History of PARA, The Philadelphia Area Repeater Association

On November 1, 1967, some 30 FM'ers met at the WFIL studio's on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia to organize. Personally owned repeaters by K3DSM and W3CKP had been in operation, but they were only available when the owners were available to activate them. Users of these repeaters wanted a system that was available 24 hours a day. The organization name: Main Line VHF Association, an inactive club, was chosen to simplify matters since it was still licensed and several of the old members were active "FM'ers" at the meeting.

A split-site repeater was put on the air that night on .34/.94 with the transmitter at Gene Mitchell's home (K3DSM) in Merion and with the receiver at Bill Winter's home (K3JPB) in Newtown Square. A 449 MHz link connected the two sites.

Different locations were tested for coverage. The biggest problem was finding good locations to serve most of the FM'ers. The technology called for having separate sites for the transmitter and receiver, unless a big enough of a tower could be found with enough vertical separation of the antennas. The Suburban Philadelphia area has numerous hills and valleys which made picking the right location important. Major site locations tested with fair results were Lankenau Hospital, Sellersville (old Western Union tower) and Berwyn Roller Rink. The Berwyn location proved to be exceptional. Immediate preparations were made for a single site repeater at Berwyn. Receiver "desensing" was a serious problem with 2 antennas on one mast, vertically separated by only 15-20 feet.

In May of 1968, an Exposition and ARRL convention in Paramus NJ solved one of our biggest problems. A vendor was selling "duplexers" to hams at a reasonable price. We ordered and obtained a duplexer, a 4 cavity ring device that allowed one antenna to be used for transmitting and receiving by creating isolation and pass only of the needed frequencies without "desense".

Another problem was the frequencies we were using. There was no standard plan for frequencies and we couldn't decide on whether to place the repeater on 146.94 Mhz or 146.76 Mhz. The input of 146.28 mhz or 146.34 Mhz was also undecided. Different members each wanted different combinations.

Coverage from Berwyn went all the way North to Allentown, some 55 miles away, and just as far South into Delaware. Yet, there was coverage problems close in at 5 to 8 miles away to the East, yet as you went further East, the coverage worked well, once out of the shadow of the hills.

Meanwhile another group, the Les Voyageurs, put on a very good repeater WA3IPP, in Sellersville on .28/.76. This repeater had very good coverage but was not solid near the city. It gave the WA3BKO repeater in Berwyn lots of competition. That repeater made use of a 100 foot walkup microwave tower, donated by the County of Bucks Civil Defense. Both groups grew rapidly. Also, both groups knew that cooperation between them was important. There were now reports in other areas of the country of groups that fought over frequencies where they could not get along. One of the systems tried between the 2 groups called for an increase in power to a quarter kilowatt at Sellersville on 76 out with a 34 receiver in Edgemont and a 28 receiver in Souderton. This worked well for coverage in the suburbs but was still marginal on the expressway and downtown Philadelphia.

While the repeater was at Berwyn, many improvements were made such as the addition of a mechanical wheel automatic ID, tape logging, hardline and a stationmaster antenna raised 40 feet above the rink. Control on 449 MHz with a Secode device had it's problems since the control receiver's IF was listening to Radio Moscow. A whistle-off feature also used had it's short-comings since testing disabled the system when anyone whistle-tested.

Simplex'ing on .34 was common among newcomers which caused some friction with the repeaters. Again, the organization began testing new sites. Swarthmore was really poor. Coatesville covered Baltimore better than Philadelphia. Edgemont did not cover any better. Many of the group wanted to go back to .76 but a group in Sellersville was there now. It was decided to try to share the .76 frequency.

The repeater was moved to Penn Valley at Steve Gansky's house (WA3AAD), central to the area to be covered. The duplexer could not operate on this pair of frequencies. The receiver was placed in North Philadelphia and linked on 449 MHz. Another receiver was placed in Devon also linked on the same 449 MHz frequency. Receiver selection was accomplished by hoping only one receiver heard the signal. Sellersville sent their .28 input to Penn Valley on another 449 MHz frequency. .34 and .28 could both access the .76 transmitter. At this point, the Sellersville transmitter was disabled. Power was raised, at Penn Valley, to equalize coverage.

On December 7, 1970, a large group of over a hundred users met at the GE facility in King of Prussia. Gene Mitchell, president of the Main Line VHF Association and Dave Zollers, president of the LOS VOY had decided to put the 2 groups together and talk about a merger. After a short discussion and the benefits discussed, a vote was taken and PARA, the Philadelphia Area Repeater Association was formed. Also, Gene Mitchell demonstrated his 446.0 to 449.0 Mhz repeater with an autopatch to the group. After the demonstration, the group decided that an autopatch should be placed on the PARA system. It was also decided to have multiple repeaters, both in Sellersville and the Main Line area as well as multiple receivers for the Main Line system. Frequency coordination would no longer be a problem for these repeaters under one roof. Papers were drawn up and membership cards were issued to the new organization's members. The group was formally incorporated on Sept 4, 1973.

Over the next year, a quadrant system of repeaters was formed due to the large area and its complexity due to the hills and valleys. 94 would be known as the Southwest Quadrant, 88 would be known as the NorthWest Quadrant, 82 would be known as the SouthEast Quadrant, and 97 would be known as the NorthEast Quadrant. The South Jersey Radio Association group merged their repeater with PARA to pick up the 82 repeater and also provide a remote site for the main 76 repeater. Another group in the NorthEast, Penn Wireless merged with PARA to pickup that area for that quadrant and remote input.

The structure of PARA was changed to have 2 directors from each quadrant as well as the officers from the group at large to make up the Board of Directors. PARA got its nickname and insignia from PARROT, which means Philadelphia Amateur Repeaters (and) Remote Operated Transmitters.

PARA has had many prominent member hams and officers over the years, including Bob Kinney, President of GE Communications, Lloyd Roach, owner of many commercial broadcast radio stations, Larry Will, engineer of the Jersey Public Broadcast network, and Jesse Wagner, owner of IET and designer of low light video systems and many others.