I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to "sell" you on EchoLink ("sell" would be the wrong word, since it is totally free). If you have already heard of it, have a P.C. at home, are a licensed ham, and your not already using EchoLink, all I can say is: Why the heck not? It's free, easy and will run on almost any modern P.C. with the stock equipment it came with. Many people have reported good results with computers as slow as a 133 DX4. If you have any kind of sound card and a modem of at least 28.8 KbPS, your ready to go. You can set EchoLink up on your computer and access Repeaters and RF Links all over the world and never own an amateur radio. All you need is what is mentioned above, speakers plugged into your computer and a computer Mic. These are standard on most computers now days. If you want to set up a simplex "Link" (so that you, or others, may use the link while moving about town, then you will probably need an interface (depending on the radio rig used for the link), to hook to your computer. Then you need a "spare" radio to hook up through the interface to the computer. Once set up, this same link can be "connected" to any repeater that you can access with a good signal by simply programming in the repeaters frequency pair instead of the simplex frequency (it can also be hooked directly to the repeater). If there is any doubt about the signal, you can dedicate a small Yagi pointing at the repeater. The possibilities are many. If this has your curiosity peaked, click on any of the "EchoLink" links and take the tour. Remember, you can use JUST your computer, you don't need a radio, interface, repeater, or any of that fancy stuff! Chances are, you have everything you need to be on EchoLink tonight. Sales job done. Take a look at the graphic below, then read about my experiences with EchoLink and my "UP ALL NIGHT" node and conference server.

Call me on my node at # 198484 - I'm Up All Night and enjoy talking!

I wish there were a way that I could put in a shortcut that would take you straight to my EchoLink node, but I can't. I have to depend on you to take the time to download the free program, enter your license information, get confirmed and then click on my node in your list. So do that! Don't forget that there is an "EchoTest" server that you can connect to that will play your audio back to you. This allows you to hear what you sound like and get everything all set up. Or, you can just call me. I'll be happy to tell you what you sound like!
Due to my 25 years of working the night shift, I still cannot sleep at night. In the past, even with my amateur radios, I generally sat here all night and stared at the computer and listened to static on the ham bands. Even C.B. gets dead at night many times! All of that changed as soon as I downloaded and installed EchoLink. I have no idea why I waited as long as I did. It certainly wasn't hard to set up! We have a local "node - link" here in town, put up by the local club president. Many nights I would sit and "play" with it by pressing "00" which over a radio link connects you to a random node. You never knew if you were getting an individual, a conference server (which could be reserved for any number of "things"), an RF link or a repeater. Worse (or better), you never knew if you were calling the U.S., Japan, The U.K., Israel, Iraq, wherever! I soon discovered that I could access a list of "nodes" on the internet even though I wasn't a user myself. This helped narrow it down. Even though I monitored the local link at all times, I very seldom ever heard anyone call it. Anyway, when I finally set the program up, found the old Mic. that came with the computer and plugged it up, Etc., I got a few calls now and then. I finally figured out that people are hesitant to call believing they may disturb you (which, if you did not want to be called, you would simply mark yourself as "busy" and no one can call, so it's a bit silly to think that way!). One night, I replaced the usual "location field" for my node with "Up All Night, Indiana, USA". Wow, what a difference! Now I get at least five calls a night. I just needed to put out an invitation!
Well, now I have found new friends (and some old ones!) from all over the world. Many places like Australia, The U.K., Africa, Etc., are in the middle of the day when it is night for me! I discovered that with my Broad Band Cable Internet service, I could handle linking to quite a few stations at one time. Dial up systems don't have the band width to handle it. I have set my node up to handle many, many connections at the same time. Many nights I may have 15 or 20 nodes connected at the same time! We all take turns talking, but with EchoLink's ability for all nodes to send text messages, even while others are talking, and all stations see the text, it is not unusual to have several conversations going at once. At the very least, there is no shortage of comments on what the person who's talking has to say. I guess it is similar to a "chat room" in the text part, but you get to actually talk too (if you want to).
I'll admit, sometimes it is hard to think of EchoLink as amateur radio. I guess you have to keep in mind that you MUST be an amateur radio operator, and prove it, before your node is assigned and "turned on" (which you know when this happens because the "node list" on your program fills in. When that happens, you are ready to go!). You never know when one of the people you are talking to may be going through a "private RF link" which may not be listed as such. You also never know when an RF link will join in, or when a repeater will connect (maybe at random) and then it IS amateur radio, so you have to watch yourself and remember to ID., Etc., just like you would on the radio.
One thing is for certain, I never would have had the opportunity to speak with all these great "Hams", from all over the world. The telephone companies have to to be quaking in their boots when they learn of programs like this where you can chat with your friend in Australia, for free, unrushed, and with audio quality that rivals the telephone, easily. I've already heard of many "Ham families" that stay in touch this way. Some just computer to computer, some link to computer, some repeater to link, Etc. The combinations are many. We have a local here that uses the town link to call his father (of course he has to be a ham also) every Monday during his mobile trip to work which takes about 30 minutes. His father is 7 states to the SouthWest. I have a good friend in Alaska that calls me from a 2 meter repeater with EchoLink about every three or four days. It is the only communications he has...., and all he needs. The repeater also has a "phone patch", so he can make calls, call 911 if needed, talk all over the world on EchoLink as well as keep in touch with other "locals", all with just one radio (and a back-up).
What else can I say? If you don't have it, get it. It's free, and if you have a computer that has been made in the last 6 or 7 years, you've got everything you need. By all means, call me! My node # is listed above, or look me up by call sign. I look forward to speaking to you and putting another "blue" (for EchoLink) tack in my world map.

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