Club logo.  A red circle containing a green map of the state of Virginia, the ARRL logo, and the text "Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society, Richmond, Virginia U.S.A."

Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society
W4RAT ยท Richmond, Virginia

An ARRL Affiliated Club Serving Central Virginia Since 1972


This page commemorates our members' work on the RATS APRS project over the years.  RATS ceased further investment in its APRS network effective November 2019.  As of February 2024, there were still three privately-owned APRS digipeaters operating under the W4RAT call sign.  These digis are not operated by the club and they will soon retire their use of the club's call sign.

Richmond's APRS network began almost 20 years ago with one digipeater in a hotel elevator shaft.  In a two-year period from 2006 to 2008 what started as VA-APRS expanded to become the largest single-operator APRS network in the state while under RATS care.  The original network was started by Peter Martin K2VIZ and Jay Silvio N9WMU (SK).

Peter and Jay were the early pioneers of APRS technology in the region, as were the other sponsors of the original RATS APRS digis.  The first nine RATS-owned or RATS-affiliated APRS digipeaters were:

  • W4RAT-1 Chesterfield, sponsored by WCVE/CPB
  • W4RAT-2 Coatesville, sponsored by Peter Martin KF4VIZ
  • W4RAT-3 New Kent/Barhamsville, sponsored by New Kent County
  • W4RAT-4 Goochland/Shannon Hill, sponsored by Ralph Fetty W4FEG (SK)
  • W4RAT-5 Prince George, sponsored by Rob Turner KG4YJB and Brad Price KI4BWJ
  • W4RAT-6 Downtown Richmond, sponsored by VDEM and Terry Hebert KG4GLS (SK)
  • W4RAT-7 St. Stephens Church, sponsored by Peter Martin KF4VIZ
  • W4RAT-8 Victoria, sponsored by Peter Martin KF4VIZ
  • W4RAT-9 Buckingham/Dillwyn, sponsored by Gordon Winn WW4GW

Major support for the original APRS build was provided by the following individuals & organizations:

  • Rob Turner KG4YJB
  • Brad Price KI4BWJ
  • Jay Silvo N9WMU (SK)
  • Ralph Fetty W4FEG (SK)
  • Melodie Martin KF4ZGF
  • Peter Martin KF4VIZ (now K2VIZ)
  • Terry Hebert KI4GLS (SK) & the Virginia Department of Emergency Management
  • Gordon "Bubba" Winn WW4GW
  • Max Lind

Current Digipeaters

All RATS digipeaters operate on the national standard VHF APRS frequency of 144.39 MHz and currently answer to WIDE1/2 paths.

Questions and feedback regarding the configuration or operation of these digipeaters should be directed to their respective sponsors.

What is APRS?

The Automatic Packet Reporting System has, quite literally, from the time of its inception in the mid-1990’s, taken the Amateur Radio world by storm.  Ironically, storms like hurricanes and other weather disasters, were the first crucibles that proved the value of a simple, reliable communications system that allowed both “tracking” of individual stations as they moved about, and also the simultaneous transmission of all kinds of important data, from weather updates to medical emergency information, in a way that could be shared by every station equipped with the basic level of equipment, whether they be mobile, or fixed stations.  Whether you simply use an old 2-meter HT and a tracker module along with your GPS unit to fix your position on a map back home while hiking, or pass on vital emergency information during a public event or weather emergency, chances are you already have most of what you need to get into APRS.

APRS was developed by Bob Bruninga WB4APR (SK).  From his website:

"The Automatic Packet Reporting System was designed to support rapid, reliable exchange of information for local, tactical real-time information, events or nets.  The concept, which dates back to the mid 1980's, is that all relevant information is transmitted immediately to everyone in the net and every station captures that information for consistent and standard display to all participants. Information was refreshed redundantly but at a decaying rate so that old information was updated less frequently than new info.  Since the primary objective is consistent exchange of information between everyone, APRS established standard formats not only for the transmission of POSITION, STATUS, MESSAGES, and QUERIES, it also establishes guidelines for display so that users of different systems will still see the same consistent information displayed in a consistent manner (independent of the particular display or mapping system in use)."

APRS, quite simply, is the transmission and reception of digital location data obtained via GPS over an amateur radio frequency.  This information can be viewed through the use of a TNC (Terminal Node Controller) and a computer terminal (desktop, laptop, or even a PDA).  The tracking information is processed by any number of freely available programs, and superimposed on a map of the area.  Your call sign, and those of other operators online, show up on this map, and will track along the map if you are in motion. In addition to this basic location information, APRS can pass along many different kinds of data along at the same time, ranging from messages (from your station to other individuals, or the whole network), to weather information ( you can even interface weather stations to APRS), and even such specialized information as emergency beacons and National Traffic.

Current State of APRS in the Region

APRS exploded in popularity among club members over a period of several years, peaking somewhere around 2013-ish and waning considerably in the years since.  Most of the former RATS-operated and RATS-affiliated APRS digipeaters are now off the air, but several other privately operated digis are still alive and well.  The network of digis and IGATEs is not as dense as it was 15 years ago, and thus the total network coverage is more limited, especially outside populated areas.

You can view real-time APRS activity and digipeater locations on a map at

Some traffic on the APRS-IS and may originate from DMR hotspots and repeater users on the Brandmeister network.  Some DMR radios have GPS receivers built in and can beacon their position to APRS-IS through a hotspot or Brandmeister repeater.  Note that this function is not supported on the RATS DMR repeater or elsewhere on the DMRVA network, and users of this system are required to disable the GPS position beacons.

Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society, Inc. (RATS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. PO Box 70613, Henrico VA, 23255
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