MoNWF - Musings of a radio amateur

Repeaters, gateways, hotspots and more!

Now, back in the day when the mentors of our hobby were young and SSB was the new kid on the block, at some point the VHF (and also UHF) repeater was born. All the books have a picture of a hill and usually two cars, one each side of the hill and it shows how the repeater enables the two cars to talk to each other.

Now back in the day this was considered ‘’not real radio’’ and the two cars should really have had a large Brass Morse key dating from the 1865 instigation of the second telegraph station in the outer reaches of the British Empire mounted on a large piece of Oak which actually formed one of the ribs of Nelson’s flagship ‘’Victory’’ and had been cut out of the rib by Samuel Morse himself connected to a valve transceiver whose manufacturer stopped manufacturing electronic equipment when the transistor was thought to be of no use and most houses didn’t even have a telephone.

Anyway, things move on and eventually the next generation of Amateurs who are usually very knowledgeable in SSB HF Antennas and other such fangled items but decry Digital Amateur Radio in much the same way that repeaters were decried back in the day and as they are no longer ‘’the expert’’ that all the young’uns look up to, it is not to be trusted and is all internet anyway (??!!??) so they think.

Well, in fact, repeaters are still very much on the scene, in fact I have heard that this year more applications for repeaters have been received by the ETCC than ever before. Now we have had lockdown but I believe the main reason we need more repeaters (and gateways) is the demise of the hill top location. Gone are the days when the local amateur fraternity all stuck £10 in a tin and took a couple of ex-taxi radios up a hill with a lead connecting them together, put up a big tower, and allowed the entire county and probably the next one to speak to each other. Nowadays the demand for such sites for phone masts and the plethora of other radio communications types is huge and prices and availability of such sites has put them out of reach of even the most monetarily affluent Radio Club or group of people.

So what happens now, well, technology comes to the rescue. Repeaters (and now Gateways) are largely at Amateurs’ homes. The site is free, the kit isn’t expensive, the application process is smooth and on line and easy and is made that way due to the hard work and dedication of the ETCC team who are of course Radio Amateurs. The only problem is that most Amateurs to not live on the top of Mount Snowdon. Hilltop properties are generally expensive and also may have planning issues which prevent 60ft towers being put up in the back garden. Put this together with unsympathetic life partners and basically priorities for cash in other ways, such as maybe food (?), and the chances of the average Amateur that actually wants to put something back and provide a repeater or gateway for the local Amateur community living in a suitable location are further reduced. So, back to technology, well if a number of repeaters and gateways can be linked easily and in a way that is readily understandable, then the ‘’big’’ repeater or ‘’network’’ is born. Step in North West Fusion Group. (We are not the only ones, this is starting to happen everywhere).

So now whole areas, counties, and even countries or the whole world can talk to each other by simply buying an appropriate radio and antenna. Enter the new age of Amateur Radio.

Now what happens in your area if no one has done this? No local gateway or repeater? Well enter the ‘’hotspot’’, a relatively cheap way of getting to talk to people in the various networks around the country and the world.

What if a few in the area want to join in? Now, hotspots cost between about £30 and £300 depending on what you want and how much work you are able and want to put in and who you want to talk to. Between you, this could run in to a few hundred pounds for hotspot each. I you all got together then this would easily finance a gateway and possibly even a home made digital repeater (despite what anti-digital guys tell you, you don’t have to buy the box, you can build a cheap digital repeater using a couple of old analog sets, still).

Now you will notice that so far in this blog with the exception of our group name, I have been careful to not bring the mode in to it. What I have described can be analog or digital, Fusion, DStar, DMR, or any other digital mode for that matter. In fact most hotspots can be used for most modes and even cross between them too. Now we are The North West Fusion Group and in our area (and most others) Fusion seems to be the fastest growing digital mode, probably as it is simple. Simple to understand, simple to use, and very like other amateur modes. DMR is still big but complicated and DStar, although popular in the US and other places, is lacking infra structure and even UK support with regards to the repeater lists etc that make it work properly, but if you have the money even DStar could be used if you really wanted to. DMR equipment is cheap but takes some getting to work properly for Amateur purposes.

