NI4CE regional linked repeater system

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THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Someone asked me the other day if I knew what the median age of the Amateur Radio operators in the U.S. was. I guess he must have thought my name was “Google”, or “Bing” or one of those Internet search engines.

If you take a look around at most Ham Radio clubs or at a Hamfest or two, you rapidly come to the conclusion the median age is probably something North of sixty-five. And if you believe the Internet, the median age of licensed U.S. Amateur Radio operators is eighty (80) years. Well, that makes me feel like a youngster (I think).

That begets asking the question, “Where is the next generation of Ham operators, RF Explorers to carry on our mission?” Maybe the question that could/should be asked is “Where are the next generation and their parents?”. I pose the question in that way because even though I had always had an interest in Ham Radio as a youth, my earlier years were spent in commercial broadcasting. It wasn’t until I was forty-five years old before I got my license. (..more..)

-September 6, 2019

THE INSIDE STORY
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Recently, on one of our Wednesday night TampaBay Area NXDN Nets, we talked about using your portable and mobile Ham Radios indoors.  By the way, if you don’t have a NXDN digital radio, you need to get one and join us every Wednesday evening at 8:00 PM on the growing six-repeater TampaBay Area NXDN Network, Talkgroup 1200.

Back to the topic at hand, INDOOR COMMUNICATIONS.  Using a radio inside your well-built, hurricane standard home or business can be a challenge.  Reliable VHF communications are particularly challenging because of the band’s longer wavelength.  But even on UHF, the four or five watts your radio transmits with can push the radio and repeater you are using to their respective limits.  The materials your home is constructed with act as a giant RF attenuator. (..more..)

-August 15, 2019


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LAKE PLACID REPEATER ON BACK ON THE AIR

The Lake Placid repeater, 443.950 MHz, is back on the air.  The repeater PA had failed several weeks ago.  The repeater was replaced with a new repeater while the previous repeater is being repaired by the manufacturer’s service center.  Subsequently, a defective piece of coax was found and replaced.  Special thanks to Paul Toth – NB9X for several trips to Lake Placid as well as facilitating the repeater repair, and to John Chaput- KK4LI of Lake Placid, FL for troubleshooting support and replacing the defective coax.

-August 12, 2019

NARROWBANDING HAM RADIO – Part 2
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Narrowbanding Ham Radio in the VHF and UHF bands in not a practical solution for a lot of reasons.  Narrowband FM comes at an enormous cost for both the repeater operators and the repeater users in the need for new radio equipment and loss of coverage.  And unless there is a major re-ordering of the Two Meter (VHF) band, there are no new channels to be gained.

We can lament the inevitable loss of Wide Band FM (WBFM).  But that train has already left the station.  So, what’s next?  Is there a future for Ham Radio on the Two Meter (VHF) and Seventy Centimeter (UHF) bands?

The answer is MAYBE.  I say that because of the driving force behind most things Ham Radio is the commercial communications marketplace.  The introduction of cellular and smartphone technology has sucked up most of the oxygen in the room.  Simply put, the marketplace and the technology is passing us by. (..more..)

-August 9, 2019

NEW PINELLAS COUNTY NXDN REPEATER
LINKED TO WCFG REPEATER SYSTEM

The West Central Florida Group, Inc. lost the antenna site for the Highpoint UHF analog and NXDN repeaters location four years ago when the tower was sold to a major cellphone carrier.  Since that time, several possible tower sites popped up on our radar but agreement for tower use could not be completed for various reasons. 

Last week, the N4PK NXDN repeater has lit up Pinellas County from a 100-ft ASL location in mid-Pinellas County and is permanently linked to the local WCFG NXDN repeater system via NXCore as well as the world wide NXDN repeater network.  Initial signal reports show the new repeater foot print is larger than expected with a solid signal report from south Tampa.  The new NXDN repeater is on 442.1500 MHz (+) RAN-1 with Talkgroup 1200 used for access to all five local WCFG repeaters simultaneously but limited to Icom repeaters only.  Operators using Talkgroup 65000 will have access to the NXDN-Worldwide Network that currently connects over forty repeaters in North America but is sporadic further up the network.  Operators using Talkgroup 9000 reliably joins Icom and Kenwood repeaters together worldwide.  

