The History of ECRA Repeaters in Elkhart County
Provided by - Tom Szerencse ( WB9VTZ )
And from records from the ECRA archives.
Elkhart County Radio Association
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All Logo's and any Trademarks, on this site, are hereby acknowledged and/or used with permission.
Anyone who knew Clarence Moore (W9LZX) can easily remember his involvement with amateur radio. From designing the "cubical quad" antenna, which resembled an enormous naked box kite, to the experiments run to test the merits of the "lazy quad," he always loved antenna work. Back in the 60's if you were giving directions to a visitor, all you would have to say is, "Drive down Mishawaka Road until you come to the property with all the antennas and you've found International Radio and Electronics (now known as Crown International)." In the early 70's Clarence established an amateur radio club station inside Crown International, for employees interested in radio communications and experimentation. This station was a low band station and attracted only moderate use. However, the club operators, all seven of us, soon set our eyes on the VHF band and kindled a burning desire in Clarence to operate a repeater station at the plant. A repeater station boosts the coverage of hand held and mobile radios by relaying their signals to a much higher antenna site which covers greater distances.
The antenna for this repeater station was located on the front yard of Crown International, next to the Moore home, on a modest 80 foot tower. His dream, however, was to provide the "Hams" at Crown Int'l with a higher antenna, one that could reach out at least 50 miles in all directions. Shortly after his death in 1978, his dream was fulfilled. In 1979 a new 500 foot tower was erected at his son's (Edwin Moore's) radio Station, WFRN. Edwin knew of his father's commitment to amateur radio and made available a free antenna location on the new tower to be used for the club repeater site. With the new antenna location being 360 feet above ground, Clarence's goal of reaching out 50 miles in all directions had been fulfilled. The system became operational on January 1, 1980. Since its humble beginning, the club has enjoyed considerable growth. Between 1980 and 1985 the club membership had grown to 45 people.
In 1985 the club saw the need to expand its image and responsibilities. It changed its name from the Crown Radio Club to the Elkhart County Radio Association and formally incorporated with the State of Indiana as a not-for-profit organization. This brought with it the need for a Board of Directors and club officers.
In 1987 the club helped members organize Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) in Elkhart County. ARES can be called out at any time to provide volunteer communications assistance to local governments. It has provided services during such incidents as a rail car chemical leak, flood watch along the river and simulated disaster drills in conjunction with local hospitals.
Another service program operated by the amateurs is the Skywarn program. In times of approaching bad weather, amateur radio operators look to the sky and watch for threatening cloud formations to report to the National Weather Bureau in South Bend. We often beat the police and even radar to the draw! In Elkhart County full time amateur radio stations have been installed at Elkhart General Hospital, Goshen Hospital, and the Elkhart City and County Police communications rooms. These stations can be manned after a single call to posts. Digital communications with hard copy can be sent anywhere in the nation through the Packet repeater stations located in Dunlap on the Heritage Cablevision tower.
In the year, 1990, the club had taken a bold new move to purchase and operate a 220 MHz repeater. This second repeater further enhances the communications capacity of the club and provided a backup system. Then operating with 85 members, the Elkhart County Radio Association publicly wishes to thank the Moore family for their continued support over the years. We eagerly look to the future while respecting our heritage.
Pictured are Charter Members
Howard King, Tom Szerencse,
Dave Menges & Richard Putz
In the early 70's George Kasdorf (W9FSA) and others worked 2 meter FM simplex on 147.30. Later there came a desire to have a 2 meter FM repeater in the county to improve coverage. The amateurs of the area were blessed to have a very active core group of members. They were members of the Red Cross Radio club. One of the hams was first the chief engineer of Demco in Bristol, then the owner of a commercial two way radio business on county road 6, northeast of Elkhart. He was Ted Smith (K9SRI), and along with Phil Bowers (then WA9WYY, now AE9U) Max Doering (WD9AWU), Herb Sommers (WA9RNT), and Denny Drudge (then WA9ZKN, now W9XD) formed the core group responsible for the building and installation of the first 2 meter repeater in the county. It was placed into service in late 1971, and was first located at the old Red Cross building on High Street in Elkhart on 146.76 MHz, which also was the frequency for the primary repeater in Chicago. The system provided minimal coverage, and the group soon realized that in order to provide better coverage, they would need another location. In 1973, Sam Smeltzer of Sam's Mobile Radio decided that he needed a tower for his business on county road 26 south of Elkhart. He located a tower that was one of the original 5 tower array in Lydic Indiana and was used by the FAA for aircraft communication until its decommission in the 60's. In the spring of 1974, the club members helped Sam remove, transport, and erect the 135-foot tower in exchange for a free side arm at 100 feet. The repeater remained on 146.76, but then was later coordinated on one of the first, highly sought after primary frequencies, 146.64 MHz, as the interference from Chicago became more of an issue. Ted Smith was the trustee and used commercial Motorola radios for the repeater and constructed a set of cavities from the ARRL handbook. This system worked fine for years and this group and the rest of the Red Cross Club continued to operate the repeater under the call sign of WR9ABI until 1982.
