Sometimes you just need a little radio-active therapy

This has been a busy summer.

In fact, “busy” is an understatement.

We have a number of DIY projects going on at the QTH, I’ve a long list of things I need to fix (this has been the year of everything breaking), we’re scoping out a new PV system, and family life has been at an all-time high in terms of activity.

It’s funny: Matt mentioned in his recent field report that my POTA/SOTA catchphrase is, “I don’t have much time for this activation.

It’s so true! I say and think that all the time.

My schedule is such that I so rarely have more than one hour tops to spend at a park or on a summit. At this point in my life–being the father of two amazing teenage girls, a husband, and checking in on my sweet parents regularly–my days are packed pretty darn full.

That said, I get a small thrill out of doing fully portable park activations even with a little time pressure. Perhaps it’s because it’s what I’ve gotten used to? Regardless, it’s fun.

My hope, by the way, is to add a bit more camping at parks into the mix this fall so I can spend long relaxing evening sessions on the air. We’ll see if that becomes a reality!

“Radio-Active Therapy”

One thing I know for sure: activating parks and summits is proper radio therapy.

I know I probably sound like a broken record on this point.

Something about hitting the field, deploying an antenna, hopping on the air, and using the “sacred language” (i.e. CW) just takes me away from all of my worries and obligations. It clears my headspace.

I liken it to the same feeling I get when mountain biking. When I mountain bike, I rarely think of anything other than the path in front of me, preparing for roots, rocks, and other things that could otherwise flip me off my bike.

With POTA and SOTA? I listen to the ether, pull out contacts, and connect with friends via magical wireless links. That’s where my mind goes.

After a good ride or a good activation, I feel a million dollars.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

The days leading up to Wednesday, July 12, 2023, had been particularly hectic; I was in need of some proper radio-active therapy, so I stopped by one of my favorite spots–Tuttle Educational State Forest–for a little POTA.

The Tuttle trail map.

This particular day, I had a little over an hour to perform an activation and I was very much looking forward to it.

I started recording my activation video the moment I parked the car.

My goal–as it pretty much always is–was to have fun and enjoy the experience.

Although I love shaking up my activations by testing new antennas, new gear, new locations, etc. etc. this particular time it was all about using a predictable radio (my KX2), with a predictable antenna (the PackTenna EFRW), at a predictable park (K-4861). In other words, setting up this gear at this park is about as easy as it gets for me!

First thing I did after picking out a picnic table was to deploy my antenna.

My goal was to set up the PackTenna EFRW as a vertical which would require launching my throw line into a branch at least 31′ high. I way over-achieved that goal! Herein lies the amazing thing about throw lines: with a little physics on your side, it’s simply effortless to launch a line 40+ feet into a tree.

I deployed the PackTenna’s 31′ radiator vertically, and laid the 17′ of counterpoise on the ground. I’m often asked if a separate counterpoise is necessary with antennas like this. The short answer is no, it’s not. The antenna will use the shield of your coax as a counterpoise, but it is a better practice to add a proper counterpoise or two if you can–the antenna will be more efficient.

With the antenna deployed, the only thing left was to set up my KX2, logs, and CW paddles!


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On The Air

I suspected band conditions were poor and I was right. I started calling CQ POTA on 20 meters and worked five stations in 13 minutes. Signals were weak, the band was noisy, and QSB (fading) was pronounced.

That said, the amazing Mike (N7CCD) somehow worked his magic to contact me all the way from Washington State. Indeed, his signal was comparatively strong. I’m convinced Mike must have steerable Rhombic antenna.

Next, I QSY’d to the 30 meter band which was in better shape. Herein lies the advantage of pairing a random wire antenna with my KX2 ATU: this combo gives me effortless frequency agility to find the bands that are most productive on any given day.

I logged seven more hunters in six minutes on 30 meters! Not bad at all!

When activity on 30 tapered off, I moved to 40 meters. Even though my PackTenna EFRW’s radiator is only 31′ long, I can easily get an impedance match on 40 meters. To be clear, it’s not an efficient antenna on those lower frequencies, but it’s still very effective!

In nine minutes, I racked up five more contacts.

With a total of 17 contacts logged, it was time to pack up and move on!


Here’s what this 5 watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:

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.

The perfect escape!

My afternoon radio-active therapy session was just what the doctor ordered.

I left Tuttle feeling a bit lighter than I did walking in.