WCFG, Inc. thanks amateur radio operators who donated to this project about two years ago to cover the project costs including new semi-rigid transmission line, poly-phaser, VPN network router, and ICOM repeater IP interface card.  Paul Toth – NB9X is hosting the new repeater and antenna at his home.  Paul Knupke – N4PK provides the ICOM FR-6000 repeater.  Special thanks to John Chaput- KK4LI of Lake Placid, FL for tower work to install the transmission line and antenna.

-August 5, 2019

NARROWBANDING HAM RADIO – Part 1
By Paul Toth-NB9X

It has been fifteen years since the FCC proposed a fundamental makeover of the VHF and UHF Land Mobile Radio (commercial) bands. For those of you who may not be familiar with Land Mobile Radio, it is the part of the spectrum right above our Two Meter and Seventy Centimeter bands used by Private and Public Sector commercial users. The makeover proposed slicing and dicing the available spectrum to enable more users in both bands. The first step, implemented in 2013, saw all Land Mobile users migrated to either Narrowband Analog or some digital mode (e.g. NXDN, DMR, P25, etc.). All LMR users that used to have a 25 KHz channel now has half the bandwidth they used to have.

Those that chose to continue operating in Narrowband Analog mode, NBFM, quickly came to realize they got the short end of the deal. NBFM had some distinct downsides, not the least of which is a significant and noticeable reduction in RF coverage. In reality, most who chose NBFM gave up about thirty percent of their coverage footprint. In simple terms, if their 25 KHz signal was weak, their NBFM signal was probably non-existent. And areas, where coverage was OK, may now be marginal.  (..more..)

-July 28,2019

IS AMATEUR HAM RADIO UNDER FIRE? – PART II
By Paul Toth-NB9X

After I wrote my last article about yet another potential threat to Amateur Radio’s assigned RF spectrum, a friend of mine sent me a link to an article posted on the IEEE’s Spectrum website. IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. The article, by Julianne Pepitone, delved into a petition filed with the FCC by Ron Kolarik of Lincoln, NE seeking some significant changes in Part 97 dealing primarily with digital communications.

The basis for Kolarik’s petition is his contention the airwaves are now filled with too many digital signals that cannot be easily deciphered. If adopted by the FCC, RM-11831, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with seek to make all digital communications in the Amateur Radio Service more transparent in an effort to reduce interference.

We wrote about RM-11831 earlier this year and urged you to weigh in on it during the FCC’s Public Comment period. Many Hams, both for and against the proposition, did. Now, we are waiting for the Commission to announce their decision on this matter.

Many who support the NPRM contend digital signals generated by software, including WinLink, step over the line between “hobby” and, well, something that could be considered “productive and useful”. Let’s not forget WinLink was created by Hams for Hams to pass textual messages and information and is now widely used by disaster responders to do just that. The creators have automated part of that process to make it efficient. And it works! (..more..)

-July 24, 2019

IS AMATEUR RADIO UNDER FIRE?
By Paul Toth-NB9X

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. That is Newton’s Third Law, something I was first exposed to a long time ago in High School. I am not sure if those in high school today are still being taught about Newton and his several laws but they should be. You see, nothing is ever static. And as the population expands, as the political winds shift and as technology exerts its influence on how we live, we are seeing the ripples all this change causes.

There was a time (in my lifetime) when walking around with a portable radio on your hip was reserved to Ham Radio operators. Then, in the 1980s, along came cellular phone technology. Today, nearly everyone is walking around with a radio (cell phone) by their side. Radio spectrum that used to be reserved for Broadcast Television, Military or other Government use and, yes, Amateur Radio, is being re-purposed or shared to accommodate the changing needs of the many. (..more..)

-July 13, 2019

RADIO … BY THE NUMBERS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is “Why can’t I get into the repeater system with my handheld radio inside my house?  I can hear it just fine.”  So, let’s talked about that for a moment.

Ham Radio signals are just another like any other RF emission.  The strength of the transmitted signal at any location is dependent on the power output of the repeater, the gain (or lack thereof) of the antenna, the height above ground of the antenna, the quality (and loss) of the filtering (duplexer), cable loss and your surroundings.  Each one of the preceding items has a number associated with it.  The transmitter and antenna are usually positive values, the antenna height governs just how large a coverage footprint the repeater will have.  Everything else, while necessary, has a negative value in the equation. (..more..)

