NI4CE regional linked repeater system

News

A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE
By Paul Toth-NB9X

If you live in Florida, anywhere in Florida, the last week has been extraordinary. For many, life is getting back to “normal”, if you define “normal” as electricity from a power utility, air conditioning, a hot shower and most if not all the other conveniences of life prior to Hurricane Irma. For many others, however, “normal” is still an elusive target. And Hurricane Season still has a long way to go.  (..more..)

The Power of APRS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Ham Radio is sometimes more about the technology than applying available technology to solve a problem or a need. It has also been, over the years, a proving ground for many of the communications technologies we now use in everyday life. This article is about a Ham Radio technology that is a very practical solution that benefits everyone.  (..more..)

THE IMPORTANCE OF DIGITAL RADIO
By Paul Toth-NB9X

I have written before about Digital Two-Way Radio, the several flavors of digital radio that are currently available. I have also discussed what some of the differences between these Common Air Interfaces (CAI) are and why the West Central Florida Group, Inc. made NXDN as its choice for the digital repeaters we operate.  (..more..)

EMPERICAL EVIDENCE
By Paul Toth-NB9X

For those of you who may have missed the Tech Net last Thursday evening on the NI4CE Repeater System, I thought I would share some comments I made concerning an equipment heating issue we recently solved.

The problem first showed its ugly head several months ago when we installed a new RF power amplifier at the Verna Repeater Site.  (..more..)

ST. PETERSBURG REPEATER PROJECT UPDATE

The effort to put a new NI4CE Repeater on the air in St. Petersburg is on hold. New ownership of the site for the proposed repeater rejected the West Central Florida Group’s proposal to operate the repeater from that site. So, at least for now, our hopes of having a renewed presence in Pinellas County to better serve the Amateur Radio community are on hold.

We would like to thank those who generously stepped up to help underwrite this project. We will be contacting shortly about your contribution.


RUDE AWAKENINGS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

It is around 6:00 AM on a Monday morning. It’s a bit cloudy rainy and windy outside just as it was predicted to be before you went to bed for the evening. But then you look at your computer and the words “Tropical Storm Warning” catch your attention.

Well, that is how a lot of us started our week with recently. For many, Tropical Storm Emily was almost a non-event. For thousands of others, heavy rains and wind brought power outages, closed streets and roads, some flooding and some property damage. For everyone, Emily should be a reminder that weather in Florida can be very volatile, particularly this time of the year as we approach the peak of Hurricane Season. And being prepared to weather the storm is everyone’s responsibility

Those of us who possess a valid Amateur Radio operator’s license and, presumably, one or more radios can be a real asset to our neighbors should disaster strike. Your radio and operating privileges may be the only way you and your neighbors can communicate with loved ones outside the area. If that is the case, do you know how to send a National Traffic System Radiogram? Health and Welfare messages take priority when other forms of personal communications are not operating. Just as importantly, if your area is outside the impact zone of a storm or other disaster, you can help with the process of getting these vital messages to their final destination by receiving the incoming messages from the impacted area and relaying them to other Ham Radio Traffic Nets or directly to the final destination by telephone or Internet email.

The NI4CE Repeater system hosts the Eagle Net nightly at 8:30 for the express purpose of sending and receiving formal NTS Radiograms. If you have never transmitted or received formal written traffic, the Eagle Net is a great place to get familiar with passing traffic and/or brushing up on your skill set. I encourage you to take the opportunity while the birds are chirping and the sky isn’t falling to add traffic handling to your Ham Radio skills set. It is one more way Amateur Radio is still a very relevant part of 21st Century Life in America even with all the cell phones and other devices that are part of the personal communications landscape.

For more information about the National Traffic System and how to pass formal written messages, go to the ARRL website, www.arrl.org.

Go to facebook.com/NI4CE now and tell us what you think. Or send an email to info@NI4CE.org. And if you dare, send me a NTS Radiogram on the Eagle Net!

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 or quality of the product being streamed.

THE HAM RADIO REPEATER – (Part 2)
By Paul Toth-NB9X

In our last post, we detailed the several different components that make up a typical Ham Radio repeater. If you were not aware of how many working parts there are in most repeaters, don’t feel bad. Most Hams just think of a repeater as a “black box” and never get into the intimate details to appreciate the complexity.  (..more..)

THE HAM RADIO REPEATER (Part 1)
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Most Hams, particularly those operators new to Ham Radio, use one or more VHF or UHF repeaters to communicate with their local Ham Radio friends. The repeater is that magic box that enables you to communicate more than a mile or two, particularly if you are using a portable radio.  (..more..)

COMPLACENCY
By Paul Toth-NB9X

As we, once again,  celebrate the Fourth of July and the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States, it is easy to be reminded that freedom (and all good things for that matter) is something we cannot become complacent about.  Freedom is a precious commodity something we must work at every day.  It does not just happen all by itself.

