NI4CE regional linked repeater system

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A GOOD DAY TO BE A HAM
By Paul Toth-NB9X

It has been nineteen years since what you know as the NI4CE Repeater System went on the air.  On February 24, 2001, the 145.430 repeater took to the air using the callsign K4WCF.  A couple of days later, it was joined by a UHF repeater on 442.950 on the WHPT-FM tower in Verna.  We called them the “Big Stick Repeaters”, a moniker that has stuck through good times and challenging times.

A few things have changed along the way.  On August 11, 2004, a new callsign was granted, NI4CE.  Two days later, Hurricane Charley came ashore in Charlotte County.  The Verna repeaters, along with two repeaters in Downtown St. Petersburg helped disaster responders pick up the pieces in Charlotte, DeSoto and Hardee Counties in Charley’s wake.  And then, along came Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

The NI4CE system has grown a bit since then and now serves as the glue that brings many West Central Florida Hams from eleven counties together on the air daily. (..more..)

-February 17, 2020

442.650 NXDN Repeater In Pasco County Is Off The Air

The 442.650 NXDN Repeater in Pasco County is permanently off the air from it’s previous location.  The repeater was taken off the air and equipment removed from the Joy FM premises last night as Dave Anderson, KG4YZY and ex-Board of Directors member, is no longer associated with this broadcaster.

-February 6, 2020

HAM RADIO AND THE INTERNET
By Paul Toth-NB9X

In a perfect world, one could make the case that Amateur Radio should be a completely self-contained, self-sufficient communications entity. By that, I mean Amateur Radio has all the spectrum, bandwidth, operating modes, and technological resources to reach around the corner, around the state, even around the world and not have to rely on anyone or anything anywhere. That’s in a perfect world.

Of course, if you have been an Amateur Radio operator for more than fifteen minutes, you know what is about as far from reality as you can get. And then throw into the equation the not so small matter of “reliability”, and you really have a challenge on your hands. I have run out of fingers, toes, hands, and feet counting all the moans, groans and complaints I have heard from Hams over “bands not being open”.

One part of Ham Radio that has never been addressed by the regulators is the use of the “Internet”. Maybe it’s because the Internet is relatively new (25 years) and the FCC hasn’t been paying attention (..more..)

-February 3, 2020

NI4CE RIVERVIEW UPDATE

The NI4CE NXDN Repeater at Riverview has been restored to full service. It was necessary to take this repeater out of service during the recent TV Repack activities at the Riverview tower site.  We appreciate your patience during this outage.

Join us each Wednesday evening at 8:00 PM on Talkgroup 1200 for the TampaBay NXDN Net.

-February 3, 2020

COMMUNITY SUPPORT
By Paul Toth-NB9X

When the West Central Florida Group, Inc. was being formed nineteen years ago, we made a commitment to the West Central Florida community. To those of us who hold an FCC Amateur Radio license, we promised to provide a communications platform that all licensed operators could use twenty-four hours a day year-round. We promised the community-at-large an emergency communications resource that would be available on a moment’s notice should our area need it in the event of a disaster or disruption.

Operating a communications platform the size and breadth of the NI4CE Repeater System is no small undertaking. It takes the sweat capital provided by volunteers to build and maintain our several, interconnected repeater sites. It takes another kind of capital, real dollars, to maintain repeaters, amplifiers, antennas, power supplies, and other components when they break, are taken out by lightning (something we never experience around here) or are otherwise damaged. And like most things, age and use require a renewal of these finite resources to keep the system viable. (..more..)

-January 20, 2020

WHOSE SPECTRUM IS IT ANYWAY?
By Paul Toth-NB9X

By now, I am sure you have taken in some of the chatter about “TV Repack” we are in the midst of here in West Central Florida. And I am sure you have also probably seen some of the new T-Mobile commercials promoting their new 600 MHz LTE signals.

These two events are connected at the hip. The incursion of cellular operations into the 600 MHz band was made possible by the auctioning of that spectrum previously occupied by broadcast television stations. These stations, in turn, are now in the midst of relocating to new channels (that were previously vacant) or are moving from one channel to another to better accommodate one of these displaced broadcasters. There is a significant re-ordering of the TV spectrum which will all come to fruition on or about January 16, 2020.

