Since I had already set up my phone to record the video above, I decided to make a couple more.
I thought there might be some value in making real-time videos showing what it’s like operating CW and SSB during a POTA activation. The videos have no edits and haven’t been trimmed. It’s as if the viewer were there at the activation sitting next to me at the picnic table.
Operating CW with the IC-705
After setting up my station, I first started on the 40M band in CW. I meant to start the camera rolling during tune-up, but forgot to hit record. The video begins after I’d made a few CW contacts, but shows what it’s like changing bands and relying on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) to pick me up then the POTA website to auto spot me.
My video cut off abruptly due to a low battery message. I had to give my iPhone a quick power charge to make the next video.
Operating SSB with the IC-705
After operating CW for a while, I plugged in the hand mic that ships with the IC-705 for a little SSB action. My main goal with this video was to show how I call CQ and use the voice keyer memories in order to manage the field “work flow” process. I also speak to how important it is to either self-spot or have a friend spot you to the POTA network while operating phone.
I spent so much time setting up and running the camera, I wasn’t actually on the air for very long, but I easily managed to achieve a valid activation and had a lot of fun in the process.
I’m not a pro “YouTuber” as I say in one of my videos. I much prefer blogging my experiences rather than “vlogging,” I suppose.
Still, I think I’ll do a few more “real-time” videos of POTA activations and speak to the various techniques I use to activate parks. Since these videos aren’t edited for time, they may not appeal to the seasoned POTA activator or QRPer–that’s okay, though. My goal is primarily to assist first-time POTA activators.
Have you been activating Parks or Summits lately? Do you have any advice or suggestions I failed to mention? Or do you have suggestions for future topics? Please comment!
On Thursday October 15, 2020, my family made an impromptu trip to Mount Mitchell State Park to enjoy the amazing weather and gorgeous fall colors.
The Blue Ridge Parkway and Mount Mitchell State Park were predictably crowded with tourists, although nowhere near as crowded as the following three days which were “peak” leaf color days.
After arriving at the park, we claimed one of the little picnic areas tucked away from the crowds. After a picnic lunch, I set up the station, my wife painted, one daughter caught up on her favorite book, and the other daughter took a deep dive in her recently acquired Yaesu FT-60R (and also helped me log).
And Hazel, predictably, slumbered.
I swear that dog is only awake maybe one hour a day.
On this particular activation, I didn’t want to deploy a wire antenna. Being the highest elevation east of the Mississippi river, the trees are short .
I consider the WRC vertical to be a “compromised” antenna especially in our region which is rocky and has poor ground conductivity. But at times like this when the park is crowded, it’s a great low-profile way to get on the air–and it’s self-supporting! In any other year, I’m actually okay with my radio set-up being conspicuous–I love telling passersby about ham radio and Parks On The Air–but at the moment I choose to keep my social distance.
When I use the WRC antenna, I typically pair it with one of my favorite transceivers: the Mission RGO One.
I like to pair the RGO One with the WRC vertical because the RGO One is capable of 50 watts of output power (the real max for the WRC), which I feel makes up for a bit of the antenna compromise. I typically start at QRP levels and increase wattage if I get no response.
At Mt. Mitchell, I rarely have internet access via my mobile phone, so I rely on the Reverse Beacon Network to spot me to the POTA network when I call “CQ POTA.”
Within a minute of calling CQ, I started logging stations. Thanks RBN!
I operated for almost an hour off and on. I took a few breaks during low activity to help my daughter with the FT-60R. At one point, she was in hysterics over a conversation she picked up on a local repeater. (Hysterics in a good way, fortunately. I do worry about some of the conversations I hear on local repeaters at times!)
Here’s my tally from Mt Mitchell:
Mt. Mitchell is one of our family’s favorite state parks and is accessible from my QTH via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Unfortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway is often closed during the winter, so we hope to make at least one more trip to Mitchell within the next few weeks.
