THE ARA CELEBRATES 20+ YEARS OF OPERATION
It's been more than 20 years since the Hazleton repeater first went on the air and we had our share of growing pains in those days. I thought some of you would like to hear about the pioneer days of .67 and the Anthracite Repeater Association. Here's an article I wrote over 10 years ago, brought up to the present so you'll know how it all began.
The Hazleton repeater was conceived with a short chat between Rev. Ivon Harris W3FCU and myself in a Pantry Quick parking lot on 15th street late in the summer of 1973. Throughout that previous winter interest in the "new 2 meter repeaters " blossomed. At that time Allentown had the only operational repeater in eastern Pa. except for the 146.76 Philadelphia repeater. It was shortly after that meeting that Scranton put their .94 machine on line. Not long after, FRANK K3TRM, who also had an interest in FM, joined in with Ivon and I and the decision was made to put Hazleton on the air.
Parts had to be obtained so when our own junk boxes were depleted of usable components we took to others. Contact was made with Pres Schuller W3VQ; He was the trustee of the Allentown repeater and was the radioman for Allentown City. Pres donated some old GE Progress Line stuff and we were on our way at least RF wise. A connection I had made in Harrisburg produced a freebie K2OAW type bare controller board. In the months that followed we picked the minds of anyone who was already involved with repeaters.
At that time the FCC was not too sure they liked the idea of ham repeaters so naturally they made it difficult to get one licensed. They required pages and pages of data including top o maps with grid lines extending out 10 miles from the proposed site and provide altitudes of hundreds of points along these lines to determine the HAAT (height above average terrain) of the repeater site. It was a real hassle but with some help from the Reading group we compiled enough information to apply for a license.
By Christmas we were under construction. At the time I had just moved back from a year in the Harrisburg area and was living with the in-laws, so we set up shop in their basement and Broad St. in West Hazleton. We decided on 146.16/76 for the frequency as we thought Philadelphia was far enough away to eliminate interference. We were dead wrong. Don't forget this was pre- synthesizer days where almost everybody was using modified commercial radios that were usually limited to 4 or less crystal controlled channel frequencies. Crystals were purchased and the Prog. tuned up, a hot FET pre-amp was built and tuned, we were now ready for tests.
It was Christmas 1973 and the nights were long and cold, almost as cold as the basement we were building the repeater in. That was probably the only house in town still heated by a warm morning heater in the living room and a cast iron coal kitchen stove, but we didn't mind we finally had some operational equipment.
A ring ranger antenna was obtained and a push up mast borrowed then tied to a cloths pole in the back yard. We pushed up the 30-foot mast as far as it would go, just about clearing the rooftops. We were ready to start tests.
The receiver was equipped with a COR (carrier operated switch) that we used to start a cassette recorder when a signal was received and record the audio. For 3 weeks Frank, Ivon and I would announce our location on 146.16 wherever we were in hopes it would be on the tape. There was no transmitter on the system so it was strictly one way transmissions. Questionably legal. By reviewing the tapes we made notes where the repeater could be accessed.
We also noticed that there were many areas that were never tried so one evening Ivon started out in his "White Flash" ( Chrysler Imperial Tank) driving a great circle around Hazleton for 3 hours constantly talking to the tape recorder about anything and everything. This test was responsible for deciding to search for higher ground in order to have a good regional repeater, and I'm sure it saved Ivon's congregation from at least one loud and fiery sermon.
Since living with the in-laws was not the kind of life I had prepared for, much of the time Sara and I were out house hunting. Keeping the hobby in mind only good VHF locations were considered. As January came we had found our home at 7th and Laurel St. it was at 1750 feet ASL, not bad. Frank lived at 6th and Grant and was at about the same elevation, so we decided to take advantage of this by putting the transmitter at his home and the receiver at mine, linking the two by a leased phone line. With the half-mile space between sites we didn't need cavities (which we couldn't afford anyway}.
After a couple of months of my getting settled we finally got the phone line installed, line interfaces built and antennas installed. We received our license and the first Hazleton Repeater WR3ADF on 146.16/76 was fired up on May 25, 1974.