SJC1 - 147.210 + 114.8 Stockton (Stockton Pri)
SJC2 - 146.655 - 100.0 Tracy (County Pri)
SJC3 - 145.210 - 100.0 Tracy (County B/up)
SJC4 - 147.090 + 114.8 Lodi (North Pri)
SJC5 - 146.985 - 100.0 Manteca
SJC6 - 147.165 + 107.2 SDARC
SJC7 - 147.015 + 114.8 Copperopolis
SJC8 - 147.105 + 94.8 Stockton
SJC9 - 146.895 - 114.8 Mt. Oso - Disabled
SJC10 - 444.400 + 114.8 Copperopolis
SJC11 - 444.325 + 94.8 Stockton (Stockton Pri)
SJC12 - 443.825 + 107.2 Mt. Oso
SJC13 - 444.575 + 107.2 Stockton
SJC14 - 444.850 + 114.8 127.3 Tracy 
SJC15 - 444.500 + 114.8 Stockton
LLNL - 146.775 - 100.0 Livermore

TAC1 - 146.550

TAC3 - 146.535
TAC4 - 146.430
TAC6 - 156.565
TAC7 - 146.595
TAC8 - 146.445
All simplex

Opinions expressed are my own. I hope they are useful, but policies and procedures vary widely from one location and group to another.

What I describe may not work for you and may even be unsafe. Always follow your local policies and procedures!

Also, unless specifically mentioned, this site is about VHF/UHF operations and not HF, which is very often different for very good reasons.

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N5FDL/CEVOL Repeaters

Stockton: 147.210 + N5FDL and 444.500 + K6TRK Both PL 114.8 (linked)

Copperopolis/Gopher Ridge: 147.015 + and 444.400 + N5FDL UHF is Yaesu System Fusion analog and digital — tone on analog only

Mt. Oso: 146.895 - N5FDL and 443.825 + PL 107.2 (not linked)

Tracy: 444.850 + KB6EMK PL 127.3

Affiliated Repeaters

Bear Mtn.: 146.090 + and 444.250 + WB6ASU Both PL 114.8 (linked)

Mt. Delux: 145.210 - PL 100.0 WA6SEK (10mi S of Tracy)

All repeaters are open to all users.


"Is CERT The Future of ARES? QST Article

Here is a link to a PDF of my article in the May QST about CERT and ARES, which appears below.

From May 2011 QST © ARRL

Here is a statistic I like to toss around, because it explains the future of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service,® at least in my part of the world. It starts with a question: “What is the largest, best-organized, and best-trained Amateur Radio emergency group in San Joaquin County? Is it ARES? RACES? A ham club?” No, it is the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in the City of Tracy, the California community of 80,000 where I live.

Tracy CERT, operated by the fire department, requires its volunteer team leaders to be licensed amateurs, capable of providing longer-distance communication when their teams are in the field. Individual CERT
members who are not hams use short-distance Family Radio Service (FRS) radios to communicate with their leaders. Of the 45 responder-qualified members of Tracy CERT, more than two dozen have become licensed
amateurs, most through a series of one day “HamCram” licensing events.

We follow the HamCram with training to get the new hams familiar with their radios, our frequency plan and net operation. (We have standardized on Yaesu FT-270, FT-60 and the discontinued VX-170 handheld transceivers.) No other group in our county has as many members that are as broadly trained. Almost all of the CERT hams are also ARES members. Since CERT is their primary affiliation, that’s how I count them.

Every CERT member is required to participate in at least 24 hours of CERT training, attend meetings and training sessions at least occasionally. All members have basic Incident Command System (ICS) training
and have been fingerprinted and passed background checks. Each member is also a State of California registered Disaster Service Worker.

Tracy is not the only city in our county with hams in its CERT program. In neighboring Manteca, the police department CERT group has several hams. We are in the process of training perhaps a dozen more. The fire
department has its own group with a half-dozen ham members with some overlapping with CERT membership.

How is this the Future?

People get into CERT because they are interested in preparedness for their families and neighborhoods. Many have a strong “do-gooder” instinct looking for an outlet. CERT activities require communication. Whether
day-to-day training, community events or an actual emergency, CERT members need to talk with one another, CERT leadership and their sponsoring agencies.