I’ll add that this was the third time I’d taken the CW Morse“Pocket Paddle” to the field. It’s a brilliant set of paddles. It’s has a fantastic field-adjustable response. I’m uncertain if they’re on the market yet–CW Morse sent them to me for evaluation in the field.
On Wednesday, October, 14 2020, the weather was gorgeous so I decided to make an impromptu POTA activation of Pisgah National Forest and the Pisgah Game Land (K-4510 and K-6937). These sites are the closest to my QTH and only a 15 minute drive (in fact, I can even hike up to the same trail network from my back yard).
My canine companion, Hazel, jumped into the car before I could even invite her to come along.
We drove to the trailhead, parked, and hiked a short distance into one of my favorite spots where it’s relatively flat, with lots of tall trees and almost no foot traffic from other hikers.
This activation gave me an opportunity to use the Icom IC-705 in more of a “backpack” setting since I hiked in with only my pack, Hazel, and my folding three-leg stool. Up to this point, I’d only used the IC-705 on picnic tables and flat surfaces since it can’t easily fit on my clip board like my MTR-3B, KX2, and KX1 can.
The activation also gave me a chance to evaluate a new product sent to me by the CW Morse company: their “Pocket Paddle” designed specifically for portable operations.
I decided to set up the Icom IC-705 much like I did the lab599 Discover TX-500 when I took it on hikes: mount the radio above the front pocket of my Red Oxx C-Ruck backpack.
The arrangement works quite well–I simply sit on the stool in front of the pack and hold my simple logging notepad and paddles on a clipboard.
While this particular site is great because it’s so accessible to me, the negative is it’s deep down in a valley surrounded by high ridge lines. I feel like this does have some impact on how well my signal travels.
Wednesday, it took nearly 50 minutes to rack up a total of 12 contacts in CW mode. I never bothered with SSB/phone because this site had no cell phone service and, thus, there was no way to spot myself on the POTA network.
That’s okay, I felt pretty chuffed about racking up 12 contacts with 5 watts and a wire! This is what field radio is all about, in my opinion.
After a little falling out with the mAT-705, I decided I wanted to try other ATUs with the IC-705. I used to own an Elecraft T1 ATU and loved it, but I eventually sold it for a song to a friend since all of my field rigs at that point had internal ATUs.
I reached out to Elecraft and they sent me a T1 on loan to give it a go. I’d forgotten how much I love this simple, effective ATU.
Even though the EFT-MTR is resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters, moving to the 30 meter band requires lowering the antenna, pulling off an SMA cap on the coil, then re-hanging it. Not a big deal at all, really, but it’s so much easier to simply press the tune button on the T1 and have it match 30 meters without going through the normal process.
CW Morse Pocket Paddle
I also thoroughly enjoyed using the CW Morse “Pocket Paddles.” I’m not sure when they’ll be available to purchase (perhaps they are already?) but I can highly recommend them.
The paddle action is field-adjustable and even though there’s an Allen wrench built into the paddle base, the machined screws are easy to twist by hand.
They feel very sturdy, too, much like the other CW Morse paddles and keys I’ve used.
I believe the Pocket Paddles are going to permanently pack with my IC-705!
While visiting my parents this week in the Piedmont of North Carolina, I took some time Monday afternoon to take the new Icom IC-705 to field and activate Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program.
So far, most of my time with the IC-705 has been in CW mode but a number of my readers have been asking about SSB operation and performance.
My goal for this park activation was to give the IC-705 a proper shake-out on SSB.
The activation was very much impromptu–I only decided I could fit it into my day an hour before my start time. In addition, while it wasn’t raining per se, there was a very heavy mist/fog that, at times, felt like a light sprinkle/drizzle.
I packed and planned on using my IC-705, mAT-705 external ATU, and Vibroplex End-Fedz EFT-MTR wire antenna.
I had an issue with the mAT-705 ATU (read more here), so opted for my trusty and incredibly capable Emtech ZM-2.
