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A Modest Remotely Operated Station

Tim Cotton (N4UM) on June 8, 2013
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I just finished reading KL1A's recent article on “New Horizons in Ham Radio: Remote Ham Radio in Contests.” I found it extremely interesting but, at the same time, kind of daunting from both a financial as well as a technical point of view. What he described seemed like a lot of work, money and more than a little obsession to me. On the other hand, if it floats your boat...go for it! It's your boat. I decided to go ahead with this article which was in the process of being written when KL1A's article appeared. My goals in setting up a remote station are far more modest and far less expensive. This is about my boat.

I got the bug for a remote station in the strangest place. I was in the Bahamas for 3 weeks last fall with my son (Mike, K4RUM) and long-time friend (Bob, N4BP). They were in C6A for three consecutive weekends of bad food, good weather and serious CW contesting. I “burned out” on contesting a number of years ago but still understand the excitement others have for it. I tagged along to help with antennas, make coffee, engage in some casual digital operations during non-contest hours and enjoy the beach-combing. During our time in the Bahamas Mike mentioned how great it was to actually hear so many stations calling, something he couldn't easily do back home. I was anxious to get back to Florida and start on my remote project.

Mike lives in Manhattan where the electrical noise is so high he has trouble hearing other stations even with a full sized dipole 150 feet in the air. I live in one of Florida's innumerable geriatric ghettos where “antenna” is spelled with only 4 letters. I make do with clandestine antennas. A remote station could turn out to be more than a time-killing project or a way to help out my son with his RFI problems. A remote station might be a nice insurance policy to have if the local HOA ever decides to make my life any more miserable than they already have. I've had contacts with several remote stations, including one operated by Alan (K2RHK) on several occasions. Alan also lives in Manhattan and solved his high noise problem by setting up a remote station at his vacation place several hours drive out of the RFI hell of New York City. Alan seemed happy with his setup and uses it on SSB, CW and the digital modes. A detailed description of Alan's excellent remote station can be found on his page.

Upon returning from the Bahamas I started reading up on remote operation and shortly realized I already had the makings of a remote station right in my own shack. My main transceiver was a Kenwood TS-480HX capable of 200 watts on 160 thru 10 and 100 watts on 6 meters. Kenwood supplies free software for this radio that provides for very extensive rig control with a personal computer. I dug up the software that I had briefly played with years ago when I bought the rig. At that time I had no use for the software since the radio was setting right in front of me on my desk with it's knobs, switches and dials readily accessible. Why bother with a computer just to tune a radio a few feet away? Dumb! However, once the remote “bug” bit, it became apparent that Kenwood's free rig control software wasn't quite so “dumb” after all. In fact, it was a godsend! I downloaded updated versions of the Kenwood software and practiced using it to control the radio several feet away from the computer. It took some practice but eventually I got to the point where I could pretty much do anything with computer control that I could do with the radio's actual knobs, switches and dials – even though I must admit it was more awkward and time consuming than playing with the knobs, switches and dials.

The next step was to set up an internet connection that would allow me to control the desktop computer in my shack (the host) over the internet using my laptop from across the room (the client.) I chose to use free software supplied by for this purpose. Logmein software enables one computer (the client) to control another computer (the host) provided both are online and connected to the internet. It's user-friendly and even I found it very easy to use. I would use my laptop computer to control programs running on my desktop computer via the internet. The first program running on my desktop was Kenwood's rig control software. By using my laptop I could control my desktop and have it tune my transceiver remotely; change bands, power levels, modes, filter settings etc. etc. I next installed Fldigi, W1HKJ's great, free digital mode software package, on the desktop host and expected to be off and running on my favorite digital modes shortly. At this point I experienced problems. I was using a rather old Windows XP machine for the host and it just wasn't up to the demands of running the Kenwood rig control software, the Fldigi digital mode software and the Logmein internet communications software simultaneously. I switched to a newer, faster, computer as host running the Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit operating system. Problem solved. For those few of you who might be interested, the host computer is an HP desktop with an AMD Athlon dual core 64 bit processor running at 2.10 Ghz with 2 Gb of RAM and a 296 Gb hard drive. It's been around for quite a while and is certainly not a “screamer” but is up to the task. There is a slight delay when going back and forth between transmit and receive because of the internet latency but this is hardly noticeable and certainly not a handicap when using the digital modes.

