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Foundations of Amateur Radio #162:

Created by Onno VK6FLAB on 2018-07-14
Programming Repeaters ... Revisited.

It seems that when you categorically state something, like I did recently, you get emails and feedback, almost immediately, pointing out the folly of your assertion.

Within the context of setting up your radio, an hour before you go away, I intended to convey: "One thing I can categorically state is that programming your radio manually just before your holiday is really something that you should try and avoid."

That's not what I actually said. I missed out on the "just before your holiday" in that sentence. The upshot was that I received lots of feedback, some tips and different suggestions on how to do this and do it well.

As I hinted at, you should know how to program your hand held. It's almost an essential life-skill. I generally take a copy of my manual with me, either on actual paper, you know, dead-tree variety, or as electrons as a PDF on my phone or other screen-based gadget.

That doesn't mean I like programming my radio. In fact I will be so bold as to assert that I hate manually programming any of my radios. The process is tedious, non-obvious, with a process seemingly written for ENIAC in 1946 when you toggled bits on a panel to program a computer. Yes, that's a slight exaggeration, but not by much.

Anyway, given that this is such a chore, I tend to avoid it like the plague and only in case of an emergency, do I break out the user manual and poke through 17 pages of arcane button pushing-fu, to get the job done, without hopefully clearing a memory I had programmed before.

One of the emails I received, in fact the first one, was from Andrew KF7CCC. He very kindly pointed out the error of my ways, and I agree with him. One of the points that Andrew and others have made is that a defining characteristic of being a radio amateur is that we're frequency agile. That's not something that most other radio users are familiar with. They have a list of channels to pick from and switch between them. In amateur radio we have access to a VFO, a Variable Frequency Oscillator which allows us to change frequency at will.

Of course we should all be able to change frequency as the need arises. Sitting on two different channels, pre-programmed into our radios is like being users, rather than inventors of radio, shock, horror.

Andrew also mentions a book he's written. In one of the opening paragraphs he says: "This book shouldn't exist." and goes on to explain why the "Handheld Radio Field Guide" is a book that should be made obsolete by sanity entering into the process of programming a radio. I agree with the sentiment. We really have this insane configuration where each brand does it differently, and often within a brand, each model is different. Andrew makes a series of suggestions in his book and I think it's a great starting point for discussion.

As I started with, I received lots of feedback.

One suggestion was that radios should have an on-board GPS and should automatically know, based on location, which repeaters are nearby. That in turn will create a debate about where the list of repeaters comes from. Such a system appears to exist. At least one manufacturer, Icom does such a thing, but opinions appear to differ on its effectiveness.

Another was that you should program the repeater networks into your radio, so when you head away from your home, you have access to the widest range of options.

All this talk of repeaters started a lament by some that repeaters are dead and that they are not being used. Others said the opposite and welcomed new calls regularly.

I am an IT geek. I wonder if we could create a ping of sorts where a radio transmits a broadcast request for nearby repeaters and that each in turn sends a response, collected by the radio and neatly added to the list of local repeaters. If it sounds familiar, that's because in computing we do this all the time with all manner of different gadgets like printers on our local network. In fact, your radio could just listen for repeater idents and store them. Given that a repeater identifies itself regularly, that's a way we could create a repeater map locally.

What ever your poison, as-in, choice of radio, figuring out what to use it for is part of the adventure. You should know your radio inside and out. Read your user manual once in a while, I know I do, every couple of months or so, and each time I learn something new.

"One thing I can categorically state is that programming your radio manually just before your holiday is really something that you should try and avoid."

I'm Onno VK6FLAB

To listen to the podcast, visit the website: http://podcasts.itmaze.com.au/foundations/ and scroll to the bottom for the latest episode. You can also use your podcast tool of choice and search for my callsign, VK6FLAB, or you can read the book, look for my callsign on your local Amazon store, or visit my author page: http://amazon.com/author/owh

If you'd like to participate in discussion about the podcast or about amateur radio, you can visit the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/foundations.itmaze

Feel free to get in touch directly via email: onno@itmaze.com.au, or follow on twitter: @vk6flab (http://twitter.com/vk6flab/)

If you'd like to join the weekly net for new and returning amateurs, check out the details at http://ftroop.vk6.net, the net runs every week on Saturday, from 00:00 to 01:00 UTC on Echolink, IRLP, AllStar Link and 2m FM via various repeaters.