Cheap POTA thrills with my new-to-me TEN-TEC R4020 QRP CW transceiver!

Last year, I made an impulse purchase.

You’re shocked, right–?

Right.

You see, I did something I’d never suggest others do: in a moment of boredom, I casually cruised the classifieds listings found on QTH.com.

One of the very first listings was for a TEN-TEC R4020 CW QRP transceiver. The price, if memory serves, was $120 (+/- $10) shipped.

Ten-Tec Model R4020 (Product Photo: Ten-Tec)

Without even thinking, I sent a message to the seller:

I’ll buy it if it’s still available!

He responded noting I was the first to reply to the ad, so it was mine if I wanted it.

I did, of course.

The R4020 arrived that same week, I opened the box, applied power to confirmed it powered up, then placed it on the top shelf in my shack.

At the time, I had a mountain of review and evaluations in process along with several articles in the pipeline for TSM and one for RadCom, and simply didn’t have time to properly explore the R4020. I thought it might be fun saving it as a little reward for meeting my deadlines.

Then, frankly, I just forgot about the R4020. This spring was a very busy time for me family-wise, then I spent the summer in Canada, and most of this fall has been all about catching up after having spent the summer in Canada. Funny how that works!

Fast-forward to November 11th, 2022 when I was packing a field radio kit to take on an overnight trip and I noticed the R4020 on the top shelf! My reward, finally–!

I quickly packed the R4020 in my Spec-Ops Order Pouch along with a 3Ah Bioenno LiFePo4 battery and a power cable.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

On Saturday, November 12, 2022, I jumped in the car and headed to South Mountains State Park with the R4020.

This past year, I’ve mostly set up at South Mountain’s Clear Creek Access on the west side of the park, but this time I decided to make my way to the equestrian picnic area near the main entrance and ranger station.

Fellow POTA activators Dave (W4JL) and Max (WG4Z) first made me aware of this particular spot because it’s one of the very few places on the park grounds where you stand a snowball’s chance of getting a cell phone signal for self-spotting!

I did operate from here once before with Max.

Setting up

Turns out, the R4020 fits beautifully in my Spec-Ops Order Pouch (see above), so this might become its permanent home. This particular pouch used to hold the QCX-Mini kit, but I recently moved the QCX-Mini to a waterproof box (more on that in a future report).

Although the R4020 covers both 40 and 20 meters, I decided to pair it with my PackTenna 20 meter EFHW (see above) because I thought 20 meters might be in better shape–propagation was a bit shaky.

I also brought my CW Morse Paddle with base. I had been using it in the shack a lot but realized that a paddle with heavy base is a huge plus for one-hand operating those times when I’m operating on a picnic table. I agree with my buddy John (AE5X) that it’s worth the weight. (Of course, for SOTA and trailside activations, I’ll still use my pocket and compact paddles.)

This was literally the first time I’d transmitted with the R4020 and in the activation video (below) you’ll see that I actually spent a few minutes skimming the owner’s manual.

Funny, but while preparing this report, I realized I first published an announcement about the TEN-TEC R4020 inthis post on QRPer from May, 2010–! That was over twelve years ago–since then, TEC-TEC was sold (twice), the factory in Tennessee was demolished and I’m not sure where the company stands at present. In fact, I mention in the video that TEN-TEC seemed to have completely closed down, but I just discovered a post on the T-T website noting that news of their demise came from a counterfeit press release.

This radio is super simple, so was a breeze to set up.

It was time to hit the air and see if she might actually transmit!

Gear:

On The Air

I turned on the R4020 and heard a number of signals on the air. A very good sign indeed!

I then started calling CQ POTA hoping the POTA RBN auto-spotting functionality was working because my cell phone signal was very weak. Fortunately, it did appear the R4020 was transmitting–I never really doubted this because the seller tested it before shipping it those many months prior.

Despite a somewhat anemic 20 meters, I worked my first ten contacts–validating the park activation–in only 9 minutes.

Woot! What fun!

I continued calling CQ POTA for an additional 16 minutes and worked eleven more stations for a total of 21 logged!

Here are my paper logs:

I would have continued logging stations, but I decided I had just enough time to fit in yet one more activation that day, so called QRT.

QSO Map

Here’s what this activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map. Note that the 20 meter band was a bit “short” that morning:

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Cheap POTA Thrills!

The TEN-TEC R4020 is a keeper.

Sure: it’s pretty feature-lacking and has a sidetone that sounds like an 8 bit video game, but it has everything needed to make for a fun-filled activation!

