The History of the WØEEE & WRØAIN
146.94 & 145.450 MHz Repeaters
Entire history originally compiled by Ken Cechura, KC9UMR
Please note: This history was compiled from the emails sent to Ken from alumni of the club. We are still missing some bits, especially in the mid 1970’s and the mid 1990’s. If you have something to contribute, we welcome your stories.
1974 Written by Steve Maddy (KEØQZ?), and Randy Tucker(WB9FSL/4)
The 2M repeater was originally built in 1973? or 1974, I’m not absolutely sure without further investigation, by a club member named Steve Maddy, ex/WAØTQG, ex/WD9DQG, current/KEØQZ. The original repeater operated on 146.28/88. The equipment was a railroad version of a Motorola Motran (a solid state version of the Motrac). Not having the funds for a duplexer, the vertical separation of antennas was used, as you stated in your previous notes. As this was less than acceptable, a split site was devised, using a receiver installed on the tower of Ed Hoffmister WØLLU, now a silent key. Ed linked the input back to the station in the basement of the Rolla Building on 440. The installation at Ed’s QTH was one to be seen. The receiver, preamp, COR and 440 link xmtr were tied together with clip leads. A real work of art. This did solve the problem of de-sense, and the station operated that way for 2 or more years.
The station in the Rolla building had a army surplus audio compressor on its input (Ed worked at Ft. Wood as a electronics tech). A whisper in the local mic, was the same as a full 5 kHz test tone. Battery backup was really unique. We received about 50 large Ni-Cad primary cells from the Geophysics Department (I worked there as a electronics tech). We sold all but 12 of the batteries to raise money, and used the 12 remaining as a battery backup supply for the repeater. These batteries were installed in the storeroom in the basement of the Rolla building, beside the shack, and wiring was run to the repeater in the main shack. The batteries could run the repeater at full power for a week without charge. Talk about overkill.
Antenna feed line from the repeater to the antenna was nitrogen filled hard line. We ‘borrowed’ a nitrogen bottle to charge the line from some department on campus, I don’t remember who, but by the time they got the bottle back, the demerage on the bottle was staggering.
I don’t remember when the repeater went off the air, or changed frequencies. I graduated in Dec 74′, along with Steve Maddy, so someone else took over after that. I do remember hearing it was changed to 34/94 as some point, and even to a 145 split later on. The original call sign was set for W0EEE/R, but in those days you had to have a separate license for repeaters, and the FCC wouldn’t give us that call sign, so that’s where the WRØAIN call came in.
You’re right about the diode programming being state of the art. We didn’t buy much in those days. Every thing was hand built, generally in the EE lab or Physics lab (Steve was a electronics tech in Physics). We were experts at copying PC boards.
Ward came along a couple of years behind me, so he should be able to fill in after 1974 for a couple of years. I did return to Rolla for Field Day a couple of times after graduation, but after a while, you don’t know anyone, and working tends to get in the way.
Several people were involved in the 2 meter repeater but I did the equipment modification, wrote the license application and acted as control station. At the time all of the 2 meter rigs were converted from surplus commercial 2 way radios (most of them tube type). The repeater at WØEEE was a donated Motorola Motran (solid state). Since we could not afford a duplexer we used separate antennas for TX/RX. Because of this we had some de-sense that limited the performance and range of the repeater. The control was on 450MHz using an old Motorola tube type receiver. I built a touch-tone decoder for the remote control, a CW ID circuit and the other misc. control circuits. I was living in a trailer about 10 miles out of town and could enable or disable the repeater over the 450 link.
We had obtained some Ni-Cad batteries from one of the departments on campus. Most of them were bad and we sold them for salvage cost but we still had enough to power the repeater. The batteries were kept on a trickle charge and were good for several days of continuous operation on a power failure (these were BIG batteries). The coax to feed the antennas was air line that I found at the government surplus warehouse in Jefferson City. We found out why it was such a good deal since we could never get it to seal and went through a lot of nitrogen in the process.
