The President’s Corner March 2004
by Dan O’Barr, KL7DR



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From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access

[CITE: 47CFR97.205] [Page 593-594]






                      Subpart C--Special Operations


Sec. 97.205 Repeater station.

    (a) Any amateur station licensed to a holder of a Technician, General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class operator license may be a repeater. A holder of a Technician, General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class operator license may be the control operator of a repeater, subject to the privileges of the class of operator license held.

    (b) A repeater may receive and retransmit only on the 10 m and shorter wavelength frequency bands except the 28.0-29.5 MHz, 50.0-51.0 MHz, 144.0-144.5 MHz, 145.5-146.0 MHz, 222.00-222.15 MHz, 431.0-433.0 Mhz, and 435.0-438.0 Mhz segments.

    (c) Where the transmissions of a repeater cause harmful interference to another repeater, the two station licensees are equally and fully responsible for resolving the interference unless the operation of one station is recommended by a frequency coordinator and the operation of the other station is not. In that case, the licensee of the non-coordinated repeater has primary responsibility to resolve the interference.

    (d) A repeater may be automatically controlled.

    (e) Ancillary functions of a repeater that are available to users on the input channel are not considered remotely controlled functions of the station. Limiting the use of a repeater to only certain user stations is permissible.

(The rest of Sec. 97.205 deals with Radio Quiet Zones around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, Pocahontas County, WV and Arecibo Observatory, Arecibo, Puerto Rico)


     What I am going to address here are strictly my opinions, and my interpretations of the FCC rules known as Part 97.  They may be a little different than yours and others, but not necessarily opposite.  Before I go any farther, let me state one of my favorite philosophies.  It’s one that the Founding Fathers of this great nation believed to be very important.  It is attributed to Voltaire: “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.”  Well all right, I may not be quite that valiant, but I do value and respect the opinions of others, and expect that same respect be given back to me.  So, please remember, “This is just my opinion, and you are welcome to disagree.”
     There is one thing in Ham Radio that has really disappointed me, and that is “Ham Radio Thought Police”.  Anchorage has 6 or 8 of them and we have at least 2 of them up here in the Mat-Su.  This was demonstrated at the February 2004 MARA meeting when one of them went around at the beginning of the meeting, sticking his supposed “technical knowledge test” in members faces, demanding we take it RIGHT THEN.  When we refused to take “his test”, he proclaimed “we were all too stupid to be Ham Radio Operators.”  There is a real effort by these supposed “Ham Cops” to push their opinions on others.  They come across as though their opinions are law, and then proceed to severely chastise us over the air or at public meetings.  They bully and belittle us if we disagree with them, or even if we just have a different interest than they do.  Where in the world do they think they get their authority?  Come on folks, this is a hobby.  It’s supposed to be fun, and we should encourage and help one another.  Let’s act like intelligent, informative, and nice adults, not schoolyard bullies.
     I got my ham ticket to talk, not just listen.  If all I wanted to do were to listen to repeaters, I would’ve just got a scanner, not a multi-band transceiver.  I’m surprised that these “Ham Cops” don’t know that the first part of “transceiver” means that it will transmit.  Besides having a passion for all wireless communications and the electromagnetic spectrum from DC to UV, one of the main reasons I got into amateur radio is to communicate.  You can’t communicate if all you do is listen, or if all you do is talk.  My understanding of “communicate” means talking and listening, and one of my favorite ways to do that is through a Ham Radio Repeater.
     There are some of these “Ham Cops” in Anchorage that have said, “Use of their repeaters without paying for it is a Theft of service”.  Last I checked, part 97 forbids anyone from charging for their amateur radio service.  (See Sec. 97.3 Definitions, (4) Amateur service. A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.)  Theft indicates stealing something of worth.  You can’t steal from me a service that is illegal for me to charge for in the first place.  Especially when I will give it to you for free. (It’s kind of like love, and Ham Cops sure don’t give any of that away.)   

