The History of the UHF Keene Machine - WA1ZedYX Repeater 443.800
After well over a decade of service to the Keene area, 443.80 has been upgraded with a new controller. The repeater, located at the top of the CH52 TV tower just North of Keene first went on the air back in the late 80's. Perhaps a little of the Repeaters history is in order here. When I first came down to the Keene Area, working for New Hampshire Public TV, it didn't take long to find that there were no UHF repeaters that covered Keene very well, or at least none that Keene could call it's own. So, luckily for me, (and I guess I could say the Amateurs of Keene too), the TV station was in the process of replacing all of it's GE Mastr Pro mobile units with new dash mount radios. With smaller service vehicles coming on-line, the old Mastr's just didn't fit too well in the new Blazers and Pick-Ups. So, this created an over abundance of UHF single frequency radios that really weren't worth too much. Now seeing as how 4 out of the 5 Transmitter Techs were Hams, the radios were "sort of" re-assigned to other areas. And seeing as how one of the 3 other Hams really didn't want or need the couple radios he had in his possession, well, I volunteered to "store" those for him.
Now I gotta tell you, there's a lot more to setting up a repeater than just getting a radio and turning the thing on. You need a pair of frequencies, a place to put it, antenna(s), feedline, a set of duplexers, controller(s), and a little technical know how to get it all put together and make it play, oh yeah, and a transmitter and receiver - about the only thing I did have.
I then applied for a frequency pair, actually requesting the pair that it's on now and after that was approved, I set about getting things together. I got the radio re-tuned, down from the commercial band to the Amateur band. What a piece of cake that was, no modifications required. Only the installation of the new crystals - remember those? The next thing that I got was a repeater controller from a fairly new Company called S-Com, out in Colorado. I had seen an add in 73 Magazine for them and the model they were advertising was the 5K. All preassembled, tested and ready to go. All for under a couple hundred bucks. This was pretty much unheard of in those days, but it sounded like it would do everything that I needed it to, and it was remotely programmable, had virtually unlimited programming capabilities and was very flexible. ID's, Tail times, Time-Out-Timers, Courtesy beeps, etc So, I ordered one. A short time later it arrived and the programming began. The manual for the controller was a 3 ring binder, and thicker than the service manual for the radio. I hooked up a receiver (HT) to the input and enabled the COR with a line from the HT, that I had modified, and a little audio amp to the output of it, so I could hear the responses from the 5K. One of the first things you need to do, is assign it the callsign. What a thrill it was to hear WA1ZYX/R KEENE coming from the speaker for the first time. It wasn't even on the air yet, but that was still pretty cool. Don't forget, this is all in CW now.
Sometime along the way the first repeater antenna was ordered and installed just above the tree line on the tower. It was a Ringo Ranger II for 440. Humm, cute, wonder if it'll work. After the controller was connected to the radio and checked out, that appeared to work just fine. The new mobile converted to repeater was hooked up to the antenna and the switch was thrown. The UHF machine was now officially on the air. Arnie, N1BAC and I had the first QSO on the new Keene UHF machine. I think there were 3 of us on UHF at that time. Arnie, Chuck - KA1MTM and this new guy - me. Coverage sucked, (answer to cute, wonder if it'll work - Nope) but none the less, it was playing! It didn't take long (probably about an hour) to make the decision that the repeater antenna must be higher, and it might not hurt to have a better antenna too. Things sure do act differently on UHF vs VHF.
Shortly after that, the TV station contracted with Motorola to completely replace its repeater system and add another site. This now meant that something had to be done with the old GE Mastr Pro repeaters that were on the mountain tops - those being Cannon and Kearsarge. Well, as luck would have it, a short conversation with my boss ended with something to the effect of, "if you want 'em, you get 'em off the mountain". Sounded like a challenge that just had to be taken. This actually wasn't too bad. Not wanting to sound greedy, I volunteered to take the equipment off Cannon Mtn. It was a little further away than Kearsarge, but I had a ride down the mountain - aka, the Tramway!
The repeaters were called "Desk Mates", and trust me, it wasn't because they sat on a desk. These things weighed a ton! This acquisition got a little easier though, because when I got ready to remove them, there was a ton of snow already up on Cannon. You might think that would make carrying repeater cabinets quite a bit more difficult, but not on a ski patrol toboggan. Because these Mastr Pro Deskmates used tubes in the final stages of the transmitter, you needed some pretty heavy transformers in the power supplies, so the toboggan and Tramway were a great asset in removal, which meant we didn't have to lug them all the way down. FYI, I only rolled the toboggan over once, but the snow was soft enough that we didn't slide far and the doors on the repeater cabinets kept everything inside nice and dry! We got 'em down, and loaded in my truck and back to Keene I came. Okay, now the best part was that these babies use the exact same transmitter and receiver strips as the mobiles. They just make them capable of putting out more power. I had all the service manuals, so really all I needed to do was take the strips out of the converted mobile and put them in the Deskmate repeater cabinet, figure out the audio and control I/O lines, and hook the 5K controller into the Deskmate cabinet. That didn't take too long and after a couple hours, the WA1ZYX/R UHF Keene Machine version 2 was on the air. More power, better heat dissipation because of the fans blowing across the transmitter (part of the Deskmate station) and I got rid of the "singing" that the solid state plate voltage supply generated on the mobile strips.
