Radio System

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Yellowstone’s radio system consists of several base stations, repeater sites, handheld radios and associated control infrastructure. All Ranger Stations and Visitor Centers are equipped with base stations, and the primary communications center is located in the Telecommunications Building in Mammoth. The Park is in the process of transitioning to a digital system to comply with new FCC imposed guidelines. Budget limitations have prevented them from going fully digital at this point (conversion will require replacement of all radios and the addition of repeater sites). Some digital radio capability exists today, used primarily by law enforcement rangers.

The current radio signal coverage is about 93% of the backcountry and virtually all of the developed areas.

Ypn repeaters.jpg

Contents

Repeater Sites

Washburn antennae.jpg

There are seven primary repeater sites that provide two-way radio coverage for park operations:

  • Mt. Washburn: Used as the primary “North” repeater, and provides signal coverage for the northern range to Mammoth, Tower, Canyon and much of the remainder of the northern and northeastern portions of the park. The photo at the right is of the Mt. Washburn fire lookout.
  • Henderson Mountain, three miles northeast of the Northeast Entrance of the park (in Gallatin National Forest), which provides service to the Lamar and Northeast areas.
  • Mt. Holmes, providing service to Mammoth and northwest portions of the park.
  • Purple Mountain, the primary “west” repeater, provides coverage for Norris, Madison, West, and Old Faithful areas.
  • Mt. Sheridan, the primary “south” repeater, provides coverage for most of the southern portions of the park, including the Grant Village, West Thumb, Lake, Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge and Thorofare areas.
  • Top Notch Peak, which provides coverage for the eastern portions of the park from the East Entrance through Sylvan Pass.
  • Survey Peak, located south of the southern boundary of YNP (at the very northern end of Grand Teton National Park), provides coverage for the Bechler and very southeastern and southern portions of the park.

Yellowstone Radio Frequencies

  • 166.325HMz: North Repeater. This is used by units in Mammoth, Tower/Roosevelt, Canyon and the North Entrance, generally (units will use whichever repeater is closest to them). The repeater itself is located on Mt. Washburn. 166.925 is the repeater input frequency for north units.
  • 166.375MHz: Lamar Repeater. This is used by units in the northeastern portions of the park, to include the Northeast Entrance, Hellroaring, Lamar Valley and Buffalo Ranch areas, as well as crews working along the Beartooth Pass. Also known as the “Henderson Repeater,” it is located on Henderson Mountain in the Gallatin National Forest outside the Northeast Entrance. 166.975 is the repeater input frequency.
  • 166.875MHz: West Repeater. This is used by units in Norris, Madison, West Entrance, and Old Faithful areas. The primary repeater is located on Purple Mountain (though people sometimes refer to it as the Firehole Repeater), but there’s also a repeater on Mt. Holmes operating on the same frequency. 169.400 is the repeater input frequency.
  • 165.5875MHz: South Repeater. This is used by units in the South Entrance, Grant Village, West Thumb, Bridge Bay, Lake, and Fishing Bridge areas. The primary repeater is on Mt. Sheridan, but there’s also a repeater on Top Notch Mountain that is used by units from the East Entrance back into the park a ways (same frequency). And there’s also the Bechler Repeater on Survey Peak in the forest just south of the park’s southern boundary. It’s used by units in the back country and at Bechler Ranger Station in the southwest portions of the park. 164.800 is the repeater input frequency.
  • 167.150MHz is a tactical frequency used by units on the scene of major events. 163.125MHz is the repeater input frequency.
  • 153.905MHz is a civilian public safety frequency (Montana's Statewide Mutual Aid frequency) that YNP shares with West Yellowstone PD. The YNP units use it as a car-to-car channel inside the park. You’ll hear them refer to switching to the “Gold” channel and this is what they’re referring to.
  • 172.500MHz is the park’s fire dispatch channel. You’ll hear occasional traffic on it, especially when there’s a wildfire going on. Typically, most structure fires are handled on the main repeaters, though for a major (real) fire, they can switch to this channel for tactical operations. The Fire Desk (700 Fox) also coordinates airspace operations over the park, so you'll hear other aircraft check in on this frequency (i.e., LifeFlight helicopters) when they're operating inside Yellowstone.
  • 168.650MHz is the park’s “Air Net,” which is the primary channel for all aircraft. You won’t hear anything on this except during major incidents such as fires, though. Most of the aircraft operating during normal times is conducting animal tracking or fire management operations, and you’ll hear their traffic on the regular channels or the fire channel.
  • 168.350MHz is a common channel shared between YNP and GTNP to coordinate operations. Again, you won’t hear much on this except when there’s something going on near the South Entrance or along JDR Parkway when rangers from both parks are doing a search and rescue or something of that nature.
  • 168.6125MHz is the NPS common channel used by all parks. There's rarely any traffic on this frequency during normal operations.
  • 156.800MHz is Marine Band Channel 16, which is used/monitored by rangers at the Bridge Bay Ranger Station and on their watercraft.
  • 463.450MHz is used by park concessioners, specifically Delaware North and YPSS. The park's Communications Center (700) can also talk on this frequency.
  • 152.420MHz is Xanterra’s private channel in the park. You won’t hear too much on this – they use it primarily to coordinate operations and for administrative stuff, especially in the campgrounds. All of the hotels themselves use the FRS/GMRS radios. If you can catch one and get the channel and sub-channel tone off of it, you can set yours to listen in if you like. Or you can program all the channels in a scanner and just set it to scan to pick up everything. These conversations are not terribly interesting unless something goes on (you’ll hear a lot of housekeeping traffic – “Room 1312 needs more towels”).
  • 160.200MHz is the Yellowstone Association's frequency. You’ll hear their tour groups operating on this channel.
  • 171.3625MHz is used by the Federal Highway Administration within the park.
  • 123.975MHz is the frequency used for base operations for the air tankers operating out of the West Yellowstone Airport during major fires in the park.