The next step was getting set up for keyboard-sent CW. Logmein's free software does not provide an audio link which, of course, is needed to copy CW by ear. I still haven't found any computer software that can copy real life on-the-air CW as well as the human ear so an audio link was definitely necessary. Other remote operators have chosen to use free Skype software for this task but I chose to purchase Logmein Pro software and services for about $60.00 per year. This fee would allow me to control one host computer at a time and to hear on the client whatever audio was being heard by the host. Since I was paying for the service I felt I had a legitimate basis for complaining if the software didn't work as advertised. So far, no complaints.

My remote station started off using N3FJP's ACLog software for logging and sending CW – primarily because it's Mike's favorite for both. I added UA9OV's CWType freeware which I personally prefer for computer-sent CW. We had problems with ACLog sending CW over the internet and finally decided to use only CWType for computer-sent CW. Internet latency can become quite noticeable on high speed CW that has many quick turnovers such as in DX pileups or contesting. My son does most of his CW operation using computer generated CW so we were able to bypass the problems other remote CW operators encounter when trying to use hand-sent or keyer-sent CW over the internet. Variations in internet latency can make things problematic for this type of remote CW operation. There are several commercial solutions for dealing with this problem but I have no direct personal experience with them so can't discuss then here. Since neither Mike nor I have much interest in SSB I have made no effort to investigate how one might go about this for remote operation.

Once I got the remote station set up and operating in my shack it was put to a more severe test. No more remote operation using a client across the room. This time the client was in Manhattan – nearly 1000 miles away from the host in South Florida. Alas, the setup worked too well! It seemed that every time I went to operate, my computer and radio were already in use. It's very strange to walk into your shack at 6 AM and see the frequency on your transceiver changing or to hear the keying relays clicking away. Mike was having a ball operating my station from his Manhattan apartment. It seemed ironic that a guy with an antenna 150 feet in the air would prefer using a clandestine, HOA-based antenna nearly 1000 miles away from his shack rather than using an antenna out on his own terrace! The remote setup was a success. If we both wanted to operate at the same time, however, the station would have be moved. We (Mike mostly) continued to operate the station in my shack for several months to be sure we had the bugs ironed out before moving it to my daughter's house, an easy hour's drive to the South.

I built a well ventilated cabinet to house the remote station which is now in my daughter's game room. The remote station uses a “plain vanilla” antenna system... a venerable 80 meter inverted vee, apex at 35 feet, fed with ladderline thru a 4:1 balun. A lightning arrestor is in the coax between the balun and the output of an LDG AT-200 Pro II autotuner. The lightning arrestor and balun are outside the house connected to a ten foot ground rod. A short length of coax goes thru the wall to the autotuner located inside the cabinet. The cabinet also houses the computer, transceiver, power supplies, computer interface, a UPS, keyboard, mouse, monitor and ventilation fan. A readily accessible antenna switch is mounted on the top of the cabinet. The remote station can be operated from 80 thru 6 meters.

Remote station operation can be a viable option if you're stuck in a condo, apartment, HOA or other less-than-desirable radio location. Even if you're not in a poor location it's nice being able to operate your home station when you're away from home. All you need is a computer and internet access.

Ideally, you would want an antenna friendly remote site that can be reached easily to perform maintenance and repairs. It's also good if someone at the remote site can disconnect/connect antennas and AC power when needed. Your station should be housed in a location or cabinet where it is inaccessible to children or curiosity seekers. A location with little or no electrical noise is obviously desirable. If your brother-in-law owns the 39th floor penthouse of an isolated, low noise, oceanfront condo and has antenna privileges on the roof, talk to him about the possibilities of setting up a remote station at his place. Better yet, move in with him!

