Rig Monitoring Basics
Ham Radio Operators
This article is for sight-impaired ham radio operators who are interested in rig monitoring. The monitor discussed here is a personal computer running software that displays the settings of your ham radio on the screen (Figure 1). You can use magnifier software to enlarge parts of the display.
Figure 1. Rig Monitoring
The software and the radio-to-computer interface needed for a monitor are the same as for rig control. When the monitor is running, you can use the controls on the radio or the computer keyboard and mouse. For example, you might change frequency and AF gain directly on the radio and use the computer to select the filter settings and operating mode. Or, you can continue to operate the radio as before and refer to the computer screen only to check on settings that are difficult to read directly.
A monitoring program is easy to use, and no Internet connection is involved after the software is downloaded. Rig monitoring depends on information sent from a microprocessor in the radio via the Computer Aided Transmission (CAT) protocol.
Connecting a Computer to Your Transceiver
Most modern HF transceivers have at least one type of serial data communication connector on the back panel. The three most common serial ports used in ham radios are USB, RS-232, and TTL. Here are some practical considerations:
• All USB cable connections to a computer require the installation of a software driver to create a "virtual serial port" in the computer programming.
• On most computers the RS-232 serial connector has been replaced by faster, more convenient USB ports. If necessary, you can connect an RS-232 cable to a serial-to-USB adapter at the computer.
• TTL (Transistor-Transistor Logic) signals must be converted to a higher voltage. Some radio manufacturers offer a level converter accessory, such as the Icom CT-17, which plugs into the CI-V Remote Control Jack on an Icom radio and connects to a computer via an RS-232 cable. A less expensive alternative is a serial-USB adapter (Figure 2), which connects directly between the TTL jack and the USB port on a computer. These are built specifically for each make and model of radio, because there is not a standard TTL CAT connnector.
Figure 2. Serial-USB adapter.
When used with Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) and an Icom 746PRO, the adapter in Figure 2 causes the HRD graphical multi-meter to fail; other functions of HRD are not affected. When used with the Icom RS-BA1 Remote Program, the adapter caused intermittent disconnection problems.
The adapter in Figure 2 uses a Prolific Technology USB to Serial Bridge Controller chip. There's a note in the October, 2011, issue of QST (p. 86) that adapters with an FTDI chip might not cause disconnections.
A CAT interface is also packaged with some sound card interfaces used for digital modes such as PSK31. Using the level converter (Radio port) in a MicroHam USB Interface III solved both the Ham Radio Deluxe multi-meter problem and the Icom RS-BA1 disconnection problem. Some sound card interfaces do not include a rig control circuit.
Software for Rig Monitoring
Various rig control programs are available on the Internet. A list of the programs reviewed on this Web site is at the end of this article.
The screen in Figure 1 shows the popular Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) program. The current version of HRD software is free. Future versions will be on a paid subscription basis.
Unless you want to use one of the advanced applications in the HRD collection (remote operation, automatic logging, satellite tracking, antenna rotator control, digital modes, etc.), you only need to open the main HRD program and follow the prompts to enter the make and model of your radio. Information about the most popular transceivers is already stored in the HRD software.
Figure 3 shows part of the default HRD control panel.
The control panel in Figure 3 might be difficult to use if you have low vision. Fortunately, you can modify the display using the Customize Menu. Figure 4 is a full-size screen capture of part of a redesigned HRD window showing larger buttons with large, bold text and a high contrast color scheme. The control panel shown is for an Icom 746PRO and will be different for other radios. The red control buttons in Figure 4 indicate that the automatic antenna tuner is on (ATU), antenna #1 is selected (Ant 1), speech compression is enabled (Comp), and noise reduction is on (NR).
Figure 4. Part of a customized HRD control panel.
You can enlarge the image by using a larger screen or with magnification software.
Ham Radio Deluxe also has a speech option. It announces the frequency each time you tune the dial, or you can use hot keys, such as Shift + F9 to hear the frequency or Shift + F12 to hear the S-meter reading. The audio output from HRD can be directed to the PC sound card so they are not transmitted on the air.
For More Information
Here is a list of articles about rig monitoring with other programs:
A personal computer running the Ham Radio Deluxe software is easy to use as a rig monitor for hams with low vision. You can use the same setup to control a transceiver.
Peter DeNeef, AE7PD, is an Extra Class amateur radio operator in the U.S. This web site has no ads or conflicts of interest.
Email: HamRadioandVision "at" gmail "dot" com.
Related Article: Magnifying Ham Radio Program Displays