How it Started
The organizational meeting of the Rib Mountain Repeater Association was held April 15,1972 in the basement of the home of Lew Sheerar K9JPS. Fifteen hams from the central Wisconsin area attended. It was recognized that a VHF repeater on Rib Mountain would provide unprecedented radio communication coverage in central Wisconsin. The repeater was a relatively new aspect of the Amateur Radio hobby. The first steps taken to get a machine operational were financial. A dues structure consisting of a $10 one time initiation fee plus $5 annual dues was adopted. The first year dues ran to December 31 1972. Twenty Amateurs joined the RMRA in this first year.
The RMRA Charter Members
Frank Guth W9BCC, Stevens Point
Cliff Sprague W9CFS, Stevens Point
Tom Tesky WA9EDU, Spooner
Bill Wacholz K9HJS, Wausau
Gus Bonow W9IHW, Port Edwards
Bob Starr WB9JGA, Schofield
Lew Sheerar K9JPS, Wausau; Secretary-Treasurer
Mal Preston W9JQY, Wausau
John Burby W9KQN, Wausau
Milt Wisler W9KRY, Wausau; Borad Member
Don Stenz K9KSA, Wausau; Board Member
Frank Kleczewski K9LRS, Medford
Wayne Johnson K9MIF, Stevens Point
Dick Drew K9PJB, Wisconsin Rapids; Vice President
Frank Jaeger WA9SQN, Merrill; President
Leo Bartelt WA9UBE, Springfield, Il
Cliff Vanderwall K9WDW, Wausau
Hine Dahlbacka W9WEY, Wausau
Al Mallek K9WVM, Stevens Point
Andy Folgert W9ZHE, Wausau
The First Machine
The original frequency pair chosen for the fledgling Rib Mountain machine was 146.34 MHz input and 146.94 MHz output. Since 146.94 was at the time a popular simplex frequncy the allocation was soon changed to 146.22/.82 MHz.
The repeater was originally housed in the WHRM transmitter building. The first duplexer was home brewed by Frank Jaeger WA9SQN. The control system was built by Dick Drew K9PJB. The antenna base was at a height of only 35 feet above ground with RG8AU for feedline. The machine was put on the air on a test basis January 20, 1973. It was the first repeater licensed in the in Wisconsin and only the second in the 9th call area (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana) as evidenced by its FCC assigned callsign, WR9AAB.
Until UHF control circuitry could be built, operating times were limited to when there was an Amateur control operator on duty at WHRM. A new young state employee, Dean Andrewjeski WB9WEY (now K9PT), remembers upsetting the local hams when he turned off the repeater when it was disturbing him. FCC rules at that time also required a log to be kept by anyone using the repeater.
A commercial grade Phelps-Dodge antenna was purchased in November of 1975. By 1976, WR9AAB consisted of a General Electric Master Progress Line receiver and transmitter, Sinclair duplexer, and Motorola Micor preamplifier. The repeater electronics were soon moved to the WAOW-TV transmitter building for improved access since the WOAW chief engineer was RMRA License Trustee Don Stenz K9KSA.
The Machine Evolves
In late 1977, $700 was spent on heliax feedline and the antenna was raised to its current height of 300 feet above the tower base. The principal tower climbers on that cool windy autumn day were John Burby W9KQN, and Bill Bergs WB9JGV (now KC9UC).
A new solid state controller, patterned after a popular VHF Engineering Corporation model was built in 1977.
In the early 1980's WA9SQN promoted and developed a 1050 Hz tone decoder which was the subject of a construction article in QST magazine. A touch tone decoder was incorporated along with a tape deck for id and voice announcements. This controller upgrade was built in a card cage by Paul Nelles K9DB and AD9W. During this time a dedicated aircraft Emergency Locator Transmitter receiver that would sound an alert over the repeater was a much talked about issue. The RMRA was in the early phases of implementing such a device when Russia and the United States launched the Search and Rescue Satellite (SARSAT) platforms. The project was then abondoned
An experiment to cancel the antenna pattern null caused by tower shading was approved at the November 1979 meeting. A second Phelps-Dodge antenna was ordered ($180). The two antennas then were mounted symmetrically across the north face of the tower and each fed in phase. This solution was only partially successful. It eliminated the existing null and provided an increase in gain straight north and south. However a rather complex pattern of narrow nulls developed, a notable one being through Pittsville. When one of the antennas failed a couple of years later, the single antenna configuration was revisted. However this time the antenna was positioned out from the west tower leg as far as the mounting bracket would allow. There remained a noticable but tolerable null to the northeast. Most members felt the single antenna pattern was preferable to the dual so the second antenna was never replaced.
A 70 watt Spectrum Communications solid state transmitter was ordered Jnauary 30th 1981, to replace the General Electric tube transmitter (This won out over a Hamtronics exciter with a 70-90 watt TPL amp). Tubes and other transmitter parts were a constant expense and maintenance headache. Much of the engineering up to 1981 was done by Edward "Rusty" Duelman K9FWR, Don Stenz K9KSA, Frank Jaeger WA9SQN and Bob Starr WB9JGA.