So, you live in our area, or just outside it, but there is no gateway or repeater nearby, there are two or three of you with Fusion radios, so what do you do? Buy a hotspot each? Well maybe, it gives each of you flexibility, but, also, Yaesu used to produce a radio called the FTM100DE. The perfect Gateway radio, especially since the introduction of ‘’Portable HRi’’ mode. The cable was even in the box!! All you needed was the £300 to buy one plus a Windows PC and you have a gateway. A quick application on line and within a few days you get an NOV free of charge and your gateway can be used by all of you. Intermediate or full licencees can have a gateway NOV at the home address.

Recently, though, for various reasons, the FTM100DE is no longer in production. Yaesu will tell you that you now have to buy the FTM300 or FTM400, both of which are about £400 !!!! The FTM300 doesn’t even come with the cable!! There is another option though, a second hand FTM100? Well, yes, if you can find one, and if it works, good luck with that one!! Or, an FT2 !!!

FT2??????? But that is a handset?? Yes, and brand new they are still available for £279. Now they have issues a a handset and if you want a handy then the FT3 is probably a better buy, and you don’t get the cable either, but, £279 plus a cable and a Windows PC, and you have a cheap gateway. Not ideal but I know at least two FT2s used in this way and they seem pretty reliable. Probably a controversial suggestion, but lets have a reasonable discussion below.

Anyway, a video on setting up your own gateway will be coming soon on our YouTube channel.

‘’Put something back, put a gateway in your shack’’

Just to end, a big big big big Thank You to our Gateway and Repeater keepers, without you guys there would be no North West Fusion Group network. Think about this too before you complain about that gateway being in the wrong room.

MoNWF - Musings of a radio amateur


Hmmmm, now this is interesting. You know how when you buy a nice new FTM400 and you switch it on, type in your callsign on the wonderful touch screen, dial up the frequency of your local gateway or Fusion simplex frequency and chat? Very simple, no set up required, easy. No codeplugs, no dodgy downloads of every repeater in the world except the one up the road, just dial up and chat.

Well, DMR, I am told, is moving on. I have a DMR radio, I mainly use it to monitor a local FM frequency and the local DMR repeater and it is OK, the audio is fine etc etc, it isn’t a 400 though, not by any means. Anyway, apparently DMR is moving on. They give you a 2inch non-touch screen and apparently it is as easy to use as any other radio. Non of this having to fire up the PC and spend four hours on the codeplug when someone puts on a new gateway any more, no, you can do it on the radio apparently.

One of the nice features of Fusion is the location system. Out of the box, no menu changes, once your 400 locks on to GPS, the distance and direction of the other station are instantly available (in DN mode). In fact even the 100 does this too.

I recently had cause to read the manual of probably the very latest DMR Amateur Radio. Now this is about the same price as an FTM400 so it must be as good. I am told the audio is excellent, well actually DMR audio should be as good as DN Fusion, and my TYT9600 DMR radio does have nice audio, not as nice as a 400 on a decent speaker, and no where up to the phenominal audio received on the FT991A when connected to a half decent HiFi speaker, but the 991A is a lot more expensive, but anyway, I will take it that the new DMR set has superb audio. However I will paste an excerpt from the manual with regards to the GPS location function on this new radio, and how you can instantly see direction and distance.

(3) Get GPS info

Select Get GPS info, and it will send out a signal to the target radio which will start the GPS positioning

and send a message of its GPS position to the transmit radio.

**You have to check on the function in CPS-Optional Setting-GPS/Ranging- Get GPS positioning first.

Now, personally. to me, that doesn’t sound overly simple. Maybe it is? Maybe I have this wrong?? But I will stick to Fusion, it is simple to use, works out of the box, and I like the way the GPS works out of the box too.

Maybe 2in non-touch screens are the thing this year, the FTM300 has one? No, I will stick to my 400.

MoNWF - Musings of a radio amateur

What do a Lancia Beta, an Electronica Special, a class 9F locomotive, and an On Digital Box all have in common?

Blog Time:

Well, Monday again, it doesn’t half come round quick!!

