K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume XIII

Picking the Frequencies – When and Why?

 Have you ever wondered about how some of the default 2 meter FM frequencies were determined?  Some of the reasoning behind these decisions are known and some are not, at least by me.

 I got into the 2 meter FM arena in late 1964 or early 1965.  I’d just gotten married and graduated from college with a degree in education.  I was now prepared to go out into the cold cruel world and make my fortune by teaching school.  With such a stunning resume and all the tremendous financial possibilities, I was ready to spend hundreds, no thousands of dollars in setting up my complete ham station.  Why then did I not even have enough to buy a used vacuum tube?    Back in those days, when you heard the old saying,” He didn’t have a pot…..” they were not making reference to drugs.  I sure wanted to get on that WA5LVT repeater on 146.94 MHz but I couldn’t afford to even buy one of the Motorola or GE surplus radios, which were what almost everyone on the repeater was running.  At that time, WA5LVT had been active on the Tulsa airwaves for several years.

 By a fortunate stroke of fate, a company in Tulsa donated quite a few RCA Carfone 10 watt, dual-frequency mobile transceivers to the Tulsa Red Cross, which was working very closely with the Tulsa Repeater Organization and the Electron Benders ARC.  The Red Cross offered the free, long-term use of one of these fully operational radios with just a few restrictions:

1.                   The user must buy two sets of crystals; one set was to go into that user’s Carfone and the other to one of the other Carfones that would be used by the Red Cross.  A set of crystals consisted of 3 pieces:  1 – 146.94 RX, 1 – 146.34 TX, and 1 – 146.94 TX and, as I recall, cost about $30-$35 per set.

2.                   In addition, the recipient would agree to work with the Tulsa Red Cross in the position of “Disaster Representative.”  This was the person who monitored the Tulsa Fire Department radio frequencies and went to bad fires to help families (or individuals) who were burned out of their homes and had no place to live.  As an aside, I don’t know how many times, when I told someone I was a “Disaster Representative” their first question was, “What kind of disasters do you represent?”

This all is just to say that almost every repeater, at least in most of this part of the country and also much of the rest of the U.S., used (146).34/.94 as their frequency.  The reasons were, if everyone used the same frequency, regardless of where you traveled, you could usually find someone to talk with.  When you were on the road you could use 146.94 direct when no repeaters were available.  Few hams used a PL (sub-audible tone) so you didn’t need a list of what tone to switch to.  There were a few areas in California that wanted more than just one repeater so the frequency 146.76 became the output frequency for a 2nd repeater in the area.  There was even a popular regular article in the maverick but popular publication, FM Magazine, called “The Chronicles of ‘76.”  The stories often told about questionable activities carried out on the 76 repeaters out west.

 When, in the early 1970s, some companies began offering solid state and/or hybrid (tube and transistor) 2 meter transceivers, which were smaller they became quite popular with many hams.  They did not require long and heavy cables run through the vehicle to the rear trunk where the radio was mounted, so many hams abandoned their older, heavier, nosier, power-hungry police and taxi radios for new model.  Even better, these new radios were multi-frequency, i.e., they had empty spaces for additional crystals, so the user could add more direct (car to car) frequencies and it became much easier to have more repeaters in an area.  With more possibilities of direct frequencies and some pairs or groups going off on “their own secret frequency,” the question came up – if we’re out traveling and want to communicate with FMers who are also out traveling, what frequency should we use?

BTW – There is no “secret frequency” available to only a few.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?  Five?  No, four – just calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”  By the same token, just saying that 146.### is YOUR private frequency doesn’t make it YOUR private frequency.  The FCC has made this abundantly clear.  As some would say, “It ain’t yours, it ain’t mine; it’s ours.”

 There was a need for a “standard” 2 meter FM frequency for everyone, but what should it be?  You didn’t want to use a direct frequency on a repeater’s output, i.e., 146.94, 146.76, or the newly popular 146.82, since operation there could be covered when one came into range of a powerful repeater on that same frequency.   No, we needed a direct frequency which would never have a repeater output placed upon it.  You could drive in town or on the interstate and have a better-than-average chance of having other hams listening on the same frequency.  This would be a National 2 Meter Calling frequency.

