Operating on Ham Repeaters – Things You May Not Know

You just got your license and first radio.  Chances are it’s a handie-talkie and you are ready to try it out.  Before you start keying repeaters and testing, you need to know a few things. 

§ 97.119 Station identification.

(a) Each amateur station, except a space station or telecommand station, must transmit its assigned call sign on its transmitting channel at the end of each communication, and at least every 10 minutes during a communication, for the purpose of clearly making the source of the transmissions from the station known to those receiving the transmissions. No station may transmit unidentified communications or signals, or transmit as the station call sign, any call sign not authorized to the station.

Unidentified transmissions –  Usually its called “kerchunking” the repeater.   You briefly activate the PTT on your radio and the repeater comes up.  If the repeater has not been keyed up in the past 10 minutes, it will usually identify in Morse code or voice.  Then you move to another repeater and “kerchunk” it.   Although it might be permissible to “kerchunk” the repeater to see if you are able to get into it, it is not permissible to “kerchunk” it and then remain silent or move on to another repeater WITHOUT IDENTIFYING YOUR TRANSMISSIONS!  Good etiquette is to identify your transmission or series of transmissions.   Stating your callsign and you are testing or listening is acceptable.   Not identifying is a violation of the FCC rule above. 

Some repeaters have a feature called “anti-kerchunk” that either delays the transmitter from keying when first detecting a signal or allows the carrier to immediately drop if the signal is not sustained for a certain period of time.  The first method cuts off a second or two of voice because of the delay in the transmitter turning on and the second method does not allow the transmitter to stay turned on during the time window so it immediately turns back off and you get no indicator the repeater is active. 

There is nothing more annoying than the serial “kerchunker” that has to check every repeater in their radio, especially those that do it on a daily basis.   Over the years I’ve heard  a few that had a daily routine.  

Can “kerchunkers” be identified?  Yes they can but it requires some time and monitoring on the part of the repeater owner/trustee.  Law enforcement uses fingerprints to place criminals at the scene of a crime.  “Kerchunkers” always leave a “fingerprint” that can be traced.    Each transmitter has a unique keying  and CTCSS tone  signature.   When a serial offender’s signatures are captured , its just an issue of monitoring other frequencies/repeaters and identifying who the culprit is from captured fingerprints and identified transmissions.   Direction finding can also be used if the signal interval lasts long enough. 

Are you someone that complains because you never hear anyone on a repeater(s)?   Get proactive!  Announce you are listening or monitoring.  You might be surprised that someone is actually listening and willing to talk to you.  Give someone time to respond.  Waiting 15 – 30 seconds after a call might not be waiting long enough to give someone a chance to answer.   Give it a couple minutes.  What time of the day are you making your calls?  Most people work day jobs so 7-3 might be a time when fewer hams are around.  Drive times (before 7 am and after 3 pm) are usually the best times to find someone on the repeater.  If you hear net activity, join in!  When the net ends, there may be some stations that hang around to chat awhile.

Where do you find repeater frequencies and tones?  Publications such as the ARRL repeater directory are only updated once a year.  A couple of good online repeater listings can be found at   Artscipub.com and  Repeaterbook.com.   Keep in mind that the listings are not 100% accurate and rely on user submissions to be kept updated.  Some repeaters may no longer be on the air or off the air due to technical or other issues. 

Would you like to have your own repeater because you don’t hear anyone talking much on nearby repeaters?  Installing and maintaining a repeater requires technical expertise and good test equipment.  Otherwise you will pay someone lots of $$$ to help take care of it unless you have a good friend.  Site location is very important also.  If the repeater location is not high above the average terrain, little would be gained over just normal simplex communications.  It might be in your best interests to help support one of your local repeaters rather than attempt to put one on, especially if you have no communications experience.  Many times the “Build it and they will come” attitude doesn’t work well for long. 

2 meter repeater frequency pairs are very hard to get because almost all have been assigned to someone.  Even “buying” a 2 meter repeater frequency from someone and trying to relocate it does not guarantee the coordinator will allow you to move it to your location.   Putting an uncoordinated repeater on 2 meters may result in letter from the coordinating body demanding you remove it with threats of turning you into the FCC.  Before “buying” any 2 meter repeater frequency or investing in 2 meter repeater equipment, check with the repeater coordinator. 

 UHF repeater pairs are available and the cost to do a UHF repeater is much less expensive.  A 2 meter repeater duplexer will cost $500 plus on the used market while many good duplexers for UHF are priced under $250 on the popular auction site.   There is more surplus equipment available for UHF also.