While some CERT groups have access to public safety radio systems, these don’t offer the flexibility and “When All Else Fails” capability that Amateur Radio does. Members also don’t get public safety radios to
take home. I “sell” Amateur Radio to CERT members as a valuable tool for helping their community and CERT team that also happens to be a fun and interesting hobby if they choose to head in that direction.

The Role of the HamCram

Once sold, the CERT member needs a quick and easy way to get licensed and radio-trained enough to perform their CERT missions using ham gear. Enter the HamCram, a one day cram session — reading the question pools and answers repeatedly — that ends with the Technician exam.

I always — and only half-jokingly — warn attendees that they are likely to know less about radio when they leave the HamCram than when they arrived. Still, we have a 90 percent success rate, which makes it
easy to build a cadre of hams within a CERT organization.

We follow up with training in how to use a radio and lots of ham propaganda to try to make these new HamCram hams more interested in the hobby. Probably 15 percent take the bait, and the other 85 percent have at least received a good introduction to the capabilities of Amateur Radio. Some of our CERT members are upgrading and starting to get onto HF.


One of the problems many ARES groups and clubs face is the graying of Amateur Radio. Our average age is somewhere in the mid-60s, meaning many hams aren’t the active public servants they used to be. The
pool of traditional “I am really interested in radio” young hams seems to have mostly dried up, our hobby replaced by the Internet and video games in the lives of people both young and old.

Our CERT members tend toward soccer moms and their husbands more than retirees. They are already signed-up for CERT activities, so getting some of them involved in non-CERT ARES activities is not much
of a stretch.

Thus, Tracy CERT has created a pool of licensed operators who can respond either as CERT-trained ARES members or as ARES-trained CERT members, depending on the mission. The Tracy ARES group includes
both CERT and non-CERT members, who work together in training and response operations.

Our non-CERT hams provide advanced ARES and communications capabilities that support CERT leadership and their members in the field. This works out quite well and without the friction that sometimes occurs
in other locations. Does this mean CERT is taking over ARES, or vice versa? Hardly.

While our memberships overlap, each side has core members who think of themselves primarily as either a ham or a CERT member. They have their meetings, we have ours, and sometimes we meet together. Members of one can attend the other group’s training.

This works out quite well, in no small part because Tracy CERT and the Tracy Amateur Radio Club are both young organizations that grew up side-by-side. More established organizations might have to work harder to
make ARES and CERT behave as the sister organizations they should be.

Key Points

CERT organizations can provide the new blood that many ARES groups and ham clubs need. CERT members may be younger than the general Amateur population and come with a predisposition toward active community service. Amateur Radio provides communications that CERT needs. ARES can provide training, technology and communications leadership to CERT groups.

HamCrams are key to getting CERT members licensed easily and quickly, but must be followed by ongoing communications training. Having standardized radios, all programmed alike, makes it easier for ARES to support CERT members and their communications needs.

CERT and ARES working closely together expands the capabilities of both groups. While CERT is not a traditional entry to Amateur Radio, CERT members are naturals for carrying out our public service commitment to the FCC and the American people. This article is intended to introduce you to the possibilities of CERT and ARES working closely together. Your situation will surely be different from mine.

Still, Amateur Radio and CERT each have something the other needs — people and communications — so it’s worth the effort to make the relationship work.

David Coursey, N5FDL, is Emergency Coordinator of San Joaquin County (CA) ARES, leader of the Tracy ARC, and a member of Tracy CERT. Visit his blog at His e-mail address is

Additional information on organizing a HamCram can be found at




Why We Need HamCrams

After my most recent piece in the ARRL ARES e-Letter mentioned HamCrams as one of 10 “sure-fire” ways to grow a local ARES group, I received an e-mail that included a link to this admitted “rant” against HamCrams. It is fairly typical of those who don’t like them, mostly because they don’t understand and, for the most part, don’t seem to want to.

I sent several emails in response to his post, but have yet to receive an e-mail back. So, I will insert my responses into K5WLF’s original text below and share them with you.

