Pretty AM Shack from KB3RHR

Discussion in 'Amplitude Modulation' started by KA4KOE, May 24, 2018.

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  1. K4KYV

    K4KYV Subscriber QRZ Page

    Maybe it was an oil burner instead of a gas furnace. I remember it was a large furnace in the basement that had a strong low frequency rumble produced by the flame.

    The fact that the sub-sonic rumble modulated Steve's transmitter as much as it did says a lot about the low frequency response of his rig. And this was before the pulse-width modulator or class-E rigs. He was running a pair of 833As modulated by another pair (IIRC), using RCA 1-kw broadcast iron.
  2. KA4KOE

    KA4KOE Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm cleaning mine up. After weeks of repairs, projects, etc., it looks like the FBI raided the room.
  3. K5UJ

    K5UJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Oil burner adds up. In New England oil burning was what everyone did until recently. Friends in R.I. just got natural gas a few years ago.
  4. KB3RHR

    KB3RHR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Just saw this Philip. Man I have come along way baby. Clutter pisses me off, I do make a mess but clean it up ASAP. How can you not make a mess with 70 year old stuff. I work in chaos all day long, when I get home I want to relax. OCD I guess , or military coming out like it does. IDK. Really enjoy this new AM Endeavor, what it has taught me, 1) Patience 2) Better soldiering skill 3) Better RF Management 4) Even more reinforcement of Antenna , Antenna , Antenna 5) If not properly connected, sometimes the case has 120Vac on it ! Goodness! ha 6) Reinforcement on proper operating fundamentals (alot of folks in amateur radio could use a course in this)
    Video of the New Room. Yes the collecting has constituted a new space.
    73de KB3RHR

  5. KB3RHR

    KB3RHR Ham Member QRZ Page

    BTW, This is where the business happens. NOTE , I can close the doors and fergetaboutit! IMG_2697 (1).JPG
    W1TRY likes this.
  6. N2DTS

    N2DTS Ham Member QRZ Page

    Nice equipment in a well done setup!
    Always good audio and interesting talk on it.
    Quality AM fun.
  7. K3XR

    K3XR Ham Member QRZ Page

    A great photo. If you see my shack that neat it's because it was cleaned up for the photo. In close to 60 years finally gave up trying to keep it that way.
    K4KYV likes this.
  8. K6BSU

    K6BSU Ham Member QRZ Page

    My radio room is in a corner of my garage-workshop. Most is homebrew except for the Kenwood shown. Not much room, so any equipment not in use is stored elsewhere. station 003.jpg
    K3XR likes this.
  9. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Ham Member QRZ Page


    Setting Up Your Very Own Ham Radio Station in Your

    Bedroom, Garage, Attic, Basement, or Perambulator

    You’ll notice that there is no Chapter Thirteen in this Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge and Lore. This is not to be interpreted to mean that the author is superstitious in any manner whatsoever. However, since this tome deals with lore as well as facts, we might as well make some concessions to those who might be superstitious. We’d hate for anyone to miss out on a very important and exciting chapter.

    Hopefully, by now, you have paid a visit—or many visits—to your friendly local Elmer. You’ve seen all the things that work for him, as well as a few things you’d improve upon if you had your own radio station.

    Well, here is your golden opportunity to do it right.

    Now, this is not to say that you will have your personal Taj Mahal in which to put together your dream station, though in rare instances, you might. There is nothing like having a real, actual, dedicated radio shack in which to perform your devious deeds. However, most of us have to work up to that point. It may be that your first radio room is actually a broom closet, a corner of your desk, an attic, a basement, a doghouse, or a car.

    Before we go much further, however, I’d like to direct your attention to a six-pointed ancient document known as The Amateur’s Code, which first showed up before your great-grandfather was born:

    The Amateur's Code
    The Radio Amateur is

    CONSIDERATE...never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.

    LOYAL...offers loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs, local clubs, and the American Radio Relay League, through which Amateur Radio in the United States is represented nationally and internationally.

    PROGRESSIVE...with knowledge abreast of science, a well-built and efficient station and operation above reproach.

