Sunday, April 2, 2017

BEARS Radio Station in a box assignment

I have been having so much fun building Radio in a Box projects, but just how many radios in a box does one need?  I know, it was rhetorical !

Lucky for me, I belong to the BEARS (Boeing Employees Amateur Radio Society). They have found a new home at the Museum of Flight (MOF).  Quite a few BEARS volunteer at the Museum doing a wide variety of tasks.  In turn, the Museum allows them the use of a meeting place and a location to place their radio shack.   As part of our efforts to give back to the MOF, I was assigned to assemble a radio station to be used in their Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  Basically, the BEARS said replace the current setup with something that looks a bit more "professional".  Other than that I was on my own.

The MOF resides in Tukwila, Washington.  The Tukwila Emergency Communications Team has been "Partnering with the City of Tukwila to Provide Reliable Communications" for quite some time and we decided that would be a good resource to communicate with during an emergency.  Their amateur operators are focused D-STAR radios, so to that end we needed to have D-STAR capability.

In addition, we needed normal EMCOMM ability on a local, county and state level.  The station of course needed to operate without commercial power for at least a few hours and longer with additional batteries or generator.  With that as a starting point off I went to gather the parts and hopefully come up with a professional looking radio resource.

The bits and pieces that went into the BEARS Radio(s) in a Box are:

First, purchased a ICOM ID-880H radio ($200) from Arlene, KF7NDO.  This is the same type mobile radio used by the Tukwila Team.  This purchase included manual, programming cable and software, a older Donner sound card interface for packet work and various other items to make operations easier.

Next, the BEARS had received a complete HF/VHF/UHF rig donated by Dan, N7PWO.  This included a Yaesu FT-897, and compatible LDG  tuner, RigRunner 4005 power distribution unit and the bits and pieces to hook everything together.

Rich, K7RFH (that's me) donated several items from the salvaged parts bin, such as, parts carrying case, switches, wiring, brackets, screws, bolts, zip ties, etc.

The rest of the items were purchased either online or from other Hams.  Since I carefully shopped sales, the current prices for these items may be different from what I payed.  Listed below are what I payed and links to examples products.  Those items included:
  1. 6U 19 inch rack audio case (did not need to be weather resistant)  $93
  2. Two 2U metal 19 inch rack shelves $28 each
  3. 2U 19 inch rack slotted panel for holding gauges, switches and power inlet $15
  4. 12 VDC power supply sized for the needs of the box $20
  5. power management unit to provide auto-switch-over between commercial power and battery, plus battery charging maintenance $55
    Example: Low-Loss PWRgate 
  6. Anderson Powerpoles, fused commercial power inlet, Powerpole bracket and LED lighting strip.
    Examples: powerpoles $45
    power inlet $5
    PP bracket $5
    LED lighting $6
    LED 8mm connectors $4 
  7. Sealed Lead acid 7AH AGM battery $29
Most items were purchased through, but they were not necessarily sold directly by Amazon.  All other products were purchased from other amateur radio operators.

Below are some photos of the parts donated and purchased.

6U audio case with shelves and front panel installed.
Donated FT-897 and LDG Tuner
Low Loss PWRgate from Flint Hills Radio
  Donated RIGrunner 4005

12 VDC Power Supply, grounding block and two power inlets.
(The inlet on the right was selected for this box.)

For the construction, all radios were attached to the shelves with bolts or screws either directly or using a mobile bracket.  In addition, nylon zip wire ties were added to secure FT-897 to the rack shelf.

The following photos are of the completed box and show some detail (closeups) of the installation.

 On the left is the box in travel mode.  Note the yellow lettering is done with reflective vinyl.  Using a flashlight, these glow and make the box easier to find in the dark.

On the right is the accessories box.  It contains microphones, power cord, etc.

This pair of photos show the "butterfly" latch operation.

Shown on the right is the front view of the box components with the LED light strip illuminated.

 Detail to the left shows the battery enable/disable switch. Next to the switch is the Battery IN and 12VDC OUT Powerpole connections.

