Florida Repeater Council
It may seem somewhat academic at this point to define interference, but the best understanding starts with a strong foundation in fundamentals.
Webster defines interference as: "... radio. a. A jumbling of radio signals, caused by the reception of undesired ones. b. The signals or devices producing the incoherence."
Meanwhile the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines harmful interference as interference which endangers the functioning of a radionavigation service or other safety services or seriously degrades, obstructs or repeatedly interrupts a radiocommunication service operating in accordance with the Radio Regulations.
From the amateur's standpoint, this means you cannot communicate. However, remember that the amateur service is not a safety or essential service. Some moderation must be considered (e.g. hearing a distant co-channel repeater when your local repeater is not active), While being annoying, is not "interference". Hearing adjacent channel splatter while carrying on a conversation on simplex or your local repeater, while affecting the quality of the conversation, is not truly interference. If it makes communication completely impossible, then it should be considered interference, although it still may not be harmful or necessarily willful. Take note at this point that many of the noise sources to be defined below do not affect FM/PM type radio operation except to cause desensing of the radio, possibly masking the desired signal.
There isn't much that can be done about these sources.
As you can readily see, there are a multitude of problems waiting for solutions. Each, with few exceptions, is solvable. It takes patience, perseverance and the cooperation of others.
The natural phenomena as defined above are not within our capability to solve. It is the manmade signals that by and large can be attenuated or controlled.
Manmade "Non-Radio" Remedies:
Electric Power sources: these mostly emanate from leaky insulators or cables belonging to the power company, and with sufficient coaxing they will repair them. It may take considerable convincing on your part, but once convinced they will repair them.
Neon signs: These are more difficult to control because of their design. Most sign companies will not be cooperative. However, the saving thing here is these typically do not interfere with FM/PM unless you are in the immediate proximity.
Florescent Light fixtures: These, when working properly, are not a problem. However, when they fail they can become annoying. If they fail, the alternatives are repair or replacement. In that same vein are the mercury vapor and sodium vapor lights used for outdoor lighting. These utilize an arcing mechanism for startup, and when they fail this becomes a great noise annoyance.
Computer clocks, etc.: This is a problem that is very pervasive with the increased appearance of faster and faster computers. Here, the best defense is Tempest shielded machines however these are not available for everyone, especially your neighbor. An alternative is to start with shielded/filtered power cords. On plastic cabinet computers, the use of RFI sprays on the interior of the case with conductive fingers to the metal chassis has been proven effective.. Monitors, because of the harmonic-rich signals that float around inside, require special attention, including RFI sprays, conductive fingers, and filtered/shielded cables.
The most important thing to grasp is don't let these problems beat you. They can be solved. If you need help, there are other amateurs out there that are ready, willing and able to help. Just ask.
Sometimes they also could use a hand. It's called sharing the load.
There are two basic types:
Unintentional or accidental (e.g. keying up on the repeater before turning up the volume control, or sitting on the microphone). This has happened to many of us, and those of you that haven't done it yet will sooner or later.
The other type is the harmful, willful or mischievous interference. This is intentionally tying up a repeater or frequency to prevent its use by other persons. Typical examples are the touch tone bandit, the purveyor of objectionable language, and the false cry for help. Many of these incidents are frequently reported in QST, CQ, and 73 magazines. The false cries for help not only cost the taxpayer in terms of manpower sent needlessly but they cost credibility to every one with a legitimate need for help. It's the classic case of the "boy who cried wolf" enough times, and no response will come.
The FCC is usually not interested in solving unintentional or accidental interference. However they do occasionally assist in rectifying harmful interference. Sometimes they use the term, "malicious." to justify their involvement. It is rare that they will get involved in an amateur radio interference complaint unless the offended amateur radio community has already done a lot of the work themselves.
Some of the things to do are:
Some co-channel repeaters have overlapping coverage areas, in which a user will hear both repeaters. This situation becomes more troublesome during band openings. The user can eliminate most of the nuisance noise by using CTCSS tone decode. This, of course, is only possible if the repeater which he desires to hear has tone encoding. Many repeaters now encode tone, even though they may not be decoding tone, because they know that many of their users will experience problems of overlapping coverage and that they will be able to monitor only that machine by using tone decoding on the user's radio.
On the other hand, if the repeater itself experiences increasing incidences of distant users of other machines keying it up, tone decoding may be necessary. Many repeater owners have hesitated to install tone-decoding options on their repeaters. However, it may be necessary to insure that some of the man-made and natural interference does not constantly key up the repeater. Because of this, the time is coming that every ham using repeaters will have to have tone encoding capabilities on their radios. All radios presently being marketed in the United States now include tone encoding as a standard feature. Many radios also now have tone decoding as a standard feature, particularly handhelds. This feature is available as an option on virtually all radios on the market today. In addition, there are several amateur accessory manufacturers who sell tone decoder boards. Most advertise in QST, [The SERA Repeater Journal], and the ARRL Repeater Directory.
Reprinted courtesy of the SouthEastern Repeater Association
Latest update: 16 June 2001