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Communication Options and the Advantages of Becoming a Ham

AKRider

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I didn't mean to beat the hornets nest, but there's been a lot of discussion here about communications equipment, radio's, what is legal and what isn't. There's also been discussion about amateur radios (HAMS), the advantages to being one, and how to get your license. Hopefully I can cover this in a short, concise post, without getting technical.

Edit - disregard short and concise. I've already gone past that point... lol

First, a couple of definitions for the purpose of this discussion - not all may be used:

Hand Held Transceiver (HT) Radio - self-explanatory. This term is mainly used in the HAM world for amateur radio and is referred to as a Handy Talkie.

Walkie Talkie - usually personal transceivers that are not amateur radio's.

*Note - these terms have been used interchangeably, except in the amateur world.

Mobile Radio - almost always vehicle mounted, but can be used as a base station.

FRS - Family Radio Service. No license required. Operates on frequencies in the 467MHz range. Maximum transmit power .5 watts.

GMRS - General Mobile Radio Service. License required. Operates on frequencies in the 462MHz and 467MHz ranges. Maximum transmit power 5 watts.

GMRS/FRS - combined use on many walkie talkies. Maximum transmit power without a license is .5 watts, unless the person owning the radios has a GMRS license, then it is 5 watts.

MURS - Multi-Use Radio Service. No license required. Operates on frequencies in the 151MHz to 154MHz range. Maximum transmit power is 2 watts.

CB - Citizens Band. No license required. Operates on frequencies in the 26MHz to 27 MHz range. Maximum transmit power - typical for mobile and HT - 4 watts. I won't cover this either since it wasn't part of the original conversation. If someone wants to include it you are more than welcome to.

China Doll - inexpensive, yet very effective and useful, transceivers that are built in China. This is a HAM term.

Repeater - to keep it simple, this is a radio that receives a signal and retransmits it. They are best placed in a high location, or connected to a tall antenna.

Discussion:

There's two types of radio's we can use while out riding that fit our needs. Mobile and HT (walkie talkies). Depending on what they are and how they are built, they can fall under three different parts of FCC regulation. They are Part 90, Part 95, and Part 97.

Part 90 pretty much covers commercial use radio's and frequencies, which you would need a license to operate. I'm not going to cover it.

Part 95 covers FRS, GMRS, and MURS. Here's where things get sticky. As I've posted in another thread, and @PioneerPete covered very well, there are legal issues that people need to know about. The main discussion here deals with what frequencies the China Doll radio's can legally operate on. The one brand most often discussed is Baofeng. From all of my research I can't find one of them that is compliance-rated to operate on frequencies covered under FRS, GMRS, or MURS, unless you want to only operate on GMRS at 2W. I have found that I can't say for certain whether their mobile units are non-compliant with this Part. BUT, they CAN operate in the frequencies covered under Part 97, which is the amateur (HAM) bands - namely the 2M (144 - 148MHZ VHF) and 70cm (420 - 450MHz UHF) bands.

Since @PioneerPete said it so eloquently, and I agree with what he said, here is his post:
"I have researched this issue off an on for weeks, and to the best of my knowledge, everything @AKRider has said is true. Below are a few other observations from my research, and my conclusions.

These radios can not meet the requirements of FRS. The transmit limit is 0.5W for FRS, and our radios will only go as low as 1W. No biggie, we don't want to use those UHF frequencies anyway... might as well use hand signals at that range.

GMRS requires a license and a compliant radio. We have neither. Again UHF, we don't want these either.

The frequencies CP has recommended are indeed MURS frequencies. These VHF frequencies tend to transmit further than the higher UHF. The only thing (I could find) keeping the Baofungs from being MURS compliant is the 2W transmit limit. Keep it under 2W and you would most likely meet the "intent" of the law to operate these radios on MURS. It won't have the FCC type-acceptance sticker for MURS (because it's too versatile), but should operate like a radio that does if you limit to 2W transmit;

Based on the above (and other observations from my research), my 2 cents worth... If you have the time and energy, go get your Ham license. It will probably open up a cool new world. If you just want a way to communicate with your buddies when you ride in desolate uninhabited places, then use this these radios on the MURS channels. If you want to try to meet the intent of the regulation, limit your MURS transmit to 2W. No one else on the MURS channels has any more (or less) right to those channels than you do (they don't have a special license, just a compliant radio). If someone rogers over saying you are interfering with their gig, then change the channel.

