THE REAL COST OF A REPEATER SYSTEM
Here is a cold, hard fact. Amateur Radio and Ham Radio Repeaters are not FREE!
Consider the following:
- Tower or building top space for the average Amateur Radio repeater is worth approximately $1,500.00 per month. The cost of tower space on tall Broadcast towers is even more.
- Commercial-grade Repeaters, RF Amplifiers, DC Power Supplies, Duplexers, Antennas and transmission line are expensive. How much? A new repeater can cost $2,000 or more. Commercial-grade RF Amplifiers can run $1,400.00 or more. A set of duplexers can cost as much as $3,000.00. A commercial-grade antenna built to withstand winds of 130 MPH can cost as much as $2,500.00. 7/8” hard line cable can cost up to $9.00 per foot plus connectors (up to $100.00 each) plus installation.
- Even though many Amateur Radio repeaters lie dormant for extended periods of time, they must be built for a one hundred percent duty cycle to withstand the impact of extended operating time when they are in use.
- An Amateur Radio presence on a “commercial” or broadcast tower requires multi-million dollar Liability Insurance coverage that can cost the repeater owner $2,500.00 per year or more. This is a direct, out of pocket expense.
- A tower crew to install an antenna and transmission line on a three hundred foot commercial tower can easily cost $4,000.00.
The West Central Florida Group, Inc. operates the NI4CE Repeater System to enable the Amateur Radio community to be connected and pro-active when severe weather threatens, Health and Welfare messages need to be passed or whenever the West Central Florida community needs our support. Our IRS 501(c)(3) charitable status enables our corporate partners including Cox Media Group Inc., iHeart Media, Vertical Bridge and others, to donate tower space and the use of ground facilities to house the repeater equipment. That provides significant financial relief. All other capital and operating expenses require cold, hard cash. Operating an Amateur Radio repeater, much less a five site, eight repeater system is not FREE!
We’re not asking for $50.00 a month or more like your cell phone or Internet provider. But we are asking you to help us keep the NI4CE Repeater System on the air. Just select one of the PayPal options below to show your appreciation and commitment of service to our West Central Florida community.
1 System – 5 Sites – 15 Years of Service. NI4CE – Necessary Infrastructure 4 Community Emergencies.
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NI4CE Weathers Severe Weather Outbreak
Our thanks to the many SKYWARN-trained operators who provided essential and timely information about this past Sunday’s tornado outbreak in West Central Florida. The NI4CE SKYWARN Net operated from Midnight to 6 AM on Sunday, January 17th as Tornado Warnings were issued for Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota Counties and many more Severe Thunderstorm Warnings were posted for nine counties South of I-4.
This was just one more example of how NI4CE and the West Central Florida Amateur Radio community continues to make Amateur Radio a relevant social media resource for our area.
Is Amateur Radio Relevant?
By Paul Toth-NB9X
With all the social media currently available, I am often asked “Is Amateur Radio relevant?” The simple answer to that poignant question is “Only if the Amateur Radio community makes it relevant!” Let me explain what I mean.
Amateur Radio is the FIRST social media. Long before the Internet, email, smartphones, tablets, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the assortment of other “pay to play” conduits, there was Amateur Radio. If it weren’t for Amateur Radio, there wouldn’t even be CB radio or FRS. All that is required is passing a thirty-five question license exam and having a valid FCC Amateur Radio license, which is still FREE and FREE to renew every ten years. There is no $35, $45 or more monthly “service fee” you must pay some faceless service provider to operate on their network. And when it comes to equipment costs, many Amateur Radio transceivers now cost LESS than many popular smartphones.
Now if you use a local VHF or UHF repeater, like the NI4CE system, to connect with your fellow Hams, chipping in a few bucks for an Annual Membership to defray repeater system operating expenses is welcomed and encouraged.
So, back to the question, is this social media called Amateur Radio relevant? Well, think about it. If you listen to the NI4CE system, you will hear conversations about the weather, automotive repair, social gatherings, technical issues, traffic reports, camping and other outdoor activities, history and the news of the day. And everyone with a license and a transceiver can chime in. Like all social media, Amateur Radio is a participation endeavor.
When the weather gets nasty or there is another type of emergency, Amateur Radio is a conduit for information on the event as it is happening. Very often, Amateur Radio conveys data the National Weather Service uses to generate Severe Weather Warnings.
Amateur Radio operators have, and continue to, play a key role with Charity and Community Events by providing real time communications to help these events run smoothly and safely.
Amateur Radio is also a Continuing Education process unto itself. Where else can you put Science, Technology, Language Skills and Math into real-time use?
For all the folks that think pounding a keyboard is more important that verbal communications, I invite you to try Digital Amateur Radio. Our NI4CE NXDN Digital repeaters support digital messaging. And there are still packet radio systems that pre-dated email in operation.
So, is Amateur Radio still relevant? You bet it is! And the more we use it and promote it, the more relevant it will be for a lot of other people, too.
