This article is about the history of the repeater. For current up-to-date information, go here.
The initial writing of this history was in 1996. While some of the neighboring paragraphs in this history may seem to jump back and forth or describe unrelated happenings, the best format seemed to be to keep the history in chronological order as much as possible. Also, there have been several updates to this history as time has passed. I have decided NOT to change the verb tense of various items which were present at the time of writing or previous updates and are now past tense. All the content of this history is believed to be correct but there are no guarantees. The text which follows may be reproduced provided it is not altered in any way and credit is given to the author as the source. If any person reading it has either additional information or corrections to make, please forward them to the author.
Most of the dates used in this document came from either schematics I wrote or old orders from International Crystal that pertained to getting or keeping the repeater into operation or crystals I needed for my own radios to use the system.
In the time period of 1969-1970, meetings of the East Shore VHF Club were held in an old Nike site building in Manry Park, Willoughby. (not a very fancy place) They had a relatively low profile repeater on 53.70/53.46 with the callsign of K8NPY. The transmitter was located at Manry park and the receiver at the residence of George (WA8EYG) near White Rd. and I-271. The input and output sites were connected with UHF links.
A new community center building was built in Willowick in 1968 and the club was given permission to have its monthly meetings in the basement meeting room instead of at Manry Park. They were also permitted to use a room adjacent to it which was designed for operating emergency communications equipment. At about this same time the East Ohio Gas Company donated one of their old lowband base stations which was a ¼-KW unit manufactured by F.M.Link. It used a single 250TH in the final and was of the two-case vintage (ca 1948). The new community center would have been a nice place to get the repeater started. Next to the building were two 100ft. Union metal mast monopole antenna towers.
Dave (WB8APD) and I wanted to try to get the donated equipment on the air as the new transmitter for the repeater. Unfortunately, the only radio club person who had keys to the building was Dick Snow (K8CQY SK). When I approached him to also have access to the building so we could get the Link going, he advised that no one else was going to get a key. It didn’t take a rocket science degree to realize it wouldn’t work getting him to let us in every time we wanted to work on the repeater.
My reply to this was fine, if that’s the way you want to be, I’ll find other equipment and build my own repeater. From the start of the project to the time I had the repeater first on the air, it took about six weeks. I assembled it in the workshop in my apartment on E200 St. As far as I can tell, this was sometime in 1969 or 1970. The frequency pair F2 still uses, was consistent with the OARC recommended band plan of 1970. I think Alex (K8EUR) wanted to use the 92-68 pair in particular because W8RRJ in Columbus had a repeater on 84-60 and the frequencies were close enough together and to 52.525 to easily crystal switch in an older radio. At the time, we were all using radios with at least a tube driver and final and they would not tune the wider spacing from simplex to the repeater that works with the solid-state transmitters of today. Frequently, it was necessary to two-freq the radio to even have a place to put a second channel (for the repeater). To use the repeater, we all needed to install a new set of crystals in the second channel in our radios. So……when you were talking on 52.525 in the simplex mode and you were to the point where you couldn’t hear the station you were talking to any more, you would call F2, F2. This meant go to F2 or the repeater. The tradition has kept up through the thirty plus years F2 has been on the air although admittedly it becomes easy to use the repeater when you might be able to communicate without it. Some people as a result have let the quality of radio or antenna in their vehicle be a compromise. A 100 watt radio coupled to a real mounted-through-the-fender full length quarter-wave antenna performs the best. Lower transmitter power or a shortened or multi-band antenna definitely makes for compromised performance. Extender® or other noise blanker in the mobile receiver, good IM rejection and sensitivity and a low amount of ignition noise are all requirements to make six-meter mobile operation a success.
That is essentially how F2 began. I mounted the first transmitter in a power supply I built. It was a GE Progress-Line® transmitter strip which put out about 60 watts into an Antenna Specialists ASP271 antenna mounted on top of Art Sutt’s (W8YOS, SK) tower at SR615 and 2 in Mentor. The six-meter receiver was a Motorola Unichannel® PL® only (had no carrier squelch) tube-type receiver and was located at Bill Benjamin’s (N8BC SK) house in Painesville. UHF links were made with Motorola tube-type T44 equipment. Suffice it to say it was always in need of repair or tuning. You were lucky to get a couple good 2C39 tubes for the transmitter and then of course they didn’t last forever. Art came up with the clever acronym for the system and its users: SMART which stands for Six Meter Amateur Repeater Team. How Dave became the repeater license trustee and yet I’ve done most of the work on it – well it just started that way and continued through time.
I’m not sure when we put the input at Winton Place (apartments on the west side) but for a while that may have either been the only input or it was the second input.
A short time after the 60 watt G.E. Progress-Line® transmitter was operational, of course I wanted a transmitter with more power so in July of 1972, I took a strip from an 80D Motorola 30-watt mobile transmitter, replaced the 7C5 pre-driver with a 2E26, the 2E26 driver with a 6146, and the pair of 2E26’s final with a 4CX250. Art donated the plate transformer which put out 1110 volts at 1300 ma AC. It made a plate supply of about 1400 or so. The amp put out about 235 watts. The resulting transmitter was somewhat in need of frequent tuning and I’m not sure why but Art probably retuned it more than necessary. This was the birth of The Art Sutt Award: for diddling a working piece of equipment and the word diddleitis! The transmitter was given to Kim W8HD after I built the 4CS250 amp for the transmitter location when we moved to the hill. We had the idea that he use it to get a repeater on the air in the Detroit area. He ultimately acquired a Motorola ¼ K Micor® base station and had it on the air for a short time.
In the constant search to place a repeater transmitter in a higher profile location, we moved the transmitter so we could place its antenna on the top of the API water tower on Wilson Mills Rd (near County Line Rd). Although I worked at API at the time, the installation had been previously arranged with Pat Chick (WB8MJB/N8DAQ SK). He and Roy Polizzi were previously using the water tower site for a low profile repeater which they stopped maintaining ….. leaving the site and transmit antenna available to us for the F2 transmitter. The receive site was relocated to Dave Foran’s tower in Willoughby. Some of the problems with the transmitter were alleviated by the move because there was no one at the site to diddle it. At one point, we had to salvage it and do some repairs. The damage was caused by the boiler in the same room when the makeup water system for it failed and a partial meltdown occurred. It burned hot enough with no water in it for the fire brick insulation on the sides of the boiler to melt.
If you can find really old records of F2, one of the interesting things you could find out was there were at least five meetings between various hams interested in the repeater. Many of the input sites discussed never materialized. The first meeting was held on 18 JUN 80 and attended by K8EUR, K8SGX, WB8APD, W8FVL, K8GZQ, W8AZO, and WB8MTE. At that meeting I noted the locations of inputs and link frequencies of .875 at K8EIW (Cuyahoga Falls), .825 at WA8TTS (Montville), .925 at WA8BRD (Winton Place, west side) and .85 at Wooster. Then apparently we decided to move WA8TTS to Painesville, K8EIW to the hill and the hill to Wooster. I assume this referred to frequencies or equipment moves. We also decided to raise the transmitter power to 500 watts when we moved to the hill with the transmit site. There were notes about moving various pieces of equipment to different places. They indicated either present or proposed input sites at the API 306 plant (we did have equipment there in a cabinet on the roof). As we all know, the concept of radios in outdoor cabinets always equals trouble. For a short time, we had an input on the Union Metal mast at the OBT building at E260 and the south marginal. As I remember, there was a lot of trouble with interference we decided must be coming from all the vehicles on the shoreway and we soon moved it elsewhere.
The next meeting was on 5 OCT 80, and was attended by K8SGX, K8EUR, K8AET, W8CJB, WA8RQY, WB8APD, W8CZW, WB8RGC, K8WLF, and W8AZO. At that time apparently the input at Winton Place was dead and we decided to put an input at an unknown site in North Ridgeville. (never happened) We were going to try to get the users of 52.84-60 to move to F2. I promised to get the 4CS250 600-watt amp in service by the spring of 1981.
There was a meeting of K8SGX, K8EUR, WB8APD, W8AZO, and WB8MTE on 5 JUN 83. We decided to change the CWID to WB8APD. (I have no idea what the callsign was before the change.) Adding PL receive to the hill input was decided upon. We would turn the PL® on and off by supplying a 1950 Hz tone on the monitor pair that ran to the WTPD office (for Marv). (never happened) Apparently we were having an interference problem with the 146.76 transmitter. There is mention of a 2A+B problem. I was supposed to add a relay to the amplifier to lower the power to 100 watts. I now realize that is not as easy as it sounds. There was discussion about “use Touch-Tone® memory stuff from Pugsley” which I assume to be a reference to the controller we are still using.