A New Call
The FCC cancelled all special repeater callsigns, (ie WR9xxx) in the late 1970's. License Trustee Don Stenz K9KSA used his own call as the repeater call. When he moved out of the area in 1982, Frank Guth W9BCC of Stevens Point was appointed the new trustee, a position he would hold until his death in 1998. W9BCC became the callsign of the 146.22/.82 repeater on Dec. 6 1982. The CW call in the ID'er was encoded in a programmable read only memory chip (PROM) which had to be "burned" for $30. With the exception of a brief period after Guth's death, W9BCC has remained the repeater call to present day. It was permanently assigned to the RMRA as a memorial to Guth on October 12th 2001.
In July of 1983 it was decided to move from the WAOW facilities to the WHRM transmitter building. 24 hour emergency power availability, main power grid protection, and improved access to the site were determining factors. Many improvements were done on the system at that time. Most were RF related.
In the early 1970's members of the RMRA assisted the Marathon County Sheriff's Department by providing surveillance for a "rustler patrol".
Weather Spotting came of age in central Wisconsin in the mid 1970's. Encouraged by an active Director of Marathon County Emergency Government, Fred Mittlestadt, the ARES conducted severe weather nets on the 146.82 repeater over a multi-county area.
The RMRA repeater's finest moment was undoubtedly August 31, 1977. Early that evening observers reported ominous thunderheads building in western Marathon County. Based on this information, the Marathon County Office of Emergency Government (MCOEG) requested the activation of the Central Wisconsin Severe Weather Network on the RMRA 2-meter repeater. At 7:02 PM an Amateur Radio spotter reported a tornado touchdown 10 miles east of and heading for Wausau. The MCOEG issued the appropriate warnings to media and law enforcement agencies, who in turn warned the public. It is generally held that thanks to this early warning, no lives were lost that evening.The Marathon County Severe Weather Net continues on W9BCC/R to present day.
The North American Teleconference Radio net was broadcast from June 1983 to March 1987. Bill Bergs KC9UC and Rich Maier KC9NW provided a link from Milwaukee initially via VHF systems Mosinee Hill. One particular net required KC9NW spend the entire net on the tower fine tuning the beam due to an RF final amplifier failure at the Milwaukee site. The band was continuously changing, several times necessitating the squelch be opened all the way. A Midland 13-510 transceiver and a communications monitor were used for relinking.
Later nets were tied directly by phone line to Honeywell Corporation's telephone bridge in Minneapolis to become part of the interactive net. There was one more in March of 1990. These were nets that lasted around two hours. They usually featured multiple speakers who talked the first half and followed by questions and answers the second half.
The purchase of a Motorola Micor exciter and power amplifier for $265 was approved in January 1983 to replace the Spectrum transmitter. An Astron RS50M power supply was purchased for $220 in January 1984 after failure of a Vista 30 amp which was purchased for the Spectrum. Both the Vista and Spectrum had problems standing up to the duty cycle required for the repeater.
A multi channel audio mixer and delay was added in September 1984 by KC9NW and AD9W. This eliminated cross-talk among the audio inputs and the squelch noise burst. K9BD acquired a open air 19" rack through Wisconsin Bell and Bruce Walther W9QAH. An RCC Systems RC850 computer controller was added January 7th 1989. Originally the property of Dave Melton KD9NV, it was purchased by and on loan from Mike Schoenfuss N9GHZ. It was sold to RMRA over two years for $500 annual payments. Many members donated to a special fund for this purpose. Due to high RF environment on Rib Mountain, special bypass capacitors and RF beads were added to the RC850. A computer interface was added to the controller in 1992.
In 1989 an Icom 22S link radio (on loan from KC9NW) and beam were added to the repeater for linking to the Marshfield 147.18 repeater for the Newsline Report. The receiver was later changed to a Motorola due to audio problems with the GE. A fiber optic phone line was installed to the Mountain by the phone company.
On January 1 1991 annual dues were increased to $15.
At the 1994 Annual Meeting the membership voted to proceed with a UHF repeater. This repeater was added in the spring of 1995 on 444.3 MHz. The Radios and duplexer cost $844. KC9NW loaned use of the repeater contoller.
In 1995, dues were raised to $20 per year.
The RMRA Website was born in mid 2000, providing a venue for Amateur Radio news and alerts, RMRA organizational and operational information information, silent key memorials, space and weather information, and links to other Amateur Radio related sites.
The UHF repeater was interfaced to the Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) on August 31st 2001. This interface allowed any Amateur within range of Rib Mountain to link via the internet to repeaters quite literally on the other side of the world.
In late 2000, construction bagan on a new candelabra tower on Rib Mountain. A new VHF antenna for the 146.22/.82 system was installed in the east tower leg in June of 2001.
The RMRA has had a long history and come a long way since its beginnings in Lew Sheerar's basement. The organization has survived and trived only because of the leadership and support of its members, its greatest resource.