Ham radio and the freedom to communicate freely is the same way.  No one, to the best of my knowledge, was born with the knowledge and skills needed to use technology, any technology, to convey ideas, solve problems or just “shoot the breeze”.  Using wireless technology, including Ham Radio equipment, is a learned process.  If you don’t believe me just tune in to any repeater system and witness the number of key-ups or “kerchunks” followed by dead silence.  Those of us who are Volunteer Examiners were called on to administer Morse Code tests to evaluate the ability of Ham Radio license candidates to operate with Morse Code.  I sometimes think we need some sort of Phone Proficiency exam as part of the testing process to make sure that operators actually know what to do once they have pressed the Push-To-Talk button.

But back to the topic of “complacency”.  It has been thirteen years since those of us on the West Coast of Florida experienced a major disaster.  Someone said to me the other day we need a good hurricane or some other type of disaster event to shake everyone out of their complacency and not take everything for granted.  By nature, humans, including those of us with an Amateur Radio license, tend to get into a “comfort zone” and stay there because it is the easy thing to do.  We avoid taking on challenges or thinking outside the box unless it is something we are really motivated to do.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where the challenges are growing in scope and in number.  There are the natural threats (like severe weather and hurricanes) that we can get some prior warning about.  And then there are the manmade threats for which we will receive almost no prior warning.

One threat we need to take seriously is EMP – Electro Magnetic Pulse.  EMP can occur naturally, the result of sunspot solar flare activity and lightning.  EMP can also be manmade on a scale that can range from something very localized to a catastrophic, existential event.  The loss of the electric power grid and most electronic communications (including Ham Radio) that we rely on daily could have an enormous impact.

There are several actions you can take to mitigate the threat from EMP.  First, protect your radio equipment with EMP-rated devices, like PolyPhasor Lightning Protectors.  The West Central Florida Group, Inc. has been using EMP-rated lightning protection for over a decade at our several NI4CE repeater sites.  Second, build a Faraday Cage and place one or more radios into it for safe keeping.  Third, think about all the things you need electricity for and what you would do if the lights went out.  You will find this goes well beyond communications.  Finally, raise your voice with your elected representatives and electric power provider about the work that needs to be done to shore up the Electric Power Grid in the United States.  Several studies conducted over the last two decades have concluded the electric grid is at significant risk from an EMP event.  One of these studies has determined the power grid can be strengthened and made more secure at a cost of around $2 billion.  Complacency about this problem and its potential impact, however, has led to inaction.  Not good enough!

Take stock of the freedoms we enjoy this Independence Day Week.  And if you will be cooking some burgers on the grill, I’ll take mine medium rare!

Go to facebook.com/NI4CE now and tell us what you think.  Or send us an email at info@NI4CE.org.

ARE YOU PREPARED?
By Paul Toth-NB9X

The 2017 Hurricane Season officially begins this week.  Unofficially, it got underway several weeks ago with a bona fide Tropical Storm that spun for several days in the Central Atlantic.  And if the forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are to be believed, we may be in for an above average season, possibly the most active since 2005.  (..more..)

BY THE NUMBERS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Even though Ham Radio is all about “wireless communications”, getting the RF signal from the radio to the antenna efficiently and effectively requires using the right cable. That sounds easy and it is. But it requires a bit of education and some calculation to come up with the numbers and the right cable selection.   (..more..)

WHY SKYWARN IS IMPORTANT
By Paul Toth-NB9X

When the NI4CE Repeater was first conceived sixteen years ago, it had two primary objectives:  Provide a VHF-UHF platform that ALL Hams in West Central Florida could communicate through.  This included support for the several Nets the ARRL West Central Florida Section conducts each week.  The second objective was to provide a VHF-UHF communications platform to support the National Weather Service’s SKYWARN severe weather spotter program.   (..more..)

YOUR FIRST RADIO (Part 5)
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Some of you have heard me state that “Amateur Radio was the FIRST Social Media”.  That is a rather bold statement given all the other Social Media offerings that now grace the digital landscape.  The fact that Ham Radio, in Analog or Digital mode, is still a relevant Social Media, is pretty remarkable.   (..more..)

YOUR FIRST RADIO (Part 4)
By Paul Toth-NB9X

In my last post, we started talking about DIGITAL two-way radio, why it exists and why you should seriously consider a DIGITAL radio.  Let’s expand on that with a look at the several DIGITAL radio protocols and radios that are available.  (..more..)

NI4CE NOW ON FACEBOOK

The West Central Florida Group, Inc. and NI4CE is now on Facebook. We invite you to visit our new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NI4CE and like us. Once you have, check in with us often for all the latest Amateur Radio and NI4CE information.  You can also click on the Facebook icon on the banner above to go directly to our Facebook page.