-July 5, 2019

CAN YOU REALLY SHARE SPECTRUM?
By Paul Toth-NB9X

When you are growing up (or at least when I was growing up), you are taught that sharing is a good thing.  Of course, there is a limitation to that.  For instance, you really don’t want to share the flu or a head cold with someone else.  But we routinely will share radios, pizza, tools and lots of other things with family and friends.

As Amateur Radio operators, we share some of the spectrum we are assigned and use regularly.  Our 70 cm (UHF) frequencies are shared with the Federal Government, primarily the Department of Defense.  Our 902-928 MHz allocation overlays the ISM (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) band.  Over 1 GHz, there is all kinds of frequency sharing (e.g. 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, 5.8 GHz Wi-Fi, 5.9 GHz ITS, etc.).  There are also a couple of instances of Deep Space SETI cut-outs in the 3.3 GHz band.  There is nothing wrong with spectrum sharing as long as you and those entities you are sharing with can peacefully co-exist with each other. (..more..)

-June 29, 2019

HERE COMES THE “AESTHETICS BRIGADE”
The Fight over 5G
By Paul Toth-NB9X

If it seems like we have been down this road before, it’s because we have been. Ham Radio operators know all too well what happens when the members of the “Aesthetics Brigade” mobilize in a neighborhood or development near you.

“Those towers and antennas that are near and dear to our hearts are ‘ugly eyesores’”, these do-gooders will shout at the top of their lungs. “They are a blight and immoral, an obscene violation of our sensibilities and cannot be allowed”.

Despite Federal laws like PRB-1, most residential developments built in the last fifteen years are not only absent of anything that remotely resembles a Ham Radio antenna, the Aesthetics Brigade has also been successful at running off satellite dishes and Over-the-Air TV/FM antennas from their midst, PRB-1 notwithstanding. And now, the Aesthetics Brigades have a new target to take aim at: 5G Wireless!). (..more..)

-June 6, 2019

APRS – A PRACTICAL APPLICATION
By Paul Toth-NB9X

As many of you know, I am an avid APRS operator. I am proud to have had a fulltime, RF-driven Ham Radio APRS Weather Station on the air from my home continuously for over twenty years.

I am also heartened by several new RF-driven APRS Weather Stations that have popped up on the air in the last few months. Kudos to KM4LTG and K4DKK to name a couple of relatively new Hams who have not only taken the plunge into APRS but are “brapping” live weather data into the RF network. These stations are proverbial “points of light” for the National Weather Service and Ham Radio as they track our sometimes abundant rainfall and wind activity from thunderstorms rolling through our area. This is one more way Amateur Radio continues to be a “relevant” force in the 21st century!

APRS is an acronym for Automatic Position Reporting System, an invention of Bob Bruninga of the U.S. Naval Academy. It has been around since the early 1990s and was originally created to track moving objects using GPS and Ham Radio. (..more..)

-May 27, 2019

COMMON DENOMINATORS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

The advent of cellular communications has done more to put mobile, interactive communications devices in the hands of every American than anything else in history. There are now an estimated three hundred thirty million cell phones or cellular enabled devices (e.g. tablets, computers, etc.,) in domestic use. WOW! I wish we had even one percent of that in Amateur Radio.

One thing most cellular enabled devices also have onboard is Wi-Fi. There are currently two main Wi-Fi bands that operate in the U.S., 2.4 GHz (sometimes referred to as 802.11b,g) and 5 GHz (sometimes referred to as 802.11a). Two newer IEEE protocols, 802.11n and 802.11ac with higher data throughput them their predecessors, are also prevalent on both bands. And in case you haven’t noticed it, most Wi-Fi enabled phones will work just fine with data apps even if your cellular LTE service is down or disconnected (Airplane mode when you are flying). (..more..)

-May 12, 2019

NI4CE and Broadcastify
By Paul Toth-NB9X

During one of our recent SKYWARN severe weather nets, an operator came up on frequency asking if the NI4CE System had an Echolink node. It seemed he was going to be moving to a location (inside a building) where the signal from the nearest NI4CE repeater was weak. I informed him we had taken down both the Echolink node we used to operate as well as the IRLP mode. A couple of moments later, another Ham came up on frequency and suggested that operator use his computer to log in to a website called Broadcastify.com. NI4CE and everything transmitted on NI4CE can be heard there. Well, this raised my antenna and got my attention because as President of the West Central Florida Group, Inc., the owner and operator of the NI4CE system, this Broadcastify thing was all news to me. I also checked with our System Trustee. He, too, knew nothing about this Broadcastify thing. (..more..)