    FRIENDLY...slow and patient operating when requested; friendly advice and counsel to the beginner; kindly assistance, cooperation and consideration for the interests of others. These are the hallmarks of the amateur spirit. is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.

    PATRIOTIC...station and skill always ready for service to country and community.

    --The original Amateur's Code was written by Paul M. Segal, W9EEA, in 1928.

    Take special note of point five. This is a really stupid point. I’ve never met a balanced radio amateur, and neither will you. This was surreptitiously inserted into the “Code” as a feeble gesture to portray radio amateurs as normal human beings. It was a futile attempt in 1928, and it’s a futile attempt now. But it does sort of make us all feel warm and fuzzy, so it’s still with us eighty years after the fact.

    In modern day vernacular, point five might be translated as: “Get a life.” Obviously, if you have made it all the way to Chapter Fourteen of this book you have no life, nor does any other true Radio Amateur. Don’t fight it.

    You may in all good conscience totally ignore point five, but be aware that it exists, just in case anyone asks.

    If you’re like me, you probably got your start in ham radio in late high school. Actually I didn’t get my license until the summer after graduation, but I was doing a lot of peripheral radio stuff well before then, building crystal radios and simple shortwave receivers and such. I had a pretty fair sized built-in desk in my bedroom, extending about six feet either way from the northwestern corner window. The west wall part of the desk was dedicated to homework and other things I was supposed to be doing, while the north wall part of the desk was dedicated to radios and such. Eventually the radios crept around the corner toward the homework end of the desk until the latter pretty well vanished into non-existence.

    Our suggestion to you is to save time by eliminating the homework part of your desk right at the outset. Of course, this may not be entirely feasible, especially if you happen to have parents who might have a say in your educational progress. In this case, the next best thing is to make your ham radio equipment look like homework. This is not quite as difficult as it sounds.

    If you were to look at any ham radio publications from the early 1950’s and thereabouts you will find countless schemes for making amateur radio look like something it wasn’t. There were all kinds of construction projects for making ugly ham radios look like they belonged in the living room or den. Some of them were astonishingly clever. You could even buy some of them.

    Granted, most of these products were primarily designed for use by grown men to hide their radio stations from their wives, but the principles also applied to hiding radios from parents.

    Now this brings up a most curious paradox, which I don’t think anyone has solved, as of yet.

    As a young radio amateur, your chances of having a life, and thereby acquiring someone who might even give a rip where you put your radios—i.e., a wife—are pretty much nil, as we’ve already established. And yet, it seems that most hams mysteriously end up in the “company” of humans of the female persuasion who have no purpose in life other than to place restrictions on their husbands’ amateur radio activities. This is one of the great ancient mysteries of the universe, of which I shall inquire in the great beyond.

    Be that as it may, there are many effective ways of making radios not look like radios, if necessary. This is even easier to do nowadays than it was in the 1950s, now that most ham radios no longer cast huge crackling blue arcs across the drawing room. All it takes is a little imagination, and some basic construction skills.

    Let’s go over a few things that every ham shack needs—eventually. Where a lot of new hams go astray is that they think they need everything at once. You probably don’t have the room or the money to do it all—yet. But let’s set some goals, starting with the top priorities.

    You need a twenty-four hour clock. A big one. Front and center. This should be set to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the time formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time. Amateur Radio is an international hobby, and you need to start thinking about the Earth as being round. Everybody doesn’t live in your time zone. This should be one of the first things a visitor to your shack sees. It immediately identifies you as being an international sort of guy/gal. It will raise thoughtful questions about your hobby.

    Since you’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at that clock, it should be an interesting one. Never settle for an ugly clock. If at all possible, get one that’s locked to WWV, Internet time, or some other accurate standard. If it’s a mechanical clock, be sure it’s a good one that you don’t have to reset every day. Clocks are great homebrew projects as well. On the Web, you can find some fascinating clocks made from Nixie tubes and other exotic electronic indicators that you can build in a weekend.

    You need a wall map of the world. Your local University’s professor of basketry may not know where the continent of Africa is, but you should. And if you have a map, you can point it out to him when he comes to visit. You need to start poking tacks into this wall map of places you’ve worked as soon as you get your license. It should look like a porcupine in a few months.