Next meeting. Small meeting. K8SGX, WB8APD, WB8MTE and W8AZO decided, on the 18 NOV 83 to move the Amherst input to the new tower at the 125 mile marker and the OTP. (also never happened) There was some discussion about trying to get our input links on the statewide microwave system. I’m glad that did not pan out. I still feel we’re better having control of all our own equipment. At that time, apparently the inputs at least proposed were hill, Thompson, Downtown, Winton Place, 125 mile tower, and Col which must have meant Columbus and of course that never happened either.
The last meeting I have records of having was on 30 NOV 85. It was attended by WB8APD, K8EUR, K8SGX, and W8HD. Kim was supposed to purchase a GE Mastr Pro® UHF base from WB8APD to use for the link to Michigan. (which he did) I was supposed to order crystals to move the hill input to Newbury and add a receiver for a control channel. I have no other records of meetings or other things that may have been discussed at the meetings listed above. From that time on, work on the repeater was done by mostly Alex and me until about 1990 when Ray became involved and Alex bowed out because of health reasons. Ernie Kyser (KB8QDX) first showed up on F2 in april, 1996 and from then until 2004 was more involved with F2 to the point where he has now helped me as much or more than either Alex or Ray. Fortunately, with the advent of the matched Mitrek® inputs, after I figured out the denderite problem and remedied it by epoxy coating the inside of the helicals casting, there haven’t been any more issues at least with denderites.
A couple of years after my friend George (Wooster) erected a 100 ft. tower, for his commercial two-way radio system, I finally convinced him to let us put an input on it. In late winter, 1980, I had it working. There’s an ASP600 (lowband) on top of the tower and an ASP760 (UHF) mounted on the north side of the tower. While I was in possession of a receiver and transmitter to use, I couldn’t come up with a power supply (4EP38) so there was only one other choice. I built one. In an effort to save 8072 finals in the transmitter, I put a rather unconventional heatsink on the side of the transmitter. It had much larger fins than the standard mobile heatsink to try to keep the heat generated from the tube heater from cooking the tube socket. The home made power supply kept the original input working until the changeover to solid state equipment which for that input happened in October, 1995. His location is on top of a fairly decent hill north of town and the input there hears around the area and onto I71 quite well. It even sometimes fills in areas in southern Cuyahoga County.
In 1982, we were granted the opportunity to install an input on the Thompson WVIZ TV ch67 translator tower. This site was used to retransmit the signal from WVIZ until the second replacement transmitter failed. The OET erected a new building and tower for a transmitter for WKSU-FM. This new site provides better receptiion for areas to the east of Thompson….Ashtabula County and eastern Lake County. We first used a GE ET60 and EP38 at he site. Like all GE UHF transmitters, it required constant attention so in Feb 1991, I replaced the transmitter with the 2-watt transmitter from a GE PR® portable. The two watts made the path easily. The link frequency however, was still on 448.875.
In the middle of the winter 1996-7 I noticed that no signals were coming from the Thompson input. A quick ride to the site confirmed the nature of the problem. All the antennas had been removed from the tower. The project which required this was a 40 ft. addition to the tower and considerable reinforcing of the lower tower verticals and the cement base so there would be a place to mount a new WKSU translator transmitting antenna. We were off the air from that site for most of the spring and early summer but finally everything returned to normal.
In the continuing hunt to want to get an even better transmitter location, we decided to move the transmitter to the Warrensville Township hill at Sunny Acres hospital where the LEARA sites were until about 2010 At that point, the building was vacated and eventually torn down. You (I) couldn’t just move an old transmitter there so during the winter of 1982-3, I built still another amplifier to replace the modified 80-D. The new amp used a pair of 4CS250 pulls from OBT IMTS transmitters attached to a big heatsink. This one had an input with the maximum legal power at the time of 900 watts (for an unattended station) and produced about 600 watts RF. Dave came up with two plate transformers from GE finals. I tied them in parallel. I tried all sorts of arrangements including equalizing resistors and capacitors to get diodes to work as rectifiers but could never keep them from shorting. In a fit of desperation, I put in two 3B28’s. End of problems. In order to keep the output of the transmitter clean, I actually ran the output of the amp through two full sized cavity resonators to keep it as clean as possible since we still had channel 3 tv. Marv purchased them and two others that are now in the input circuit of the transmitter at the radio station in an auction of surplus equipment from the Shaker Heights Police Department. They were brand new.
At the time I didn’t have the resources to make a PA output filter similar to those usually put on the output of an amplifier and we wanted to be extra sure there weren’t any out-of-band emissions to bother the hospital MATV. The antenna was a special ASP600 with a phasing coil and another half wave radiator on top so it had 3db more gain than a standard ‘600. In order to keep the amplifier from burning out the finals if there was an antenna problem, I used API meter-relays to monitor the plate current, screen current, and reflected power meter circuits. These meters however did not have remote reset like the present amp has so every time the thing tripped out, you had to actually go to the transmitter site to perform the reset…..which was a real pain. It turns out the specially modified ASP600 had intermittent problems where the top radiator connected to the phasing coil and the amp would trip out from high reflected power every time it was really windy. Everyone kept telling me there is a problem with the meters and I kept saying it was the antenna. I finally turned out to be right. We didn’t take the antenna down often to check it because it was mounted on top of a 21 ft. piece of 2½” pipe. (heavy)
For the Motrac®exciter, I built a special power supply that used all solid state switching in order to avoid relay issues.
When we moved the transmitter site to the hill, a GE MastrPro® UHF receiver was installed for receiving the links. With the lack of a voter, it was necessary to build a search for the receiver so I built one using an idea taken from the early GE two-freq searches only this one had outputs for four frequencies. The oscillator ran at 40 hz which meant the sample time was only 25 milliseconds per channel. The rest of the circuit consisted of a 4013 connected in a divide by two configuration. It drove a 4011 with buffers on the outputs. This only worked at this speed because the links were not guarded at that time. It gave quick attack time but as with all searches, if the signal on the channel being received does not drop momentarily to restart the search, a noisy signal can persist and continue to be repeated even though a better signal is available. Unguarded links worked in that era only because there was not enough interference on UHF to require guarding. Carrier squelch attacks infinitely faster than does tone squelch. I can’t be sure but the four inputs at the time were Wooster, Thompson, Amherst, and Mansfield. Soon after came Downtown.
In 1985, we obtained permission through Cliff Bade to install an input on the Surgis Rd. site of Rhonda Clock Answering Service in Mansfield where there was a Rohn 25 tower owned by Cleveland Mobile Radio. It had a couple antennas on it connected to GE ¼ K base stations. The equipment room was on the side of the garage in the back. The plaster was falling off the walls and ceiling and the whole thing was a real unkept mess. We were given a piece of cable to replace the inadequate electrical service and we completely rewired the room. It still didn’t fix the problem with the grape vines growing all over the outside of the building and up the tower but at least we had electricity. The piece of equipment I built for an input used an old GE EF6 final Dave Foran gave me that had a bad tube socket and I decided since the 4CX300’s the amp used were so expensive, I converted the amp to use a 4CX250. The EP6 I put with it was an old boned out unit I acquired from Alex. The screen pot was gone and the burned out blower motor was missing. There was no plate transformer either. I replaced the screen pot with a rotary switch and fixed resistors. The blower from an old Motorola C53GKB vintage continuous duty base was the source for another motor and I salvaged the lamp ballast from an old Ozalid® (blueprint copying) machine scrapped from the LFE warehouse for a plate transformer . We acquired a GE Mastr Imperial® transmitter and control board from Cliff Bade for the exciter. We kept the GE Mastr Pro® link receiver. Like with many power amps, the thing worked great while you were there then the tuning would drift a couple weeks after your last trip to Mansfield and it was again off the air. Not the fault of the receiver, but we constantly had some kind of receive interference at that site. It sounded like some sort of brazz coming from the power line but we could never locate it. A full 5 ft long pass cavity on 52.92 wouldn’t get it out so we figured it must have been on-frequency.
In 1988 we had to retrieve the input after water came in through the leaky roof in the radio room and ran inside the cabinet. This equipment filled an old Motorola cabinet and probably weighed about 200 pounds. Not the type thing you just throw in the trunk of your econobox car. Next time I made a drip shield for the top of the cabinet. While I was storing it at the Warrensville Township PD garage, (courtesy Marv, W8AZO), I installed a 443.975 receiver in the cabinet with the idea of relaying an input to be located in Mt. Vernon through Mansfield. We never put the Mt. Vernon thing on the air and when we moved the input and I rebuilt it with Mitreks® in the summer of 1995, I left the link receiver out.
