North AL Repeater Association News
Feb 1999 Expanded Online Version DRAFT
Note: Beware of dated information – This is for archive purposes only !
1999 NARA Officers:
President: Ron Shaffer KS4LU, shaffer@hiWAAY.net, 881-8105
Vice President: Tim O’Brien KF4YTI, firstname.lastname@example.org, 772-5583
Treasurer: Todd Freestone, KD4ALP, toddf@hiWAAY.net, 721-7558
Secretary: Don Tunstil, W4NO, email@example.com, 536-3904
Technical Advisor: Ralph Hogan, WB4TUR, firstname.lastname@example.org, 881-0606
Planned Meetings / Programs:
(At the Red Cross Building on Washington St in Huntsville)
Friday July 16th, 1999 at 7:30 PM - NARA mid year update
HARC Program on Repeater Controllers HW / SW – Sept / Oct 1999
Friday January 14th 2000 at 7:00 PM - NARA 1999 Kickoff - Election of Officers.
1999 Repeater Command Sheets:
The updated ’99 NARA command sheet has been e-mailed to you together with this newsletter if you are a current (dues paid) NARA member. New members and members without e-mail addresses will receive condensed hard copy versions in the mail. Most basic items have not changed from last year much at all. The Only Minor changes have to with optional DTMF paging through the ‘94 repeater.
NARA Membership and Dues:
NARA membership is open to all amateur radio operators. The NARA constitution allows us the option of a loosely defined "corporation acceptance" wherein we have voted in members in a similar manner to other clubs in the past. While this allows us to police ourselves in the event of malicious interference, it is difficult to implement in practice because NARA only meets twice a year. An open policy of membership upon payment of dues only has worked very well for us in the past few years and we will continue in this spirit unless changes become necessary. Hats off to our secretary; Don, W4NO who put a lot of hard work into the membership drive mail out. We even had many old timers who are not very active on the repeaters send in dues just to support the Association. We appreciate that Guys !
NARA dues are $16 per year per family and are prorated to $4 per quarter beyond the midpoint of each quarter. NARA is glad to accept donations of any amount to improve it’s capabilities. While it is our policy to hold treasury funds in reserve for emergency repairs, there are times when special projects stretch our budget beyond what is needed to do the job correctly and designated contributions have really helped us out.
From The President:
NARA has had another exciting year of increased activity and growth. I actually thought that things might slow down a bit in the coming year but it looks like another busy year of great new projects and needed improvements and repairs. We have had a lot of new uses on our machines this year which gives me great satisfaction. If you are one of those folks, Welcome Aboard ! If not, well Welcome back! I realized as I pieced this newsletter together that it contains a lot of technical depth about the problems we tackle in day to day repeater maintenance but somehow it seems that's what a lot of you want to hear about. Still others just want the operational basics. Both the newsletter and the command sheet contain a wide variety of information ranging from operational basics and news trivia to deeper technical details and procedures. I hope there is something here for all of you.
I have to say a word about the fine bunch of guys who are co-laborers with me in running this organization. Outgoing Vice President Ben Durham, WA5KRG provided timeless support in ’94 programming and lots of trips to the sites. Incoming Vice President Tim O’brien, KF4YTI is already fired up to get us a Web page going and has already helped out in controller programming and site trips. Outgoing Technical Advisor Monte Bateman, WB5RZX got us jump started on the G.E. Master II back-up repeater project and has helped us out with documentation and, well .. advice ! I think ore incoming technical advisor, Ralph Hogan, WB4TUR is even more fanatical about repeaters than I am ! He brings a vast amount of repeater experience to the table and he is armed with some great test equipment. It is his efforts that are bringing the 3 G.E. Master II back-up radios to fruition. The 443.800 machine is also his creation and he has already saved our cookies in troubleshooting ’18. Our Secretary Don Tunstil, W4NO continues to perform a massive amount of work with our NARA data base as well as e-mails and mail outs. I don’t know how he does it all with everything else he is responsible for but he keeps us straight ! Our Treasurer, Todd Freestone, KD4ALP is the longest standing NARA officer. He not only keeps the bank account and the purchasing straight but continues to help us out with technical chores like tuning duplexers and installing filters. How about you ? Would you like to be a NARA officer in the years to come ? I would like to hear from you!