-April 28, 2019

SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT
By Paul Toth-NB9X

If you read my posts with any regularity, you know I have made no secret of my advocacy of digital radio. I am particularly fond of the NXDN digital operating protocol, in part, because it is the only digital voice protocol that fully complies with the FCC’s 2004 Record and Order for VHF and UHF Narrowbanding. I also happen to think it offers superior voice quality and fidelity to the other modes currently vying for market share in the “digital radio food fight”.

Like it or not, digital radio and other digital operating modes are here to stay on our precious RF spectrum. And Amateur Radio, the birthplace of experimentation and innovation, should reflect this reality.

So why is it the FCC is even considering this Petition for Rulemaking, RM11381, that would severely restrict, if not downright prohibit, the use of digital modes on Amateur Radio frequencies? The petition, filed by Ron Kolarik-K0IDT, a Ham from Nebraska, seems like a knee-jerk reaction to the growing presence of digital signals on the air. More to the point, it seems like a heaping bunch of sour grapes! (..more..)

-April 26, 2019

WORST CASE SCENARIO
By Paul Toth-NB9X

So far, the Spring of 2019 has been relatively quiet when it comes to severe weather here in West Central Florida. The SKYWARN activation on Good Friday was the first major regional event this year. The strong straight-line winds associated with the storm system caused a lot of trees and tree limbs to be blown on top of power lines. This plunged thousands of residents and businesses into the dark. It could have been worse, a lot worse. No lives were lost, no major injuries were reported.

It is hard to know what the rest of the Spring and Summer will bring. Early Hurricane Season forecasts suggest a slightly below normal year. But all it takes is one Andrew, one Katrina, one Maria or one Michael to dramatically change the landscape. The “new normal” will be drastically different than what it is today. And recovery will be measured in years, not months or weeks or days as our neighbors in the Panhandle are discovering. (..more..)

-April 22, 2019

THE IMPORTANCE OF STANDARDS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

I was reminded of the importance of building around “standards” recently when I was trying to pull up to the gasoline pump.  If the Automobile Industry built all the vehicles to a single standard for the location of the Fuel Intake, the chaos I was experiencing could have been avoided.  But, NO, some vehicles have to have the Fuel Intake on the LEFT side while others have it on the RIGHT side.  You will also find some vehicles with the Fuel Intake at the REAR of the vehicle (hidden by the fold down license plate frame). Yeesh!  It’s a wonder there isn’t road rage at the pumps!

The same thing holds true for the electronics industry.  Yes, there are quite a few IEEE and EIA standards that spell out how a radio or television should perform.  These standards govern any number of operating parameters, from spurious emissions to selectivity to receiver sensitivity. (..more..)

-April 7, 2019

I’M JUST ASKING….
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Having worked professionally in both the Commercial Broadcast and the Land Mobile Radio industries, I have seen more than a few changes. One of the biggest changes is the sheer amount of RF spectrum that is now energized. And knowing just how much electro-magnetic energy is now being emitted up and down the band, you have to wonder if there is something we should be concerned about.

Think about it. If you are over forty years old, there was a time when television signals were mostly on VHF frequencies. What UHF stations that were on the air were relatively low power and scattered over four hundred megahertz of spectrum. (..more..)

RESILIENCY
By Paul Toth-NB9X

I fielded a question from a new Ham recently about the sustainability of the NI4CE Repeater System in an emergency. He wanted to know if there was a scenario where the NI4CE system would no longer be able to operate.

The simple answer to this inquiry is YES. No matter how much redundancy you put into the design, no matter how many contingencies you plan for, no matter how many backups you have to your backups, the simplest of failures can take out one or more repeaters. And if that happens, no matter what the cause, your best hope is you can get the site operational with a minimum of effort and lost time. (..more..)

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
By Paul Toth-NB9X

It has been eighteen years since the NI4CE Repeater System began serving the Amateur Radio community of West Central Florida.  February 24, 2001 to be exact.  Back in the day, the two repeaters (145.430 and 442.950) at Verna were known as “Big Stick”, in part, because they operated from the tallest commercial broadcast tower on this side of the state.  Only the Channel 6 tower in Homestead and what will soon be the Channel 14 tower in Osceola County are taller.

