In the Beginning
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In the Beginning



I got into Ham Radio, if that’s the right phrase to use, through medium wave land based pirate radio.

When I was at school a guy in the year above me built a transmitter and used to play music after school on approx. 235 metres and called his station Radio Emily.

I was transfixed! I had to have my own station which became known as Radio Martha, don’t ask why! He built the first rig and showed me elementary radio practice, i.e. don’t use wood as a chassis material! I later improved the design by using a buffer between the oscillator and the P.A., improving stability and getting rid of the F.M. component on the medium wave signal.

When I was at college I met a guy who was in my class who I had spoken to using our home built transmitters (all valve incidentally ) and he was a member of an amateur radio club. Instead of afternoons at college, we went to his shack and used the call G4APY on top band. All gear was home-brew or modified PMR equipment.

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His rig on 2-metres was a modified Hudson portable, the same size as a small suitcase! I remember hearing GB3LO for the first time on this rig. I finally took the RAE in 1975 and with the help of a work colleague I got on the air with a modified Pye Cambridge 2-metre mobile FM transceiver. He got the Rx working and I got the Tx working.

Using this rig I used to listen to GB3LO and found to my horror the calibre of ham operating through it!

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I then went to one of the FM group meetings at the Grove Park Hotel in Chiswick to see for myself if there were any sensible home construction types. My suspicions were confirmed. These were people who were social disaster areas! That’s fair enough, many hams are, but they were also something more sinister. They wanted to pose to people, i.e. the general public, to make them wonder if they were some kind of authority, because they had a RADIO in their car. i.e. Police or security forces etc. Most of them did not know the difference between a capacitor and a resistor and probably cared even less. My image of the radio ham had been shattered completely! No longer the experimenter burning the midnight oil, but now the only reason you would hear anyone on the repeater after midnight, or before for that matter, was that they were probably parked outside a pub or hamburger joint with radio turned up so that members of the public would think that they had some kind of authority. Posers in other words!

They had bought their rig from a shop and probably paid someone to install it for them. They push the button on the side of the microphone and call themselves radio hams! Not one bit of themselves are in their equipment, no modifications nothing.

The sinister side became apparent fairly quickly. The RSGB in the beginning did not want repeaters on the ham bands. So the posers decided to form a breakaway group and called it the UKFM group. If the RSGB had stayed firm and ignored this group, the UKFM group would not have lasted a year. Instead the RSGB panicked and gave in to minority pressure. There was never a vote and I still maintain to this day that most hams are anti-repeater.

In protest, many of the hams who were anti-repeater cancelled their membership to the RSGB, others went to other bands, others gave up completely. Some others decided to fight back the only way they knew how.

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One statistic that these posers had not taken into account was that if 1% decided to cause deliberate interference to these repeaters they could stop 90% of all users from successfully operating for 90% of the time.

Repeaters are OK if everyone is for them, for then no interference takes place, but their weakness is that one person can cause bedlam if he so desires. This is because they use FM ( frequency modulation ) and this has a capture effect. The strongest carrier stops others getting through! The practicality of this aspect had never been considered.

Big business was also behind the UKFM group. The introduction of Japanese hand held transceivers by a few ham radio shops was not very successful mainly because of their limited power and range, but if they had repeaters to boost their signals they would cover a much wider area and so become popular.

At the same time the RAE ( radio amateurs exam ) went from a written exam to a multiple choice, making it easier for people to get their ham license. No big deal in itself, but I wonder what pressure the City & Guilds were under to make the exam easier?

The upshot of all this was, that instead of being able to have a reasonably intelligent conversation with other hams, instead of solving technical problems that each other were finding, the rubber stamp QSO was formed thus:-

"The name is Dave QTH is Romford and I’m running a IC201 to a 5/8th’s whip on the car roof " etc.

Anyone can see that listening to this all day, repeated over and over again

( is this why they’re called repeaters ? ) gets somewhat tedious !

This coupled with the fact that the RSGB are always telling us to make efficient use of the spectrum otherwise we could lose frequencies becomes a bit hypocritical. Repeaters use up two 25 Khz channels, one for the link up or input frequency, the other for the boosted output frequency. Compared to C.W. or SSB this is very inefficient. SSB uses 3 Khz and C.W. uses even less. Even A.M. uses approx. 7-8 Khz because both sidebands are present. This is still less than one F.M. channel.

So you would think that I am strictly anti-repeater. I'm not. I am against having repeaters in their present form, but technology has moved forwards.

With cellular infrastructure, many conversations can be put on one carrier frequency or repeater at the same time. This system is known as TDMA ( Time Domain Multiple Access ) where timeslots are used and the speech is digitised. Packet radio uses X25 protocol and uses one frequency for both Tx and Rx. These types of repeater make efficient use of the spectrum and, incidentally, although they can be jammed, would be more acceptable to the majority of hams I think and would not tend to get jammed so readily. The problem with this type of repeater is that no manufacturer makes equipment for the ham market yet that is digital and can use cellular technology, but if they did up to eight conversations could take place simultaneously on the one repeater.

The upshot of all this then becomes, " Why bother !" If cell phones exist today, then why not use one to phone up complete strangers anyway,

" I’m Fred, and I’m in my car going down the road !" etc. Just as interesting as before and no one else can hear you !! Or maybe, that is what it really is all about. An audience. These people like to think that everybody wants to listen to them!

Is that why they get so upset when they get jammed ?