On The Air: ARRL’s excellent magazine for newcomers…only available behind their paywall

Cover of the new “On The Air” e-magazine from the ARRL

[Please note: this is a cross-post from our sister site, the SWLing Post.]

Today, the ARRL released their new electronic magazine for ham radio newcomers: On The Air.

The ARRL describes On The Air‘s mission:

“On the Air magazine is the newest ARRL member benefit to help new licensees and beginner-to-intermediate radio communicators navigate the world of amateur radio. Delivered six times a year, the magazine will present articles, how-to’s, and tips for selecting equipment, building projects, getting involved in emergency communication as well as spotlighting the experiences of people using radio to serve their communities, and those using it for enjoyment.”

I checked out On The Air and was quite pleased with the scope of the magazine. The first issue covers topics such as: understanding the ionosphere, choosing your first radio, building simple antennas, and much more. I love the fact that the articles are written with newcomers in mind, too; less technical jargon and more explanations.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been teaching a ham radio class to a group of high school students. Most of the students have now acquired their Technician licenses, and we’re even plotting a General class course for the fall.

Last month, I shared some copies of QST (the ARRL monthly member magazine) with my students. While they enjoyed looking through the pages of QST, many told me they simply didn’t understand the articles yet…There’s just not a lot inside a QST issue to grab the attention of a fifteen or sixteen year old who’s just gotten her ticket. Understandable.

Then, I learned about On The Air from a friend with the ARRL.  I was so glad to hear that the League was finally making a bi-monthly magazine aimed squarely at newcomers! I was also pleased it was an e-publication, because it will be that much easier to share with my class and propagate to prospective students.

But today, I discovered, to my dismay, that other than the premier issue, On The Air is for ARRL members only. Here’s a screen grab from the website:

But…”for members only”––?

Alas, in limiting access, the ARRL has essentially insured that most of their target audience won’t ever have the opportunity to read On The Air, and thus they’ve crippled the best ARRL recruitment tool I’ve ever seen. 

What a shame.

I’ve contacted my ARRL representative and asked that they reconsider the decision to hide this brilliant magazine behind a membership paywall. I’m pretty sure that ad revenue and membership fees could readily cover the cost of publishing this electronic edition. After all, On The Air could lead to a lot more ARRL members! And, indeed, I hope it will.

If you feel as I do, please contact your ARRL Section manager. It may be that those making the decisions are, in this case, a little out of touch with the future of amateur radio.

Update – To be clear about this post: I’m not implying anything bad about the ARRL here, I just think it’s a lost opportunity if they keep future editions of On The Air behind the member pay wall. I imagine that ad revenue alone could more than support this niche publication if they simply release it as a free PDF. The real benefit, though, could be an increase in ARRL membership as On The Air readers get a taste of what the League could offer! In other words: this is an opportunity!

What do you think? Should On The Air be free to anyone interested in amateur radio, or for members only? Please comment!

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The uBITX V6 is a power outage companion

QRPer Readers: Please note that the following is a cross-post from my other radio blog, the SWLing Post. For more information about the uBITX V6 and a short post about assembling it, check out this post.


Yesterday, a weather front moved through the area that dropped temperatures from an unseasonably high of 50F to 25F in the space of a couple of hours.  Fronts like this always equate to high winds here at our altitude. This time, it packed a little snow as well.

Last night, around 22:00 local, our power went out due to a fallen tree further down the road.

Here at SWLing Post HQ, we don’t panic about power outages. As I’ve mentioned before, our refrigerator, freezer and some of our home lighting is solar-powered and off-grid–we also rely on passive solar heating and a good wood stove to keep us warm and cozy.

Without fail, I always use power outages as an excuse to play radio on battery power.

This morning, the uBITX V6 transceiver was already hooked up to a LiFePo battery on my desktop, so I simply turned it on and started tuning around the 40 meter band, where I had recently logged a few POTA contacts. Problem was, the band was absolutely dead, save a couple weak stations. After thinking about it a few seconds (keep in mind this was pre-coffee) I put on my boots and coat, walked outside and confirmed my suspicions: the antenna feedline had become detached from my external ATU box.

