April 18, 2022
Let’s talk about the future of the Contra Costa Repeater Association and what needs to be done for it to have a future.
The CCRA was formed 45 years (1977) ago by 4 teenagers with the purpose of learning electronics by building a ham repeater. We didn’t have any money so we invented the CCRA to provide a source of funding to buy the needed equipment. We received financial support from the local hams who wanted to include in the repeater controller design an “autopatch”. An autopatch was the precursor to the modern day cell phone where we could call public safety agencies and home to let our family members know we were stuck in the Bay Area traffic. It was a match made in heaven!
Our first repeater site was located at Smith Hill near the intersection of Highway 680/24 in Lafayette. We did odd jobs for Dot Smith, the owner, and paid a small amount of rental per month. We learned a lot about old radio equipment, controllers, power systems, coax and antennas. The controller was a home built, wire wrap board with up to 200 integrated chips and it took months to build. As we got into our late teens and early 20’s we developed a technocrat management style after observing other repeater clubs getting bogged down in policy arguments at the cost of building and maintaining the repeater. The founders of the CCRA did the technical management and the users provided the funds to keep the repeaters operational and managed the social events for the group.
Over the next several decades we were able to build out the single repeater into a 3 site, high level, repeater system that covered the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento/San Joaquin valley area. Its purpose morphed from a learning tool for the 4 teenagers to a public service repeater system that has been used hundreds of times during local and regional emergencies. It has served the public and hams in the area well.
But with time, banking and reporting laws were changed and this impacted how the CCRA was structured. In 1977 it was possible to open a banking account by 4 people for use as a place to put money to pay radio site costs, phone bills and buy equipment. Being the oldest I was tasked to make it happen so every piece of paper ended up having my name on it. For example, when we wanted a phone line for the autopatch, Pacific Bell wanted a name for the account and being the oldest it had my name on it which it still does to this day. We explored the possibility of forming a corporation but at that time didn’t believe it would provide any benefits to what we were doing. We were technologist and having fun learning. Who needed the paperwork…?
In 2021 I had 8 days of headaches followed by a helicopter ride and emergency surgery which I had a good chance of not surviving, but somehow did. During my recovery I was blessed by the support I received from members of the CCRA leadership group, N6KLS, K6JPR, KA6TZU, WA6JAU, WA6EKS, and KD6RDD to name a few. Some of the aforementioned also came to the financial aid when the 147.735 repeater had a major failure and made critical donations when we needed it most. I want to recognize them by letting them know how much I appreciate what they have done. I realize I’ve missed mentioning others in the CCRA group that have financially supported our mission and I apologize to them for the omission. The support the CCRA has received over the 45 years has made it possible to grow the repeater system into an important resource for the amateur radio community in providing public service support during a regional emergency.
After recovery I found myself thinking about organizational continuity specific to the CCRA. The CCRA cannot continue in its present form that was established by a bunch of teenagers in a less formal era. The current leadership of the CCRA and the majority of ham operators are well past their retirement age and need to understand that it is time to stand down, mentor and turn over the reins of the CCRA to a new generation of hams. It is time to renew the CCRA for the next generation of hams.
The new leadership will need to be technically inclined and be able to maintain and improve on the existing technology we are currently using. I want them to experience the exhilaration of building a repeater system and learning from it. They will need to work with public service and public safety agencies in a cooperative manner. I believe this can be done in less than a year provided we can find a local, younger group of hams willing to undertake the challenges of the repeater system. I expect the current technical team to be around for several more years to pass along what we know about the CCRA repeater system. Once ready, the new technical team can chart the future course for the CCRA or its replacement organization. If you are a younger ham, have interest in being part of the new CCRA technology leadership, and charting a path for the CCRA, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries are welcomed.
I intend to keep the repeaters on line and operational during this period. If we are unable to achieve this goal then it is time to plan on shutting down the CCRA in a controlled manner in much the same way a buggy whip manufacturer would go out of business at the turn of the last century. What do you think?
One of the Founders of the CCRA, Trustee and Licensee of the WA6HAM repeater system