If you do decide to take the plunge into remote operating proceed slowly. Do it first right in your own shack (if you have one). Start with the digital modes. They're the easiest modes to get up and running in a remote setup. Then move on to CW and SSB. Once things are working at home, think about setting up at a friend's or relatives place if that suits your needs. If you're having trouble mooching a suitable location, check out nearby gated storage facilities. You might be able to rent a lockable closet to house equipment and then throw in some additional money for rooftop antenna privileges and 110 v.a.c. power – just in case your brother-in-law turns you down.

The only unique expenses I incurred in setting up a remotely operated station were the approximately $60.00 yearly fees for the use of the Logmein Pro internet connection service. All of the actual equipment used was nothing more than would be required to set up a non-remote station. In my case, this equipment all came out of my shack or closet except for the purchase of a few additional items such as antenna materials and plywood to build a storage cabinet.

My remote station is clearly not a big gun in any sense of the word but it is a way of enjoying ham radio when faced with a bad location situation. It hasn't cost an arm or a leg... or a marriage.

Member Comments:
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A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by KA8BMA on June 8, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Interesting article. I've been thinking of operating remotely from my cabin(Summers) and using the home qth & rig. Love to hear alternative software packages for audio(SSB, CW & digital)

A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by WD8OQX on June 8, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I'm a bit confused, I thought the software from Kenwood would take care of all this & no other software was needed. Why the LOGMEIN & SKYPE?

I have the TS-480sat & plan to remote it some time next year. This is one reason I chose it, NOT to have to be at the mercy of some "gizmo provider".

Did I miss something?
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by N4UM on June 8, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
WD8OQX "I'm a bit confused, I thought the software from Kenwood would take care of all this & no other software was needed. Why the LOGMEIN & SKYPE?"

I didn't look into the other Kenwood software that closely and perhaps it can handle everything. My recollection is that it seemed fairly complicated at the time and Logmein seemed a lot simpler. I haven't done anything with Skype. It's free and I guess a lot of people use it.

After reading all the negative reviews about the Icom remote operation software (RBS I think it's called) I think you'll be glad you have a TS-480.
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by WD8OQX on June 8, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
OK, thanks for the reply - I'll have to reread the manual in detail myself when I'm read to actually do it.

I'm really liking the 480, very nice radio in deed! And from what I've tied so far, it looks to be well designed for remote operation.
A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by KH6DC on June 8, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I've used Remotehams client and server to see if I could use my K3, KPA500 and P3 remote about 30 miles. It worked great! Remotehams is free but donations are welcomed. The W7DXX Super Remote uses Remotehams software.
A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by K1CJS on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Not trying to throw the discussion off course, but what about having and leaving the home computer on, unattended AND connected to the internet with no way to shut it down, reboot it (if a problem develops) or otherwise control its 'non-computerized' functions if something occurs that requires attention? It seems to me that that would be a major stumbling block for vacation operation of the type mentioned.

As I said, I'm not trying to sidetrack or hyjack this thread, but as the article didn't touch on it, and it hasn't really been either mentioned, discussed--or maybe not even thought of. I think that point would be a major stumbling block--especially if the computer somehow locked the radio on transmit and you had no way to correct it!
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by K1CJS on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Oh, yes, and the same applies to your home internet modem, router, etc. 73!
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by M6GOM on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
"I'm a bit confused, I thought the software from Kenwood would take care of all this & no other software was needed. Why the LOGMEIN & SKYPE? "

My experience of using the Kenwood TS590 client and server software over my own LAN is that there is quite a lot of latency in it and the audio would occassionally be choppy. Bear in mind this is with two computers in the same room connected to the same network switch.
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by WD8OQX on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Even thought what you say may be true, I see a few variables here that I wonder if they make any difference. Not trying to put you down, just trying to understand (from those that have done it) how this all works & what pitfalls to avoid.