I did begin the activation in CW and quickly racked up a dozen or more contacts in short order after spotting myself. One of the great things about Lake Norman State Park is it’s one of the few locations I activate these days with proper cell phone coverage for mobile internet so that I can update my own activation spots on the POTA site.
I also moved up to 20 meters and switched over to my recently (re)acquired Elecraft KX1 (FYI, I named her “Ruby” so no way will I sell her again).
I quickly snagged two states (Iowa and Kansas) with 1 watt of power from the KX1’s internal AA cells, then 20 meters fell silent, so I moved to 30 meters to work a few more stations.
SSB on 40 meters
I then moved to the 40 meter band and decided to record a quick video after spotting myself on 7197 kHz. I wasn’t expecting such a productive mini pile-up.
As you can tell from the video, I had my hands full trying to hold my phone/camera, log, and manage the hand mic. Note, too, I prefer not hooking up the speaker portion of the microphone because audio from the IC-705 internal speaker is far superior:
I operated SSB for a good 30 or so minutes and was busy with contacts thanks to all of those excellent POTA hunters.
IC-705 Voice Memory Keyer
Before packing up, I remembered that my buddy Dave had asked me to make a video showing how I use the IC-705’s voice memory keyer, so I moved up to 20 meters (which you’ll see was pretty much dead) and recorded this.
Doh! I had the SSB position in LSB instead of USB! Thanks to one of my YouTube viewers who noticed this. I had been tinkering with mode settings earlier while evaluating the rig. No worries, though, this was more a demo of the memory keyer–check out SSB operation in the video above.
I was actually very relieved 20 meters was dead because I’m terrible at managing a camera, a tablet, and a microphone all at once!
The Icom IC-705 is an SSB champ
Despite the fact that I was using the default microphone settings and had not even touched the TX EQ or compression, I received no less than three unsolicited compliments about my audio during this activation. That is probably a personal record.
No doubt, the IC-705 is a very capable rig for QRP SSB where audio quality is essential.
On top of that, the eight voice keyer memories are incredibly useful when activating a park, a summit, or even running a contest where you could truly automate your exchanges.
Enroute to the site, I thought it would be a good test for the mAT-705 to attempt to tune the excellent EFT-MTR antenna (which is resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters) on all bands above 40 meters.
After arriving on site, I very quickly deployed the EFT-MTR antenna using my throw line. I then hooked the EFT-MTR up to the mAT-705 ATU and connected the ATU to the IC-705.
After turning on the IC-705, I opened the menu screen and tried to engage the mAT-705 ATU. Unfortunately, the ‘705 didn’t recognize the tuner. I double-checked to make sure the control cable to the mAT-705 was secure–it was. After some head-scratching, I realized I must have left the ATU’s mechanical power switch in the “on” position while using it a few days prior.
This evidently depleted the mAT-705’s internal 9V battery. What a bummer!
I bragged about the mAT-705 in a previous post because, frankly, it is a very capable ATU–quickly finding matches from 160 to 6 meters on my random wire field antenna and horizontal loop antenna at home. It also has an incredibly sturdy aluminum enclosure. It’s a very capable ATU in terms of quickly and efficiently finding matches and, superficially smacks of superb build quality.
But if I’m being honest, my love affaire with the mAT-705 ended Monday due to a number of discoveries.
9 volt batteries
According to Mat-Tuner’s product description, the mAT-705:
“[I]s powered by an internal standard 9 volt alkaline battery. Power saving technology inside the tuner allows the use of the unit for months without replacement. No battery power is consumed by the unit when powered off.”
Turns out, they mean it saves power only with the mechanical power switch turned “off.”
This, in turn, means that the user must remember each time they use the mAT-705 to flip the mAT-705 mechanical switch off. If left in the “on” position by accident, even with no connection to the IC-705 and while not in use, it will deplete a 9V cell in a matter of a few days.
This is a significant issue, in my opinion, and is compounded by a few other design choices:
Complicated battery removal
There is no “easy access” to the mAT-705 battery. The user must use a supplied (standard) Allen wrench and unscrew the rear panel from the chassis.
