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Two Radio Layout
Home > HF Contesting > Tips and Techniques > Two Radio Layout
This page contains a variety of comments about how best to layout a 2-radio contest station.
The following collection of emails was compiled by Bruce Horn, WA7BNM. He writes:
At the end of 1996, I queried the CQ Contest reflector about the equipment layout of single op, two radio stations. Many thanks to K1KP, K1VR, W1KM, WZ1R, KE3Q, AA4GA, KG5U, K6LA, K7FR, K8CC, WA8ZDT, K9SD, KO9Y, W9RE and N0AX for taking time to reply.
Question 1: Describe how you currently have your transceivers, keyboard(s), computer monitor(s) arranged?
  • 11 respondents have both the run and mult transceivers in some sort of side-by-side configuration. A common arrangement of this configuration is the monitor and keyboard in the center with the radios on either side, or a variation that places the monitor above the "primary" radio. One unique arrangement placed the monitor below the table, but visible through a glass plate covered cutout in the tabletop.
  • Three respondents stacked the run and mult transceivers vertically. All three put the run radio on the bottom and the mult radio on the top.
  • One respondent has the mult radio above and to the left of the run radio.
Detailed replies follow:

>The transceivers are slightly raised so that they fit between the keyboard and the monitor. The monitor is even with eye level. The main xcvr is slightly offset to the left so that the tuning knob is available without having to reach over the keyboard.

>Radios: stacked, run on bottom, mult on top. Keyboard: On adjustable platform (op console is a heavy-duty corner computer table with adjustable keyboard platform: tilt, up/down and in/out. Monitor: Next to radio stack on left, centered with radios to right. I'm blessed with no noise monitors.

>Computer: on floor to left of operating/chair location. Monitor: suspended below desk; glass inset in 12x10 cutout in desktop. Keyboard: under the desktop drawer (homebrew). Paddles: desktop to my right. Radio 1 (Omni VI): centered in front of me, pulled over the glass, but not obscuring screen. CMOS II keyer: to left of Omni VI. Rotor controller: to left of keyer. Radio 2 (TS-130S): to left of rotor controller. Switch box: on a second under desktop/shelf to left of keyboard drawer.

>Monitor/keyboard in center, with one radio to right, one to left. The plan is for the left radio to mostly be the S&P and the right one be the CQ. That's because I am most comfortable tuning with my left hand. However, I don't have the switching rigged up yet to allow that, and currently one rig is on 40, with the other rig covering all the other bands. It varies as to which one I use on 40, depending on condx...the goal is to use the better rig (right) on CQ, but sometimes end up with CQ on the left rig, and it's not a big deal.

>Mult radio is above and slightly to the left of RUN radio. MULT monitor above mult radio; RUN monitor to right of RUN radio. MULT keyboard on left side of desk; RUN keyboard on right side of desk.

>The operating table is an eight foot door table. Two FT-1000s are on the table, side-by-side. Each FT-1000 is hooked up to its own IBM 486SX25 type computer running CT9.x. Both computers networked together and linked to Packet. In between the two stations are the antenna switches and on a second shelf are all the rotors. Also, all antennas first come into a two way coax switch - there are six two-way coax switches, one for each band. This way either radio can operate on any band.

>My station layout has both transceivers on the desktop, with the monitor on a shelf above the radios. The shelf height barely clears the tops of the radios so that the monitor is not too high which would require the operator to look up to view. I have tried several lateral locations for the monitor, sometimes locating it in the middle, but more often over the "preferred" or "convenient" radio. I am left handed, so I have all of my antenna and rotator controls to the right of the radios, and use the right radio as the "convenient" radio. The keyboard usually sits in front of the monitor.

>First, I measured the face dimensions of all my equipment, then used a simple computer drafting program to arrange the equipment on a "virtual" operating bench. It's a whole lot easier than lugging amps around. I think I ended up with an optimum arrangement, although I believe it will always be in a state of flux.
Front and center: computer screen, elevated off desk about 10 inches for proper ergo viewing angle. Signal monitor (Heath SB-610) underneath.
Right side (I'm right handed): vertically stacked IC-765s, run on bottom, S&P on top. Small, custom antenna control boxes, one for each rig, on top of S&P radio.
Left center: Rotor control boxes. Very convenient to left hand. These boxes are "rotator pal" modified for no-hands operation.
Farther left: Amps. Vertically stacked - I built a sturdy mini-table that holds second amp (SB-220) at least 6 inches above the main amp (AL-1200) allowing good airflow all around. Top amp matches top radio. I prefer top/bottom over left/right orientation of S&P/RUN because I just HAVE to tune with my right hand - period.

>Left/right radios, one computer monitor between radios. Keyboard in front of monitor. In recent 3 radio setup, put keyboard in front of middle radio, monitor between middle and right radio.

>My operating desk is 42" wide and 22 feet long (29" high). My current thinking is to make two separate positions with the radios side by side, but separated by the antenna switching panel. The linears will sit beside the radios and there will be a shelf over the top of everything for the monitors to set on. I didn't want to have the monitors up so high, but I can't seem to find any other configuration and have it all fit. I will use the Top-Ten devices for the switching and also the Dunestar filters. The radios/amps will set up off the desk about 3.5 inches so I can slide the keyers, keys and keyboards under when not in use. All my radios will have the ElekTech remote tuning knobs that will sit beside the keyboards.

