The Early Blank Canvas

I think it’ll be fun to start with the shack from its early days before seeing how it has evolved over the last few years.

Here’s the first operator’s desk at this QTH:

The space was not prewired, so I ran an 80 amp sub panel, multiple quads, and added two 220 circuits for the amplifiers. Each wall has a separate circuit so there is more than enough power to go around.

Designing the Shack

The challenge was to design and build a station that would have enough space for desk mics and a keyboard, offer some lighting, allow for multiple monitors, and still have enough space for multiple radios within arm’s reach.  I also wanted to be able to do a little actual work in the shack as I find a change of scenery refreshing.

For the other two walls, I wanted spaces for a workbench and pegboard, as well as another sit-down bench where I solder and work on electronics.

I painted the floors battleship grey and planned to add switchable white/red overhead lighting to mimic a naval vessel operation’s center.

Chief of all shack elements was the operator’s desk. What I came up with was very basic, over-built (I can jump on this thing and it won’t even creak) but functional space to allow me to start unboxing some of the radio gear from the move and make a few more contacts.

After a few weeks of use, I realized that the desk design and overall space could be improved by adding cabinets.

And by this time, I began to unpack more shack-related gear. This includes a box of the clutter gremlins which escaped and trashed my shack.

The station was coming together and functional, however, a tinker’s job is never done. Note the safety vest. Safety first. Always.

Here is what the operator’s location looks like today while we are working. Notice the additional riser to support the amp over the tuner.

In the upper left under the cabinet, I have mounted the Yaesu FT-8800, which is used for a VHF Allstar Node that bridges my station with one in New York. It uses a Raspberry Pi 3 running HamVOIP and the DMK Universal Radio Interface. Unlike other digital mobile radio standards, the audio passed through the Allstar network is mostly indistinguishable from analog radio. This is it’s biggest selling point imo.

On the top shelf, from left to right, is the Astron VS-70M power supply which runs all DC devices.

The speakers are ICOM SP3 along side the IC-9700 and IC-7300. Atop are two tuners, one for VHF and the other for UHF. The 7300 is now re-purposed strictly for VaraChat. On the right is the ACOM 1000 amplifier and Drake Watt Meter used with the primary HF station.

On the bottom, from left to right is a Comaire 6m/2m balanced tuner (rare and to be in service soon!), BCT 15x scanner, a very messy USB hub, the IC-9100 that is mostly used to monitor 6m, and the main HF rig, which is an IC-7610. Finally, below the amplifier on the right is the Palstar AT2k tuner.

All radios are using the stock hand mics, save for the IC-9700 and IC-7610, where I use ICOM SM-30 desktop microphones.

Lighting The Shack

I’ve seen many examples of shack and desk lighting and had a good idea of what I wanted.

I first had red bulbs in the overhead, but they cast too many shadows being mounted on the ceiling. I knew that if I wanted it to look and provide light, I needed to bring the source closer to the operator’s position.

I had some space under the riser shelf, so it seemed natural to add lighting there. This involved running adhesive LED strips under the shelf and behind the monitors. This helps to illuminate the radio buttons, which is useful for rigs without backlit buttons.

Both overhead and desk lighting are controllable via remote. There is even a party mode, however, I usually run red at night, which I find easy on the eyes and pairing nicely with my astronomy hobby (red light favors the preservation of night vision.)

With everything on at the desk, she casts a ton of light; almost (definitely) too much. Although it is not as bright as it seems in the picture (the phone’s camera compensates for low light.) I turned the monitors off because they are bright enough to kill the whole mood.

The LED strips and power supply do not produce any measurable RFI or hash (amazingly) on any band. The strips are made by Good Earth Lighting and were available at Lowes or online.

Once I found out that these lights were “radio quiet,” they started going up everywhere, although I usually don’t run more than one or two lighting schemes at a time. With all of them set to red at the lowest brightness, it presents a very muted red hue, and makes it feel like I’m operating in the CIC of a naval vessel or Air Traffic Control, which was a theme I was going for.

Since the lights are controllable; I can easily switch to any color. If I’m doing work at the benches, I run everything white, which does a great job at eliminating shadows in the room; especially at the work bench on the left and electronics bench in the middle.

On a final note, there are a ton of improvements that can be made. The design is not without faults. Cable management is a real pain, and getting behind the desk is impossible. Plus there is still vertical room on both sides of the desk that can be utilized for storage, scanner racks, and other gadgetry. Maybe I get around to painting… But I may want to combine the electronics and radio desks into an L or U shaped high cubicle, however that’ll be a big project, and a topic for another time.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed the tour!



P.S. If you got ideas, I’d love to hear them. Give me a shout on W4CQ.

And show us your shack! I’m happy to post your shack if you send me (my email is good on QRZ) your pictures and a description.

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