by Joseph D. Moell. Republication without permission is prohibited.

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This page updated 25 November 2015