ZedYX/R version 3 happened when the TV station received the new stationmaster antennas for the new Motorola system. Once again, about the same conversation happened with my boss, and once again, I volunteered to grab the stuff off Cannon. This trip provided me with a real repeater antenna, a 20-foot long +/- white fuzzy fiberglass wonder stick. Fuzzy because it had been subjected to the extreme weather conditions on Cannon for a few years, and sleet blowing across any surface at sometimes over 100 MPH is very similar to sandblasting. After a little research, I found a nice glossy white paint to get rid of the fuzz and seal the antenna before subjecting it to more years of nasty weather on a tower just North of Keene.
Something else that was desperately needed was some decent feedline to replace the 9913 I had been using up to now. I came across a real sweet deal in the "Yellow Sheets" - remember those? - Which produced a little over 400 feet of 7/8 Heliax.
Soon after the reel of cable arrived by truck, and having some galvanized side mount brackets for the antenna made, an antenna raising party was assembled. I think there were 5 or 6 of us, with three on the tower. I had to get a ton of stainless clamps for the cable, connectors for the feedline at almost $60 bucks a pop and tow line and pulleys to rig the tower with and a multitude of other stuff to make this all happen. It was an all day project to get the stationmaster about 360 feet up the tower, but boy was it worth it! The other 40 or so feet of cable was needed to get from the base of the tower to the repeater inside my office. When the repeater end of the cable had its connector finally installed and connected to the repeater and then turned on, what a difference. We could officially say there WAS a presence on UHF in Keene now. We were amazed at the coverage we now had. We knew it would be good, and we were really pleasantly surprised.
Version 4 came a couple years later when the TV station was having some serious tower work done to strengthen it for some new renters. WKNE FM was moving onto our tower, as was CellOne with a cell phone site. Over the previous years I got to know the tower crews quite well, and worked well with them, so while they were doing stuff near the top of the tower, I asked if they had a few minutes if they'd hang a new antenna up at the top for me. I forgot to mention earlier, that I had acquired a couple of those long white things. I didn't need them to haul cable up, I just wanted it mounted for now, I'd get it hooked up one way or another later on. So off I went to get another set of galvanized mounts made. A couple days later, and I had a stationmaster at the TOP of the tower, almost another 100 feet higher. That stayed that way for several weeks until we came up with a short run of 7/8 to join with what was already in place. Buzz - WA1NHP found a chunk of feedline and scrambled up the tower to mount that. This change again produced outstanding results. The pattern changed a little and coverage was improved again.
I believe that version 5 happened after the birth of ZedYX/R #2 and 3, over on Saddleback Mtn and up on Cannon Mtn. Version 5 was the addition of links to the other repeaters. They weren't used too much, and only a very limited amount of stations had the controls to turn them on. There were a few things that you needed to be aware of, and I never felt comfortable letting the codes out into the general ham population. NHOEM loved it though, because the 3 repeaters linked provided almost statewide communications.
Over time, the good 'old GE Mastr Pro became pretty finicky. It needed
lots of TLC, the final tubes had been replaced a couple times and they were getting
harder and harder to find. I was using other mobile strips for parts and it was just
getting tired. After all, the Mastr had been living on Cannon Mtn since about 1970
give or take, so it was old enough to vote when it went into Amateur Radio service.
A much heavier duty then the commercial life it had been living. That's when version
6 happened. Another friend of mine had this beautiful 75 watt solid state Motorola
Micor repeater in a 5 foot cabinet just begging for a home. I little wheeling and
dealing later, and the Micor was headed for Keene. This repeater was configured as
a Medical repeater, so it was in the high 460 range. About 20 megs higher than
where I needed it. I did have the service manuals and I knew another friend that
had modified Motorola's before and had access to the parts needed for conversion
so I made arraignments with him to get it going after I had ordered and installed
the crystals - remember those? The repeater was working just fine in its current
configuration, so there wasn't much sense in waiting for it to be brought down into
the ham band before putting the controller on it. So that's what I did in the few
weeks while I waited for the crystals to arrive from ICM.
