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Increase Ham Radio Repeater Activity in Your Area!
A "simple" method to help increase the use of your local repeater
by Don Butler, N4UJW 

Recently while traveling the internet, as I do very often, I came across a forum entry on QRZ.com pertaining to increasing ham repeater use and activity when the average use seems to be fading compared to years ago. The forum entry was titled "South Dakota Hams Successfully Reverse Declining Repeater Usage". They have made great strides in improving their repeater usage...you can too....read on.

So if you have read the forum entry above, I am taking their idea one step further by refreshing the memories of the control operators of repeaters according the FCC Part 97 which states:

97.7 Control operation required.

"When transmitting, each amateur station must have a control operator.
The control
operator must be a person:

(a) For whom an amateur operator/primary station license grant appears on the ULS consolidated licensee database, or
(b) Who is authorized for alien reciprocal operation by 97.107 of this part"

A repeater is an "amateur station"! So according the Part 97, a "person", [the control operator], must be monitoring the repeater while in use for proper operation according to the FCC! When a repeater is being monitored by a "real" person, he can shut the repeater down when it is operating outside of the FCC rules. All licensed hams are the control operator of their station.

The forum entry also says that the "Active Monitoring" of the repeaters is done at anytime during the day and evening! WHAT ABOUT THE NIGHTTIME HOURS?

Yes I know, the control operator does not have to answer your calls on the repeater unless he wants to, he just has to monitor any and all operation of the repeater signals that are transmitted over the air to comply with the FCC Part 97 rules. But what if it is 3:00 AM and he is asleep or away from his monitoring requirement duties as required by the FCC? If he WAS the only one listening, then.....No one will hear your call?
This article is not to condem all repeater control operators, just those who are not "on the job" when they should be. It is about recruiting the repeater users who can help out tremendously with creating a repeater that has a reputation for always having someone listening!

We all know that in times of emergencies or other circumstances, ham radio repeaters can get the message across when cell phones fail and that sending a call over a repeater when you are seeking highway aid, emergency help, etc may or may not get you an answer due simply to the fact that NO ONE IS LISTENING! The control operator NEVER HEARD YOUR CALL even though you had a good signal into the repeater!

It seems this is one reason for the lack of repeater use in some areas, especially those areas of the U.S. and other countries that have repeaters few and far between, and it appears to be that although many hams do attempt contacts while traveling using repeaters, no one is listening! So no contacts are made...not even in an emergency. LIVES COULD BE LOST DUE TO THIS and the LACK OF CELL PHONE COVERAGE. So this particular repeater gets a bad rap of not being used....ever. So no one EVER uses it!
It is as simple as that!

We can do little about the lack of cell phone coverage, but we can do something about finding a repeater contact when you need them in a hurry or for just having someone "ride along with you" late at night on that long trip to help keep you awake at the wheel.

How to do it!
Here is how you, the repeater owners, control operators, club stations that have repeaters, repeater users, etc, can have 24 hour "coverage" on your repeaters!
ASK for and get HELP from your fellow ham radio operators who are within range of your repeater!
Establish active "repeater monitors" from among the many users of your repeaters that can "stand guard" a few hours a day (without fail) with the simple task of "just listening" in the background for ANY calls on the repeater AND answer them. These hams would be called the "pool" among other names. They would answer calls and let the ham on the other end know someone WAS listening.
The pool of "repeater monitors" can be any class of licensed ham authorized by their license to use the repeater and they as a whole, have to cover a 24 hour day, 365 days a year, so a few dedicated operators will have to split up the 24 hour coverage among themselves on a regular basis. The more operators that can share some time monitoring on the repeater, the better. This lessens the "load" of a particular operator. They are NOT the control operators, they simply provide a reliable "contact" person/s on the repeater at any time during any 24 hour period and the user of the "machine" knows that "someone", a real live person, is always monitoring the repeater! Now that's 100% round the clock and year round reliability! A repeater that never "sleeps".
Where to get the volunteers for the "pool"???
Many of our ham radio operators nationwide are retired with much time on their hands and many others work "nights" and odd hours and have the ability to monitor a particular repeater frequency for long stretches at a time. Many are just "night owls" that stay on 75/80 meters and rag chew all night long.
These are ideal candidates for "repeater monitors" especially at night.

