RMRL: the early years

Recollections of Steve Smith, K0WLN,  (one of the original founders) and Glenn Cascino, WN0EHE

Steve and about a half-dozen or so other people started the club in the late 1960’s.  When asked why they didn’t join an existing club, Steve responded that they were a young group and didn’t feel all that welcomed into some of the other, more established, clubs.  They wanted to start a group that made everyone feel welcome.

Denver University Library tower the location of the first RMRL repeater
RMRL’s first repeater location: DU library tower

Steve worked at DU in the Physics Department and started the club off with a repeater in the three-story library tower at DU.  At the time, Steve was working on infrared projects for the Air Force and flying 1,000-pound equipment balloons that needed tracking, hence his interest in communications and ham radio.  He had a fully-equipped machine shop available to him for his work projects.  A lot of ham equipment and accessories were home-built in those days, so being able to machine his own parts gave Steve a big advantage in setting up and deploying equipment.

The other core founders were also mostly technically inclined, many worked at local television stations or elsewhere in the communications field.  The businessmen of the group helped get the club paperwork done, establishing it as a 501(3)c, and handling other legal matters along the way.

At the time, when crystal radios came from the factory, the most popular frequency was 146.94 and 146.34.  That is why you will find so many early clubs set up repeaters in those frequencies – that was the main option unless they had the resources to add crystals tuned to different frequencies.

The first club repeater was the 146.34/94.  That’s not a typo.  The nomenclature for referencing a repeater at the time included both the input and output signals.  The input was 146.340, with an output of 146.940, thus the repeater was referenced as the 146.34/94.  Today we know it as the 146.94 repeater.

The original was a vacuum tube radio, a Motorola FMTRU-80(D).  This was a top-of-the-line mobile radio, originally designed and manufactured in the 1950’s.  Power supplies for base stations were problematic: the manufacturers would rack-mount a bunch of mobile power supplies and call it good. Steve made good use of his machine shop and built the power supplies himself.

Steve’s friend, Bob Swanlund, also a ham, worked for the Colorado State Patrol and founded the station at the top of Squaw Mountain.  Bob’s wife, Margaret, worked for the Forest Service. Squaw Mountain was the site of the Colorado State Patrol radios, as well as communications systems for several other government agencies.  It was a good partnership: Margaret did the fire-lookout job while Bob took care of all the communications equipment on site.

Squaw Mountain House of Radios hosts many repeaters
Bob and Margaret Swanlund’s home atop Squaw Mountain. No longer used as a residence, it is now known as the “House of Radios” hosting many repeaters.

Bob and his wife worked with the government to build a home at the top of Squaw —an endeavor that took 16 years to complete.  Although it lacked running water, it was a great location for a ham radio repeater.  Bob invited his friend Steve to locate his repeater up there.  So, after about a year at the DU library location, they moved the repeater to the basement of Bob’s house and put the antenna on the mountain.  With the antenna cantilevered out about 5’ from the tower, they had coverage in all directions. Lacking a commercial duplexer, they set up a dual-antenna repeater.  Steve said there was nothing behind the antenna and the radio footprint was amazing.

Thus, the Rocky Mountain Radio League became the first ham radio club to have a repeater on Squaw Mountain.  Which also helps to explain the club’s call sign: W0WYX.  Why is that significant?  Bob Swanlund’s call sign was W0WYX.

W0WYX Call sign above the fireplace in the House of Radios
Affixed just above the fireplace in the House of Radios, this sign memorializes Bob Swanlund and the RMRL’s roots.


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Additional Reading:

Early mobile radio history and information: Motorola FM Mobile 2-Way Radio Equipment, Part One, 1941-1957

Forest Fire Lookout Towers of the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forests and Rocky Mountain National Park