The problem with the amp, receiver desense, along with the lossy path back to the radio station on UHF were the best reasons we were far better off when the site was moved to one of two OET towers at rte 39 and I 71. The final reason we moved however was because in early 1969, the tower was replaced and the location was turned into a full cell site. The new owners placed all kinds of restrictions on us including requiring $5 a piece stainless steel transmission line fasteners which we couldn’t afford. When my search for a new input site began to pan out, I jumped at the chance to relocate. The increased profile of the new input site allowed us to decrease the link transmit power from 250 watts to 100 watts and actually have a better signal back at the radio station…..so a completely solid state input was now a reality. The new equipment which is still in place was operational in the fall of 1995. It consists of a Mitrek® lowband receiver and low power UHF transmitter coupled to a Micor® 100 watt PA mounted on a huge heatsink. There is still one of the GE lowband receivers mounted in the cabinet. It is tuned to the repeater output so while you are working on the equipment you can hear what is being repeated on the system and actually listen to how quiet your link signal is. Another bonus of running all solid-state equipment is it allows us to use the station batteries that run other ham equipment there.
The UHF antenna is fed wit CATV cable that is .860″ dia. It has attenuation characteristics similar to other semi-rigid coaxial cables like Heliax® but I had to manufacture a pair of connectors for it since I didn’t know where to get the right thing. The transmitter didn’t seem to mind the impedance mismatch from the standard 50 ohms.
The GE voter never really worked all that well in the system and would vote a poor signal when there was a better one available. (sounds familiar) It always seemed to require audio level readjustment. At one point, we actually replaced all the tantalum and electrolytic capacitors in it with the hope of solving the problem. It helped some but not a lot. With all Mitrek® receivers and link transmitters in place, I now know that although we had a lot of trouble with the GE voter, at least some of the problems encountered with it were not its fault at all but rather the fact that there were no two inputs built with exactly the same equipment. Although the repeated audio from each of them sounded close, there was enough difference in the amount of high frequency audio received from one input to another that misvoting is at least partly caused by audio equalization differences from one input package to another. The GE ExecII® exciter board the (downtown) input used as a transmitter always had bassier audio than any of the others. Where did the GE voter come from? I’m not sure but we installed the GE voter and the first six Motrac® receivers in 1983, or shortly before we moved the transmitter to the radio station. More than one link receiver was now necessary. Alex came up with six Motrac® receivers from a source on the east coast. The first mounting arrangement for them consisted of all six receivers mounted between two panels. While there was space to mount the squelch and volume controls etc. on the panel on one side, the concept of having the receivers side by side took up almost half the rack with receivers……in comparison to the current pigeon-hole or mailbox concept that allowed 15 receivers in about 18 inches of rack space.
Another of the first locations farther away from the transmitter site where we installed an input was on the 175 ft. tower in Amherst owned at the time by Howard Baker, K8NHR. It provided a really good location for our first western input and had a line-of-sight path for the UHF link. We used GE Mastr Pro® equipment mounted in an old shipboard radio equipment cabinet. The equipment was located in the chicken coop next to the base of his tower. Several times, we had problems with mice getting inside the cabinet. The hole we ultimately had to plug was in the middle of the back of the cabinet and probably about only ¾ inch in diameter. The mice sure made a stinky mess inside a piece of equipment in a short time. In Feb 1989, I built a GE PR® portable transmitter input for this site also. The power then was also about 25 watts and the link stayed on 448.925. The site was ultimately taken over by a local two-way company and we left….although the main reason for leaving was that we had obtained permission to get on the Berlin Hts water tower and there were rumors that the location was going to be sold and turned into a turnpike interchange……which never happened.
A crystal order dated 2-86 indicates that was the time when we began working on the link from the hill to Michigan. Although we had four 11-element beams aimed northwest, the path to Michigan was never reliably full quieting. We had the GE ¼K UHF base we had been using for the repeater on 444.95 until Dave acquired the MSF5000® that’s been in operation since perhaps 1988. The ERP of the old link calculated to be around 20KW. Before moving the repeater to the east side we had it operating from the Federal Building. What a fiasco getting it out when we wanted to move it.
When WDMT in Newbury was going to erect a new tower to replace the shorter and rusting one, through the Geauga County EMA, I contacted Ron Eging KA8YNO who was the assistant EMA director and asked if we helped put the 147.015 repeater on the air on this new tower, could we also get another piece of coax up the tower and put up a 2-element antenna on six meters? The answer turned out to be yes and that was in 1986 where the transmitter still is located. We actually had power on the new F2 antennas before the broadcast station moved to the new tower.
Of course the same deal applied here too. I wanted a new amplifier for the new location. The FCC changed the power limitation for amateur service in 1986 to allow 1500 watts output, so I automatically needed something to accommodate this new power level. The existing amp on the hill really needed to stay there in order for us to have an alternate location for transmitting in case there was a problem at the radio station…….and it turned out there were many problems with the new transmit antennas. They are fed with a continuous run of special nuclear blast collapse proof solid copper clad aluminum center conductor ” Heliax®. The about 1350 watts the amp usually puts out is attenuated to about 900 watts by 800 ft of transmission line. The jacket is molded to the outer conductor of the transmission line so firmly that in order to get it off you have to remove it with a power wire brush. To use a standard connector with it, the A/S guys made a special drill bushing fixture that centered the correct size drill so you could drill out the aluminum center conductor.
The presently in-service amp was the summer project for 1986. Work at LFE (my employer at the time) was slow for a period then and I remember asking my boss if I could work on a project of my own when I had no company business that needed attention and he said it was OK so most of that amp was built at work on company time. It took about six weeks to complete the basic amp and control circuit. I remember working on the control schematic and other concepts of the amp while I was waiting at the airport to fly to see mom and dad that summer.
It uses six grounded cathode cross neutralized 4CX250’s connected in push-pull parallel to a tuned-line tank circuit. The about 50 watts of drive from the exciter passes through two full size cavity resonators. Both the plate and grid are link coupled. The filament and screen supplies are SCR regulated in the power transformer primaries. The screen supply is changed from 150 to 250 volts when the transmitter power is changed from low to high and in the tune mode. The tube heater voltage is raised from a standby of about 4.2 to about 5.0 during the time the blower runs which is from the time the grid relay pulls from applied RF until it times out which is about two minutes after non-use. In order to have the amp start immediately after standby but not have to wait for the blower to come up to speed and operate the prove relay, the relay is bypassed for five seconds during each blower startup. This allows immediate transmit capability but permits the amp to be in standby with the blower off. The plate transformer is a ninety pound 3.5KVA ballast I scrounged from another cast-off Ozalid® machine from LFE. I had to completely disassemble it. It was necessary to cut off the magnetic shunts (2) on each lamination and 2 more on each center piece. (The end result configuration looks like an EI core, and the pieces are like a square with a straight bar through both windings). There was a half inch diameter hole punched in each center bar. To further accomplish the feat of modifing the lump from constant current to constant voltage, I made a punch and punched out enough slugs from the cut off center bars to in turn press one into each half inch hole. When I put the transformer back together, it worked perfectly except now instead of the primary voltage being 240 volts, the original primary winding would only take 208 volts before core saturation began. This was actually a blessing since the radio station voltage is 208 wye not 240. In order to run the amp at home, I wound enough additional turns on it to get a winding that would run with 240 volts applied. So now I have an amp that has a power transformer that will run on either 208 or 240 volts and I wasn’t looking to do this in the beginning. The primary of the transformer is driven with an old LFE SCR driver board and SCRs and provides abut 800 volts for low power operation and about 1700 volts in the high power mode. (plate current is about 1350 ma in high power) While I dislike the size of the driver board because it’s rather large, I have used them in several applications because the drive to the SCR gates is DC which makes the devices turn-off proof in the middle of the power line cycle. If that happens in an inductive load primary circuit, you wind up essentially with DC on the load (transformer primary) and saturation followed by a blown fuse results very quickly.
Fair Radio (Lima Ohio) had exactly the choke I needed to get the filtering done. It is 1.5 henrys at 1.5 amps and has the name Collins on it. Perfect….as things seldom are. It and the ballast fit side by side on a 1/4 inch thick panel which when completely assembled weighs a mere 150 pounds. The filtering is completed with two 40uf 4000v oils. The tuning adjustments (grid, plate, load, and reactance) are operated by small military surplus planetary gear-head 24 volt DC motors. You push one button to make the tuning go one way and the other button to go the other way. (3 motors and 6 buttons) I put an ACE® round key lock on the supply to eliminate any possible tendency toward diddling the PA and another ACE® round key on the cabinet front door.
Protection for the tubes is similar to the circuit I used on the amp on the hill with API meter relays. This time I used 3-inch meters instead of 5-inch meters so they wouldn’t take up so much space. They again monitor plate current, screen current, and reflected power. The interesting thing I have discovered is that in the event of high VSWR, the best indicator of it instead of high reflected power is higher than normal screen current. I also made connections to the meters available so the new controller could be used to reset them rather than having to actually go to the transmitter to perform the reset function.