1978 – 1980 Written by Al Rothermich WBØQLU
I arrived on the scene in August 1978 and the club’s repeater was operational on 146.34/94. The call sign was WRØAIN. While originally a split site setup with the receiver on top of the ‘old” TJ Hall and linked on 447 MHz, for whatever reason the club had lost access to TJ before I arrived. And so at this time the repeater was located entirely within the confines of the basement of the Rolla building. The receiver and transmitter were strips scavenged from an old Heathkit HW-202. The control circuitry was based on 555 timers, with the CW ID a moldy oldy design using early 7400 TTL series multiplexers / de-multiplexers and diodes (believe it or not this was state of the art at the time….). The audio oscillator used for the courtesy beep and ID-er resided in a manila envelope (presumably to insulate the PC board from the chassis). The antennas were Cushcraft Ringo Rangers mounted on the club tower on top of the Rolla Building with the receive antenna about 40 feet higher than the transmit antenna; an old trick to minimize desense when you couldn’t afford a duplexer!
Now there were a few problems with this setup…the control logic had a nasty tendency to lock up in the key down state (the problem defied troubleshooting, and likely was some sort of an RFI problem). The repeater was locked up in the back room of the club area, and due to security and control issues only the Station Manager (a club officer) had a key to this room. Obviously another means was required to allow a positive method of shutting off the transmitter when the control circuitry decided to lock up, and so a toggle switch was placed in a window of the basement shack so that any club member could disable the repeater 24 hours a day. The courtesy beep oscillator had a nasty tendency to sound like anything but a nice sine wave (or in this case “almost square” wave). Lets just say the repeater had it’s own personality.
At some point in the next few years between decreasing reliability of the UMR repeater, lack of time, money and desire by the club members, as well as enhancements to the Rolla Regional Clubs machine on 146.79, the repeater went off the air. Eventually due to inactivity, the club lost frequency coordination on the 146.34/94 pair.
1980 (Silence) Written by John Flint KAØLDB
I arrived at UMR in the fall of 1980. There had been a repeater on air previously, but none at this time. I believe it was 146.34/94 MHz. The shack was in the basement of the Rolla building with the antenna farm up on the roof. As I recall, the left over parts from the repeater consisted of:
- 1 watt VHF Engineering TX strip
- Motorola Motrac (early solid state, but a workhorse in the 70’s) high band receiver
- Motorola 80D UHF tube type link receiver
- Motorola speaker mounted on a rack panel (still in use as the repeater photo on the web site attests)
- I think a 1 watt UHF VHF Engineering strip as a link TX.
- I do not recall any controllers, power supplies or other items.
Al Rothermich (WBØQLU), Mahlon Haunschild (N4EEE and a multitude of other calls) and I set to work on putting a repeater back on the air.
1981 (145.450 Goes On The Air)
The new repeater was coordinated through the Missouri Repeater Council and assigned a frequency of 145.450 MHz. The initial configuration consisted of the 1 watt transmitter, Motrac receiver, and a discrete logic controller board. The TX strip was re-tuned to 145.450 and fed into about 30 feet of RG-8 cable and ¼ wave ground plane antenna mounted on the fire escape ladder on the side of the Rolla building. ERP was probably around ½ watt! The receiver was also re-tuned and connected through a 100-150 foot run of RG-8. to a Ringo Ranger on the roof of the Rolla Building.
About this time the FCC also quit issuing “WR” repeater callsigns, and went to the format familiar today of “callsign / R”. Thus came the necessity to change the club repeater’s callsign from WRØAIN to WØEEE/R. This presented quite a conundrum to the club, as it was nearly impossible to reprogram the old diode matrix ID-ers without documentation. Several humorous interim measures were applied using readily available parts. The first was a homebrew design by Al Rothermich using a static RAM chip (hello Radio Shack!!) which had to be programmed bit by bit. While this design did work, the RAM chip required continuous power application to maintain memory. Let’s just say that between the Rolla Building’s intermittent electrical mains and the club’s not so reliable power supplies, there were a few occasions of VERY interesting sounding repeater identifications, and lots of time spent reprogramming ( too bad gelcells weren’t in vogue at the time) . A second interim step made use of the club’s brand spankin’ new MFJ memory keyer, which while it worked great tended to rouse the anger of the club’s CW enthusiasts !!
