Over the last few years I’ve had a few articles published in ARRL’s QST and QEX magazines. It’s been a wonderful experience and I highly recommend submitting an article to them for publication. I am solid proof that you don’t have to be a professional writer to be published. The ARRL has excellent editors and reviewers that will make you look good in spite of yourself. There’s just something special about seeing your ideas and projects in print that just isn’t there when you publish them yourself online. If you have an idea you’d like to share, give them a try. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Lest you think I’m posting these articles here to boast, I assure you that I am not. While it is rewarding to have my ideas and projects published in a national magazine it’s even more rewarding to know that the ARRL’s editorial board thought enough of my work to publish it. But the biggest reward of all is to get emails from other hams that were inspired by one of the articles and decided to build their own Mini or use my ideas in a design of their own.

The lead photo and all PDF files below are copyrighted by ARRL and used here with their permission.

QST Review

Let’s start at the culmination of the last few years of work, the ARRL review of CTR2-Mini+ in the May 2023 issue of QST. To say I was pleased with the reviewer’s positive comments about the Mini+ is an understatement… I was thrilled! In a way, he validated the time I’ve spent working on this project. Knowing someone else found my ideas and my work interesting is deeply satisfying.

You’ll need to scroll down a little before the review starts.

Let’s go back to the beginning…

The first article I wrote for QST was published in February 2007. It was titled A Simple BluetoothTM Radio Interface and featured a Pocket PC program I had developed called Control The Radio, or CTR for short. In addition to the program I developed a simple companion BluetoothTM interface for the program to use that eliminated the need for a special serial adapter for the Pocket PC. I was honored to win the Cover Plaque award for that article.

Fast-forward 13 years…

A lot can happen in 13 years. The iPhone came out soon after CTR was released and as they say, the rest is history. At least as far as handheld devices go. To be honest, I never liked controlling my radios with a handheld device anyway because I had to prop it up on a tilt stand to use it. It didn’t help that Apple was intent on killing off serial communications so they never supported it on their devices. Surprise Apple! Serial is still very much alive!

Soon after I retired the world found itself in the mist of a pandemic. With a lot of free time and still interested in controlling my collection of radios I started working on a better, do everything, controller. Following along with the CTR theme, CTR2 was born. The ‘2’ was added because this controller did a lot of other things in addition to controlling the radio.

My first article on the CTR2 system was published in the September/October 2021 issue of QEX.

A second installment was published in the January/February 2022 issue of QEX. This article covered several of the automation options available for CTR2 like automatic radio I/O and audio routing, and antenna routing.

By the time the second article was published the pandemic had affected the global supply chain so much that it became impossible to source many of the parts used in CTR2’s construction. That, coupled with a the fact that CTR2 was overly complicated, expensive, time consuming, and difficult to built pretty much doomed it to the “learned a lot scrap pile”.

If you pay close attention to the articles above you’ll notice many of the features integrated into CTR2 were redesigned for CTR2-Mini as plug and play options that can be added if you need them.

Then along came CTR2-Mini

In December of 2021 I started working on a simpler, easier, and cheaper to build radio controller. Since it was loosely based on code written for CTR and CTR2 I titled it CTR2-Mini. QST published an article describing CTR2-Mini and its features in the September 2022 issue.

The Mini found an enthusiastic audience but it still required a lot of time for me to build because it was based on a custom designed and CNC cut acrylic stand. While I liked the design it took forever to cut out the stand on my CNC mill. In addition, by this time I had added additional functionality requiring function buttons that weren’t present in the original Mini’s design. I decided to redesign the unit to use a commercially available PacTec enclosure to provide room for the buttons and sidetone volume control. The new design was titled CTR2-Mini+.

Front Panel Design

You may not notice on the Mini+ but the front panel uses a relatively unique design in that it’s just a printed circuit board with the switches, controls, and Wio Terminal mounted to it. Connection to the base printed circuit board is with a 16-pin ribbon cable. This greatly simplifies the wiring between the two boards. I use the same construction technique on the CTR2-Mini Audio controller. I’m sure I’m not the first to use this method but I decided to write an article about it anyway in case the way I did it would be useful for others to duplicate. The techniques allow you to create an extremely inexpensive front panel for any project with professional looking results. ARRL accepted that article and published it in the January/February 2023 issue of QEX.