The worst case scenario is that your radio is defective and is sending spurious signals to previously allocated frequencies. This would most likely be a quality control issue and not normal for these radios. And, if you were only transmitting at 2W, the odds of interfering with anything important while you transmit from BFE are practically zero. Additionally, this could happen to you with any radio you buy, therefore having a Ham license or a compliant radio would not protect you from this scenario. So, to me, the spurious transmission issue is 6 in 1, half a dozen in the other. It could happen to you whether you had a compliant radio and/or were licensed. Again, keep it to 2W transmit on MURS and you are more likely to get struck by lightning than cause harm.

I spent the better part of an hour researching FCC enforcement actions, and not a single one was related to some bubba in the woods occasionally operating on MURS. In fact, they were mostly against folks who already had a license, or were operating illegally in the HF range (closer to Citizens Band). They are sensitive to unlicensed transmissions in the HF range because it can reach much further distances and cause real issues.

If you want to be legal and if you have the time and energy, go get your Ham license. If you just want to communicate with your ride buddies out in the middle of no where... I'm thinking the odds of causing any harm with these radios operating on MURS is about as likely as being struck by lightning while your there, so...

It is good that AKRider has offered up a summary of the law. We should advocate for having all the information and then making an informed adult decision. This forum is a great place to see this happen all the time.

Carry on... roger over done."
With that, I'm going to move on to Part 97, getting your HAM license, and how doing so can really be helpful in large group rides and if you are out in the middle of BFE alone and something serious happens.

Since I started this post I've noticed at least a couple of HAM operators have chimed in. That's awesome! Hopefully they will correct me if I make a mistake and add their knowledge to the post.

So, almost all of you that have purchased, or are thinking of purchasing, a radio for communicating on rides, have looked at the Baofeng brand - China Dolls. I have two of them. They are inexpensive and have more features than most know what to do with. Heck, even programming them can be a pain, although with a few Youtube videos and some software on your PC or Mac, you can quickly learn and become proficient. The good thing to take away from this is that if you currently own one, you have a radio that IS compliant to operate on the HAM frequencies. You can't operate there without a license, but you are more than welcome to "creep the freqs" and listen in on all your local traffic.

FCC Part 97

This covers every rule and regulation regarding the Amateur Radio Service. As I stated above, if you have purchased or are contemplating purchasing a China Doll radio to communicate on your rides, this covers what you need to know. Peruse it at your leisure, preferably over a cold one, or something on the rocks. Keep in mind that the FCC calls it amateur. The people operating on these frequencies would beg to differ. I would agree with the latter. These people are true professionals. Since the frequencies that are best for this within the confines of the China Doll radios are in the 2M band (VHF 144 to 148MHz), I will limit this discussion to these.

Getting your HAM License

There are three classes of amateur (HAM) that you can obtain:

Element 2 - Technician
Element 3 - General
Element 4 - Extra

All are good for 10 years from the date you pass. To renew you just file the paperwork. I won't go into the detail about this, but it's pretty easy. You do not need to retest.

Technician Class - One word. Easy. The really cool thing about all the study sources available is that you get to study all of the actual test questions and answers. The questions and answers are developed by the the people who administer the test - the Volunteer Exam Coordinators - or VEC's. They aren't trying to trick you. They are HAMs that want you to learn and be proficient.

The site that I recommend is HamTestOnline - Ham Radio Exam Courses and Practice Tests

After you create a free account you can audit the content. If you like it, they charge $24.95, which gives you 2 years of access.The best thing about this site is that it is intuitive. It learns you. If you miss a question, it will keep throwing it at you. It continually reviews areas you are weak in. It has great information on how to use it and how to be successful. If you follow it you can't go wrong.