Soon after this, the antennas were moved to the ME building and an AEA Isopole was mounted on the top of the mast for receive and a side mounted Isopole served as the transmit antenna. These were each initially fed through about 200 feet of FM-8 (fancy RG-8). Later, the FM-8 was replaced by ½ inch TV hardline (75 ohm).
The discrete controller board was built from a magazine article in a late 1970’s 73 magazine. Suburban Radio Club in St. Louis made up the PC boards. The component mounting holes were hand drilled with a Dremel tool and the components mounted. No hi-tech here, 7400 series logic (5 VDC and very power hungry) and a electrolytic capacitor connected across the PTT relay coil for the hang timer. The Id’er was programmed with a diode matrix, one for each Morse code element. Simple, but it worked well. At this same time, the 146.850 and 145.370 repeaters in St. Louis also used these controllers. Micro-controllers were new and expensive. They had just started to be used in repeater controllers.
This controller did not have any remote control capability. Since the shack was located in the basement of the Rolla building, the only way for the club members to access the shack and repeater was to check out a key from the Student Union (when they were open). Because of these two reasons, and in case the repeater went out to lunch during the evening or on a weekend, a toggle switch was mounted on small bracket on the outside of one of the basement windows. This switch would kill the repeater until, someone could get inside and make the necessary repairs. Always wondered what the university police would do if they found someone in the bushes looking for that switch!
In this configuration, the repeater coverage extended to the far reaches of the campus! It was however on the air and working. There were probably 6 or so students with 2-meter rigs and several local hams that used the machine. It was a nice addition to Rolla since at that time, the 146.790 machine was on the air, but 10-15 air miles away and marginal use with a handy talkie and rubber duck.
The Motorola Motrac receiver either died or heard so poorly that the club decided to replace it. A GE Exec receiver was bought from Gregory Electronics and tuned up on the input frequency. Sensitivity was adequate, but the front end was very wide. GLB Electronics made a GasFET Pre-amp, which used helical resonators in the front end. Very nice. This pre-amp coupled with the GE receiver made a nice tight repeater receiver. (Not sure why Joe indicates below that it did not work well, perhaps something failed)
There was one nuisance signal on the input frequency that we believe was the local oscillator from a nearby scanner (or the leaky Rolla Cable TV system which had one of those lettered cable channels right in the middle of the 2M band). I think there was a public service frequency at 155.550, which is 10.7 MHz above the repeater input frequency. For a long time, every few seconds, the repeater would key up. PL (CTCSS) was not very common on 2 meters in those days, which could have prevented the problem.
The audio mixing on this initial system was pretty poor and just lashed together. The audio was “mushy” and adjusting any control would affect the other inputs. Mahlon Haunschild designed and built an audio mixer over a school break. It worked great. Nothing fancy, but a couple of Op-Amps and handful of other parts. The design was expanded and several more of these were built. I ended up creating a PC board layout and writing an article for 73 Magazine (July 1989).
The repeater output power of 1 watt was not cutting it. Gateway Electronics in St, Louis was selling PC boards from a defunct Marine FM radio manufacturer. Many hams were cutting off (with a hack saw!) the Power Amplifier from the back of the transceiver board and wiring them into their cars as an HT amp. The club procured one of these boards and with trusty hack saw in hand, performed surgery. Mounted in new chassis and rack panel, the transmitter would put out 30 watts. The efficiency was poor and the heat sink got hot, but it worked. I believe this transmitter is still in service almost 20 years later.