1) your radio is different, & IIRC slightly different software is provided. (I wonder about the SW most)

2) you are "across the pond" - not sure how the internet works there, compared to here.

3) not sure of the speed of your computers, if they are up to handling the task.

But what you said is note worthy & "logged" as a possibility to look for. In the end, I plan to remote my station under LINUX as that is my main OS. I see that as a whole NEW "ball game". I may even change my whole strategy & go with that remote device that lets you use a phone, not sure at this point. But since I have the Kenwood stuff & plan on a Notebook anyway, I figure, why not give this a shot, if for nothing more than the experience?
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by WD8OQX on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Scratch #2, I just caught the LAN part...
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by N4UM on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
K1CJS -"Not trying to throw the discussion off course, but what about having and leaving the home computer on, unattended AND connected to the internet with no way to shut it down, reboot it (if a problem develops) or otherwise control its 'non-computerized' functions if something occurs that requires attention?"

There is a feature in the Kenwood rig control software that allows one to set a timer that will automatically power down the transmitter if the length of a transmission exceeds a preset amount. If the TS-480HX is locked in transmit when the internet goes down it will shut down automatically after this preset time. In addition there is someone present at the remote location that can power down the station and disconnect the antenna if necessary. I'm presently researching a device that connects to the phone line at the remote site that will enamble the station to be shut down using DTMF tones over the phone line. In the event of a power loss the computer is set to power on and reboot when power resumes. The computer is running from a UPS so momentary power outages are not noticeable

The system has been up and running 24/7 without incident for 3 or 4 months.
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by WD8OQX on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
And the way I understand the rules, this NEEDS to be provided for in some manner. So I'm looking at it THIS way.

1) have a person (more than one actually) to check & be available to contact if you need to shut it down. (good idea to have someone checking on your house when you are away, anyway)

2) there are devices that can be installed to do shut down yourself or itself, implement them.

And I'll also add, in case of a severe lightning storm, something needs to be implemented there too, another reason I like #1!
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by N4UM on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
WD8ODX -"I plan to remote my station under LINUX as that is my main OS. I see that as a whole NEW "ball game"."
Just in case you are considering does not work with Linux running on the host. It worked partially for me when I ran Linux on a client but it would not support the sound feature. The Logmein folks say they do not support systems running on Linux.
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by WD8OQX on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I don't intent to use ANY such outside stuff. I don't want to be at the mercy of such. I don't even like cloud computing for the same reason, but that's another story. I intend to keep as much under my own control as possible.

Thanks for the info, though.
A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by W3TUA on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I've set up and used my own remote bases for years using several control platforms such as W4MQ Remote Base Toolkit, Ham Radio Deluxe, TRX Manager, and the Kenwood remote system. It's all worked well in varying degrees.

My current system uses the Remotehams server software. It works very well and I haven't found a better turnkey system with lower audio latency. As for maintenance of the host computer, I use TightVNC remote desktop software for when I want to log into the host and change configurations or administer transmit access to the remote. I have the Kenwood TS-480SAT set to limit continuous transmissions to no more than 3 minutes and the entire remote base setup is located at the QTH of a licensed ham radio operator who keeps an eye on the weather conditions for me and disconnects antennas and power as needed.

The remote base is a blessing for me since I tried to use my radio with limited success for over a year. We live in an apartment complex and my stealth antenna barely worked and had high noise levels. Now, with the base out in the open terrain just 15 miles north of my current location, I can work the world!

Remote operation is not for everyone but several of the newer hams in my local club have asked to use the remote. Some of them have no HF equipment of their own and others are in compromised locations like me. The Remotehams software lets me limit the transmit frequencies available to each class of license so that's an added plus. It's pretty satisfying to hear the excitement generated in a Technician-class licensee that works their first HF DX on 10-meters and decides to study to upgrade.
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by K1CJS on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!

