Ever wonder what drives a guy to create a Web site tracking 30,000 repeaters worldwide and spending a thousand hours a year making it all work? Me, too! But let's take a walk down memory lane and come to understand what Repeaterbook is and where it comes from.
A little about me, Garrett (KD6KPC). I got licensed in 1992 as a no-code tech. Though I have actually passed the code portion of the General exam (back in 1995), I have never taken the theory test. I know I'd pass it, I have done it so many times on the QRZ.com tests! But I never really had an interest in HF. I've been exposed to it plenty. Many Elmers I knew had HF equipment and I got to QSO (3rd Party) with hams all over the world. But it never really thrilled me like going out and working a parade, race, weather net, or any of the other activities that occur down on the repeaters. But I'll go get the upgrade one of these days anyway, because I know some look down on us techs just for being techs, hihi.
I had some early experiences with trying to locate repeaters as a young ham. I did what everyone else did...went out and bought a pocket directory. Being a teenager and being so into electronics and science (I got a perfect score on the science portion of the ACT test because it was all about HF propagation!) I spent a lot of time fiddling with that little HT. I tried every repeater near me in the book. I took the book camping and on week-long trips. I was actually intrigued by the different courtesy tones and amazed by voice IDers (super geek).
Our local ham club, The Antelope Valley Amateur Radio Club (AVARC) was the first club I ever joined. Got the name tag and everything. Went to the meetings down at city hall. Talked on the club repeater, the 146.730 repeater on Hauser Peak. Definitely, the best and friendliest repeater covering the valley. I also paid for an autopatch membership on another repeater. This was pre-cell phone and was the coolest thing ever. I could call home and tell them I would be late!
When I could afford it, I bought a mobile radio. I got a Kenwood TM-733a dual bander and have been hooked on Kenwoods ever since. Between my college years, I worked for my uncle in Colorado. I spent countless hours researching repeaters (the Internet still wasn't really a thing in 1996), documenting them, and writing them down so I could program my radio. I used the ARRL book and the ArtsciPub book to locate repeaters. I went to school in Idaho, and I did that research, too. I had spreadsheets in file folders that told me how to program my radio for different trips.
Then I got married and moved to Oregon. My wife is a ham, too! We have radios in all of our cars. Now with the Internet available, you think the world's problems would be solved by being able to get good, reliable data about repeaters and what to use where. This was 2006, I don't think the problem is solved even today.
Here's the problem with repeaters. They can come and go at a moment's notice. They can also be listed through coordination (which is where the ARRL gets their data) but not be on the air anymore. You see, as the owner of a coordinated repeater myself, I know that paying for crystals and tuning the duplexers can be a real pain. Once you get coordination, you want to keep it, even if your repeater is not running. You have every good intention of putting it back online, but time or money just has not permitted it. But if you let the coordination go, someone else can get it and you just compounded the issues trying to get your repeater back up and running again.
Do you know what we call machines that are coordinated but not operating? Paper repeaters. Because they only exist on paper. These really confuse guys who use the directories and see an endless number of repeaters for an area, but only a few work. The reason for this is above. You only want to know about the ones that work, right?
You know resetting a radio causes it to "forget" all of its memory channels. If you reset your radio, you have to completely start over with programming it. It's nice to have a list of repeaters available that tells you which repeater to program into which memory channel.
I own 11 radios with 2m/440 capability. I like them all to be programmed the same. I always want the Goat Mountain repeater to be in memory channel two on all of my radios. You probably do that, too! But for the two radios in the cars, I want them to also be programmed for my trips to visit my folks in Idaho, my weekend getaways to Seattle, and the Disneyland road trips. Thank you Kenwood, and others, for creating computer programmable radios. I could now create repeater lists for the trips I was taking without destroying my local config. Just upload the config you need for the trip and then upload the "home" version when returning.
I had amassed a wealth of repeater information with Excel from all of my trips. This information helped me decide which repeaters to program. The problem with Excel is that it is only available on a computer running the file. Hey, this was 2006, there was no OneDrive and iCloud back then. To make this visible from anywhere I could get the Internet (also before the iPhone), I needed to put the list up on the Web. nwham.com was born.
Now trust me, I am no computer IT professional. I first learned about computers at 12 when I bought a Commodore 64 and learned Basic programming from the sample program manual it came with. I programmed my paper route subscription list right into that thing. The point is, that I was self-taught. I've never been to a computer class in my life. So how was I going to create a website to list repeaters?
I had dabbled with Microsoft Access at work a little, so I did some research and came across PHP and MySQL. I actually began to learn how to program the website by buying the book, PHP and MySQL for Dummies.
The Web started out with just Oregon, then some Washington, and a little Oregon. That was it. I tried to expand it to be complete for those three states and thought that would be good enough.
The difference with this website was that I wanted to track the repeater's operational status and let you know when the last time the repeater was actually confirmed working. I wanted you to have the details that the locals knew about it. There weren't even ads on the site at that time. Tracking about 1,000 repeaters, I posted them only as a hobby.
Thinking that was good and I was done, I was contacted by James Ewen (VE6AEW), a ham out of Alberta, Canada. I don't know how he found the Web Site, but he did. And he liked the direction it was headed. I remember spending hours on the phone with James (thank goodness my home phone service did not charge long distance to Canada) and coming together on a direction for the site and expanding it into Canada and eastward.
I want to make it clear to everyone that the repeater directory and app are not business ventures. They are extensions of the amateur radio hobby and is the result of, not only me, buy dozens of other hams who are giving of themselves, for no pay, to improve ham radio. The website does not, and will never charge for the data on the site. This is not to say that we are making a political statement or that anyone else is wrong for doing so. There are plenty of folks making lots of money, in a mutually beneficial way, that contribute a lot to the hobby. I have no problem with that. This is just not the model of Repeaterbook.
The nwham.com Web site was retired in 2011 and replaced with Repeaterbook.com, and the name much fitting for the website, especially as it marched eastward. We picked up local admins along the way and continue to solicit the ham community at large for updates to repeaters. Repeaterbook relies very heavily on user updates to keep the data up-to-date. Local knowledge is king.
The Repeaterbook app came along in 2011, also. This was a fortuante develpment. As much as I would like to program apps, I don't own a MAC and was, therefore, shut out from building an iPhone app. I only owned an iPhone, so that is where I had an interest. But Nicolas Pike, M1HOG, out of England, already had an app, called Repeater, that was displaying repeater data all around the world. He was looking to for a North American partner and I was looking for an app. Voila. An Android and iPhone app are now both available to the masses. The app has been hugely popular. Again, completely free and the data comes right from Repeaterbook.com.
Just to close out, I wanted to reiterate that Repeaterbook.com is not a corporation. There are ads on the site and they pay the bills. We hope they are not too annoying, but I think you understand. Our goal is simple...share with the masses everything we know about amateur radio repeaters. Being a crowd-sourced movement, we hope you will help contribute information to us. Don't think for a second that you are lining anyone's pockets, working for free, or putting my kids through college. I have a day job. You are simply helping us, and we will help you, give back a little to the hobby that has given us all so much.
So when you search for repeaters in your area and there are some great results, thank the admins and users who came before you and put that info there. Then leave the place a little better than you found it. Post an update. For those areas of the country where the data is a little sparse, please know that we do not raid other directories or pay anyone for data. Yes, there may be repeaters around you that are pretty common knowledge and we should know about them, but we don't. We apologize and hope that you will help us help others.
Thanks for your support!
Owner and creator of Repeaterbook.com