As we mentioned in our previous post, Mat-Tuner actually has a procedure for opening the case and replacing the 9V battery in order to prevent the LED illuminators from falling out. I followed this procedure to the letter, yet the illuminators still fell out. They simply aren’t secured properly and would be very easy to lose if replacing a battery in the field.
Once open, you discover that the 9V battery’s holder is a piece of double-sided tape. Seriously:
In addition, the ATU board essentially “floats” in the chassis secured in slide-in slots. The problem is the back panel–which you pull to remove the board–is only secured to the ATU board with three wired solder points.
Even when I lay the board down carefully, gravity will bend those BNC connections.
I can’t imagine this holding up with multiple battery replacements.
No external power port
Given that battery removal will take a user at least 5 minutes, I find it a little surprising that there’s no external power port.
It would be no problem at all for me, if the 9V battery died, to simply hook the mAT-705 up to my portable DC distribution panel like I can do with other external ATUs. But since this isn’t an option, you’re simply out of luck in the field. Better carry spare 9V batteries!
Where the lack of an external power port is really an issue, though, is for mAT-705 users in the shack. If the IC-705 becomes one of your main radios, you’ll have to be very disciplined to turn it on and off each time you use it, else you’re going to be replacing a lot of 9V cells.
Command connection to the IC-705 is basic
It seems to me that if you build an antenna tuner specifically to pair with a radio via a dedicated control cable, the tuner could potentially:
derive power from the transceiver
or at least be told by the transceiver to turn completely off when not actively in use. Especially since once a match is found, it’s locked into position even if the mAT-705 has no power.
The mAT-705 can’t do either.
Is it a good ATU? Yes, but mostly no.
As I said above, my original review stands in terms of the mAT-705’s ability to match antennas, I think it’s brilliant.
But I can no longer recommend the mAT-705 until some of these design shortcomings are addressed.
I’ve never owned a portable ATU that required so much discipline from the user in order to preserve the battery. I’ve also never owned one that was so fragile internally. Most portable ATUs *only* turn on when finding a match and then either “sleep” or turn off when not in use.
And portable ATUs like the Elecraft T1, for example? Even have a convenient battery compartment for easy removal. (And, oh yeah, the T1 will run ages on a 9V!)
To add insult to injury, it’s one thing to discover that your mAT-705 ATU eats 9V batteries if left on but not in use, but it’s quite something else to discover your $220 ATU’s 9V battery is held in with a piece of double-sided sticky tape.
How long could this possibly function if you’re replacing batteries frequently in the field?
My hope is that Mat-Tuner will sort out this design and re-introduce the mAT-705 to the market. I’ve heard so many positive things about other Mat-Tuner models which is why I wanted to try one out with the IC-705.
Mat-Tuner ATUs are sold by respected retailers in the ham radio world (like Vibroplex, who loaned this model for review) so I expect they’ll address these concerns in the coming months. I’ll certainly post all updates here on QRPer.
Until then, I have to recommend skipping the $220 mAT-705 and instead purchasing the excellent ($160 kit/$190 assembled) Elecraft T1.
Many thanks to Steve (KZ4TN) who shares the following guest post:
DC30B QRP Transceiver Project
by Steve Allen, KZ4TN
I wanted to build a lightweight backpackable transceiver I could take hiking and camping. I chose the 30 meter band as it is specific to CW and the digital modes. I am also in the process of building Dave Benson’s (K1SWL) Phaser Digital Mode QRP Transceiver kit for the 30 meter band. Also, a 30 meter antenna is a bit smaller than one for 40 meters and the band is open most anytime of the day.
I sourced the DC30B transceiver kit, designed by Steve Weber KD1JV, from Pacific Antennas, http://www.qrpkits.com. It appears that they are now (10-11-20) only offering the kit for the 40 meter band. The following information can be used for the assembly of most any kit that lacks an enclosure.