Use Of Possibly Illegal Ham Radios
Over the past several years several brands of inexpensive Chinese 2 meter/70cm radios have made their way into the US market place. These radios are notorious for bad transmit audio. Recent testing done by the American Radio Relay League ( ARRL) shows that these radios may be illegal as well.
According to an article in the November 2015 edition of QST magazine, “ARRL Laboratory Handheld Transceiver Testing” many of these inexpensive radios are not compliant with FCC Rules and Regulations regarding Spectral Purity and Harmonic Emission.
The ARRL tested 65 Baofeng radios, of these only 25% complied with FCC Rules and Regulations, a whopping 75% were either non-compliant or borderline.
Wouxun did a little better. Of 22 radios tested, 86% complied with FCC rules with 14% non-compliant.
100% of radios tested manufactured by Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom, and Connect Systems were compliant. Evidently no Alinco radios were tested.
I bring this to your attention because radios with Spectral Purity issues can cause interference to those within the Ham Bands, or in close proximity, such as licensed Commercial stations. Radios with Harmonic problems can cause interference to Commercial Radio licensees, TV stations and cell phone.
It is important to remember that YOU, the operator of the radio, are ultimately responsible for the proper operation of your radio, If you receive a Notice of Violation from the FCC, it is you that are responsible for the proper operation of the radio. I would not expect to receive any help from the manufacturer.
Without a Spectrum Analyzer it is impossible to know if your radio is working properly. Personally, I would prefer a radio manufactured by a company with a known good reputation you can trust.
Bottom Line. You get what you pay for.
Read the full QST testing article from the November 2015 edition here (QST article used with ARRL and QST permission, copyright ARRL 2015)
Ed Allen – WA4ISB
Trustee, NI4CE Repeater System.
Verna NXDN Repeater On-The-Air
The new NI4CE NXDN Repeater at Verna officially went on the air Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at 3:20 PM. The new all digital repeater operates on 444.3125 / 449.3125 with RAN 1.
The repeater’s new antenna (shown below) is a four bay Telewave UHF antenna mounted at 510 ft. AGL on the WHPT-FM tower. The new repeater will serve Hams in Manatee and Sarasota Counties with overlapping coverage in Southern Hillsborough and Southern Pinellas Counties with the existing 444.425 NI4CE NXDN repeater at Riverview.
There is more information for Hams interested in knowing more about NXDN on the NI4CE-NXDN-Users group. To join the list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to know more about how you can support the NI4CE Repeater System, click on the MEMBERSHIP tab above.
145.290 To Cease Operations
The 145.290 repeater at High Point in central Pinellas County will be going off the air on or before August 31, 2015. The current owner of the High Point Tower the repeater has operated from, St. Petersburg College, has sold the property. The new owner plans to use the site for cellular communications.
We would like to thank St. Petersburg College for their generous support in allowing the West Central Florida Group, Inc. to operate the 145.290 High Point repeater for the past nine years.
Pinellas County Hams have several other NI4CE repeaters they can use to participate in the daily Nets and for general Amateur Radio communications. There is overlapping UHF repeater coverage in Pinellas County on 442.950 (Verna), 442.550 (Riverview) and 443.450 (Holiday). The 145.430 repeater is also accessible in Central and South parts of Pinellas County.
Roz Clark Named 2015 SBE Engineer of the Year
You Can’t Beat
The Laws Of Physics
By Paul Toth-NB9X
In our last post, we discussed some of the basics of buying your first radio. On the commercial side of Land Mobile Radio, that mobile or portable rig is known as a “Subscriber Unit”. Having a good subscriber unit, one that has a good receive sensitivity and selectivity, good audio and is feature rich is one of the building blocks of operating a good two-way radio system.
Many commercial two-way radio operations are built around one or two “subscriber” radios, usually from the same manufacturer. Analog systems readily allowed mixing radios from more than one manufacturer. But more often than not, commercial operators stuck with a single manufacturer. And now that many commercial Land Mobile Radio systems have gone digital, this axiom of truer than ever.
Ham Radio is much different. On any given repeater system, you will hear radios from nearly every manufacturer. Old radios, new radios, multi-band radios (something that is rare in commercial Land Mobile Radio), radios that require an after-market CTCSS tone board, some radios from manufacturers that are no longer in business. Many operators own radios from more than one manufacturer. And every size, shape and variety of radio comes with its own feature set, technical specifications and operating parameters.
Operating a Ham Radio VHF/UHF repeater system becomes a lot more challenging because the infrastructure needs to accommodate a much greater number of variables. In year’s past, Ham Radio repeater operators will able to tap the used commercial Land Mobile Radio equipment market for radios, RF amplifiers, filtering and some of the other building blocks that make up a repeater. The onset of Narrowbanding, mandated by the FCC, along with the migration of Land Mobile Radio to digital modes is having an impact on the surplus equipment market. The days of the purchasing or inheriting a wide band capable analog repeater are coming to an end. Most new analog repeaters will only operate in Narrowband (12.5 KHz) mode. Using these repeaters on the Ham bands will force the obsolescence of older, Wideband (25 KHz) radios. Some new wideband analog repeaters are available for Amateur Radio use only. But you have to know where to look.