Detail to the right shows power panel (cig socket, meter, USB power), LED light switch and power cord connection and fused inlet switch.

Shown on the right is the rear view of the box components with the LED light strip illuminated.

On the left, is the Low Loss PWRgate and behind it is the RIGrunner 4005.  Just to the right of the PWRgate is the 12V power supply.

On the right is the accessories box, an example of the antenna connectors, programming cable for the ID-880H and lower in the frame the AGM battery.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

New power distribution kit build - Now that was fun!

At the Mike & Key Flea Market I came across a table which was displaying a radio in box concept in a small ammo can.   Not unusual, but how they put it together was very intriguing.  A QYT tiny radio was interesting, but the real surprise was the power distribution box that was built from a kit.
It had more outputs than I had see before in such a small box and there were LED lights that displayed when power was on and status of each of the outputs, as well as a digital power meter.   Since I was working at the flea market I didn't get around to buying one of these kits, until afterwards, when I contacted K9JEB  and below is the result.

K9JEB , John Boal offers the power distribution center kit at $50 plus shipping (at the time of this writing).  Per his web site its features/advantages are:
  • Build your own Kit - save money and do it yourself!
  • Flexible - build only what you need now, add or upgrade options later
  • ARES, RACES, RSGB, ARRL standard connectors
  • Industrial Strength DC Power distribution
  • Genuine Anderson PowerPoles
  • Each output Fused with its own Fuse-Blown / Short-Circuit LED
  • Filter Capacitors on each output connection (optional) - keeps electrical/vehicle noise down
  • Hot-Connect, quick-change PowerPole connections
  • Daisy-chain several units together for lots of outputs
  • Use for collecting energy from multiple Solar Panels
  • Great for power distribution from Solar Charge Controller output to the DC load
  • Use in the Car, EOC, Go-Kit, Home, Base station, or all of them!
  • Handles 30A (total load) with optional upgrade to 45A
  • Optional features:
  • Digital Voltmeter
  • 3A Max (2.5A continuous) DC-DC USB 5V Charger Power Module Option
  • 1-10V 3A Step-Down DC-DC Power Module option Can use for Baofeng, other Handheld Radio Chargers
  • 15-30V 3A Step-Up DC-DC Power Module Option - Charge your laptop battery!
  • Shipping is about $5 in the USA

You never known with "kits" what the quality will be or if the instructions cover everything.  I can say with this kit, the instructions were close too perfection.  The quality was excellent and surprise, it came with all the parts needed.   The only things I had to add was about 18 inches of #18 solid wire (which came from my scrap wire bin) and the soldering labor to make everything stay put.

Any question I had was answered by the downloadable documentation and in an evening I had everything together, tested and in operation in the shack.

My power distribution center box is the standard one with no optional power modules noted above.  Basically, one Powerpole pair for 12 volt input and eight Powerpole pairs of various amperage outputs.  The power meter was quite accurate and I mounted it on the surface of the project box.  Also included was the USB power port which is rated at 3 amps.  This works well for phone charging, running a USB light, charging a tablet or whatever other USB powered device you have hanging about.

I replaced a RigRunner 4005 with this kit.  The advantage over the 4005 was more output pairs, the power meter and of course the USB power.  The 4005 is rated a bit higher amp-wise then the basic kit, but even that is covered in the instructions.  Details are provided on how to modify the board so that it can surpass the amperage of the 4005.  I did those mods, but have not fully loaded the box.

You can see several photos of the power distribution center kit on John's website.  They are nicely put together.  I have included a photo of mine below.  Since I immediately put it into service the night I finished it, there aren't any "progress" images.  Did I mentioned it only took an evening from start to finish?  Trust me, it was easy to assemble, as long as you follow the excellent instructions.

Overall, I would highly recommend this power distribution center kit to anyone interested in learning what goes into making one and as a side benefit save a bit of money.   It was a fun project!  

Thanks to John Boal, K9JEB for creating the kit and answering all my question prior to purchase.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fox Box - Can it be this easy?