 At about this time, and I’m guessing this is about 1971 (plus or minus a year), Wayne Green entered the picture.  Wayne Green – W2NSD/1, was well known in ham circles as an “especially active ham” or perhaps a “pot-stirrer” or even a “rabble-rouser.”  He had been editor of CQ Magazine in the 1950s and very early 1960s.   Wayne had been one of the early pushers of RTTY (Radio TeleTYpe) in those days and was a frequent “thorn in the flesh” of the ARRL.  In late 1961, Wayne had left CQ (at their insistence) and had moved to New Hampshire where he started a new ham magazine called, 73 Magazine

This magazine was closer to the average ham who liked to build, repair, and tinker with electronic projects.   The articles were using parts and pieces that were affordable enough for the average ham, practical enough for experimenters and might even be using many of the parts many hams already had collecting dust in their “Junque Box.”

 The ham population was fairly divided in their opinion of Wayne.  You usually liked him or hated him.  Wayne relished this position and often wore it like a badge of honor.  I will admit right here that I was in the former group.  I didn’t always agree with some of his ideas but I thought he had been a genuine benefit to amateur radio.  I understood more of 73 Magazine and found it to be more practical for me than the other available ham magazines.

 Wayne Green was one of the early promoters of RTTY, 2 meter FM communications, ham usage of computers, and any number of other important areas we use today.  He started a number of other magazines to support new technical areas including BYTE and KiloBaud Magazines.  Anyway, he was a heavy and active promoter of 2 meter FM activities when the user groups were few and far between, both personally and geographically.

 In around 1971 or 1972, Wayne started a promotion to make 146.520 MHz the standard calling frequency in the USA.   I don’t know why this frequency was chosen except it was between the tunings of repeater inputs and their outputs – in an era where many were still running commercial mobile equipment which tuned very narrowly.  He proposed that every manufacturer of 2 meter FM equipment provide a set of crystals on 146.52 MHz as standard equipment.  In addition, he proposed that any ham radio dealer or any crystal manufacturing facility offer crystals for .52 at a reduced price to equip all the existing equipment with that frequency. 

 At that time, I was co-owner of Derrick Electronics, a ham radio store (aka “Candy Store”) located in Broken Arrow.  At this time I had an agreement with a company who would custom manufacture my crystals and I was selling hundreds, shipping them daily all over the US and beyond.  I received a letter from Wayne asking me to consider offering .52 crystals at a reduced rate and in return, he would add me to the list of dealers who he freely advertised who were offering this service.  I gladly jumped aboard that train and I couldn’t even begin to tell how many thousands of .52 crystal pairs I sold, both locally and via the US Mail.

 I had already become known as “Crystal Jim” and carried that nickname for many years, even long after I sold the store in 1981 and went off into the sunset to regain my life and raise boys.   That’s another story, however, and perhaps I’ll write it up sometime in the future if there is any interest.

 So Wayne Green – W2NSD/1 is the primary reason that 146.52 MHz is the recognized US 2 meter FM Calling Frequency today.  Wayne went on to write stranger and stranger columns in 73 Magazine, columns about cold fusion, UFOs, and the “fact”(his words, not mine) that the U.S. journey to the moon was a complete hoax and was all staged in the deserts of the western USA.  Still, I always liked 73 Magazine best of all.  I wrote articles that were published in the magazine and I have an almost complete collection of the issues from Dec. 1961 (I believe) until the magazine folded about 5 years ago.  I even had a “Lifetime Subscription” to 73 Magazine although I discovered that they meant their lifetime and not mine.

 Incidentally, I did have my “Lifetime Subscription” cancelled – TWICE – during those years.  That, however, is a different story for a different time.

 73 (the greeting, not the magazine)

Jim – K5LAD

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