NOTES: If you put all of the bold frequencies in your scanner, you’ll hear just about everything broadcast over the airwaves. All units (administrative, maintenance, law enforcement, firefighting, etc.) use the same frequencies and repeaters throughout the park, except for major wildland fire operations, in which case the park's individual fire frequency may be used or they may use the national fire frequencies (see below).

There are also several frequencies in the 411.000 to 418.000 range that are used to link radio transmissions from one repeater to another throughout the park. These transmissions are what you hear over the frequencies above, so there's no real need to monitor these frequencies.

Additionally, Yellowstone has a radio cache that is used for firefighting operations that contain all of the frequencies listed in the National Interagency Fire Center's Red Book [PDF]. Unless there's a major fire in the park (complete with firefighters from around the country in action), you won't typically hear any traffic on these, however.

All law enforcement and interpretive rangers and other personnel with field duties are issued the NPS standard Thales P25 digital portable VHF radio, which they maintain until they're trasnferred out of the park or leave NPS employment.

Yellowstone Radio Call Signs

The park’s main dispatch center is known as “700” (which comes from their FCC call sign, KOF700). All of the other base stations in the park use numbers in the 700 range:

700 – Mammoth Dispatch
700 Alpha – Radio/Electronics Shop
700 Bravo – Backcountry Desk
700 Charlie – Chief Ranger
700 Delta – North District Ranger Office
700 Echo – Chief of Maintenance Office
700 Fox – Emergency Operations Desk (Fire Desk)
700 Golf – Mammoth Repair Shop – Garage
700 Juliet – Mammoth Maintenance Shop
700 Lima – Law Enforcement Office
700 November – Chief Naturalist
700 Papa – Special Projects Office
700 Sierra – Park Superintendent’s Office
700 Tango – Forestry Office – Mammoth
700 Whisky – Garage Parts Room
700 Yankee – Communications Supervisor
700 Zulu – Accounting Office

701 – East Entrance Station
702 – West Entrance Station
702 Papa – West Yellowstone, MT Police Department
703 – Bear Tooth Road Camp
704 – Lamar Ranger Station
705 – Sportsman Lake Patrol Cabin
706 – Trail Creek Patrol Cabin
707 – Norris Ranger Station (Museum)
707 Victor – Norris Visitor Center
708 – Bridge Bay Ranger Station
709 – Buffalo Lake Patrol Cabin
710 – Heart Lake Patrol Cabin
711 – Shoshone Patrol Cabin (Cove)
712 – Shoshone Lake Patrol Cabin
713 – Thorofare Ranger Station
714 – Cabin Creek Patrol Cabin
715 – Cold Creek Patrol Cabin
717 – Upper Miller Creek Patrol Cabin
718 – Mount Holmes Lookout
719 – Elk Tongue Patrol Cabin
720 – Upper Lamar Creek Patrol Cabin
721 – Mount Sheridan Lookout
722 – Canyon Ranger Station
722 Victor – Canyon Visitors Center
723 – South District Ranger Station (Lake)
724 – Old Faithful Ranger Station
724 Bravo – Old Faithful Backcountry Office
724 Victor – Old Faithful Visitors Center
725 – South Entrance – Snake River
727 – Grant Village Ranger Station
727 Golf – Grant Village Maintenance
727 Victor – Grant Village Visitors Center
728 – Mount Washburn Lookout
729 – Blacktail Patrol Cabin
730 – Madison Ranger Station
730 Golf – Madison Maintenance
731 – Bechler Ranger Station
732 – Tower Ranger Station
733 – Northeast Entrance Ranger Station – Cooke City
734 – North Entrance Station – Gardiner
736 – Buffalo Pit Patrol Cabin
737 – Cache Creek Patrol Cabin
738 – Lower Miller Creek Patrol Cabin
739 – Howell Creek Patrol Cabin
740 – Pelican Cone Patrol Cabin
742 – Fox Creek Patrol Cabin
743 – Harebell Patrol Cabin
744 – Travis Junction Patrol Cabin
745 – Lewis Lake Ranger Station
748 – South River Patrol Cabin
749 – Fawn Pass Patrol Cabin
KOP 283 Interagency Jump Center (at West Yellowstone Airport)

