Automatic Morse Station IDer
Breckinridge S. Smith K4CHE
104 Brookfield Drive
Dover DE 19901
W hen you read the ham magazines every ad seems to sport a board with a microprocessor installed. It's hard to evaluate all the products but when I saw the ad for this IDer board by Communications Specialists I immediately ordered one to test as a foxbox timer/IDer and to install on our local UHF repeater, which was being rebuilt. Good-bye, diode matrix--,hello, microprocessors!
The ID-8 is made by Communications Specialists, Inc. (most technicians refer to the company as "Comm Spec").
Communications Specialists. has been making specialized boards for over 30 years. Their PL boards are well known in the two-way industry and their technical help over the phone is great.
The package containing the ID-8 arrived, and my wife watched carefully as I unpacked two small pieces.
"What is that?" she asked.
"Nothing, honey. Just a microprocessor board."
"Oh, another gadget--don't you have enough?"
(Take a minute here to laugh.)
Back to business
I found that the main board, with its MC68HC7O5C8CFN CMOS processor, and the plug-in keyboard (which mates with the main board for programming your specialized information, such as timing intervals, callsign identification, or messages) were in the box. All of your programmed in formation is permanently stored in an EEPROM and can be altered at will. Power can be removed from the board
and the information will remain intact. The board is small, measuring 1.85 by 1.12 inches. The keypad looks like a Touch-Tone ® pad, but actually is a 12-button keyboard that takes lines low, via the programming port (J2 on the board). The keypad plugs into the top of the board, piggyback style, and expands the area of the board by an inch and a half. Comm Spec cautions you on the first page of the instructions to provide room in your installation to allow plugging in the keyboard.
If you find that your installation area is cramped, you can always power up the board temporarily, program your info, and then remove the keyboard prior to the installation.
While I examined and tested the board, I realized that there wouldn't be any tedious sessions of soldering wires or connectors to the board; the wires are color-coded and are hard-wired to a connector for mating with the board. There is no microscopic soldering of jumpers, or removal of jumpers, to set up or program the board. This can only enhance reliability of your installation (and keep you out of surface-mount therapy).
The board has its own volt age regulation, and can accept 6.0 to 20.0 VDC with a current drain of only 6 mA. During my testing I just used a nine-volt battery, and the battery seemed to last forever. You can immediately test the board to get a feel for the operation, as it is factory-programmed with a call and timing values --just hook up power and listen to the audio output.
The whole pizza
I was initially concerned about the specific number of characters that I could store in the IDer slots, as I had plans for longer messages, but Comm Spec has provided the whole pizza-- not just a slice. You can program a message of up to 216 Morse characters in a single slot or message. You can have up to eight separate IDers or messages, with 69 characters in the first message, and 21 in each of the other messages, or you can gang messages together. The messages are selected by three wires on the board that you ground to activate. Be sure to consult the message table on which wires to select your message; for example, to select message #2, you ground mes sage wire #3, which is a little confusing. A really nice feature of the board is that you don't have to leave any unused message select lines "high" or "low" and there are no external resistors. You just simply leave a wire un connected, if it is not used. If you just leave the "message select" wires alone and don't ground any of the lines, then message #1 is activated.
When you use this board to key a foxbox you can have an exterior switch on the box, so that when the first hunter finds the box, he flips the switch and a different message, such as "The fox is found" will now be sent at the same interval. "The fox is found" message concept was first used on the East Coast by Dwayne WD8OYG, of LDG Electronics. It puts a different twist on the hunt.
The Morse code table in the ID-8's instructions is used for your programming. It uses two digits for each alpha-numeric character and includes every thing you could want, including fraction bar, space, period, and all the CW stuff such as AR. BK, BT, and SK. If you don't like code, throw some of them in anyway --just to confuse everyone. The CW audio tone frequency can be programmed from 100 to 3000 cycles and the speed is variable from 1 to 99 wpm; 20 wpm seems like a good speed for repeater IDers. If you want to have your foxbox key up with a steady carrier without sending a lot of CW, then just program in lots of "spaces" to provide the necessary transmit "on" time and then include a short ID. During the programming process, it's best to be able to monitor the audio output of the board, as the ID-8 will beep each time you enter a programming mode, and will generate another beep when you successfully complete a programming sequence. You can test-play your messages without disconnecting the keyboard; just leave it in place and type in one of the eight "play messages" commands. One of my favorite audio monitoring tools that I use in the shop is a Radio Shack® amplifier (#277- 1008C), which has its own nine-volt battery, audio amp, and speaker, all built into a small box.