In fact, there’s a part of me that appreciates the simplicity of a radio like the R4020. Paired with a battery like the rechargeable Talentcell and a kit or homebrew 20 meter EFHW or dipole? You could build a high-quality, compact POTA/SOTA field kit for under $200.

Before you think that I got an exceptional deal on the R4020, I know someone who picked up one of these for $70 at a local hamfest. Seventy bucks was an exceptional deal for sure, but there are plenty of these and the YouKits equivalent floating around out there for under $150 US on the used market.

No doubt, the R4020 would be a very capable SOTA radio as well. It draws less than 60 milliamps in receive, so is insanely efficient to boot.

This little radio is going into regular rotation. Who knows? It might be time to think up a good name!

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this activation!

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation videos as much as I enjoyed creating them.

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.

Thank you so very much and have a wonderful weekend!

Go play radio!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

10 thoughts on “Cheap POTA thrills with my new-to-me TEN-TEC R4020 QRP CW transceiver!”

  1. A “new-to-me” toy? Wow! It’s like finding money in the pocket of a pair of slacks you wore last Christmas!

    Great report, I’ll watch the video.

    72 de W7UDT

  2. My wife says it is impolite to drool in public, but would buy this radio in a heartbeat, still regretting trading my old Century 21 in my old Novice days in which I did WAS & DXCC before I upgraded to General in 1981. Then I got my Extra, got married & got VUCC #125 before getting caught up & career & boy scouting leadership. Now in semi-retirement where my RV is too old for a ham shack these rigs are just perfect for picnic table operating while we learn to chase 70 deg year round. 🙂 73, Dave, KU9L

  3. I’ve heard that Ten-Tecs make great CW rigs. It’s a shame that they don’t seem to be putting anything out at the moment. Are there any used rigs besides this one to keep an eye out for?

  4. Thomas you lucky duck! I’ve been hankering one of those to keep the Argonauts company but I never see them for sale. I may actually remember having missed that particular radio. Due to you I threw my order out for a new Penntek TR-45L. Say it out loud….Penntek…..TenTec…..close enough!

  5. Yes one can get into QRP with less than $200. This includes a transceiver, battery, antenna like end fed. One items costing more is the keyer paddle, does cost to get a good one.

    One can get one of the Chinese 8 band 5W transceivers for $100-$120, some version go for $160. Rcvrs are not all that great, but will work fine and do have narrow 500 Hz filter for CW.

    I have one I loaned to a new General class and he used for couple weeks on SSB, checking into nets and working some DX. But are great for POTA.

    I am sure the Ten-Tec is good rig, not sure about the IF filter, but for me a narrow filter is must for CW, POTA or just regular operation.

    73, ron, n9ee

  6. From the same genre, I owned a HB-1B for a while. It was the most fun QRP RIG I have owned. I like to think I never sent a CQ that went unanswered. Long story short, I purchased a KX2 at Dayton the year they were announced and sold the HB-1B. I still suffer nostalgia everything I see one. My SW-3B doesn’t quite fill the bill.
    73, Rick K8BMA

    1. Yeah, I have drooled over the KX2/3 over the years. I sold my K2 when I had cataracts & regret selling it too, but now that I am fixed up I can see better than when I was 40, but my budget is more like when I was 10, LOL!

      73,

      Dave, KU9L

  7. The Youkits hb1b was my $200 QRP station project a few years ago. I went a little over budget, but I found a little 10″ waterproof case that snugly holds it at princess auto, an aliexpress 3sx18650 battery, and an ultra pico-keyer with attached qrpguys paddle. It goes in the canoe on the way to campsites with no worries, bouncing around bags with other gear.

    I like that price point for something that may get dropped or full of dirt some day. I really don’t feel like it’s much of a compromise. 5w, enough bands to always make contacts, good rx capability, including general coverage and ssb. What more do I need?

    I really like the filter knob on the Youkits rig, it’s an amazing feature and works fantastic. I use a tiny external Taylor swr bridge with all antennas, as my old model lacks a swr meter (and from that I assume, it probably has no protection either).

    1. The filter is really sharp. The only part I don’t like is that I am used to tuning across a signal and hearing the pitch change. With this it just appears and less than 1 khz away it’s gone. Some days I just pull out the direct conversion HW 8. It still has better sounding audio to me even if it’s wide as a barn door. I hope to find a Ten Tec Century 21 with the digital display someday. 73s N4HNO

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