QSO Today with Robin Critchell WA6CDR

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by 4Z1UG, Apr 6, 2022.

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  1. 4Z1UG

    4Z1UG Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page


    Robin Critchell, WA6CDR, had a profound influence on many young
    hams operating in the VHF and UHF bands in Southern California in the
    70s’ and 80s. He and Alan Burgstahler, WA6AWD, at the time and now a
    silent key, created the Cactus Intertie, now the World’s largest full
    duplex radio linked amateur radio network. “Top band” or 160 Meters is
    Robin’s favorite band, and he has participated on DxExpeditions, had
    an incredible career in the communications industry, and can fix just
    about anything. WA6CDR, is my QSO Today.

    N2NOW, K0UO, NF6E and 2 others like this.
  2. K5CKS

    K5CKS XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Nice to hear Robin is still kicking after all these years.
    Rory Bowers, K5CKS (ex K6CKS)
  3. N3EG

    N3EG Ham Member QRZ Page

    That was back in the day when SCRRBA in Southern California created a 440 band that was 95% closed repeaters and 98% closed frequencies.

    Not exactly friendly to new hams and new 440 operators, in my opinion.
    N6BYH, W6PMR, KC7STW and 7 others like this.
  4. K7JEM

    K7JEM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Robin and Alan, that brings back some memories. I first met them around 1978, maybe it was at Jack's Peak NM. The picture in the OP is of an old "Burgstahler Controller" as we called them. Used lots of cards and toroids, and tons of TTL chips and LM301 (IIRC) op-amps. The touch tone decoders were absolutely amazing, far surpassing anything else out there, even today. They could reliably decode way down into the noise with 500Hz or less of deviation on the tones. The cards with toroids on them in the third, fourth and fifth card rack from the top are probably the TT filters.

    Did lots of stuff that was not really available in that era.
    K0UO likes this.
  5. NF6E

    NF6E Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Nice to see that YOU are still kicking after all these years, Rory! :)
  6. 4Z1UG

    4Z1UG Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Yes they did.
  7. 4Z1UG

    4Z1UG Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I was one of those hams in the 70s. I did join a few clubs then and even build my own repeater with a coordinated frequency. Many "private" groups were open to new members who paid their dues and helped with radio site cleanup, repairs, etc. This is how I learned. There were also many open options on both VHF and UHF, in those days as well.
  8. W6XC

    W6XC Ham Member QRZ Page

    The picture is in fact the Burgstahler "Switching Center" controller, a 10-port capable (up to 8 were originally used) interconnect used to interface between most of the greater Los Angeles & extended area hilltops of Cactus. Linking directly between these was not always practical or kosher due to the linking frequency bandplan. It was structured in such a way to allow mountain-to-mountain over greater distances versus a local cluster of direct mountain links. So the local linking was done down at residential and later industrial locations. The term "Switching Center" owing to the genesis of these radio systems being in part inspired by the workings of the telephone system in those days. Several early prominent figures in development of these systems were "phone guys" themselves. The pre-TTL controllers were typically combination relay logic built around Singletone or early DTMF decoders and Stepper or "Strowger" switches, just like the ones used at Ma Bell CO's.

    This control system is entirely TTL for its Brain, hard-wired. No PROM chips anywhere in sight. It draws over 15A at 5VDC whenever powered. It lives here at my place now along with many other similar items in the "museum." Including the never-completed microprocessor hybrid version that was to replace the TTL "SuperSwitch" and never did.

    The story and evolution of this and other like systems is a fascinating journey indeed, and needs to be better documented. As to the comment that SCRRBA "created" a 440 band that was closed off to everyone, that is incorrect. There are reasons for everything, and the climate of 440-450 in SoCal is no exception. What most fail to realize is that we who operate networks of these kind, and SoCal/Central Cal being where they originated, do not operate "Repeaters." The radio systems in their entirety are Remotely Controlled Base Stations operated under the subset of rules governing 'Auxiliary Stations' in Part 97. These differ from the rules of Repeaters, and more significant was this distinction decades ago. These radio systems, in fact, predated most rules that eventually came to govern their operation. However, from the beginning (and I have documented proof), these were licensed either as Secondary Stations under Remote Control or Club Stations under Remote Control. Listed as an attachment to the Station License itself, it read: "This station may be operated by (x) remote control from the control points shown:" and proceeded to list the authorized members of that station. Auxiliary Stations may ONLY be operated by Authorized Control Operators, and any user of an Auxiliary Station is by definition a Control Operator. How that is handled socially is up to the individual or organization operating the station, but the facts are the facts. The 440 band in our area became the experimenter's and builder's haven, where these very systems sprouted. The idea took off like wildfire. Whether they were single site operations or multiple sites, and eventually the large networks we came to know like Cactus, it set the character of the 440-450 band in most of California and the nearby southwestern states.