To get the filter tuned correctly, I had the help of Norm Hanks (K8TVD) using the A/S $30,000 HP8753 network analyzer to tune up the special harmonic filter I built. Although I attempted to duplicate the filter Motorola uses on its high power tube-type finals, the tuning wasn’t close at the beginning. It required a couple of trips to the lab to get it right. To give an idea of the capability of the amplifier, on one occasion, one of the N fittings on the filter arced over and shorted in such a way that the reflected power circuit couldn’t see it and the amp just kept transmitting into the dead short without ruining anything. The filter gets its job done well enough that residents close to the tower have never complained of having TVI.
The UHF link, control, and repeater input receivers are coupled to the antenna through an amplifier, a bandpass filter and then a four-way divider that feeds four more 4-way dividers. One of the final dividers has an extra amp feeding it. This divider feeds the Mansfield and West Lodi inputs, the control receiver and the UHF (U2) repeater receiver.
The project didn’t go without a hitch or two however. Troubles with RG393 interconnect cables were one problem. Marv and the AS guys made the first cables that ran from the end of the Heliax® to the antennas out of RG393. It seemed like a good idea to use the stuff because of its low loss but we soon found that the outer insulation is not UV or weather stable and twice we developed a high SWR because water seeped under the outer jacket and corroded the shield braid.
The first antennas on the WENZ tower were DB212’s. While they were and are nice antennas, we didn’t have the right hardware to mount them (if such a thing exists) on 7 inch diameter tower legs and once when the wind was strong, they turned so they weren’t vertical any more. They worked OK but we were afraid they might come down. The lab guys at Antenna Specialists built the present antennas which are single gamma fed dipoles mounted 1/4 wavelength away from the tower and located on the south side of the south leg. The signal from the whole arrangement is better than 20db quieting in a mobile at the bottom of the hill at route 30 and I 71 in Mansfield some 90 miles away. The only fear I have with them is someday they will fail and when they do, there are no spares available. There has constantly been a problem with them with SWR sometimes when it rains and that is the time we need proper operation for SKYWARN®. In the fall of 2004, they were replaced. Later in this article I will explain the problems encountered with this caper.
One of the things that made the project attainable without the need for deep pockets was all the help we received from Jerry Smith, K8AJG. His involvement with Warmus communications, the contractor who was hired to erect the new tower, put him in position to help us and he did. In fact, he personally put up our antennas and when we were having all the problems with coax, he personally went up the tower and on three different occasions, changed the phasing cables.
Another disconcerting thing happened to us shortly after getting on the tower. When the cell cite was first installed, it turned out that one of the sub harmonics of one of the new cellular transmitters fell directly on one of our receive frequencies on UHF. We had to change the receiver to one with a different IF to get rid of the problem. The 2A-B was (old downtown link freq 448.85×2-(rx IF=11.7)=886.2 which is exactly cellular base transmit channel 540. No amount of shielding made any difference. I had to change the receiver to one with a 12 MHz IF to get them out. In the final chapter of the story, all of the link frequencies have been changed to the ARRL recommended portion of the band and the problem does not occur with them on the new frequencies.
After the move of the transmitter, the location on the hill where the transmitter was could now be used for an input site and we installed one there. The transmitter used there is still in place in case there is a long term problem with the Newbury transmit site. Hopefully there won’t be any but I guess you never know for sure. The interesting thing about the hill site for transmitting is while it may have a lesser signal in Mansfield, it is louder in Toledo than the transmitter at the radio station gets with a higher profile and more power.
In 1988, I obtained permission to install an input on the Geauga County Sheriff’s new tower. It was also the main site of the new Geauga County ‘800’ system. We didn’t have any trouble with the ‘800’ system but found the transmitter noise on 52.92 bothered the Mastr Pro® receiver that was the style of receiver we were using for inputs at the time. As a result, the input was almost useless and we decided to discontinue its use. At about the same time, the ‘800’ equipment was in the process of being relocated to its present location behind the EMA building. It seemed there was a leak in an underground gasoline tank really close to the tower base and the tower had to be dismantled to remove the leaky tank. We weren’t invited to the new site…..I don’t remember why but it wasn’t any great loss.
At the beginning of our construction of the Clarksfield input, I tried to figure what I was going to use for transmission line for the new six-meter receive antennas. Through the efforts of my friend Jim Black (deceased) I obtained several end-of-spool pieces of .540″ dia. 75 CATV transmission line. The inside of the outer conductor turns out to be the correct size to allow you to heat it a little with a torch. This allows the back of a PL259 to slide right under it. To make the connection tight between the two, you use a small screw hose clamp around the aluminum and it clamps perfectly. The center conductor fits nicely inside the center pin of the connector and is copper-clad so it solders with no problem. As far as impedance match and loss characteristics are concerned—the line was free and the receiver hears. To date it’s the feedline for the receiver at Clarksfield, Mantua, Mansfield, and West Lodi. By the way, I am told that transmitters particularly on lowband don’t like 75-ohm transmission line
One of the inputs that has basically performed with few troubles has been the one on the Clarksfield site where the antennas are located practically at the top of the tower. There are two DB212’s close to the top of the 350 ft. tower and it hears well enough with its low 4db of desense to sometimes be the voted input for mobiles in Cuyahoga County on I71. The original package consisted of a Micor® 30 watt UHF transmitter and a GE Mastr® receiver with a Motrac® PL® decoder. The input performed quite well until it was replaced with two Mitrek® radios in 2000. Shortly after installation, the new input quite coincidentally began to be bothered by a strange signal which, when I finally went to the site to find it, turned out to be the local oscillator in an aftermarket subaudible tone decoder installed in the RCA receiver for the 2-meter repeater that’s on the tower. Disarming the decoder quickly solved the problem. In the last year however, one of the transistors in the transmitter power control circuit has failed 3-times. That is getting to be somewhat disconcerting. Once the failure was caused by a direct lightning hit…the other two, I have no idea why.
Cliff (W8CJB) knew I was interested in finding other input sites for F2 and he knew the owner of a good candidate to the west of Cleveland so, in 1988 one nice day, I rode with Cliff to the West Lodi site and met Jerry Katzenmeyer (N8BHU) who was the owner of this ex-Western Union microwave relay station at the time. From him, I obtained permission to install an input on the West Lodi site tower. I built a input with a 30 watt UHF transmitter and when we took it to the site, I was surprised after having a full quieting signal from the Clarksfield site, 30 watts didn’t make the path at all. Jim Pracker gave me a Motorola ¼K uhf amp (uses two 4CX250’s) and power supply which after a lot of work, I made work but I had more trouble keeping it on the air than I had with the old Mansfield transmitter. I finally gave it back to Jim and it is currently in use on the WB8QGR 444.625 repeater. One other time, I went to see why it wasn’t working and found water from the leaky roof there also had run inside the cabinet to the point where water had filled the Motrac® speaker in the bottom of the cabinet. Enter rain bonnet no.2.
It didn’t stay on the air for more than two or three days after returning in spite of the fact that it really worked well at Jim’s shop. It did, however make the path. The trips do fix it were about 115 miles one way. After three or four times doing this, I acquired another 150 ft piece of Heliax and raised the UHF corner from about 125 ft to about 275 ft. Only one problem here. We couldn’t keep the splice at 125 ft. together. Twice I had to get someone to climb and put things back together. Third time was the charm. I purchased a 300 ft. piece of Heliax® at Dayton and had it installed……ending the splice issue. This made 30 watts at least 10-15 db quieting so I knew 100 watts would work. Finally, in the spring of ’98, I replaced the entire input with a 100 watt Mitrek®. The Mitrek® mobile PA components are remounted in the monster heat sink from a GE 900mhz 100 watt PA burnout. To further insure adequate cooling, there are two fans that run when the heat sink temperature gets above 100 degrees and a separate Klixon® set at 129 degrees cuts off the PTT circuit if the heat sink overheats. My friend Mark says that no transistor ever failed from being too cool and I believe him so……lots of heat sink.
One other thing I learned (last spring) was not to be cheap. When I built the Mitrek® 100 watt PA’s for the West Lodi input, I wanted to fuse the A+ line to the PA. Since the transmitter draws about 30 amps when keyed, I thought it would be a good idea to fuse it at 40 amps by putting two 20A fuse links inside an REN 30 (replaceable link) fuse holder rather than get the correct 40A fuse and holder. When the transmitter failed, Marv and I drove there to fix it only to find the fuse not blown but the end caps loose. I tightened the slightly loose caps and thought that would be the end of the problem. It failed again for the same reason not two weeks later. Talk about not happy when I found the same thing happened twice. On a hunch I took new 60-amp size fuses and holders. Now there’s now a larger 40 amp fuse in the circuit after we made two trips there and back for nothing (almost 500 miles total).