YOUR FIRST RADIO (Part 3)
By Paul Toth-NB9X

A new Ham in the 1990s had some important choices to make when selecting his/her first radio. Was it going to be an ICOM, Kenwood, Yaseu, Alinco or one from a handful of lesser known brands, like Standard or Azden. Or maybe, you knew someone who could convert an old Motorola or GE mobile or portable that had been used by a commercial user.   (..more..)

YOUR FIRST RADIO (Part 2)
By Paul toth-NB9X

In my first post on this subject, I discussed my rationale for selecting a MOBILE radio as my first Ham Radio. When I added up the numbers including Transmit Power Output and Antennas Gain and factored in other losses I could expect using a Portable radio, it just made more sense to make that first radio a MOBILE radio.

But there were other important criteria I took into consideration for that first purchase.   (..more..)

YOUR FIRST RADIO (Part 1)
By Paul Toth – NB9X

When I was first licensed over twenty years ago, I was faced with the same daunting challenge that every new Amateur Radio operator faces: “What should new FIRST Amateur Radio purchase be?” Should my first radio be a Portable I can take everywhere? Should it be a Mobile radio that I can use as a Base Station (with a power supply) or in the car? Decisions, decisions, decisions. Well, here is what I decided.  (..more..)

All Of Your Contribution Goes Directly to Work

Fox News ran a story recently about how charitable giving is not getting to the charities to which people are donating.  The cost of call centers, contractors, salaries, etc. are taking a BIG BITE out of the apple with sometimes little of the contribution going to the intended use. 

ALL of your contributions received by the West Central Florida Group, Inc.  are used to operate the NI4CE Repeater System and APRS Network.  The Board of Directors are 100% volunteers.  Your contributions get the most “bang for the buck”.

NI4CE Gets Amazon.com’s SMILE Program

The West Central Florida Group is pleased to announce it is now participating in Amazon.com’s “AmazonSmile” program.

Here is how it works.   Before making your next purchase from amazon.com, open your Internet browser and go to https://smile.amazon.com/ch/65-1061382 or click on the banner below.  Using the hyperlink or banner below, you won’t have to search for West Central Florida Group, Inc. as your AmazonSmile charity among almost one million other charities.

Login with your usual Amazon Username and Password.  Then, every time you make a purchase from amazom.com, Amazon will donate one half of one percent of your purchase to keep the NI4CE Repeater System on the air.  That’s fifty cents for every one hundred dollars you spend.  Five dollars for every one thousand dollars you spend.

Tell your friends and neighbors about the Amazon Smiles program, too.  The more who participate and select the WEST CENTRAL FLORIDA GROUP, INC. as their Amazon Smile charity, the more the NI4CE Repeater System can do for you.

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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 a NXDN Digital Radio, Talkgroup 65000 can be used to connect to the NXDN Worldwide Network.

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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.

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The Real Cost Of A Repeater System

Here is a cold, hard fact.  Amateur Radio and Ham Radio Repeaters are not FREE!

Consider the following:

  • Tower or building top space for the average Amateur Radio repeater is worth approximately $1,500.00 per month.  The cost of tower space on tall Broadcast towers is even more.
  • Commercial-grade Repeaters, RF Amplifiers, DC Power Supplies, Duplexers, Antennas and transmission line are expensive.  How much?  A new repeater can cost $2,000 or more.  Commercial-grade RF Amplifiers can run $1,400.00 or more.  A set of duplexers can cost as much as $3,000.00.  A commercial-grade antenna built to withstand winds of 130 MPH can cost as much as $2,500.00.  7/8” hard line cable can cost up to $9.00 per foot plus connectors (up to $100.00 each) plus installation.
  • Even though many Amateur Radio repeaters lie dormant for extended periods of time, they must be built for a one hundred percent duty cycle to withstand the impact of extended operating time when they are in use.
  • An Amateur Radio presence on a “commercial” or broadcast tower requires multi-million dollar Liability Insurance coverage that can cost the repeater owner $2,500.00 per year or more.  This is a direct, out of pocket expense.
  • A tower crew to install an antenna and transmission line on a three hundred foot commercial tower can easily cost $4,000.00.

The West Central Florida Group, Inc. operates the NI4CE Repeater System to enable the Amateur Radio community to be connected and pro-active when severe weather threatens, Health and Welfare messages need to be passed or whenever the West Central Florida community needs our support.  Our IRS 501(c)(3) charitable status enables our corporate partners including Cox Media Group Inc., iHeart Media, Vertical Bridge and others,  to donate tower space and the use of ground facilities to house the repeater equipment.  That provides significant financial relief.  All other capital and operating expenses require cold, hard cash.  Operating an Amateur Radio repeater, much less a five site, eight repeater system is not FREE!

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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