AllStar Node Build

I enjoy ham radio nets and try to reach out to the furthest ones I can pull off with my 2-meter radio and J-pole antenna (81.4 miles is the record to the K3NQT repeater as of this posting on 21 Apr 2020). I have used EchoLink to reach out to some West Coast nets in California and Washington (usually the Puget Sound Repeater Group nets) but I prefer using a radio over my cell phone. Also, building my own AllStar node would allow me the flexibility to control the link. Furthermore, I wanted to join in the East Coast Reflector which I could only break the squelch on the nearest repeater.

Credit goes to K3KDX for providing me with instructions as to how he set up his node which I based this built off of.

East Coast Reflector AllStar connections. See if you can find KC4RCR (Hint: Connected to Node 27339).

Here are the items I used to build the node:

  • Alinco DR-135 MkIII (2 meter single band transceiver)
  • Raspberry Pi (I used a RPi 4 4GB/RAM, but 3B+ is fine)
  • RIM-Alinco (Interface from Pi’s USB to Radio’s DB-9)
  • Dummy Load (Use one sized appropriately, this one is 50W)
  • SMB-201 Cooling Stand (Reuse of this, you can use a cheaper fan)
  • SD Card with HAMVOIP image installed
  • Keyboard, Power, HDMI, Coax and other cables as needed
  • Raspberry Pi Case with fan recommended
  • Register with AllStarLink for a server and node
  • A second radio that is the control point you wish to use

The first recommended step is to register with AllStar. They validate your license and it takes a bit of time for them to set up your node in the database. This only took a few hours in my case, but it’s better to do this ahead of time if you can. You need to register and set up a “server” under the “Portal” menu. The server is just the name and location. Next you have to create a “node” for that server, also under the “Portal” menu. AllStar will take the time to create a node number and password. You will need these in the setup of HAMVOIP.

Next load the HAMVOIP image onto the SD card. Choose a good quality card. I had a Samsung 32 GB card handy, so I used that. The HAMVOIP site has instructions on how to install the image on to the card (if you have not done this before). I already had win32diskimager on a Windows machine so I downloaded the Windows .exe (execute to decompress the image) and used the win32diskimager to write the image to the SD card.

Raspberry Pi 4 / 4 GB version with metal case and fan

Here is how the RIM-Alinco device arrived. It looks of excellent quality. Note that this is a mini-USB not the more common micro-USB. The RIM-Alinco comes with this cord so no worries about finding one if you don’t have it. Install this to the DB-9 connector on the radio. Note the lack of heat sink fins on the bottom side of the radio, we will come back to that later…

RIM-Alinco device as received in packaging
RIM-Alinco connected to the radio’s DB-9 with the provided mini-USB cable connected to a RPi USB Port

I had an unused SMB-201 cooling stand which fits the form-factor exactly. The only catch was the Alinco radio has the majority of the heat sink fins on the top, not the bottom. Originally I set this up facing the “proper” direction.

Alinco on cooling stand, original position

However, look at the above picture. There is a lack of heat sink fins on the bottom side (do not run the length of the radio). While the fan on the bottom still kept the radio at a reasonable temperature (low power), I decided to flip it over for proper cooling. Eventually I’ll make a stand that inverts the entire setup.

Inverted on stand. Fan toward heat sink
Need to invert the whole stand but this is the most efficient position given the side of the heat sink and fan position

Remember, the radio is a node so the TX and RX duty cycles are reversed. That means the TX duty time is the time you are listening on your node channel on your other radio. That is a very heavy duty cycle especially for long nets. I am hoping the Alinco can handle this long term. This is why cooling is extremely important. Also, setting the power at the lowest setting necessary is also very important. Right now I use a dummy load because the radio is nearby. Low power on this radio is listed as <5 Watts. This is 50 Watt dummy load so I have no overheating issues or SWR problems. I measured around 4.5 Watts output at the radio on low power. Oh, and I recommend setting the radio to tone-coded squelch so you don’t rebroadcast other simplex users inadvertently. Set the radio to the simplex frequency you plan to contact your node with.