The Technician Class gives you operating privileges mainly in the 2M and 70cm bands, as well as others. Once you attain this, you can either stay at this level or move on and open up more opportunities. The site I referenced has all of the study content for the next two exams. Yes, they charge for it, but the cost is no more than what you would pay for a book or study guide. There are free sites. @Ragnar406 suggested a link that provides many of those, which is:

the CAN'T FAIL thread for getting a ham radio license and learning basic VHF/UHF operations - AR15.COM

This is a great resource. I used it myself when I first started looking into licensing.

One thing I should mention. Up until 2007 (correct me if I'm wrong) it was required to know Morse Code to pass the exam. The FCC has eliminated this requirement, but you can still get involved in that aspect if you want to. Think of the movie Independence Day. They used it to coordinate the counter attack. There are literally thousands of people still using it on a daily basis. In HAM terms, it is called CW.

Again, the Technician Class license is easy. If you have a basic electronics background you'll breeze through it. If not, no big deal. You can memorize those answers. Work on learning that stuff later.
 
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AKRider

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How having your HAM license is helpful when riding in groups or in BFE on your own

Before I get into this, I will tell you the one thing that everyone is going to dislike when it comes to using HAM frequencies, and that is one simple rule that must be followed. During a conversation you MUST transmit your call sign at least once every ten minutes, or at the end of the conversation. There is no rule stating that you must first identify yourself by call sign, but the proper etiquette to call someone goes like this:

FU2MF this is KL4II

Credit to @ghost for the first call sign :rolleyes:

Do you need to do this? No. You could start a call with a nickname or handle, as long as somewhere in that conversation, at the end of the conversation, or at approximately every 10 minutes in the conversation, you identify your call sign and the person on the other end does, also.

I could start a conversation with:

Ghost this is KL4II AKRider. He could respond with AKRider this is FU2MF Ghost

Or, I could start the conversation with just:

Ghost this is AKRider - then follow the 10 minute or end of conversation convention.

You must end the conversation with your call sign. Something like this is good:

KL4II standing by

Onward to the discussion.

Power. We all love it. We love it in our machines, and we need it to communicate over long distances. FRS, GMRS, and MURS don't give you enough of it. HAM does, and it gives you a lot of options.

As some of you already know, the China Doll HT radios give options in the amount of transmit power you use. In the HAM world, the rule is that you should only transmit with a power level that is high enough - within the limits of the chosen band - to complete the communication. In our chosen band - 2M - the maximum power a Technician class license holder can use is 1500W. You aren't going to find a HT or mobile that puts out that much power, and you would probably never want to with these radio's. A Baofeng BF-F8HP has a maximum transmit power of 8W. You can set to Low - 1W, Medium - 4W, or High - 8W. Many of the mobile radio's can transmit at up to 50 to 100W. This is more than enough power for our purposes.

Even with these power levels there is one thing to keep in mind. VHF is line-of-sight. It doesn't do well when trying to reach your buddy on the other side of a mountain if both of you are down in valleys. Although, depending on atmospheric conditions, anything is possible... but not guaranteed. Note that this is a limiting factor for all the different types of radio's in this discussion - FRS, GMRS, and MURS included. This is where repeaters come into play.
 
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AKRider

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Repeaters and how they can be useful in a group ride or at a large event

If you are riding in a small group, single file, one after the other, there is really no need for a repeater. You can operate in simplex on one frequency. But, if you at a large event, i.e. The Pioneer Takeover, and you are splintered into a bunch of small groups going out and doing their own thing, A repeater could come in really handy. It can be located at a central location where everyone can contact it. This expands the range a great deal. For instance, if you are five miles east of repeater, and your buddy is 5 miles west of it, that's a pretty long distant for the two of you to communicate via simplex. With the repeater in the middle you only need to be able to contact it. It will re-transmit your signal so your buddy can hear it.

For something like the Pioneer Takeover, the first thing you would want to do is talk to the local HAM operators group in the area. They might already have a repeater in the area that they wouldn't mind the group using, or they might just want to make it a field event and come out and set up their equipment and a repeater on frequencies that are away from the general radio traffic in the area.

If that doesn't happen and you must set up your own, the one thing you will need to know is the band plan for the area. Again, one of the local groups could help you with that, or it can usually be found online. Once you have that and can carve out the frequency you will use that doesn't step on other general traffic, you can set up your own repeater. The cool thing is, this can be done with the inexpensive radio's we've been discussing. There's also some mobile radio's that have repeater functions built in to them. I won't go into that on this initial post.