What is required of them?
All they have to do is keep their 2 meter (or whatever band) rig on and monitor their local repeater for ANY CALLS....and answer them. Let the caller know someone is listening!
It should not be difficult for anyone to have a 2 meter rig going in the background when your having fun on another band like hf. 
These guys and gals who are repeater monitors must be dedicated to serving their fellow hams and their community. If you know security guards on the night shift that are licensed hams, they may be willing to "monitor" your repeaters. Some very small police departments may be persuaded to monitor them also. Having a licensed ham on the police force helps. Licensed security and police officers get very lonesome on those all night jogs in very small departments and may welcome the opportunity to be an "official" repeater monitor! In times of real emergency, they could be priceless!

The repeater monitors should have a landline nearby with important emergency phone numbers for any type of emergency that might come up as a MUST. A good supply of writing materials to take notes if needed should also be handy.
If your on "night duty", lots of coffee if your a coffee drinker would certainly help.
Any or all other "creature comforts" except alcohol, drugs, etc while on duty can make those hours go by quickly.

The roster!
Yes, a roster of repeater monitors would have to be made and published via email, repeater club, or other means and should always be up to date and with a backup person for each time period in case someone has to be "off the air". The backups must be contacted as soon as possible by a reliable means BEFORE his "watch". Times, dates, etc should be included for each repeater monitor well in advance. Someone will have to be "in charge" of getting the current roster together and getting them distributed to all. In the larger repeater coverage areas, there should be at least a few willing hams who would love to have this "position" on the repeater!
Simple station equipment would be required, just a transceiver tuned to the repeater frequency, either mobile or base/ht and a good antenna setup that would yield you the range needed to get into the repeater with a good signal with appropriate AC/DC power for the transceiver. Having backup power would help also.

Access to local weather reports/warnings,  and realtime weather radar via TV or the internet for your area would be an important asset for severe weather notification to the repeater users. Having access to good local police radio monitoring via a scanner (where legal) would also be helpful.

Can you imagine how you would feel on a lonely stretch of road in the dead of winter with the snow flying and it's freezing or below and you know that the area you are in is spotty or non-existant for cell phone usage for miles and miles, BUT, you have that 2 meter radio under the dash and help is as close as the mic if you need it!
More ways to create more repeater usage:
Establish a net each and every night at a reasonable time. Vary the type of net. Use your imagination. Don't have "check in nets" just for the sole purpose of "just checking in"..these can be very dry and boring to most hams.

Get some on the air "Elmers" to answer questions from the "newbies".
Have a "technical" night using someone with a good background in a favorite ham topic.
Have one night or more each week to "CQ" for new hams. Ask for any new hams on frequency. They may be very mic shy. Get them talking!

If your repeater system has limited coverage, think about linking to other repeaters in your area to make your coverage area larger. Get those repeaters to use these ideas also.
Promote your ham club when possible. Give out the ham club repeater frequencies, tones, etc...invite new licensed members.
And above all, promote ham radio when and where you can to new people. If each of the licensed hams in the U.S. recruited only one additional new ham per year, that would double out numbers every year!
Strive to make your repeater or repeater system, 100% contact reliable.
Establish your repeater as one that is well known in the fact that if someone makes a call on your repeater, they will be heard by a real live person regardless of the time of day who will be happy to make contact or help them when needed.

Tip for mobile operators:
When you expect a long trip of several hundred miles or more into "unknown" repeater destinations, do your repeater frequency research in advance and "map" out your trip using one or more of the links below. Keep in mind that the information provided by them is usually accurate but not 100%. The last link, K5EHX, is very good in the fact that is also gives a "repeater coverage" map with a circle of coverage for each repeater. Again, only an estimate.

Helpful repeater info lookups on the web:
Use Google Maps to lookup ham repeaters: by State, Location, Distance, etc
Try to get yourself a "backup" repeater in the same area along your route as your primary repeater for that particular area of coverage. Remember, safety, Justin Wilson was a "Safety Man", he wore both, belt and suspenders! 
Also note that many repeater print publications are only as good as the info at the time of printing. Repeaters come and go without notice, so check with local hams and do your advanced research for the latest info if possible before starting your trip. Remember, a repeater that is not used, is a repeater that is not used!
73, Don - N4UJW
Please feel free to use this material as needed to increase the use of your repeaters!
You are welcomed to link directly to this page if needed.

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