History of the Houston Radio Relay Club and Repeater Station - Written by W5VCE in 1968
Submitted originally by Pump WA5CYI in 1996 Re-posted 9-16-2021
The date of this writing is May 7, 1968. This will explain why some of the early dates are difficult to establish. It should be mentioned also that great care was taken to avoid publicity, written records, and any specific knowledge of a repeater station in Houston prior to July 14, 1966.
It is difficult to establish what triggered the interest in 2 meter FM. There were a dozen or so stations operating on 147.3 MHZ FM on January 1, 1965. This activity was primarily started by Pasadena for RACES. At about this time Bill, WA5BSB, and Jerry, K5IHK, turned up with Bendix FM rigs with 146.88 MHZ crystals.
A small group started looking for rigs to start a new FM frequency for Houston. We finally got Motorola to agree to let us have nine FMTRU80D's for $30.00 each, as is, while Karl, WA5ABA, was in Dallas attending a Service School. Karl brought the rigs back to Houston and the serious work of the new net began.
These nine rigs were obtained February 25, 1965. Thirty more were obtained March 26, 1965. Bill, WA5BSB, Forrest, WA5BSD, and Jerry, K5IHK, made a trip to Dallas to get the 30 rigs. Ed Bailey got one of these 30 and once we got Ed on 2 meter FM, a repeater wasn't far behind.
Eight more rigs were obtained April 23, 1965; then the last twelve on May 25, 1965, making a total of 59 rigs obtained from Motorola. After the first group of rigs were acquired, there was so much interest that it became necessary to keep a list of people who wanted rigs so that as they became available from Motorola, they could be distributed fairly. Jim Shotwell, WA5BUV, got this thankless task of keeping the list and distributing the rigs. By December 6 of 1965 there were 82 active stations on 146.88 MHZ FM with 40 mobiles represented.
Interest and discussion of a repeater station had developed to a point that a rig was chosen out of the 12 units received May 5, 1965 for conversion to a repeater station. It is difficult to comprehend why there were two dozen or more mobile stations by this time, because the range was sure nothing to shout about. Any way, it was evident that a repeater station was sorely needed for any reasonable mobile performance on 2 meters. For mobile to mobile it was a must.
By this time, we had Ed, W5SDA, interested in the technical aspects of a repeater, so the unit was turned over to Ed. Everyone who had any of the parts needed to convert the old mobile rig to an A.C. repeater station contributed to the cause and crystals were ordered to set the repeater up
for 146.28 in and 146.88 out. On approximately May 15, 1965, the repeater was ready for trial, set up at Ed's house. The antenna situation was real "Mickey Mouse", but the test was highly successful.
Then came the big problem. How could we get this illegal contraption on a high building downtown where it would do some good. Ed finally convinced Bert, W5HJL, into sneaking it up on the Gulf Building where he was the engineer of a FM station. This installation occurred in July, 1965, as near as I can establish. Just about the time we were getting all the bugs ironed out, we got the news that everything had to be cleared off the Gulf Building to make room for the "big orange lollipop" (Gulf Sign).
The repeater installation had to come down approximately August, 1965. This was rather discouraging, but word leaked out the Wiley, K5DFZ, engineer at KPRC, thought it might be possible to get the repeater on the KPRC tower at DeWalt. This sounded too good to be true, but sure enough, by September 1965, there it was, 1500 feet in the air with a solid mobile range of 50 miles. Needless to say, 2 meter FM interest skyrocketed. The "nuts" who climbed around on that 1500-foot tower to install antennas were K5DFZ, WA5BSB, K5VQY, and W5SDA. Ed took care of the installation and service of the repeater for about 18 months, before the glamour was exhausted. Where upon, he insisted that some of us mere mortals could do it. He was tired. By this time a spare repeater had been installed with remote switching and instant servicing was no longer necessary. Ray, W5DLC, took over as chief technician.