We also have countless other folks who are not officers that help us out in many ways. Past President Leon Bell, WB4LTT still keeps our patch link radios and VHF amplifiers going as well as tuning duplexes and providing lots of advice. Don Tremmal, AI4CW does a lot of controller programming on 443.500 and 147.18. Leigh Bartlow, WD4CPF still keeps the ’18 machine under a watchful eye and Ernie Blair not only hosts our 443.500 machine but climbs and repairs as well. Steve Cassidy, KD4TFV does a ton of tower climbing for us and others like N4AZY, KD4EYA, KF4PNK, KD4FGL, KD4TFN have helped in antenna parties and other repairs. The list goes on and on and I realize how blessed I am to have so much help! (Please forgive me if I overlooked you!) It is a mammoth task to keep things going with peak performance and there is always a place for someone to help out. If you have an interest, don’t be shy. Step forward and join the fun. Folks working together like this is what Ham Radio is all about!
A word from the New Technical Advisor :
I look forward to serving in the position as your new Technical Advisor this year. The NARA has assembled a great group of repeaters for covering Northern Alabama. I am sure keeping them top notch will keep me plenty busy. I hope I can count on the continued help from our past advisors and membership. There are many plans for improvements and additions this year. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in joining in the fun.
Our E-mail database has grown to huge proportions and this provides a great way to keep our membership informed at a low cost. We plan (again this year) to send this newsletter and accompanying command sheet to as many NARA members via e-mail as possible to help cut down our postage costs. The usage of Adobe PDF format this year will make things much easier to read. We will also continue to provide timely updates on repeater status and NARA meetings as well as items of general interest via e-mail. You can join our e-mail list by sending a message to Don at email@example.com. We use blind carbon copy format to preserve e-mail address privacy.
Keep in mind that a large list requires significant maintenance just to keep it current. We ask your patience in this as we continually work out the kinks. Our secretary Don Tunstil does almost all of the work maintaining this thing and he has a lot of other things on his plate (you know - like the Hamfest !). I did not use this thing as much as I would have liked to last year but we’ll try harder this year. Also, with the debut of our Web Page, - you have another method to stay current. - DVR announcements on ‘18 and ‘94 are always the most timely source of breaking news and reminders, however e-mail and snail mail remain our only mode of communicating "members only" information.
Since many of you belong to HARC, I have tried to provide general news updates each month on the Vox called "NARA Notes". There are being catalogued on our web page and I will attempt to get them e-mailed out this year as well.
It is still my intent to also provide updates where I can via Packet. This is a good place to catalogue past newsletters etc - any volunteers ? Perhaps this will entice a few of you to dust off your TNCs and get re-acclimated to packet !
NARA Business Meetings / Programs to HARC and other Clubs:
In the past, NARA has only met once a year in January to conduct business. We have added a business meeting in July ("The NARA Mid Year Update") for the last two years which has worked very well. We will continue this tradition along with more programs at the HARC meetings. Keep in mind that NARA business is conducted at the January and July meetings whereas any other Friday night events associated with NARA and repeaters are in the form of normal HARC programs for information only. If you have a program you would like to give, contact the HARC program chairman: Don Tunstil: W4NO at 536-3904. It would be great for NARA to be able to give programs to other clubs in north Alabama since we are a regional association. If your club would like a program from NARA, contact Ron Shaffer: KS4LU at 881-8105.
Changes in Repeater Call Signs:
In 1997, The NARA received the club call KF4OUK. In 1998 we converted this to the Vanity Call N4HSV. With the airport designation of HSV for Huntsville, there is no mistaking the location of repeater bearing that call when heard from a distance. Club calls on repeaters make the Frequency coordinators paper work a little easier and provide for greater continuity when club officers change. When a new comer to Hunstville (or a new ham) looks up the call N4HSV in a call book, he will see The NARA's name and P.O. Box address along with the current President's or Treasurer's Call. At the July 98 Meeting, we voted to place the N4HSV call on 3 NARA repeaters opting for one per band. In addition, we voted to place the vanity Call W4ATV on the 145.33 Machine in order to promote the ATV activity and provide a contact path for the ATV group. Don't confuse the W4HSV call on 443.500 with the N4HSV call. W4HSV belongs to WA4BPS who graciously continues to provide a warm home for the 443.500 machine of many antennas.
