Club History

A HISTORY OF THE ST. CROIX VALLEY REPEATER ASSOCIATION 1976-1981

by Jeff Iverson, WB9DAN — February 2006



Prologue
The following account is far from perfect. It is simply my faded recollections, subject as
they are to the passing of 25-30 years. The exact sequence of events is especially fuzzy. As the
original secretary, treasurer, and license trustee of the club, I recall taking meeting minutes, publishing
a club newsletter, and keeping a station log, but apparently very few written artifacts from
this period now exist. All of these were stored in a 3-ring notebook which I handed over to my successor
in 1981. I apologize in advance to anyone I may have left out or about whom I got some facts
wrong. I invite anyone to send me comments and corrections (jaiverson@juno.com).

As with any first person account, the role of author is overstated. I will take credit for
bringing some organizational skills to the group, but most of the credit for technical expertise, financial
support, heavy lifting, and especially tower climbing, belongs to others.
This account is dedicated to the memory of Thorvald C. “Tip” Nelson, W9LQC (SK). He
could be a crotchety and stubborn old Norwegian and I could be a crotchety and stubborn young
Norwegian, and we didn’t always agree or get along, but he was my “Elmer,” and I remember him
fondly.

Background
Although Frequency Modulation (FM) was invented by Edwin H. Armstrong in 1936, it did
not become popular in amateur circles until the mid-to-late 1960s. In an effort to fit more channels
into the same amount of frequency spectrum, the FCC had begun requiring public service users to
tighten their maximum deviation from 15 to 5 kHz. This, combined with transistorization and the
move to UHF in the metro areas flooded the market with used FM radios. Although designed for
operation on 150 MHz and higher, radio amateurs found ways to “pull” these radios down to the 2
meter band. This phenomenon started on the coasts and hit the Twin Cities in the early 1970s.
In the 1960s, Technician class amateurs could only operate on frequencies between 145-147
MHz in the 2 meter band. Between wanting Techs included, keeping the radios as close to their designed
range as possible, and allowing a 60 kHz margin of safety, 146.94 MHz (simplex) became
the most popular 2 meter FM frequency. Amateurs soon adopted the commercial practice of building
“repeaters” to extend the range of 2 meter communication. A split of 600 kHz was chosen and
146.34-94 became the first common repeater pair. 146.52 began to be advocated as a national simplex
frequency, but in areas where “94 simplex” remained strong, many repeaters used 146.34-76.
“Oddball” splits were common in those days.

Most amateurs recognized the need for frequency coordination, and “standards” began to
appear. 60 kHz was still thought to be a safe level of separation, so the first set of “official” repeater
pairs were: 146.04-64, 146.10-70, 146.16-76, 146.22-82, 146.28-88, and 146.34-94. 146.10-
70 was generally reserved for teletype use. When all of 2 meters was opened to Technicians, repeaters
began to appear above 147 MHz.

One of the first 147 MHz repeaters in the Twin Cities area was 147.72-12 put up by a
group of amateurs in Stillwater. I don’t remember how we met, but Al Murray, K9ZMA and I became
involved with the Stillwater group. They were nice people, but their priorities did not include
coverage on the Wisconsin side of the river. It was at this point in 1975 that Al, Jim King, K9HDF,
and I began to talk about putting up our own repeater in Hudson. We enlisted the support of Tip
Nelson, W9LQC, who was one of the best known radio amateurs in the Hudson area.
The obvious location to put a repeater in Hudson was the silver water tower on Wisconsin
Street “on the hill.” It was not only the highest spot around, but conveniently located for Al who
lived in a duplex practically at the base of the tower. Jim worked for an electrical supply house and
conveniently knew the mayor of Hudson who was an electrician. So with the “skids greased,” Al,
Jim, Tip, and I walked into a Hudson city council meeting and asked permission to put an antenna on
the tower and an electrical box at the base. They said OK, as long as we signed a waiver that said
we wouldn’t hold the city responsible if we killed ourselves.
 
Jim arranged for an electrical cabinet and Al found some retired commercial tube-type gear
and I applied for a repeater call sign. Because a repeater simultaneously transmits and receives on
close frequencies, it must have either separate transmitter and receiver locations, use a single antenna
with a highly tuned (and expensive) set of cavities called a duplexer, or have separate antennas adequately
separated. We went with the cheapest solution and installed two Ringo Rangers on the water
tower, separated vertically by about 50 feet. My sole technical contribution was building a “cathode
follower” to connect the receiver to the transmitter. (A cathode follower is a device that matches the
impedance between two stages, allowing you in a repeater to pick up the receiver audio before it is
amplified [and distorted] by the final audio amplifier. If you don’t know what a cathode is, you’re
much too young.)

We were assigned the frequency of 147.93-33 MHz and WR9AFQ was on the air. The
coverage was severely limited by the “desense” caused by insufficient separation of the antennas and
we had to ID the repeater call sign manually, but we were on the air! Many of the locals where
skeptical. Who ever heard of a repeater above 147 MHz and why would anybody ever buy crystals
for it? There would be no one to talk to. Unfortunately, they were right. But those were the days I
recall most fondly in the history of the repeater. I also lived “on the hill” and Al and I could talk to
each other on the repeater all day. But we needed more users and financial support from the local
amateur community to make the repeater successful. That’s when the idea of the St. Croix Valley
Repeater Association was born.

