It Seems to Us: Pooling Our Resources
An early and much celebrated example of radio amateurs pooling their resources to achieve great things is the 1921 station 1BCG in Greenwich, Connecticut. In the space of less than three weeks, six members of the Radio Club of America assembled an amateur station that turned out to be the first to span the Atlantic. In 1960, two teams of amateurs in Massachusetts and California became the first to complete a moonbounce contact. After concluding that 1296 MHz offered the best prospects for success, it had taken them a year to assemble the necessary equipment and antennas. At around the same time another group of West Coast amateurs was pursuing an even more ambitious goal: the launch of an amateur-built satellite. Their achievement, barely four years after Sputnik 1, blazed the trail for dozens more to follow right up to the present day -- every one of them the result of a group effort.
At a more down-to-earth level, the construction, installation, maintenance and operation of a repeater is typically a group undertaking. Repeaters are more than "black boxes" that extend the range of our small VHF stations. They are important community resources. A well-run repeater can serve as a "watering hole" -- for the socialization of newcomers, for training and information exchange, and simply as a place "where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came." A repeater is often the focal point for public service and emergency communications (although there must be a "Plan B" in case the repeater itself becomes a casualty). Many repeaters offer ties outside the local area through Internet and radio links.
Since a repeater is a rather substantial asset and its operation raises management issues as varied as the user community it serves, formal agreements and rules are often necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings and ensure smooth functioning of the group over a long period of time. Forming a club, if one does not exist already, is the most common way to provide such a framework.
There are more than 2,000 active ARRL-affiliated clubs, many if not most of them either owning or actively supporting one or more repeaters. Through their sponsorship and support of repeaters, these clubs provide their members -- and often the amateur community at large -- with solutions to many of their needs. Yet, with the exception of college and university clubs, as far as we know there are relatively few clubs that provide their members with a solution of another kind: routine access to a well-equipped HF station.
If you are a long-time amateur and were able to choose your current residence with Amateur Radio in mind, you may not realize the barriers that face many new amateurs and those with less flexibility in their choice of housing. Installing an effective HF antenna at one's home may not be possible for a variety of reasons, restrictive covenants among them. The ARRL has been pursuing legislative solutions to restrictive covenants for years and will continue to do so, and in the meantime various compromises are often possible. However, for now the bottom line is that a well-equipped HF station in their own home is beyond the reach of a growing number of amateurs and prospective hams.
In some countries in Eastern Europe, club stations are often the focal point of local activity. There are social gatherings throughout the week, not just on formal meeting nights. If the bands are open, operators take turns; if not, they work on construction projects or QSL cards, or just talk. Some of the reasons for the popularity of club stations there do not translate to North America; we are, after all, a society that prefers installing elaborate "home theaters" to going out to an occasional movie. On the other hand, if you can't have what you'd like for yourself, perhaps you can join forces with some of your friends and put together something that's even better.
Recent advances in remote operation have opened another window of opportunity. Quoting from a recent report by the ARRL Contest Advisory Committee, "…with the widespread deployment of broadband Internet, it has now become technically feasible and cost effective to remotely operate a radio station located almost anywhere in the world. Although there are still issues with latency in CW applications, other modes are currently feasible…. These technical breakthroughs have resulted in greater interest in remote operating by contesters, and it is expected that interest will grow. Remote operating offers the possibility of conveniently using a station with greater capabilities than one's own, or of operating a station in a highly competitive contest location."
Of course, the potential benefits of remote operating are not limited to contesting. Indeed, most operating applications are not nearly as demanding, and therefore would be easier to implement.
Tell us about your experiences. Does your club have a station that members can routinely access and operate? If so, does it get much use? What sorts of problems have you encountered, and how have they been addressed? Would you be interested in sharing access to a remote station? Would your friends? If you have experience with a remote station, what have you learned that would be helpful to others?
David Sumner, K1ZZ
ARRL Chief Executive Officer