Packet Bulletin Board System (PBBS)

Updated May 17, 2015

What is a BBS? It is a Bulletin Board System. It is a message distribution system. It can receive personal "email" messages and bulletins, deliver personal "email" messages and bulletins, and distribute messages to other locales. It can provide data, news, information, forums, etc. Very early BBS's got their start in the mid 70's. Compuserve was one of the first. Compuserve shared data lines and computers that banks and other institutions used during the day. When banks closed in the afternoon, lines and computers were generally idle until the next morning. This lack of use during the evenings was taken advantage of by Compuserve/MicroNET by selling time to people that wanted access to information online. America Online was another service that took advantage of this time. Later on thy purchased Compuserve. During the late 1980's and into the 1990's BBS's were the only way people could communicate. You would connect your terminal to a dial up modem and call a local or long distance BBS.

Registered users were assigned a unique login number. You would log in and access a menu list of available files to browse or download, and receive and send messages to other users. This author's Compuserve identity was 70320,252. Files and messages were typically short primarily because of the size of the hard drive available back then and the speed of the modems. It became popular because it introduced most people to technology and computers. This was before the internet. Once the internet took off just about every BBS shut down because the internet opened up the whole world to the user with almost unlimited access and speed to information, worldwide email, and sizes of messages and data.

During the time of BBS's there was a mode of amateur radio communication called Packet BBS or PBBS very similar to BBS's but using amateur radio instead of phone lines. It was primarily a text system. It wasn't really designed for sending and receiving large files such as pictures or applications. Just amateur related hobby communications and messages. There were many that used it as a means of disseminating emergency communications in data format. When the internet came of age PBBS's declined substantially. There are however pockets of packet users and PBBS's in populated parts of southern California and other densely populated areas of the country.

There are those that believe that if a manmade or natural disaster occurred that would take down the worldwide communications infrastructure including the internet along with cellphones and text messaging, that PBBS's could provide a means of filling the need of emergency communications. Packet proved useful during Hurricane Katrina. Much of the internet infrastructure, cell towers and landline phone systems were disabled in the much devastated New Orleans area. Many amateur radio operators set up packet networks and were able to disseminate information, welfare status, and communicate outside the disaster area. 

As of May 2015 there are only a fraction of PBBS's throughout the United States that there were during its peak. Most are not connected to each other so it is almost impossible to move messages long distances. There are some rumblings from DHS and FEMA to kickstart packet radio communications too. In southern California there has been a resurgence in packet communications. Visit and Santa Clara County OES ARES/RACES. for more information.

This author, as sysop has resurrected the AA4RE PBBS on 145.05 located in the Northern tip of Virginia. The sysop is a ham whose call is N3HXT and is the callsign of the PBBS. AA4RE PBBS software was written by Roy Engehausen, AA4RE. It is one of a few PBBS operating systems. F6FBB, MSYS, W0RLI are other popular systems. It is my hope to find like minded PBBS operators and systems across the country to connect to and provide a route nationwide. This can be accomplished by adding another port to the PBBS on 10 or 17 meters to accommodate long distance links.

To learn how to set up you own packet station please visit this page for instructions.

Once you have a packet station on the air and are able to connect to the PBBS, you will need to know how to connect, and what instructions are available and how to access the data. You will also be able to send personal messages to another ham or broadcast to all hams on the PBBS. You can also view Youtube videos demonstrating how to use a packet station.

Instructions on connecting to a BBS:

Make sure you're on the correct frequency. In this case 145.05 mhz. Make sure your offset is off so you are transmitting in the same frequency as you are receiving. You must set your TNC or software for your own callsign. Type MYC or MYCALL W4XYZ. You will be prompted with what the callsign was and what it is now.


Then type C N3HXT

You may hear and see some activity as your station is trying to communicate with the PBBS.

If it connects properly you should see something similar to the following:

cmd:*** CONNECTED to N3HXT
Hello and welcome to the N3HXT BBS!

Please REGISTER. This is for your benefit!

If you want to find out more about the system, type INFO followed by <ENTER>.
Help is also available by typing HELP (that's pretty obvious).
If you are an experienced user of any of the standard BBS programs,
this one is compatible. 'NE' will switch you to an expert user.

The 'L' command will show 1 messages.

Please kill the messages you have already read. The KM command will do that.
RM will read them again. L> YOURCALL will list them.

Command? [B,CB,D,DB,H,I,J,K,L,N,R,S,T,U,UB,V,W,?]

If you see or hear a lot of transmissions but nothing is displayed, it means your TNC and the PBBS TNC aren't negotiating properly and you might need to adjust receive or transmit audio levels.

The letter "B" means BYE and your TNC will disconnect from the PBBS.

To learn how to use the search and list features on the PBBS click here. Please note that some of the information is obsolete for over 20 years. I resurrected this PBBS sometime back but left most of the info on it for nostalgic purposes.

For all instructions on the AA4RE PBBS click here.



Comments, errors found, and questions can be directed to Rick but I don't claim to have all the answers.

Copyright 2015 RickC. Ver 0.9m