Vice Bak gave me several GE PR® portables and several Micor® DPL® boards. This was the beginning of guarding the links and my first experience with digital squelch. After a considerable amount of experimenting, I was able to get the GE transmitters and Motrac® link receivers to work with the Micor® DPL® boards. This is probably one of the capers I’ve pulled with the system that could have caused a lot of trouble but really hasn’t. The only thing that happened was-in the process of making it work, I inadvertently have (and it still is that way), the code of the receivers inverted so when you are transmitting code 162 for instance, the receive code is 503. This is a real nuisance when you’re setting up a new code or input but that’s about all. Finally, as part of the changes employed in 2003-4, I redesigned the DPL® connection to the link receivers and eliminated the code/inverted code problem. I also made carrier boards for each of two DPL® decode boards and mounted all of them in an old Motrac® base station control shelf. They were previously mounted on 5-each small mother boards in the rear of the cabinet. Part of the addition was to also include an LED to indicate decoding of each respective DPL.
In November of 1989, Al K8EUR persuaded me to build a mobile drawer into a simulcast transmitter for his Port Clinton summer place so he could hear the repeater better. Although I built the piece of equipment, there was trouble hearing the UHF repeater which was the source of signal to be repeated and it was soon turned off. I think I also remember the real reason for the whole caper was because the vehicle he was driving at the time had lots of computer noise centered close to 52.68 and desensed his radio quite a bit.
The Lorain input was one of the first inputs I built after the beginning of the implementation of the Mitrek® UHF radios for link transmitters. It is one of the few inputs that once I built it, I haven’t seen it since. It doesn’t have a very high antenna ( 50 ft.) but it does seem to do a good fill-in job in the Lorain area. Finally in 2004, I received permission from J.P. Jones (WA8CAE) to move the input to one of his higher tower sites (the former WZLE transmitter site) in Lorain. It seems to hear better but not well into western Cuyahoga County. Maybe that’s too much to expect.
The input at Dick Bomboy’s (WA3USH), is connected to an antenna at almost 200 ft. on his tower. With the good low noise floor site he has in the country, it gives us good coverage from Thompson to almost the New York state line. It is connected to his battery system so if the power fails, were still in business.
In 1990, after the weather bureau replaced the WSR57 radar with the WSR88 doppler and the subsequent closing of many weather bureau stations around the country including Toledo Ohio, the need now existed to be able to talk to a ham station in any of the Cleveland CWA (30 counties). This meant transmitting to and receiving from anyone south of Mansfield, west to Toledo and east to Erie, Pennsylvania. Along with Dave Foran, I decided to make F2 available to SKYWARN® to do the job of backbone communications. They accepted the offer. There are problems in Toledo receiving the signal but I think most of that relates to the fact that the Toledo SKYWARN® building is only 2 or 3 floors high……and what do you expect?
I guess I’m not really sure exactly when we installed the Mantua input but I’m guessing is was about in 1991. I’m also not sure who introduced me to Dave Dorson, the owner of the site. When I explained what I wanted and that an input there would help make the system work better for SKYWARN®, he decided to grant us permission to install equipment on his tower mostly because we are using the system for SKYWARN®. I think the approximately 33db of receiver desense I measured last summer must be worse than when we installed the input although it never has heard the way I thought it should. The two DB212’s I installed there for receive antennas were about the first of them I used. Without knowing I was creating a problem, I had the sections of the shortened antenna tack welded. Some short time later, Dave called to inform me that the loop ends of the antennas were on the ground. The only thing I can figure is either the welding fatigued the aluminum or it was suggested that maybe someone shot at the antennas (which I think is the least likely story). It was also one of the early inputs I built with a GE PR® portable transmitter and a Micor® DPL® board. I guess the reason those portables were retired from commercial service was they weren’t reliable. Maybe I should have realized that and not used them but this one gave at least some grief.
When I began to replace the inputs with Mitrek® radios, like I did with the Mantua input in maybe 1996, I thought I wouldn’t have any more problems with transmitters dying. Wrong again. It seems there is a problem with the helical resonator castings GE and Motorola used in some of their radios of the eighties vintage where a stalactite type growth known as dendrites, grows out from the casting and detunes or shorts out the tuned circuit inside. When this happens in a UHF Mitrek®, it detunes the helicals that are the exciter filter and you get either intermittent or no output. This casting does not exist in the loband radio but it sure does in the UHF version and one radio after another failed with this problem being the cause. After having the UHF radio fail at Mantua, Thompson, and at least a couple other locations I can’t be sure when I finally smartened up but now I take the casting out of the radio and paint the inside of it with epoxy before it becomes an input.
The whole voting system was replaced with the Motorola SpectraTAC® voter I purchased at Dayton in 1989 and installed on 28 JUL 91. I later purchased a couple SQM’s from a vendor at Dayton and then found out I could from time to time get more and finally in about 1998, purchased a lifetime supply of them remembering that they don’t just show up a every hamfest. Each receiver is connected to an SQM (pronounced squim) which votes it onto the system if it has the best received signal. The voted audio is routed through a octave equalizer which fixes the audio so the repeated audio sounds almost like a simplex signal. The EQ is powered from 12v by a simple MOPA self-excited inverter followed by a little L/C filtering to clean off the worst square wave corners. This allows it to operate from a 12-volt battery supply.
In the summer of 1991, my friend George and I were taking scrap metal to Metallics Recycling in Wooster. Part of taking scrap to the yard for recycling is to look around to see if there is anything you can buy and take home to use. I found a complete 48 volt string of Exide 1020 amp-hour low gravity switchboard batteries that had likely just been removed from service frrom a small central office in Wooster. I brought them home (all 402 × 12 pounds of them) and installed a set of 17.6 volts at the radio station for backup power. There have been numerous times after their installation that they have provided power for communications when the power was out. And what do you do to charge the batteries, I built a charger. It ran for a while without a hitch and then got to the place where when I would stop at the radio station, I kept finding it off (and I never could figure why) or one of the op-amps would be blown. I finally built a new one a couple years ago with a logic output that is only HI if the supply is on. (it assumes if it’s on it’s also working correctly or at least charging the batteries)
When we first moved the transmitter to the radio station, we were going to put the 444.95 repeater there also. We had it there for a short time but then installed it on an OET tower on Harvard Rd. hill. That site has turned out to give Dave’s UHF repeater good coverage.
When the main transmitter site was moved to Newbury, I built an input for the antenna on the hill. It too employed GE MastrPro® receiver and transmitter equipment. With the acquisition of the GE PR® portable transmitters for links, I was able to replace the ET59 transmitter with the portable’s transmitter. It consumed so little power in comparison that I was able to run the entire transmitter from the EP38 filament supply. As the years have gone by however, that location has become more and more noisy and we eventually moved the input to the site where the 444.95 repeater is. It’s not that far away from the hill location but it seems to make a difference. All was well there however until WKYC-TV decided to put their DTV transmitter on channel 2 in Y2K. That immediately raised the noise floor more to more than 30 DB so for all intents and purposes, that site is now almost useless.
In 1993 I contacted TV channel 45/49 and almost thought I had an input secured there but the final answer was no.
Not to be outdone by another project but the addition of the ‘U2″ (444/449.975) repeater and the hassle of getting it on the air was rather long and dragged out. I had used the frequency pair of 449.95 and 439.95 to experiment with radio remote controlling the six meter station I had at Jim Pracker’s (K8QOT) house in Orange village back in the mid seventies. When the guys wanted to put the ’95 repeater on the air, they asked me to move and I moved to 449.975 but kept 439.95 as the other half of the link. Although I used 444.975 some, it was never the primary but due to use of 449.975, 444.975 was sort of kept open.
One day when I was at the radio station doing I don’t remember what, Barry Thomas the chief engineer at the time happened to be at there also. He and I were looking at the tower and talking about things in general when he told me about the removal of the Federal Express ‘800’ equipment from the tower and the fact that when they tried to remove the transmission line the system had used, the lines were too intertwined to unscramble from the others and if I wanted to use it, I should come up with an antenna. He volunteered to have the steeplejacks put it up while they were working on the strobe lights. (within a month) Of course I immediately talked to Ray and between the two of us, we came up with the idea of putting a UHF repeater on it. He had an antenna that had been damaged and was able to repair it and modify it to work in the amateur band. We only transmit from that antenna but the connection of U2 to F2 is quite convenient for some of us.
