Raspberry Pi Ham Radio Remote Reviewed

One problem with ham radio these days is that most hams live where you can’t put a big old antenna up due to city laws and homeowner covenants. If you’re just working local stations on VHF or UHF, that might not be a big problem. But for HF usage, using a low profile antenna is a big deal. However, most modern radios can operate remotely. Well-known ham radio company MFJ now has the RigPi Station Server and [Ham Radio DX] has an early version and did a review.

As the name implies, the box contains a Raspberry Pi. There’s also an audio interface. The idea is to consolidate rig control along with other station control (such as rotators) along with feeding audio back and forth to the radio. It also sends Morse code keying to the radio. The idea is that this box will put your radio on the network so that you operate it using a web browser on a PC or a mobile device.

According to MFJ, you can operate voice, Morse code, or digital modes easily and remotely. The box uses open source software that can control over 200 different radios and 30 rotors. Of course, you could build all this yourself and use the same open source software, but it is nicely packaged. [Ham Radio DX] says you don’t need to know much about the Pi or Linux to use the box, although clearly you can get into Linux and use the normal applications if you’re so inclined.

Even if you don’t want to transmit, we could see a set up like this being used for remote monitoring. We’d like to see a companion box for the remote end that had the audio hardware, a keyer, and perhaps a knob to act as a remote control of sorts. Of course, you could probably figure out how to do that yourself. We wonder if some ham clubs might start offering a remote radio via an interface like this — we’ve seen it done before, but not well.

Your $50 radio probably isn’t going to work with this, and if you use FT8, you could argue you don’t need to be there anyway.

17 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi Ham Radio Remote Reviewed

  1. This will be great, just like a remote version of ham radio deluxe. Ill make sure to mount it up in the attic where the remote ptt will get stuck on due to some stray rf requiring manually shutting it off. ft-897d with cat control did not seem reliable enough to run remotely…

    1. I found that running digital on an ft-857d could be problematic if ptt got stuck on. The timeout timer …. wouldn’t. I ended up building a custom digital interface so I could add a timeout time inside the interface.

    2. My nearly identical FT-857 did fine with CAT Control. I even found an undocumented feature for CAT Control via the Microphone jack. For a mobile DC to Daylight rig I think it does a great job.


      Tom Horne W3TDH

  2. Eventually people are going to figure out that “remote” is the only right way to do this anyway.

    What I mean is skip all that expensive low-loss coax and do even better by mounting the radio right at the antenna. There hasn’t been any good reason to keep the RF and the control interface in the same box since the first digital PLL VFOs hit the market decades ago.

    As for @huntdesigns stuck PTT in the attic that one is easy. You don’t need full access to the radio to turn it off. All you need is a good old fashioned power switch somewhere in the electric line leading to the radio and for that to be in an easily accessible place.

    1. I’ve been wanting something like this for this reason for a while.
      Also to have something network connected so that I can access it from my computer, or phone, or remotely. Even better if someone could setup some sort of small client device based off a ESP32 for the full radio “feel” but let me operate from my shack, or my couch, or my deck.

          1. Hmmm, I’ve only had a Maestro in my hand at the Boxborough HAM Exposition a few weeks ago and I’m sure the FlexRadio guys would have frowned on my taking it apart for a better look at what was inside.

            This now sounds like a great hacker project to make a 3D printed case, a custom interface to a tablet with a few knobs and buttons via USB and some software. The cost of the look and feel of a real radio remotely connected to a RigPi just came down to a few hundred dollars.

    2. Yes, the power cut is always a good option, one built into the pi might be useful as well even if rf gets the small computer acting a bit wonky sometimes. I was thinking about a raspberry pi similar to this remote device driving a ubitx, raspberry could provide agc and filtering making the ubitx a fullly capable system and an option for a pole mounted radio,

  3. While I am in process of separating the controls from the RF deck of a radio and to mount the RF unit at antenna, I have to ask the simplest question here.
    What do you do if your RF unit isnt a KW and the 100W isnt enough? Where do I place the RF amp? That coax loss I think might be a bit on the excessive side if I have to run coax down the tower to shack to an amp, and then back up the tower to antenna.
    Starting to understand why we haven’t done this yet!

    Yes, I am still separating the RF deck from the rest of radio for this project, as even 100 Watts is a bit much.
    I just thought I would throw out the obvious answer as to why manufactures dont remove the RF deck!

    As for remote operating. I thought that meant you hiked in a few miles and no one knows where you are for sure, but the map and compass!

    1. > What do you do if your RF unit isnt a KW and the 100W isnt enough?

      Why would 100W not be enough? I’ve done Brisbane→Colorado on 100W with little more than a FT-857D and a Opek HVT-600 mounted to a bicycle… (an antenna I promptly destroyed with the “help” of a bus shelter the following day).

      Many get by with just 10W as that’s all their license conditions permit.

      1. I agree with the idea of 100 Watts being enough. No argument from me there. I was simply setting up a scenario in which the RF Deck of a device may not be enough to support the intended comms, and thus an external amplifier may be needed or desired. In which case, a RF deck that has been separated/mounted at antenna would not be ideal, as the line loss to install would negate the benefits of mounting at antenna.

        Otherwise, I fully agree. While i have 2kW input RF amp sitting here, it is NOT even plugged in nor has any coax attached. I tend to use 50 watts or less most often. I do like running a KW though on occasions, and other times 100mW is sufficient.

        Just because you think we should all operate at lower power levels doe snot mean that we agree with you. and while the rules do suggest the least amount of RF, it does not state I am limited to 10 watts!
        I also dont think you read my post completely as I did state that I think 100 watts is a bit much!

    2. There are commercial & military applications where they do separate the RF deck and use RF over fibre for remoting. Admittedly these are not usually high power installations, often used to put the antenna in a hilltop location or to keep the transmitter away from the operator.

  4. It’s not a new thing. There was an article in QST n the late fifties about remote operation, a shack somewhere with the equioment , and controlled over a dedicated phone line. I think even the receiver was remote, some motor to make it tuneable, though other examples had the receiver local, and just the transmitter remote.

    There were later examples of using radio to remote a station. Certainly in the early 2M FM repeater days, there were cases of using radio to control the repeater (by the owner), but also FM remote bases made easier since the equipment was crystal controlled and usually just a few channels.

    Michael

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