A Rant About “HamCram” Sessions…

I received a forwarded email this evening. The original was from the Emergency Coordinator (EC) of a county in California. The subject matter was about how to grow your local ARES membership. Generally, it was a collection of good ideas. However, I took exception to one of the points the author made. Below is the paragraph (in bold type) of the forwarded post to which I took exception and following is my response to it.

Just for the record — my response is my opinion and there’s not a damn thing you can say to change my mind, so any dissenting responses are simply wasted. If you disagree, don’t even bother responding. No offense, it’s just that you don’t stand a chance of changing my mind.

This paragraph explains his objection as much as anything that follows — it’s not how he got into Amateur Radio and he is uncomfortable with the changes that have taken place in Amateur Radio.

For the record, I don’t especially like HamCrams, but I believe they are one of our best tools for keeping Amateur Radio relevant in the 21st century. It is the only way I see to provide the numbers of operators we need. In my county, the total number of active non-HamCram hams is not nearly enough to staff even a small emergency that runs more than a few hours.

The electronics hobby that led so many into ham radio as late as the 1970’s is gone. The Internet is, if anything, a replacement for Amateur Radio in the lives of young people and the technologically-literate.

Today’s typical ham is in his mid 60’s and isn’t as active as he used to be, especially when it comes to responding to emergencies or participating in strenuous training. Many are not as willing or able to help new hams as they were in years past, and some, obviously, want to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

That isn’t going to happen.

Amateur Radio has changed, the demographic we used to draw from has mostly dried up. We need to new way to get new hams licensed and trained and interested in upgrading. If there is a better way to do this than our one-day HamCram events, please notify me immediately.


*HamCrams* – Creating new, emergency-minded hams may be the best way to
grow your group and goes hand-in-hand with the next item. One-day
licensing classes don’t teach someone how to be a ham, but the license
makes someone trainable and worth investing in.

=== === ===

Those are some interesting ideas, and many of them are workable and, in fact, laudable. However, I take extreme exception to the author’s recommendation of “HamCrams”.

In my opinion, HamCrams or “Teaching for the Test” are one of the most damaging incursions into the heart of amateur radio in many years. Many of us grumble about the license tests being “dumbed down”; yet some of our ham community persist in recommending that we swell our numbers by creating “one day wonders”, and then foolishly expect them to contribute positively when confronted with an emergency.

For many years, the ARRL License Manual amounted to little more than “teaching the test.” You can make the point that today’s license manuals do little more than explain the test. The question pools for Technician and General are actually engineered in ways that make HamCrams, in one form or another, inevitable. You can also take endless practice exams online and then go test when you’re ready.

An open question pool is good for growing Amateur Radio, but by its very nature requires less study and understanding that a closed pool would. I support the open pools and the current numbers of questions that comprise them.

Further, it’s not just the tests that have been “dumbed-down,” its the radios and technology themselves that have become easy-to-use communications appliances. If that’s the case, why shouldn’t the test reflect the reality of the technology hams are using today?sz

Today, the issue is not radio knowledge that keeps hams from contributing positively during an emergency, it’s the complex nature of the emergencies themselves. As ham radio has been dumbed-down, emergencies have become more complex. Mastering the Incident Command System is far more complex than learning to operate VHF/UHF ham gear properly.

Training someone to successfully use Amateur Radio in an emergency is one of the easier tasks compared to the other things they need to learn if they are to do more than simple message-passing. Last Saturday, we did an all-day workshop focused entirely on how to find lost children and at-risk adults. And that is just one of the things an emergency communicator/volunteer needs to be able to do in the 21st century.

Radio operation and regulation are among the easier things our volunteers are asked to learn.

I had the privilege and pleasure a couple years ago, of being one of the instructors of a 6-day (six Sunday afternoons) Technician licensing class. Of the eleven students who took the class, ten of them passed the Tech test on the first try and are now active hams. The eleventh student was a ten year old boy whose dad forced him to take the class. He didn’t want to be there and I felt sorry for him having to attend.

Several of the students from that class have tested for and passed their General class exams and one will be testing for Amateur Extra next month. I consider this to be the kind of results we should be seeking in our licensing classes.