146.94 News: N4HSV, Monte Sano:
Probably the biggest news on the 94 Machine this year is the Call Sign Change to N4HSV. We were honored to have Dave Light (K4IQU) with us at the July 98 Meeting when we voted on the call changes and again at the January 99 Meeting when we actually changed the call. Again the primary reason for the change is for contact information and continuity as mentioned above.
Operationally, 94 Has continued to perform well giving us excellent regional coverage. We have had a few occasions of Noise interference even with PL tone access. Because we believed that the 100 Hz tone on the repeater output was contributing to the interference in a loop back mode we temporarily disabled it. We will re-enable it later when we can have remote control of it and take other measures to guard against interference.
We have also been putting 94 on carrier access during holiday weekends if the risk of interference seems low. This allows out of town travelers to more easily access the machine. We are still planning on doing some minor preventative maintenance to the 94 equipment now that the 94 back-up repeater is ready. We also have plans to try and improve coverage in a few shadowed areas particularly during public service events such as the Rocket city marathon. This may take the form of anything from a temporary link up of '18 and '94 to a full time remote receiver for 94.
The '94 drive time crowd continues to grow and I encourage you to join in. We have had some great impromptu lunch gatherings out of this and the only way you get to know about them is to join us on the air. Remember to use good common sense in the balance of rag chew versus availability. Keep your transmissions short and when '94 gets real crowded remember that '18 and '33 are usually available as well.
'18 News: WD4CPF , Brindlee Mountain:
The '18 Machine has continued to perform well after the improvements of 1997 aside from the need for several minor repairs and adjustments. We have noticed some crackling noises during wet weather which is usually a sign of water mitigation in the antenna system. We plan to replace the lower feed line jumper in hopes that will cure the problem. If it doesn't, the only other possibility I can think of is the antenna itself (since the feed line is new) which will be expensive to replace with an equivalent one. Lets hope that’s not it! When things are dry it sounds great.
We have also had a re-occurrence of the spurious emissions problem in February of 99 which forced us to take the Power amp offline for short periods of time. Fortunately it turned out to be an impedance mismatch between the power amp and the duplexer which is easily cured by changing the cable length. We were fearful of more serious problems since we had similar symptoms with the exciter before but this time it’s a lot cheaper to fix it! A symptom that accompanied this problem was a distinct echo in the output caused by the spurs bypassing the audio delay. If you hear this again, and you know the person talking isn’t really in a hollow room without furniture or they don’t have a second radio on nearby then I would like to know about it. We have a back-up G.E. Master II radio ready to go on line if necessary to keep us on the air.
We also had some short interruptions in service during power outages which wiped out code settings in the DVR mailbox (the ram back-up battery didn't last long enough!). I found the smart charger that Walt had built for the ACC DVR battery back-up which should keep that from happening again. The bigger, better plan we have is to develop a battery back-up system for '18 which should power the whole repeater with the Power Amp switched off line for several days depending on the usage level. We have allocated funds for this year to do this but the priority will be on RF and antenna system repair.
All things considered, ’18 has kept us pretty busy lately but it is rewarding to see more NARA members making good use of it. It has excellent coverage from it’s lofty perch 210 feet above Brindlee Mountain.
145.33 News: W4ATV:
When the '33 Machine was at the same location as the 70 Cm ATV repeater, The 3rd harmonic of the '33 Machine was interfering with the ATV repeater. Having seen this myself on ATV, I was understanding when the desire to re-locate the 145.33 Machine was voiced. With an OK from Ernie, we packed it up and trotted down the street to see how well it would live with 443.500. Using the 2 Meter port of the dual band antenna on 443.500 gave us excellent results considering we were on a brand new 5/8" feed line as well. So that's it's new home for now and it seems to work well with the exception of occasional interference to the 2M remote as indicated in the 443.500 news. We have changed the call from W4NPZ to W4ATV for obvious reasons (Jim was happy to pass the baton back) and we have several RF and controller upgrade options on tap by using some of the back-up parts or new low cost ones. These may include a Romeo Voice ID or a DVR ID & announcements and possibly even a part time patch.