If you’ve been reading my field reports but haven’t yet performed an activation, do yourself a favor and don’t over-think it all. Just get out there with the gear you have, have no expectations, and simply enjoy the time on the air.

Whether or not you achieve a “valid” activation is truly inconsequential. For me, it’s all about playing radio outdoors and the positive energy I get from the experience.

I suspect you might feel the same way.

Of course, the only way to find out is to try!

Do you find field activations therapeutic? Tell us more in the comments section of this post!

Thank you!

Thank you for joining me on this brilliant little activation!

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video 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.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo make it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free, but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me! Have an amazing weekend and as my buddy N6MTS says, “be good humans”–!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

24 thoughts on “Sometimes you just need a little radio-active therapy”

  1. Agreed, I always feel good after an activation, however short or long. Some are extra satisfying, such as those with a nice DX contact or when trying a new antenna with outstanding results (sometimes both). I had a quick activation this week with the KX2 and a JPC-7 vertical using additional radials. I quickly got 16 contacts, including EI5HJ in Ireland. QRP CW is the best!

  2. There is nothing quite like QRP CW to clear away the extraneous stuff that sometimes finds its way into my head! Whether it is a POTA activation, or just sitting on the back porch making contacts, it is always cathartic. A couple of days ago it was a hike and activation with one of our dogs. I even remembered to take some pictures… Hmmm…

  3. I struggle with my activations sometimes. I am always worried that I will not get my 10 contacts or I am in a hurry to get to the next Park. I need to learn to relax and enjoy the moment. Thanks for the great reminder in your field report.

    1. It’s true that when you have this goal of logging ten contacts during an activation, it can add a bit of pressure.
      You’re right, though, in that we all just need to let go of the fear of not getting our ten and just enjoy the moment.
      At the end of the day, POTA isn’t even a contest–just an on the air activity which provides us with a bit of communal motivation to head outdoors and play radio. Anytime you set up your gear in a park and play radio, your true goal has already been accomplished! 🙂

  4. Rhombic is a big word for me, Thomas. I can say Hex though 😉 which is very modest on a push up mast… It always amazes me how far a QRP signal can reach with CW! As you say, like magic.

    1. That Hex is definitely working for you, OM! It’s impressive how often your signal pushes through even iffy propagation.

  5. Hi Tom:
    In this hobby, expect breaking! Recently in a severe wind and rain storm I lost my main sloper Antenna at 70 feet and 115 ft long. Just yester my old MFJ auto tuner died and failed all manner of self tests. Putting a PALSTAR AT2KD Manual tuner in place was a trip back in time; not fun.
    And yet, we manage to trudge on for the love of Radiosport HI HI!!73 DAVE K3FT

  6. Thomas, as for the vertical setup, here’s what to expect from it

    the image shows the patterns on 20, 30 and 40 meters, as you can see the antenna has pretty low launch angle and a slight directivity toward the counterpoise, willing to make it fully omnidirectional one may just add a second counterpoise laid down in the opposite direction

  7. Spot on! I need some radio-activity myself, it’s been over a month since my last activation! (home DIY has interfered)
    Maybe this weekend?
    New radio is an extra incentive: the (tr)uSDX that I ordered after reading the July 24th post arrived today!

    1. Sounds like you are in desperate need of radio-active therapy! I hope you were able to fit in some on-the-air time.

  8. Thomas, is your 9:1 PackTenna cut at 29 feet? Mine was 40′ 6″, but do not know if I should add 6″ to make it 41′, cut some off to make it 35’6″, or prune it down to 29′ for those quick POTA & SOTA activations.

    Cheers, Davey – KU9L

    1. I think mine is cut to 31′. You know? I need to double check that though. I’ve had this for 3 years–perhaps I’ve forgotten the actual length.

  9. Hi Thomas, thanks for another motivating report, Tuttle looks like a nice park, and easy shot to setup.

    I’ve been a bit negligent lately getting the radio out, and need to change that. I’ve never done activations, typically enjoy just a little ragchew here and there with mostly listening and trying to copy morse, I do enjoy it nonetheless.

    About to watch the video. 73 K1AMT

    1. Thank you, Tony.
      Yes, for me, POTA just provides a very convenient excuse to play radio and connect with others in the POTA community. You might give it a go sometimes–be warned, though: it’s highly addictive. 🙂

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