    One clever alternative to the wall map is a globe, as it helps you remember that the Earth is not actually flat. Some enterprising hams have actually connected such globes to their antenna rotator controllers, so they rotate along with their directional antennas. This is a useful and attractive accessory to any ham shack, but perhaps a bit over-the-top for many beginners.

    The bottom line: You should know where you are and when you are.

    You need a shortwave receiver, separate from your normal transceiver. Something a visitor to your shack can twiddle with to their heart’s content. A lot of people these days don’t have a clue what shortwave radio is. You need to show them.

    You need a sturdy operating table. Ham radios are heavy—even the new ones. Folding tables will eventually sag. Your table needs to be strong enough to stand on, in order to reach those upper shelves above your radios as well as that hatch door into your attic.

    You need two comfortable (but not too comfortable) chairs—one for you, and one for your guest. Your guest chair shall be occupied at least one hour per weekend.

    You need some electricity. Ideally, you want a service dedicated to your hobby—even if it’s just a dedicated circuit breaker for a closet. If you intend on running some serious power, you definitely want a 240V outlet. Although most linear amplifiers will run on 120, they will run better on 240, with much less light dimming and flickering in the house. (Be sure to CONFIGURE your linear amplifier to work on 240, if you make that decision. Plugging an amplifier designed to work on 120 into a 240 outlet will REALLY work great...for about fifteen seconds!)

    Although most ham literature makes a big production about station grounding, a lot of it is superfluous these days, if it was ever accurate at all. You want to make sure your equipment has a conductive path to service ground for safety reasons, but the third wire on all modern commercial equipment fulfills this requirement entirely. External chassis grounds are never necessary, and can often exacerbate certain problems like ground loops and such. You do NOT need a copper bus bar running along the back edge of your operating table, contrary to much conventional wisdom.

    A bus bar system on your workbench is a different matter, but for entirely different reasons. You want a convenient place to attach your shorting stick or sticks, as well as a reliable static discharge point. But for your operating table? No.

    R.F. grounding is yet another topic. It is something that should be handled entirely outside the shack, if at all. If you have R.F. in the shack, you are doing something wrong at your antenna to begin with. That problem should be taken care of OUTSIDE! I (and many others like me) run a full kilowatt of power using OPEN WIRE FEEDLINES IN THE SHACK with no R.F. feedback problems whatsoever, on any H.F. band! All it takes is careful layout, not 400 square feet of copper strap.

    If at all humanly possible, you should have an equipment rack or two in your shack. These can be open rail “relay racks” like the phone company uses or full cabinets. The relay racks use less floor space, but they need to be bolted down. Freestanding cabinets need a few square feet of floor space, but they can handle very heavy, uneven loads.

    After putting together countless stations, I’ve concluded that nothing beats equipment racks. You always run out of horizontal real estate before you run out of vertical real estate; it doesn’t matter if you’re in a broom closet or a garage. It’s amazing what you can put in a single 72” rack cabinet, and you can get 84” cabinets without looking too hard. You can get a nice desk that bolts onto the front of a standard rack cabinet too. If you’re limited in space, nothing gives you more bang for the buck than a standard rack cabinet. And if you do have the space, a few rack cabinets bolted side to side make a real snappy looking installation, especially with the bolt-on desks.

    Both the cabinets and the relay racks are usually available for next to nothing at surplus yards and such. New, they can cost a fortune. Do some dumpster diving.

    You’re going to want a few tools as a ham.
    Although, ideally, your workshop will be at one with your shack, in many cases these will be two different entities. At the very least, every ham needs:

    1) A soldering iron or station. Several gauges of rosin core solder, and a vat (okay, a little jar) of rosin flux.

    2) A Dremel Moto-tool kit. I used to consider this a nice option, but I’ve moved it up to an absolute necessity. Also, include safety goggles or glasses with this. Get a set of earplugs also; disposable ones or fancy high-tech ones are fine. Dremels are noisy little buggers, and you want to save your hearing for those weak CW stations!

    3) A drill index. You can get a drill adaptor for your Dremel that will accommodate those itty bitty bits.