Lately I have been finding extruded aluminum enclosures on Amazon.com and eBay.com. They come in many sizes and configurations. I like to use the versions with the split case which allows you to access the internal enclosure with the front and rear panels attached to the lower half of the enclosure. Most of these enclosures have a slot cut into the sides that allow a PCB to slide into the slots keeping it above the bottom of the enclosure without having to use standoffs. The one requirement for assembly is that the PCB needs to be attached to either the front or rear panel to hold it in place.
As the enclosure is anodized, I didn’t want to rely on the enclosure for common ground. I used a piece of copper clad board that I cut to fit the slot width of the enclosure and attached it to the back panel. I was then able to mount the transceiver PCB to the copper clad board with standoffs. This basic platform of the enclosure with the copper clad PCB provides a good foundation for any number of projects. All you have to do is mount the wired PCB on the board, install the components on the front and rear panel, then wire it up.
I wanted to have the choice of a few frequencies to operate on so I searched eBay for 30 meter crystals and found a source for 4 different popular frequencies. I installed a rotary switch on the front panel and added a small auxiliary PCB with two, 4 pin machined IC sockets. This allowed me to plug the crystals into the sockets. I wired the bottom of the socket PCB first using wire pairs stripped from computer ribbon cable leaving extra length. I marked the wires with dots to indicate which sockets each wire pair went to so I could solder them onto the rotary switch in the correct order. It was tight but I always work with optical magnification so I can see exactly what I’m doing. I have used this crystal switching method in the past with good success.
The rest of the assembly was straight forward. I find that most kits are well designed and documented, and if you take your time and follow the directions carefully all should go well. The two most common speed bumps seem to be soldering in the wrong component or bad soldering technique. I double check all component values and placements prior to soldering, and I always use optical magnification while working. I inspect each solder joint and look for good flow through in the plated through holes, and make sure there are no solder bridges.
The finished product. I bought a Dymo label maker and it works very well for projects like this. I love using these enclosures and they are a leap forward from the old folded aluminum clam shells I used in the past. I could stand on this without causing any damage. Power out is 1-3 watts depending on the DC power in. The receiver is sensitive and the ability to choose from four frequencies is a real plus.
73 de KZ4TN
Wow, Steve! What a top-shelf job on this build! I’ll have to look for those aluminum enclosures as well. Beautiful little rig you’ve made there and I think it’s fantastic you’ve a few crystal frequency options! Thank you for sharing!
My cootie/sideswiper was inspired by an article (http://sideswipernet.org/articles/w9ok-modernization.php) by W9LA about how hams in the 1930s might have constructed a cootie/sideswiper using a ceramic DPST knife switch. I didn’t have a ceramic DPST knife switch, but I did have a nice Leviton ceramic DPDT knife switch which I used as the basis for my cootie/sideswiper. Instead of using tape for the fingerpieces as described in the article, I used Fender guitar picks.
This cootie is the key I use most often for home-based operations.
This (see photo above) is the one I built a few years ago from a hacksaw blade, cabinet fixtures and a crafter’s block of wood. The felt pad finger pieces allow me send more smoothly than with the bare metal lever.
I also used 4 pads under the base for gripping.
Since I had most of this stuff on hand the cost of the project was less than $4 dollars.
Fantastic, Mike! And I understand Hermione sends like a dream!
Thanks for sharing, Mike! Anyone else care to share a photo of their homebrew key? Please comment or contact me!
I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1997. In the first decade of my amateur radio life, I only owned three HF radios (Icom IC-735, Yaesu FT-817, and a Ten-Tec OMNI VI+).
As I got into writing, blogging, and evaluating/testing radios, that number increased. Quite often, radios are only in my shack for a short period of time as I alpha/beta test and/or review production run units.
I try not to get attached to radios because I know they’re often only temporarily in the shack.