The winds were strong enough last night, that the ladder line pulled itself out of the banana connector jacks on the side of the ATU box. This happens quite often during periods of high winds and is a bit annoying. Of course, I could secure the feedline in such a way that it would easily survive high winds without disconnecting, but frankly this is an intentional design choice. You see, when a black bear walks into my feedline, it easily disconnects before the bear gets tangled, up, frustrated and yanks my antenna out of the tree!

Trust me on this: bears and antennas don’t mix. I speak from experience.

After re-connecting the antenna, I fired up my portable alcohol stove (the one you might have seen in this post), boiled water, and made a fresh cup of coffee to take back to the shack.

I turned on the uBITX once again and found that the 40 meter band was chock-full of strong signals.

It’s time to go chase a few more parks today and plot my next POTA activation.

Frankly, I’m in no hurry for the power to be restored.  It’s a wonderful excuse to play radio.

Readers: Anyone else enjoy radio time when the grid goes down? Please comment!


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TK0C 2019 Contest Video

Many thanks to Paul (W4/VP9KF), who shares the following:

Having almost become a TK resident, this is one of the best ever contest
videos ever:

I recognise their QTH and so wish I’d been there!!!!!!

Thanks for sharing this, Paul! An amazing amount of effort was certainly put into this contest and no doubt it paid off!

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Icom IC-705 price and availability

Note: We will update this post as pricing information is confirmed by retailers. This is a cross-post from our other radio blog, the SWLing Post.

Many thanks to several SWLing Post readers who have been carefully tracking the price of the Icom IC-705 transceiver which is expected to start shipping around the second quarter of 2020.

Pricing in Japan: 124,800 yen

Paul Evans notes that the price in Japan, according to this Icom Japan press release [PDF], is 124,800 yen + tax. That’s roughly $1150-1200 USD.

Pricing in UK: £1200.

In addition, ML&S have recently posted updated details from Icom UK and have noted that they “anticipate a price of around £1200.” To put that in perspective, the IC-7300 is currently being offered for the same price and it’s been on the market a while now.

This could mean that after the IC-705 has been on the market for a while, discounts could place it well below that of the IC-7300. Of course, if history is an indicator, early adopters will likely pay the top price.

Pricing in US: [TBD]

No confirmation yet from US retailers, but at this point, I would bet we could see pricing around $999 USD. That would be a competitive starting point. Of course, once we have confirmation from retailers we’ll update this with actual figures.

Other regional pricing

We will update this post with pricing and availability once we confirm details. Please comment with any tips!


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uBITX v6 QRP transceiver now available for $150/$199 US

Many thanks to QRPer, Pete (WB9FLW), who notes that Ashhar Farhan (VU2ESE) has recently announced the availability of the uBITX v 6.0–as Pete notes, “just in time for the Holidays!

Pete shared the following message from Farhan:

Here is what [the uBITx v 6.0] looks like :

And of course, you can buy it on hfsignals.com. The shipping will happen from Tuesday onwards. We have a limited supply of the first 200 boards. The rest is for after Christmas.

The most important thing about this revision is that the Radio circuitry is almost unchanged. We have incorporated the connectors on the PCBs. So, this kit needs none of the confusing soldering. You snap in the TFT Raduino onto the main board, plug the power and antenna from the back, snap on headphones, plug in the mic (supplied with the kit) and off you go!

It is offered in two kits now : The basic kit (150 USD) is without the box (like old times) but with a microphone and two acrylic templates for the front and back panels.

The Full kit (199 USD) has the box with speaker, mounting hardware etc. Both are described on the website.

Now, about the TFT display:

For those who are using the 16×2 display and you would like to upgrade, you will have to do three things:

Add a heatsink to the 7805 of the raduino

Buy [here] and hook it up as per [this article].

Grab the new Arduino sketch from https://github.com/afarhan/ubitxv6

Background:

I have been hacking away at adding a TFT display for the Arduino for sometime. Finally, I managed to do this with a really inexpensive 2.8 inch TFT display that uses a controller called the ILI9341. The display update is slow but, clever guy that I am, the display very usable. it uses the same pins that earlier connected to the 16×2 LCD display. This display is available everywhere for a few dollars.

