I recently had a chat with a Harris shop about programming the MASTR III radios.  There are two important software packages that must be used by anyone doing anything serious with this radio.  One is the basic progrmming utility.  The other is the “specials editor” which I find to be the most often used software.  Both of these are MSDOS programs that have changed little from their debut in the early 1990’s.

I was not surprised to learn that the technicians at this shop have struggled with the software.  Windows7, while a vast improvement in Microsoft operating systems, is not at all friendly to MSDOS based applications, particularly those that wish to communicate directly with hardware such as serial ports.  Their solution has been to run a virtual machine with an older version of Windows that is more MSDOS friendly.

My solution is much better (I say humbly).  Anyone who knows me knows that I ran from Microsoft in 1996 and haven’t looked back.  Well, maybe I did.  I run Unix which is much more mature than Windows, having been around since the 1970’s.  Not only is it more mature and stable, it seems to advance much more rapidly than Windows.  No surprise that Apple, after Steve Jobs forray with NeXT, adopted Unix.  That’s right, Macintosh OS X is Unix.

So I use Linux and BSD mostly.  In rare cases when I need to run a Windows application I use WINE and when I need to us an old MSDOS application I use DOSEMU.  It’s been my experience that DOSEMU does better with old MSDOS applications from the early days of DOS than any Microsoft OS there is.  This is especially true of programs that are dependent on hardware timing.  Motorola software has always been picky about this.  The CommandPlus console software was among the worst.  But I’ve had excellent luck with that software under DOSEMU.  HT1000 and MSF5000 software also shines in this environment.

Harris (before that M/A-Com, ComNet, Ericsson, etc., GE) has done this amazing thing where they now have one software package that programs all of their mobile and portable radios, including some older products.  Unfortunately it doesn’t include the MASTR III or IIe stations and we still have to rely on the MSDOS software for these current products.  The good news is that this software works extremely well in DOSEMU.

I’ve been working on a project for Bonner County 911 that allows me to program MASTR III radios remotely.  On several of my sites I have access to IP network, in many cases on our private microwave system.  What I’ve done is install Perle IOLAN devices at these sites.  They are a box with one or more serial ports that plug into the IP network and configure with a web based interface.  They are very simple to setup.  In my office, on my Linux based workstation, I run Perle’s TruePort software (available for Windows as well…if you must).  The result is that my workstation sees all of these remote serial ports and treats them as if they were right on the machine.

One frustrating thing about the old MASTR III software is that it will only work with COM1 through COM4, it’s too stupid to know about other tty.  So I have written a script in Bash where I tell it which MASTR III I want to program or control.  The script then adjusts the DOSEMU configuration so that the appropriate tty appears as COM1 in DOSEMU and then it launches MSEDIT (the specials editor) in DOSEMU.  Pretty slick as I can now modify or control any of these radios in the system.

The MASTR III is, by far, the most reliable radio I’ve ever worked with.  And it is extremely capable including the ability to even write some form of scripts that execute the actions you specify based upon whatever inputs or conditions you set.  Using the MSEDIT software you can execute commands to the radio via the serial port which allows you to do such things as enable/disable the transmitter or repeat fuction, change channels, key the transmitter, send tones, etc. You can even use station diagnostics to read several key voltages and conditions in the radio.

While that’s all pretty cool, I haven’t figured out a way to do those things yet without using the MSEDIT software.  The ability to control a radio or read a status over the serial port and use something like a Bash script to automate things would be amazing.  Even just logging ability would benefit me in ways I can’t describe.

I have been unable to locate any documentation regarding the serial port on the MASTR III and how to use it directly, without their software.  If anyone has this, please let me know.  Otherwise I am about to begin the gruelling process of sniffing the serial ports and changing one thing at a time to create that documentation.  That could take the winter.  If I have to go this route, I could use some help.  I might be able to make a spare radio availble to someone using the TruePort software for them to assist.  In the end we might even be able to write some Linux programming software, or contribute to Chirp, which would benefit the amateur radio and public safety communities a great deal.