FRC history by Adam Farson, VA7OJ/AB4OJ

Adam Farson, was one of the original founders of the FRC.  He recently reached out via email to us with words of encouragement for our reforms.

It is apparent to me that the present board has staged what amounts to a coup d'état. If the board is in breach of the Articles of Incorporation, you may be able to petition the State of Florida to dissolve the FRC in its present form

The following is his history of founding the FRC in 1984 to 1986.

Well, after being heavily involved with 2m and 70cm FM and repeaters from 1976, when I was re-licensed in Canada after an 8-year lapse, until 1986 (when I moved to Germany for just over a year), I am completely out of that game.

As I had mentioned in a previous e-mail, I built a number of repeaters around the British Pye (Philips) 5W UHF "Westminster" (W15U) model. This little radio was designed for duplex or simplex service, and was thus ideally suited for repeater use.

In 1977, some friends and I built the Toronto Telephone Pioneer Club 443.3 system around a W15U. with a Sinclair duplexer, a TPL 50W PA and the March 1973 "73 magazine" controller. We added an ARR GaAsFET preamp and associated preselector cavity later. This machine ran with zero downtime (except for a brief mains outage) from May 1977 until   mid-1991, when the W15U finally failed (its mfg date was 1969!) and the guys replaced it with a Mocom-35.

Mike WB9NXY and I were involved in the design and building of the 146.67 "WAFAR" repeater in the Chicago suburbs, back in 1979/1980. This was a Micor 110W RTB base de-rated to 50W, with a simple hardware-based autopatch controller. The Micor line interface module served as the phone-line interface. We made some mods on several of the control cards to accommodate our operational needs, which included 3 different PL codes. I had a hell of a political fight to assume complete technical control of the project, but succeeded and left them with an excellent, solidly-working system. Sadly, the club folks got their hot little paws into the box after I moved to Florida, and ruined the thing. One of their first mistakes was to run the output back up to 110W - a no-no for an RTB in continuous service. That cooked the PA after a while. It was no longer my problem, though!

I built up a duplicate 443.3 system for Palm Beach County, in mid-1982. This repeater was operational from 1982 to 1992 when its old Pye W15U finally failed. The 147.315 system (a converted Micor 60W RTB base de-rated to 30W), was still operational elsewhere in the Florida as of a few years ago.

 In 1982, I acquired a tiny mobile duplexer from a 450 MHz highway callbox radio, courtesy an acquaintance (now sadly a Silent Key) who worked for the Florida Turnpike Authority. I built a COR board, mounted the duplexer on the top cover of the little radio, and built up a briefcase repeater. Its output was 3.5W and receiver sensitivity was 0.4 µV (20 dB NQ) (at the antenna port of the duplexer). The repeater was crystalled up on the 443.3 MHz pair, and we used to take it to every hamfest we attended and set it up either in the hotel room or in one of our vehicles, to provide private, intermod/QRM free radio coverage for our group. We deployed the little repeater at Miami, Orlando and other FL shows. It was tremendous fun. I subsequently sold the little machine to a ham in New Orleans; he added a PA and a base duplexer, and placed it on a site in that city. It eventually found its way to Miami, where a couple of guys who had bought it at the hamfest got a copy of the service manual from me.

Also converted a T1414 "Locotrol" radio (railway remote-control for diesel locomotives) into a UHF repeater, in 1978. Mike, another friend and I used it in Chicago for various demos and foxhunts. In 1982, I sold it to a couple of  2-way technicians at the local Motorola shop in Florida, near where I lived. They ruined it when they tried to "flip" it from high-in/low-out to the opposite.

When two close friends and I were elected to the Florida Repeater Council (FRC) in 1984, we were confronted with a total mess. The former coordinator, a Far Eastern student at USF in Tampa, had maintained the FRC database in his account on the university's mainframe computer. His student visa had expired; a few monnths before we came aboard, the US immigration service caught up with him. He was deported, whereupon USF terminated his computer account and purged all his files including the FRC database! There was no computer backup. All we had to work with was the error-rich Florida section of the ARRL Repeater Directory, and several file boxes of paperwork such as coordination request forms. We thus set about contacting every repeater-pair holder we could identify and slowly rebuilt the database on 8" floppies in a CP/M desktop computer. After about six months, FRC once again had a workable database.

