WB4GBI 146.940 Repeater
As published in the SERA "Repeater Journal," November 2017
Written by Tim Berry, WB4GBI
Edited by Tammy Berry, KB4TQO, and Bert Rollen, K4AR
When first introduced and licensed into the hobby, many
newly- licensed ham radio operators begin their radio experience on the 2-meter
amateur radio (144 MHz – 148 MHz) band allocated to hams by the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) and are amazed by the range that they can
communicate on their hand-held radios via “repeaters”.
In the Knoxville, Tennessee area, it is not unusual for
those new hams to find the 146.940 MHz repeater- built by George Shaver K4HXD
in 1967, WHICH IS CELEBRATING ITS 50TH BIRTHDAY!
So, let us tell you about the repeater’s 50th Anniversary and document
the very first, and the oldest continuously operating repeater in the Knoxville / East Tennessee area: 146.940 MHz located on Bluff Mountain,
now owned and operated by Tim Berry,
In late 1966, a then 23-year old Amateur radio operator
named George Shaver, K4HXD, moved with his wife Kathy from Chattanooga,
Tennessee to Maryville,
Tennessee to take a position as a
communications technician for the State of Tennessee.
A year later, in 1967, George had settled into his new job
and home and was on the cusp of making local ham-radio history. Lyndon Johnson
was President of the United
Gasoline was 33 cents per gallon.
A new car cost an average of $2,800. The Beatles were a staple on AM Top
In mid-1960’s era amateur radio, QST Magazine often
published articles showing activity on two meters (144 MHz), but mostly on AM,
CW, and SSB. Equipment used at the time was largely transverters or converters,
or perhaps the “two-er” AM transceiver kit from Heathkit. Mobile VHF operation
was cumbersome, and very short-range. FM was the “frontier”, and repeaters were
the “outposts”; But George Shaver, K4HXD would soon change the ham radio
“scene” in Knoxville,
George’s job was to work on radio equipment in the 44 MHz
“Low band” range. One of the base
stations he maintained for the Tennessee Forestry radio system was located at
the “Millstone Gap” fire tower on Chilhowee
Mountain in Blount
County, Tennessee. George
had already realized the exceptional VHF range provided by this “remote base
station” for the Forestry radio users. He decided he would also do something
”radical” for the day, and do it for Amateur Radio – and eventually pass his
passion on to then 8-year old Tim Berry.
George decided to build a FM 2-meter ham radio repeater on Chilhowee Mountain –
East Tennessee’s first!
George placed what was in 1967 referred to as a “remote
base” in the Chilhowee Mountain transmitter shack to be used by
amateur radio operators. The exact
equipment brand is not known today, but it was most likely a GE “progress line”
or Motorola “Compa Station.”
Unlike today, there were no synthesized two-meter radios;
all 2-meter radios and repeaters were crystal-controlled (hams called them
“rocks”). The frequencies utilized by K4HXD were 146.340 MHz input, 146.940 MHz
output. This frequency “pair” was one of three or four “standard” frequency
pairs that were active in the early 2-meter FM era (and later were often
included in commercially produced 2-meter ham radio equipment).
There were few solid-state radios. Motorola had introduced
its HT-200 single or dual frequency handheld radio a couple of years earlier,
but there weren’t many in the Amateur Radio service. In fact, there were no amateur service-specific
mobile or hand-held “portable” 2-meter radios; conversion of a commercial radio
was necessary if one planned to operate on this new “repeater” portion of the
two-meter band.. The equipment was limited
to one or two frequencies. In order to
operate in other areas of the country, one would hope that the “rocks” that you
had in your radio were the same as those in the area in which you were traveling..
Amateur Radio operators of the day who set up the equipment to use this
new-fangled “repeater” gadget, were amazed at the clarity and the range. Using
a 10-watt mobile, they could access the repeater all over the Middle East
Soon, the new
146.94 repeater became quite busy with area ham operators who frequently
enjoyed using it during “drive times” to and from work. The late Ed Hartley (Then WA4GKN) recalled
that he used a Motorola “Twin-V” tube-type mobile unit to access the 146.94
repeater in 1967 when he transferred to his new job in the Knoxville
area from Nashville. Bob Glenn, W4ZTV (a close friend of George)
recalls using the 146.94 repeater to talk with George in Knoxville
Even back in 1967
the repeater was “remote controlled”….by … you got it-- rotary dial. The
repeater could be turned on and off remotely as needed by using a 1500 Hz
“Secode” rotary-dial encoder. When one heard this tone coming from what was affectionately
called the “finger ringer,” it was evident that the repeater was either headed
off the air or just coming back on.
in 1967, neither the Carolinas Virginia Repeater Association (CVRA) nor its
successor, the South Eastern Repeater Association (SERA) had been formed yet.
The Tennessee Repeater Council came along after the K4HXD repeater was
placed on the air.
In 1974, following several years of listening to tunable
multi-band portable radios prior to licensing, a newly minted call sign of
WB4GBI, appeared on the 146.94 repeater; To his great delight, Jerry Purviance,
WB4USH, (now N4SH) picked him up and brought him along on a repeater
maintenance trip where the 16-year-old WB4GBI became forever hooked on the
building and care of repeaters.