I'm not going to go into how to do this, but here's the basics of what you would need:

1. 2 inexpensive HT radios
2. A cable to connect them together, or you could make your own (see video links). Here's one that would work with the Baofeng radios:
SainSonic RPT-2D Two-way Radio Repeater Box for Two Transceivers Station DIY | eBay
3. Two portable antennas like these:
Dual band 2m 70cm Slim Jim Antenna
Here's a link to how to set them up and other information:
Slim Jim Info

Note: A duplexer could be used to eliminate the need for two antennas. Read the attached for more info on those.

4. A good deep cycle 12v battery.
5. A DC to DC converter or power supply with the connectors needed to power the radios, such as cigarette lighter plugs. I have power backs for my radios that plug into these type of connectors.
6. A RF amplifier so you can boost the transmit power of the repeater setup.
7. Various cables and connectors to put it all together.
8. Without a tall antenna tower, a high place that you would feel comfortable leaving the equipment, unless someone wants to hang out with a shotgun by it all day. If the staging area is a relatively open area, and the park management is OK with it, you might be able to set all this up on top of someone's motorhome or trailer, with the antennas up high from a makeshift mast or something.

Here's three video's of the basic idea of setting this up. Don't get wrapped around some of the technicalities if you don't get it at first. There are a few HAMs on this forum. The one's I've seen so far have more experience than me, so I think the group is in good hands.




A note just in case the general consensus is "the heck with this". All of this can be done for GMRS radio's, but at a cost of power. Remember though, to be completely legal you do need a GMRS license :rolleyes:. There is no test for it.

I gave a simple definition of a repeater in the definitions. If you would like a more detailed discussion of them and how they work, read the attached file.
 

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AKRider

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Summary

Now that I have RSD from typing all this, I'm sure I've left a bunch of things out. I'm not the best person to write how-to's. I do much better showing someone than I do trying to describe it.

I hope I have covered some of the basic questions, as well as given additional information that sparked more interest in HAM radio. Additional information can be found at the American Radio Relay League website here Home.

Let the discussion begin!
 
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PioneerPete

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Sidebar – Common Ham Vocabulary or Jargon
Elmer – a mentor who helps others become hams and learn ham techniques
DX – refers to distant stations, DXing is trying to contact far away stations
Band – a range of frequencies reserved for a single radio service, like amateur radio, and identified by frequency (“14 MHz band”) or wavelength (“20 meter band”)
73 – an old telegraph abbreviation used by hams meaning “Best Regards”
HF – High Frequency, a designation for frequencies between 3 and 30 MHz
VHF – Very High Frequency, frequencies between 30 and 300 MHz
MHz – megahertz, one million (mega, M) cycles per second (hertz, Hz)
Homebrew – home-made or home-built equipment or antennas
CQ – an abbreviation meaning, “I am calling any station”
CW – Continuous Wave, refers to Morse code which turns a continuous signal on and off
ARRL – American Radio Relay League, the U.S. national organization for ham radio
Call Sign – the combination of letters and numbers identifying a specific station
 
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PioneerPete

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BTW, I just spent the last hour listening in to the local "TAG Sky Warn" net... they had 25 people call in. There was very good training and discussion on using various repeaters in the area, using a relay system if the repeater failed, etc. Apparently this particular repeater that I was monitoring is for emergency use only, so, good one to have saved into my unit!
 

AKRider

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Edit: Usefulness in an emergency situation

I'm not going to go into great detail on this subject, but keep in mind that the 2M and 70CM bands are what is used to contact the International Space Station (ISS). Here's the frequencies:

Voice Uplink: 144.49 for ITU Regions 2 and 3 (The Americas, and the Pacific and Southern Asia)
Voice Uplink: 145.20 for ITU Region 1 (Europe, Russia and Africa)
VHF Packet Uplink and Downlink: 145.825 (Worldwide)
UHF Packet Uplink and Downlink: 437.550
UHF/VHF Repeater Uplink: 437.80
UHF/VHF Repeater Downlink: 145.80
* The bottom two is a repeater set to crossband, meaning it receives in one band and transmits in another.