Those of us with Amateur Radio licenses need to pay close attention to all these seemingly innocent shenanigans  (..more..)

-January 11, 2020

THE HAM RADIO TRIFECTA
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Horse racing fans are familiar with the term “Trifecta”. This is a bet that is wagered on which horses will come in First, Second and Third, in that order. Trifectas can lead to big payouts for the fan who can get it right.

Ham Radio, too, is facing a Trifecta of its own. However, the race being run is potentially an existential contest to the Finish Line, with the operative word being “Finish”.

Ham Radio is facing three major challenges we cannot ignore. Challenge #1 and maybe the one that is most dire, is the loss of licensed Amateur Radio operators. We have previously noted in our posts about the average age of the licensed domestic Ham population. It is currently eighty-five years old and climbing. Let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger. And while age supposedly increases “collective wisdom”, there also comes an increasing inability to carry out our collective charge as defined in Part 97.1 of the FCC rules.

Challenge #2 is something we have been battling for some time (particularly here in Florida)  (..more..)

-January 4, 2020

NEW DECADE, NEW TECH
(What Does It All Mean?)
By Paul Paul-NB9X

Now that the holidays are behind us and a new decade has begun, I thought it might be useful to shine some light on why there is such a need to allocate more unlicensed bandwidth for the general public (at the expense of Amateur Radio). But first, a little historical perspective.

Amateur Radio and RF experimenters were around at the beginning. They were the original explorers of the RF spectrum (and least on this planet). Without people like Marconi, Sarnoff, Bell and many, many others, we would not have the modern communications tapestry we have in the year 2020.

But while Amateur Radio operators are still pre-occupied with AM, FM, SSB and the like, the rest of the world has moved on and at lightning speed.  (..more..)

-January 4, 2020

 

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THE “MOBILE NOW” ACT
By Paul Toth-NB9X

As we end 2019 and head into a brand new decade, I would like to take a moment to thank all the people who continue to support the West Central Florida Group, Inc. Our mission since 2001 has been to support the Amateur Radio operators who have made this part of Florida home and to provide a regional communications infrastructure to support our communities during severe weather outbreaks and other emergencies. To all who read our posts, best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The next decade is going to be challenging for the future of Amateur Radio. During the last two weeks, the Federal Communications Commission has issued two rule making documents that will rescind the operating privileges that come with our license over two hundred seventy-five megahertz of spectrum. Sometime in 2020, Amateur Radio operators will no longer be allowed to operate in the 3.3 GHz – 3.5 GHz band. And to add insult to injury, our secondary allocation from 5.850 GHz – 5.925 GHz will also become history. But before you have a few choice words for the FCC, it turns out they were simply following the law, the “Mobile Now” Act enacting in 2017.  (..more..)

-December 22, 2019

RE-UPPING
By Paul Toth-NB9X

I want to give all of you a heads-up. If your Amateur Radio license has expired or is about to expire, here is your Call To Again to get it renewed now.

I recently renewed my Amateur Extra Class license. If you are within ninety days of the Expiration Date on your current license, you can go online to “re-up” for another ten year term. VECs, like the ARRL, can also assist you with the process for a nominal fee. Ten years ago, Vanity Callsign holders also had the pleasure of filling out a FCC Payment Authorization Form along with submitting a nominal remittance to cover their Vanity Callsign renewal. Good news! The old Vanity Callsign Fee is a thing of the past making your license renewal even more painless.

But there is one change you will run into that may make completing the renewal process a little more difficult and time-consuming. It used to be the FCC would mail you a very official looking paper LICENSE to proudly place in a frame and hang on the wall in your shack.  (..more..)

-December 17, 2019

MAKING THE CASE
By Paul Toth-NB9X

For those of you who haven’t checked your calendar lately, it is time for the annual TampaBay Hamfest.   This year’s event, as has been the case the past several years, will be held this Friday and Saturday at the Strawberry Festival Grounds in Plant City.

The West Central Florida Group, Inc. and our Board members will be there as well.  And as has been the case for the last several years, we will hold our Annual Meeting on Saturday morning at 9:00 AM.  I would like to invite all WCFG members and non-members alike to join us.  And if you cannot make the meeting, please visit us at the NI4CE Booth inside the Main Exhibit Hall.  We will be there for both days.