    4) A set of flat screwdrivers, Philips screwdrivers, and Allen wrenches. Some Torx drivers are nice to have, too.

    5) An X-acto knife kit.

    6) Needle-nose pliers and flush-cutting diagonal wire cutters.

    7) Your standard “big tools”—hammer, wrenches, Skilsaw, sawhorses, ladder.

    8) Fasteners.

    9) A multimeter. A newfangled Fluke DVM is ideal, but an old Simpson VOM is great, too.

    10) An audio signal tracer.

    11) Some common sense: Now available in handy squirt bottles at your local apothecary.

    Now, despite the inarguable utility of equipment racks, they still tend to look like equipment racks. For some strange reason, many people object to their living rooms looking like Houston Control. For those unfortunate souls, there is the attractive option of actually building some handsome radio-disguising furniture.

    A few summers ago, my oldest daughter, Jennifer, a very artsy sort of lady, saw this weird freeform bookshelf in some European catalog of such things. It cost about as much as the down payment on my house. She really wanted something like this in her living room. Being the persistent sort of person she is, she asked if I could build her one. Yeah, right.

    My concept of woodworking up to that point was sawing off a couple of one-inch planks and laying them across a couple of cinder blocks for a workbench. I told her if she could draw me the thing, I’d see what I could do. This monstrosity needed about 400 board feet of lumber because it had all these randomly placed rectangular cubicles. We took all weekend to assemble this thing, using just cheap pine boards, but after everything was all lacquered up (the wood, I mean...not my daughter and I), it looked fantastic! I probably could have sold it in a European weird bookshelf catalog for an exorbitant price, too. It worked so well, I built myself a modified version of the thing for my ham shack in which to put a lot of my operating equipment.

    The only downside of this was that all her friends wanted me to make European weird freeform bookshelves for them too. I took the easy way out; I bought my daughter a fancy table saw so SHE could make her friends the shelves, now that she knew how it was done.

    The point of this is that you don’t have to be a genius to do some clever things. You just need to be a bit crafty and persistent.

    Now, if despite all your persistent craftiness, you still can’t manage to find a place in your home for a ham shack, as a last resort there is always your car.

    Actually, you really shouldn’t think of a car as being a last resort for a ham shack. In fact, there are some great advantages to mobile hamming.

    You can get away from electrical noise. Most neighborhoods are full and getting fuller, of noise-generating appliances and toys. A Plasma TV, for instance, can wipe out all shortwave reception for a couple of square blocks. The FCC tells us they’re going to solve this problem for us, but we aren’t holding our collective breaths. Even the “cleanest” neighborhoods have power lines, and even well-maintained ones can still be sources of unwanted noise. You can drive out into the sticks or up to a mountaintop and enjoy ham radio like it’s supposed to be.

    In a mobile ham shack, you can operate free of all distractions—telemarketers, the wife, the kids, the parents, the yapping dogs, the nosy neighbors.

    In fact, many hams who have excellent home ham shacks also have nicely equipped mobile ham shacks. There are a few tricks to making a mobile ham shack work properly, however.

    First of all, for H.F. operating, anyway, you’re always going to be working with a less than optimal antenna, due to sheer size limitations. Even so, you still can come out ahead of the game, because you may have a quieter, and/or higher location than you have at home. A lot of great DXing can be done from a car. In fact, several hams have achieved DXCC from their cars!

    Secondly, you usually have some power limitations when operating mobile. Though many hams do operate at full legal limit from their cars, it’s no mean feat to come up with that kind of power—at least for very long. You usually need to beef up your vehicles electrical system to pull it off. On the other hand, running at 100-200 watts is usually a snap.

    A few hints. Always run power to your mobile radios DIRECTLY from the car battery. This is sometimes a bit of a trick, since most new cars have drivers’ compartments that are sealed tighter than Lenin’s tomb. But there’s always some portal to the engine compartment; sometimes you just have to dig for it.

