Tri-State History


As told by Tri-State Member John Wood
 The Tri-State Repeater Association actually owes its beginnings to the old Mid-South VHF Association which used to meet back in the 1970's at the Red Cross Building, 1400 Central Avenue. From my perspective, the story goes like this:

My first contact with the Mid-South VHF Association came as a result of my earning my first amateur license in 1975. I had passed the test for a Technician class amateur radio operator license but was forced to wait six months before I received my ticket to operate (broadcast) from the FCC because in 1975 the FCC was being inundated by a flood of applications for Citizen Band Radio licenses. After lots of phone calls, persistence and tons of patience, I was awarded with call sign WA4BPI and went on the air with a used two-meter HT (converted FBI HT) and a Gonsett six-meter AM rig loaned to me by my Elmer (Glenn Reed, WB4ZUP, now K7CAP).On six meters (50-54 MHz) I made the acquaintance of one George Brown,WB4CHZ, who was a member of the Mid-South VHF Association.

George knew this guy Randy Wilder, WB4LHD, who operated a lot on the VHF frequencies and he also mentioned a guy named Lionel LeJeune, WA4KOG, who called a six-meter AM net every Sunday morning, early. Those days I was into sleeping late on Sundays and never could get up in time to check into the net so, at George's invitation, I attended the next monthly meeting of the Mid-South VHF Association to met George face-to-face and possibly meet these other two guys that he had talked about.

I'm not sure if Lionel attended the first meeting but I did get to meet Randy and eventually Lionel and a lot of other guys by attending those VHF Club gatherings. Met one guy that seemed nice by the name of Bob Beanblossom who was also in the club, but I believe his interests changed and he stopped attending the meetings.

At the time I joined the club, it was going through an interesting process of trying to set up a repeater for its membership on the six-meter band. One of the club members had found out that Memphis Light, Gas and Water was selling off some old, used Motorola radios and Lionel was converting them to six meters for the members' use while also converting one of the used rigs into a repeater.

Problems arose when one faction of the club began verbal battles with another faction for control of the club and the repeater. Both sides firmly believing they were right and the others wrong, stubbornly held to their beliefs and strong words ere exchanged. One of the primary problems was with the club's constitution requiring that three-fourths of the membership attend a meeting to qualify as a quorum so that the constitution could be modified. Unfortunately, hams being the individuals that they are, there were not personally motivated to attend the meeting and put up with all of the arguing and harsh words so gathering a quorum was difficult to say the least.

Finally, a strong effort was made to get all the members to attend a meeting to modify the constitution to reduce the number of members required to constitute a quorum, but at that meeting, they couldn't agree on how many members it should take to make a quorum (five, 50, 50% of the membership??)and eventually, the meeting broke up with no decision reached and the club left awash in a sea of controversy. As members and newsletter contributors, Randy and I were right in the middle of this controversy as was Lionel since he was the person who built the machine and repaired it. After going through this experience, the three of us learned that a club was not the best way to organize a group to operate a repeater.

Still, operating those old MLG & W rigs on six meters from our cars was a lot of fun. My radio was a Motorola T-Power with transistor finals that had a combined output of around 75 watts. The unit took up almost the entire trunk of my car and had to be wired to a control head under the dash and powered directly from the car battery. And it drew so much current on transmit that it dimmed my headlights when I pressed the mic button but it was a "rompin' and stompin'" mobile and could access the six-meter repeater (located at the Mid-City Building in Memphis at Union and Cleveland) from as far away as Forrest City when I parked one time on Crowley's Ridge and pointed the car back towards Memphis. Lionel had even equipped the repeater with an autopatch which made having access to the machine very handy indeed since this was 1975 or 1976 and cellular phones were still 10-15 years away. At that time, making a phone call from your car or from a handie-talkie was a pretty cool thing to do since the only other people who could do that were the rich and famous who had expensive mobile phones in their vehicles.

One other important event in the history of the Tri-State Repeater Association occurred as Lionel LeJeune was leaving Memphis on his way to the Dayton Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio. This had to be 1975 or 1976, April to be more precise. He and Randy were both going to Dayton but in separate cars and they wanted to talk to each other on the way out of town. To do so, they decided to rendezvous on the city's popular repeater on 146.94 MHz. But since Lionel had not paid dues on the 146.94 repeater, one or more of the repeater's control operators felt it was necessary to turn off the repeater so that he could not use it. A few minutes later, the machine came back on again and Lionel again tried to use it and the machine was again cut off. Now the FCC was founded in 1934 based on the idea that the airwaves belong to the public but some amateurs who felt that money and collecting repeater dues was more important than being courteous to your fellow hams thought that by cutting off the repeater when non-dues paying members attempted to use the machine, that it would encourage those people to contribute to the repeater fund to help defray expenses such as telephone service for the autopatch, hardware costs and other equipment charges.