We inherited many other problems; the UHF dual-standard mess (low-in/high-out and high-in/low-out), working repeaters whose owners/licensees we were unable to contact and literally scores of "paper tigers" (pairs not supported by operational hardware).  

One of our first actions was to harmonise the UHF repeater band plan to high-in low-out, and establish a cut-off date for existing opposite-offset owners to switch. We received a few threats of lawsuits, but ultimately prevailed. We scored a major political victory when our VP, who was then operating a low-in system in Orlando, received a letter  from the trustee of the Repco club repeater, asking for support from all low-in trustees for a campaign to recall the Council. We responded to the letter in the name of the Council, and published the letter (and our response) in the FRC newsletter. That ended the discussion. By the end of 1984, most low-in repeaters had either converted or undertaken to do so.

There were other ramifications. One of our clients (and also a good friend) who owned roof rights on a Fort Lauderdale condo building whose association he headed, also ran a high-in UHF system  on a tower on his roof. He also leased space on this tower to commercial services, including the EF Johnson franchise. Enter a tech at the Johnson shop in Ocala (in central Florida), who had a co-channel low-in system on the tower at his shop. When lockups occurred during band openings, the owner of the Fort Lauderdale repeater would contact the guy in Ocala (Central FL)  and ask him to change his PL. (They were both 1A). The other guy declined, saying all his users were on 1A and could not afford new resonators. Our friend contacted the Council; we requested the guy in Ocala to convert within six months. He refused, on the excuse that he could not afford to replace his duplexer. (This is a man who works for a radio shop!) Then the fireworks started; our friend, who was not without influence in the business world, called EF Johnson Corporate and indicated that he might have to reconsider their upcoming lease renewal unless they took the necessary measures to address the interference to his amateur system originating from their Ocala shop.

The manager of said shop ordered the tech to shut down the offending repeater immediately, on pain of his job. That ended the debate, but unfortunately the tech and his father, who was involved with the local EOC in that area, believed that the Council had conspired with the man in Fort Lauderdale to "crush the poor kid". At the Council meeting during the 1986 Orlando show, those two and their friends tried to hijack the organisation; they failed by 1 vote. We actually had to drag somebody out of the loo to come and vote in the crucial election.

Then there were the eight guys who were operating on a simplex frequency -146.460 - on the West Coast. That frequency was the input of a 147.060 repeater in Stuart, on the east coast. There was frequent interference during periods of anoprop. The repeater trustee approached the Council; we identified the group and its ringleader, and wrote them requesting that they move off 146.46, as it was a legitimate repeater input by local option (147.660 is the alternate). Our letter contained a caveat to the effect that if they did not comply with our request within a reasonable time, we would hand the matter over to the FCC.

The guys on the west coast copped an attitude, and even increased their power. So we passed the dossier to the Miami FCC field office. The EIC wrote them, warning them that they were in breach of FCC regulations, and instructing them to move off the repeater input. The problem went away, except for the politics. Our local ARRL rep had nominated me for the VRAC (ARRL VHF/UHF Repeater Advisory Council), and gaining a seat on that body would have been quite an honour. But then - I got a whiney phone call from Frank Butler, W4RH, the then ARRL section manager. Frank asked: "Why did you turn my friends into the FCC?" "Because they were in breach of FCC regs, were causing deliberate interference to a repeater, and refused to comply with our request to cease operating simplex on the repeater input." He then hinted that my goose was henceforth cooked for life as far as any ARRL office was concerned. As a result, I left the League and did not rejoin for several years.