    The reason to use a direct battery connection is that it’s quieter. Although a battery itself is a wonderful source of power—the best you can get—the rest of a car’s electrical system leaves something to be desired. By using a fat cable directly to your car battery, you can take advantage of the battery’s natural filtering action. Many hams use RG-8 coax cable for the power connection to the battery, as this affords some shielding as well. Just be sure if you do this, there is no way of confusing this for your antenna coax! There could be interesting results. Oh yes—be sure to FUSE your power cable AT THE BATTERY! There are in-line fuses available at your local auto parts store just for this sort of thing. Car batteries supply LOTS of current and a direct short circuit in a run of RG-8 will most assuredly cause a vehicular meltdown, or worse.

    Most new cars have a lot of persnickety electronics in them. Be sure when you key your mike, it doesn’t cause your brakes to lock up or cause other surprising events. The place to check this out is in your driveway, not whilst cruising the interstate at seventy-five miles an hour!

    Because vehicular antennas are necessarily short, they are also very narrow-banded. The laws of physics dictate this. You aren’t going to find a mobile antenna that covers the entire 80 meter band without some retuning!

    On the lower H.F. bands (or 160 meters, if you’re one of that rare breed), MOST of your antenna will be loading coil. Therefore, your loading coil must be a GOOD one. In fact, the performance of your mobile ham station on the lower frequency bands is solely determined by the quality of your loading coil. An effective low-band mobile antenna will have a loading coil that’s short and fat and a ways up on the antenna. In other words, it will be big and ugly. Get used to it. You’re goal is to make radio, not a fashion statement.

    Where to put the radio itself? This is a bit of a quandary these days. Back in the 1950s trunks were big enough to stash a couple of stiffs as well as a Heathkit Warrior. This isn’t the case today, of course. Cars are a lot smaller. But, fortunately, so are radios. But you still need to do some planning. If you can obtain a transceiver that has a remote control head, it makes things really nice. You can put the radio back near the antenna, where it works better anyway, while a small control head doesn’t have too many functions to piddle with while you’re driving. Actually remote control heads make nice homebrew projects, if your particular radio doesn’t have one available. You might be forced to actually learn how your rig works in order to pull it off, but that’s never killed anyone so far. At least, to the best of our knowledge.

    Although having a bit of power to work with is desirable in a mobile situation in order to compensate for antenna inefficiencies, it isn’t always necessary. I did a lot of mobile DXing with a measly five watts on the upper H.F. bands, although, admittedly, this was during a time when propagation was just “screaming.” Single-band QRP mobile transceivers are a great way to get your feet wet in homebrewing. You don’t need to have every band available. Most dedicated mobile operators end up settling on a favorite band or two anyway. It’s always better to have a mobile station that works well on one band than one that works like excrement on every band.

    Whatever you do, be SURE your radios are firmly attached to your vehicle. Even a small radio is a dangerous projectile in a moving car—or, more precisely, in a car that’s suddenly stopped moving. There is lots of commercially available hardware available for nearly every car and radio combination keeping your equipment securely in place. It also makes it a little bit harder to steal, though not much. This was less of a problem when I was first licensed, when most mobile radios weighed as much as the cars they were in!

    Well, let’s go back home and tie up a few loose ends. Attics deserve some special note for a couple of reasons. The good news is: there isn’t usually a lot of competition from other family members for attic space. The bad news is: attics aren’t what they used to be. You used to be able to stand up, or at least sit up in most attics. This isn’t the case any more, at least in most new residences. It can be pretty uncomfortable to be operating from a fully prone or supine position.

    Assume, however, that you have scoped out your attic and decided it’s a potential location for a clandestine radio operation, after all. Attics are actually pretty good places to erect antennas, especially if you want to hide the fact that you’ve got antennas for any number of reasons, the number one reason being that you live in a Pinko/Communist/Fascist/Posy-Sniffing Environmentalist Wacko neighborhood surrounded by Homeowners Association Nazis in tin-foil hats who are absolutely certain that your amateur radio activities are causing harp seals in Hudson’s Bay to become transvestites as well as causing caribou to walk backwards in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    The truth of the matter is that the rampant transvestitism recently observed in Hudson’s Bay harp seals has never been proven to be caused by radio transmissions.

    Be that as it may, many hams have had very successful attic antennas, and they’ve been doing it for decades. It’s a viable alternative in many many locations.

