I know I have one of his QSL cards in my archives. I will try to find it and scan it here. This is Ray Wright, WA7BSG, my Elmer. I found out yesterday that he is now a silent key. (I had just worked a commemorative station in Tuckerton, NJ, built with 1914 Goldschmidt alternators. I remembered the dawn of my interest in early radio. I Googled Ray.) His obit said he loved teaching his kids and grandkids. He and his wife took in several foster-care children too. I guess he liked helping people grow generally. He made Morse code tapes for me, and he was the guy who came and administered my Novice exam as FCC examiner. He talked hamming with me endlessly on the phone after that, he lent me two whole stations-worth of equipment, and he came over to do the dangerous antenna stringing. He even made sure I got the right ARRL book every Christmas. Where did that easy generosity come from? I don’t know. He must have been one of the Lord’s own. I don’t think he was even aware he was being generous. Nor did I, being just a kid. Now I do. I’m just heartsick. But now’s my chance to learn from his example.
Category Archives: the 1970’s
the demographics of repeaters
One of the new features on the amateur landscape in the 1970’s was repeaters. We used them all over the 2-meter band and elsewhere, like on sunsoaked 10 meters. This was to extend our range in bands where propagation was normally short, and also to overcome dampened atmospherics do to solar activity, and partly to make reasonable use of an accessable new technology. Part of the repeater’s cachet was that we used them in space. The Oscar 6 amateur satellite used 144 megahertz for uplink, and 27 megahertz for downlink. At the American Radio Relay League’s national convention in Denver, in July of ’76, the kickoff event was the launch of a balloon-borne repeater on 146.16. It was going to hit 100,000 feet. That meant a range of several hundred miles, which was exciting on two meters. Three co-channel repeaters agreed to shut down for the event.
There were fancy ways to use your repeater, too. There was the autopatch, for one. It worked by touch-tone keypad. You’d connect with the public phone system, and make calls from your car. Everyone could hear your conversations, of course. And you weren’t supposed to make business calls or run personal errands. Nor was it good form to use the system to circumnavigate long-distance tariffs. Autopatch managers thought of this as bootlegging. They were known to identify offenders by taping and analysing their tones. Touch-tones were also a way to lock down your repeater. Late in the ‘seventies, repeater group offered homemade tone-burst generators for their members, to use like on-air keys. Simple crowding was another reason for touch-tone access. In some cities repeaters were so dense that keying your microphone could activate more than one machine at a time, which was a chaotic situation on the air.
Repeater clubs, being local affairs, were hugely social. What were they like? The BRATS, or the 225 members of the Baltimore Radio Amateur Television Society, who ran W3DID/R, were a mid-sized example. They encouraged participation from the technically-minded, so their repeater community got the reputation of guys in the know, and people flocked to join. Their equipment, mostly homebrew, worked on 440 mhz., 2-meters, and 2.3Ghz., and could handle ATV and packet radio digital signals. They held discussion nets every evening, with subjects rotating nightly among equipment-trading, message traffic, radioteletype, radiotelephone, some ham reading for the visually impaired, photography, DX, and general technical answer-man sessions. They didn’t solicit new membership, but just answered when spontaneous inquiries came. They stayed in synch with local club meetings, public service events, and local hamfests. The point of the net was to have a little fun, promote local achievement, and just get friends talking. I remember accessing Rocky Mountain repeaters variously from WA7SLG, the University of Utah’s amateur radio club. Fun it was, and very buzzy. It was an FM signal, so the fidelity was stereo-like.
Repeaters were numerous enough late in the ‘70’s that they warranted their own directory, and a whole new specialty publication from the League as well. They were also powerful enough that the FCC wasn’t sure how to handle their legality. We insisted, and so did amateur division chief, W4BW, luckily, that the machines generally ought to be allowed to function freely, that their every action need not be logged, that the periodic transmitter identification signal could be automatic, and that there be no reduction to power limits. And repeaters were so immediately critical to the communications needs of entire communities of hams that whole municipalities, even metropolitan New York, set up repeater councils to manage them right. The self-policing worked, much as the QRM agreements among clubs had cleaned up a lot of interference in the 1920’s. People were surprised by the maturing effect of setting up a frivolous repeater and then finding huge numbers of operators relying on the machine. In 20 years owners of servers and websites would pass through the same sobering moment.
Phone-patching was a hip new skill late in the 1960’s. You saw it a lot on “Hawaii 5-0.” Hams liked doing it for the technical cachet, and they also liked it for how it streamlined health-and-welfare communication in time of emergency. It frightened public utilities a lot (which tells you about the number of people involved in amateur radio at the time). Patching radios to the telephone system was ultimately a good enough thing, finally, that it forced changes in law. North Carolina, Nebraska, and Oklahoma utilities commissions attacked in court savagely, carrying on a line of legal wrangling that had gone on since the Carterphone case in 1968, the opening battle of the phone companies’ war on customer-owned attachments. The FCC sided with hams, to many people’s surprise. Phone patching in principle was made legitimate by January of 1969, in most areas of the country. Floods of manuals appeared right away, that explained interface specs, and showed how to counterfeit phone company equipment. An example of this was a much-copied project to make a dynamic VU meter out of a Calectro voltmeter that would act just like the Western Electric standard ones. Commercial components sprang into existence almost as quickly. This is the Heathkit version, the ubiquitous ‘hybrid phone patch’, of which a couple variations exist. Hybrid and Phone Patch are redundant terms. The ‘hybrid’ part means a telephone circuit that interfaces with radio. This is an analogue type, that requires no more power than that which comes from the radio and phone circuits; there are digital ones now, that typically require power of their own.