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MBARC History

Mt. Beacon History: The Early Days of FM and Repeaters(Click for PDF)

8/2/2003 (5/30/2016 original transcription w/minor edits by W2BOS)
By Scott Kostenbauder, W2AWX with major contributions from Gordon Pugh, W2NH

Once upon a time there was a broadcast radio station located on Mt. Beacon; it was WHVA,
WRRH, WKIP-FM and then WSPK. In those early days Marv Seimes, W2POL was the Chief Engineer.  Gordon Pugh, W2GHR (later WIJTB at Mt. Washington and now W2NH) worked there as one of the sdtation engineers. The initial station was later sold or leased to GLF that owned the Rural Radio Network. Over time much commercial two-way radio equipment occupied the house that was built to house the commercial broadcast site. The broadcast station management was very supportive of amateur radio by providing space in the building, power and tower space. The broadcast FM radio transmitter site had limited station facilities including a small studio. Gordon says there were two transcription turntables, a sort of a console on an old wooden desk, a ribbon mike and two FM receivers to pick up WQXR and WFLY that was "relayed" on the 104.7 mhz. station. A ball of lightning came out of a wall outlet during a thunderstorm, jumped under Gordon's legs and headed into one of the turntables and burned out the motor. After that there was only one turntable.

The staff used the Mt. Beacon Incline Trolley to go to work and often stayed at the station for
extended periods during bad weather. They normally worked a 36 hour week in three days. Gordon
says he started on Monday morning and went down on Wednesday afternoon. The hours were 6 am
through about 11:30 pm. There were two bedrooms, two baths and a full kitchen. There was also a
Bendix washing machine for laundry but it was not bolted to the floor and when spinning required
someone to sit on it to hold it down. In 1952 the incline cable car used for transportation was replaced by a Jeep. The Jeep was parked at the bottom and driven up by the next operator then returned by the one going off duty. About 1949 and in the early fifties Gordon was experimenting with VHF from Mt. Beacon. One of his experiments was a six meter repeater with 53.75 mhz. input later adding 52.56 mhz. and with a 146.94 mhz. output. During this time the concept of amateur radio FM was not very active beyond a few hams that converted commercial units, mostly Link, GE, Motorola and RCA to operate in the ham bands.

As Gordon's projects evolved, he had put together several repeaters in the 50's and early 60's.
Gordon had left the station for a new job back on Long Island as a transmission engineer in marine and mobile radiotelephone communications for New York Telephone. He found it to be a challenge trying to maintain the Beacon equipment as well as sites on Long Island and in Vermont. Most of his spare time was spent traveling to fix and upgrade equipment. All the two-way equipment was tube based and the transition from 15 khz. wideband deviation to narrowband, 5 khz., was just getting started. Because of the travel distance Gordon was seeking assistance from Mid-Hudson hams to help in the maintenance. His wife was perturbed that he spent so much time on the road. He says an ultimatum from the "war department" then slowed his repeater work. The maintenance tasks were picked up by Bruce Robideau, WB2YQU (now K20Y in Florida) and Scott Kostenbauder, W2AWX (subsequently W2LW, now a silent key) and whatever other volunteers they could get from the Poughkeepsie Amateur Radio Club (PARC).

The call had been changed to W2CVT, the PARC call and Bruce became the trustee. Gordon often came up on the weekends for work sessions to change antennas or other equipment. He had provided Super Stationmasters that were high on the "Eiffel Tower" and a good duplexer. He would go straight to the Phelps Dodge antenna factory in New Jersey and to the Sinclair Radio Labs in Buffalo just to get things tuned right and to plea for a good amateur price.

Bruce and Scott started doing most of the inside work. The reliability was considerably
improved when Scott and Bruce re-tubed the two meter repeater chassis. Reliability in 1970 and 1971 was a significant problem before this was done. Pete Olsen, WA2BXK who worked for New York Communications often assisted the work by aiding in transportation and later aided in building access.  With NYCOMCO sponsorship we carried a key with us. Later our primary access was from WBNR and its owners, the Lessner's and getting a key meant stopping at the radio station studio in Beacon each time. Access had also always been a problem from a different cause: the most used entry point at the bottom of the mountain was privately owned and the owners were very sensitive to anyone crossing their land.

Gordon says he had even been threatened by a shotgun toting owner at the bottom. Once past that
point, the road went over the Beacon water supply land where there was no problem.
Scott lived near the base of the mountain in Fishkill and he had the only location close enough
to operate the 220 mhz. wideband FM control link . Similar units were also used at Killington and Mt. Snow. For remote base and some control functions AFSK tone receivers were employed. The tones were superimposed with the voice and would select on and off and later the transmitter frequency and antenna. The system was set up so that multiple control link receivers could be used. The primary Mt. Beacon control unit was a Collins military box with the equivalent of a Strowager pulse driven switch inside. A telephone dial keyed an 1100 hz. oscillator to generate tone pulses at the control site for transmission.