Everything was going smooth until July 7, 1966, when Dick Vaughn, FCC engineer, swooped down upon us. He insisted that this station emitting such a powerful signal on 146.88 MHZ had to have a license. He also mumbled something about wanting to know who he served the violation
notices to. When the smoke cleared, Ed, W5SDA, and Leon, W5VCE, were the recipients of real scary violation notices, and the repeater was real silent. In all fairness to Dick, although he wanted to see the repeater operation continue, he just wanted it to be legal. He insisted it wasn't
all that difficult to have a license, log and ID. During the next week Ed divided his time equally between reading that scary violation notice and building a robot which sent call letters in CW every three minutes. On July 14, Ed had the robot CW operator in place. Leon had a receiver
feeding into the tape machine at Police Headquarters for logging and Byrum, W5LGQ, had loaned us the SWARC Club call, K5YJG/5.
Everything was ready. Ed called the FCC office and meekly asked Dick if we could throw the switch. Dick seemed to be satisfied, providing the KPRC engineers acted as attending operators and turn it off, when not in attendance. So now we were back in operation again, at least part of the time.
The big push now was to get a club formed and get our own license with remote privileges to make for 24-hour operation. Also, something had to be done about securing our own logging recorder.
The Houston Radio Relay Club was formed July 20, 1966, with directors as follows:
License was applied for with W5SDA as trustee. As soon as the license returned, we were able to go to full period operation, since we now had remote control privileges. A tape recorder was found and rigged for logging, and the Houston Radio Relay Club now enjoyed a good, legal
The next several months were not completely uneventful, what with several exercises and a few emergencies proving the repeater to be a community asset, as well as a lot of fun.
An election of new officers on January 31, 1968, brought the following group into office:
This brings the back ground history up-to-date. There are approximately 230 operators using the repeater at this time.
Leon Vice, W5VCE/W5OBC
May 7, 1968
Following are notes received from Byrum, W5LGQ, in October, 1996.
It has been a long time since any entries were made in the Story of the History of the 146.880 and the 444.600 repeaters. Here are some of the events as I remember them.
We had a very active club back in the 60's and 70's, Suburban West Amateur Club, K5YJG, with about 50 members and there were several that were employed in electronics, so it was no surprise when the talk turned to repeaters. Some of those members that come to mind after more than 30 years are Ed, W5SDA, and Leon, W5VCE. I do remember Leon talking about the effort to enclose the cavities and he mention that one of their early efforts was to mount the filters inside a coffee can. I'm sure this wasn't their final effort but it showed progress.
Now for continuation of the saga by Byrum, W5LGQ.
After I retired from CH 39 in 1982, I made my dream come true by moving to Sargent to spend most of my time fishing. The next priority was to put up a tower so I could use the repeaters in Houston. Several years past and my passion for fishing cooled a little so I found other things
to do. I was listening to Fred, K5MJA, and Frank, K5VQY, on 88 one afternoon and they were talking about some problems with the repeater. I listened for a while and then broke in and casually asked if there was anything that I could do to help? I soon realized that I had set a trap
for myself because after 20 years they were looking for somebody to carry the load for a while.. After some gentle arm twisting I agreed to become the trustee of the 146.88 and the 444.600 repeaters. That was July 10, 1987.
We knew that the repeaters had few problems but we needed to take a good look at what we had gotten ourselves into. So Don, K5IXJ, my son, who would make many trips to the tower in the next 10 years, made his first trip up to bring both of the repeaters down. This was the start of an
interesting 10 years.
After we got the old repeaters down we contacted Steve, K5LTK, who had been doing most of the maintenance, to get the spare parts and the documentation of the repeaters and also get a few pointers. Jerry, K5IHK, also was very helpful in getting over the rough spots. It took a while to learn the ins and outs of the repeaters but the day finally came to put them back into service.
Then Don was making his second trip up the tower, this time to re-install the repeaters. After making a few on the air tests, we realized that we already had hams standing by waiting for the word to go. So we turned them loose. Everything was fine for several years with only a few trips
to replace relays and tubes until we ran out of good tubes. Often with day and night operation, the tubes wouldn't last very long. We had a wake up call when we went looking for replacement tubes and found that they were in short supply. That's when we began thinking of replacing the
repeaters with all solid state surplus commercial mobile radios. GE Master Exe II seemed to be the most promising. "We put out the word and before long Allen Fox, K5LKJ, on a hamfest trip to Austin came up with two Ex II's for two meters and it wasn't long before we had two more for
UHF, so now we had the radios, we needed to build four repeaters because we wanted to have a spare repeater for each frequency.