One day in 1985, we received a letter from some character in Vero Beach (about 100km north of where I used to live) requesting the coordination of an ATV beacon on 436 MHz, with 1kW EIRP. 436 MHz just happens to be smack in the middle of the 435 ~ 438 MHz amateur-satellite downlink band allocated by the ITU. I called him to inform him of this fact, and to explain that we were legally bound to refuse his request. So the guy got very huffy; when I mentioned that 435 ~ 438 MHz was a protected international allocation, he asked why such a "foreign" rule should be binding upon a licensed US radio amateur.  I then replied that the US, as an ITU member and signatory, was bound by the ITU radio treaties, which the US Senate had ratified. I concluded the conversation by suggesting that if this arrangement displeased him, he might consider writing his Senator. "I think I might just do that", he growled, and hung up. That was the last we heard from him.

There were several cases in we had to travel to a rural community to adjudicate disputes involving co-channel interference between two coordinated systems. (If one of the parties was uncoordinated, the case was clear; the FCC favours the coordinated party.) Our S.O.P. was to convene a dinner meeting at a local pizzeria, with a pitcher or two of draft beer. We managed to settle all these situations; in a couple of cases the Council had to buy one of the parties a new set of crystals, as the previous coordinator had screwed up. We received our share of lawyers' letters too; for this reason we had the Repeater Council incorporated by state charter to eliminate personal liability. One case involved a Hispanic group in Miami and a small group of IBM engineers in Boca Raton, both claiming 147.120. As they were < 85 miles apart, they could not be co-channel. So we pulled 147.105 from a club which had sat on it for 10 years without benefit of RF hardware (that surprised them!) and moved the IBM guys onto 105. Then we convened a dinner meeting, where everybody hugged, shook hands and celebrated with pizza & brew.

We wrote a repeater coordination policy which endures to this day. We also took the pioneering step of protecting packet frequencies (even announcing a comment period). This created a permanent alliance between the FRC and the state packet body, FADCA (Florida Amateur Digital Communications Assoc.) Here is the link: http://florida-repeaters.org/coordpol.htm 

In 1986, as our term was ending, the FRC established eight coordination districts covering the entire State of Florida. Each district assigns specific CTCSS codes in order to minimise co-channel interference during anoprop band openings. At the present time (2014), no new carrier-squelch repeaters will be coordinated.

Two of our rules which helped eliminate a lot of abuses were the FRC's refusal to honour any request for an unlisted repeater pair, and our agreement with the ARRL to keep uncoordinated listings out of the ARRL Repeater Directory. One bloody-minded individual who had threatened to sue us because we would not issue him a low-in UHF pair sent a list of about a dozen pairs, on 6m, 2m and 70cm, with links etc., to the ARRL Repeater Directory editor. Of course, these pairs were neither coordinated nor backed by hardware. Till the day he died, (which he did in 1989 from complications of neurological damage resulting from a motorcycle accident) he must have wondered why his list of "stuff" never showed up in the book.  We also conducted ongoing research with the aid of auxiliaries with suitably-equipped radios to identify "paper tigers" (coordinated but unused pairs) and retrieve them  for reallocation to people who had hardware, but no pair.

We interpreted coordination rules rigorously. One client, a broadcast engineer, threatened to put a 10m repeater on an interstitial channel (5 kHz from a coordinated channel). We asked him how he would like it if a pirate set up shop a half-channel away from his employer's assigned frequency. He backed off.

Then there was the FRC election at the Orlando Hamfest in 1986, in which a group headed by the father of the EF Johnson tech referred to earlier tried to sandbag the election. We had to haul a voting member out of the loo to give our side the one additional vote needed to block this takeover bid!

When we finally stepped down in 1986, we had truly endured enough of this BS to last a lifetime.

By mid-1986, when I was due to move to Germany, I had become so sick of the political garbage that I resigned from the Repeater Council, and donated my 443.3/147.315 system to the Red Cross. Since then, I have served as an officer in a couple of local clubs - mostly problem-free. But although I am now an ARRL member, I shall never again seek office with that organization.