The parts came and he did a great job getting it modified. I got it back to the site, plugged in the controller and it was pretty much plug & play. It worked great - in fact, it still is. Eventually, the links disappeared because I needed an antenna or two that were used for the links on Packet.
This brings us now to version 7, the replacement of the 5K controller with the new 7K controller. The very idea of replacing the controller actually really began quite a while ago. I just wasn't too serious about it. However, as time rolled on, and donations rolled in (Thanks everybody!), and conversations happened that mentioned the links, I figured it was time to really move on this project - as if I needed another project. I have been in contact with the people at S-Com via E-Mail for quite a while, and in fact have been working on a project for their website for a while. Anyway, as it turns out, one of the main guys there, Dave, WA1JHK is from Nashua, so he's quite familiar where Keene is, and mentioned spending some time during the summers on Spofford Lake. Customer support and correspondence is nothing short of fantastic! I finally ordered the new S-Com 7K, minus an auto-patch board, because I'm already running a secondary controller for the "patch" which so far, seems to play just fine. It's just not too fancy.
S-Com had a deal running where you (I) could receive a $100 dollar credit toward the purchase of a new 7K by turning in any kind of controller, working or not. A radio call produced the old Icom repeater controller that I ripped out of the repeater on Cannon when I installed a 5K in it. I had given the old one to Arnie - N1BAC a few years ago and he happened to have it still kicking around. Realistically, it wasn't worth the postage it cost to send it to Colorado, so I figured $100 credit was a pretty good deal.
A week or so later, and this box arrived containing the new 7K. I tore into that to check out the controller, and the first thing that I located was the manual in another 3-ring binder just about ready to burst at the seems. Along with the manual, was a package of addendums to be inserted into the binder because of the numerous software revisions to the controller. After replacing the correction sheets, the binder was really ready to explode, so I divided it into two binders. At least now I can work with it/them.
I figured that being another Scom, the plugs on the controllers would be a perfect match. Well, I was wrong. Same kind of connector, but not too many of the needed audio or control lines were on the same pins. So...I made up a short interface cable that would mate with the 7K and the plug currently installed on the repeater from the 5K. That would make it very easy to interface to the repeater. When the time came, after several days of programming - don't forget that I haven't had to program a repeater controller for quite a few years by this time, and I pretty much was starting over by learning how to write macros, set up passwords etc. Fortunately, the majority of the functions that were common to both the 5K and the 7K used the same commands, so some of the programming was already done. (I'm very good at documenting what I've got programmed into the controllers!!) One thing I hadn't planned on was, because the 7K directly supports linking or two individual repeaters on one controller, was that EVERY CW and Voice message/ID had to be told which port the message was to go out on, and if the message was allowed to mix with the receiver(s) audio, or mute it. Anyway, I figured it out okay, and when the time came, the official installation of the 7K happened. Because of the interface cable I had made earlier, it really was Plug-n-Play! I didn't even have to mess with the audio levels much. Plugged it in, and turned the repeater back on. It didn't take long for people to notice something different about the way it ID'ed.. It was with Voice AND CW now.
So here we are at Version 8, the addition of the remote base for linking to Saddleback, Cannon and a bunch of other UHF machines. Packet at this point has pretty much died a slow death, and isn't anywhere nearly as active as it was in the early 90's. So I reclaimed the original link yagi for the remote base. I had a 2 channel GE Phoenix-SX that I had modified to a 16 channel remotely controlled radio to use as the remote base radio. Naturally, this required a TON of additional programming to the 7K. Anyway, I have since done this and it all works pretty slick. Let's see how long before version 9 happens...
Here we are now nearing the end of 2003 and version 9 has happened. The NHPTV tower was replaced with a brand new 500 footer because the original one wouldn't support the dual-band TV antenna. So, as antennas and feedlines were being switched over, I had to supply new mounting hardware for all of my runs. Originally, feedlines were fastened with stainless hose clamps, but the new mandates for the new tower required ALL feedlines to be hung with real cable clamps. A very good idea, and long over due. Anyway, most of my packet antennas came down, due to the lack of activity and the expense of the cable hangers.
Now the repeater remote base antenna was originally fed with about 350 feet of 9913, and so was the packet user port antenna. The repeater antennas were going to have the feedlines replaced with new 7/8 heliax, so I figured that as long as the old 7/8 were going to be abandoned, I might as well replace the 9913 with the old 7/8 - until I found that the cell phone outfit was abandoning their 1 5/8 runs. 6 of them, including all connectors! I found the cable hangers were the same price for 1/2 right up through 1 5/8, I figured I might as well upgrade to the 1 5/8. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! The tower crew would hang all the stuff for nothing as long as I supplies cable hangers for the heliax. Yup, no problem. So, that's what I did, and boy, let me tell you, that remote base sure does talk now!! Stay tuned for version 10...
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