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I'm just starting to use 2m and 70cm bands, which normally use repeaters to extend range beyond a mile or two (limited mostly by line of sight, as I understand it).

When I'm at home, however, I'm not at all sure I have line of sight to any of the nearby repeaters (I live in a small, fairly steep ravine that causes issue with cell phone signal on some networks) -- assuming I get my radio programmed correctly (right frequency, offset, tone, etc.), how can I be sure my signal is actually getting to the repeater?

Even if I can hear activity on the repeater, it's highly likely they're running much more power than the 1/4/8 watts my hand-held puts out, so I might well be able to hear the repeater when the repeater can't hear me. How can I be sure I'm getting out?

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The simple answer is to transmit on the repeater's input frequency, saying something like " < your callsign > testing" and listen for the repeater's courtesy beep (assuming there is one) on its output. If you've heard the beep, then you've hit the repeater.

Even without a "beep", the repeater's "presence" will be audible - its carrier will remain for a brief (several hundred milliseconds at least) after you release your mic, thereby keeping your radio's squelch open for a moment. This is easy to hear. Compare to what you hear if you "ID" on a simplex channel.

You need a few things right: Repeater Output Frequency, Repeater Input Frequency (or offset from the output frequency) and CTCSS (or PL) tone.

Added based on the comments: Whenever one keys up a repeater, one should wait a half-second or so to speak after pressing the PTT button - this allows the repeater to "come up". It's common to hear transmissions cut off at the start because the operator neglected to do this. The adage is "Press first, then talk"

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  • $\begingroup$ Yep, that's pretty simple. I had thought of that, but wasn't aware that repeaters had a "roger" tone. The radio does, if I turn it on. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Mar 20 '19 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, I know the sound of static, worked CB in the 1970s when I'd just gotten my driver's license. This also sounds like a good way to be sure I've got the offset correct, $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Mar 20 '19 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ I would add to pause for a brief moment before you identify (press the button, take a short breath, identify + "…testing". This allows the repeater to come up before you start saying your call sign. Also, on a friendly repeater, someone may chime in with a signal report in response to "testing" only — but when checking access I'd recommend specifically asking for audio quality feedback to see how you are reading. (With some repeaters it's possible to open squelch but be unintelligible.) $\endgroup$ – natevw - AF7TB Mar 20 '19 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ I've edited your answer to include the text of your comment. When you find more advice to give, please remember to incorporate it in the answer (when feasible), not just comments. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Reid AG6YO Mar 20 '19 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @natevw-AF7TB Thanks, I'll try to keep that in mind. Repeater delay is like vox, only listening to carrier. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Mar 20 '19 at 17:29
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Personally, I don't hear the repeater "tones" or "static" in a consistent of enough way to use them to quality test my transmission to repeater. Maybe my ears aren't refined enough or that's just not indicative of the repeaters I'm using.

Getting a signal check from listeners is great when it's a one-and-done situation. But it's not so great if you need to experiment. Who wants to wait while you adjust your antenna or walk up the street "Can you hear me now?"

One solution if you have two radios or can borrow someone's (lots of us have a spare HT laying around) is to leave your smart phone recording your spare that's listening while you wander around and test as long as you want (if no one else is using the repeater that is.) Just remember to use a reference like "Standing on the roof of my car." And make sure your "listening" radio is far enough away that you don't interfere with it - easy enough since you can test it to make sure.

Brian KN6KJO

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    $\begingroup$ Hello Brian, and welcome to ham.stackexchange.com! $\endgroup$ – rclocher3 Aug 24 at 15:22
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Ideally a typical repeater when you stop transmitting will have a short delay, the courtesy tone (it's courtesy to wait for that tone so that other people can get a chance to break in), and then another delay, and then they drop carrier. In an ideal situation, you should be able to hear that tone, and rely on weak reciprocity -- if you can hear the tone clearly, there's a good chance you got into the repeater clearly.

However, lots of things can go wrong with that. Some repeaters leave out some or all of those delays, and then you have to get lucky that your radio's transmit to receive transition is fast enough to catch some part of the tail of the repeater's transmission. Some of them leave out the courtesy tone too, and then it's guesswork if you got in at all.

Also, some repeaters are not well balanced on receive sensitivity vs. transmit power, so the reciprocity might not be there, as maybe the repeater doesn't hear was well as it speaks (or vice versa). You might be strong enough to key the repeater but not enough to get a clear transmission into it.

A few repeaters have a repeat delay, so that if you speak and then unkey quickly, you might catch the tail of the delayed repeat of your transmission. (This might be half a syllable or so.)

A very few rare repeaters have instrumentation in them that can actually measure your signal strength and report it back to you. This is obviously more reliable (and really cool). Typically this is triggered by some touchtone sequence that might be published.

A few more repeaters are able to actually record what they hear and when you unkey, repeat it back to you. Any repeater with echolink or IRLP capability can do this. Usually repeaters like this have their touch tone sequence to active echolink or irlp published, and the internet test reflectors are published in their respective documentation online.

And, all of that failing, your best bet is to call out for a signal report and see if someone will respond and let you know what they hear! Many repeaters have members who can give you a technical description of your signal quality that might be very helpful. You might even want to try this as a first approach, and introduce yourself while you are at it.

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