What it takes...

A few people have asked why we don't actively encourage support from users.

Others have asked if they did donate what would their contribution actually go to?

(Editor's note: you might want to grab a drink and pull up a chair, this goes into some detail...)

Well, those seemed fair enough questions to ask and when we started looking into just what it takes to build and maintain a network such as C.A.R.L.A., we concluded that it's a lot more than what meets the eye or what people realized, including us. It became apparent we needed to start encouraging support for the future existence and expansion of the C.A.R.L.A. network as it has become a lot more than just a few individuals can keep up with. It has essentially become much like a not-for-profit business of sorts that would rival many commercial enterprises offering pay as you go community repeater service. If it wasn't for a few dedicated people there would be one less wide area resource like C.A.R.L.A. to rely on.

On that note, we decided it would be best if we set aside a particular time of the year to send a reminder to people to encourage supporting the "Amateur Radio habit" they enjoy, keeping in mind there is no requirement to do so or mandatory membership dues in order to use any part of the system. We firmly believe in operating an "open" system. It's completely voluntary and we realize that it may be difficult for some people to part with any more discretionary funds especially during the current economic situation. However, if you're able to help out now or at some later point, or both, it would certainly be appreciated. We have a suggested donation structure on the support page of the website and a new on-line application form plus the choice to contribute via a number of different options. Some people may want to contribute more or some less or nothing at all. It's entirely up to you. Although at first, for some it may seem like a lot to part with but after reading further, it may look more like it's just a "drop in the bucket" Either way, it does help and is definitely appreciated!

Over the years some individuals have contributed equipment, site space, server access, utilities, use of facilities, personal knowledge, expertise and other valuable resources. A few individuals have contributed funds to help us out including people that only use a system maybe once or twice a year! The reason why? For some it may just be enjoying the use of linked repeaters, talking to friends or appreciating the coverage it offers. Some believe very strongly in what we are trying to offer which is a reliable network of repeaters to use especially when they are truly needed during some type of trip, event, incident, storm, disaster, emergency or simply as a back-up. Others just appreciate all the hard work and unyielding attention we put into keeping it all up and running day after day, year after year. It's a little different for everyone.

2008 was no sleeper when it came to accomplishments and projects for C.A.R.L.A.. In fact the last several years have been extremely busy and quite productive. Often times, so much so, to the point of burn out or sacrificing relationships, personal interests and any time off.

There were several brand new systems put in place from scratch, several were overhauled and turned into permanent status and even more had repairs and/or maintenance visits.

There was quite a bit of activity through Spring, Summer & Fall and for all that was seen on the surface, there was a much greater amount of work performed in the background to make it all happen.

Here's a few noteworthy statistics from 2008 as to what it takes to "run" things:

First off, every single site within the entire C.A.R.L.A. network was visited in 2008 at the very least once, but most of them twice. Several were visited multiple times including C.A.R.L.A. 5, 6, 16, 18, 19, 21 & 23 for maybe an average of 3-4 trips each plus additional survey trips for new and potential sites. That's roughly a total of 60+/- site trips in just one year. Yes, Sixty...

Want to know the "man-hours" spent?

Well, if you figure that maybe 75% of the out of town trips consist of an overnight stay with anywhere from 6-16 hours a day and the other 25% of out of town trips are accomplished in perhaps a 16-20 hour day, plus the other day trips that are closer to "home base" are in the 6-12 hour a day variety, a very rough estimate of hours spent on the road/at the site might come in around, oh let's say 600-900 hours based on just one person. Most of the trips consisted of 2-3 people on average so that's anywhere from 1,500-2,700 actual "man hours" spent in the field... Just last year.

Then we need to add up all the hours worked preparing for a site visit or brand new system install. That's a little tougher as it's all over the gamut depending on a lot of things. We can tell you that a new, permanent system build up can take anywhere from 30-40 hours of work. Most of that is the physical procurement and preparation of equipment & parts, designing, programming, assembly, racking, testing, soldering, alignment, breaking then fixing something, testing some more, troubleshooting and then burning in.