Unfortunately, in this case the results were not what they had hoped for because cutting off Lionel LeJeune was using the repeater just made Lionel be resolved to put a repeater on the air where no one could be cut off and that all licensed hams could use the machine to improve their communication. He went to the Hamvention that year with that idea and came back to put a new repeater on the air in Memphis.

Since I knew the repeater frequency coordinator at that time, Chuck O'Kelly, I was asked by Lionel to call Chuck to see if a pair of frequencies were available on the two-meter band for us to operate our new repeater on. We knew that most of the repeater pairs were allocated even though at that time there were only two prominent repeaters operating-the 146.94 machine which most everyone listened to, and the 146.88 machine which had been put on by Dorman Powell and was available for QSOs that might be too long for the busy 146.94 repeater.

The other frequency pairs were signed out to other people who were either operating private machines (on public frequencies-how do you like that?) or were possibly toying with the idea of starting a repeater at some time in the future.

I explained our situation to Chuck and he said that all the frequency pairs had been spoken for but he knew that the 146.85 repeater pair might be available since the person who had them reserved had not done anything with them to date. Chuck suggested I give the gentleman a call to see what could be worked out.

I called the man and spoke with him, explaining our situation and what we wanted to do and he couldn't have been nicer about it. He quickly agreed to give up the frequency pair for our use for our new repeater. Suddenly, our repeater had a life, a future and a name-the 85 machine! I quickly called Lionel to share this information with him and before you know it, the 25/85 repeater was alive and operating from Lionel's garage in Whitehaven. It was about this time that I suggested the name for the new organization to Lionel. Since the machine was operating with coverage areas in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, I thought that Tri-State Repeater Association might be a good name for the operation. Lionel agreed and no one objected so the name was adopted by all. This would not be a club like the VHF Association, but a new type of organization that would primarily operate and maintain an amateur radio repeater that all amateurs, that 's ALL AMATEURS, could use without fear of being cut of in mid transmission. Courtesy and cooperation would be the theme and every amateur could come on and use the repeater without having to fear that their transmissions would be terminated by money-motivated control operators. Yes, we would need money to operate the machine and keep it working but we would accept voluntary donations from amateurs who agreed with our goals and philosophies and believed like we did that the frequencies are owned by the public and should be used by the public and for the public good, not manipulated by someone who had the power to turn a repeater of and on whenever they felt like doing so.

Yes, in those early days, the 25/85 repeater transmitted a weak signal to where I lived near Park and Highland but we knew everything would be great after the new machine went through its "burn-in period" and was installed in its permanent home at the top of the Mid-City Building.

Things weren't really all that great after moving the repeater to the top of the Mid-City Building. Just getting it up there was a chore and manually hoisting the big Phelps-Dodge antenna up the side of the 14-story building with a rope was truly an exciting experience but eventually the supporting tower for the antenna was installed and secured, the coax connected and the repeater "fired up" and on the air. Now the real testing could commence and signal reports were flying thick and fast with the competition being to see who could get into the repeater from the greatest distance and prove that our repeater was the best in the city.

After that, a series of innovative improvements were made to the machine including the addition of "remote control" squelch for the repeater's receiver to improve its sensitivity (and save control operators from having to drive down to the repeater just to manually adjust the squelch knob), the addition of cavities to narrow the repeater's receiving range and help eliminate annoying interference from other radio services and transmitters and, at one point, even separating the receiver from the transmitter to reduce interference by putting one unit on the Mid-City Building and the other on the nearby Southern College of Optometry and connecting the two via a dedicated phone line. When that didn't work as well as expected and the expense for the dedicated line was judge too great for this group of volunteers to support, the repeater was then moved to the Sterrick Building downtown and then moved again to the First Tennessee Bank building. It wasn't until a few years ago that the 85 repeater was moved to Collierville where it operates today.

Recently, we wrote a new chapter in the history of the Tri-State Repeater Association when we acquired the 146.88 MHz repeater and with it, permission to operate an amateur station from Clark Tower and the Adam's Mark Hotel. Having equipment at these sites greatly expands our capabilities to perform our primary mission of providing public service communications wherever and whenever needed. Amateurs aid and assist the public good almost everyday through their use of their own personal radio equipment through a diverse collection of communication-aided situations. From spotting potentially life-threatening storms and tornadoes to the National Weather Service to reporting fires and automobile accidents to the appropriate government agency, the amateurs are at work at all times performing numerous functions to better serve the public through their communication capabilities. This is the mission of the Tri-State Repeater Association: For over 25 years providing the public with the needed communication services, leading amateur radio into the next millennium.