     I do not understand why any individual or group, in Alaska, would run a closed repeater or closed auto-patch on any amateur frequency.  Even in Anchorage, it’s not that crowded.  To me, running a closed repeater or closed auto-patch on amateur frequencies up here is contrary to everything amateur radio stands for, and is just plain stingy.  One of the greatest pleasures in life I have is providing something for others to enjoy.  In my opinion, if you want to run a closed repeater or a closed auto-patch, you should get a commercial license and run them on your very own commercial frequency where it would be illegal for someone to “steal your service”. (Or you could move to a big city in the lower 48.)
     I want to publicly state: “Any repeater, with or without an auto-patch, or any stand alone radio-to-phone-patch that I have anything to do with on an amateur frequency, will always be open to all licensed amateur radio operators in the area who are authorized to operate on the frequencies that these machines are on.”  You will always be welcome to talk about politics, religion, or anything else that is legal, that you are interested in, and are willing to share with others.  Please be adult about it and don’t get upset about someone else’s opinion, and please no preaching, condemning, chastising, belittling, or threatening over the air.  Use the telephone if you want to engage in these types of activities, OK!  So go ahead and use our Valley auto-patches to order pizza, call a tow truck when you’re stuck or broke down, call the phone company to find out why your phone isn’t working, or call the garage to see if your car is ready to be picked up; it’s legal and accepted up here.
     I hope you understand that you and I, as licensed radio amateurs, users of amateur frequencies and repeaters, have tremendous freedoms in the USA as to what we can transmit over the air.  There are only a few things the FCC wants us to keep off the air, and they are: profanity, playing music and broadcasting for entertainment, and conducting business where you make money for yourself or your boss. (See PART 97 Sec. 97.111 and Sec. 97.113 for clarification.)
     I have been licensed long enough to remember when some do-gooders complained to the FCC that the Hams were helping with communications on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.  Their claim was that, “the Hams were helping the Iditarod make (or save) money, and that the Iditarod is a business and therefore it was illegal for Hams to do communications for them.”  Do you know what the FCC said?  Re-read the previous paragraph and what the FCC said will make perfect sense.  They said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “It is within the purpose and scope of Amateur Radio to work as a volunteer, without pay, to provide communications for planned public events that are open to the public, such as parades, sporting events (including foot and dog races), and large gatherings of people, so long as it is not an everyday occurrence.  This also includes emergencies and disasters where you might be working as a volunteer for the Red Cross, Salvation Army, the city, or a church.
     Another thing I honestly believe to be one of the most disgraceful legacies of the Anchorage Amateur Community is that, located within a 10-mile radius of North Anchorage are 8 amateur radio repeaters that are rarely used.  Only on 2 of them do the control operators make you feel welcome.  They are the 146.67 and the 147.15 machines.  On all 6 of the others, I have heard the control operators be rude, non-existent, or openly chastise other hams, including me, threatening to turn us into the FCC for violations we did not commit, or telling us that we are not to use their repeater because we talk about things they don’t like, live up in the valley, or we don’t have a “REAL” ham license.

Now let me answer some questions.


What is a squelch tail?

     A squelch tail, also called “hang time,” is the amount of time a repeater’s transmitter continues to transmit after the user quits transmitting to the repeater’s receiver.  Some techs also refer to the user’s release of their push to talk (PTT) as carrier drop.

Why do we have squelch tails?

     Every electrical and electronic device has an optimal duty cycle for maximum life.  Even devices that are rated for continuous duty will last much longer if turned off when they are not needed for an extended time.  However, the reverse is also true.  Let’s say a device is needed for 15 or 20 short cycles in 5 minutes.  That device will have a much longer life span if it is left on for the entire 5 minutes.  Think about the lights in your house.  You wouldn’t even think of turning your lights off for 2 or 3 seconds every 30 seconds or so because you don’t need to see for a few seconds every little bit, would you?  The same is true for repeater transmitters.  
     The first repeaters I put on the air used relays and vacuum tubes.  For those of you who don’t know what vacuum tubes are, they are large glass devices that get very hot in standby mode and get even hotter when in use.  They will melt your vinyl records in a hurry if you lay them on top of your amplifier.  Oh I forgot, you probably don’t know what vinyl records are either. :) Vacuum tubes used to be in all our electronics, including repeater transmitters.  They were expensive and didn’t last very long if turned on and off frequently.  The same can be said for relays, which are electrically controlled mechanical switches.
     Electronic switching and solid-state transmitters have greatly increased the number of on/off cycles in the life of a transmitter; however, how long they will last is still a factor of how many times they are turned on and off, PLUS their total time on and their age.  I would be willing to place a wager, that if two identical modern active repeaters were compared, one with a 3 to 4 second squelch tail and the other with a ½ second squelch tail, that the one with the “longer” squelch tail would last over twice as long as the one with the “shorter” tail.  The conditions would be that the users of the repeater with the “longer” hang time would always transmit during the hang time after the first person in a conversation brought up the repeater, and the users of the repeater with the “shorter” hang time, always waited for that repeater’s transmitter to drop before they continued the conversation.  This could be very significant if a repeater is expensive to repair or replace.  We’re looking at a failure in say 3 or 4 years with a short hang time versus a failure in say 6 or 8 years with a longer hang time.


Do I have to wait for the squelch tail to quit before I transmit?

     NO!  The repeater will last a lot longer if you transmit during the squelch tail.  Look at the three previous paragraphs to understand why.  Some people are very timid about interrupting an ongoing radio conversation, and I have been chastised way too many times for quick-keying when in fact I was leaving more than enough time for someone to break into our conversation.  All the repeaters I have programmed in the last 10 years or so have a protection timer in them that will turn off the repeater’s transmitter if someone transmits into the repeater continuously for 3 minutes.  That timer is reset when the user releases their push to talk (PTT), so you do not need to let the repeater’s transmitter drop for that timer to be reset for another 3 minutes.

Will waiting for the squelch tail to drop prevent doubling?