Many of the Hams who helped put the original “Big Stick” repeaters, either through generous financial support or what we call “sweat equity” are still with us and are still active on the repeater system.  Others, sadly, have become Silent Keys.  But their contributions to the success of the NI4CE system live on. (..more..)

– Feb. 21, 2019

DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
By Paul Toth-NB9X

What does November 1995 and January 2019 have in common? Well, if you are a Ham Radio operator who successfully passed a Ham Radio exam in November 1995, you can’t help but remember. I am one of those folks. I studied hard, lost some sleep and wondered if I really could do this (in spite of my many years of experience in the Broadcast industry). On the morning of November 11, 1995, a Saturday, I walked into a Volunteer Examination session, grabbed a Number Two pencil and took my best shot. In those days, the Technician Class exam was really two tests, Element Two and Element Three-A, the latter being the first part of what would be merged into Element Three-B to form the General Class License Exam.

As it turned out, the anxiety I experienced over whether I could pass these two test successfully was overblown. An hour after I walked in, I left with a CSCE, proof positive that I was about to be issued an Amateur Radio Technician Class license by the FCC. YEAH!

But then reality set in. You see, the following Monday, the FCC and much of the rest of the Federal government SHUT DOWN! It was the result of the Congressional budget impasse. And for the next three weeks, there I sat with this piece this piece of paper that said, “Yes, you did” but now it is time to wait because of a bunch of other stuff that had nothing to do with Amateur Radio.

Well, fast forward twenty-four years and here we are all over again. You or someone you know has been studying hard, taking practice tests online (which we didn’t have available in 1995) and wanting to overcome the lone remaining hurdle to being able to press the Push-To-Talk button on your radio LEGALLY only to be left out in the cold. It just doesn’t seem fair. But at least you can take some solace that you can still talk, text and surf on your cell phone because that doesn’t require a FCC operator’s license.

You can also take this time to do some research on just what kind of radio you want to get on the air with. There are a lot more choices available today and they don’t all carry a “Ham Radio” moniker. Most new Hams think you have to buy a “Ham” radio to operate on VHF (2 meters) or UHF (70 centimeters). Not so. Most portable and mobile radios approved for Land Mobile Radio operations work very well on the Ham bands. In fact, if you want to entertain digital radio operations using NXDN, DMR or P25 mode radio, you won’t find them at a “Ham” radio store.

A while back, I shared with reader of this column my decision to make my first Ham radio transceiver a “mobile” radio rather than a hand-held portable radio. The reasoning was simple. The additional power output of a “mobile” radio will be better suited to get into a repeater. Unlike cellular (where there is a tower every couple miles), the nearest Ham repeater maybe ten or twenty miles away. Four or five watts from a portable radio only goes so far.

Sooner or later, the government shutdown will end. It did in 1995 and it will again this year. If you are getting your Ham license to participate in CERT, SKYWARN or some other organized community service effort, “good on ya” as my daughter says. If you are getting licensed to have some fun, you will. It will just take a little longer to get there. No matter your reason(s), Welcome to Ham Radio!

– Jan. 6, 2019

On behalf of the West Central Florida Group, Inc. Board of Directors, I would like to thank everyone who has responded to our Call For Support in the last few weeks. Your generosity will help us keep the several NI4CE analog and NXDN digital repeaters ON during 2019 and allow us to address a couple structural issues with the system to make it even more reliable.

For those of you in the Northern part of the TampaBay area who have been missing the Holiday repeater…
A tower crew has been scheduled to climb the Holiday tower and replace the broken jumper cable at 1,100 feet AGL. Weather permitting (and that has been a big deal around here lately), the climb will take place Friday, January 4th. We will be on site to test the repeater and antenna system and make sure all is good to return to normal operation.

May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

73, Paul Toth – NB9X – Dec. 24, 2018

OUR MISSION – OUR PASSION
By Paul Toth-NB9X

SKYWARN Recognition Day is this coming Friday and Saturday. If you are monitoring the NI4CE system between 7 PM Friday and 7 PM Saturday, you will have an opportunity to check into a special SKYWARN Net (weather permitting) that celebrates all that goes into this very special program; the spotters, the training and the results. And if you have an HF radio on, you will hear Hams from all over the country checking in with fellow SKYWARN spotters operating from the 116 National Weather Service Forecast Offices.