‘443.5 News: W4HSV, Monte Sano:
The 443.500 Machine is located at Ernie (WA4BPS) and Carol’s (N4QPE) house on Monte Sano. They continue to be gracious hosts to our masses of equipment and antennas. We invaded their garage and back yard over the 4th of July weekend to do a fairly extensive feedline replacement and antenna shuffle project on the 443.500 Repeater. We installed 3 new feedlines: one 5/8" line for the repeater itself and two ½" lines for the higher frequency remote antennas. We moved the 10 Meter remote antenna to a better location on the tower and improved it’s feedline by using one of the old high frequency remote lines. We moved the 440/1.2G remote antenna lower on the tower in an effort to lesson the de-sense (on 440) from the repeater output itself. We then installed the new 6 Meter remote antenna in it’s place. All of this produced a much more sensitive repeater with more sensitive remotes on 10 Meters, 2 Meters and 220 Mhz and a new (and sensitive!) remote on 6 Meters. The 440 Remote is being a little stubborn and is still begging for more tweaking. We may have an antenna problem on that one but I’m not sure. You have to realize that with any 440 remote in the presence of three powerful 440 repeaters, it is amazing that we get much performance at all ! One thing to remember while using the 2 Meter remote is that the 145.33 Machine is now on the same tower. I suggest that you monitor 145.33 on the other side of your dual band radio while you are using the 2 Meter remote so that you can know if 145.33 comes up while you are receiving on the 2 meter remote. You will experience some de-sense which can range from barely noticeable, if you were receiving a not to distant signal in the 146 / 147 portion on the band, to a complete blanking if you were listening to 145.35 Tuscaloosa for example. Fortunately 145.33 is not up all that often but if the remote base QSO was very important you could at least beg for silence on 145.33 for a short time.
If you have been waiting to get on 440 or you only have an HT on 440, try this machine out. You will be amazed at how well it hears you and the remote base is just too much fun to miss!
443.800 News: N4HSV: The Roving Machine:
With planning going on since late '97, it was great to hear this one finally hit the airwaves in December. The only catch is that it's not exactly antenna party weather that time of year so we have been just experimenting with the antennas we already had up like the old patch link antenna at the '18 Brindlee site. We have also been experimenting with a borrowed pre-amp and borrowed low power mobile duplexer thanks to KS4LU & KD4TFV. It looks like we will go ahead and get a pre-amp for it and hold out for a good deal on some high power duplexers. We have been looking at various site possibilities that would add diversity to the current 440 coverage available by all of the machines on the air. There are already lots of 440 machines on Monte Sano and Brindlee is OK but is a greater distance from most of the Huntsville Users. Because We have had good luck with some very small 440 antennas that can be hidden easily, we have been exploring the possibilities at various homes on some of the smaller mountains in southeast Huntsville. Sites considered include Weatherly, Mathis and Huntsville Mountains and possibly the southwest crest of Green Mountain. Just stay tuned to see what happens. We will try to announce the location from the machines 5 second DVR tracks. The long term plan for this pair is for it to become part of a linked 440 system something like what Nashville has.
224.94 News: N4HSV, Monte Sano:
The 224.94 Machine was treated to a completely new antanna system this year thanks to a great tower climb by John: N4AZY. We installed a new Hustler G-7 and new 1/2" Heliax Feedline. The coverage improvement has been outstanding! It almost rivels that of ‘94 ! Still, we have only a half dozen or less users but I know there are more 220 Radios than that out there so dust them off folks! By the way, have you noticed that the price of 220 Radios has come down to less than half of what it was just a year ago ? We may even put a simple patch on this machine, so lets populate the 220 Band !
Comming 6 Meter Repeater, WB4TUR:
We said that we wanted to make pilot progress on a 6 meter repeater this year. After the meeting, Ed Miska: KE4ROC approached me with an offer of a designated donation to get this project off the ground. In addition, Ralph Hogan: WB4TUR has already collected Motorola and GE radios and controllers for a split site 6 meter system for a number of years. The obvious opportunity for a joint project was the result. Details are still being worked out, but basically Ralph will provide the entire radio system and NARA (with some help from Ed!) will provide the entire antenna system including 220 link antennas and two 6 meter antennas. NARA will coordinate the frequency pair. Stay tuned for the frequency. It will bear Ralph’s Call: WB4TUR with the NARA in the sponsorship column.