Right, question: What do a Lancia Beta, an Electronica Special, a class 9F locomotive, and an On Digital Box all have in common?

Answer: Non were usable to anywhere near their designed life. But, for different reasons:

The class 9F was due to a decision by the powers that be that suddenly steam traction was old fashioned so perfectly serviceable and relatively new steam engines were just scrapped, what a waste of money and energy that it took to build them, not to mention the energy taken to build a new one.

The On digital box was (arguably) the result of the general public wanting something for nothing that was being charged for. The abundance of (allegedly) freely available pirate cards and an old fashioned (by the time it was released) encryption system doomed the idea of subscription terrestrial TV in the UK. Income dropped from subscriptions as people bought pirate cards and suddenly there wasn’t enough money to make the service pay. The public got what they wanted as despite a couple of attempts to start a subscription service, for the main UK Digital Terrestrial TV is free. New compression rates to squeeze more channels in the space quickly rendered the boxes as unusable for the new Freeview service, long before their life expentancy was reached.

The Lancia Beta. An attractive family saloon with four doors, a hatchback, and sparkling performance from a well respected Italian car manufacturer as a time when people wanted ‘’hot hatches’’. What could possibly go wrong? I don’t think anyone really knows on this one. The cars were perfect for their time and should have wiped the floor with the competition, but unfortunately in the UK they started to (allegedly) rust and almost none remain now in the UK as most were bought back by Lancia and certainly never reached their design life even by 1970s standards.

So that leaves the Electronica Special.

Now, many people by now will have asked as to what this blog so far has to do with radio? Many wont even know what and Electronica Special is, and many will have forgotten.

The Electronica special was a very VERY good performing CB antenna available from about 1981 in the UK onwards. It was a basic 5/8 wave with longish radials but as we all know, some stuff just works better than others and these were probably the best performing 5/8 wave available to CBers at the time. So, why do we not see them now? There are many remnants (and sometime complete) relics of that time still fastened badly to gutters or more likely on strong T and K’s so that the people of the 1980s in the UK can get the ‘’fix’’ now enjoyed by the almost universal abundance of mobile phones. It was the iPod of it’s day, THE one to have. SO, I ask again, why do you not see them? Well the majority (if not all) never lasted for their designed life expectancy. Why?

This brings us right up to date and brings us to my point; the point of today’s blog. The reason you don’t see Electronica Specials is all down to the UK weather. Not the rain, that never bothered them, not the sun, no…..the WIND. As soon as the shipping forecast mentioned that long running character from Coronation Street, you know the one, married to Brian who went to Canada, and many other dodgy husbands since, she has a mother who was a much liked Witch in the 1970s on kids TV?? Gayle (Gail??); yes as soon as the word Gail was mentioned well Electronica Specials all over the country (or at least near the coast) just bent over from the plastic bit at the bottom where the coil was and that was that. They pretty much all snapped even before a storm was given a name; but they weren’t named then, it was just windy.

So, the point of this week’s blog; probably the talking point of many a chinwag, net, conversation, whatever you want to call it on the radio, the most common question asked of Radio Amateurs and CBers at the moment: Is your antenna still up?

Now, these days I am astounded. The majority of Radio Amateurs in the UK have a co-linear up and these are not expensive in the main, the most expensive models being around £120, and many being £50-80 depending on size. They all have a little pole at the bottom and a screw (or two in some cases) that hold the antenna in place, compared to the probably quarter of a month’s salary to buy an Electronica back in the day, so we don’t pay much for them, and the wind at the moment seems to just carry on… I don’t remember the last day that we had no wind, and what a wind, 70, 80, 90mph gusts!! I can hear my antenna creaking now. But guess what, most of them are still up? Most WILL probably reach their expected design life.

The point of this blog is simple, the winds are worse, but antennae are cheaper and stronger, so not everything used to be better, sometimes things ARE better made now.

Anyway, hoping your antenna stays up (mine will probably snap now!!) and pick up that mic; an antenna works better with RF being shoved in to it through that bit of wire you shoved in the bottom of it. That wire seems to be dearer now ‘for the good stuff’ but that is for another time.