Mahlon worked at International Harvester as a co-op and had a couple of 8048 microcontrollers programmed for a repeater controller described in a magazine article. This may have been one of the first microprocessor-based controllers. As a summer project, Al Rothermich (with lots of moral support from John managed to interface this 8048 with the existing repeater hardware going off of nothing more than a chip pinout with some acronyms for pin functions (apparently the original article had been lost and Mahlon couldn’t be tracked down…) Once up and operational, the discrete controller was retired.
The Motorola Speaker and rack panel was re-painted and a local audio amplifier added. Flat grey paint was in vogue at the time. The Motorola legend was detailed using a red Sharpie Permanent Ink Marker. After graduating, Al Rothermich modified an old phone service relay control board procured at Gateway Electronics into a touch-tone decoder (zillions of discrete logic chips). This attempt met with limited operational success.
1985 and Up Written by Joe Haas KEØFF
Ray Cross built a controller/phone patch in the mid 80’s and I added to this by retrofitting the phone patch using a 6502 SBC to act as a phone patch controller. The phone patch controller did phone number verification (at the time, Rolla only had two exchanges, 364 and 341) and DTMF re-dial. There was also CW telemetry and call timers.
I missed the fall-85 semester on co-op…when I returned in ’86, the club had acquired the duplexers that are now at TJ. At some point, we put up some 75ohm cable TV hard line and a diamond dual-band antenna. We also bought a 100W amp and drove the local cable TV company off of channel 18 (145.26mhz).
During the 86-87 time frame, I decommissioned the 6502 based phone patch and began building the FF-80 (I took the patch controller off-line to *encourage* the construction of the new system…this was only marginally successful as it took a couple of years to get the FF-80 on-line). The FF-80 was a full-fledged repeater controller with integrated power supply and auto-patch. It also had an LCD display and local microphone. I used a General Instruments speech synthesizer that Radio Shack sold for a while. It was crappy, but it used a text to speech algorithm, so it had a theoretically unlimited vocabulary. In practice, some pronunciations were not acceptable, so you had to play with word spellings to get intelligence out of it. I graduated in ’89 and promptly moved to Rolla, Mo…can’t you just FEEL the joy??? I had fantasized about marketing the FF-80, but I didn’t like the synthesizer (not in a house, not on a train!!) so I vowed to never sell one. OK, I did sell one to a guy in Springfield (WCØE) and I built another, which I donated to a 220 group in Raytown, MO.
But I digress… I wrote a paper about the controller and entered in several student paper contests. The results were pretty good, but the 3rd place finish in the Motorola design contest did the most for my future controller offspring. The Macintosh that I won was used to write the FF-800 software. This new controller was to use the same speech synthesizer that ACC used in their systems, but had much better speech quality at the expense of a limited vocabulary. In any case, I spent the first couple of years of the 90’s building a prototype and writing software. I re-used a lot of the FF-80 code, but I also added a lot of features. I put the prototype on the air sometime in the ‘92-93 time frame. The software was rather buggy, and I had to make several late night trips to the shack to reset the controller after it locked up on the air. I spent another couple of years perfecting the software and laying out the first PC board.
During this time, we replaced the GE Exec RX with a GE Master-PRO RX donated by Ed Hoffmeister, WØLLU (SK). This greatly improved reception. We later moved the RX to the new site at TJ. However, this site only made it easier to pick up interference and we quickly moved to Ed’s tower via a UHF link to the repeater at the Rolla building.
During the 94-96 time frame, I added an HF remote base and VHF remote base to allow remote operation of the IC-735 and IC-901 stations. This included HF antenna selection and antenna azimuth. I also added a simple DVR that I later expanded to the model currently installed.