For all the marketing hype about Florida and our billing as the “Sunshine State”, our little corner of the world is but one of a few places where severe weather can (and does) happen year round. Our unique geo-location, a one hundred thirty mile wide sandbar between two large bodies of water, provides all the ingredients needed for everything from lightning, hail and high winds to very large, very powerful Tropical Cyclones. Had Hurricane Michael’s track been one or two degrees further East, West Central Florida might look a lot different. For some, the cold front that came on shore here three weeks later spawned tornadoes causing damage and injuries.

No, we can’t stop severe weather from happening. But the West Central Florida Group, Inc. is proud to support the SKYWARN program to help keep those in our community safe during severe weather events. One of the core missions of Ham Radio (and the West Central Florida Group, Inc.) is to provide communications during emergencies. That’s easy to say – far more difficult to do. NI4CE is Necessary Infrastructure 4 Community Emergencies. Building and maintaining this communications system has been no small undertaking. Having the support of some core partners, including Cox Media Group-Tampa, iHeart Media, ION Networks, RSAir, American Tower Corp., Insite Towers, Vertical Bridge, Inc. and Polk County Emergency Management has helped keep the system running and the repeaters on when they are needed most.

NI4CE would also not be possible without the generous support of the Amateur Radio community. You help pay the bills (that’s right, Ham Radio is not FREE). Just as importantly, it’s our area Hams who step up and provide the information the NI4CE system conveys every day, every night, rain or shine. Thank you!

Providing communications infrastructure to support SKYWARN, ARES and Ham Radio to help keep our communities safe is how we roll. It’s our mission and our passion. And it all starts with you.

THE COST OF HAM RADIO – THE FUTURE OF NI4CE
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Our non-tropical Severe Weather Season got off to a rousing start this past Friday with numerous tornadoes and high winds causing damage in many parts of West Central Florida. If you were on frequency as these storms came onshore, you witnessed and participated in a very intense Ham Radio SKYWARN Net that tracked the storms as they moved across multiple counties.

When the NI4CE Repeater System was conceived eighteen years ago, one of the West Central Florida Group’s objectives was to provide a regional means for Ham Radio operators to respond to such community threats. And by most measures, it has worked pretty well!

But as with anything, time and attrition take a toll. For those of you in Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Northern Pinellas Counties, the NI4CE Holiday repeater was not there for you Friday. That’s because a portion of the twelve hundred foot transmission line between the repeater and the antenna has been damaged and is compromised. Fixing or replacing that transmission line is going to cost real dollars, lots of them. We are working with our hosts at Holiday to come up with a solution that will get Holiday back on the air. But we have a long way to go.

Holiday is not the only NI4CE site that needs attention. The Riverview repeaters (442.550-analog and 444.425-NXDN) are both in need of some TLC. Attrition has taken its toll on the electronics and the antennas that radiate their signals from the platform 805 feet above ground level. Revitalizing the Riverview site is also going to take a pile of cash.

We have been fortunate the last couple of years. When electronics have failed and significant, ongoing expenses needed to be paid, a handful of very generous Hams have stepped up. Thank you!!!

But the future of NI4CE should not and cannot be up to a few people. NI4CE is a tremendous Ham Radio resource that needs, no, requires a broader level of financial support. Putting this repeater system on a sound financial footing is the only way to assure it will be on the air for the next Tech Net, Eagle Net or SKYWARN Severe Weather Net.

To help you assist with underwriting NI4CE’s financial health and insure its continued operation, we are asking you, the NI4CE users, to make a commitment to our NI4CE Ten Dollar A Month Club. To join, just click on the PayPal button at the bottom of this article. Each month thereafter, PayPal will automatically send your tax-deductible contribution that will underwrite the continued operation of NI4CE.

If we cannot put the NI4CE system on a sound financial footing in the next sixty days, we will be forced to start taking repeaters off the air. That is the cold hard reality.

We all have a stake in NI4CE’s future. And if we all do a little bit, that future can be very bright.

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THE COST OF HAM RADIO – Part 2
By Paul Toth-NB9X

In my last post, I mentioned that most Hams have little or no knowledge about all the things that go into the operation of a Ham Radio repeater. They just know if they want to use one, they
need to program the transmit and receive frequencies into their radio (along with the Offset, CTCSS tone or RAN code) and press the Push-To-Talk button.

No matter WHO owns and operates the repeater, every USER of that repeater has a financial stake in keeping it on the air. REPEATERS ARE NOT FREE!!!