Great, 10 new hams every couple of years. Maybe 30 percent of whom later upgrade. In the past six months, my VE team has licensed more than 70 new hams, with about 10 percent already upgraded. The team, meanwhile, are mostly HamCram hams who have gone on to earn their Extras.

The real issue, of course, is what level of training is necessary for someone to be useful operating a radio during an emergency and how many such people do we need? I’d say, not great and a great many.

A HamCram, followed by specific radio training and emergency operations training, fulfills the need and requires more total hours than the six Sunday afternoons described above. As an emergency manager, I don’t need people to know as much about operating a radio appliance as about how to communicate during an emergency and make a constructive contribution to its resolution. Knowing how to construct a dipole doesn’t help in this regard. 

In the class I helped to teach, we took special care to ensure that our students learned how to be competent amateur radio operators before they learned how to pass the test. In other words. they passed the test from their broad knowledge of the total subject matter, not because of being force-fed with the answers to the questions on the test.

I participated recently in the grading process of a “HamCram” session. I did not know when I agreed to participate in the event that it was a “HamCram” session. Had I known, I would have declined. The majority of the tests that I graded which passed had barely passing scores. This does not bode well for the future of these licensees, or of their participation in the amateur radio community.

I met one of the licensees from that session the other day when he attended a TAARC meeting. To his credit, he admitted that he’d learned essentially nothing at his licensing session and expressed his desire to learn “how to be a ham”.

A HamCram does not teach someone “how to be a ham” and mere book-learning doesn’t do that, either. If you want to be a CERT member who can use ham radio, however, you don’t really need to know “how to be a ham” just how to legally and effectively use Amateur Radio during an emergency. Some of these people, as in this example, will want to become “real” hams and we should help them accomplish that.

Unfortunately, this type of person is in the minority. The majority of those who are licensed as a result of “HamCram” sessions will never even touch a radio until there is a real emergency. Then they will jump on the air — doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons.

In spite of their good intentions, they will be entirely worthless to the emergency effort and will actually be a hindrance because of their complete lack of experience.

As I will say in the May, 2011 issue of QST, the best-trained and best-qualified volunteer emergency responders and communicators in my county are CERT members that we HamCram-ed and followed up with specific radio training. These people have already proven their commitment and value in an emergency and giving them Amateur Radio as a tool and hobby helps fulfill our commitment to the American people per section 97.1 of the FCC’s rules.

Amateur Radio emergency communications is no longer just about passing messages.

There is no substitute for on-the-air experience and we do no favors to either the new licensee or to the amateur radio community by providing these much vaunted “HamCram” sessions to make new hams.

You’re right, so we do drills and get the HamCram hams on-the-air as much as we can. Is this perfect? No. But, we do pretty well.

Those of us in the amateur radio community who have made the commitment to emergency communications have spent many hours in bicycle races, emergency drills, simulated emergency tests and other forms of practice for the events we hope will never come. But those events do come — witness Cross Plains 2005 — and remember the ham response at that time. It was immediate and it was effective.

I was one of the hams who responded to that event and I say from experience that the main reason our ham response was so effective is that our responders had practiced. We had a team of experienced communicators at all the stations on the circuit twenty-four hours a day. Without that experience, there would have been total chaos instead of the precision communications that we provided.

What, HamCram people can’t train just like “real” hams? There is nothing wrong with any means we use to license new hams — what matters is what happens after they get a license. That is when the real learning begins.

I am going to let the rant unwind now as the ranter presumes that only people who are taught in the manner he was taught and/or supports can possibly contribute to Amateur Radio. In the process, he is — with the best of intentions — doing more to bring down Amateur Radio than the people he accuses of cheapening our public service work.

I totally support all legitimate efforts to garner new licensees, but I do not — can not — condone the utilization of “HamCram” sessions to make new hams. Unless our new licensees are trained to be competent amateur radio operators as a part of their license training, they will not get on the air voluntarily for either recreational or training purposes.

Only when there is a declared emergency will they key up, and then, because of their total lack of experience, they will be a detriment, rather than a benefit, to the emergency effort. And it will not be their fault.

