Button, Button. Who’s Got the Button? George KJ6VU Does. And So Can You!

Managing your ham radio station has become increasingly complex, to say the least. We have more complex transceivers with so many features that Computer Aided Transceivers (CAT) are the norm in many circles. With this, both computer-based logging of QSOs with CAT control makes a PC de rigueur for many, many hams. 

But therein lies the details. Or the Devil, if you prefer. Multiple operating systems (OSes) make the choice of PC platform an additional challenge, especially if the PC in question has non-amateur radio uses too. Heck, I have two Dell Precision 1700 workstations in my ham shack. And another Dell Precision 7910 there in my office for “normal” work. The two in my shack run Windows 10 while the one on my desk where I’m writing this uses Linux. Throw in my iPad and iPhone with my wife’s Macbook Pro and you have the not unusual computer sausage that comprises a middle class household. (There is another Dell PC out in my workbench room off of the garage, running Windows 10 and several more doing other things, like monitoring a GPSDO.) Then, there are two laptops, one a Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon for personal writing and another Thinkpad T420s for portable ham radio use. Both are Windows 10 machines. I would like to use any of them—except my wife’s Macbook—to access either of the two shack PCs to check on things when I’m out of the shack. Remote access ramps up the relative complexity. But hopefully you get the emerging point. It gets complicated.

There have been several attempts to “automate” shack management. Some expensive. Some relatively cheap. But all involving relative increases in the Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance…er, fooling with settings until they’re “just right” and so forth. This has been done in bespoke terms, even by KJ6VU. On his blog, George has built a cool set of buttons in a portable palm-sized case-of-buttons that automates multi-stroke menu choices on his new Icom IC-705 (see below). This stack of four PCBs is another ingenius invention by George as he’s done time and again on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast. But it is largely tied to a specific radio and menu system although it could be later modded to fit another rig. But what if we didn’t have to have a box of buttons like this tied to a specific radio or set of menu buttons? What if we could, like a dry-erase marker board, wipe it clean if we sell or replace the radio and insert another set of controls? And, if we wanted to automate several radios in our shack or in our portable stations? Or…well, you get the point. 

George KJ6VU’s “case-of-buttons” for the IC-705

But there’s a development that is largely the brainchild of George KJ6VU, co-host of the highly popular Ham Radio Workbench podcast, that could indeed streamline a lot of these operations. All at the push of a button! He already has a lot of them for his shack. But you can too. Here’s how.

Take a look below, first at the interface of the Elgato Stream Deck and the buttons themselves. Note that Stream Deck software is directly available on Windows and Mac via Elgato’s website and on Linux at this website. In addition, there is a smartphone app for iOS and Android. Plus Elgato has a key creator to make custom icons for the buttons. While there are other commercial products that do similar things like the Elgato product, Stream Deck may well be the most mature and accessible product in its class.

The Streak Deck has buttons that are individual modifiable screens! (Courtesy of Elgato)
Many popular software packages have builtin profiles for button control! (Courtesy of Elgato)

So the Streak Deck comes in different sizes and the one above is the large (“XL”) version. There are a few more from Elgato and a mobile app. What is potentially revolutionary is that it is customizable using modifications of stock “profiles” from an existing repository, Moreover, there is a published API which is amenable to several common programming languages or no programming per se at all.

The profile creator/editor has an interface that is usable to the non-programmer. As shown below from the Elgato website, the user interface emulates the Streak Deck device on your desk attached via USB to your PC. You can select, modify and design graphic with text icons that are then represented on each button. Some actions are drag-and-drop. Animations via GIF are also usable (e.g., beam rotor is turning). A button can do a specific action or open up a “deck” of other related buttons (e.g., here are my Kenwood TS-590SG controls). So for each physical button on your Stream Deck, you can define a specific action for that button and give it a meaningful graphic that will be displayed on the button itself. No labels to make. No removing them to change their function. None of that. At all. (You might feel the need to wipe it off if you love Cheetos…)

Stream Deck Software (Courtesy of Elgato)

To more fully illustrate the architecture of how the Stream Deck works, here’s a slide from Tim Pringle’s blog. The Stream Deck uses a Profile that can be selected on-the-fly if desired. But the management software uses “chunks” of programs called Plugins to do certain things, such as integrate external software on the PC or elsewhere into the button definitions in the Profile in use. It uses JSON file formats to communicate with Plugins. This could give hams who are knowledgeable of JSON and use it already in their operations could only need modifications to work with Stream Deck.

Stream Deck Architecture (Courtesy of TimsBlog.nl)

I’ll leave it to Elgato to give you further details in the video below but I’ll then weigh in on an amateur radio group project that’s beginning to emerge that could take ham radio to another level of automation. That’s where you come in. Or not. Either way, it’s a group sharing effort.