This year’s Hamfest and WCFG Annual Meeting come at a crucial time for Amateur Radio.  We will know by this weekend whether the FCC intends to boot Amateur Radio off the spectrum between 3.3 GHz and 3.5 GHz.  As I noted in my last post, this spectrum is the last real swath of frequencies Amateur Radio has to develop a high speed, broadband digital capability of its own.  Why is this important?  The world has gone digital.  And while Amateur Radio is lagging behind, it must be allowed to catch up to remain viable and useful.

If you haven’t visited FCC Part 97.1, here is why the Amateur Radio Service exists:

§ 97.1   Basis and purpose.

The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service  (..more..)

-December 9, 2019

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Say goodbye to yet another swath of RF spectrum assigned to Amateur Radio.  The FCC has announced its intent to strip the Amateur Radio Service of its operating rights and privileges on the 3.3 GHz to 3.5 GHz band.  This action, coupled with another FCC effort to clear and sell off part of the C-Band Satellite band is just one more indication of how powerful the cellular industry and “Big Tech” are in this country.

Fifteen years ago, working as a member of the ARRL’s HSMM Working Group, I helped develop a vision for the development of the 3.3 GHz band.  A plan to channelize this RF spectrum for broadband use by Amateur Radio was floated.  The effort didn’t get any traction, in part, because it proposed a coordinated effort in the Ham community, something that runs against the grain with too many Hams.   (..more..)

-December 2, 2019

WE LOVE 70 CENTIMETERS!

Many Hams have asked us “Why are so many of the NI4CE Repeaters on the UHF Band?.  One reason is frequency pair availability.  Another reason is the ability of UHF signals to penetrate Florida building construction, both business and residential.

Amateur Radio repeaters traditionally operated in the Two Meter Band (VHF).  Thar’s because VHF equipment was more readily available when repeaters started operating back in the 1970s.  The Two Meter Band is an Amateur Radio Primary Allocation.  (..more..)

NXDN (Almost) Everywhere: Increase coverage with Hotspots
Part Four: Use and Interoperability
By Jason Triolo, KD4ACG

After configuring the hardware and software on your new hotspot, and getting it connected to the Internet, you’re ready to get on the air.

Exactly what you can reach from the hotspot, depends on the digital mode you’re using. Each mode provides access to talkgroups or reflectors that are native to that mode. NXDN users have access to our most common talkgroups, such as 1200 and 65000, through the use of reflectors. These are third-party interfaces that provide a link between the talkgroup user, and the NXDN network. Through this system, NXDN hotspot users can communicate with users on traditional NXDN repeaters. A current list of available reflectors can be found at www.nxdninfo.com. Simply program your radio to the simplex frequency that you defined in the hotspot, tune to that frequency and talkgroup, and begin transmitting. You’ll be connected to the NXDN network automatically.   (..more..)

-November 23, 2019

NXDN (Almost) Everywhere: Increase coverage with Hotspots
Part Three: Software and More
By Jason Triolo, KD4ACG

In Part Two, we gave a brief explanation of the hardware that makes up a digital hotspot. Hardware is only half the solution. In order for the hotspot to function, you’ll also need software. For most devices, it’s as simple as a free download.

One more note: This is by no means intended to be a full tutorial on the setup of a hotspot. There are plenty of resources available for detailed instructions, particularly on YouTube, social media, and the Pi-Star website. Those interested in setting up a device are encouraged to visit those sites for more detailed instructions and demos.

Virtually all hotspot hardware uses the MMDVM (Multi-Mode Digital Voice Modem) software, developed by Jonathan Naylor, G4KLX and others. While you can build everything on your own from the ground up, from the Raspberry Pi OS to the MMDVM software (and the author of this article has done that in the past), it is much simpler to install the Pi-Star software, available free of charge at http://pistar.uk.   (..more..)

-November 17, 2019

NXDN (Almost) Everywhere: Increase coverage with Hotspots
Part Two: The Hardware
By Jason Triolo, KD4ACG

Now that you have a brief background on the concept of a digital hotspot, you may wonder what it takes to get started?