For example, after each eruption of Old Faithful, if you’re in that area, you’ll hear 724 Victor report the next estimated eruption time to everyone in the area (that’s how all the other sites in the area know what to set their prediction clocks by).

Unit numbers are a bit of a mish-mash. Generally, they follow a numbering format of #X##, for example 4L37. All letters are pronounced phonetically, so that would come over the air as “Four Lima Thirty Seven.” Normally, the first number indicates the type of unit, with 1 being administrative folks; 2, 3n ad 4 being interpretive staff, naturalists, resource management and fire management personnel (north, east, and south districts, respectively); 5, 6, and 7 being law enforcement rangers (north, west and south districts, respectively); and 9 being maintenance.

The second character (the letter) generally tells you where the unit is based:

A (Alpha) = Administrative Units (park management, etc.)
B (Bravo) = Bechler District
C (Charlie) = Canyon
D (Delta) = Lamar/Northeast District
E (Echo) = East Entrance
F (Fox or Foxtrot) = Fishing Bridge
G (Golf) = Grant Village/West Thumb
H (Hotel) = Headquarters/Mammoth/North Entrance
K (Kilo) = Lamar District
L (Lima) = Lake
M (Mike) = Madison
N (November) = Norris
O (Oscar) = Old Faithful
R (Romeo) = Roosevelt
S (Sierra) = South Entrance
T (Tango) = Tower
W (Whiskey) = West

The last two characters are just individual unit numbers.

Many units, especially those engaged in research, wildlife or ecological management, etc., still use 3-digit radio numbers, in some cases with an individual’s last name (i.e., "472 Johnson").

Law enforcement units use the standardized format above. Fire trucks use individual truck numbers (Engine 1, Engine 2, etc.). Wildland fire vehicles use the specific radio number of the personnel staffing them, with the exception of Engine 1570. EMS units use the district they’re assigned to followed by a two-digit number (i.e., “Old Faithful 2″ is an ambulance based at Old Faithful).

Initial fire, EMS, and rescue dispatches are conducted on the park’s primary repeater system. Once they get on the scene of a wildfire and incident command is established, they’ll typically switch over to the fire frequency or (for larger fires managed as national incidents) one of the national firefighting frequencies. Inter-disciplinary tactical operations often utilize the 167.150 “scene of action” frequency to coordinate operations.

Aircraft use the last three characters of their tail numbers (09Z = Zero Nine Zulu), generally.

While there’s been a lot of talk about YNP going digital, the vast majority of their communications are still analog and can be picked up on a regular scanner. If you want to hear the digital traffic, you’ll need a scanner capable of receiving APCO25 digital signals. There are several reasons why they haven’t gone totally digital, primarily coverage and budget issues. You will occasionally hear garbled traffic, and this is someone talking in encrypted mode. There’s no (legal) way to decode this traffic.

Radio Equipment

Yellowstone's rangers and most staff who carry radios are assigned a Thales 25-Racal handheld radio.

History

(Pending)

NOAA Weather Radio

The National Weather Service has two NOAA Weather Radio transmitters located within the Park – one at Elk Plaza in Mammoth (162.425) and one at Grant Village (162.450).

Amateur Radio

There is no amateur radio infrastructure within the park. The nearest repeaters are located in Cody, WY, Jackson, WY, West Yellowstone, MT, and Big Sky, MT.

Automatic Packet Reporting System

There are two APRS digipeaters in the area that provide some coverage in the park. One, located on Eaglehead Mountain near the park's northwest corner, covers Gardiner, Montana, and some of the park's interior areas including Mammoth Hot Springs. Occasional check-ins have also been reported on this digipeater from Blacktail Deer Plateau, Tower Junction, Norris Junction, and Mount Washburn. The second digipeater is located south of the park (near Grand Tetons National Park). Check-ins on this digipeater have been recorded from the Fishing Bridge area and east to near Sylvan Lake.