Over time, other clubs and individuals placed repeaters on
the air in high-profile locations. The
146.940 repeater continued to serve at several sites. In the early 1970’s, the 146.94 and its
little brother 444.300 MHz repeater (which went on the air in 1973) arrived at
a new site just across the road from the original one. Later (around 1977),
146.94 and 444.300 moved just 100 yards down the Chilhowee Mountain range. It now sported a solid-state Motorola
“Motrac” receiver, but the transmitter still used high-power tubes.
It continued to provide outstanding service, a new repeater was
eventually constructed from surplus Motorola parts. A new six-cavity
Phelps-Dodge duplexer was purchased, which allowed George to replace the split
antenna system of its earlier years with a single antenna. The FCC recognized this popular new mode and
method of amateur radio communications and in 1974 began to license the
repeaters separately, thus the 146.94 K4HXD repeater became WR4ADF.
George eventually left the State of Tennessee and went to
work for Communications Specialists (where he was joined by Tim
Berry, WB4GBI in 1980),and the 146.94 repeater moved, as well to
the nearby site where it continued to
serve on Chilhowee Mountain. It was upgraded by K4HXD to a Motorola “Micor”
transmitter and receiver, built from surplus parts collected by George, and a
new Phelps-Dodge “Super stationmaster” antenna was installed.
In 1985, George left the employ of Communications
Specialists. In order to allow the
repeater to remain on the air at its renowned Chilhowee site, the decision was
made to transfer the repeater by sale to Tim, WB4GBI.
George and Tim determined the necessary sale price, but
alas, Tim was young and broke. He needed a loan to complete the
transaction. So, he went to the bank,
where his then-girlfriend worked, to get the funds (it’s a sure thing, right?); She
told him that the bank would not loan him the funds (duh), but SHE would…thus the impedance for a match
made in Heaven was set (Editor’s Note – it was never established that Tim
actually paid off the loan).
So, for the first time in its history in 1985, the 146.94
repeater now operated under a callsign other than the one held by its founder,
K4HXD. Tim, WB4GBI, kept it at the Chilhowee Site until he also left
Communications Specialists later that year. Tim temporarily relocated 146.94 to
the Tennessee Forestry site on Bluff Mountain, but alas, that site was
dismantled shortly after, and the repeater was relocated to Top of the World in
Blount County, Tennessee.
Top of the World, a site near the Look Rock fire tower, was
purchased to make absolutely certain that .94 had a safe and permanent home. It
was 146.94’s home from 1985 until 1998, using the same equipment that K4HXD had
built in the 1980’s (3rd revision).
In 1998, Tim, WB4GBI, was selected to be the Chief Engineer
of WIVK-FM and its sister stations, and this allowed some big improvements to the .94 repeater. These included moving the .94
repeater to the WIVK-FM transmitter site on Bluff Mountain (aka “Greentop”).
This provided even better coverage (a new antenna was installed at 260 feet up
the 330 foot tower) and gave the repeater the same 150 KW diesel generator
backup power that WIVK-FM already had, allowing a stable
amateur radio emergency response platform for Knoxville and surrounding
counties. The antenna was again improved in 2005 and then again in 2014. In
2014, the 146.94 system was upgraded to a Motorola MTR-2000 with a CAT
controller, thanks to Todd Overbay, KA4OAK.A GE MASTR II repeater remains as a
spare. This year, the 146.94 repeater celebrates its 50th year of
service to the Middle East Tennessee amateur radio community. It serves as the
primary repeater for Middle East Tennessee Emergency Radio Service, Inc. (M.E.T.E.R.S.; an emcomm / auxcomm group in
the area) and is also the primary repeater for Middle East Tennessee SKYWARN. The 146.94 repeater is the “go-to” repeater
for any type of emergency event in the area.
Due to its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National
Park, it is often used inside the park where other means of communications
(such as cellular phones) fail.
Some examples include -
In November of 2002, .94 was on the air
facilitating SKYWARN severe weather communications into and out of the region
when the Mossy Grove area of Morgan County, Tennessee suffered a tornado
touch-down that destroyed all other available communications in the area. The
146.94 repeater became the lead communications provider for that event;
In April of 2004, it was also used by a teenage
ham, Jordan Webb, KI4AVG, who used his portable radio to call for rescue when
one of his classmates fell into a creek with strong currents in the Cades Cove area
while on a school field trip;
In March of 2010, .94 was used by NK4N to call
for the rescue of a woman who had broken her ankle on a park trail near Mount
And most recently, it was active and providing
critical communications during the 2016 Gatlinburg wildfires.
Postscript from repeater owner Tim Berry, WB4GBI: “146.94 is
the oldest and longest-serving repeater in the Middle East Tennessee area. I am
proud to continue the tradition established in 1967 by George, K4HXD, who left
us way too soon in 1995. I am also very grateful to WIVK-FM and its management
for allowing this repeater to be housed at their transmitter facility to this
day. I hope you enjoyed this look back
in time, and celebrate this milestone along with me for the first repeater that
I, along with many other East Tennessee amateur radio operators, ever
used. And I hope you will join us on it
when your travels take you to East Tennessee.
Please check out my website, www.wb4gbi.com
for more information, and I hope to hear you on 146.94 soon! ’73 Tim, WB4GBI.“
Editor’s Note - Tim’s girlfriend in 1985, who loaned him the
funds to buy .94 from K4HXD, is now known as “Mrs. Berry” (she is licensed as
KB4TQO)…and the Berrys have been happily married for 32 years.
Happy 50th Anniversary, WB4GBI 146.940 Repeater!