In all of the hundreds of field activations I’ve attempted since the days of the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, I’ve only arrived on site two or three times and discovered I was missing a key component of my field kit. Out of those times, only once do I remember that the missing component prevented my activation (it was hard to power my radio without a battery and power cable). The other times, I was able to improvise.
As I mentioned in this two-parter series, I tend to build two different types of field kits:
- one that’s fully self-contained (like the MTR-3B kit),
- or one that’s modular, where component families (transceiver, antenna, power, etc) are in their own packs and can be moved from pack to pack.
I always prefer having dedicated field kits, but they’re pricey because they require a dedicated antenna, battery, radio, key/mic, earphones, pack, connectors, and sometimes even their own throw line.
I assemble modular kits around a particular radio and antenna system prior to leaving the QTH to go on an activation. I have a method for doing this which prevents me from leaving stuff behind.
Save this time…
On Thursday, April 7, 2022, before leaving the house for a quick overnight trip, I grabbed my SOTA pack and disconnected my Elecraft KX3 from the KXPA100 amp in the shack.
My KX3 is used a lot in the shack–along with the Mission RGO One and Ten-Tec Argonaut V–it’s one of my staple rigs at the QTH. I didn’t think I would have time to complete an activation on this quick trip, but if I did, I wanted to use the KX3. I also grabbed one of my pouches that contained a 12V battery, distribution panel, and power cord.
Also inside the pack was my Elecraft KX2 kit. It was in there from a previous activation, so I just left it in the bag.
When a window of opportunity for a quick activation opened on Friday, April 8, 2022, I grabbed it. I didn’t have time to go far afield, so I chose to activate the closest park to where I was running errands that day.
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
Not a good feeling, but I was only 10 minutes from the park, so there was no turning back.
You see, a couple days beforehand, I did a bit of an antenna inventory at the QTH–I took all of my antennas out of their packs, checked them over carefully for any damage or fault points and made notes.
I normally keep a 20M EFHW antenna in my KX2 field kit, but I remembered that also I removed it during the inventory.
Once I arrived at Fort Dobbs, I opened my SOTA pack and confirmed that I had no antenna. Not a one.
I kept a clear head and realized that if I wanted to complete the activation, I needed to do one of two things:
- Search the car in case, somehow, I had a spare antenna floating around in there. Unlikely, but I’d feel like a fool if I aborted an activation with an antenna in the car.
- Go to a nearby hardware or dollar store and find some cheap wire. The KX3 has a brilliant internal ATU to match pretty much any wire I connect to it.
So, I searched the car.
By some miracle I found the same spool of speaker wire I used to make my 28.5′ random wire antenna in 2021. I did not expect that spool to be in the car–what a pleasant surprise!
I didn’t intentionally put the speaker wire in the car. In fact, I think it was in a box of antenna-building supplies I took to share with a friend a couple weeks earlier. The box was pretty full, and I suppose it slipped out? I found it under our picnic blanket. It was like finding gold. No kidding.
This speaker wire saved me a trip to the hardware store.
Besides, I’d been thinking about making another speaker wire antenna for the field kit I’m building around the Xiegu X6100, but instead of using a 28.5′ radiator as I did with my first random wire, I thought about lengthening it to 31′ and shortening the counterpoise to 17′. These are proven lengths used by other field ops. I thought the longer 31′ radiator might afford matches on the 60 meter band.
No antenna, no problem!
I was actually kind of chuffed to do a bit of field improvisation!
I also realized I didn’t have a tape measure to cut the radiator and counterpoise to length.
What I did have, though, were standard North Carolina issue park picnic tables which I knew were eight feet in length!
I used the picnic table top to measure out 32 feet (thus four lengths of the table) and simply backed off a little less than one foot on the last pass to yield 31 feet. (A few extra inches provides length to make a loop at the end of the radiator.)
I then split the zip cord into two 31′ lengths.
Next, I took one of the 31′ lengths and measured 16 feet on the picnic table (two lengths of the table) and added one more (estimated) foot to give me 17 feet for the counterpoise.
Finally, I stripped the ends of the wires and inserted them into the BNC binding post adapter I keep in my KX2 kit.
What made all of this possible, of course, was the fact that the KX3 has a rather wide range internal ATU. With no way to otherwise match impedance, I would have needed to build a more complicated antenna. That was not in the cards on a day when I had such a small activation window.
In addition, without the BNC binding post adapter, I would have struggled to connect the radiator and counterpoise to the KX3. I could have connected to the counterpoise to one of the KX3 ground lugs, but fitting the radiator conductor in the female BNC port and keeping it there on a windy day? That would have been very challenging indeed. Not impossible, mind you, but certainly not an elegant solution.
- Elecraft KX3
- 31′ radiator, 17.5′ counterpoise speaker wire antenna using one BNC Binding Post Adapter (affiliate link)
- N0SA SOTA Paddle (note: no longer in production)
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Bioenno 3 aH LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-1203AB)
- Ham Radio Workbench DC Distribution Panel Model HRWB101
- Mini Arborist throw line kit: Tom Bihn Small Travel Tray, Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, and Weaver 8 or 10oz weight
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch (affiliate link)
- Moleskine Cahier Journal (affiliate link)
- Zebra Mechanical Pencil, Del Guard, 0.7mm (affiliate link)
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera (affiliate link)
Even taking the time to film this activation and antenna build, I still was able to hop on the air in fairly short order.
On the air
Starting on 40 meters, I quickly found and worked my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) who was also activating a park in Ohio. Turns out this would be the first of three Park-To-Park (P2P) contacts.
Within 13 minutes, I worked eight stations on 40 meters.
I then decided to QSY to the 30 meter band.
Turns out, 30 meters was much more active than 40 that day. I worked a total of 14 stations in thirteen minutes! Not bad at all!
I would have liked to hit 20 meters, but I needed to move on as I also had a 1.5 hour drive back to the QTH that afternoon.
These super simple random wire antennas that rely on your ATU to find an impedance match aren’t the most efficient out there, but as you can see they do work quite well even with only 5 watts of power:
Here’s my real-time, real-life activation video which includes most of the antenna construction:
I was lucky to have the speaker wire in the car. I was prepared to drive five minutes to a hardware store and grab pretty much any cheap wire I could find to complete this activation, but in truth I barely had the time to do that since my activation window was so short.
I was so pleased it all worked out and now I even have a dedicated antenna for the X6100 field kit! Woo hoo!
As I mention in the video, I’m going to consider this the March entry for my 2022 antenna challenge where I hope–by end of year–I’ll have build 12 antennas (roughly one per month). It’s been a super busy year and I’ve extended travels this summer, so I’ll likely build the majority of the antennas in the fall. Actually super excited about this challenge.
Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support which allows me to open up my work life to write more field reports and film more activation videos. Simple as they are, it takes hours of dedicated time to publish each one.
If you’ve never built an antenna, consider doing so sometime this year! With a good ATU, antennas can be as simple as the one I made in this activation. Without an ATU, you might need to wind a coil and attach some connection points, but it’s not difficult. If you’re not into homebrewing, consider one of the amazing and affordable end-fed half-wave kits on the market. Or build a simple or linked dipole. It’s quite rewarding hopping on the air with a homemade antenna!
Hey! Let’s go play radio!
Cheers & 72,
Look at this! You made it to the bottom of my field report! Congratulations!
As a reward (or punishment–?) here are a few extra photos I took at Fort Dobbs that day. Click images to enlarge: