The FM Chronicles

Welcome to my ‘portal’ for sharing and capturing the history, technologies, products, projects, anecdotes, and honoring the people who started a growth spurt in amateur radio and technology by introducing Frequency Modulation (FM) operations to the community and expanding capabilities, coverage and support around the world.

As much as Marconi, Edison, Bell, Faraday, Voltaire, Tesla, Hertz et al have contributed to the existence and evolution of radio technology, there are equal and greater contributors to the growth, success and positive effects of ham radio – spark gap, CW, AM, SSB, FM, ‘digital’, digital and more.

First, foremost and only I want to chronicle solutions, successes, growth, benefits, contributions specific to FM, repeaters and subsequent new FM and FM-/repeater-related technologies and systems.  The core of this hobby aside from the human spirit is based on technology – science, physics, bounded and proven principles, cause and effect.  We won’t argue the merits of CW, SSB, AM or whether ham radio should or should not be used for CERT, Red Cross, family events, etc.

There are a few things I want to collect information about, to be sorted and arranged to create a time and story line about the FM evolution in ham radio – statistics, details and lessons-learned:

  • Who – the people who introduced and implemented new and novel FM systems, our mentors, our students
  • What – the equipment used, from early Motorola and GE to Kaar to Yaesu, including radios, duplexers, control systems, antennas, creative power schemes – wind, solar…
  • Where – the first FM systems went on the air – region, city, state, hilltop or rooftop
  • When – date project started, date system in the air, other notable occassions
  • Why – experimentation? public service need? to fill a void in communications services?
  • Pictures – I want rig pics, antenna party picks, controller building pics, equipment racks then and now, novel mobile installs, novel repeater site installs (yes, there are a few in working refrigerators chained to trees on remote hilltops!), how-to, how-NOT-to
  • Anecdotes – whether it is a story about mosquitoes, rodents, reptiles, humans, lightning, snow, rain, earthquake, flood, burgers and fries, coffee, 807s (beer)… whatever has made the hobby fun, essential, uniquely valuable, teachable and learn-able moments.

I do ask that you enroll, sign up, register and otherwise make yourself known to credit your contribution and follow-up with any questions.

Please, feel free to contribute, interact, share, question and help document and memorialize the past 50 or so years of amateur radio.

Thank you in advance for your contributions.

73, de Jim, NO1PC

Posted in History of FM and Repeaters | 1 Comment

Should We Join The ARRL?

… Who/What Are We Joining?

5 Dec 2017

Some (many?) new hams may not even consider the ARRL as they join the hobby. What is it? What does it do for us – individually or collectively? “$49 for a radio magazine???!!!”

First, many can be appreciative of the ARRL for helping provide some of the training materials and certainly the Volunteer Examiner program through which you were able to study, take and pass the test to get your amateur radio license – congratulations!!!   A significant value-add of the ARRL made that possible – otherwise we might be struggling to find a ‘nearby’ FCC examination facility 250-500 miles away from home – that would be sad.

Second, but perhaps more significant and further back in time, we can appreciate the ARRL for the FCC continuing to allow this International avocation to exist, thrive and grow in the United States and elsewhere.  This is truly a unique privilege with many different benefits, offerings and justifications to remain intact, WITHOUT a lot of government, commercial or public scrutiny or competition.  It is a privilege. One that is more restrictive if it exists at all in many countries around the world.

Third, like it or not, the ARRL is so far our ONLY lobbying/advocacy organization for amateur radio in the United States, and helps supports the same for many other countries. This is not perfect, we don’t always get our wishes in the U.S. or globally, but we still exist for their efforts.

Fourth, the ARRL does offer SOME access to SOME plausibly relevant, correct, accurate good-practice information hams need and want to know.  QST and other publications may be the only source of ‘technology’ many people get or have ready access to.

Fifth, the ARRL offers at least a loose framework and some guidance for us to provide services and remain relevant and respected in our local communities.  Though through ARES it is not a well-organized, if at all, emergency response/assistance entity, it provides some level of consistency that validates our help in local and global communities.

Though we can become members, the ARRL is NOT a “ham club”. When you become a member you become mostly if not only a funding contributor to their staff and resulting lobbying and legal resources at levels above our day-to-day practices.  We’re supporting the hobby’s advocacy before the FCC (regulatory, now law-making body) and occasionally/rarely to the U.S. House and Senate.  Yes, you get QST.  Yes you get access to some ‘current’ news, but mostly you get a lobbying group – like the AARP, NRA, etc.

The ARRL’s advocacy efforts are very focused on a specific, limited number of issues – they project representing ALL of amateur radio in the United States.  Your preference for one issue over another is never accounted for, there is no counting of Yay or Nay supporters – it’s the ARRL Board’s way or nothing.

Oh, yes, you also get to submit nominations, run yourself and vote in the elections for region directors who manage much of the ARRL’s daily and lobbying operations – but sadly you are not really *represented* democratically – there is no mechanism for that.  You select a preferred representative who is hopefully allowed by another committee to actually be a candidate, and then defer any and all decisions to whomever wins or is allowed to remain in office, without accountability, knowledge of how they voted, meeting minutes, etc.

If you can accept everything above the prior paragraph, indeed your membership dues and any resulting benefits are worth it.  Ultimately, the ARRL is the only “elephant in the room” in the halls of D.C. working for us.  We need that.  That does not happen without funding.  There is no other reasonable, viable way to bring the weight, gravity, preferences of our million-member NON-REVENUE-GENERATING, A-POLITICAL hobby representation to bear on governance and preferred results.

While there are some legitimate concerns about how the ARRL does business, amateur radio overall needs the advocacy. No shame in not joining – this is not a recruitment drive and I’m not running for office or applying for employment.  Just an observation and opinion about what you’re getting, or not, as a member.  I’ll cover other concerns in another blog post and a petition.



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“Fun Mode…”

It’s a “Fun Mode”
– Is it “the mode” or the results?
– 5 Dec 2017 de No1PC

I hear “fun mode” once in awhile – in reference to D-Star, DMR, P25, Fusion, etc. – and wonder what’s any more or less ‘fun’ about “the mode” – invisible technology that accepts your voice and makes it audible from a speaker a few or thousands of miles away, and brings others’ voice back to you the same way?

You’re not personally or physically interacting with the mode per-se, and voice-to-voice generally should have no awareness of “a mode’s” existence.  There *is* awareness that at least in the case of digital data transfer over RF, in the conversion processes, it’s obvious by the unnatural audio that you’re not on analog FM or AM, or SSB. What’s ‘fun’ about it?

All of the above can be and usually are digitally-linked over the Internet, globally – so are the contacts across state or international lines more or less ‘fun’ via DMR vs D-Star vs Fusion vs analog VoIP connections between analog FM stations? Do they tickle? Are the conversations any better? Can you see the bits?

‘Mode’ is such a broad term. :0

Used to be we only had a single ‘digital’ mode rendered by the creation and spacing of analog RF transmission – called ‘CW’, implemented manually by wrist/finger-operated telegraphs keys and deciphered by ear – much as we play and listen to music (though few of us can identify the notes, we get the message, by the learned interaction of translating letters and numbers into ‘bits’.) Now THAT is talent – we were not only communicating but and active part of the communications processing. That is fun to many, not so much to others who couldn’t or wouldn’t “learn the notes.” Definitely a valuable application of radio.

When modulation of RF beyond on and off, to levels of on and off that followed amplitude and tone of voice, we got amplitude modulation. That was probably a LOT of fun, a magical experience with the mystery of radio in between.

Once capturing images, especially images as things moved came about, we got tele-vision – an amplitude modulated mode. Add audio… perhaps the devil’s toy? Then frequency modulation was discovered which dramatically improved analog voice communication. A new “fun mode”. By then was it any more fun or just more pleasant?

AM for consistency and legacy remains in the broadcast world, and if you’re an afficianado of ‘broadband’ audio on HF, sounds SUPERB. Some fun in finding just the right modern or legacy HF rig, microphone and tweaking the audio to sound better than Edward R Murrow on CBS (I know, dated, but history is important too!)

Sideband – a manipulation of AM to concentrate all of the ‘AM’ power in half the bandwidth, upper or lower, annoys the broadcast AM and FM purists but is perhaps the second great advancement in ham radio. It sustains today as one of THE most effective HF voice ‘modes’ for many military, commercial and of course ham applications. It is ubiquitous worldwide. Paying close attention to the nuances of SSB transmission can result in some pretty impressive AM-broadcast-like signals!

Since the late 60s and to date – FM – constant carrier RF power to avoid AM/varying power signal levels – was and remains THE global modulation/audio mode globally. VERY easy radio implementations. Quite obvious audio transmission and recovery. Employed by thousands of broadcasters, commercial/business users, public safety, etc. Perhaps THE FIRST and often ONLY ‘mode’ for many many hams. Crisp, clean, uncomplicated end-to-end communications without computers, bits, networking, etc.

Well, until you toss in voice (or radio) over IP bridges, patches, connectors – such as EchoLink, IRLP, AllStar. One does not have to invest in new radio equipment to enjoy the near, far, or global connectivity between local, distant, mobile or international locations.

Then we “paradigm shift” (but hopefully not forcefully) into some innovative, but varying quality implementations of ‘digital’ voice modes. First, it is important to understand that any human to human voice communications is always, so far, ANALOG. None of the digital voice modes change the human voice interface – they are just different, ‘invisible’ means of transporting analog voice from Point A to Point B, C, D, E…

Radio-over-IP is more various implementations and back-end configurations than innovative, pioneering, etc. Most global telephony has been voice-over-IP for a couple of decades. We can do this in Skype, Facebook, Google, GoToMeeting, etc. What’s more ‘fun’? A free Skype to Skype call between any consumer device in the world, or an Internet-bound special-radio-to-special-radio QSO via common VoIP technology?

D-Star claims to be first in the ham world. Basically an analog to digital encoding or conversion scheme conveying ‘digital modem’ ‘tones’ through what ‘was’ an FM modulation scheme in a transmitter. It is NOT specifically “narrow-band” by any other standard. It is mostly implemented in one brand of radio and a few off-shoot interface appliances. Not created nor adopted by domestic or commercial entities, it is ‘simply’ a ‘quaint’ human-to-human transport mechanism with some digital/data/modem features. Is it ‘fun’? Why? How so? It can be networked globally? That’s not unique or special.

Then we come to the industry-standards, commercially-implemented modes like P25, and ‘Trbo’ (DMR). P25 – created of by and for the public-safety market, to allow more spectrum concentration and offer encryption for sensitive ‘tactical’ data – it requires the radios to have computing power, software, and a variety of security complexities. It is specifically true-narrow-band, available only in commercial brand radios. Encrypted P25 is not allowed in amateur service. Is it ‘fun’? How so?

DMR, more generically and by standards ‘Trbo’, is perhaps the most condensed, feature-packed digital ‘mode’ to meet commercial and ham radio service. It is NOT a unique proprietary possesion of Motorola – they just provide some value-add ($$$) features atop the global standard. Buy almsot any variant of a ‘DMR’ radio and you too can “world the world” (over VoIP) from your recliner. No license or new gear required to do this via VoIP applications.

By now some readers are getting a little ‘boiled’ about my rendition and may not even wait until the end of this piece to ‘troll’ me.

I’ve only called out a lot of things we call ‘modes’ and pointed out some things that are not too unique or special – that we couldn’t already do by other means – ham radio or consumer products? So, still, what defines a “fun mode” ?

We have a LOT of human-to-human voice ‘modes’ and implementations. Having built dozens of repeaters in my modest time in this hobby – ‘fun’ is relative – not guaranteed or mandated by how anyone gets on the air.

Still, I’ve not yet expanded on the various implementations of ‘older’ modes – CW, SSB or even FM when it comes to making contact through objects or with people in outer space. Numerous satellites have been providing CW, SSB and now FM voice services, variously easy for the majority of hams with a dual-band hand-held and $30 directional antenna. General-public licensed ham satellite operation modes have been around for over a decade. A LOT of fun for kids and many new hams!

Yet another trip in a way-back time machine – using CW or SSB to make Earth-Moon-Earth contacts. My first and sadly only foray into that was facilitated by an 84 foot dish and 5KW CW transmitter in Maryland. Amazing to hear your own meager 2-3 WPM CW signal bounce back 3-4 seconds after calling CQ. This mode, EME, is frequently enjoyed fun by many with directional antenna arrays in their back-yards.

The EME crowd also seems to enjoy a variety of weak-signal challenges on 6 meters, 2 meters, 440 and beyond to 3, 5, 10 GHz microwave allocations – challenging atmospheric conditions to acheive distant communication records once thought impossible.

To me the *FUN* is any contact, contribution, growth, provision of services and expansion of our common global friendship no matter what electronics, device, or modulation scheme is used.

To call-out or imply that one thing is ‘fun’ may leave the impression other amateur radio operations are not, or are less-fun. Nothing could be farther from reality – HAM RADIO IS FUN! It will be a lot of fun if/when my grandkids may begin to ‘get’ ham radio – any part or implementation of it.