     NO!!!!  The fact is that whenever 3 or more radio operators are using the same frequency for transmitting, there will be times when 2 or more will push their transmit button at the same time.  This is called “doubling”.  You can’t prevent it and it gets worse as the number of users increases.  Just be patient and ask for a repeat.  A repeater with a short squelch tail causes much more doubling than one with a long squelch tail.  The reason why is that the operators on the short squelch tail repeater all use the ker-chunk of the squelch tail drop as their cue to start transmitting.  The operators on the long squelch tail repeater will be much more random in their push-to-talk, and therefore doubling is significantly less on the repeater with a long squelch tail. (I have proven this theory with commercial repeaters I used to maintain.)
     If you honestly have a real emergency, and you feel that the best way for you to get help is to interrupt an ongoing conversation on an amateur repeater, for goodness sake first realize that the people on that repeater are your friends and want to help you.  There is no way they could know you are in trouble until you tell them.  So DO NOT get on there and chew them out for quick-keying when in fact you were too upset to realize that they were leaving time for you to break-in or you are just too timid and inexperienced to know how to break into an ongoing conversation.  This may take some practice for some new Hams.


                        Shouldn’t I leave a long pause between each transmission for emergencies?
     NO!  Two or three seconds is more than enough time to break-into someone else’s conversation.  For those of you that don’t know, almost all emergencies on the road today are handled by cell phones.  911 operators much prefer to talk to someone on the scene, instead of a third party.  The last 2 or 3 times that I heard someone declaring an emergency on an amateur repeater and I answered the call and then called 911 to report it, I was politely informed by the dispatcher that 15 or 20 people had already reported the same via “cell phone”.


When is a link to a repeater not a link?

     When it’s a remote base NOT run by that repeater’s owner or trustee.  If it is legal for me to operate an open 2-meter repeater, then it is legal for me to set up a remote base and operate that 2-meter repeater with it, and I DO NOT need permission from the owners, control operators, or trustee of that 2-meter repeater to do that.  I DO need to (or my partner, “a designated control operator” needs to) monitor the output of my remote base to ensure its proper operation so it can be shut down if it malfunctions and transmits when I don’t want it to.  How I operate my remote base is NO ONE else’s business but mine.  I can do it with my own cable, telephone line, Internet connection, or UHF handy-talkie.  (I’d call the VHF part of the setup an “amateur station under Telecommand.” See PART 97 Sec. 97.213 Telecommand of an amateur station.)

      There are about a dozen "FCC type accepted and legal" dual-band radios on the market that are approved for this very purpose.  I believe the FCC has stated that if you set up a dual-band radio as a cross-band repeater to operate a distant 2-meter repeater with your UHF handy-talkie, that cross-band radio is not a repeater or a link, it is a remote base or “an amateur station under Telecommand.”  I believe they have also stated that if you use a continuous tone controlled squelch system (CTCSS), to make your UHF link a closed system, you only have to voice ID on your closed UHF frequency, and that ID is legal for identifying all three of your transmitters: the two transmitters in your cross-band radio, and the one in your UHF handy-talkie. (I’d call the UHF part of the setup an “auxiliary station.” See PART 97 Sec. 97.201 Auxiliary station.)

      So what we have here is two separate systems, even though parts of the two reside in one box, “the dual-band radio.”  The VHF part of this is the “amateur station under Telecommand” and the UHF part is the “auxiliary station.”  (The Ham Cops can’t comprehend this.)


So, what is a link?

     Well, they come in many forms and I believe most are called “auxiliary stations.” (See PART 97 Sec. 97.201 Auxiliary station.)  The two most common types are used by the owners, control operators, and trustees of repeaters for remote control of their repeaters, and the other is used to actually tie two or more repeaters together.  It is extremely important that you understand that this is totally different than what I explained before.  (Here again, the Ham Cops don’t have a clue.) 


Why do I have to have a tone on my transmitter?

     Not all repeaters need a tone on your signal.  However, if a repeater is located where there is a lot of RF, like on a mountain, tall building, or tower where there are other repeaters, then there is a good chance that interference from the other close by transmitters will keep that repeater transmitting all the time.  The timer would shut it down or the repeater would simply not function or wear out.  If a sub-audible tone squelch de-coder is used on the repeaters receiver to turn on the transmitter, then you can have a usable repeater in a good location, but you will need to have the right tone on your transmitter to use it.
     Sub-audible tone squelch systems have many names and uses.  Generically they are called a Continuous Tone Controlled Squelch System or CTCSS.  Motorola calls them Private Line or PL, and General Electric calls them Call Guard or CG.  Other brands refer to them as Privacy Codes.  Most manufactures now identify them by their actual frequency, while others still call them by a number like 1 to 38 or 1A to XZ

Dan O'Barr, KL7DR
President of MARA inc.
Owner, Alyeska Technologies
Captain in The Alaska State Defense Force
Alaska Area Coordinator for AMSAT # 24622, BP51ho
Communications Coordinator for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race 
Current board member and communications adviser to The American Red Cross
Emergency Communications Specialist for the Wasilla Alaska Stake of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Member of ARRL
Member of AARC
Member of ARES
Founding member of, and recipient of a “Certificate of Appreciation as Elmer of The Year 2000” for The Great and Honorable LEO Society (Gahleos) &
P.O. Box 873981
Wasilla, AK 99687
Home (907) 373-2569
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