Scott also had a Jeep that logged hundreds of trips up and down the mountain. The work crews
hiked the bill, traveled by snowmobile, tractor, trucks, ski lift, horseback, ATV and even snowshoes. It was a dedicated group in those days. Winter snow and ice presented a few problems so Gordon would put chains on all four wheels of his Jeep Wagoneer and charge the icy slopes. Rarely was anyone found willing to climb the tower so most antenna work was done by Gordon. No one else would climb past the ladder section. More than a few times Gordon worked high on the tower in a snowstorm with freezing weather. It sure kept things interesting. One time in a bad snow storm, Gordon was on the tower for over seven hours. Air (tower) to ground communications was lost when the CB HT blew away and made love with the rocks below. After seven hours it was not advisable to stand downwind of the tower.  A 146.34 mhz. input was added when a Sinclair Hybrid Ring Duplexer was rescued by Jim Onofrio of Sinclair Radio Labs from a trial in Peru. It still had some of what the donkey left behind in it when first hauled up Beacon. The repeater now was operating on 146.34 mhz. input and 146.94 mhz. transmit. A RACES net was started on Monday nights. A repeater on Bald Mountain just outside of Troy, NY set up on the same frequency pair. While Beacon did not wipe out their coverage, they complained they had to listen to the NY Metro activity coming through Beacon. The Beacon repeater was identified by a CW ID using a CTCSS sub-audible tone. Because of complaints of interference to 146.94 mhz. simplex the repeater transmitter was moved to 146.76 mhz. Again Sinclair came to the rescue. The duplexer was hauled to N. Tonowanda near Buffalo and modified to a "Q circuit" that would support 390 khz. spacing. The modified duplexer was installed with only one day lost service and the input was moved to 146.37 mhz. to eliminate the 146.34 mhz. traffic. The 600 khz. standard spacing on two meters was not yet "officially" adopted and 146.94 mhz. had been specified as a calling frequency long after Mt. Beacon had been placed in service. Coordination was improving and 600 khz. spacing was on
the horizon. All of this would eventually lead to Beacon moving the output to 146.97 mhz.
In the late 60's and early 70's Gordon was trying to link Vermont to Long Island on UHF. This
involved 13 repeaters and the FCC did not know what to do when it received the 485 page application
that was about 2 inches thick.

It was necessary to meet the requirements of the newly adopted Docket 18803 in 1969. Gordon's system application was far beyond anything the FCC had encountered in the past, especially from the amateur community. Garry Hendrickson, W3DTN of the FCC Amateur Division in Gettysburg passed the word that the application would be sent via UPS. That raised a few eyebrows.
There had been only one other amateur application containing more pages. It had been for a remote
base with many, many individual licensee/operators. The filing we made for the network was logged
into the amateur Licensing Bureau and set aside. It was just too much for them to handle. There were up to 26 identical pages showing antenna patterns and lists of control points. Each station had to be a complete filing and Docket 18803 required many showings for repeaters. The commission set aside "WR" callsigns for our repeaters, but continued to sit on the filings well past the deadline for the "WR" calls to be in place. Since the applications were filed well before the deadline, the use of the old calls was permitted.

Then one day a very large package came from the FCC. The whole filing was returned! A close
inspection found the FCC received stamp on each page. The actual 610 Forms were missing. Gordon
called Garry and found the FCC had changed the rules; only the Form 610(s) would now be required.
The application had brought about a change so the FCC did not have to deal with all the detail.
Eventually even the proposed WR callsigns were abandoned. Gordon's multi-repeater project was being set up with military 4 channel CF1 220 mhz. multiplex terminals. Preliminary tests linked some of the sites. Gordon's time was consumed in major changes of antenna positioning, relocation inside the building to our own room and other upgrades. He didn't get to do much new construction on the linking system. One of Gordon's foibles was to use bell wire for many connections. Others were afraid to reach inside the racks. Gordon says telephone quad wire or 25 pair cable maybe, but nothing over 48 volts. Well the rest of us remember receiver B plus on bell wire regardless of what Gordon says. We rewired the repeater rack!

Scott mastered the cavity tuning as the winter-summer temperature changes required that they
be retuned and returning them each time to the manufacturer was too much of a cost and time burden. The original repeater station was built using an RCA quarter kilowatt (output) amplifier that had been used by RCA to evaluate the site. It was left behind for several years without an exciter or receiver. The first broadcast transmitter was an RCA. Marv Seimes said go ahead and use it suggesting that if they ever came back the storage charge would be higher than the value of the amplifier. When the station was inspected by Henry Paulsen of the FCC New York office on a complaint that the amateur station was running illegal power, he noted that the tubes would melt before a pair of 4-250's could produce illegal power levels. Scott built a preamp that improved the sensitivity to below 0.8 uv. for 20 db. quieting. This provided solid coverage into Pennsylvania almost to Scranton and well into New Jersey. Unfortunately, the cavity system had to be exactly tuned or there was some de-sense. It created some extra trips up the mountain when the temperatures changed.