Elgato’s introduction to Stream Deck (Courtesy of Elgato)

George KJ6VU has already created a “profile” for his ham radio shack. He’s very keen on automating his antenna switching to rigs, bands, and so forth. That’s not unusual. But he can add new rigs’ CAT commands with a minimum of effort. Such as the FT-857D he’s recently acquired to go with his Flex 6400. He uses the 857D mostly on CW, for intance, so just touching a button to set up the 857D to CW mode, say 40M band, and switching the right antenna to it is just that: ONE touch of a customized button that he created using the Profile Software plus a software program on his PC.

What if there was a collective effort to share Stream Deck profiles of CAT and other command-sets for the popular transceivers and other devices used by ham operators? What if a few hams with Javascript or C++ talent wrote some plugins for the Stream Deck device and shared them? And, what if hams had open access to them and made the type of improvements and potential innovations with them such as creating hooks to other software platforms like Node-Red? There is already a Stream Deck plugin that provides the basic link to a Node-Red server in the unofficial general repository for Stream Deck Plugins. Check out Mike Walker’s presentation on Node-Red on Youtube, linked below.

Mike says he’s not a programmer. But here’s how you don’t have to be. And there’s already a tie-in to Stream Deck.

Several hams, George KJ6VU, Rod VA3ON, Michael VA3MW and I (K4FMH) are at the start of assembling a ham radio-oriented repository of such Stream Deck profiles, probably on GitHub. Stay tuned to the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast for details as well as the Cycle 25 Tribe’s Youtube Channel. I’ll announce details here on this blog as they materialize.

Mike VA3MW and George KJ6VU with Rod VA3ON at BayCon 2021

Mike VA3MW and George KJ6VU gave a recent talk on station automation that is shown below. It lays out a paradigm for station control that coincides with George’s early thoughts of the Stream Deck thinking expressed here. But the contribution of just a few third-party programmers who have built plugins that create bridges to both the Windows and others OS environments as well as independent machines like a Node-Red server (Raspberry Pi even), just sets the stage for the near future’s work. Here are some initial thought experiments for you.

How should your Stream Deck control box be organized?

If you’re a CW Op mostly, would a button that opens a stack of other related buttons (think deck of cards) that are all related to your station organization to operate CW mode be useful? How about one for CW, one for SSB and one for digital? How about one for “there’s lightning approaching” that shuts down stuff and sets other things to ground. How about, I’m leaving for a trip and here’s a button to organize things for remote access?

What is needed is a clear community discussion of how to meld the behavior of hams in their shack with their usual and customary control settings. And, to give some near range Blue Sky thoughts to how this concept can be grown for the least “cost” in terms of time and effort. That’s where community contributions are usually the most valuable.

Interested in getting involved? KJ6VU, VA3ON and I are good on QRZed. Drop us a line. This can really move the management of amateur radio shack’s forward over the next few months. It just takes the building of a community of interested hams who wish to help make it happen, each contributing just a little bit but in strategic ways. Stay tuned…

Don’t touch that dial…just touch a button!

Frank Howell, K4FMH, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Mississippi, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

Interested in Amateur Radio Digital Mode FT8 Operations?


Here is a video capture of the reception and transmission of many digital FT8-mode amateur radio high-frequency (HF; Shortwave) communication signals. This video is a front-seat view of the software operation performed at the radio room of amateur radio operator, NW7US, Tomas Hood.

The software packages demonstrated are installed and operational on a modern personal computer. The computer is connected to an Icom IC-7610 radio transceiver, controlled by the software. While there is no narration in the video, the video provides an opportunity for you to see first-hand how typical FT8 operations are performed. The signals can be heard.

The frequency used for the FT8 communication in this video is on or about 10.136 MHz, in the 30-Meter shortwave amateur radio allocation (or, band). As can be seen, the 30-Meter band was active at this time of day (0720 UTC, onward–local nighttime).

In this video you see (and hear) NW7US make two-way contacts, or QSOs, with stations from around the country and the world.