Over the years, there have been a few radios I’ve sold for…let’s say “pragmatic” reasons. It’s very rare that I purchase a radio with the intention of keeping it only to find that I want to sell it shortly thereafter. More likely than not, I sell because the radio is redundant (how many field radios does one need–?) or because I’m raising money to make a larger purchase.
Here’s a short list of transceivers I regret selling/trading:
I sold my Elecraft KX1 in 2016 in order to help purchase my Elecraft KX2. It was a solid decision. The KX2 has become my favorite field radio (here’s my review) and was SO much more versatile than the KX1. Still: I really miss the KX1. I loved how bare-bones it was, I loved the top-mounted controls and the fact I often operated it while simply holding it in my hands. The controls were super easy to use even with gloves on in the winter. Plus, it was “cute” in a boxy Elecraft sort of way. If I ever find a deal on another one, I might grab it!
I’ve owned both the Elecraft K2/10 and K2/100. Funny story: I acquired a K2/10 in 2008 or so and absolutely loved the radio. After I purchased my KX3 in 2013, however, it was rarely used and sat on my shelf as a “back-up” radio. Eventually, I decided to sell it and did so with ease. Within a week of selling it, a local ham posted on our club email list that he was selling a K2/100 in an SK sale. He wasn’t sure of all of the upgrades, but knew it was a K2/100. The price was very low, but there were no takers after a few days, so I bought it. I used the K2/100 for a few years and it served as a back-up 100 watt radio. I eventually sold it, though, to purchase a KXPA100 used. Now, of course, I do miss that radio. In truth, I’ll likely never purchase one again, because I own so many other transceivers–and the KXPA100 is truly a genius compliment to the KX2 and KX3–but I do have an affinity for that fine rig.
Index Labs QRP++
My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) is to blame for this radio. He owned an Index Labs QRP+ for years. He loved operating it in the field and at home. It was the first QRP radio I ever saw in action (at this particular field event). More than 10 years ago, I happened upon a great deal on a QRP++ and instantly bought it. It was SO much fun to operate—super simple, yet had pretty much every feature you’d want in a basic transceiver. I sold it because, frankly, performance was sub-par especially if you ever planned to use it in an RF-dense environment. The receiver front end would simply fall apart, for example, during contests or events like Field Day. Otherwise, it was a pretty sensitive radio. It was incredibly portable and had that awfully “cute” cube form factor. Another fear I had was availability of replacement parts. Index Labs was no longer in business and there were quite a few obsolete parts in the radio. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say I “regret” selling it because, in truth I don’t. But when I see them at hamfests, I’m still tempted to grab one if for no other reasons than nostalgia.
I purchased an ‘817 shortly after they were introduced in…what…2000? At the time, there wasn’t a radio like it on the market: it was the most compact full-featured HF/VHF/UHF radio in the amateur radio world. Back then, I was living in the UK and travelling all over Europe. I purchased the FT-817 with the idea that I could play radio while, say, working in Hagen, Munich, Chartres, Berlin, Torino, Pescara, or any of the other fabulous sites I regularly visited. I did pack the FT-817 on a number of occasions but since I’m a one-bag traveller, it was scrutinized to some degree at most airports—especially post-9/11. Also, my first production run model blew its finals within the first two years of ownership (a common problem that was addressed by Yaesu shortly after that production run).
I had the finals replaced by Burghardt Amateur Center but rarely used the FT-817 after that. Truth was, I found the radio’s front panel to be too compact and the embedded menus really frustrated me. But back then, I wasn’t as much of a field op as I am now and I could really appreciate a compact, affordable radio that also sports VHF/UHF operation—especially for SOTA activations. Plus, few transceivers have enjoyed a product life like the FT-817/818 which is now pushing 20 years on the market. While the 817/818 lacks a number of features I’ve grown to love (like memory keying) I do believe I may purchase an FT-818 next time they go on sale. In the end, I miss the rig.
How about you? Any regrets?
Please feel free to comment with any radios you regret selling, trading, or giving away over the years and tell us why you miss it! Inquiring minds want to know!