NI4CE regional linked repeater system

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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!

Our Annual Meeting is coming up Saturday, December 8th at 9:00 AM in the Expo Hall at the TampaBay Hamfest in Plant City. Consider this your invitation to come join us and learn more about what we do and how we do it. 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.


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ANTENNA POLARIZATION OPTIONS
by L-com Global Connectivity

Antenna polarization may be one of the least understood properties of a wireless signal. If you are installing many antennas in one location, like on a tower, polarization is an important piece of the puzzle that you’ll need to take into consideration. Here we give you a quick overview on antenna polarization.

Polarization is determined by the way an antenna is mounted, usually horizontally or vertically. To ensure optimal network performance only like-polarized antennas should be used in point-to-point wireless applications. It is possible to establish a wireless link using antennas with different polarities but network performance and connectivity will suffer. (..more..)

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..)

HOLIDAY REPEATER SITE IS OFF THE AIR

The Holiday analog repeater is OFF THE AIR. The pressurized transmission line was swept with a Cable Fault Locator trying to determine the intermittent transmission loss that has been noticed for the last several months. There appears to be transmission line damage at several locations with a substantial fault around 870 feet. The line is not owned by WCFG, Inc. and shared with iHeart Radio. Until there is resolution on the transmission line fault, the Holiday analog repeater will remain off the air.  All the remaining repeaters in the NI4CE repeater system are operational.

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.


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LITMUS TESTS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Every profession, every hobby seems to come with its own set of litmus tests as a means of measuring a person’s commitment to and competence with the endeavor. Ham Radio has had a number of these “qualifiers” over the years, some which newly licensed Hams probably never experienced.
There was a time when you could not earn a U.S. Amateur Radio license without passing a Morse Code test. Even an entry-level Technician Class licensee had to pass a five word per minute proficiency test to get on the air. If you wanted to upgrade to a General Class license, the requirement was success with a thirteen word Morse Code exam. And Amateur Extra candidates had to score a passing grade on a twenty word per minute code test to earn the top ticket. (..more..)

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..)

MORE ON HOTSPOTS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Well, I figured there would be some reaction to my last article on the use of HotSpots to support Amateur Radio Digital Communications activity. But by some of the reaction I received, you would have thought I was suggesting the abolition of Amateur Radio.

“How dare you criticize my use of a HotSpot?” wrote one commenter. Another commented “If I want to build and use a HotSpot, I am going to do it. After all, this is Ham Radio where experimentation is perfectly OK.”  (..more..)

IS THIS REALLY “HAM RADIO”?
By Paul Toth-NB9X

I am sure I am going to take some flak for what I am about to say. And I am sure some people are going to think I am just an “old fuddy-duddy”. But I need to get this off my chest!

Ham Radio has been something special, something worth taking the time to earn an FCC license for. It has enabled license holders to experiment, communicate with other Hams, even help out during emergencies on RF spectrum reserved for us. All we needed to do was come up with the necessary radio equipment and the time..” (..more..)

A new feature is added to this website. A list of NXDN repeaters that are hosted on the FL-ICOM Gateway in Orlando, FL is under the NXDN navigation menu.

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 (M, L, or 2XL – sorry no S or XL 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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Donate $35
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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 or quality of the 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