The battle to get the repeater coordinated with the OARC was a different story, however. Although I had submitted a request for a remote base link on those frequencies in Jan 89, the repeater council had no record of it. In the eighties, I was experimenting with a remote base at Jim Black’s tower in Ashtabula and using the same pair. When it came to requesting a move of the coordination, they had no record of it. It had been granted to KA8PGW in Kidron Ohio. The next thing to do was to try to figure out if Merv was actually using the pair. We had some temporary equipment on the new antenna and didn’t hear any complaints so I figured no complaints: no use. But, I had to prove there was no use. A couple of times when Cliff and I were on the way back from a repeater council meeting in Columbus, we drove very close to the place where the repeater was supposed to be and couldn’t bring it up. So we assumed it to be off the air. Then I called Merv on the phone to ask about it and see if he would grant us permission to use the pair even though the distance between repeaters was closer than the council allows. He said no. I even offered to buy him a new set of crystals for 449.725 to move the repeater and that was also no. Meanwhile, I want the channel. He isn’t using it but won’t give it up so now what? I tried once more to get him on the phone and no answer or reply and I documented this also. Immediately after trying to access the repeater and having no response for the last time and of course documenting this, I sent another request to the OARC for the pair since the use-it-or-loose-it policy was in effect even then. The next day after the repeater council issued the new coordination to me, he called and said the reason the repeater had not been on the air was that he had been experiencing technical troubles with it and had been out of town on vacation. Sorry, it was too late at that point and on 17 AUG 93, I was granted use of 444/9.975.
We put an input site on the Berlin Hts water tower in 1994 and although it is a good site and really has a wonderful profile looking to the west because of the geographic profile. The only problem is that the water tower distorts the receive antenna pattern so much that it doesn’t hear very well to the east (the antenna is on the west side of the tower). On the plus side, by mounting it on the catwalk rather than the top, it is much less likely to get struck by lightning.
In 1994, I decided that since we were using the repeater to perform SKYWARN® backbone communications, it would be a real good idea to have a battery backed transmitter so I built one out of Mocom 70® parts. The exciter is a Mocom 70® and the final is six Mocom 70® PA’s connected in parallel. It puts out about 600 watts and of course draws about 125 amps at 12 volts while transmitting. Although the final has never been operational due to lightning damage to its control circuit, the relays and other circuitry in place can also connect it the U2 uhf repeater allowing if to function as a remote base and operate in simplex mode on 52.525. It has been used very successfully on the exciter alone as a backup transmitter for SKYWARN nets when the power was interrupted.
In 1994 Dave Firis AL7OP gave me a transmitter from a Micor® lowband high split mobile. I mounted it on a panel and added three fans and an extra heatsink on the back of the PA casting. It is now the exciter. Although I connected a high stability synthesizer to it so the frequency stability of the carrier would be good enough to allow it to operate in a simulcast system, the concept of adding a simulcast transmitter to the system is really a large project that I finally decided I was not willing to undertake. The other problem which proved to be a little bit of an embarrassment was the fact that the Motrac® exciter I originally installed as the exciter put out spurious signals if one of the multipliers wasn’t tuned just right. Fortunately the spur was inside the amateur band.
In the same year, I convinced LEARA to donate the funds to purchase a CAT1000 repeater controller since the available functions in the existing one were and are limited and every time you want to make a change, it’s new EPROM time Only trouble with the CAT1000 is it A: doesn’t have a control receiver input so you sort of have to hook up a bunch of extra stuff to get that function and B: it really doesn’t support all the inputs we have on F2 so more bologna and you get it but then you have to program all the extra stuff and it just wasn’t worth it so it was returned for a refund. I wasted a whole bunch of time making the box to house it with all the LED’s, terminals on the back with feedthrough bypasses and RF chokes on every lead and transformer coupling on all the audio circuits….just the kind of stuff you would do if you wanted to do it right but the controller sure wasn’t ‘right’. Now, after conversation with my friend Mark, I think the best solution to getting a new controller may be to re-do the old one with a newer processor and larger ROM. It remains to be seen whether that project ever gets off the ground. The hot project for 2001-2002 was to implement a telemetry system to monitor the voter so a control operator can determine from a remote location, which input(s) are repeating a signal, I haven’t been able to get Mark to write the code necessary to run the processor which controls it. Eventually I want to replace the controller. Although several ideas have been tossed around, the one that seems to be the best at this point may be to lay out a new PC board similar to the existing controller. The main change would be a larger ROM and changing the 6502 processor to an 8051. This is all pie in the sky right now for the same reason the telemetry is not in place.
I assembled equipment for the site in Columbiana County in April 1995. Ron Eging from the Geauga County EMA knew Jay Carter who is the EMA director for that county. Jay permitted us to install an input at their building. While it is not very high profile, it does fill in towards the east. At one time, we were trying to get communications on F2 to NWS Pittsburgh because their bad weather frequently comes from us. Apparently they don’t have any hams to operate the station we gave them. The other nice thing about the Columbiana County site is having a ham as an EMA director. This equipment, while it is an input for the system, also has a receiver in it on 52.68 so Jay (K8GLX) can get on the ‘backbone’ himself to inquire about the weather. There is a DB601 on top of a self supporting tower which was donated by Bob Winston (W2THU) with two fairly long UHF yagi’s mounted right below aimed of course to the north. As I remember, the power supply and at least part of the original input I built for the failed input at West Lodi went to this site. Operation has almost been flawless so I hate to replace it even though it is the last of the non-Mitrek® inputs.
For a few years, I was in the position of wanting to start making all of the input site equipment the same make and model. This would permit better operation of the voter. At Dayton in 1995, I purchased the first six UHF and six lowband Mitrek® radios. The purchase of these radios gave me the start I needed and a direction I would continue with a particular make and model of radio for all input sites. I ultimately bought 10 more UHF radios in 1996 and 10 more in 1997. (they don’t all always work-but caveat emptor) . Through experimentation, I found that I could jumper out the final and make the radio into a 20-watt unit or also bypass the pre-driver and make the radio into a 4-watt unit. This allows the radios to be tailored to the needs of the individual site. It also eliminates the need for an extra heat sink if the radio is modified to only put out 4 watts.
In 1996, after numerous problems with the six-meter signal fading in Toledo when there is a weather front between us and them, Dan (N8PKV) and I went on one of several tower hunting trips to see if we could find a location where we could put a simulcast transmitter. One of the sites we came up with is owned by the Ottawa County Sanitation Department. Although they wouldn’t ever say why, all the begging in the world wouldn’t get them to let us put equipment on their tower. Even today in September 2001, they have again refused our request. They want $600 per month no excuses or exceptions to put an antenna on their 500 ft. tower that is basically empty.
As a stop gap, I installed a link at the West Lodi site which receives the system and translates it to UHF. Its 100 watt transmitter is connected to a (10db) corner reflector mounted at about 200 ft AGL and is fed with .860” dia. CATV cable. It doesn’t put as good a signal into Toledo as I had expected but it does help some when conditions are not good. In 1996, I made several attempts to get equipment on the TV tower at WGGN (TV52 in Castalia). It would have made a dyno spot for us to use for a simulcast transmitter. After the familiar runaround, access was denied for a bunch of nonsensical reasons. I finally quit asking.
In Feb. 1997, (then) CEI gave us 25 loband high split low power Mitrek® radios each in a small suitcase. Some went to people using the ‘backbone’. Others have been placed back in their suitcases to make portable stations and several were used as input receivers in the system.
The input at WFMJ (TV21 Youngstown), is quite a story itself. My first attempt at getting on the tower was in the summer of 1998. During the search to find a spot to put an input to cover areas in that general area, in 1999 Ernie, KB8QDX was asked by Lisa Montgomery at WFMJ to do an interview on TV about SKYWARN®. At that meeting, he inquired as to the possibility of our getting a spot on the tower. Of course a lot of posturing followed with an ultimate no. Then, after more questions and getting the name of the then chief engineer and ham Bob Pritchard, K3LRE, told us he could get the job done. We went to the transmitter site at the time he suggested which was at the time the tower was to be repainted. While the painters initially said they would put the antenna up, when it came to doing the job, they refused. Back to square one. Perhaps a year or two later, the TV station wanted to start up their own version of SKYWARN where the general public was to call in severe weather. Ernie and I were invited to the initial meeting. After the meeting and tour were completed, I asked the general manager if it would be possible for us to continue the project of putting the antenna on their tower and much to my surprise, he agreed. The TV station also gave us the use of a run of 1¼” Heliax that ends at about 550 ft. It was previously used and later abandoned by Pepsi-Cola. The TV station hired a climber to install the antenna for us. This all happened within about a month after my finally getting approval.
While it is a dyno site—-having a receive antenna at 550 ft puts it is only 500 ft away from the TV transmitting antenna, about ½ mile from WKBN’s antenna and only a little farther from an AM radio station. All you have to do to hear the mess is drive to the site and listen with your mobile. The combination of all the RF pollution gave us real fits. There was also considerable falsing of the link receiver’s DPL®. We had to change to another code. I finally made the receiver at least useable by adding two spliced together WWII surplus cavities tuned to pass only 52.92. It ended the problems which only took about a year to completely solve.
The input at WB8APD’s house was just installed in the summer of 2000. It is low profile and is on the same link frequency as the input at the Columbiana County EMA. They don’t bother each other because you can’t have an equal signal into both of them at the same time and not have a better signal at some other input. It fills in the places on the east side where the old downtown input used to cover.