>The monitor needs to be directly over the main (run) radio. Also a watt meter needs to be very close to the radio. The amplifier can be located higher or off to the side. Also rotator controls can be off to the side or any available space. My second radio (mult radio) is located off to the right with antenna selection on a panel between the two radios. My amps for both stations are directly above radio or monitor. I cannot reach the second radio without moving somewhat from the run radio, but I use a remote VFO (ElekTech) knob that I position right next to my keyboard that is positioned right in front of the main (run) radio. Also I use a separate keyer for the second radio with a remote keypad (memory buttons) right next to the remote VFO knob. Also in the past I have taken apart the ElekTech remote VFO knob and attached just the encoder part to the front of the operating table right in front of the keyboard. This eliminates having to move your hand from the keyboard to the main tuning knob on the radio. As your hands sit on the keys of the keyboard, your thumbs can rotate the VFO knob on the table edge.

>Operating position has S&P radio on my left and main radio on the right. Between the radios are 3 rotor control boxes as well as all remote antenna switches. Also in the middle is my box for switching the computer/keyer/headphones/mic between radios if I wish to use it. The box allows audio to be split ... in the middle I get each radio in each ear, left I get left radio only and right I get right radio only. Monitor is on a level higher (kind of on top and just to the left of the run radio. Keyboard is on the same level as the radios, but sits a bit to the right of center between radios. PC is a mini-tower under the desk to the right. BTW, I'm left handed.

>Run radio on the far left, S&P radio to the right of it (i.e. front left) Keyboard/monitor in front.

>I have the two radios side by side. I'm a lefty, so both radios are to my right, as I use my right hand for tuning. The S&P radio is nearest me with the CQ radio to its right.

>I have three radios on the desktop, two FT-1000s stacked on the left and a 940 on the right. I may put one of the 1000s on the right and stack the 940 on the left 1000, since the 1000s are radios 1 and 2 and the 940 is no. 3. Better to have 1 and 2 at desktop. Still, tuning the top 1000 has worked OK. I've used a 3/4" thick rubber computer wrist rest for my elbow and that's helped very much. On the desk behind me I have 3 Drake TR-7 radios. I'm equipped for the possibility of one radio/amp per band, an alternative to all the switching, etc. for high-tech 2 radio contesting. This is more of a low tech solution since I have enough radios and plenty of amps. I have 3 computer monitors on desk one and hope to put three on desk 2 behind me, which is "swivel" distance. Two monitors are at desktop level, one above. I have room for a second monitor above and could have 4 radios on desk one (then maybe only 2 behind me, but it's nice to have the three Drakes side by side). Part of my theory was to have 6 computers networked together with each set to just one band. Then, for single op assisted, instead of hopping band to band all the time, I could wait for 5 or more spots to accumulate on a band, could keep track of it conveniently by swiveling to glance at the band computers, then could QSY to the band to quickly work those band spots. I have a patch panel that I haven't hooked up yet to patch which band will be "B" in my two-radio headphone splitter. A would continue to be the CQ band. I may have to have another patch panel for which radio will be A.

Question 2: How do you control the frequency of the transceiver used for S&Ping?
  • All 11 respondents indicated that they primarily use the knob on the transceiver for frequency control. Several have a remote VFO knob (such as the ElekTech) near the keyboard, and one sometimes uses the keyboard to control frequency (using TR).
  • In all but two cases, the operator used his non-dominant hand to tune the transceiver. In other words a right-handed operator tended to use his left hand for tuning and a left-handed operator his right hand.
Detailed replies follow:

>Main tuning knob. I wished there was a way to move both down next to keyboard. It would relieve arm strain.

>Knob on transceiver (however, Ten-Tec is sending parts to assemble as external VFO knob controller)

>Usually, knob on the rig, but sometimes the keyboard. I use TR, which allows tuning using the shift keys. I'd like a remote knob, but don't know of one that's available for my rigs.

>I turn the transceiver knob with my left hand (I'm right handed).

>I usually use the VFO knob to tune the radio. I have tried the keyboard up/down keys, which work OK. I also have an ElekTech remote tuning control for one of my IC-765s. When you sit down and try it for a few minutes, this really works slick. However, I find that I habitually revert back to the VFO knob during the contest.

>Tuning - right hand - I use knob provided on transceiver.

>Knob on transceiver

>S&P is tuned with my left hand ... knob on radio

>I tune the main control knob on the transceiver to S&P.

Question 3: Do you believe your current equipment layout is optimum? If not, what changes would you make?
  • Several respondents emphasized that the goal was to find an equipment layout that minimized hand and eye movement in order to reduce fatigue.
  • Another made the point that optimum single op station design may be different for different classes of single op operation, e.g. assisted vs. unassisted contesting.
  • Most specific changes were items such as A/B mic switching, better use of space, adding computer control of radios, etc.
Detailed replies follow:

>I need to get my rotor boxes, keyer, filters, A/B switching more integrated and closer to the keyboard. The rig layout couldn't be better. I'd also like to figure out how to lower the monitor a bit so that a little less eye movement is required to change between the rigs and the display. I've spent a lot of time minimizing hand movement and can say that it's made a positive difference.

