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A Look At Foot Switches

There's A Variety Out There... 

Foot switches were never a must-have Amateur Radio accessory… that is until I started contesting about 12 years ago. I used a desk mic and the built-in Push-To-Talk (PTT) switch on the mic base. It was fine for general chats. I switched to a headset sometime around 2000 and it did not have a built-in switch so I started examining alternatives.
My first trial was with a push-button hand switch.

It was useful but cumbersome and very un-ergonomic as I always had to have at least one hand on the button. Not a good choice for contesting, even with the paper logging I was using at the time.

Then I recalled my time in the Vancouver Police Department 9-1-1 call centre. Radio Operators there use a foot switch exclusively, leaving both hands open for other tasks.  My first foot switch was a home-made affair. It worked just fine but did not have the right weight or ‘feel’ and moved around on the floor. I  then modified  a foot pedal from my woodworking tools by removing the AC  socket and replacing it with a standard ¼-inch phone plug, the norm for PTT input.

It was much better, had a decent weight and a solid PTT contact as long as my foot hit the correct part of the pedal, something that doesn't always happen in the frenzy of a good contest pile-up or an attempt to get that rare DX.

It wasn’t until about 2008 that I noticed that the sustain pedal on my wife’s Roland piano used a ¼-inch phone plug as well. Although I don’t play myself, I found out that these are quite heavy and  was told that it did not normally move around.

I used that pedal for a while but, to avoid the inevitable: “Did you take my pedal again?” I decided to shop for my own. A trip to a couple of local musical instrument stores produced several good candidates. I tried some out… to questioning stares as I didn’t play a piano while doing so, but instead listened for a smooth and solid click and tossed it in the air a bit to judge the weight. I took one home for $25 with an assurance that I could return it if dissatisfied with the product. It turned out to be a Chinese-made item but it worked like a charm with all the right attributes and is still in use today.

As it turned out it also has a normal open (NO) and normally closed (NC) selector switch. Apparently this is because some pianos require that option. For Amateur Radio use the switch should be set to normally open (NO) to trigger the PTT when the pedal is depressed otherwise the radio would transmit constantly except when the switch is depressed.
Amazon has pedals starting around $20 and eBay has them starting at about $15. My recommendation is to visit your local music store and to try a few so you can determine if they tend to slide on the floor, if they have a nice solid click and if they are normally open.

~ John VE7TI

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