Additionally, it takes hours of computer work to run system and link path analyses, phone calls, meetings, trying to find schedules that everyone can agree on, pulling, prepping and loading every little part, piece of equipment, jumper cable, connector, adapter, tool cases, test equipment, rigging, paperwork, notes, keys/codes, etc... All it takes is to forget just one little critical item and it can stop progress on the site dead in its tracks.

Then there's the mileage and wear racked up on vehicles.

Sometimes everything can squeeze into one vehicle but more often there are two vehicles involved and the occasional 3rd vehicle. A rough estimate is between 10k-15k miles for just one vehicle in a year. Be sure to add a rebuilt transmission, some body damage and lots of punctured tires. With all the weight that goes in one vehicle, mileage might be around 16 on the highway and much less when climbing up mountains. Add to that the price of gas last year and it really costs a small fortune just in transportation and vehicle maintenance costs alone. Of course we shouldn't forget lodging and meal expenses for out of town trips. On average, just one out of town trip can cost $300-500 for a couple of people including fuel, lodging & meals.

We must not forget the "meat and potatoes" or capital improvements. This includes all the equipment, parts and supplies that we have to procure to put in a new system or repair, rebuild or upgrade existing ones. If you're curious as to how much a full blown repeater system costs let's break it down this way. A typical system may consist of the following items some of which were previously owned and some purchased brand new:
  • Main repeater system
  • Link radio system
  • Multi port repeater controller
  • 1-2 Duplexer(s)/coax jumpers
  • Numerous filter(s)/coax jumpers
  • Circulator/Isolator(s)/coax jumpers
  • Power amp(s)
  • Receive pre-amp(s)
  • PL decoders
  • Power supply
  • Fuse panel
  • I/O Relays
  • Battery charger
  • 3-4+ Batteries & harnesses
  • Cabinet/Rack
  • Main feedline/Coax jumpers/hardware
  • Link feedline/Coax jumpers/hardware
  • Main antenna & mounting/hardware
  • Link antenna & mounting/hardware
System cost range: $4k-$13k

Additionally, the PAVE PAWS issue at Beale AFB has cost us a considerable amount of time, equipment and money to help mitigate their claims of interference and perform all the needed research, changes, purchases, road trips and multiple adjustments to those affected systems while still trying to keep up with the "regularly scheduled" projects.

And let's not forget site operating costs. These can include rent, insurance, power, leasehold improvements and site maintenance/repair costs. They all add up to thousands of dollars a year in out of pocket expenses.

And then there's all the time spent hosting, developing and maintaining the website and updating its content on a regular basis. A repeater network of this size needs a method to disseminate operating info plus expected and unexpected developments and changes to its users. Every time a new repeater comes up on the air or a significant change happens to an existing repeater in the network, the website needs updating to reflect the change. Someone has to write the stories, process the pictures, put new articles up, and occasionally do a major overhaul to keep up with the latest technologies.

As you can see it takes an enormous amount of time, money and resources to build and maintain a network of this size. Literally thousands upon tens of thousands of dollars, year after year, just for a "hobby" 2009 won't be very different either. It's very close to a full time job, just without the pay and perks. And unfortunately, we are not eligible to receive federal bail out money...

As a modern society we have become very dependent on our phones, especially wireless ones but as some of us know all too well or experienced first hand, during a major disaster or incident, whether it be localized or wide area in nature, the wire-line & cell carriers can experience a multitude of service affecting issues rendering their networks partially or completely impaired. The simple yet all-inclusive statement from the ARRL sums it up pretty well:

"When all else fails... Amateur Radio"

That's why we do what we do.

Thanks for taking the time to read and hopefully appreciate what really goes into "talking on a linked repeater system". You may just never look at or listen to it in the same way again.

If you know someone who isn't on the C.A.R.L.A. Yahoo group but uses the system please feel free to forward this to them. We also try to encourage people to join the Yahoo group as it is a good source to get timely information regarding repeater/network status, special announcements and sometimes other interesting or useful information.

Thanks again!

» The C.A.R.L.A. Team