    Where there’s a will, there’s a way, which I suppose is a fair summary of this chapter.

    Now, sooner or later you will want to advance beyond the bare basics. This usually happens a while after your friends, relatives, and pets have resigned themselves to the fact that your ham shack is not going to go away. There are some nifty things you can do to really personalize and customize your ham space. We already mentioned European weird freeform bookshelves and fancy clocks. These are a good start. How about a neon sign right outside your station with your callsign blazing away for all to see?

    NO! Do not do this! Not only is it really tacky, but neon signs are horrendous sources of electrical noise! Instead, opt for something tasteful and electromagnetically compatible. We can build a nice, tasteful, old-school, back-lit sign box to place over your door, or on your desk. This is one place where Ye Olde Dremel Moto-Tool comes in handy. Draw your callsign in pencil on an eight by four inch scrap of wood paneling. If you’re really vain, you can use Olde English script. Insert a small router bit into your Dremel. Carefully cut out the lettering with your router. Now, doesn’t that look spiffy? We still have to build the rest of the sign box, though, something to nail this masterpiece onto. You can do this with some ½” x 2” trimming strips for this. Build a rectangular frame with the strips, so the outside dimension is 8x4”. You can use beveled edges if you’re really persnickety, or just use butted joints. Before you nail your cutout letters on this, though, we need to build a window. You can use “frosted” Plexiglas for this, but one thing that looks super cool is clear Plexiglas with dark green cellophane behind it. You might also be able to get tinted Plexiglas from a hobby shop or model store, but it’s sometimes a bit hard to get. Either way, the sign ends up with a classy English library sort of feel. Just cut out an 8x4 square of Plexiglas, coat the back of your cut out sign with a thin layer of contact cement, and then press it HARD against the Plexiglas for several minutes. When it’s all done, drill some holes around the perimeter and screw the whole thing onto the frame with some fancy brass screws.

    Now we have to light the thing. The best way to do this is with a couple of fish tank lamps, one at the top and one at the bottom. These long-profile lamps give you the even illumination you want for this. If you wire these in SERIES, they will give you a nice dim glow, and it will run cooler so you won’t need any vent holes. Or if you want a brighter sign, wire them in parallel. But you will probably want a couple of vent holes in this case, which can let light leak out and spoil the overall effect, unless you’re clever. Oh, that’s right, you ARE clever!

    If you want this as a desk accessory, you want to put a back on this, of course, but if you’re mounting it on the wall, you can skip that part. Leftover paneling works fine for a back.

    Now, isn’t that a nice touch to your shack. It looks downright civilized, doesn’t it?

    Probably the next thing you’re going to want in your shack is a decent speaker. Back in the not-too-distant past, most ham rigs had fair sized external speakers, and most of them were pretty doggone good. Unfortunately, for the sake of compactness, portability, and all that, most modern radios have a sorry excuse for a speaker: a tiny, tinny little thing crammed into the cabinet wherever they could find space. Additionally, these cruddy little speakers are usually aimed at the ceiling or at your kneecaps. If you’re like me, your ears are probably mounted on your head, which would seem to be a more logical general direction in which to aim a speaker. But, again, that’s just me.

    In any case, a high quality loudspeaker, correctly positioned, can make a world of difference when it comes to intelligibility and reducing listening fatigue. Our stations may look like they belong in Frankenstein’s lab, but they don’t have to sound like it.

    There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to ham radio loudspeakers. Some are of the opinion that a speaker should be optimized for voice frequencies only for best intelligibility, and therefore a high fidelity audiophile speaker is actually counterproductive. This was, actually, the conventional wisdom for many many years. It certainly sounds logical enough. However, my own personal experience (for whatever that’s worth), as well as that of a significant number of hams, indicates that it’s never a disadvantage to having a good, wide-range speaker. It’s certainly a lot more pleasant to listen to over a long period of time.