There was an APRS station setup in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming (near the north entrance) in 2013 which served as both an iGate and digipeater. This station was located near the Albright Visitor Center, but due to park esthetics, the antenna was placed inside of a building.

It had a range north of approximately twenty miles (covering Gardiner, Montana), but only about ten miles to the south into Golden Gate Canyon. Its range east extended about 7 miles east of Mammoth along the Grand Loop Road, Tower-Mammoth (about 1 mile east of Blacktail Ponds Lake) . This iGate had a small range, but it allowed your APRS signal to hit the Internet and allowed your friends and family see that you finally made it to Yellowstone.

Nearby Repeaters

The Sawtelle Repeater is located on Sawtelle Peak just southwest of West Yellowstone (near Island Park), and provides coverage to a good deal of the park, especially on the western side. The frequency is 145.230 MHz, with a PL of 100.0 to connect to the Snowbird (Intermountain Inertie) System. Use a PL of 123.0 to make the repeater act only as a local repeater (i.e. not connect to the Snowbird System).

The Flattop Repeater is located 10 miles southwest of Big Sky, Montana. This repeater primarily covers the Gallatin Canyon and remote areas of the Gallatin National Forest, and is maintained by the Eaglehead Repeater Association. Reports of coverage haven't (yet) been reported for Yellowstone although it should provide coverage in the northwestern section of the park. The frequency is 146.820 MHz with a PL of 82.5. This repeater is linked with one in Bozeman. The Gallatin Ham Radio Club hosts a net on this repeater every Tuesday evening at 8:00 PM.

The Rendezvous Mountain Repeater is located near Teton Village, Wyoming. The frequency is 146.730 MHz with a PL of 123.0. The repeater is restricted to emergency use only from 10:00 PM until 8:00 AM. This repeater is maintained by the Teton Amateur Radio Repeater Association. Reports of coverage have not been reported for Yellowstone. The Jackson Hole Area Amateur Radio Club hosts a net on this repeater every Monday evening at 8:00 PM.

The McCullough Peaks Repeater is located near Cody, Wyoming, and is maintained by the Big Horn Basin Amateur Radio Club. The frequency is 146.850 MHz with no PL. This repeater is linked with a repeater in Greybull, Wyoming.

Wilderness Protocol

Established in 1994, the Wilderness Protocol is a set of standard operating procedures established to better allow people in wilderness areas, and outside of repeater range, to communicate with each other.[1] When camping in wilderness areas, you should monitor these frequencies for emergency calls.

If battery power resources allow, you may want to monitor the Wilderness Protocol frequencies continuously.

If you are lost, and you believe people are looking for you, monitor the frequencies for 5 minutes, beginning at 7 AM local time and then every three hours. Monitoring only at these times will conserve battery power. If you have sufficient power resources, you may wish to monitor continuously.

  • 146.520 MHz Primary frequency
  • 52.525, 223.5, 446.0, and 1294.5 MHz Backup frequencies

Gardiner-Mammoth FM Association

The Gardiner-Mammoth FM Association is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization. The organization has been in existence for over 30 years (established about 1980). The Association feels that even with satellite radio offerings, there is still a local interest in broadcasts of stations in the area with locally relevant content. The Association is a non-profit 501(c)(4) relying on volunteers and donations form individuals and businesses to maintain FM radio service from Bunsen Peak and Elk Plaza.

The Association has licenses and equipment to rebroadcast FM stations on five frequencies.

Current (May 2013) stations being rebroadcast:

  • KEMC, Billings, MT, 103.9 & 104.9 (Translator K285AF)
  • KMTN, Jackson, WY, 105.5
  • KGLT, Bozeman, MT, 107.1
  • KXLB, Bozeman, MT, 106.3

Grand Teton National Park Frequency/Call Sign Information

  • 171.675MHz: Primary Park Frequency (Repeaters on Signal Mountain, Gros Vente Mountain, and at Flagg Ranch)
  • 161.17MHz: Tactical 2 (Regional)
  • 164.825MHz: Tactical 3 (Regional)
  • 168.550MHz: NIMMS Frequency

GTNP is a lot easier to understand. Basically, everyone operates off the primary channel (171.675) unless an incident is taking place, in which case they might switch to their tactical channel (167.150). The main communications center is known as “Teton Dispatch.”

All of the units are known by their “real names” (i.e., each visitor center uses its name, such as “Colter Bay Visitor Center,” “Jenny Lake Visitor Center,” etc.). Field units use number series:

  • 100 are Administration Units
  • 200 are the Interpretive staff
  • 300 are Resource Management Units
  • 400 are Law Enforcement Units

Notes

This information is believed to be accurate based on recent monitoring of radio traffic. If something needs correcting, please notify us using the contact form here on the Wiki.

References


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