For quite some time both Arlene and I have looked at article after article on something called "fox hunting" also known as direction finding.  This is an amateur radio "sport" of locating a hidden transmitter by using various methods such as a radio with a handheld Yagi antenna.

We have some of basics we need to go searching but no one was doing fox hunting in our area.  At least we had never heard of anyone doing it.  Therefore, we decided to do a hunt for ourselves. But wait there was one thing, one very important thing, missing.


I decided to look into building a fox box, which is typically a weather proof box which contains a low powered transmitter and a controller of some sort that fed the transmitter some information to, well, transmit.   I looked through the internet resources and found some great little gadgets that work on one or maybe two frequencies at very low power usually in the milliwatts range.  This was fine, but what if you wanted to use a little more power and be able to try fox hunting on 2 meters or 70 centimeters and vary the frequency from hunt to hunt let's say.  I really found nothing.

This of course this led me to building one for myself.  I sat and thought about it, assembling a parts list and drawing possible designs and then suddenly it hit me.  What do you really need for a fox box?
First you need a transmitter.  Well, as you probably already know there are several handheld amateur radios that are so cheap, everyone considers them as disposal radios.  Could I use one of these?  Let's say an old Wouxun or Baofeng or one of the other no name manufacturers.  Seemed reasonable.

Now the hard part was the controller.  What does a controller do?  On a periodic basis it sends information to the transmitter so that people can hear it, to basically find it.  I looked at Raspberry Pi, Audrino and specialized units, but being someone who is frugal to the point of cheapness, these were all too expensive.

Again I pondered what did I have in the house already that would do the same thing.  It had to give audio to the handheld's microphone port.  That port on a Wouxun is an 3.5 mm jack.   Then the light went on.  I have an MP3 player, which I brought for $30 AND a Wouxun radio.  Is that all I needed?
Could it be that easy?

I recorded a 3 minute MP3 audio file which has in it the following:
"Here is the K7RFH fox box operating on a frequency of 145.65 FM, K7RFH fox box"
The 3 minutes included a period of silence to make up the total of 3 minutes including the message. Now, this can be any amount of time, so I made several version of varying times.  The shortest being 30 seconds and the longest my original 3 minute version.

I then setup the Wouxun to accept VOX input.  Using a  3.5mm to 3.5mm plug cable, I plugged one end into the MP3 player and the other into the Wouxun microphone input jack.  Set  the VOX level to 3.  Turned on the radio.  Turned on the MP3 in "repeat a single track" mode. Now, every 3 minutes the radio announces its call sign and a little more.

Since I have never done this before, I am not quite sure if this is a good way to do it.  I think I need to stay in control of the radio, so that means I will need to know were it is at all times and be able to get to it quickly in case something goes awry.  This is because the fox box operates in the ham band and runs 2 to 5 watts.  Although given the antenna, it may be quite a bit less power.  The control part  should not be a problem. The high power may be an issue for the hunters.  With the higher power, it means that the signal will be stronger and may ricochet giving false directions.

Finally, I needed a weather proof case.  Fortunately, I had purchased an ammo can set at Sam's Club. The larger can was used to make a radio in a box. You can see that one here.  However, the smaller one was just one of those sizes that might have worked to carry a small 7 AH battery and maybe some extra parts.   However, now I have a handheld which is 124.5mm × 61.49mm × 33.88mm plus an MP3 player which is 0.6 x 1.6 x 2.6 inches.  These together would be nothing inside the ammo can.  So, perfect!

Laying the ammo can on its side, this was clearly a good spot for an NMO antenna mount.  I had one just laying around.  Drilled a 3/4 inch hole and poof, the antenna mount was ready.

Final issue is power.  The Wouxun should be able to transmit for about 6 hours and the MP3 player is good for about 18 hours, all on their own power.  If  I wanted to make sure  I had more battery power I could put a 7AH battery or a USB power brick in the case.  Both would fit.  So now with just a few more parts the entire box could probably run for 24 or more hours.   Of course, fox hunts are usually over in just a few hours.  Everyone would get too bored if it took much longer than that.  So each devices' on-board power will be just fine to start out.