50W Dummy Load

If not done already, connect everything together as appropriate and power the devices. Set up the RPi to display the HDMI on a monitor/TV and have a USB keyboard plugged in. When you boot the RPi, it will launch the installation program. It will ask for your assigned node number and password (from registering with AllStar). It will also ask you for a number of setting choices. The RIM-Alinco page provided a few seen here:

I noticed my TX was quiet, so I modified a few settings. Don’t worry you can always go back in and adjust things as needed. When you boot from now on you will see this screen allowing you to modify the settings as needed. I performed the system updates after I set up WiFi. There is also an echo function in the simpleusb-tune program which helped me set the audio levels.

Here are the settings directly from my configuration files: simpleusb.conf and simpleusb_tune_usb.conf.

AllStar has a list of commands you give the node over the radio (starting with a “*”). I prefer to use the command line (Asterisk CLI client). That way I’m not keying the radio all the time to issue commands via RF. This is not necessary but a preference on my part.

Connecting my node (51461) to node 27339 (East Coast Reflector)

That’s all there is to it! It took me no more than an hour to set up. The hardest part was waiting for the parts to arrive.

I’ve also set up the node to relay weather information using the AutoSky SkyWarn module. Setup can be found here from HAMVOIP.

Next, I plan to dual-purpose the Alinco. Since it’s a well-performing 2-meter radio, I want to use this as a base-station as well when not in use on a node. I have programmed a momentary switch in Python which is connected to the RPi GPIO pins to shutdown and restart the AllStar node asterisk service. That way I can disable the node and use the radio as a normal 2-meter transceiver when I want without having to SSH to the RPi and turn off the node. Once I formalize this, I will publish the process and Python code.

Index: 34

Comments ( 13 )

  1. Dad
    Hey Rousseau, Mom and I are looking at your site. Impressive!
    • admin
      Haha too funny! I hope this helps folks.
  2. Kevin
    Fantastic write-up! -KE7K
    • admin
      Thank you very much! I appreciate the feedback!
  3. Ken
    Fantastic write-up........well done..... Keep in touch....K3KDX
  4. kj3lr
    Great work! de KJ3LR
    • admin
      Thank you! Hope it is helpful.
  5. Hosh
    Did you have issues with the RIM-Alinco device PTTing the radio? It seems my setup is correct, but I just can't get the radio to key. Thanks.
    • admin
      Hi there. Sorry, I did not run into any issues like that. The only things I can think of are to make sure the has carrierfrom=usb and invertptt=0 (if you are using the same radio type setup) and possibly ctcssfrom=no. I have no special settings in the radio...just set to a simplex frequency. If I find anything else out, I'll post it. The Repeater Builder folks might be able to help you troubleshot their device better.
  6. KG4Y
    I just stumbled across this - nice work, Rousseau! Some time ago, I purchased the RIM-Max-RB thinking I would collect the rest of the pieces to put up an Allstar repeater (with Echolink capability enabled as well). I have since acquired a small collection of Motorola CDM series radios with which to experiment but still need to acquire the most expensive piece -- a quality, commercial grade, full-sized duplexer to put it on the air with legitimate expectations of reasonable RF performance. The strategy is to put it together at home first, using a dummy load for the TX antenna like you have, then graduate to a duplexer tuned to one of the shared, non-coordinated pair (SNP) allocated for experimental use by T-MARC. Once I get to that step at home, run it for a while and see if it is worth pursuing a better site up on North Mountain with an Internet connection to see what kind of use it might get covering Frederick and Clarke Counties (VA) in the Shenandoah Valley. Anyway, this post has inspired me to re-engage my pursuit of this endeavor. Thanks for sharing your experience with this! As I make progress to realize Internet connectivity to the SVARC repeater site, Allstar and / or other capabilities could be added to SVARC repeaters as well. 73, Mike, KG4Y
    • admin
      Glad to hear you stopped by Mike! I use my node fairly often to join nets around the country and it allows for me to use RF on a portable instead of EchoLink on my phone. I'd enjoy getting to tag along one day to learn more about repeaters too.
  7. W0WAL
    Thanks for the write up. I used the CLI interface like you said and verified my node was mostly working. I can’t get the DTMF to work but I’ll leave that for another night.
    • admin
      Glad you got the build up and running. I've made a newer build for a repeater and the hamvoip image is a little different now. If I get some time I should update the documentation. My SD card in the original node is just about corrupt, so I also recommend changing those out often as they are not all that durable.

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