Remote Dispatching

An long-time dream realized

Remote Dispatching

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It has long been a goal of mine to have the capability to remotely dispatch the Mighty MKT, using the graphic computer dispatching screen and remote radio capabilities.

Remote control of the dispatching screen is easily accomplished using one of many screen sharing and control options: LogMeIn, TeamViewer, Skype Screen Sharing, and, recently Zoom, are just a few examples. On the Mighty MKT, we use TeamViewer. It's free, robust, and generally lag-free over Wi-Fi. The remote dispatcher sees the same screen as a local dispatcher would, and can the mouse (to select staging tracks) and keyboard commands (to log trains) just as if he/she were sitting behind the dispatcher's desk in my basement.

We use FRS handheld radios to communicate during operating sessions. For years, I have been looking for workable solution for remote audio, that would allow a dispatcher, sitting at his remote computer, to communicate with the operators in the layout room. It took a lot of searching, but I think I've found a couple of workable solutions.

We have tried several software options for the voice connection, including Skype and the chat function of TeamViewer. Both work well and provide reasonable radio quality. It takes a bit of getting used to talking with the VOX enabled…the first syllable is often clipped off. We teach the dispatcher to speak slowly and clearly, and that usually is sufficient to trigger the VOX on the base station radio.

Two Options for Remote Communications

The 'speaker out' and 'microphone in' connectors will vary, depending on the brand and model of your FRS radio. For example, most Cobra brand radios use the Motorola 'M2' connector, consisting of a single 2.5mm jack plug with three electrical connections in a tip/ring/sleeve arrangement. The Midland radios (the official radio of the Mighty MKT St. Louis Subdivision) use a two-pin connector, with a 2.5mm female plug for the microphone and a separate 3.5mm female plug for the speaker. The connectors also have 'push-to-talk capability built into the connectors, but that does not concern us for this application.

You need to determine your particular radio's configuration to purchase the required combination of adaptors and cables. I've presented two options below:
    usb Two Jack Audio in/out Using USB

    Using a USB adaptor with Two Cables

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    The Dongle

    A quick search on the google (actually Amazon) revealed a plethora of potential options to connect the radio to the computer via USB. I settled on a USB external stereo sound adapter by Sabrent ($7.98 on Amazon). This particular connector has two inputs, one for the microphone and one for the speaker, both of which take 3.5mm jacks.

    Since I needed to a 2.5mm jack on the radio end and a 3.5mm jack on the USB adaper end, I purchased an adapter cable that had a jack of each size on the separate ends ($7.99 on Amazon). For good measure, I bought a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable for the second connection ($7.99 on Amazon).

    Once all the cabling is obtained, it is a simple matter of connecting all the pieces, configuring the computer to listen to and talk to the correct devices, and VOILA!, remote communications!
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    Radio Requirements

    On the Mighty MKT, we use the Midland LTX 600 radios. These radios have easy to use controls, big volume knob for easy operation, and a large backlit screen. The radios also have VOX capability with adjustable sensitivity.

    The Midland radios have capability for external headsets (used by the dispatcher) or earpieces (often used by the Superintendent or other operators). The jack openings used by the external devices will be used to connect the Midland radio to the computer for remote operation.

    On the Midlands, the speaker opening is a 3.5mm female plug and a 2.5mm female plug for the microphone.
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    Elite Operator™ TIP!

    If, once you have gathered your adaptors and cables, made the connections, and configured your computer, it all doesn't work, try switching the cables at the adaptor.

    It took me a while to get my head wrapped around the, 'mic out to speaker in' configuration. Your patience will be rewarded!
    mic_none Single Jack I/O Using a DingoTel or 2Way adapter
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    If you have a FRS radio that has a single combination jack for speaker/microphone (such as the Cobra radios, you can use a device from DingoTel, called the 2Way. It seems that DingoTel is no longer in business, but the devices are still around - we recently purchased one on eBay for less than $10. The 2Way device is a USB dongle, with a special cable (it comes included with the dongle).

    The dongle plugs into the computer with on end of the cable connected, The other end of the cable plugs into a FRS handheld radio, with VOX (voice on demand) enabled and set to the highest sensitivity. This radio becomes the "base station", and will listen in to the local (layout room) radio traffic and transmit/receive to/from the remote dispatcher.

    We use the 2Way dongle on a Mac computer, and it was truly Plug-and-Play - no drivers were required. I intend to try it on a PC soon.
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    Radio Requirements

    In order to use the cable supplied with the 2Way device and to make the magic happen, you need a radio with two features:
    • A single jack for the combined headphone/microphone plug.
    • VOX control

    The single plug was not particularly problematic. It turns out that the newer Cobra FRS radios have the correct multi-use plug, with the correct diameter to fit the 2Way cable. Most of radios on the Mighty MKT use the relatively common two plug system (like the Midway radios), but a quick search on the Google provided many options. I settled on the Cobra CX312A-1 ($18 on Amazon). This particular radio had an adjustable VOX setting, which turned out to be useful. Set the VOX to the most sensitive setting for best results. Plus, the radio comes in MKT Red, which is always a plus!

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    Setup and Operation

    Setup is almost comically simple:
    • Plug the 2Way dongle into the computer
    • Plug the 4 pole end of the supplied cable into the dongle
    • Plug the 3 pole end of the cable (marked RADIO) into the combined headphone/microphone of the Base Station radio
    • Turn Base Station radio on and enable VOX. Set the VOX to the most sensitive setting (Level 5 on the Cobra)
    • Launch the Skype or TeamViewer program. Make sure that the both the headphone and speaker settings are set for the 2Way device (listed as "C_audio USB Headphone Control" on my Mac)
    • Establish the connection to the remote dispatcher

    That's it! Just tell your dispatcher to talk slowly and plainly and you will be golden.