I had gathered some INTEL about the proposed radio club ouster from its long-time home (Rolla building), but never gave it much credit. However, somewhere near the ’96 time frame, this “nightmare” came to fruition and the radio club was forced to vacate the Rolla building. In order to preserve the operation of the repeater (the TX was still at the Rolla building when the move was called) we moved the repeater to TJ and the rest of the station to the Beuhler building. This meant that the HF and VHF remotes were no longer viable and had to be dismantled. At some point in the mid-90’s (I’m not sure when) the UHF repeater was added to the system. This was also moved to TJ. Ed’s 220 TX was also moved there as part of the reciprocal agreement that allowed us to use one of his antennas for our 2M RX. This is how things remained until Ed passed away.
At this point, the history is pretty much current. Any further notations would have to come from others, as I have not been privy to the details of the repeater since I left in mid-’97. At its peak, you could work the repeater from Sullivan with a 25W mobile (much farther from a base station). We regularly got DX into the system from STL. That is mostly why we added CTCSS in the mid-90’s.
1999 to 2000 written by Brad Ziegler, KCØCDG
When I came to UMR in 1999, there wasn’t much activity on the repeater. I was told for the most part that nobody used it much. That all changed when myself and other began carrying around our HT’s and actually using it on a daily basis between classes and at odd hours. It was about September of 1999 that we decided to cancel the weekly Tuesday night nets for lack of partcipation. I can remember one time shortly after that we started holding informal nets at odd hours, depending on the activity we were partipating in, voluntarily or involuntarily. The TJ Fire Alarm net still is a popular one today to start up when the fire alarm at TJ Hall goes off in the middle of the night. The repeater was finally seeing action.
Of course, I always thought the repeater audio sounded terrible for some reason, but I could never isolate the problem. It was during this time that I put the club back in contact with Joe Haas, KE0FF, who had previously worked on the repeater and had designed the controller. It turned out that he had an upgrade for to send us for the controller. So, in the middle of September 1999, we pulled the entire repeater down, less the cavaties and antennas for I doubbed “Repeater Work Weekend ’99.”. Actually, it was really an opportunity for me and others to get the know the entire repeater and how it worked. During this time, new patch cables were purchased for hooking up the equipment and we attempted to adjust the audio settings on the repeater to no avail. After breaking the memory upgrade Joe had sent us and almost frying the FF-800 controller, the repeater was put back online. Of course, it took a little more than that, since the FF-800 had been reset, so I set to work reprogramming it. The audio problem remained unsolved.
Well, a month later in October, the 440 transmitter died on us. For some reason, it just stopped transmitting the way it was supposed to. Unfortunately, we did not have a backup to replace it with, as this was the transmitter that originally operated the link when the repeater’s main receiver was located at Ed’s (W0LLU) tower. With no backup, the 440 side of the repeater became silent and has remained that way ever since. The 440 RX continues to work though.
In December of 1999 just before school let out for Winter Recess, the two meter RX ceased to work as well. With barely any time to work on it during finals, the entire repeater was shut down. Luckily just before my departure for Winter Break, I figured out we could operate the repeater in crossband mode at least for the time being (seeing the 440 RX and two meter TX both worked). Right on the day of my return to UMR (a couple of days early), my brother Bryan (KC0EWD) happened to find a two meter receiver located in a box of old repeater parts, probably from the old W0LLU link. Fortunate for us, it also was tuned for our frequency and basically ready to go. It was put online almost immediately and after some minor adjustments to the audio settings on the repeater, it was ready to go.
This fixed the audio problems that I previously spoke about, but now created another problem in itself–deafness. Of course, the repeater sounded great and you could hear it anywhere around the area (received reports from Jefferson City and Northern Arkansas), but you couldn’t key it up unless you were within about five miles of Rolla (downtown). And that’s about the way it has remained.
The FF-800, old two meter RX (a GE Master Pro strip), and the failed 440 TX were all sent to Joe to see what he could do. A backup controller (SCOM 5K) was brought in to power the repeater for the period when the FF-800 was in for service. Joe informed us that the 440 TX was basically DOA and not worth fixing. The problems with the Master Pro receiver were isolated to the FF-08 control board connected to it (originally used when it was out as a remote receiver at W0LLU’s tower) and were repaired. The FF-800 received an overhaul and some major upgrades and was finally returned to us in March of 2000.