Forming the St. Croix Valley Repeater Association
In 1976, Al, Jim, Tip and I were joined by Paul Lueck, WB9OUK, of New Richmond and
the five of us formed the St. Croix Valley Repeater Association (SCVRA) to support the repeater.
The frequency147.93-33 was considered by many to be an “oddball” one and many were reluctant
to purchase crystals for it. Crystals were expensive, costing between $15 and $25 for a commercial
quality pair. We heard about this fellow from Minneapolis, who was kind of a shady character and
was somehow able to get crystals for $3 each. They weren’t the greatest quality, but they usually
worked and he replaced them when they didn’t. (The worst part was driving to his “trash” house in
Minneapolis to pick them up). We came up with the idea of offering a “free” set of 147.93/33
crystals to anyone who joined the SCVRA for $25. It actually worked out quite well. Several people
joined this way and we started getting some meager funds to support the repeater. We bought an
automatic Morse ID’er. There was this matrix on the circuit board and every dit needed one diode
soldered in place and every dah needed three.

One of the newer hams in town at that time was Jeff Ward, WB9UIM (later N9ACB).
Jeff’s mother owned the Hotel Dibbo and he arranged for us to hold our monthly meetings there. We
often got 8-12 people to show up, including Wally Hollinger, W9LWC, a heavy user and financial
supporter who used the repeater on his daily commute from Comstock, WI to Golden Valley, MN.
The desense problem continued to limit our coverage and we began searching for ways to
address it. We still couldn’t afford a duplexer, so we planned to install either the transmitter or receiver
on the North Hudson water tower. We obtained permission and installed a electrical box
(which is still there) and put up antennas. We began to install some equipment, but I don’t think we
ever got it working properly.

The Move to Roberts
Paul Lueck, WB9OUK, dropped out of group rather early, but we were soon blessed with
many new active members. One of the most crucial was Ken Kraft, K9IKB, of Roberts. Although
our coverage from Hudson was good in the river valley, coverage to the east along I-94 was not very
good. Ken lived on a bluff just off of Exit 10 and offered his location as a repeater site. Ken had no
tower at the time, so we started to scrounge for one. Our first attempt was an old windmill that a
farmer south of Hudson donated to us. By the time we got it moved to Roberts, it was little more
than scrap metal. Our second idea was an old utility pole, and that worked out. The repeater was
installed in a loft in Ken’s unheated pole barn. Ken built a nice wooden box for it and we heated it
with light bulbs.

We purchased a cheap, non-commercial duplexer which was very finicky to tune and had a
high insertion loss, but it worked better than separating two antennas. We achieved increased coverage
in the county, but coverage in the St. Croix River Valley was never as good as it was from the
Hudson water tower.

The 146.34-94 Fiasco
One of the large multi-receiver Twin Cities repeaters was looking for a receiver site to extend
their coverage to the east. Our location in Roberts looked very good to them. The only problem
was that our receiver input on 147.93 MHz was too far from their input in the 146 MHz portion of
the band for us both to use the same antenna. They came up with the suggestion that we move our
repeater to 146.34-94. We were very excited about this at first because 34-94 was the most popular
repeater frequency in the country. We had dreams of tons of new activity and support. This group
helped us obtain and install a steel tower and more modern repeater equipment. They also convinced
us to purchase a commercial grade duplexer and antenna from Phelps Dodge, which we had to go
into debt with some of our members to buy.

Because of our location so near to the border, we needed the permission of both the Minnesota
and Wisconsin repeater councils in order to change frequencies. The Minnesota council was in
the back pocket of this large Twin Cities repeater group, so that was no problem. So a carload of us
made a daytrip to Rhinelander, Wisconsin to plead our case to the Wisconsin Association of Repeaters
(WAR). As long as Minnesota agreed, WAR supported our change and WR9AFQ moved to
146.34-94 MHz.

It was a disaster. First, many of the locals, including our founding member, Tip, W9LQC,
still used 146.94 MHz for simplex work. They were immediately outraged by the interference (remember
that in those days changing frequencies required purchasing a new set of crystals). Second,
it was a good summer that year for temperature inversions and tropo ducting, so we had almost continuous
interference from 146.34-94 MHz repeaters in St. Cloud and Waseca, and sometimes even
farther away. Third, some of us were beginning to feel like Finland after World War II — our bigger
neighbor was starting to call the shots for us.
I remember contacting Al and saying that we needed to return to 93-33. Al and I almost literally
sneaked out to Roberts and changed it back. Now the Twin Cities group was outraged. They
started demanding compensation for the help they had given us. Of course it didn’t come to that, but
many of those folks are very cool to me to this day. Unfortunately, Tip, W9LQC, also never forgave
us for making the original move to 146.34-94.

Epilogue
I don’t remember much after that. Things settled down and WR9AFQ became a stable repeater
with good coverage twenty miles either side of Exit 10 on I-94. I left the SCVRA in 1981,
having graduated from college and moving on to a full-time job. In 1985 I got married to my wife
Jean and we set up our home in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. Four children and the other
vagaries of life put my ham radio interests on the back burner for a number of years. In 2000, my
ten-year-old son Trent became interested and earned his Technician license (KC0KQJ). I bought
my first new piece of ham radio gear in almost 30 years – it was synthesized and everything. With
the 20 WPM code requirement gone, I finally earned my Extra class license in 2001 -- thirty years
after taking the Advanced class test that had us make freehand drawings of vacuum tube circuits.
Many things have changed in ham radio in the 36 years I have been licensed, but the good people
have not. I am honored to be a part of the 30-year anniversary celebration.

PHOTOS

 Me (WB9DAN) at my station (ca. 1974)  My first 2m FM Rig, an HR2-B (ca. 1974)  Frank (W9AVX), Jim (K9HDF), Tip (W9LQC) (ca. 1974)
At the base of the water tower (Feb. 1975)   Al (K9ZMA) in his Dodge Dart Swinger (Feb.
1975)
 The repeater site (Feb. 1975)
Working at the water tower (Feb. 1975)