Here in Florida (and most places), there are three groups of repeater owners. (..more..)

THE COST OF HAM RADIO – PART 1
By Paul Toth-NB9X

One of the things that does not get a lot of discussion or visibility in Amateur Radio is the cost of this hobby. While most Hams eventually find out what new radios, coax cable, antennas and other components cost, most have little or no idea what the costs are associated with putting a repeater on the air and maintaining one (or more). Well, let’s shed a little sunlight on this topic.

But first, an analogy. When you first got your license and could start using your privileges on VHF and UHF, you quickly learned about how to operate and communicate with your fellow Hams on a repeater. Most QSOs were like talking on a telephone, except only one of you could talk at a time. If your QSO was with a group of people, you quickly learned that if two or more in your group tried talking at the same time, there was this annoying and ear piercing racket that came through your radio’s speaker. (..more..)

WHY FCC CERTIFICATION IS IMPORTANT
By Paul Toth-NB9X

A lot of licensed Amateur Radio operators, particularly those new to Ham ranks, are wondering why FCC Type Acceptance (or Certification) is important for radio transmitters. The Commissions latest ruling, outlined in document DA18-290A1, singles out radios designed to operate in the VHF and UHF bands. But the important of hardware certification for equipment operating in all parts of the electro-magnetic spectrum is the underlying foundation that insures all devices can be operated safely and within well-defined engineering specifications and performance standards.

The headline at the top of this new Enforcement Advisory states “Two-Way VHF/UHF Radios May Not Be Imported, Advertised or Sold in the United States Unless They Comply With the Commission’s Rules”. This ruling is a direct outcome stemming from an investigation into the business practices of importers of offshore products, primarily from China. At the top of the list of radios this action has been directed toward is Bao-feng. But this advisory is not exclusive to these products. It impacts ALL imported VHF and UHF radios.

To put this ruling into context, you need to understand some of the requirements in FCC Part 90 regulations for Land Mobile Radio, Amateur Radios commercial counterpart. Part 90 operating licenses are frequency specific. You are assigned one or more frequencies by the FCC, period. Part 90 Type Accepted radios must need specific technical parameters. Two of those parameters is Channel Bandwidth and Emissions. Unlike Amateur Radio, Part 90 radios must operate with an emission that takes up no more than 12.5 kilohertz bandwidth. If a radio can be operated with an emission greater than 12.5 kilohertz, it cannot be Type Accepted. Part 90 radios cannot be Front Panel programmable. Or put another way, there is no VFO mode. This is a major departure from how most Amateur Radio Service devices operate. After all, we have the freedom to operate on any frequency within the Amateur Radio Band Assignments. Other technical parameters that must be complied with include transmit frequency accuracy, spurious emissions and RF Safety.

While this order may close the door on new, non-compliant radios from coming into the country, we all know the horse is already out of the barn. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of these radios have been sold and are on the air. Many Hams have purchased these radios because they are cheap, so cheap, in fact, they are considered “throw-away” devices. This order includes an operating contingency for radios that are already out there. If a radio can be operated with an emission of greater than 12.5 KHz and can be tuned to a Part 90 frequency from the Front Panel, it is ILLEGAL to operate. Another way of putting it, if one of these radios can operate in Wide Band FM mode outside of authorized Amateur Radio frequencies, it cannot be LEGALLY operated. And there are some hefty penalties prescribed if violators are caught.

You can read the entire FCC document by clicking here.

FCC REPORT AND ORDER CONCERNING IMPORTED RADIOS

The FCC has published a Report and Order that prohibits the importation of any VHF and UHF radio that is not FCC certified (click here to view Report & Order). Further, these radios, which include Bao-feng, cannot be operated on the Amateur Radio bands if they can be operated on Part 90 Land Mobile Radio frequencies and are not FCC certified to do so.

WHY NI4CE OPERATES NXDN REPEATERS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

When the first NI4CE repeater went on the air in 2001, it was a Wide Band FM Analog repeater. Fast forward almost eighteen years. The actual repeater is a different make and model. But it still operates in WBFM analog mode as do the other five NI4CE analog repeaters.

But in the eighteen years that NI4CE has been on the air a lot of other things have changed and changed dramatically. For example, cell phones are now digital. The major cellular providers all operate high speed LTE-based wireless data networks that allow you to take a handheld computing device (your cell phone or tablet) to surf the Internet, send and receive email, shop online and much more. (..more..)