"Oh my, he runs uncoordinated repeaters!" From my days in the Florida Repeater Council (FRC), I recall that the operators of uncoordinated repeaters were virtual pariahs in our system. They  had no standing, and could count on no interference protection if they were co-channel with a coordinated system within 140 km or less. Quite to the contrary, FCC regulations require an uncoordinated repeater to yield to a coordinated one - either by changing frequency and seeking coordination, or by going dark. The FCC's enforcement arm, under Riley Hollingsworth, is currently adjudicating a number of these cases.

During my FRC tenure, we resolved several interference cases of this sort by pressuring the uncoordinated party to QSY or move location. In one case, we got the FCC involved, and they took one guy off the air because he interfered with a coordinated repeater, and refused to apply for coordination himself. (He had a problem complying with our coordination policy, and did not want to put his signature to it.)

We ensured that uncoordinated systems were prominently listed as such; we also obtained the ARRL's cooperation in listing in their Repeater Directory only repeater records supplied by the FRC. We also refused to coordinate "unlisted" so-called private systems.  

Closed repeaters should not be allowed. ITU and national radio  regulations state very clearly that no amateur licensee has exclusive use of, or title to, any specific frequency or band. 

The people under our jurisdiction in FL who really got stinking mad were the few operators of uncoordinated "closed" systems in Northern Florida and the Panhandle who suddenly found a coordinated open repeater in Georgia or Alabama co-channel with them. We would not recognise their "prior presence" as "prior right" to the channel, but consistently told them: "If you had applied for coordination like a civilised human being, you would never have got yourself into this pickle." We did not knowingly coordinate a new system "on top of" an existing uncoordinated one; however, on 2m in the major metro areas, we always tried to get the uncoordinated guy to seek coordination, perhaps with some changes in power and/or antenna height, so that he and the other party could coexist. There were simply no free 2m channels in Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach Counties, Orlando, or the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. We often had to accommodate newcomers on 220 or 440.

It is interesting that in Europe, the radio licensing authorities will not issue a repeater licence unless the applicant can prove coordination by the national amateur radio society of his country.

Considering all of this, one must regard operation of an extensive repeater system  without benefit of coordination as somewhat irresponsible and immature. The operator stands to lose his considerable investment in hardware, time etc., to say nothing of his users' contributions in money, equipment, time etc., if the FCC shuts him down over an interference issue involving a coordinated system. 


1 thought on “FRC history by Adam Farson, VA7OJ/AB4OJ”

  1. If we’re going down memory lane… I knew the “Far Eastern Student” quite well. He was quite bright technically, but being young, was ill-equipped to deal with all the political detritus that comes with running a repeater coordinating body. He was actually ahead of his time in even having a “database”. The term was generally unknown by most, and there weren’t very many computers around then. File cards were the accepted method. He kept getting his student visa extended, as the situation in Indonesia where he was from was quite volatile. Probably still is.

    The 2-meter “sub-band” had just become available, and I applied for and received coordination for 145.45 in Pinellas Park under my callsign of the time, WD4KEZ. When I left the state a few years later it was transferred to a friend of mine of the time, who held it and operated a repeater on the frequency until pretty recently. He still operates a 440 machine all these years later. The two meter frequency was sucked into the same black hole that pretty much all unused pairs seem to go into in the Tampa Bay area. 440 was a no-mans land back then. The Florida Power guys built a very nice system with antennas on the power plants. I remember W4CF, WA4IBM, and a few others with a killer 2-meter remote base running with a remote-controlled beam on one of the 440 machines, on the Anclote power plant I think. You could talk over most of the state with the thing. My first 440 rig was a GE Prog-Line with a lot of “heated glass transistors” ! Many years later I came back, and all of that was gone – but progress has to happen…

    FWIW, I’m not even bothering to send in coordinations. As far as I’m concerned the FRC is not a legitimate body any longer. I hope there’s an alternative soon.

    Dave NX4y ex N4DAV ex WD4KEZ

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