Many thanks, Pete, for sharing this announcement. The price was simply too attractive to me, so I just purchased the full kit for $199 US. (Thanks for being the good enabler you are, Pete!)

I’ll post an update when I receive the transceiver and assemble it. I do hope this is a workable little radio–it would be pretty amazing for newcomers to the hobby to be able to get on the HF bands for a mere $200 US. I also love the fact that this is all based on open-source, hackable technologies.

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Cold War Sports: High-Speed Telegraphy

Many thanks to Paul Evans, who shares the following short radio documentary from the BBC World Service:

The end of the Cold War in 1989 spelt the demise of a little-known, but surprisingly popular sport behind the Iron Curtain – high-speed telegraphy competitions. With the help of two of Czechoslovakia’s best former Morse-coders, we revisit the inaugural World Championship in Moscow in 1983 when the Soviet Union rolled out the red carpet for teams from across the Communist bloc. Ashley Byrne reports. The programme is a Made-In-Manchester Production.

Click here to listen to this program via the BBC.

As Paul points out, “HST is still going strong as a sport!” Indeed it is because CW is simply timeless! Thanks for the tip, Paul!

Note: This is a cross-post from the SWLing Post.

Posted in CW | 1 Comment

Dave Benson’s new Phaser Digital Mode Transceiver kit

Many thanks to QRPer, Pete (WB9FLW), who writes:

Just in time for Christmas, Dave Benson is back with a great new line of Monoband Digital Mode Transceivers! 40 & 80 Meters is available now 30 & 20 Meter Rigs to follow shortly.

Time for me to contact Santa Claus and update my Christmas Wish List 🙂

These are Single Signal Phasing Rigs not DSB.

Pete WB9FLW,

http://www.midnightdesignsolutions.com/phaser/

http://www.midnightdesignsolutions.com/phaser/Phaser-40%20Instructions%20(Rev%20A).pdf

WOW! Thanks for the tip, Pete! I think I might give Santa a hint! This looks like a fun kit!

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2019 Homebrew Heros Award Winner

Many thanks to Pete Eaton who notes that Hans Summers has won the 2019 Homebrew Heroes award. Congratulations, Hans!

Click here to view on YouTube.

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QRPGuys new DSB Digital Transceiver kit

Many thanks to QRPer, Pete (WB9FLW), who writes:

QRPGuys has just introduced a new Multiband DSB Digital Transceiver for FT8.

At $40 it introduces a new price point for such Rigs as it includes band modules for 40/30/20 Meters! For those wanting to experiment with different Bands extra bare boards are available for sale.

The rig as it comes is crystal controlled for FT8 but fear not the main board includes connections for an external VFO. As an example one could use one of the very popular Si5351 VFO Kits and be able to QSY to operate the different modes available to the Amateur Community today.

Let the fun begin 🙂

Pete WB9FLW

Thanks so much for the tip, Pete! What a great little project!

Click here to check out the DSB Digital Transceiver at QRPguys.

Posted in FT8, Kits, News, Product Announcements, QRP | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

From the SWLing Post: A final review of the CommRadio CTX-10 QRP transceiver

The following article was originally posted on my other radio blog, the SWLing Post.

Earlier this year I published what I called an “initial” review of the CommRadio CTX-10 QRP transceiver, promising an eventual final review. The reason for this is that I sensed there were important CTX-10 updates on the horizon, and I wanted to re-evaluate the rig once the upgrades had been implemented through firmware.

This final review builds upon the initial review––think of it as the  second installment, or “Part 2″––so if you’re considering the purchase of a CTX-10 and haven’t read the previous post about it, please do read the initial review first.

Upgrades

As anticipated, via simple at-home firmware updates, since my initial review the CTX-10 has now been upgraded and tweaked a number of times. [Click here to view all of the documented firmware updates and notes at CommRadio.]

I’ve been very pleased with the attention CommRadio has paid to their customer feedback on some of the most important requests.

Instead of reiterating what I wrote in the initial review, I’ll jump straight into the upgrades.

Operating split

At time of posting my initial review, the CTX-10 didn’t have A/B VFOs. This was my primary gripe about the CTX-10, because without A/B VFOs, there was no way to operate split, which meant that you could not work DX stations that use split to manage large pileups. This is actually a really important feature for a QRP radio because during split operation, a pileup is pulled apart across a few kHz of bandwidth, thus giving a 10-watt signal a better chance of being heard through a collection of legal-limit signals.