>It's OK but could be improved if I wanted to make a new console. I'm looking into moving the rigs down level with keyboard and to the right. This is the only way I can see to get the tuning knobs down by the keyboard.

>No, radio 2 needs to be computer controlled, then I can use both radios through the computer.

>When I have the switching in place that I'm working on, I feel it will be optimum...will allow use of either rig as CQ or S&P on any antenna.

>I'd like to lower the keyboard level.

>The station is really setup for multi-single. For single op, I simply wear two head sets, and loop one ear piece over each ear. Then if I want to concentrate on one radio or the other, I put the whole headphone on. It's kind of clumsy, and I'd like to design a headphone mixing box someday.

>I believe that my current setup is optimum for a number of reasons, however, this may be due to other factors. In my opinion, the primary factor is that the physical arrangement described above allows me to use both radios more or less equally. This is important because in DX contests. I run on the "convenient" radio and search for mults on the other, while in SS, I search for stations on the "convenient" radio and "run" (i.e. call endless CQs) on the other. One important comment: in my opinion it is CRUCIAL to have two radios of the same type. I struggled with this when I used a IC-765 with a C-Line, and it drove me nuts. Another factor that is crucial for optimized two-radio work is that either radio can be instantly used on any band. To do this, there are no multi-band antennas at my QTH. All antennas for a band come to a single remote coax relay in the shack, which is connected to an amplifier that is tuned only for that band. The inputs to the six amplifiers come to a box containing twelve relays that switch the coax and relay keying lines from the pair of radios to any two amplifiers. This allows the switching to occur at lower power (100W) level. Add computer control (NA), and I can switch bands by simply typing a frequency or punching a band switch button on the transceiver.

>Currently optimum, but I think there is room to reduce size of some equipment to make more space available - especially rotor control boxes and signal monitor.

>At home, add second computer and RS-232 frequency control.

>I feel it is pretty good for me. Everything is where I like it, and I am comfortable with it.

>Yes, at least for me. The only thing I usually touch on the run radio is the RIT. The S&P radio is most accessible so hopefully I will use it!

>Optimum could mean different things for what category you're in. Even single op there's single op unassisted or single op assisted, quite different categories. I'm now thinking of making a mic switch box to be able to use the one mic and select which radio gets the mic audio.

Question 4: Have you previously used layouts other than your current one? If so, what layouts and why did you change?
  • Several respondents had tried stacked transceivers before changing to a side-by-side configuration, while another had tried the side-by-side configuration before switching to a stack configuration.
  • In all of these cases, the operators stated that they changed in order to minimize movement and fatigue.
Detailed replies follow:

>I tried a 2nd radio off to the right at a 45-deg angle, but it was too far away, and I had to keep jerking my head around. Same for the keyer; it needs to be easily accessible to the left hand while right hand sends. Also tried 2nd radio on top of first, but that was too busy and required too much eye movement. Engineering the setup to minimize hand and eye movement really pays off in less operator fatigue. The next shack improvement is going to be a really good chair.

>I had radios side by side (centered) and the monitor to the left. Too much neck/eye strain. Found that center of attention was the monitor. Moved monitor to position above radios. Found this to be better, but still got neck ache. Went to current placement and this is better, but now arm gets tired. We had an ergonomics person in for office layout re-design when we remodeled our main building. She was of the opinion that minimizing arm movement (reaching, etc.) would provide the best medicine for long sits. I described contesting to her, and she had some interesting ideas for arrangements. Unfortunately, they all involved massive remodeling of my shack and also made it difficult to reconfigure for M/M or M/S ops. The one plum that is doable is to move both radios to a rack next to the keyboard, which is my next arrangement.

>No, this is my first cut. I first began 2 radio ops back in June.

>I have used other layouts when guest oping...usually with rig behind keyboard, 2nd rig to the left, and monitor above the first rig. I don't like the monitor above the rig. I prefer having the rigs and monitor in the same horizontal plane. Also, this arrangement requires reaching over the keyboard to operate the radio.

>I have noticed in magazine pictures that K1AR appears to stack his radios vertically when operating at K1EA. The monitor sits on the desktop with the keyboard in front and the radios to the right. I would really like to use this arrangement because it is great from the standpoint of the monitor/keyboard ergonomics, but I find it deficient for operating the radio. It's probably OK for running, where there is rarely a need to adjust the radio. However, in the face of QRM or when tuning for mults, I find it very useful to use both hands to operate the radio. On my last two radios (IC-765 and FT-1000), the volume control is on the left, while the additional frequency controls (RIT, keypad, memory, etc.) are on the right. My left hand runs the volume while the right tweaks the RIT. Placing a radio to either side cuts in half the number of hands I can conveniently use to control the radio.

>No, I have seen others but not used them. I made this one on my own.

>I used to have the radios stacked. The trouble with stacking is the angle of your arm when you are tuning the top radio. It gets tiresome much more quickly.

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