This is accomplished with radio's with transmit power between 25 and 100 watts and different types of antennas, but it still could be possible for them to hear you with an 8W radio. There have been successful contacts with the ISS using a vertical antenna. I carry a portable J-Pole (slim Jim) antenna when I ride. These are considered vertical antenna's. If I need to I can connect it to my radio and string it up in a tree.

My point is this. If you, God forbid, have an emergency situation and you are miles from help, even the little HT's could be a lifesaver. Even if you can't get up high enough where your transmission is not partially blocked by natural obstacles, you have a lot better chance of someone hearing you on the HAM frequencies than you would with the others we've discussed here. Always be prepared by having frequencies programmed into your radio that cover the emergency nets and general traffic repeaters within a hundred or more miles from where you will be. Cover your butt so you don't need to think about it. With that done you can set your radio to scan all those frequencies for traffic while you are trying to make contact on the frequencies that you know should have either simplex or repeater traffic closest to you.

One more thing. If you truly have an emergency situation, all the rules go out the window. You don't have to stay in the bands that are assigned to your class of license, etc.
 
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Smitty335

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I didn't mean to beat the hornets nest, but there's been a lot of discussion here about communications equipment, radio's, what is legal and what isn't. There's also been discussion about amateur radios (HAMS), the advantages to being one, and how to get your license. Hopefully I can cover this in a short, concise post, without getting technical.

Edit - disregard short and concise. I've already gone past that point... lol

First, a couple of definitions for the purpose of this discussion - not all may be used:

Hand Held Transceiver (HT) Radio - self-explanatory. This term is mainly used in the HAM world for amateur radio and is referred to as a Handy Talkie.

Walkie Talkie - usually personal transceivers that are not amateur radio's.

*Note - these terms have been used interchangeably, except in the amateur world.

Mobile Radio - almost always vehicle mounted, but can be used as a base station.

FRS - Family Radio Service. No license required. Operates on frequencies in the 467MHz range. Maximum transmit power .5 watts.

GMRS - General Mobile Radio Service. License required. Operates on frequencies in the 462MHz and 467MHz ranges. Maximum transmit power 5 watts.

GMRS/FRS - combined use on many walkie talkies. Maximum transmit power without a license is .5 watts, unless the person owning the radios has a GMRS license, then it is 5 watts.

MURS - Multi-Use Radio Service. No license required. Operates on frequencies in the 151MHz to 154MHz range. Maximum transmit power is 2 watts.

CB - Citizens Band. No license required. Operates on frequencies in the 26MHz to 27 MHz range. Maximum transmit power - typical for mobile and HT - 4 watts. I won't cover this either since it wasn't part of the original conversation. If someone wants to include it you are more than welcome to.

China Doll - inexpensive, yet very effective and useful, transceivers that are built in China. This is a HAM term.

Repeater - to keep it simple, this is a radio that receives a signal and retransmits it. They are best placed in a high location, or connected to a tall antenna.

Discussion:

There's two types of radio's we can use while out riding that fit our needs. Mobile and HT (walkie talkies). Depending on what they are and how they are built, they can fall under three different parts of FCC regulation. They are Part 90, Part 95, and Part 97.

Part 90 pretty much covers commercial use radio's and frequencies, which you would need a license to operate. I'm not going to cover it.

Part 95 covers FRS, GMRS, and MURS. Here's where things get sticky. As I've posted in another thread, and @PioneerPete covered very well, there are legal issues that people need to know about. The main discussion here deals with what frequencies the China Doll radio's can legally operate on. The one brand most often discussed is Baofeng. From all of my research I can't find one of them that is compliance-rated to operate on frequencies covered under FRS, GMRS, or MURS, unless you want to only operate on GMRS at 2W. I have found that I can't say for certain whether their mobile units are non-compliant with this Part. BUT, they CAN operate in the frequencies covered under Part 97, which is the amateur (HAM) bands - namely the 2M (144 - 148MHZ VHF) and 70cm (420 - 450MHz UHF) bands.

Since @PioneerPete said it so eloquently, and I agree with what he said, here is his post:


With that, I'm going to move on to Part 97, getting your HAM license, and how doing so can really be helpful in large group rides and if you are out in the middle of BFE alone and something serious happens.