Thanks for the replies. I thought about the timer aspect after I posted, but I didn't know if it was included with the software that is being specified here. My main concern was for the regs that mandate some sort of backup control for unattended stations.

Just one thing, however. All too many of us are using VOIP telephone, so if the internet goes out, phone control isn't possible. You need Ma Bell's line to be able to rely on that. The control aspect isn't so bad, a repeater controller could handle the shutdown, and with suitable reworking could even reset the computer--and the internet connection!
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by WD8OQX on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
That is why I mentioned "a series of humans", a lot less "error prone" & they SHOULD be able to figure out an unforeseen situation. The only drawback (& I'd hope this would be very very few) is if they ALL had something else to do.

But I know, this won't work for everyone. Shoot, I'm not so sure it would even work for ME. So like anything ELSE computer related, REDUNDANCY is the key. IOW, more than one way... (even "Ma Bell" goes, once in a while)

Pretty much, it's gonna end up being to use whatever works best for YOUR situation. So, as I'm doing, research what is available & go from there.
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by K0IZ on June 9, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article, Tim.

I have been operating remote for three years with a K3 and TRX Manager, Skype. Initially I also used LogMeIn, which worked well. However my internet connection at the host (radio) end sometimes slows down some. Also most broadband connections have noticeably slower upload speeds compared with download.

So I switched to a serial server (Digi TS4), along the lines of N8LP's article (see his website). Much less data traffic. Typical latency is 75ms.

Skype has worked well for me, and have not been inclined to change. Always get real good audio reports.

At times I am away from the radio (host) location for several weeks at a time. Little things have popped up (router failures, need to reboot PC, etc). So I have added client control over many functions, which now include:
turning on/off PC, hard reboot.
Turning on/off K3 power supply and K3
Turning on/off amp
Grounding antenna
Monitoring power out, SWR, voltages, amp current, grid current.
Switching antennas

I use N8LP's LP Remote to do all this.

In addition I have an X10 telephone responder and control relay so all power can be shut off in event of internet failure or equipment problems.

A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by K0IC on June 10, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I am willing to consider all options in the event I can remote control my station. However, I might use the telco twisted pair for remote control as it would not need to be booted up ever so often.
by WB4LCN on June 10, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I've used the RemoteRig system for over a year with a Kenwood TS-480 HX. I live in a hole and putting up a formidable antenna is not an option. So...

I put the word out that I wanted to operate remote and found a lady whose Ham husband had passed away 10 years earlier. She sold off the antennas, but still has a 60 ft. telescoping tower. She and I came to reasonable terms and she allowed me to set up a small rack of equipment in the separate garage from the house and antennas on the tower.

Though it took me a couple of months, I reconditioned the tower and wench mechanism and mounted several antennas.

I have a web-enabled power strip to power the equipment up or down. The Control Head of the TS-480HX is sitting on my desk, hooked to the RemoteRig Control box, which is connected through 8.5 miles of Internet and the body of the rig is hooked to another RemoteRig box at the tower. I love it!! Up 1800 feet!

dave :)
A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by K9EZ on June 10, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Teamviewer is a free (for personal use) program that runs on PC, Mac or Linux. It will do the same thing as Logmein, and many times I have had audio come through from the remote machine, so this may be your cure for CW operating.

As far as those with their undies in a bundle about losing connection, it should be no big deal to rig up a lost connection relay to shut the rig down. We are Hams after all ;-)

RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by HS0ZED on June 30, 2013 Mail this to a friend!

A great free mini app that will send audio from a server to a client anywhere, free, of course, and very low overhead, adjustable audio filtering on the client side as well.

73, Martin
RE: RemoteRig...  
by K7FD on July 3, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I agree, Remote Rig is the only way to go...if you want a real radio in front of you when you operate remote. Otherwise, you're using a computer GUI which, IMHO, takes away the 'fun' of radio.