Making and enjoying new friends across town or around the globe is the most fun of ham radio, not specific to a mode, modulation scheme, radio, antenna, power, etc. Direct radio-to-radio, without computers or the ‘Interwebs’ in between, is perhaps the most genuine ‘fun’ implementation, but it’s all good.

I think the point is and should be – get on the air – your voice, CW keying or image – conveyed to someone else somewhere else – and not let “the mode” be the significant aspect, but the experience!


de Jim, No1PC

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‘OnStar’ via APRS and HF Mobile

Easter Weekend 2014

Captain MarshMellow (my faithful sidekick mini-Aussie) and I packed up and headed out from Silicon Valley, Billings.MT-or-Bust, to check out and possibly purchase and tow back our now-present 2004 30 foot Airstream Classic.   Our second unit to replace our ’86 Excella.  ‘Cappy’ had his stash of “bully sticks” and chew toys, me with jerky and fiber bars…

Departing home I checked in with my friends on a 440-repeater system and advised of the trip. Two questions came back:  “Do you have APRS? Do you have HF?”

Yes and yes.

“Good, we’ll follow you and let’s arrange calling frequencies.  We’ve (Ralph, AF7DX and Bill, W6CBS) been on that route many times.”

And there it was – APRS tracking confirmed. 40, 20 and 17 meter frequencies and schedule laid-out.  Positive contact acquired on 20m and we were good to go.

Once I drove out of UHF-linked-system coverage going over the Sierras, HF and cellular were our only contact with the “real world.”

Prior to and as we cleared Wells, NV the shortcut route was determined – Hwy 93. Next stop per fuel and driver stamina was Twin Falls, ID.  I needed a puppy-friendly place to stay. Ralph checked two options, called ahead and reserved me one of them. Kewl

Enroute I was informed of a couple of places to stop for coffee – one probably not suitable for families.  😉  A good night’s rest and then travels and HF contact resumed.

Out of Twin Falls and further suggested route instructions. Spot on.  Approaching Billings, MT I confirmed location of the Airstream, invited to late Easter dinner leftovers and staying overnight in the trailer. Score 2!

The HF banter turned ‘dark’ – what if we had traveled all this way and there wasn’t really an Airstream at the other end?  What if the deal couldn’t be made?  Thanks guys!

I should not leave out the parts about encountering some of the most awesome scenery, especially once departing I-80.  Dang there’s a lot of nothing PLUS very impressive mountain ranges along the way.

Arrived at “the location.” Indeed there really was a shiny Airstream in the driveway, for sale, and good, nice, honest people at the end of the journey. A quick inspection of the Airstream then leftover ham and beans for dinner. We were set.

After dinner more Airstream discussion, inspection, worked out the deal, plans for the morning, bank, hitch up, make yourself comfy on the bunk, grabbed sleeping bag. ALl good.

Up early the next AM, found coffee, headed to the bank, completed the deal, back to the trailer to hitch up. Learned about the included Hensley Hitch. Lights work. Off we go.

APRS and HF contact confirmed.  Next stop was Idaho Falls, first Lowe’s for some hardware, grocery for food, then a nice campground.  I was stuck on a remote-work conference call for too many hours Tuesday AM and hit the road as a storm was coming in. The trailer and Hensley hitch held through the gusts and rain – impressive.

Made it to a camp along I-80 in the dark, rested and off again, still APRS-tracked and HF for company along the way on the last part of the route back through Reno to Sacramento adding UHF system communications to the mix and on to home.

Quite a trip. Two Airstreams at home. Time to clean up #1 and sell – and it was snatched up by a couple in Australia with an equally interesting tale and long-trip getting the Excella to a new home.

Cannot say enough in favor of having APRS running, VHF/UHF for local comms, and HF for “no place like home” contact with familiars.  Ham radio and RV-ing are meant for each other!


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Antennas and Counterpoise

I just posted the first draft (subject to peer review) of an illustrated narration through RF+antenna ‘circuit’ basics and the essentials of deliberate counterpoise to complete the circuit and avoid stray RF.

Some parts of the circuit are depicted figuratively vs. literally because the focus is on what happens with RF and return currents in various implementations.

My goal, in this web site, blog and Facebook group

is to offer and substantiate as simply as reasonably possible the facts and science of various aspects of this hobby, from power systems to antennas, mitigating interference and safety risk, and making our activities as efficient and effective as possible.

Constructive discussion and contribution is always welcome.

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