A VERY limited number of “HAM RADIO LIVES HERE” T-Shirts are still available
This may be your last time to score one of these t-shirts. For a limited time, and with a $35.00 or more tax-deductible contribution, a classic, stylish (and in your size) royal blue NI4CE “HAM RADIO LIVES HERE” T-Shirt is our gift to you. Just click on the Contributing Members tab below and can get your HAM RADIO LIVES HERE T-Shirt. When the “HAM RADIO LIVES HERE” t-shirts are gone, well they are gone.

Please include your complete address, phone number, call sign and size (medium and large only – sorry no small, XL or 2XLl sizes left) in the comments field on the PayPal form. Your $35 or more donation gets you a great T-Shirt as well as Contributor Member status, plus you help keep the NI4CE multi-site linked repeater system on the air. If you are able to itemize your Federal Income Tax deductions, your contributions to WCFG are also tax deductible. More information about Membership levels is available on the Membership web page.

Enhance your Amateur Radio experience now. Just click on one of the buttons below to make your tax-deductible contribution via PayPal. The West Central Florida Group, Inc. also accepts checks and money orders which can be mailed to:

West Central Florida Group, Inc.
11931 92nd Way North
Largo, FL 33773-4321

or use PayPal

Specify single donation amount or recurring monthly donation

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More pertinent articles about Amateur Radio and Repeaters are located under the Articles navigation tab.

DISCLAIMER

One or more websites may be intermittently streaming the NI4CE repeater system audio. None of these sites are affiliated with the West Central Florida Group, Inc. or our ni4ce.org website. The West Central Florida Group, Inc. has not authorized these streaming websites and has no control over the content, quality or availability of the audio product being streamed.

NI4CE Operating Code

The NI4CE Repeater System provides all licensed West Central Florida Amateur Radio operators with a “regional” communications resource to advance Amateur Radio commitment to public service and encourage fellowship among all operators.

The NI4CE System serves all or parts of fourteen counties. It is a shared communications resource for the over twenty thousand Amateur Radio licensees who live here and the hundreds of visitors who join us annually. When using the NI4CE System, the West Central Florida Group, Inc. asks you to:

• Keep your transmissions as brief and to the point as possible. Please keep the Total Run Time for each QSO to ten minutes or less. Remember, there are many other operators waiting to use the repeaters.

• Please leave pauses between transmissions, particularly when there is weather in the region that may be severe.

• Please observe FCC Part 97 Rules at all times, particularly the provisions of 97.113.

• Transmit power in Florida is limited to 50 watts in Florida.

• Please turn off special features including WIRES and other “sounders” that may delay your communications. Kerchunking is frowned on.

• Observe the “Golden Rule”. Common sense, courtesy and respect is contagious!

If you have an NXDN Digital Radio, Talkgroup 65000 can be used to connect to the NXDN Worldwide Network.

SKYWARN ACTIVATIONS

Here is the information the National Weather Service is most interested in knowing during any SKYWarn ACTIVATION ON on the NI4CE Repeater System:

• Winds of 35 MPH or higher

• Rainfall of two inches or more in an hour

• Flooding

• Hail of any size

• Tornadoes

• Weather caused damage

• Street closures

During Tropical Weather Events, Barometric Pressure data is also helpful.
Keep reports SHORT AND CONCISE. During bad weather, repeater time is valuable. Think about what you are going to say before you say it. Avoid unnecessary comments and verbiage.

It is requested that you NOT report non-severe weather, such as “It’s cloudy with light rain” or “the rain is letting up here”. The National Weather Service has radar and knows where it’s not raining. Reports such as this tie up valuable repeater time.

When reporting severe weather activity, please provide your Amateur Radio Callsign, your National Weather Service SKYWARN ID (if you have one), the location of your report and an approximate time of the severe weather event (if other than NOW).

Please turn off any “Roger Beeps”, “WIRES” signaling or the use of DTMF tones as they will interfere with your report.

OUR CORPORATION ID NUMBER IS 65-1061382. OUR CHARITABLE REGISTRATION NUMBER IS CH 16854.
A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE 800-435-7352 WITHIN THE STATE OF FLORIDA. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE OF FLORIDA.
REGISTRATION INFORMATION CAN BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES AT www.FloridaConsumerHelp.com