REMOTE Ham Radio Base Station Operation

I taught myself how to operate our Yaesu FT 857d radio and Gap Challenger DX antenna from any PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone that has either an internet or cell phone data connection – anywhere in the world – including from our living room!  My goal, really, is initially to operate remotely from any location around and in our home. Here is the story…

Turns out it was far easier and far less expensive than I had imagined.  One word of caution – there are legal compliance issues in remote station operation.  Also, the solution I describe here is probably, for many, a partial solution.  I have explored and very carefully experimented with this solution from the perspective of our particular needs at this time.  I may expand it in the future – stay tuned (pun intended)!

There are many ways to do the same functional operation that I describe how to do here.  This method may or may not be the best for you depending on your budget, equipment, etc..  I hope that it will stimulate some thought and experimentation – that’s a huge part of what amateur radio is all about, now isn’t it?

Why did I choose to pursue this technological wonder?  A couple of reasons.  One is from a QSO (conversation) that I heard on 20 meter ham radio mobile on my way home from work one day.  There was an obviously rich ham from the northern most reaches of Europe talking to another ham about his remote operations.  One location I think was at his summer home in the Azores Islands.  Another was – I don’t know – somewhere else like South America.  He explained that he reviewed propagation maps and then remotely operated the ham radio station in the location that had the best propagation path to where he wanted to communicate with.

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(a print-screen from our remote computer of our ham radio being remotely controlled through HRD)

That conversation left me with the impression that remote ham radio station operation was something only the rich would be able to enjoy.  In reality, I did not have such lofty goals.  I did want to be able to listen to our ham radio in the living room to do some shortwave listening.  I thought about running some speaker wires up to a speaker from the ham shack in the basement.  That seemed to be an imperfect option.

Thinking about running audio up to the living room I spent a little time searching the internet for remote operation solutions.  The audio side of it was the last solution I found.  In my research I realized that I had our laptop was connected, via Ham Radio Deluxe rig control software and a cable connected into the data port in the back of the Yaesu FT 857d radio.  If I could do remote desktop operation, I could control the ham radio from ANYWHERE!  WOW!  I found a lot of remote desktop applications with various qualities.  I settled on trying two for comparison purposes.  They were TeamViewer and Google Chrome Remote Desktop.  Incase the links have changed just do a Google search for them.  Also search for Remote Desktop Control.

So, for each of the remote desktop solutions above you need to install software or a browser plugin, etc. on each computer – both the computer you want to operate remotely and the computer (or smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) that you want to operate the device from remotely.  There will be a password on each software or a general one for you to use.

Here’s a tip!  Whatever method you use, make the software something that will start automatically when your computer starts or re-starts.  It will do no good to have remote access software with you on a trip and not have the application running on the computer back home!  To research this use the following Google search term without quotes:  “how do I make my programs auto-start in Windows?”.  In TeamViewer there is an option to “Setup Unattended Access”.  I won’t cover all the details here.

What is the cost for remote access?  Like a lot of things, it depends who you are.  When I last checked TeamViewer and Google Chrome Remote Application both were FREE for non-commercial users.  So what else is involved?

  • Ham Radio Deluxe software.  This is available HERE for $99.95.  Are there alternatives?  Sure – I am not an expert in them.  I selected Ham Radio Deluxe some years ago because many of the members of a wide variety of Yahoo! Groups that I monitor spoke very highly of it.  Those that have used it for a long time just love it generally.
  • Signalink USB digital interface.  This is available HERE.  Just scroll to the bottom of the page for a price list – OR – check your favorite on-line ham radio store like DX Engineering.
  • Skype software.  I use TWO accounts which both are free.

SOME HEADACHES:  If you already can do digital ham radio communications like BPSK, computer sent or decoded Morse code, etc. then you already have the digital interface you need to do remote audio!  If not, here come some potential headaches.

Connecting anything to any computing device – be it a PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet, Raspberry Pi, etc. – you need to have a compatible cable (sometimes with a compatible chip inside the cable), a compatible port, a compatible driver and software program or app.  Is that all?  OH NO!  There have to be settings!  In remote station operation there are 4 sets of settings in the method I use.  On the remote PC there are Windows audio levels to set as well as Skype audio levels to set.  There are a matching set on the controlling PC or device.  Any one of these can trip you up.  In practice using maximum settings in Windows and auto-adjust features in Skype worked well for me – perhaps a bit over-driving the mike.  Signal reports were very strong to, “had to turn down the audio on my headphones!”.  I make no apologies for weak signals prior to my transmissions but will tweak the audio settings if truly too high.

LEGAL ISSUES:  The law requires that, “Provisions are incorporated to limit transmission by the station to a period of no more than 3 minutes in the event of malfunction in the control link”.  This becomes an issue when operating away from home.  For me, operating at home, I would know if the system is malfunctioning and could immediately take steps to correct any control link issues.  Operating away from home is a different story and requires additional components for a full solution.  I do not currently require that capability and thus I have not invested the time or money in those solutions.  Will I in the future?  Maybe.  Stay tuned – pun intended!

For now, I am able to listen to ham radio or shortwave radio anywhere in the house that I choose.  On the back deck.  In the garage.  In the livingroom, etc..  Since I can also transmit effectively and have for HF contests and 2 meter nets I have all that I wanted at this time.  I am not a gambler but do buy two lottery tickets anytime the lottery gets over $200 million.  That’s a couple times a year.  If I win – yeah – I will need the more extended remote operating solutions for those summer homes scattered around the world!  chuckle…  For now, I am happy to have what I currently have.

Until later – stay radio active!

73,

Jon E. Kreski – AB9NN

www.AB9NN.com/store – Please visit often!

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www.OutagamieCountyARES.org

Member – Fox Cities Amateur Radio Club (FCARC) – Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh area.

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