This is about the days when 2 meter FM started to take hold. It isn’t about the pioneering days of FM operation, that was a bit before my time.
When I started in ham radio, late 1971, it seemed like most of the activity I heard about on 2 meters was CW and AM. Heathkit Lunchboxes and Gonset civil defense transceivers were popular. After I received my general, in 1972-73, there seemed to be quite a bit of advertising done in the ham publications for 2 meter FM rigs.
Drake TR-22, VHF Engineering, Standard and others started to show up in magazines. My elmer, Ed WB2FLA, somehow got a hold of a Motorola Handie-talkie AKA “Radio-Fone” that had a crystal for 146.94. At the time, a good band plan was not yet in place, and 146.94 was a popular simplex frequency. It had a phone type handset for the speaker and microphone. Ed let me borrow it a couple of times, and I clearly recall listening to W2ZS, Larry, who lived in Webster on Five Mile Line Road just north of Plank Road. I usually could not hear who he was talking to. Larry had two 11 element Cush-Craft Yagis on his roof. The Motorola just had a small vertical mounted on the unit.
In late 1973 or early 1974, I bought a Regency HR-2B. I can’t remember his call or name, but this guy was out in Gates, I think, and sold Cush Craft and a couple brands of radios out of his house. It was a maybe 25 watt 2 meter FM transceiver, crystal controlled, maybe 12 channels. Synthesized radios were not yet a thing. So I had to order crystals for the simplex and repeater frequencies I wanted to access. I wish I could remember exactly what frequencies I added to that radio, but unsure. I also bought a Ringo from him to put on the house.
I’m not an expert on Rochester FM repeater history, but I think 146.88 was the first, and may have been around for a few years by 1973.
A couple I am sure of getting crystals for were 146.88/28, which was the main Rochester Radio Repeater Associations repeater on Kodak Tower, and 146.79/19, which I never was really sure of who managed, but it was strong most everywhere. I’m sure there were others, but somehow I came across Gary Sienkiewicz WB2WZG and his repeater on 146.67/07, maybe through Joe WA2YEZ who I met at the MCC Amateur Radio Club in 1974. Gary’s repeater was just off the Keeler Street expressway on a small tower. Gary was a few years older than I, and a small group of younger hams congregated on that repeater. Some older than I, but also a few younger. I can’t remember every call, but I’ll try, Gary WB2WZG, Bob WA2MXL, Jon WB2GUI, Jim WB2ITL, Don WB2QEV, Tim WB2KAO, Fred WA2NVJ, Mike WA2NGH, Joel WA2WDE, Chuck WA2QFU, Mike WB2HYP, Joe WA2YEZ, Mel K2AOQ, and others who I can’t recall at the moment. We also often met on 21.355 Mhz on SSB at night.
I installed the HR-2B in my car, and put a 2m 5/8 wave vertical on the roof. I drilled a hole in my 1964 Ford Fairlane, despite that I was driving it to school the last 4 months of my senior year in high school. Friends of mine had Boss 429s and GTOs, I had a Ford Fairlane six cylinder with an antenna on the roof. It was uncool, but I didn’t care.
In 1975 or 1976, I bought an Icom IC-230, which was a synthesized radio. Frequency selection was still mechanical rotary switches, still a far cry from what we have today, but it could put on just about any local repeater without buying crystals or keeping within 12 channel limit. At home I put up an 11 element Cush Craft yagi, with a TV rotator, and I could get into any repeater in the area, and Oswego, Syracuse, Buffalo, Toronto, etc. During an inversion I even got into a Detroit repeater.
I got to see Gary’s repeater up close. Radios were all surplus commercial equipment in those days and had a homebrew controller with tons of wire-wrapped logic gates. Jim WB2ITL had a repeater on 146.94 on top of Gannett Hill in Bristol in the U of R observatory and I went up there once to help with something or other. Also I saw John W2KZD’s repeater in Penfield, 146.715, I think. I also met the guys who ran the 147.09 repeater in Rochester, Bob whose last name and call I can’t remember, and Randy Hall, now K7AGE. I remember my only trip to the Dayton Hamfest in 1975, hearing a repeater courtesy tone for the first time.
But I really enjoyed the group on 146.67. We would meet up at RARA or RRRA meetings, then go out to eat afterwards. It lasted a couple of years, then life got in the way (at least for me). All my local buddies had been going out to bars, and I resisted for a while, but eventually I began to join in. Then I got married and a bought a house and didn’t have a good outdoor antenna. The 146.67 repeater went away. Some moved away or got away from ham radio. I have kept in touch with many of them. Gary, now W2TR and I talk from time-to-time, though he is in Florida. Tim, WB2KAO will get on the W2XRX repeater and call me sometimes. Mike, now W2HYP, has helped XARC with a repeater site and technical help. I have gone out to a few group dinners with many of the guys over the years. I have reached out to a couple of the guys over the years as well. Joe, WA2YEZ and I have been exchanging emails recently. For the most part, I have always had 2 meter FM capability in my car. An Icom IC-260, Kenwood TM-733, then Yaesu FTM-400.
It was an exciting time in ham radio. Though not new, FM and repeaters were starting to gain traction in the Rochester area along with most of the country. QST, CQ, 73, and Ham Radio magazines were filled with articles and ads for VHF FM equipment. Even with technical advancements over the years, some of the novelty has worn off. We were excited to be able to have these high quality conversations around the area, to be able to operate mobile without a huge effort, and even have handheld radios make contacts 20-30 miles away. Now it is old hat, and even easier. As a matter of fact, putting up your own repeaters is easier these days. No more having to design and build your own repeater controller. And with internet linking, contacts around the world are possible with an HT.