On June 10, 2019, CommRadio released a firmware package that added A/B VFOs and the ability to operate split to the CTX-10.

Even though there are only a limited number of buttons on the front panel, it’s incredibly simple to enter into split mode:

  1. Chose the frequency and mode;
  2. Hold the STEP button for one second or more, then release. You’ll then see a split display indicating the TX and RX frequencies.
  3. Use the left arrow key [<] to toggle between them.

I do like the clear TX and RX lines, which leave no doubt in the user’s mind what the frequency used for transmitting and receiving is. On some radios, this can be a bit confusing.

Split operation is simple and effective, thus I consider this issue fully resolved.

ATU flexibility

In my initial review, I noted that the CTX-10 ATU needed near-resonant antennas for the ATU to make a strong 1:1 match. Indeed, a number of times I actually used a near-resonant antenna in the field––the EFT Trail-Friendly, for example––and the ATU couldn’t get below a 3:1 match. For what it’s worth, CommRadio states that the CTX-10 can easily handle 3:1.

Making a Parks On The Air activation at Tar Hollow in Ohio.

CommRadio has made modifications to the ATU function, improving the performance of the antenna-tuner algorithm, which had a significant impact on 80 and 60 meters. I’ve also had better luck with a number of field antennas I’ve tried on 40 and 20 meters. Is it as good as the Elecraft KX-series ATUs? No, but I consider those ATUs to be some of the most flexible on the market.

Having a built-in ATU on the CTX-10 is certainly a valuable feature in the field. When I need to match a challenging antenna with the CTX-10, I bring my Emtech ZM-2 manual tuner along for the ride. A perfect combo.

SSB operation?

There still is no way to adjust the microphone gain control nor microphone compression on the CTX-10. Much like a military or commercial radio, the CTX-10 is optimized for just one style of mic: in its case, the modular MFJ-290MY or Yaesu MH-31A8J handheld mic.

The CTX-10 microphone input has a limiting pre-amplifier with built-in compressor and ambient noise gate–in short, the CTX-10 handles all microphone settings automatically.

Through firmware updates, a number of positive adjustments have been made to the microphone settings:

  • the microphone-decay timer has been tweaked so that audio clipping is less of a concern
  • audio clarity and gain have been improved
  • audio power has been improved resulting in .5 to .75 watts of additional peak power
  • microphone audio leveling has been improved
  • VOX attack and decay timing has been improved

These are all welcome adjustments.

I would note here, though, that if you plan to use a mic other than the MFJ-290MY or Yaesu MH-31A8J handheld mics, you will have a limited means of adjusting the mic parameters unless you have an external mic EQ. A number of readers, for example, have asked about using their Heil boom headset with the AD-1-YM cable adapter on the CTX-10. Boom headsets are a wonderful tool for field operation because they free your hands to log contacts. As for using boom headsets on the CTX-10, since I don’t have the appropriate adapter, I can’t speak to this. But since you can’t control mic gain, it might take time to learn how to position the boom mic and adjust your voice level for optimum performance.

CW operation

As mentioned in our initial review, the CTX-10 does not support QSK/full break-in operation. Rather, the CTX-10 uses a traditional relay for switching between transmit and receive.  During CW operations, you’ll hear a faint relay click when switching from TX to RX and back again.

This isn’t a problem for me, as I rarely set my CW rigs for full break-in, but the CW hang time delay on the CTX-10 is not currently adjustable. For high-speed CW ops that prefer a faster relay recovery, I suspect this could be an annoyance.

There have been recent CTX-10 firmware upgrades that have helped solve issues found with CW keyer timing in early units. I found the timing issues were mainly present while sending high-speed CW (25 WPM+). My buddy Vlado (N3CZ) put the CTX-10 through some high speed tests, and was pleased with the results overall.

I will reiterate here that the CTX-10 lacks other controls many CW operators appreciate. Currently, the CTX-10 lacks a sidetone control; as a result, you cannot change the sidetone volume/tone, nor can you turn it off. I continue to hope that CommRadio will fix this quirk via a future firmware upgrade.

