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..)
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..)
By Paul Toth-NB9X
If you read my posts on a regular basis, you know most are focused on using communications technology to help make our lives better. And because these posts appear here on a website devoted to Amateur Radio, special attention is paid to our wonderful hobby.
I am going to broaden the scope of this post, however, not only because there is a potential direct impact to Amateur Radio but to everyone in of society. And my comments are going to be directed toward a particular segment of our Florida population: our elected politicians in Tallahassee.
Once again, lawmakers are headed down another rat hole trying to fix the problem of distracted driving. As well intentioned as their effort might be, once again, they have it all wrong. (..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
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED
By Paul Toth-NB9X
We all want to have the best technology at our fingertips, be it in the form of a computer or tablet, a cell phone, an efficient, well-outfitted vehicle, 4K or the new 8K LED television set, even the radios we use on the Ham bands. I could go on and on and on. But then there is the reality check that seems to creep in and cause us all to take a second look: How much does it cost.
Early in 2018, tech giant Apple discovered the battery technology that powers its many products was causing many of its customers to complain about the poor performance of their iPhones. Some customers and groups even suggested Apple was throttling the performance of their devices as part of a much larger scheme to sell new phones. (..more..)
– Jan. 21, 2019
HOLIDAY BACK IN SERVICE
The NI4CE 443.450 repeater at Holiday is back on the air and linked to the of the NI4CE analog repeater system.
Special thanks to Ed Allen-WA4ISB, Matt Copeland-NC4FD and Paul Toth-NB9X for getting the system back on the air. A special thanks to iHeart Media –Tampa, who we shared the transmission line and antenna with for arranging the tower crew to make the climb to the eleven hundred foot level on the tower to replace a damaged jumper cable. And a special thanks to our NI4CE Supporters who help keep this regional repeater system on the air.
The Holiday repeater serves the Amateur Radio community in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties.
73 de Paul-NB9X – Jan. 9, 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.
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..)
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.
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 (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:
11931 92nd Way North
Largo, FL 33773-4321
or use PayPal
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More pertinent articles about Amateur Radio and Repeaters are located under the Articles navigation tab.
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.
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
• Hail of any size
• 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