There are amateur radio operators within the amateur radio community who regard the FT8 digital mode (FT8 stands for “Franke-Taylor design, 8-FSK modulation“, and refers to the mode created by Joe Taylor, K1JT and Steve Franke, K9AN) as robotic (automatic, automated, and unattended) computer-to-computer communications, and not ‘true’ human communications–thus negating the spirit of ham radio. In other words, FT8, in their opinion, is not real amateur radio. While they pontificate about supposed automated computer communications, many of those holding this position have not installed and configured the software, nor tried communicating with the FT8 digital mode. They have perhaps formed their anti-FT8 opinion in a vacuum of knowledge. (This writer has other issues with FT8, but not on this point–see below)

As you watch the video linked in this article, consider these concepts:

+ A QSO is defined (as per common knowledge–see below) as the exchange of at least the minimum information needed as set by the requirements of a particular award, or, as is defined by law–for instance, a QSO would have at least an exchange of the legal call sign assigned to the radio station and/or control operator, the location of the station making the transmission, and a signal report of some kind about the signal received from the other transmitter at the other end of the QSO.

+ Just how much human involvement is required to make a full FT8 QSO? Does WSJT-X software run all by itself, with no human control? Is WSJT-X a robot, in the sense that it picks a frequency, then initiates or answers a CQ call automatically, or is it just powerful digital-mode software that still requires human control?

The video was captured from the screen of the PC running the following software packages interacting together as a system:

+ WSJT-X: The primary software featuring the digital mode, FT8. (See below for some background on WSJT-X software.)

+ JTAlert: Provides several audio and visual alert types based on decoded Callsigns within WSJT-X.

+ Log4OM, Version 2: A full-featured logging program, which integrates well with WSJT-X and JTAlert.

+ Win4IcomSuite: A full-featured radio controlling program which can remote control rigs, and provide control through virtual communication port-sharing.

+ Com0Com: The Null-modem emulator allows you to create an unlimited number of virtual COM port pairs and use any pair to connect one COM port based application to another. Each COM port pair provides two COM ports. The output to one port is the input from other port and vice versa.

As mentioned, above, the radio used for the communication of FT8 at the station, NW7US, is an Icom IC-7610 transceiver. The antenna is an off-center fed dipole that is over 200 feet in total length (end-to-end measurement).

Some Notes:

About WSJT-X

WSJT-X is a computer program used for weak-signal radio communication between amateur radio operators, or used by Shortwave Radio Listeners (SWLers; SWL) interested in monitoring the FT8 digital communications between amateur radio operators. The program was initially written by Joe Taylor, K1JT with Steve Franke, K9AN, but is now open source and is developed by a small team. The digital signal processing techniques in WSJT-X make it substantially easier for amateur radio operators to employ esoteric propagation modes, such as high-speed meteor scatter and moonbounce.

WSJT-X implements communication protocols or “modes” called FST4, FST4W, FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, Q65, MSK144, and WSPR, as well as one called Echo for detecting and measuring your own radio signals reflected from the Moon. These modes were all designed for making reliable, confirmed QSOs under extreme weak-signal conditions. JT4, JT9, and JT65 use nearly identical message structure and source encoding (the efficient compression of standard messages used for minimal QSOs). They use timed 60-second Transmit/Rreceive (T/R) sequences synchronized with UTC (Universal Time, Coordinated). JT4 and JT65 were designed for Earth-Moon-Earth communications (EME, or, moonbounce) on the Very-High Frequency (VHF), Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) and microwave bands. JT9 is optimized for the Medium-Frequency (MF) and High-Frequency (HF) bands. It is about 2 dB more sensitive than JT65 while using less than 10% of the bandwidth. Q65 offers submodes with a wide range of T/R sequence lengths and tone spacings.FT4 and FT8 are operationally similar but use T/R cycles only 7.5 and 15 seconds long, respectively. MSK144 is designed for Meteor Scatter on the VHF bands. These modes offer enhanced message formats with support for nonstandard call signs and some popular contests. (The MSK in MSK144 stands for, Multiple Frequency Shift Keying.)

FST4 and FST4W are designed particularly for the Low-Frequency (LF) and MF bands. On these bands, their fundamental sensitivities are better than other WSJT-X modes with the same sequence lengths, approaching the theoretical limits for their rates of information throughput. FST4 is optimized for two-way QSOs, while FST4W is for quasi-beacon transmissions of WSPR-style messages. FST4 and FST4W do not require the strict, independent time synchronization and phase locking of modes like EbNaut.

As described more fully on its own page, WSPR mode implements a protocol designed for probing potential propagation paths with low-power transmissions. WSPR is fully implemented within WSJT-X, including programmable band-hopping.

What is a QSO?

Under the title, CONTACTS, at the Sierra Foothills Amateur Radio Club’s 2014 Technician Class webpage, https://www.hsdivers.com/Ham/Mod15.html, they teach,

An amateur radio contact (called a QSO), is an exchange of info between two amateur radio stations. The exchange usually consists of an initial call (CQ = call to all stations). Then, a response from another amateur radio operator, and usually at least a signal report.