The CTX-10’s built-in CW keyer does not currently support iambic keying. Meaning, when both levers of a dual paddle are closed simultaneously (squeezed), it will not send a series of alternating dots and dashes. I imagine this could be addressed in a future firmware update.

Additionally, without re-wiring your paddle, you can’t change which side of your paddle sends ‘dits’ and which sends ‘dahs.’  A minor con, for sure–still, most modern QRP transceivers allow you this flexibility.

All in all, the CTX-10 will serve the CW operator much like a military set in field operations. True, I wish it had a few more adjustments, but it has all of the basics, and I’ve received several great reports regarding signal and tone.

Revisiting the basic feature set

Let’s be clear: as I stated at length in my initial review, the CommRadio CTX-10 was designed around simple operation, like one might expect from a military or commercial channelized radio. I know ham radio operators and preparedness enthusiasts who prefer this approach to gear design, and they will appreciate this CTX-10 design philosophy.

Still, the CTX-10 lacks many of the features and adjustments you’d typically find on a QRP transceiver in its price class. Instead, the CTX-10 was designed to handle many of these adjustments automatically.

The CTX-10 still has no separate RF gain control. The CTX-10’s RF gain is directly tied to the three AGC settings (slow, medium, and fast). While I believe it does a fine job of adjusting RF gain, I do ride an RF gain control a lot during noisy summer conditions, and miss this feature.

The CTX-10 still has no passband (PBT) control, notch filter, or noise blanker––all features I’d normally expect in a QRP radio at this price level.

There are no CW (os SSB) memory keyers. I wouldn’t expect these, as I believe only the Elecraft KX2 and KX3 sport this feature in this price class of QRP radios.

Please note: some of these features could potentially be added in future firmware upgrades. If one of these items is keeping you from purchasing the CTX-10, please contact CommRadio and inquire.

Is the CTX-10 for you?

The CTX-10 on air at the W4DXCC conference

With the most recent upgrades, CommRadio has solved the major issues that kept me from heartily recommending it in my initial review.

The addition of split operation was especially key for me, as I do operate split. The more nuanced adjustments to the CW keyer, an extra feature to prevent the radio from accidentally turning on while in transit, and the adjustments to the mic algorithm, all make this radio more pleasant to operate at home or (especially) in the field.

As I mentioned in the initial review, the CTX-10 owner is one who values a very simple, straightforward radio. Perhaps someone who began operating in a commercial, military, or aviation field, and/or who likes the “get on and get the job done” approach.  Someone more interested in making contacts than in radio operations and refinements. Those who want a sturdy, lasting, no-frills, set-it-and-forget-it rig. If that’s you, take a closer look at the CTX-10: it may just suit your needs to a T.

If, however, you’re looking for a full-featured QRP radio with many of the features and nuanced adjustments you’d expect in the shack, check out the Yaesu FT-818, Elecraft KX2, or Elecraft KX3. All of these excellent rigs are time-tested and very flexible.

The two major advantages of the CTX-10 over competitors are:

  • the ability to charge the internal batteries from almost any voltage source, and
  • a higher TX duty cycle (without needing to add external heat sinks).

I believe the CTX-10 will have strong appeal for radio enthusiasts who value these characteristics:

  • All-in-one-box portability with no extra wired accessory components
  • Best-in-class internal battery life
  • Best-in-class intelligent battery charging
  • HF packs
  • Digital modes like FT-8 and the ability to operate them in the field from internal batteries for extended periods of time
  • The equivalent of a simple portable military/commercial set
  • A well-balanced receiver with few manual adjustments
  • Broadcast listening, as the CTX-10 is also superb broadcast receiver
  • Best-in-class hardware

The CTX-10’s overall construction and components are, as I’ve said, near mil-spec. While the CTX-10 isn’t weatherized or waterproof––no more than any of its current competitors––the construction is top-shelf, for sure. It should run for decades without need of repair.

The CTX-10 is built like a tank, and has excellent receiver characteristics for field operation. It’s also designed and manufactured right here in the USA. All the better.

Click here to check out the CTX-10 at CommRadio.

Click here to check price and availability at Universal Radio.


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