Why does every new license holder want to setup a repeater? I would like to shed a little light on some of the important things to consider if you recently got your GMRS license and now want your own repeater.
First thing to consider, are there any open well placed repeaters in your area that you are able to use? I can assure you most repeater owners want people to use there repeater. Owning several repeaters I can assure you all are welcome and encouraged to use my machines.
Do you have access to a location to host your repeater? If your answer is your garage roof you should reconsider. Your garage roof will give you about the same coverage as simplex. Unless you’re on top of a mountain and all your users are at the bottom you will never be happy with this setup.
GMRS is not as popular as one would like to think, unless your repeater covers 20 miles or more you may find you only have 1 or 2 users in the area. Unless you already have a group of friends together you may want to consider this before spending money on a decent well positioned site to install your repeater.
So you found a nice high site and the price is right, all you need to do is get the repeater installed, sounds simple right? Some thigs to consider first and foremost are the costs because they can add up quickly. Are you on a commercial tower that requires a license and bonded climber? If so this could be by far your largest expense depending on your area. I have spent $600 to $1200 on a climber; I have had quotes as high as $2500 depending on the amount of work and heights involved. Keep in mind commercial sites require certified mounts, hard line cable, cable clamps, engineered grounding solutions and commercial grade antennas. No tower owner is going to let you install a comet antenna and 200’ of braided shield coax.
This brings me to my next point, the antenna. Because of the costs involved with climbers you will want to expend your budget on the antenna. Remember a $2000 repeater on a $200 antenna is going to work about as good as a $200 repeater. Whereas a $200 repeater on a $2000 antenna is going to work like a $2000 repeater. On my first repeater I was gifted use of a 150’ tower, I installed a DB-420 on the top and 160’ of 7/8 hardline. Total cost of equipment for the antenna install was $2500, with the climbers labor coming in at an additional $800. This left me with enough to purchase an old Motorola R100 repeater running at 25W. To my surprise it had 30 miles of coverage, all due to the cash spent on the antenna and waiting for a decent spot.
Things happen, more so if you have an antenna 200’ in the air with a conductive cable connected to sensitive electronics. Antenna issues, feedline issues, repeater issues all cost money and I promise at some point you will have issues that need repair and require your money!
It is my opinion that the GMRS community does not need another 2 to 5 miles repeater as it just becomes background noise. What use is a public listed repeater if somebody in a mobile can’t use it 5 miles away while moving or the portable coverage is only a mile? If after reading this you are still going to build a repeater for your garage more power to you, just don’t expect 20 people to show up if it only reaches a mile.
As the owner of several GMRS and Commercial repeaters I can attest to the amount of money and effort go into my repeaters. I have only touched on the basics, if you add in any kind of testing services, duplexer tuning, addition of a combiner channel to an existing tower system, RF engineering, rent and insurance your costs can sky rocket. The best advice I can give any new licensee is to try and use the available systems in the area. Take the time to learn a little about what you’re doing and to assess the usability of the service before investing in a repeater for the sole reason of saying you own one.