Since I started this post I've noticed at least a couple of HAM operators have chimed in. That's awesome! Hopefully they will correct me if I make a mistake and add their knowledge to the post.

So, almost all of you that have purchased, or are thinking of purchasing, a radio for communicating on rides, have looked at the Baofeng brand - China Dolls. I have two of them. They are inexpensive and have more features than most know what to do with. Heck, even programming them can be a pain, although with a few Youtube videos and some software on your PC or Mac, you can quickly learn and become proficient. The good thing to take away from this is that if you currently own one, you have a radio that IS compliant to operate on the HAM frequencies. You can't operate there without a license, but you are more than welcome to "creep the freqs" and listen in on all your local traffic.

FCC Part 97

This covers every rule and regulation regarding the Amateur Radio Service. As I stated above, if you have purchased or are contemplating purchasing a China Doll radio to communicate on your rides, this covers what you need to know. Peruse it at your leisure, preferably over a cold one, or something on the rocks. Keep in mind that the FCC calls it amateur. The people operating on these frequencies would beg to differ. I would agree with the latter. These people are true professionals. Since the frequencies that are best for this within the confines of the China Doll radios are in the 2M band (VHF 144 to 148MHz), I will limit this discussion to these.

Getting your HAM License

There are three classes of amateur (HAM) that you can obtain:

Element 2 - Technician
Element 3 - General
Element 4 - Extra

All are good for 10 years from the date you pass. To renew you just file the paperwork. I won't go into the detail about this, but it's pretty easy. You do not need to retest.

Technician Class - One word. Easy. The really cool thing about all the study sources available is that you get to study all of the actual test questions and answers. The questions and answers are developed by the the people who administer the test - the Volunteer Exam Coordinators - or VEC's. They aren't trying to trick you. They are HAMs that want you to learn and be proficient.

The site that I recommend is HamTestOnline - Ham Radio Exam Courses and Practice Tests

After you create a free account you can audit the content. If you like it, they charge $24.95, which gives you 2 years of access.The best thing about this site is that it is intuitive. It learns you. If you miss a question, it will keep throwing it at you. It continually reviews areas you are weak in. It has great information on how to use it and how to be successful. If you follow it you can't go wrong.

The Technician Class gives you operating privileges mainly in the 2M and 70cm bands, as well as others. Once you attain this, you can either stay at this level or move on and open up more opportunities. The site I referenced has all of the study content for the next two exams. Yes, they charge for it, but the cost is no more than what you would pay for a book or study guide. There are free sites. @Ragnar406 suggested a link that provides many of those, which is:

the CAN'T FAIL thread for getting a ham radio license and learning basic VHF/UHF operations - AR15.COM

This is a great resource. I used it myself when I first started looking into licensing.

One thing I should mention. Up until 2007 (correct me if I'm wrong) it was required to know Morse Code to pass the exam. The FCC has eliminated this requirement, but you can still get involved in that aspect if you want to. Think of the movie Independence Day. They used it to coordinate the counter attack. There are literally thousands of people still using it on a daily basis. In HAM terms, it is called CW.

Again, the Technician Class license is easy. If you have a basic electronics background you'll breeze through it. If not, no big deal. You can memorize those answers. Work on learning that stuff later.
Radio snobs!
 
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CumminsPusher

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crap im sorry I forgot about that. I remember now people talking about it around the time I joined the forum. Surprised nobody has heard anything. Has anyone tried finding him on the radios?
I don’t know his call or enough to get to get ahold of him in that fashion. I tried everything I could and Plumber32 was trying to for a bit too. Sucks because many of us coincidered him a good friend. Hopefully something didn’t happen or he was someone other then who we thought. Was a big part of the forum then one day absolutely nothing again
 
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Ragnar406

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I don’t know his call or enough to get to get ahold of him in that fashion. I tried everything I could and Plumber32 was trying to for a bit too. Sucks because many of us coincidered him a good friend. Hopefully something didn’t happen or he was someone other then who we thought. Was a big part of the forum then one day absolutely nothing again
KL4II was his callsign - I just went back and looked it up on an old thread. I will PM you the address listed on QRZ
 
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