Of course, you’ll need a digital radio, which you probably already own. Ideally, the radio should operate in the digital mode that you plan to use. (In a future article, we’ll discuss this in more detail.)

The foundation for virtually all hotspots is a Raspberry Pi. Almost any model will work, from the ultra-compact Pi Zero to the more powerful Pi-3 or newer Pi-4 models. Although any model provides the same audio quality and on-air performance, those who prefer to have both wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi capability should opt for the Pi 3 or 4, as the Pi Zero only has Wi-Fi built-in. You’ll also need a microSD card for the Pi, which will hold the operating system and software for the device.     (..more..)

-November 10, 2019

NXDN (Almost) Everywhere: Increase coverage with Hotspots
Part One: Introduction and Brief History
By Jason Triolo, KD4ACG

Several years ago, as digital modes were becoming more popular on Amateur Radio airwaves, we started to see a small number of Internet-connected devices arrive on the market. These devices were typically a USB stick, designed to connect to a Windows PC. They enabled a user to access a D-Star network, even if a D-Star repeater was not available in his/her area.

Over the years, much has changed. When these “dongles” first arrived on the scene, D-Star was still the predominant digital mode in Amateur Radio. Now, these devices have evolved to support virtually every digital mode that’s present in our hobby. These include not only amateur-only modes like D-Star and Fusion, but also modes adapted from the commercial realm, such as DMR, P25, and most recently, NXDN.

While their capability has improved, so has their portability.   (..more..)

-November 4, 2019

CONTRAST AND COMPARE
By Paul Toth-NB9X

Comparing radios with one another is what a “Shootout” is all about.  It is a time tested method for evaluating the various offerings in the marketplace where apples are apples (so to speak), not oranges, apricots or grapefruit.

The advent and miniaturization of silicon components have allowed several manufacturers to cram so many features into very small physical packages.  Sometimes we lose sight of what is really important – voice and speech quality.  The ultimate test for any two-way radio should be how well it actually sounds.  All the fancy features don’t mean a hoot if the radio sounds like something that was just dragged through a swamp.

The ability of the radio to reproduce clear, intelligible audio is a by-product of the technology inside the chassis.  But that is not the only factor.  (..more..)

-October 29, 2019

PRIVACY
By Paul Toth-NB9X

The invention of high-resolution cameras, high capacity storage devices and networked transports that can carry large amounts of data from one place to another has enabled a whole new discussion about PRIVACY. This discussion, in many ways, has manifested itself in the framework of “Do the Good Guys have an inherent right to be safe and secure in their person and their property” versus “Do people who do not respect laws and any semblance of moral character have an overriding right to infringe on the safety and security of others in the guise of privacy”.

Questions about privacy are not new. Think back to the days when the telephone in your parent’s house was connected to a “Party Line”. When y folks moved to a rural area in Wisconsin in the mid-1950s, the only telephone service that was available was on a “party line” they shared with twenty-five other neighbors. An expectation of privacy – only in your dreams. The ole “party line” was Gossip Central!

Ham Radio communications have always been “open” and in the clear.  (..more..)

-October 13, 2019

THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
By Paul Toth-NB9X

If you are a Star Trek fan, like I and many other Hams I know are, you will recall one of the last movies the original Star Trek cast was center stage in, The Undiscovered Country. It was all about our inherent fear of the unknown and the reluctance of many beings, Humans, Klingons and many more to venture into territory and relationships we just don’t feel comfortable with.

Amateur Radio has traditionally been all about exploring the “Undiscovered Country” of RF right from its inception. Without those early explorers like Marconi, Bell (yes, Alexander Graham Bell was not solely into wired inventions), Sarnoff and hundreds more, we would not have most of the communications technologies we enjoy today. Amateur Radio has always been a place for discovery, innovation, creating and building the better mousetrap, so to speak. It has also been a place that has been open for a broad range of different interests and applications.

I would like to think that is still the case because, as I see it, there is still a lot of “Undiscovered Country” to be traveled and a lot of innovation to be embraced. That is why I find the ruckus that RM-11831 has created disturbing and potentially existential. (..more..)

-September 20, 2019

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

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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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.

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