I use my TS-480SAT with Remote Rig, a Zoom wireless 3G router, and my AT&T cell aircard. With this portable setup, I can immediately connect to my home station from any location. Since I travel in my RV a lot, this is a super setup vs. having to throw up a makeshift antenna at every stop along the road. Connecting to my 3 ele yagi up 55 feet is a snap with this setup...

Plus I have the head of the TS-480SAT with me, so I'm actually operating 'a radio' instead of clicking a computer screen...

73 John K7FD
A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by W1GFD on July 10, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Great article, but rather than pay for logmein you could have used TeanViewer it has more functionality and built in VOIP all for free, just my two cents worth
RE: A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by VK5CQ on July 13, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
I commend the author for rounding up -affordable- means to remote a radio.

A few points:

1. Skype's auto-answer option allows monitoring by anyone (if they're invited, ie, with publication of the host's Skype name, which is usually different from one's Skype screen name). Skype runs well on smartphones & is integrated into other devices, eg, PlayStation Portable (best with those from PSP 3000, on - which include a microphone).

Even if you -don't- publish a Skype name for your auto-answer, radio-connected Skype client... in a pinch [or life threatening emergency, for that matter], you could add a VOX to the radio & maybe use the Skype + radio combo to get on the air remotely, albeit a single channel operation.

(Best, I think, on VHF FM & more likely legal [with added time-out timer-switch] on UHF FM. The radio should be tightly-squelched, in either case).

2. Remote operation may also become interesting - as we age - to older Hams, ie, after they move to (often antenna-unfriendly) aged-care facilities.

We'll need:

2a. One or more Cooperating Hams (to let us house a bit of remoteable gear at the radio end of a spare antenna lead -and- some electricity).

For better economy, Ham Clubs might like to put remotable rigs up (like they do repeaters), & older Hams might need to queue with other members to use them.

(Eg, a Kenwood TS-2000 family radio could be shared by Hams with TM-D700A or later ver 'D710A) or - if they're near the TS-2000 radio site - a similarly equipped Kenwood handheld radio, eg, TH-D7 family, or successor. This is a costly solution, not without risks, assuming it's legal.)

Of course, there are software-only solutions like EchoLink, etc. Some of these - even some with high monthly fees - are entirely Internet based, which can cut one off from friends, who prefer cost-free, radio-based comms.

(EchoLink would be my choice if radios were not an option, at my end.)

2b. Internet in the aged-care facility (or the option to install one's own Internet service).

Of course, where mobile Internet is affordable & withing range, one can find Windows PC's with SIM sockets (eg, the Samsung NC-10 netbook, in some markets) that minimize the number of boxes needed; &

2c. a computer.

3. I'd be interested in finding a version of LogMeIn for Android (as others might like one for iOS, etc.)

4. Even simpler (but, of course, far less feature-rich) is a phone-line connected EchoLink, running on your choice of platform (including Android & iOS smartphones, etc. maybe even iPod?)

If the monthly cost of the phone line is almost the cost of an 'DSL Internet service, I'd go "naked" DSL & fill in the gap with a zero-monthly-fee VoIP service.

5. Some years ago, folks were putting up remotely controlled receivers (remember the Sweden-based "JavaRadio"?)

If becoming an SWL &/or Scanner listener offer some relief... try Android app's like:

5a. TuneIn Radio (free; get the Pro version if you'd like to record), also for podcasts (eg, The News from Lake Wobegon, etc.), International stations, as well as Internet-only sources.

5b. Scanner Radio (free) - very useful just after a major disaster, as is TuneIn Radio, eg, to get local radio coverage.
A Modest Remotely Operated Station  
by AC7DX on July 20, 2013 Mail this to a friend!
Good job. I first joined for free and had 20 remotes at my fingertips free. Then I went further and much better with antenna arrays and such and have 7bdxcc from the HOA condo and #1 DXCC
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