1999 Hardware Project Plans:
The top priority projects for allocation of 1999 funds will be the continued preventative maintenance and improvement of our two primary VHF repeaters: ‘94 and ‘18. With the VHF back-up repeater project coming to fruition, we will have a minimum of 2 back-up radios ready to go at all times and a third radio which could become a full time unit or be converted to 220. There are many options and alternatives which leaves us a lot of flexibility but the primary goal is always to keep ‘94 and ‘18 on the air at all times with the best performance possible.
Improvements slated for ‘94 this year include an enclosure cabinet for the CAT-1000 controller, a possible re-work of our 5 watt intermediate P.A. and a relay circuit to remotely control the output PL tone. Other considerations for ‘94 include a possible re-work or update of our CAT-1000 controller to cure DVR and voice falsing bugs as well as exploring part time link up options to ‘18 or pilot progress on a ‘94 remote receiver. Improvements slated for ‘18 include anything necessary to provide consistently clean RF and clear audio. This may include a bandpass cavity filter, new double shielded cabling, a new lower feedline jumper made of hardline and possibly even repair or replacement of the main antenna itself. In addition, we plan to persue a complete battery back-up system including remote RF switching for the P.A.
Depending on the need and availability of the VHF back-up units, we may place one of them in full time service on 145.33 with one of two smarter controller options. One (an NHRC/2) would include DVR voice announcements and Ids and the other (CAT-300) would include TI computer voice and an autopatch. The priority usage of the CAT-300 controller however is as a back-up for ‘94.
Improvements slated for 443.500 include a power amp / pre-amp combination for the 10M meter remote and improvement of the 440 remote with a possible new antenna.
The 443.800 machine will continue to grow towards a full system. We have purchased an ARR pre-amp and are looking for a good used set of 300 watt duplexers.
The 224.94 Machine could inherit a borrowed autopatch thanks to WB4TUR. We also plan to improve the Tx audio with whatever repairs or replacements that can be done most inexpensively.
The 6 Meter project will require the purchase of up to 4 antennas, some hard line connectors (for 220) and some smaller feedline for 6 Meters however most of this should be covered with designated donations.
At the January meeting, we said that our primary budgeting goal for 1999 was to increase our cash reserves by $500. for future antenna work on ‘94 or other contingencies. We have already met this goal up front by setting aside the first $500. of dues income in savings before any 1999 hardware purchasing has begun.
Non NARA Repeaters of NARA officers: KS4LU / WB4TUR:
The NARA president (Ron) and the NARA Technical Advisor (Ralph) have strong interests in repeater experimentation. We have fathered 4 machines to date between us. Briefly, they are as follows:
The KS4LU VHF machine is 147.10 on Weeden Mountain on Redstone Arsenal. With some help from other folks, I maintain this machine apart from NARA. The North Al DX club is the granddaddy of this pair but a joint project unfolding this year with the MSFC ARC (MARC) is allowing for a whole new joint sponsorship repeater to be constructed which should provide great coverage later this year.
The KS4LU UHF machine is 443.475 at my QTH (with a patch). Both machines are open however I request you give priority to Shaffer family traffic on 443.475. See the web site under construction at www.QSL.net/KS4LU for further details.
Ralph, WB4TUR has two UHF machines on 444.300 with different PL tones to cover north and south Huntsville via Monte Sano (PL 186.5) and Green Mtn (PL 103.5) respectively. It forms a poor mans cellular approach: choose the PL tone for the zone you
are closest to in the Huntsville area. The repeaters are open for general use. Outside the
Huntsville area, the repeaters provide about 50 miles coverage. See www.qsl.net/wb4tur for details.
These machines are funded by resources apart from NARA (mostly our own pockets !) and are mentioned here for information only. There are several other small groups of folks (who happen to also be NARA members and continue to help us out!) which maintain good machines on a shoestring budget compared to NARAs. Two examples include KD4TFV and KE4JMQ. I invite you to check them out because I believe in furthering Ham radio repeaters on all fronts!