    In addition, most new radios have excellent variable bandwidth filtering in them already, so a “tuned” speaker is probably redundant. Also, most H.F. rigs have general coverage receive capabilities these days, which means you’ll be scooting our of the ham bands occasionally to listen to shortwave broadcasters and such. Modern shortwave broadcast stations are really quite a joy to listen to, and there’s a lot less jamming than there was back in the Cold War era. Shortwave radio is a good thing to have going in the ham shack while you’re doing other things besides hamming. (Like writing this book)!

    Since you’ve got a nice Hi-Fi speaker, you might as well have a nice amplifier to go with it. Though most rigs can crank out a couple of watts into the external speaker jack, which is actually more than enough to blister the paint off the walls in a small shack, there’s a real advantage to having a dedicated amplifier with several isolated audio input channels. This way you can run several radios into the thing without interaction between them. If you have a clean amplifier and speaker with very low audio intermodulation distortion, this works surprisingly well. There is no loss of intelligibility from any of the radios you might have running into your amp. If you want to get really tricky, you can set it up for stereo as well. This is a slick technique, especially for CW. What you do is put some low frequency boost into the left speaker, and some high frequency boost into the right speaker. As you tune across the CW station, not only does the pitch increase, but it will also appear to move from left to right across the room. Some CW operators claim this makes it easier to separate stations without those annoying, ringing, narrow CW filters. I’m not totally convinced on this point, but it’s worth experimenting with.

    The more you operate the more important ergonomics becomes. Some of us “properly-seasoned” hams remember having to waltz around the room to flip a half dozen switches to go from transmit to receive. This is not an efficient way to run a modern ham station. (Come to think of it, it might not be such a bad idea, after all. It was the only exercise some of us old geezers ever got!)

    Be that as it may, it’s a good idea to think about station layout from a convenience and efficiency standpoint. Most contesters have the ergonomics thing down pretty well, so let’s take a few cues from them.

    Probably the worst thing you can have is a desktop that’s too shallow. If you’re a CW operator, you want to place the key or keyer well back from the edge of the desk, so you can rest your elbow on the table. You can’t do that if your desk is only a foot deep! (Our European friends may take us to task on this point, as the “Continental Style” of straight key usage requires a free-floating elbow). But you should be able to scoot the key back, even if you don’t. And if you’re a contester, you want a place to lay your head and sleep once in a while. Well, maybe not. But at any rate, you don’t want your radios right under your nipples; you want them set back a comfortable distance. You want a desk deep enough to be able to set down a writing pad and scribble on the bottom line with your elbow still on the table. Trust me on this one.

    Another good thing about a really deep desk is you can place a large map or other handy reference material down and cover it with a plate of glass. This again gives your shack a rather civilized appearance, if that’s what you’re shooting for.

    Another major ergonomic no-no is to place your main rig above table level. You MUST be able to twiddle your VFO with your elbows on the table. If you have to reach up to tune your radio, you will regret it immediately, the first contest you ever work. It may take you a few minutes longer to regret it if you just do occasional ragchewing. Now, if you have multiple radios, you have some hard decisions to make, especially if you have limited horizontal real estate. You may have to stand up to operate some radios, but they can’t be your main ones. Linear amplifiers and antenna tuners can be a little more “out of reach” if you don’t do a lot of band changing. But if you do a lot of band-hopping, you’d better find an ergonomically correct position for those items too.

    You should think about lighting. Personally, I detest fluorescent lights; I prefer that politically incorrect incandescent glow.

    You don’t need your operating position lit up like Broadway anyway. I really like a little track lighting directly over my operating position so I can see my log book, but that’s about all light I need. The dial lights on most old boat anchors usually gave you enough light to work “in the dark” but modern LCD and LED displays and such don’t. Well, they do, but the light they give off is the wrong color for a desk lamp, and besides they all flicker. Some folks don’t notice, but for some people (like me) the flicker is extremely evident and, frankly, rather nauseating. So a little ambient incandescent light helps fill in the flicker.

    If you’re using any digital modes like RTTY, PSK31, AMTOR, Clover, or Hellschrieber, you’re going to need a computer screen of some sort. This presents a predicament, because the “desk level” ergonomic principle for your main radio also applies to computer screens. You do NOT want to be looking up at a computer monitor. Even worse, you don’t want to be alternately looking up at your monitor and down at your radio thirty times a minute. It’s really hard on the neck, and it looks funny besides.