Then in the 1976 the Crown International Radio club was formed. It was mainly driven by the desires of the founder of Crown, Clarence Moore W9LZX, himself quite an accomplished ham. Mr. Moore was the inventor of the cubical quad antenna and wanted a strong repeater for the hams who worked at Crown to talk on after hours. The original "Crown" club repeater was supposed to have quads pointed in each direction of the compass and Mr. Moore petitioned the FCC to get the call WR9WRR for Wide Range Repeater. (At this point in history the FCC was issuing WR9xxx calls for repeaters only). The FCC's license office personnel denied him that call but did issue him WR9AHF, which Clarence decided he could call "All Hams Free". He purchased two of the latest kit designed repeaters from VHF Engineering, one for the mission field, which Kingsley Becker assembled, and the other for the Elkhart based club system. With the financial backing from his company (Crown) he was able to buy a commercial Phelps-Dodge Super StationMaster antenna and 7/8 inch feedline. He had the system installed on his 80-foot tower next to his house on Mishawaka road, in front of Crown. Although Mr. Moore was the trustee, the technical savvy came from Richard Putz (WB9QLA). This repeater started life on 127.24 MHz.
The following year a large club in Merrillville Indiana put up their club repeater on the same frequency. That did not please Mr. Moore who thought he had sole use of this frequency for at least a 12,500 mile radius of Elkhart. So he ordered the purchase of a Tempo 2002, a VHF 500 watt continuous duty tube amplifier (better known as the tea kettle. He was sure this would be so strong that the Merrillville club would get tired of listening to us and change frequencies. What was discovered was the 500 watt amp was too much for the commercial Phelps-Dodge cavities (rated at 250 watts), which proceeded to arch at the finger contacts inside. So the amp was only used on occasion. Such an occasion occurred when Mr. Moore had Richard removed the cavities and just run a 500 watt continuously ID beacon on 127.24! But alas, in the end it did not push Merrillville away.
This was the time Tom Szerencse (WB9VTZ) got interested. Richard and Tom were able to convince Mr. Moore to move to a new frequency pair. After much looking what was selected was 147.27 MHz. The county hams didn't like this change because they all had to buy new crystal pairs for all their radios. (You remember crystals, right?) The repeater stayed there for several years, even though we shared the frequency with Toledo, whom we heard regularly, just not as regular as Merrillville.
All this time the Red Cross group continued to operate their repeater on 146.64. It had some occasional problems with desense as the homemade cavities drifted with temperature and were fussy to keep in tune. Never the less it was always there and was useful.
Then in 1978 came a new challenge. The Indiana Repeater council decided to add interleaved channel spacing to the then 30 kHz channels (ie; every 15 kHz was a channel) but let the 15 kHz new pair operate in reverse. That was in an attempt to satisfy the need for more pairs as there was such a high demand for more repeater frequencies by various ham clubs. That's when we discover the new Plymouth repeater ran by Wayne Zainer (WA9INM), which transmitted on 147.885. When his repeater came on line is when we discovered that our VHF Engineering kit receiver selectivity was not good enough to reject him, 15 kHz away. At that point our antenna was still 80 foot above Mishawaka road and Wayne was at 350 foot high 2 miles south of Lapaz, virtually line of sight to each other. So after much discussion with Wayne (who was not about to change anything on his end) we decided we either needed to change our frequency again or buy better equipment.