Unfortunately, other areas were also building repeaters and problems were created frequently
by mobiles operating in Philadelphia, Scranton and the Boston regions. Mt. Beacon has never had
coverage as good as this in later years. The 250 watts did a good job of long range transmit coverage.
When there were openings the repeater went crazy with long range stations coming through. HT
coverage also was considerably better inside Poughkeepsie IBM buildings and other hard to cover
locations than in later years.

The first informal efforts at coordination started. A repeater directory for the East Coast was
just growing beyond one sheet of paper. Most of the repeater operators from Virginia north knew each other and enjoyed informal meetings in Philadelphia, Washington and other locations at which time interference problems and other issues were resolved. Then the meetings became scheduled
periodically where coverage and other problems were solved by friendly discussion (and argument
occasionally). As the complexity of the issues grew, an organization was formed to give some structure to the coordination activity. It was the Northeast FM Repeater Association and it published a directory and took on the coordination tasks. The directory and other information were stored on a GE timesharing computer with dialup access at 100 wpm on Model 35 Teletype machines. Storage was on paper tape. A small newsletter/magazine called the FM Journal had lots of information about FM, repeaters and articles on converting commercial transceivers. It was a seminal publication for the FM community. Greqory Electronics in New Jersey and every two-way dealer became a source for ham gear until the first "rice boxes", Clegg, Regency, and other ham transceivers came on the market. Standard offered a 6 channel HT that was very common as it was brick sized and could be carried in a big pocket. Scott became a Standard dealer and sold the units at cost to promote FM use. Costs for maintaining the mountain equipment were relatively high and big tube bills were resisted by the HF oriented members of PARC. Scott had a similar experience with a club in Pennsylvania before moving to Fishkill. So it was proposed that the Poughkeepsie Club adopt the same approach and create Club Divisions using a Corporation structure. The FM Division's expenses and income then could be separate and eliminate the disagreements. So the FM Division was proposed and by late 1970 there was an FM Division whose sole interest was in operating Mt Beacon. One could join the FM Division and/or the main body of the club as desired.

The Mt. Beacon site was moved to 146.37/146.97 mhz. to eliminate the frequency conflict with
146.94 mhz. continuing as a National Simplex Frequency. Usage was growing considerably and other members had joined in the maintenance and support of the repeater. As the user community grew, so did the need to have insurance, legal buffering, separate meetings, etc. A number of the active local hams decided that the FM Division could operate better as a separate organization. Ron Perry, WA2CGA and Derwin Stevens, WA2DHA, were two of the key players. Ron was active in the administration and became one of the main control points. It was the first guy that lived close enough so Scott could pass on the control box. Scott had moved further away from the repeater site and had spent so much time on the mountain that he was burning out his enthusiasm. Scott developed a service procedure that became a manual so that others could tune the duplexer cavities as needed. Derwin and others soon began building the controller and converted Motorola Motrac transceiver system that was to move Mt. Beacon into the solid-state era. The Mt. Beacon Club was also then incorporated as a spinoff separate organization from PARC and was then known as the Mt. Beacon Amateur Radio Club (MBARC), Inc. You have probably heard of it.

So far that brings us up to the Eighties. So if you become the newsletter editor, here are your
resource persons. These were the people involved and probably should each develop the
documentation of the history, the major player list looks like this:

• Fifties and Sixties
Gordon Pugh, W2NH

• Seventies
Scott Kostenbauder, W2AWX (subsequently W2LW and now a silent key)
Bruce Robideau, K20Y

• Eighties
Derwin Stevens, WA2DHA
Ron Perry, WA2CGA

• Nineties
Assorted "Directors of Engineering" and member volunteers and officers as the Club's structure
now provided the division of labor to keep the Club vital.

While others significantly helped at various times and on some projects, these were the key
people who kept the systems operating went to the site when no one else would and added
improvements frequently at their own expense. Gordon continued to help as often as he could and
should be recognized as the one who contributed the most to the early history leading to the Mt.
Beacon Amateur Radio Club. A great credit is also due the broadcast station businesses that donated
the site and power over the years. The "hams" did a few good faith things in return to repay these
courtesies and to preserve our access. Hopefully, the symbiotic relationship will continue.
Gordon is into cats these days. You may want to visit his website at www.interplex.org. Also, be
sure to look at the ideas that he has incorporated into the building of the Pugh mansion in Vermont,
you'll find them interesting.

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