If you want to operate a Ham repeater in one of the available digital modes, you will almost certainly purchase new equipment. The one exception to this is
with P25 where some early Public Safety adopters are now replacing their first generation P25 gear with newer equipment.
Building a strong, solid repeater infrastructure is essential to accommodate all the different equipment Hams use. How Ham repeater operators use a repeater system is even more of a challenge. Most Ham repeaters are built for mobile radio use where the subscriber radio is capable of a fifty watt transmit power. That means portable users must live closer to the repeater site to be heard (one of the Laws of Physics). Another consideration for repeater operators is RF congestion. Operating a repeater from a site where there is no other RF emitters is more the exception than the rule. Cellular transmitters are everywhere. Hospitals, which have been a popular location for Ham repeaters, are becoming less so to protect the integrity of RF-sensitive medical monitoring equipment. And other building rooftops are now off limits as building owners have discovered there is a gold mine waiting to be tapped up there.
When you are lucky enough to find a site for your Ham repeater, grab it. But also be mindful that with the explosion of RF emitters comes the need for tighter filtering to prevent Intermod or unwanted signal mixing. The presence of other nearby RF sources may prevent the addition of a Receive Pre-Amp to your repeater or require tighter filtering that may not be in the budget.
One more challenge for Ham repeater owners is “limited quality control” over the subscriber radios that use the repeater. In a commercial Land Mobile operation, the same folks that maintain the repeater are also responsible for preventive maintenance on the subscriber radios. In Ham Radio, each operator is singularly responsible for keeping their radio(s) on frequency and within the manufacturer’s published specifications. A radio that is off frequency, has modulation that is too “hot” or is weak or has a weak signal into the repeater are things the repeater operator has no control over but is usually blamed for the anomaly.
More on this in our next posting….
Pinellas County APRS Digipeater
Pinellas County once again has an APRS Digipeater on the air. The NI4CE-14 Digipeater was placed into service from a site in Northeast St. Petersburg on April 1, 2015.
This station will make it easier for Pinellas County Hams to get into the APRS Network from the West Side of Tampa Bay.
Our thanks for Cox Media Group-Tampa for allowing the West Central Florida Group, Inc, to use their facilities for this APRS digipeater.
Your First Radio
By Paul Toth-NB9X
It is a big day in your life. You have just passed your Amateur Radio license exam. You are about to embark on a journey that will allow you to communicate with many other people in your area and possibly around the world. And, for once, you will not have to worry about burning up those precious cellular minutes or incur long distance charges because “Ham Radio Is FREE”.
Well, Ham Radio is not FREE as some folks may have led you to believe. You will discover this when you go online to purchase your first radio and accessories. In fact, your Ham Radio investment that could total five or six figures, several radios, antennas, power supplies, lightning suppressors, cable, you know, all the tools of the hobby.
But today is the first day of the rest of your Ham Radio life. Let’s talk about expectations and setting realistic ones for your first VHF-UHF radio. There are two classes of radios – five watt portable units (called “portables” or “H/Ts”) and mobile radios that generally operate with up to fifty watts. There are analog radios (the most popular). There are lots of manufacturers of analog radios, Alinco, ICOM, Kenwood, Yaseu, Vertex to name a few. And there are a plethora of new digital mode radios. Some of them are Ham Radio only (like ICOM’s D-Star and Yaseu’s Fusion). Others like P25 Phase 1, NXDN (Icom’s IDAS and Kenwood’s NEXedge) and DMR (includes MotoTrbo, Hytera and Vertex) are actively used in Part 90 Land Mobile communications. Most digital radios operate in analog mode, too, but may not be capable of 25 KHz wideband FM operation.
Some of your Ham Radio buddies may have told you about Bao-Feng, this new radio from China that cost less than fifty dollars. WOW! Just remember, all radios are not created equal.
But let’s get back to expectations. If you live thirty miles from the repeater you want to talk through, a five watt portable radio should probably not be your primary radio. “But I can hear the repeater. I should be able to talk into it”, you think. You may be able to hear the repeater just fine because it could e running up to one hundred watts output power. That is twenty times the power of that portable radio you are looking at. Unless the repeater has a high gain Receiver Pre-amp to make up the difference, you are just not going to be able to talk reliably through that repeater (if you can open it at all).
Antennas can have a HUGE impact on how well as radio works. Most portable radios come with antennas that are worse than dummy loads. An aftermarket antenna that offers some gain is an accessory to seriously consider. Selecting an antenna for your HOME station (usually a mobile radio with an external power supply) can also be the difference between being heard and being heard well. Don’t skimp on the coax cable. Belden 9913, Times LMR400 or LMR 600 or half inch hardline is where you want to start. And remember, this is Florida, lightning capital of North America. A PolyPhasor and good grounding is essential!
Here is one final tip about operating your first radio. VHF and UHF repeaters use VERTICALLY polarized antennas. Your radio’s antenna should MATCH that polarization to maximize your signal. Operating with an antenna that is not vertical may look cool but it comes with a loss of signal.
Still have questions? Drop a note to email@example.com.