It will be the fault of those who have conducted the “HamCram” sessions, administered the tests, and created this new class of amateur radio licensees — the class of those with a license and no practical on-air experience. These well-meaning and sincere folks will not understand when their efforts to communicate are either rejected or ignored because they do not know how to conform to the accepted communications format — and they disrupt the ongoing emergency comms. And their so-called instructor will be to blame.

We must remember that to “remain calm under fire” takes practice. That practice is gained by participation in the weekly nets of our local ham clubs, by working bicycle races, being a part of SETs and participating in every drill that’s offered. Without having the initial confidence to get on the air imparted to them in the license class, most new licensees will not even get on the air until there is a declared emergency. Without having had the practical experience beforehand, they will not be able to make a positive contribution to the effort.

We agree, so we provide lots of training. I have nine events on the calendar from March to May, plus weekly nets and monthly meetings.

I urge you — I beg you — my fellow VEs, do not succumb to the pressure to hold a “HamCram” session. Instead, provide a series of classes for potential Technician class licensees that will prepare them to be competent amateur radio operators. Ensure that part of the class includes on-air experience and know that when they pass the test they know more than they need to know to be Technician class licensees. For that is the only way that they will desire to progress in their ham radio career.

It is only by imbuing our students with the knowledge and history of our avocation and also with the excitement that accompanies it, that we can hope to retain them as amateur radio operators. We are members of the greatest hobby in the world — let us make sure that we pass the excitement and the commitment to community service on to all those whom we teach and test.


?K5WLF clearly loves Amateur Radio. He’s entitled to his opinion, however uninformed it may be. But, lots of people share it and I agree with many of the issues he raises. He just assumes there is no way to address them, which is obviously wrong.

Bottom line: There aren’t enough hams to go around and HamCrams give us a tool that allows us create effective emergency responder/hams as easily and quickly as possible.


Need Velcro Name Tapes?

If you are looking for embroidered name tapes, and especially those with Velcro on the back for attachment to bags and other gear, here is a recommendation.

I recently ordered several on eBay from Military Tapes, a Florida and NY-based vendor. Good service, price seemed fair, reasonable delivery time.


Ask N5FDL: Is RACES Evil?

ARES member installing government-owned ham antenna on government-owned buildingOK, headline may be a bit aggressive, but the question, posed by a ham with a 9-land call, is legit and does come down to whether RACES is, well, evil or not:

I may be in the minority but I think it should be taught that ARES is ARES and RACES is RACES and the two are totally separate.
My personal feelings is that RACES is nothing more than a governmental grab for our hard won ham frequencies.  FEMA, EMA and the like have their FCC given frequencies and they should operate within them not in Ham Radio bands.  While I am definitely not a tea bagger I feel that governmental agencies spending money to fund RACES repeaters and other equipment is not fiscally responsible.  ARES groups do it on their own and in my thought do it better.
Just my 2 cents worth.
(Name and call withheld)

Let me start by saying that the “OES” in your title suggests that you are already part of RACES, since that is how an Office of Emergency Services would typically organize its Amateur Radio program. Maybe not where you live.

But, if your OES doesn’t have a RACES organization, it should. RACES allows the agency control over who participates and may provide limited liability protection and workers’ comp coverage when we participate in emergency response and even some training.

As to your specific comments and questions:

ARES is ARES and RACES is RACES and the two are totally separate.

I have been working on a piece that is intended to run in the ARRL ARES e-Letter that talks about this. First, I do not believe there is a single “right” answer to this question. I have learned that no one ARES/RACES model does or should work in every jurisdiction.

I used to believe that a totally integrated ARES/RACES was generally the “best” way to go.

I have more recently developed a strategy where a loosely-coupled ARES/RACES makes the most sense. In this mode, ARES and RACES have the same members and many of the same leaders.

During normal times, ARES is the predominant organization — run by and for Amateurs and managed through the ARRL appointment process. However, in the event of a major incident, the members but on their RACES ID and work directly for government. Stay tuned for the essay on this topic.

ARES gives us flexibility to serve more agencies and do more of “our own thing” than RACES does. By definition, RACES is a government captive.