In an attempt to fill in the coverage hole between Parkman and Warren, in 1990 I tried to get the input that had been on the sheriff’s tower relocated to the Parkman tower. The ‘800’ system technical manager tried his best and succeeded to keep us from attaining the goal. There were so many rules and regulations about getting on the site, it was easier to just forget it. It was related to property with an easement used for the driveway to the blockhouse. Now, after a change of personnel, I have been given permission to put an input on that tower and it will most likely come to pass in early 2002. It should fill in places where the hill, Mantua, and Youngstown don’t cover.
The current project of 2003-2004, as part of a major modification to the system is to add another group of link receivers increasing the number of receivers from 15 to 21. It will permit separating the link frequency of the Willoughby and Columbiana County inputs. I also built mounting carriers for the receive DPL® boards that fit a retrofitted Motorola card rack so they could more easily be serviced. In addition, I have a couple sites where I want to add an input to fill in an area the transmitter covers well but there is poor receiver coverage. This is mostly in southeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania areas. I also decided to replace all of the card edge connectors on the sqm’s since on more than one occasion, a problem with the voter turned out to be a bad connection from the card to the motherboard. This required designing a completely new motherboard and moving all the voter cards a little to the left from their original position in the card cage. The other reason for redesigning the motherboard was to get three more sqm slots on it in place of the power supply we were not using.
The original input sites and their respective now out-of OARC band-plan frequencies we used at first were picked because there was no repeater council link frequency band plan to guide our choice. Meanwhile, all of the link frequencies have been changed to fit current OARC recommendations which place UHF repeater links either on 433XX, 434XX, 445XX, or 446XX.
Fall 2004. After having lots of trouble with reflected power on the main transmitter antennas when it rained, I decided to replace them with Decibel Products DB212’s. Since the feed point insulators are at the 50-ohm instead of a high-impedance point, they seemed to be the best choice. It is an antenna that has been around for probably more than 50 years and the design seems solid. So …. up went the new antennas. Unfortunately, when they were being installed, I was short an ‘N’ barrel. On the following day, the steeplejacks were informed they had to quickly finish what they were doing here and de-rig the tower so they connected my antennas and left the site. When I arrived in the afternoon after work to try the new antennas, I found they, at the transmitter had about 80 watts reflected with 1350 forward which is absolutely unacceptable. This probably equates to 800 forward and maybe 125 reflected at the top. The only plausible idea we can come up with is that there is something wrong with the ‘T’ connector we supplied. Meanwhile we’re stuck on low power with an antenna that at best is a compromise. At least whatever is working up there seems to radiate RF. What it really doesn’t seem to like in this state is ice. The SWR really shoots up under this condition. Hopefully when the antennas are finally working as a system, this problem will be minimal. This time, I made special brackets and used 5/16″ threaded rod to clamp the antennas so they wouldn’t come loose.
The other project of the fall/winter of 2004,5 has been to try to finally get to the bottom of the problem with the voter. I’ve had some help from N8XUA since he has had some of the same problems I have with the 146.76 repeater of WA3USH. Both of us have taken lots and lots of data but haven’t come up with the secret as to why there are some receivers that vote when they shouldn’t. More to follow as the project again takes priority.
After two failures of the demodulator IC in the Micor® receiver in the 444.975 repeater, I decided to make one of the new Mitreks® received from N8UAX into a repeater. Mounted in a Motorola 40-inch cabinet are all the parts of the repeater including a continuous duty power supply, the telemetry transmitter, all of the repeater control circuitry, and two cavities and two Micor® circulators to combine the RF onto one antenna. The PA circuitry in this radio is also mounted in an external heat sink from a used GE 900-Mhz PA and has thermostatically controlled fans and a heat limit snap action switch.
In April 2005, I repaired the radio I supplied for NWS Pittsburgh and then found it wouldn’t communicate with the system. Currently there seems to be a renewed interest in maintaining amateur communications between NWS Pittsburgh and NWS Cleveland. In April, Dave Firis and I went to NWS Pit and after investigation found 85 watts forward and 15 back, the antenna mounted at the wrong place on the mast, the coax just hanging from the connector and not tar taped and the antenna was aimed west instead of northwest. That’s all! They didn’t allow us to go in the roof to fix it either so it may work someday……. We were able however to hear and key the repeater with a mobile in the parking lot so the antenna is in real trouble.
November 2006: after a long period of time having no input in downtown Cleveland, Bob Winston finally received permission for us to install an input on top of the Standard building (where he works). It isn’t the highest building but at 20 floors is no slouch either and it gives us a site. Although we never installed an input for F2 there, we did have Dave, WB8APD’s DSTAR® repeater there until 12-06.
In the winter of 2006, N8XUA put a UHF repeater on the air and found a need for more power. We retrieved the old Mansfield input from Ernie’s locker and I made a few modifications to it on the grid circuit to make it a little easier to drive. I also made a controller to monitor the output power and screen voltage. It shunt regulates the screen supply and makes the output constant after a short warm-up time. We are planning to install it as soon as the weather permits. This also prompted me to try to build a full kilowatt amplifier for it. The project was sidetracked when he lost the site. In the mean time, I have also gone on to other projects although I would like to get the amp working as en experiment if for no other reason.
After a long period of time wanting remote telemetry of the voting process, Don Dorson, brother of Dave Dorson, owner of the Mantua site, contacted me and said he could design and build a telemetry system for the voter. I told him to go ahead and within a reasonable time, I had both the encoder and decoder. Both are very professionally built and appearing and have performed flawlessly giving me a remote view of which receivers are receiving a signal and which one is actually voted. The voting process changes sometimes as often as twice a second and this is all remotely visible. Dave, KD8TWG programmed an Raspberry pi microcomputer for me which replaces the originally needed laptop computer.
The main change of the system will hopefully be the connection of a Motorola Digitac® voter which will, if everything goes as planned, replace the Spectratac® voter. While it works, it often misvotes. Hopefully the new voter will behave better. Estimated time for completion of this project is fall 2014. To add to this entry, the new voter was installed and connected in the summer of 2014 and although it works better than the old unit, it too tends to misvote at times. It is the suggestion of N8XUA that the link audio from each remote site has slightly different equalization and that may be the chief cause of the voting issues. Since it would be very time consuming and expensive to drive to each site and install an equalizer, I decided to make the modification to the audio output of each link receiver. This can be done at the radio station and will only require a minimum amount of travel.
Upon the death of WA3USH in 2011, we lost the location for the Albion input. It has been relocated to an abandoned broadcast tower in Linesville Pa. along with one of the inputs of the KE3JP 146.445 repeater. Power for the site comes from the building that previously housed the station studios. While it is currently still on, the building is in extremely poor repair and probably irrevocably damaged with mold and other lack of integrity. The owners could easily declare it a nuisance and have it torn down and the electricity disconnected. We’ll see what happens. It is now winter 2017 and the input site has never worked correctly. I have made the decision to check it out one more time and I can’t resolve the reason it doesn’t work, it is going to be removed and relocated—–if I can find it a new home.
In the late spring of 2012, I built a completely new repeater for 146.88 and incorporated an input for F2 into the bottom of the cabinet. We previously had equipment there but everything needed to be rebuilt and cleaned up. At that time, a new controller was installed on 146.88.
I might add that this input also contributes practically nothing to the voting of the system. All the equipment and antennas are in place and it would be easier to leave it rather than try to find a better location for it in what is an area where there is more than 30 db of desense to any loband receiver.
To note at a later date, the location of an input on the Standard building was never achieved.
In the fall of 2013, the WVIZ translator in Thompson was turned off and the chief engineer of WKSU has allowed us to maintain our equipment in the building in return for performing a minimal amount of maintenance on it although the entire job required about ten trips to the site. At one point, the original air conditioner in the building failed. The person installing the replacement unit chose to fill in the open spaces on the sides and top of the new smaller unit with spray foam which did not really seal the enclosure. This allowed water to get in and rot the walls below it. I removed the second bad unit and closed the hole inside and out with sheet aluminum. There were also holes in the back of the building that were left from the original transmitter which I also covered. I was asked to remove all of the broadcast equipment from the site and still haven’t figured what to do with it. The roof also needed sealing at the roofing material lap joints. The newest transmitter was only about four years old and had already suffered a power supply failure in spite of it being broadcast quality equipment. The ultimate reason for vacating the original translator site was both because of a conversion to digital transmission and a dispute with Ohio MARCS over the site. The only possible use the building owner may have for themselves is to house a standby transmitter.
During the fall of 2009, the tower our input was located on in Mansfield was finally dismantled and we had to relocate our input. We were granted top spot on a brand new tower owned by Vasu Communications which was located very close to the previous location. I rebuilt the input with two Mitreks® and fortunately it has performed flawlessly. Vasu Communications, owner of the tower donated the two Heliax® runs and had the antennas mounted without charge to us.
