Repeater Etiquette — Identifying Your Transmissions

The FCC Amateur radio rules for proper identification apply to all amateur radio communications, including on your local FM repeater. This article examines how the FCC rules apply to common FM repeater operation and when, how, and why you should properly identify your station on the local FM repeater.

The FCC rule for station identification states at 47 CFR 97.117(a):

Each amateur station, except a space station or telecommand station, must transmit its assigned call sign on its transmitting channel at the end of each communication, and at least every 10 minutes during a communication, for the purpose of clearly making the source of the transmissions from the station known to those receiving the transmissions. No station may transmit unidentified communications or signals, or transmit as the station call sign, any call sign not authorized to the station.

The above few words provide a wealth of information for the amateur radio operator regarding the proper method of identifying their station while on the air.

First, the rule states that an operator must transmit the station callsign "for the purpose of clearly making the source of the transmissions from the station known …". In other words, transmitting a station callsign is how an amateur radio operator identifies the source of their transmissions. Any time an amateur radio operator transmits their station callsign and then un-keys their transmitter, it is reasonable to assume they are identifying the source of their transmissions.

Second, each operator is required to identify "at the end of each communication". This may raise several questions. What is a communication? How does it differ from a transmission or a signal emission? Is there a reason for using one term rather than another?

Third, an operator must identify their station, should the communication last longer than 10 minutes, not only at the end of the communication, but, "at least every 10 minutes during a communication". Notice, it is permissible to identify more often than 10 minutes, but, you must identify no longer than 10 minutes from your previous identification.

Finally, "No station may transmit unidentified communications or signals …". This means you must not transmit any communication or any signal without identifying your station.

Let's apply this information to situations commonly experienced on repeaters. Suppose you want to see if you can bring up the repeater with your hand-held radio. You press the push-to-talk (PTT) switch momentarily then let go. The repeater comes up, identifies itself, then goes down. You have successfully "kerchunked" the repeater. Not only is this annoying to those listening to the repeater, it violates the FCC's identification rules.

As soon as you press the PTT switch, your radio emits a signal. The station identification rule requires that you must not perform a communication or emit a signal without providing proper identification.

Testing your rig to see if you are capable of reaching a particular repeater seems like a reasonable thing to do. How can you do it properly? The FCC rules allow you to make a brief one-way transmission for making adjustments to your station equipment (47 CFR 97.111(b)(1)). Press your PTT and say your callsign followed by the word "testing". You have keyed your transmitter, identified the source of your transmission, and, told everyone listening that you are just testing your station. You have still "kerchunked" the repeater, however, you have done it politely and within the FCC rules.

Perhaps you want to contact a particular station. The proper method is to give the callsign of the station you are calling, say "this is", and give your callsign. This is a permissible one-way transmission per 47 CFR 97.111(b)(2). If the station called doesn't respond after a short wait, make the same call again. If the called station responds, continue on with what is now a two-way communication. Identify your station at least every ten minutes and at the end of the communication by saying your callsign.

What if the called station doesn't answer? You will have to decide if you want to give another call or two. You will need to make a judgement whether the called station is likely to answer your additional calls. There is no specific rule governing how many calls you must make. In this case, your knowledge of the person you are calling and your guess as to why they didn't answer must be weighed against the likelihood you are preventing others from using the repeater.

Once you have decided not to make another call, you may make a final transmission. Although a final transmission is not required, when a station I call doesn't answer, I make a final transmission saying "nothing heard", saying my callsign, then saying "clear". This tells anyone listening that you are finished calling your station, are done using the repeater, and they can go ahead and use the repeater without interfering with your call.

Repeaters often are used by a group of operators communicating with each other. The group may be an informal one or may be a formal net. Each of these may present several difficulties in properly identifying your communications. The rules require you to say your callsign to identify your station at the end of your communication. In a group communication, it is sometimes difficult to know when you are done communicating. You may make a transmission and return to net control without identifying intending to make a follow-up final transmission. The net control station may make a comment to you, then, call another station preventing you from making your identification.

In an informal roundtable conversation, comments are being exchanged and there are, usually, plenty of opportunities to identify your transmission. All of a sudden, the conversation intensifies between just two or three stations and no one leaves a space for you to jump in and identify! You are excluded from the conversation for an extended period.

The best solution in a group communication is for everyone involved in the conversation to anticipate the potential problem of inadvertently excluding a station. Identify your station at the end of each transmission if your experience tells you that the net control station is prone to moving on without allowing you to identify. Net control stations should recognize that a station hasn't identified and give them the opportunity to do so before calling on the next station. Everyone in a group conversation should frequently pause for a short moment before keying their transmitter to allow time for other stations to leave the group, identify, or to allow other stations to join in the conversation.

The FCC rules tell you when and in what circumstances you must identify, and, they tell you how to properly identify. Meeting the identification requirements is a necessary condition for using a repeater, however, it is not always sufficient. When you use a repeater, all parties should recognize that most repeaters are intended to be shared by many operators with varied needs and desires. Each repeater user should not only follow the rules, but, they should also do their best to make it easy for other users of the repeater to properly identify their transmissions and to enjoy the use of the repeater.

Posted: September 4, 2023