Joe visited us in May, 2000 and brought the Master Pro RX back with him. It was put online, but still had audio problems (it sounded muffled). I tried adding a little preamp circuit to the RX to help with reception, but it only did a moderate job. The Master Pro was taken offline and we were back to the “backup” two meter RX again. The repeater continues to operate in that condition today.
In November of 2000, we purchased a CAT (Computer Automation Technology) WX-1000 Weather Receiver with SAME technology built in, to allow us to get Phelps County weather information quickly and hopefully jump start the Skywarn program in Rolla. The new antennas for the repeater were also decided on after some discussion and ordered (a Diamond F23A for two meters, and a Hustler G6-440 for the 440 side). It was also around this time that we purchased the old St. Charles Amateur Radio Club’s (WB0HSI) linked repeater system for $750.00. It included the main site setup (RX and TX), two link site setups (2 meter RX’s, link TX & RX pairs), and a Mirage 150 watt TX amplifier. A fellow ham (Mickey, KB0ZVB) delivered it to us down in Rolla about a month later. The crystals for it were ordered just before I left for Thanksgiving break (literally hours before).
2000-2001 (By Ken Cechura, KC9UMR)
After Thanksgiving break of 2000, we returned to go on a wild goose chase of sorts to try and find the crystals we had ordered. Once they were found, it was discovered that they weren’t the right style case! A quick call to Bomar crystal resolved the issue, as they sent us the correct crystals free of charge. Previously, we had set a goal to have the structure atop TJ built and in use by St. Pat’s break of winter semester 2001. As spring break came and went, we found that we could not reasonably meet this goal, so over St. Pat’s weekend, a few of us remained in Rolla (The Horror!!) and went up on TJ and installed the 2″ heavy-walled conduit as masts for the antennas. There are also 2 pieces of 2″ conduit running through the wall (one for each mast) for feedheads. Soon after, an Alumni, John Flint, came down to help us install the new antennas. A few weeks later, John returned to help retune the 2M cavaties, during which time it was found that they were badly out of tune, being optimized at 146.060MHz!! When John returned to help tune the cavities, he also brought along a 440 MHz repeater, less the controller and a reciever. This repeater was set up temporarily with the S-com 5K controller and the club’s 440 MHz reciever in the shack. While testing the repeater, a severe deficiency was noticed concerning the coverage of the machine, and it was decided that the tri-band vertical needed to be investigated. Upon inspection of the tower site (and some playing with the HF antennas while we were at it), no problems were found. upon inspecting and replacing the “N” connector in the shack, the SWR on the vertical dropped from nearly infinite, to nearly zero.
2010 – Present, Rebirth and Growth (By Barry Preston, KC0YDZ)
When Sterling Kawfey (N0SSC) and I started at S&T the club was very small. The 2m 145.450 Repeater was maintained by Joe Counsil (K0OG) from RRARS.
In late 2011 or early 2012 we received a 70cm DStar repeater from ICOM. It took a while to get it running correctly but we finally did. Then at some point due to IT Network changes the ports that DStar required were blocked. In Spring 2016 after going back and forth with IT & Security they agree to open some ports for us. At this same time due to unforeseen issues we had to replace the DStar controller computer which required us to reinstall the G2 software. Due to the strict installation and OS requirements we struggled with getting it installed. Finally in Spring 2017 ICOM issued a software update. G3 was much better and Kyle Robertson (KE0JZF) was able to get G3 installed on a fresh system, then thanks to the assistance from George Schindler (WB0IIS) we were able to get it configured and back connected to the DStar network.
During Spring 2016 Ian Ahner (W0IAN) switched out the 2m’s controller to a Raspberry Pi for easier control of settings and integration with Echolink.
In Spring 2017 Brad Ziegler donated a new repeater system to replace the dying 2m set up. Due to the new repeater hardware, we had to take Echolink offline but as of current are working on reestablishing Echolink functionality.