    The second best solution is to have the computer monitor as close to the rig as humanly possible. With the newfangled flat screen monitors, you can place the thing right on top of your rig. It’s not perfect, but if you have a deep desk, as suggested earlier, the angle between your monitor and your rig will be minimal.

    The first best solution is to have your monitor and your rig one and the same. This is known as a software-defined radio, where all your controls are actually right on the screen. This way you can put your “physical rig” wherever you want.

    Now, you may be horrified to learn that this old geezer would even consider such an abomination. Yes, I must confess. Buried amidst all my previous-century boat anchors, I have a software-defined radio, and I actually like it--at least for doing digital modes. (Just don’t tell anyone!)

    Most people that use a keyboard use it much too high. This is a good recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome, the malady formerly known as “Ritty-Wrist.” (Ritty was the old slang for RTTY, RadioTeleTypographY).

    The correct place for a keyboard is just above and in front of your knees, and actually tilted slightly forward. Those high-falutin’ computer desks with the articulated keyboard platforms allow you to put your keyboard right there where it belongs. If you’ve been doing it wrong for the past seventy years, it feels really strange, but it takes no time at all for you to adapt. You can type all day with like that. I write all my books like that, and my wrists are just as new as a baby’s bottom. Well, maybe not quite as cute.

    Speaking of keyboards, did you know that the standard “QUERTY” key layout was specifically designed to slow you down? Back in the dark ages, it was easy to type faster than the typewriter mechanisms could go, so you had a lot of things jamming up on you. There is no reason whatsoever, other than brain ruts, to continue with the QUERTY keyboard mapping these days. You can reassign the keys any way you want in software, and experiment with different key arrangements. Just a suggestion.

    You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your ham shack. You should make the stay as pleasant as humanly possible, both for you and your guests. Your shack should be more than just a place to do radio. There should be some actual exchange of ideas going on. No matter how small your shack might be, it sits on a big world. A big round world, by the way. Take advantage of it.

    We implied in Chapter One that coffee is an integral ingredient in Amateur Radio contesting, as well as general operating and elmering. It actually has many varied uses around the ham shack. Of course, its primary purpose is keeping you awake; this function comes in two forms:

    1) Drinking it.

    2) Accidentally spilling it on your loins.

    Method 1 is first method is more long term; whilst Method 2 is more immediately effective. Both are employed frequently by most hams, however.

    There are less traditional uses for coffee, as well. Coffee makes a great writing fluid, when you’ve misplaced your pen or pencil. It’s a fairly effective adhesive, especially if you’re one of those who anoints one’s brew with large quantities of sugar and cream. You can soak your logbook in coffee to give it that aged appearance. This is especially useful if you’re a young whippersnapper, and want to give the impression that you’ve been in the hobby a long time.

    You can make a laser out of coffee (or even tea or wine). Of course, it’s not the most efficient laser in the universe, but it gives you something to experiment with when the propagation is in the toilet.

    The debate rages over which is preferable, having all your coffee making/drinking paraphernalia in the shack or in the kitchen. Since the only exercise most hams get these days is commuting to the coffeepot, it’s probably best to have it as far from the ham shack as feasible, so as to make the trip as strenuous as humanly possible. Under no circumstances, however, must you have a convenient source of food in the ham shack. This is a heart attack waiting to happen. If you need further evidence, take a look around at your next Field Day outing. There’s a good reason why they’re called ham radio operators, not celery radio operators.

    Which reminds me; it’s probably not a bad idea to have a set of defibrillators in your ham shack. Get an official AMA approved defibrillator pack; the traditional method of attaching a set of automotive jumper cables to the guy’s nipples is now considered obsolete. It’s probably just as effective, but it leaves nasty marks. Under no circumstances do you want to use alternating current for this task.

    I suppose there’s a lot more to be said about setting up your own ham station, but I believe we’ve covered the basics. Enjoy!
  10. KA4KOE

    KA4KOE Ham Member QRZ Page

    I hear "red hot radio" calling CQ all the time on 75m. But you can never hear me most of the time.

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