Personally, I was very surprised how easy it was to create this very simple fox.  Total cost for parts I did not already have is... well nothing.  You may not have all the share parts that I keep around so here is the estimated breakdown of costs:

  • Handheld radio = $30
  • MP3 Player = $30
  • Ammo can = $10 (part of set)
  • NMO mount and connectors = $12
  • Antenna = $12
  • Miscellaneous wiring = $2
  • Total is about $96.  
  • You can probably do better than this on e-Bay!
Now on to building some hunting devices!

Days have passed and I now have two options for a fox box.  In addition to the original MP3 version, I decide to spend some money and buy a unit that could be controlled via radio signals.  The new option came from

The first option as described above is the MP3 player/Handheld transceiver. This provides voice transmissions and timing is controlled by how long the voice portion plus a period of silence is recorded.  That is it.  Nothing special. No control of unit.

The second option replaces the MP3 player with Byonics PicCon unit.  The PicCon unit costs $42 as a kit or assembled for $66.  What the PicCon provides is pretty amazing.  When connected to a transceiver via the microphone in and speaker out, the PicCon can be remotely programmed and controlled.  Connecting the PicCon and radio required either building or buying a compatible cable.  I selected to buy the cable from Byonics for $19.  I figured the ease of assembling the fox box accounted for some time well spent.  The PicCon's capabilities and user manual can be found at

 Below are photos of the two configurations.

This is what the Fox Box looks like from the outside.  Photo 1 is the "carry" look.  

Photo 2 shows the NMO cap removed.  

Photo 3 shows the 2 meter antenna attached.

This is the MP3 version. Note the headphone jack on the MP3 player is connected directly to the microphone input on the HT.  The HT is setup with VOX control on the microphone.

This is the PicCon version with 12V battery pack to power the PicCon "Hidden Transmiter Controller". The PicCon is controlled by DTMF tones from the HT or via tones heard over the air.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Yet another Radio-In-A-Box (ammo can version)

Inspired by an ad from Quicksilver Radio, I decided to make yet another radio in a box.
This was the inspiration the Hammo-Can go box

The parts are:

You can price things out at the current time, but my costs were far above the Hammo-can price.

Below are photos of the box.  Unique features are:

  • Tilt up stand (to angle front up)
  • Powerpoles connectors for 12V power out and 12V battery in

First configuration with ammo can lid attached

 Note flip out stand.  This came from my FT-897 which was installed in another radio in a box case.  Also note that the power cord, microphone, programming cable and short antenna jumper cable are all stored inside.

Second configuration without ammo can lid. 

Antenna is not connected in these photos.  The antenna jumper comes out just above the right side of the power supply.

This is a photo that show the radio a bit better.
Sorry about some of the photos being blurry, used my phone to take photos.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Comcast strikes again or why I hate Comcast!

Got a call from Comcast promotions.
Stop there I should have. But no,
I listened to the offer and at the end of the call said I was not interested. Hung up. At that moment our internet went down. Coincidence?
Called them back and they denied that they had the ability to "turn off" our internet. Since I went through this same scenario several years ago, I knew that they did. I have never ever had a good experience with Comcast.
Stop there I should have. But no.
Called Comcast customer service. Well, you can guess how that went. Ended with me saying, that I could not waste anymore time with them.
Final result, the network did eventually come back, obviously.
If there was a high speed alternative to Comcast in our area, I would be off Comcast in a heartbeat.
In my opinion, Comcast sucks!
P.S. Hopefully, it is just our case because a lot of people still subscribe to Comcast and they would all be very angry people if they went through the crap that we have experienced with Comcast.

Friday, December 25, 2015

20151225 sUAS First Flight

Like just about everyone else, we too got a quad copter for Christmas gift. Thanks Jen!

This is Arlene's first flight learning how to fly it.  We are both already registered with the FAA sUAS database.  Although this one really didn't need that since it is well under the .55 pound weight threshold.  But we figure you can't beat the free registration for the first 3 years.

Go for it ace!