As you punch the keys, if you screw up, the ID-8 sends out a triple beep to advise you of your lapse in mental dexterity. Comm-Spec. obviously has a ham on their staff, as the Morse code table is perfect and the programming is easy.
If you get messed up during the programming and want to declare programming bankruptcy, then just key in the "reinitialize" code, and the board will return to its factory default values so you can start over.
The timing sequences for your message or ID can be programmed via the keyboard; you can send a message at a programmed interval when the trigger input wire is active. The ID-8 won't send the message until the interval has expired and the trigger line is active. If you have built' repeaters, you know sometimes you spend a lot of time hunting all over your equipment for signals of the right polarity to activate your add-on boards. The neat thing about the ID-8 board is that during programming you can program the board to trigger on a "low" or a "high." There is also an inhibit line that can be programmed to inhibit transmission of the message on either a "low" or a "high" signal. The timing sequence was interesting to play with. If your message is very long, for example a minute and 30 sec onds, then the full message is played and the timing interval begins. The interval timer can be set from zero to 99 minutes and to the nearest one-minute increment. If you don't like even- minute timing, then put in a delay in the hold-off timer for the number of seconds desired. During your foxbox operations just keep the trigger input keyed and the foxbox will continuously transmit at the programmed interval.The push-to-talk output of the board is an open-collector transistor with a specification keying rating of 80 volts and 300 mA. This should be more than adequate for keying needs. Comm Spec gives the usual caution about keying relays with this line, so be sure to install a protection diode across any relay coil that is keyed by the board. I mentioned earlier that there has to be a ham on the staff at Comm Spec, as they've thought of everything. The output of the board can be programmed to be either audio or carrier wave mode. In audio mode the output is audio but in carrier wave mode the output is via the PTT Output and the Morse code keys this line, which can be used to key your CW transmitter with the same PTT keying limits of 80 volts and 300 mA. During my testing, I also found that when the PTT output is used for CW keying, the tone is still available for modulation of the carrier. Thus, you can send true modulated CW for a unique sound. The CW output on the PTT line is perfect for beacons on VHF or if you want an interesting foxhunt, try keying the foxbox carrier on and off with the CW message. Put an important clue in the message-- make those hunters get off their duffs and learn some code! For your repeater installations there are a couple of features that can be programmed. A courtesy tone, which consists of a 50-millisecond beep, is generated at the input of a signal transmission; the courtesy beep can transmit as soon as the "trigger" input is released from an active condition and is inhibited automatically during Morse code transmission. Another good timing feature for repeaters is a "front porch delay" which will delay the sending of the message for up to 10 seconds, and can be programmed via 100 millisec ond increments via the keypad. There is plenty of audio available on the board, up to four volts, and it's adjust able by a pot on the board. According to Comm Spec's note on the instruction sheet, the pot does not have any stops and can be rotated 360 degrees.
I really liked the board. Overall, I'd call it an excellent product from Comm Spec a rugged little board that has bounced around my work bench for a month. I deliberately tried to abuse it, and it survived. It's not sensitive to RF and is easy to install. A lot of features are crammed into a small space; it has its own programming device and it's easy to change programming in the field. It's perfect for a basic repeater IDer, propagation beacon, or foxbox.The price is $69.95. You can order it from Communications Specialists, Inc., by telephone at (800) 854-0547; or FAXing (714) 974-3420; or by writing Communications Specialists, Inc., 426 West Taft Avenue, Orange CA 92865-4296. Be sure to check out the Web site at [http:// www.com-spec.com/].