Contacts can be limited to just a minimal exchange of call signs & signal reports generally between amateurs previously unknown to each other. Very short contacts are usually done only during contests while longer, extended ‘rag chews’ may be between newly met friends with some common interest or someone you have known for a long time.

Wikipedia has an entry for QSO, too.

My Issue With FT8 and WSJT-X

I have written in the past, on this website, about an issue that came about during the course of the development of the WSJT-X software package. The development team decided to widen the slice of ‘default’ (pre-programmed) frequencies on which to operate FT8. The issue was how the choice of new frequencies was made, and what choices were implemented in an upcoming software release. Read more about all of this, in these three articles:

+ Land (er, FREQUENCY) Grab (Part 1)

+ One Aspect of Amateur Radio: Good Will Ambassadors to the World

+ In Response — Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Has this issue been resolved? For now, yes. There appears to be more coordination between interested groups, and the proposed new frequencies were removed from the software defaults in WSJT-X. At least, up to this point, at the time of publishing this article.


Visit, subscribe: NW7US Radio Communications and Propagation YouTube Channel

LHS Episode #423: [Title of Podcast]

Hello and welcome to the 423rd episode of Linux in the Ham Shack. In this short-topics episode, the hosts discuss the upcoming third QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo along with ham radio emcomm in India and Pakistan, Missouri's bicentennial radio event, insecurity in Python libraries, an open source laptop, Linux sound subsystems and much more. Thanks for listening and we hope you have a great week.

73 de The LHS Crew

Russ Woodman, K5TUX, co-hosts the Linux in the Ham Shack podcast which is available for download in both MP3 and OGG audio format. Contact him at [email protected].

ICQ Podcast Episode 356 – QSO Today Summer Expo

In this episode, Martin (M1MRB) is joined by Chris Howard (M0TCH), Martin Rothwell (M0SGL), Ed Durrant (DD5LP), Frank Howell (K4FMH) and Bill Barnes (WC3B) to discuss the latest Amateur / Ham Radio news. Colin (M6BOY) rounds up the news in brief and in the episode we feature QSO Today Summer Expo


We would like to thank Kevin Paquette (KC1OIZ), Gary Bridges (WA0VMV), Bob Collezioni, Roy Jones (VK6RR), and our monthly and annual subscription donors for keeping the podcast advert free. To donate, please visit - http://www.icqpodcast.com/donate

  • FCC Investigating Alleged “Jamming” on 40 Meters
  • What Happens to British Ships When Satellites Don't Work?
  • Repeater Troublemaker Caught Red-Handed!
  • Free Online Examination Study Tool
  • USA Active 40 MHz Experimental Station
  • Brazilian Radio Hams Discuss Online Exams with Regulator

Colin Butler, M6BOY, is the host of the ICQ Podcast, a weekly radio show about Amateur Radio. Contact him at [email protected].

Ham College 79

Ham College episode 79 is now available for download.

Extra Class Exam Questions – Part 17.
E4C Receiver performance characteristics: phase noise, noise floor, image rejection, MDS, signal-to-noise ratio, noise figure, reciprocal mixing, selectivity, effects of SDR receiver non-linearity, use of attenuators at low frequencies.


George Thomas, W5JDX, is co-host of AmateurLogic.TV, an original amateur radio video program hosted by George Thomas (W5JDX), Tommy Martin (N5ZNO), Peter Berrett (VK3PB), and Emile Diodene (KE5QKR). Contact him at [email protected].

LHS Episode #422: The Weekender LXXV

It's time once again for The Weekender. This is our bi-weekly departure into the world of amateur radio contests, open source conventions, special events, listener challenges, hedonism and just plain fun. Thanks for listening and, if you happen to get a chance, feel free to call us or e-mail and send us some feedback. Tell us how we're doing. We'd love to hear from you.

73 de The LHS Crew

Russ Woodman, K5TUX, co-hosts the Linux in the Ham Shack podcast which is available for download in both MP3 and OGG audio format. Contact him at [email protected].

LHS Episode #421: YOTA Camp Deep Dive

Hello and welcome to Episode 421 of Linux in the Ham Shack. In this episode, the hosts interview Neil Rapp, WB2VPG, coordinator of the IARU Region 2 YOTA camp and Peter Lafreniere, N8JPL, one of the youth participants. The topics include an in-depth look at what the campers experienced, events held, challenges faced, and the future of the event. We hope you enjoy this interview and deep and have a great week until the next time we meet.

73 de The LHS Crew

Russ Woodman, K5TUX, co-hosts the Linux in the Ham Shack podcast which is available for download in both MP3 and OGG audio format. Contact him at [email protected].

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