Many, perhaps fifteen years ago, the radio station added a generator for power-out situations and we were allowed to make a connection to it so if there is an interruption of AC power, with the exception of a short interruption during generator startup, we are in full operation if the power fails. This allowed me to remove the troublesome used second set of batteries that also failed.
In the winter of 2013-4, the ham who owned the location where our Canton input is located passed. Power to the site was turned off and the equipment is now non-operational. When I tried to retrieve the radios and possibly the antennas, the father-in-law of the deceased essentially told both me and NC8W that the equipment had been abandoned and he wasn’t giving it up. I’m very sure it was just because of spite and he probably has no use for it. I am currently looking for another site to locate a new piece of equipment that will cover the Canton area.
In the time frame of 2014 until now, more and more interest in digital communications has developed and at one point I considered changing 444.975 to P-25 (rather than DSTAR®, Fusion®, DMR® or any other modulation scheme that uses digital audio but since I’m not interested in using any scheme other than maybe P-25, and if I did change to it, all I would get is digital sounding audio which I don’t like. At this point, my UHF repeater will probably continue to be FM analog. The other reason for not going to a digital mode is that usually many repeaters get tied together for better coverage. To do that, the transmitter would be on the air more than I want and I don’t want to listen to people talking that are hundreds of miles away. Just a personal preference but that is the way it is.
In 2013 the parts of a decommissioned Digitac® voter that could replace the Spectratac® voter were donated to SMART. I had great hopes that all of the misvoting issues would be fixed by installing a digital voter instead of the analog one. This has not been the case although the misvoting issue is better than it was previously. I THINK I have decided along with suggestions from Jack, N8XUA, that the real issue is different audio equalization between inputs. This may also have in part to do with different amounts of quieting of the various links. To go along with this new voter, I purchased an S-Com 7330 controller. Dave, KD8TWG has done all of the programming to it. I will add that if he had not done this, the programming of this controller is difficult enough at least to me, I might have not used the new controller. It does have far more versatility and has had less problems than the now replaced Arcom controller.
At about the same time I received the new voting equipment, I was given permission to install an input on the 300-ft tower behind the Geauga County EMA. There was already a lowband high split antenna on the tower and since the receiver there is now only used to receive other base stations when paging, my coupling into the antenna for receive only helps me and doesn’t make any appreciable difference to its intended use. An input there is something I had asked for many years previously and now it is providing the coverage in northern Geauga County I had been trying to provide. The transmitter does not bother the Mitrek®receiver like it did the GE one.
In November 2015 I decided that I had done most of the work on the repeater in the last numerous years and I asked Dave, WB8APD, if he would mind having my callsign on it instead of his and he agreed to me changing the callsign of the repeater to K8SGX.
In 2015, the current owner of the WZLE site announced that he was considering getting out of the two-way radio business and needed to remove the unused antennas and clean up the coax runs by installing them in expensive clamps, and that included me. Again, considering the fact that if he sold the site in the year or two he foresaw, I would either no longer have access or if I did, would have to pay an unacceptable amount of rent so I decided to vacate the site. The equipment has been moved to a location in Elyria which is not as high a profile site and has more noise but is better than nothing. Chris, WD8OCS lives near it and has access to the roof so at least I don’t need to go there if anything malfunctions.
Through the efforts of Dave, KD8TWG, Echolink has been added for those particularly west stations that cannot reliably access the machine when needed for SKYWARN® weather situations. Access to the Echolink is available to all hams by request but is NOT open.
During the summer of 2016, a windstorm collapsed the shed where the input was located for the Wooster input. The power was also interrupted and I decided to mount the input into a NEMA enclosure and clamp it to the side of the power. I finally retrieved several schedule 80 PVC tubing from work to bury and protect the new power wire. The whole project has now dragged out so far that it is going to be spring 2017 before the equipment is operational. Hopefully everything goes right.
Regarding finding a new location for the Canton input, A friend toured me around a location in downtown Canton and almost as fast, he announced that he was retiring so I’m back to looking for an input for the Canton area.
A very recent development has occurred that is not good. Not only has Bomar Crystal ceased making individual channel crystals for two-way radios, but International Crystal has JUST announced they will be going out of business as of May 2017. When we need crystals for another project that uses a crystal radio instead of a synthesized radio, I have no idea if crystals will be available from any manufacturer.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this writing, along with having the invoices from old crystal orders, on many of them, I wrote the type and use of radio where I was going to install them. For a final few paragraphs, after I made the list mainly for my own curiosity, I thought I would include at least some of it to identify the vintage of mostly Motorola radios available at the time to amateurs for an affordable price.
I started out with a Motorola 80D I installed in mom and dad”s car. I had a ball and spring mount I made a bracket for that made it mountable on the rear real metal bumper of the car.
The radios I used in the first car I owned (a ’57 Ford, with ‘three-on-the-tree’ and a fair amount of rust) were two-case Motorola Deluxe Line® (two-case) radios. I purchased them at the Angola hamfest, I think in 1962, and was delighted with the find. The receiver was the precision selectivity version which meant it had an extra tuned circuit in the front end. The transmitter put out about about 35 watts and had a factory standard flat back Carter dynamotor for the high voltage supply. I soon located a military surplus DM35, replaced the Carter and added a second 807 final which allowed the transmitter put out about 75 watts. I used it a lot (on 52.525) and at that time, remember, there were no repeaters.
In 1968, I collected a set of a 6 and 2-meter receiver and transmitter GE Progress-Line® strips and mounted them in along with a t-power supply in a 20-inch mobile drawer. I didn’t use that arrangement for long because shortly after installing it, I was able to obtain two new Motorola strip style 100-watt t-power supplies and I made mobiles (still all tubes) again one on six meters and the other on two meters, both of which put out well over 100 watts. In case it is not obvious by now,I have this unwritten rule which still applies that if it’s worthwhile having a radio in the car, it’s worthwhile running 100 watts.
In 1977 I purchased my first lowband 100-watt Motrac® and a Motran® (which was one of the very first radios that had no power supply and used a solid-state antenna relay. After driving around with t his arrangement and finding the transmitter did not cover as well as the 100-watt tube unit did, I was able to find two power transformers from 90-watt UHF Motrac® radios along with with a lot of parts, built a mobile amplifier that puts out about 375 watts. I know, this is excessive but being the tinkerer/builder I am, I wanted to see if I could make it work and it did work very well. I knew several of the engineers that worked in the Antenna Specialists lab and they built me a special loading coil for their 3 db gain mobile antenna. This combination of antenna and amplifier gave me an erp of about 750 watts. I didn’t use it a lot but it was fun having it and building it and with only one receiver on the repeater, if I was far enough away for my signal to be too weak to copy, the 10 db power increase made a huge difference. By the way, the exciter and amplifier together drew about 80 amps when keyed.
In 1990, maybe at a hamfest, I purchased an all solid-state Syntor®-one of the earliest (the manual is dated 1981) Motorola synthesized mobiles (PROM programmed) into which the factory programs up to 32 modes of your choice (not user programmable). My friend Mark figured out the format Motorola used to program the radio and wrote a 255 mode EPROM replacement that allowed me to operate on almost every imaginable 2-meter pair, both simplex and repeaters. The only problem with this radio now is it also has a PL® board that only has 110.9Hz tone in it. While I could have cheated and made a cable connection to the board so I could change any tone remotely, the factory board requires too many wires to select the tones and I used all the extra connections in the control cable connecting to the mode selecting EPROM. Although the radio worked fine in the Cleveland Ohio area, the limit imposed with only one tone now makes it almost useless outside the northeast Ohio area. Nevertheless, it performed well, put out 100 watts and had a factory preamp in it.
A year or two later, I replaced my six-meter Motrac® with a Mocom-70® which was the first 100-watt mobile I had that has a solid-state final.
In 1988 someone at Dayton had defaced factory reject Mitrek® mobiles that were purposely defaced, enough to make them not salable as new, but were not so badly damaged they could not be repaired and put into amateur service so I bought one. I am still using a Mitrek® on six meters. I haven’t found a better receiver.
Somewhere around 2007 or 2008, I installed a Maratrac® for two meters and my friend George’s business band frequency. It was the first synthesized radio I had in my car.
When 100-watt Spectra’s® became available, I installed two them in my car: one on VHF and one on UHF. That’s the arrangement of radios I am now using however, when a digital mode eventually catches my attention, something newer will certainly take the new place but it will most likely need to be Motorola and the transmitter needs to put out 100-watts.
The following are trademarks of Motorola, Inc: Unichannel, Spectra TAC, Motrac, Mocom 70, Micor, MSF5000, PL, DPL, Mitrek, Extender, Digitac, Maratac, Spectra
The following are trademarks Of General Electric: Mastr Imperial, Mastr Pro, PR
The following is a trademark of Chicago Lock: ACE
The following is a trademark of Andrew Corp.: Heliax
The following is a trademark of Bell Telephone Labs: Touch-Tone