Radio in a Box
Over the years that I have
been a ham, I have tried to have equipment that could cover as many situations as possible. I have a ham shack at my home
QTH, capable of HF, VHF and UHF with multiple radios on each band. my car is equipped for HF, VHF and UHF, I participate in
ARES/RACES. Heck, I even helped design and build the ARES Communications Trailer our group has.
But I had little equipment for portable use. Oh, I have the usual multiband HT, but with only 5 watts and one spare
battery, my chances for serious hamming while on vacation or cruising were limited. What I needed was a serious portable radio
station. It would also come in handy as a backup for ARES operations.
It was then that I began
to consider building a “radio station in a box”. The criteria were straightforward. I would need HF, VHF, UHF capability with at least 100 watts on HF and 50 watts on 2 meters. UHF would
need at least 25 watts. I would need antennas capable of being erected in a very short time frame, and a light weight power
supply. Battery operation was considered and while not rejected outright, I felt that a car battery or deep cycle battery
would make the unit too heavy. I would rely on the availability of mains AC or generator power or the use of a locally obtained
Given the requirements,
there was little question as to the choice of a radio. I already owned an Icom IC-706MkIIG. The power supply chosen was an
MFJ-4125. It is light, puts out 20+ amps of power and a recent QST review indicated the output was free of noise, unlike some
other units reviewed. The choice of antenna was also dictated, in no small part, because I already owned both of them. HF
would use a G5RV-Jr. VHF/UHF would use a twin lead J-Pole. The J-Pole has a common mode choke on it already and testing revealed
that it worked well on both 2 meters and 440. Extra wire for the G5RV-Jr can be used to permit operations on 75-80 meters.
I also felt that a laptop
computer would be necessary to include in the station equipment. With a minimal
amount of accessories one could also be capable on the digital modes as well.
Now that the equipment
requirements were stated, the next question was how to package the system so as to create the “Radio Station in a Box”.
My first move was to browse the internet looking for “just the right case”.
The prices were out of sight, at least for my wallet. I then set about designing a case that could be “home-brewed”. I described the problem to my son one evening, and he said “I have
just the case for you”. As it turned out he was right. Within a few days I had a case once used to house a projector.
It was exactly the size I had been looking for, small enough to be a carry-on bag, hard sided to protect the radio equipment, and light enough to make hauling it around not too much of a chore. It also had wheels and a
storable handle so that it could be pulled along, further lessening the stress on my already fragile back.
The next step was to modify
the case so that all of the radio gear and the laptop would be stowed safely and still
be accessed quickly. The case design was such that a “pallet” system seemed the best way to proceed. The bottom
pallet contains the IC-706MkIIG, the power supply, and an LDG Z-100 automatic
tuner to feed the G5RV-Jr. A mobile mounting bracket secures the 706, a homemade clamp secures the power supply and hook and
loop pads secure the Z-100. The pallet is braced with a 20” long piece of ¾” angle aluminum POP riveted to the
underside of the pallet. The brace fits down into an area inside the case which is unusable because of the handle stowing
design of the case.
A second pallet was built
to carry the laptop and it’s accessories. Two enclosed areas were built
at the ends of the pallet to contain the mouse and the power cords, etc. A space in between these “trays” holds
the laptop PC which is secured to the pallet with a hook and loop strap.
The two pallets, when stowed
in the case, create a flat stack that rests about 1-1/8” above the top of the lower case half. This meant that the area
for storing the antennas and coax would have to be recessed below the edge of the upper case half by a like amount. With the
depth of the upper case half more than four inches, this did not present much difficulty. An inner divider panel was secured
to the upper case half with POP rivets and aluminum angle. A door was cut in this divider panel and hinged. Latching this
door was accomplished with a pair of pivoting catches. The storage “locker” thusly created is fully capable of
holding the G5RV-Jr, the twin lead J-Pole, two 50’ coax cables, the grounding wire, my ear-phones, etc. The door prevents
any of the gear from falling out when the case is closed up.
The pallets and storage
locker were made from ABS plastic sheet about 1/8” thick obtained from a local business that constructs display materials
for industry. The cost was minimal since the material was more or less scrap to them. I used up two 4’ lengths of ¾”
aluminum angle and most of two boxes of rivets purchased at a local home improvement box store. Cutting the ABS plastic turned
out to be relatively easy. I used an ordinary saber saw or jigsaw initially. Just keep the speed of the blade down to about
half speed and it cuts with no melting at all. Do NOT run the saw at full speed. The plastic melts from the heat and creates
a mess. Believe me, I know. Later in the project I discovered that simply scoring the plastic with a utility knife and snapping
the desired part off of the rest of the sheet worked just as well. The aluminum angle material was thin enough to cut with
tin snips, although some straightening was necessary. The POP rivets were set with a manually operated tool. Any time the
rivet was to be set with the plastic near the crushed end of the rivet a washer or “backing plate” was used.
Included in the list of
equipment to be stored with the “radio station in a box” were as many answers
to foreseeable situations as I could think of. In addition to antennas, coax, headphones, etc. were a wire set for hook up
to a battery, a grounding wire set to connect all of the equipment to a good earth ground, a mobile adaptor to allow operation
of the laptop from battery power and manuals for the radio and tuner. In addition, the case carries copies of the rules on
international operating along with the requisite licenses and permits. A small log book was also included. Because I will
be taking the “radio in a box” on airline flights at least occasionally, I plan to store any tools I might need
in my checked luggage. I plan to always take the radio box as carry on luggage. No airline baggage handlers for this package.
When fully loaded, the case weighs about 38 pounds, well within the airline allowance for carry on baggage. The wheels and
pull handle alleviate most of the stress on my back and it stores under the seat in most air line aircraft.
This project consumed several
weeks all told, however, most of that was in planning and design. The actual construction took only parts of two days. If,
as I did, you have access to scrap ABS and a carry on case that came gratis, the project can be done for less than $50.00.
If you have to purchase a case the project cost can escalate quickly. I have seen portable stations installed in toolboxes,
custom made cabinetry and many other solutions. If you need a portable station, there is a solution out there for every situation
and pocket book. My advice is to keep your eyes open, ask around, and don’t be afraid to “think outside the box”