We soon got pointed in the right direction to make repeaters out of them. Even though we got a lot of basic advice, I still had to convert the radios for duplex operation and interface them to the other equipment. The S Com controllers sure did make our life much easier because I only had to supply inputs and outputs to it and it would do the rest. It gave us ID, Squelch delay, Time out, PTT, adjustable audio in and out, TX on and off, and PL input. These could be activated remotely without the need for a phone line. First we had to compile a list of material that we would need to build four repeaters.
One 12-volt power supply that would deliver 35/40 amps. Supplied by W5GBR.
Two S COM 5K Controllers.
Four receiver crystals.
Four transmit crystals.
Two TS32 PL boards.
This looks like a pretty short list but just wait until you get the bill.
On March 23, 1991, Don installed the new repeaters and retired the old
one after 20 years of service.
Submitted by Byrum Huddleston, W5LGQ, and Don Huddleston, K5IXJ.
More, Unsigned, believed to be from Steve Davidick, K5LTK.
In 1969 I was introduced to 2 meters FM with my RCA carfone. I got to know Wiley Hamilton and Leon Vice a little better and before I knew it I was making trips up the big stick as a helper with various technicians. As time went by I acted as combination gofer and a minor maintenance tech myself.
In 1971 we had a change in club officers and trustee. The new trustee was Bill Benton, WA5DWX, and the new repeater call was WA5YUX. The license was good up to April 1973. Because of upcoming license changes and requirements. It was during this period of time that we decided
that I was wearing out the tower elevator and our repeaters were off the air too much when they were needed. So we bought a GE Master Pro Mobile unit. Wiley built up a power supply and a repeater package for it. On August 25, 1972 we put our new repeater on the air. Shortly after we installed new antennas and replace the old RG-17 coax with Heliax cable. A new control unit was built by Bill Bremer Jr., WA5RRR, to give us a more reliable control system with extra control functions. After the WA5YUX license expired, we had a new trustee Frank, K5VQY, that was in May 1973. He received the new license with the call of WR5AAA. Late that night the new ID was installed in the repeater. A lot of work went into getting that license by Bill Bremer, W5EKP. In January 1976 we installed our second GE Master repeater on 444.600. On 5/17/76 we had our first total failure on the 146.88 machine, it was a blown line fuse. This is one of two failures this machine has had to this date (6 years later). About week later we had our first failure on our UHF 444.600 machine. A bias protection relay vibrated lose from its socket. This is the only failure
this machine has had to the date (2 1/2 years of 24-hour operation).
REPEATER TIPS BY BYRUM
Just a few additional tips on some the problems that might be encountered if you are building a repeater using the GE Master Exec II or Master II. You don't need the remote cable and control head, they just take up a lot of room. I removed all the wires from the cable plug except the two
large wires for + and - power and built the control head directly into the plug which is a trick in itself. It’s a pretty tight fit for volume, squelch, speaker jack, on-off switch and two LED's.
Using the original power wires was a big mistake. If you are installing a repeater in a nice snug air conditioned building, you would never have any problems, but at the top of a 1500 FT. tower where the temperature in the summer must get up to 140 degrees and humidity reaches 100% is a bad environment.
After about five years of operation, we stared losing power output on one of the repeaters. Our first thought was that the final amplifier had failed, so we replaced it with the amp from our spare, and sure enough that restored output until a week or so later when we had the same problem.
This went on for a while until we discovered that the harsh environment had caused the two pins that supplied + and - power to the final, which draws 10 to 12 amps and is in almost constant use, had developed enough resistance to cause severe heating to the point of melting the plastic
shell and cut off the power to the final.
Don brought both repeaters down and I built and installed new front control panels and brought power to the final amp from the back using 10-gauge wire which eliminated the plug problem.