Remote lighting

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Reprinted from Crazed Imaginations #102

Going Wireless: setting up a system with multiple lights and one remote control

By David Burchett

Here is a question that I suspect has plagued many a shadowcast for Rocky: “How do I get one person to control four lights that are in multiple places?”. Thanks to Radio Shack I believe I have found an easy and affordable answer to the question. Let’s look at a typical lighting situation. We have one spot light, and three flood lights to control independently. The three flood lights will cover stage left, stage center, and stage right. The show will be taking place in your average theatre where stage space is a very limited commodity. We can save space by putting the spot light in between two rows of seats on the side of the theatre five or six rows back from the front and put the flood lights on the seats in the front row.

Now comes the issue of control. You could wire up a switch box and put it at the spot light, but that would mean a lot of wires running across the theatre, which makes a large tripping hazard. The other option is to go wireless. I am sure most people have seen the single outlet with remote at places like Home Depot or Lowe’s or even Wal-Mart. The problem with those is that there is only one remote per outlet. Most remotes don’t have an easy way to change the signal so they will work for other outlets, and sometimes the signal is flakey so the outlet doesn’t respond. Fortunately there is another “wireless” way to control the lights. Since we all know that the power isn’t wireless, why not just send the on/off signal over the power cords?

This is where Radio Shack comes into play. They have their own brand of remote-controlled switches. If you go to their web site and navigate to the “Home Automation” section, you will find some nifty little devices that you could use. They offer other brands too, but they are a bit more expensive than the Radio Shack brand of “Plug 'n Power” devices. The specific parts to look at are the “Mini Controller for Eight Sets of Modules” Catalog #: 61-2677 $14.99, “Heavy-duty Module” Catalog #: 61-2684 $12.49 (there is a 2 prong version of this for $11.59 Catalog #: 61-2681), and “Lamp Dimmer Module” Catalog #: 61-2682 $11.59. Now it is time for a little explanation on how this works, so you know what to get. You basically have two kinds of modules. These are the parts that you plug your lights into. They are called an appliance module, and a lamp module. It is important to get the right module for the kind of light you are using.

If you are using regular incandescent lights, then you can use the Lamp Dimmer Module. This module allows you to turn the light on or off, and having dimming control. This module only comes in a two prong version. This module also defaults to the off position, so if you had the light on, then you lose power, when the power comes back, the light will stay off.

Then there is the appliance module. There are two versions of this module, one with two prongs and the other with three. These modules can be used on anything, but they lack the dimming control. This module is more suited to things such as fluorescent lighting or things like a bubble machine. The appliance module will remember the last state it was in if it loses power. So if you have a light plugged into this module and the light is on when you lose power, the light will come back on as soon as it gets power.

Now you get to controller and module setup, which is easy. Each module has two dial selectors on it: one in red for the house code, and another one for the module number. The controller only has the house code dial. Set the controller and all the modules to the same house code. Having the same house code means the modules know to respond to the controller. The Radio Shack controller mentioned above is designed for 8 modules. It has a switch to toggle between modules 1-4 and 5-8. It also has a dimmer switch, an “All lights on”, and an “All modules off” switch. The “All Lights On” switch will turn on all the lamp modules on that house code.

Now for the final connections. Plug the controller into an outlet near the spotlight where the lights person will be. Now assign numbers to your lights. An example would be stage left is module 1, stage center would be module 2, and stage right would be module 3. Plug your lights into the module and then plug the module into your power strip or extension cord. Make sure your extension cord or power strip is plugged into a wall outlet and do the same for the controller next to the spotlight. Now you are ready to go!