    As Eric pointed out, there were many groups more than happy to welcome new interest when it was sincere. When you go through the trouble of designing your concept, wiring a backplane for 3 months, hand etching over 100 PCBs, stuffing & testing them, and modifying, tuning & interfacing all your radios... you might be slightly protective of your creation. There again, all things have reasons.
  9. N3EG

    N3EG Ham Member QRZ Page

    The only reason I could see is to create a "private" "membership only" use of 98% of the 440 band, with little foresight. That was the California repeater mentality, where only affluent clubs were allowed to coordinate and operate repeaters. It extended to 220 MHz (50% closed) and even two meters (33% closed.) This was a disadvantage to the average user. I remember giving technical advice to a user on one such repeater, and the repeater owner (a well known aftermarket add-on manufacturer) came on and told him not to talk to me. Yeah, that's "friendly"...

    In my opinion, privatizing 98% of an amateur band is not something to be praised, whatever the "technical" reason. And I blame SCRRBA for their complete lack of foresight and absolute exclusivity in their coordination.
    N6BYH, W7RY, N9APL and 4 others like this.
  10. K6CLS

    K6CLS Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yep. NARCC isn't much better. They won't delist pairs that have not had a repeater for 20 years. But oh, no pairs for anyone new. Etc.
    KT6KT, W7IVK and KH6IM like this.
  11. 4Z1UG

    4Z1UG Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Not being in the area for almost 40 years means that I really don't know what is happening there. If it is like anyplace else, then probably most of the coordinated channels are not used. I remember being on Sierra Peak almost 50 years ago when Motorola installed a suitcase PL counter on a repeater receiver to see what PL tones were in use on a give channel to know what PL tone to assign to a new co-channel user.

    In this time of SDR, it seems to me that SCRRBA and other organizations can monitor all of the channels to build a report as to real activity over a 30 day period to determine what channels can be re-issued to new systems, or to co-channel with existing systems that do not have enough use for exclusive use of the channel. Also, perhaps a block of channels for simplex and duplex "nodes" for reduce interference in urban areas.
  12. K7LJ

    K7LJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I remember seeing that big rack shown in the picture of the "Switching Center." Multiple card cages full of circuit boards, when it was in Alan Burgstahler's garage. He and I spent a whole day cutting blank PC board stock, making a set of about 40 circuit boards, including the etching, plating, drilling, etc. Then came the fun part when I got the boards home - stuffing all the blank boards with the parts, tuning the Touchtone Decoder toroids to exact frequencies for the Group filters and individual tone frequencies, etc. I wired them all together, and everyting worked as designed! The Touchtone Decoder would decode signals that were down in the noise, without falsing. I used the controller on a 440-MHz Repeater with a 10-Meter Remote Base Transceiver. I still have that Cactus controller in my garage - it used 28 circuit boards to do all that. It taught me a lot about 2-way radio and repeater interfacing.
  13. KT6KT

    KT6KT Ham Member QRZ Page

    And the repeater locations in the Repeater Directory were listed as "COVERS AREA".
    Repeaters have created lazy hams who do nothing to improve their station.
  14. N9LCD

    N9LCD Ham Member

    Sounds like "LaLa" land. Been out there 3 or 4 tines, each tine with my trusty HT.

    East time I tried to get on a machine using "standard" 606** land operating procedures.

    Each time I was told the equivalent of "What are you doing on the repeater? Get off."

    And, in retrospect, I thought 9-land "repeater cops" were baaad!
  15. KC7STW

    KC7STW Ham Member QRZ Page

    And away we go....
    Large clubs/systems are wonderful and a curse in one. They are wonderful for the people who are involved and provide coverage to a large area. A curse to those who are not involved or who like to build repeaters themselves. Building repeaters and linked systems since 96 I have run into the same tired old problem in every location I go. King of the hill mentality. The large systems lock out smaller guys and groups, sites, pairs, etc. It has always been a race to gobble up repeater pairs and sites before anyone can use them, regardless if they become paper repeaters.

    I get they have the funding to spend thousands on said systems and work tirelessly on getting them to work. But, so do the small hams who spend a lifetime saving for the same stuff and working even harder than the clubs.

    The conciseness will always be the same. The outcome will always be the same even to this day as it was in the good "old days".

    The only thing we have going for ourselves now, is digital and the ability to link smaller sites with abundance to overcome the kings of the hill.

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