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Putting a Pakratt 232 back into service















There’s something in the ham spirit that is respectful of old technology and also willing to rejuvenate equipment to see another day of service, kind of like getting the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube.  I love the idea of Packet Radio, a network of radios able to bypass the great internet to form their own bonds through primitive gateways and Packet BBS’s they hang together to form a tenuous alliance that will spring into service should an emergency require it.  It was with these thoughts that I acquired an old AEA Pakratt 232-MBX Packet modem off eBay.  The description was of a SK who’s estate was up for sale.  I recently put a new Yaesu FT-2900r on my work desk for idle moments and I wondered if I could set up a packet station with my new mobile transceiver on 2 meters.

So after winning the auction the unit made it’s way to NYC to my humble apartment.  I had the challenge to put together the necessary cables, software and other settings to get this unit working again.  The Pakratt is no ordinary packet modem, it’s a wonderful multi-mode Data Controller capable of Transmit and Receive of Packet, Baudot and ASCII RTTY, AMTOR, Morse Code, HF Weather FAX and Pactor, as well as receiving NAVTEX marine broadcasts, TDM and Bit-inverted Baudot RTTY.  With all of that you wonder what this kind of unit costs.  The new updated model costs around 600. but this slightly over the hill but still serviceable model was had for about 25. bucks.

Now the connections needed for operation were power 12 – 16 volts, I definitely had some wall warts around, that was not an issue.  Then the computer connection was an old serial cable, this I needed to order from an industrious eBay seller how makes the cables for these old Packet dinasaurs. The link to the USB Cable on eBay is here.  The cable worked without a hitch!  Next up was the radio cable on the back of the Pakratt to connect to my new Yaesu FT-2900r.  The Timewave company (contact:”techsupport@timewave.com”) was really great about providing one of these old cables (A shielded 5 conductor Radio Cable to connect the PK-232 Radio 1 or Radio 2 Connector to your radio data jack.) to me for $8.00 or so, combine that with a 6 connector RJ12/6 mic cable (I got my from Amphenol,  and all I needed were the pin-outs for the connections and my own notes to solder my own radio cable.

Yaesu’s FT-2900r packet diagram was pretty simple, here.


Ohm out RJ12/6 connector to match my diagram as I don’t know the colors of that connector.



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Timewave (AEA’s) diagram showed the TNC side of the connections and I made up a little ammended diagram that showed the colors and wire numbers to dispel any confusion once the solder was melting.


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Now that last piece of the puzzle was what software was I going to use on the Mac for making my connections. I First tried ZTerm but when I connected after entering my settings and I was getting doubling on my keystrokes so everything I entered had twice the characters, that was no good. Then I found CoolTerm, what a terrific program… worked flawlessly and was very user friendly.

Now if you’ve never worked with packet modems you basically go through three phases. After double checking all connections, you first check the Pakratt with it connected only to your computer with something called a “loop-back” test.  You connect two wires and the modem talks to itself, in this way you confirm the Pakratt is functioning as it should minus any outside connection issues. The second step is to hook up and turn on the 2 meter radio. Receiving packets is easy to check if you put it on the frequency for APRS and listen. The last phase is to make a connection of my own.

LIMARC is a wonderful radio club here in the metro NYC area, fortunately for me they still operate a fully functional Packet BBS, where you can connect and access other Packeteers / Amateur Radio enthusiasts and share messages and other files.  The whole experience felt very 1990’s and America Online, and the packet noises almost sounded like the old phone modems hooked up to my 6800 series Macintosh.

So, what did this experience teach me? 1. Packet is NOT dead, OK it’s very much in retirement but the old guy can still dance with his walker. 2. Old equipment does NOT mean junk, if you are patient and willing to put a couple of hour in on a weekend you can revive this stuff. 3. As a radio amateur there is ALWAYS value in having an alternate path of communication.  I’ll enjoy many hours of working PBBS’s and other digital modes and all for a fraction of new equipment.

Thanks to Randall at Timewave Inc. for his help with cable names and numbers and shipping out what I needed fast and thanks to LIMARC for hanging in the Packet age long enough for me to enjoy it as well.

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