In my concept, ARES is the more important organization and RACES the more official one. We need both and ARES needs to be the lead day-to-day organization. (This presumes absent politics and capable leadership all around).

RACES is nothing more than a governmental grab for our hard won ham frequencies.  FEMA, EMA and the like have their FCC given frequencies and they should operate within them not in Ham Radio bands.

Slow down…The American people own our frequencies, not us. The People elect governments to make decisions about things like how the radio spectrum is divided. Part 97.1 of the FCC Rules and Regulations defines why Amateur Radio exists.

FEMA does not, for the record, get frequencies from the FCC as the Commission is not responsible for nor does it regulate radios used by the U.S. government. Minor point.

As for a frequency grab, it would be easy to point out that RACES has been alive longer than many of us and hasn’t grabbed any frequencies.

Yes, there have been rare occasions when local governments have “misunderstood” the rules and used RACES improperly. The FCC was quick to fix this and would be again.

On a more serious note: There was legitimate concern, voiced by both hams AND the FCC, that changes to Part 97.113 allowing employee-hams to operate on behalf of their employers during drills (they could already operate during emergencies) would open Amateur frequencies to non-Amateur users.

As 97.113 was amended (and in our proposed language) there are strict (but not too strict) limits on the activities of employee-hams on behalf of their employers. I think the rules make it very clear that this sort of operation is tolerated only because it helps hams perform their public service commitment more effectively.

As a petitioner for the change to 97.113, I feel a special responsibility to protect Amateur Radio from the sort of encroachment that you describe. The front line of this “battle” is the relationship between local hams and local served agencies that demonstates what Amateur Radio is and how it should be used.

I feel that governmental agencies spending money to fund RACES repeaters and other equipment is not fiscally responsible.

I can accept the argument that perhaps government funds should not be used…forget that.

One of my served agencies is a Sheriff’s department (the RACES for that county) that owns and operates a ham repeater as a RACES resource. They have a club that holds the repeater callsign (memorial to a former OES staffer) and it works out fine. The repeater is supposed to become part of a multisite system at some point.

I’ve just installed a WinLink packet gateway at my county public health agency that is connected to their satellite Internet and backup power.

They purchased the radio, a TNC, and provided the computer. Hams who work at the agency maintain the gear.

For less that $700, we added a last-ditch e-mail capability that can be accessed from anywhere in our county. I think that is nothing short of fiscal genius. And would not have been funded by volunteers.

Likewise radios at all our hospitals and clinics — 10 or 11 of them — plus antennas and some pretty long coax runs are paid for by the county. And we used grant money to update the station at the EMS Agency and print question pools for the free HamCrams we offer.

Volunteers are a great investment for local government. The Sheriff’s Department I mentioned figured that volunteers offset $1.1 million in personnel cost last year.

Spending by government to support Amateur Radio communications generally supports a clear governmental purpose and amplifies the efforts of volunteers. It’s money well-spent.

ARES groups do it on their own and in my thought do it better.

Our volunteers already give considerably of their time and money and receive little support in the way of tax relief to cover these contributions. Volunteers are, especially in this economy, tapped out. Help from our served agencies is welcome and tends to bind the agencies and their volunteers to common purposes.

Thank you for raising these important issues. You certainly have fair concerns and they are shared by other hams. I hope my response is satisfactory, maybe even convincing.


Repeater Coordination is Broken. Here’s How to Fix It.

The way we manage amateur radio repeater coordination is broken and it’s hurting both hams and the public we serve. The only way to fix it is to start over—this time requiring those who want what amounts to exclusive use of a valuable frequency pair in a given geography to prove they deserve it.

Repeater groups that provide valuable public service have nothing to fear from this proposal. Indeed, it should enhance their ability to provide emergency communications and training.

Those who run closed repeaters, are squatting on pairs that aren’t actually being used, or operate repeaters that are devoid of users need do better job or start packing.

Amateurs who think they can do a better job of running a repeater than whoever has the pair now (or in the future) should have the chance to either prove it and get the frequency themselves or force the incumbent to do a better job of serving the community.

Read more in the Word document.

(Note: This piece was written three years ago and even I don’t agree with all of it now. Intended as a discussion-starter only).