How to Choose a Repeater
So you received your brand new FCC call sign and you have a transceiver for 2m and/or 70 cm. Now how do you find a repeater and make a contact there? This can be a bit more challenging than first expected. There are lots of frequencies to choose from and lots of different repeaters, so how do you figure this out?
First, I’ll make a few comments on FM repeaters. Repeaters generally sit in one location and on one pair of frequencies, providing radio coverage over a particular area. This tends to cause a “watering hole” effect as radio hams choose a particular repeater (or repeaters) to monitor. Often an informal community grows up around a repeater based on who hangs out there. Some repeaters have a designated use, such as support of ARES or RACES.
So how do you pick a repeater?
Ask Local Hams
The first place to check for repeater recommendations is with local hams that are active on VHF/UHF FM. They can probably steer you towards a handful of repeaters to get you started. Obviously, it helps if you know someone that monitors a particular repeater, so you have someone to contact.
Check a Repeater Directory
The next place to look is in a repeater directory. The ARRL Repeater Directory is the most established source of repeater information and is available from the ARRL web site.
There are a number of online repeater directories that have come on the scene, including some iOS and Android apps. The great thing about the mobile apps is that they can use your smartphone’s GPS to help search for repeaters in your specific location. This is especially helpful when you are traveling. The RepeaterBook.com site and associated apps are free and seems to work well.
If you are in a metropolitan area, you may be overwhelmed by the number of repeaters listed for the 2-meter and 70-cm bands. There are many frequencies available for repeater use and it seems that hams like to fill them up. In a smaller town or rural area, the number of repeaters available will usually be lower and the choices more limited.
Search The Internet
Another useful approach is to do an Internet search on “amateur radio repeater” and your location (name of city or town). Most radio clubs will have a web page that describes their repeaters, including frequency information, location and any special guidelines for using their system. Also look for ham radio nets that are held on the club repeaters. These are often a great way to get started since there should be radio activity during the published time of the net. RepeaterBook, the creator of the app shown above, also has a website listing of repeaters with various search parameters.
Another thing to do is listen to the various repeater frequencies to find out what activity is out there. Many of our best FM repeaters are quiet most of the day. You may end up wondering if they are even on the air since the activity can be very light. But listening a lot can help you understand the kind of ham activity that occurs on each repeater. Over time, you’ll get to know the repeater and the type of hams that tend to use it.
Making a Contact
Once you’ve found a repeater, then it’s time to make a contact. Typically on repeaters, hams will just transmit and say their callsign and maybe their status. For example, after I hop into the car and turn on the ham rig, I will usually transmit and say “K Ø N R mobile listening.” Someone that wants to talk to me will call me by saying my callsign followed by their callsign. For example, my buddy Stu might say “K Ø N R this is W Ø S T U”. I will reply and start chatting with him.
Just saying your call sign and “listening” might be a bit too passive if you really want to talk to someone. If I am very much looking for a contact (a QSO), I might say something like “This is K Ø N R, anyone copy?” or “This is K Ø N R, can someone give me a signal report?” It is fine to tell them that you are just getting on the air and want to check out whether you have your radio programmed correctly. Most hams will welcome you to the repeater and try to help. (If they don’t, then this might not be the repeater for you anyway.) If you don’t get a reply, then maybe no one is listening. Or maybe they are busy doing other things and are not interested in chatting right then. Don’t take it personally, don’t get frustrated but just try again at another time.
I hope this article gives you a few tips for finding a repeater and getting on the air. Good luck with your first contact!
-- Bob KØNR