QRP POTA: Breaking in an Elecraft KX1 and setting up message memories in the field

If you’ve been reading QRPer.com for long, you’ll no doubt have gathered that I’m [understatement alert] a big fan of the Elecraft KX1.

A couple months ago, a good friend and supporter of this site/channel, reached out to me because he planned to sell his pristine Elecraft KX1. He’s in the process of downsizing his radio inventory in preparation of a move.

He wanted me to have first dibs at his KX1 and I couldn’t refuse. I knew it would be a great unit and I wanted two fully-functioning KX1s.

You might ask, “But wait Thomas, don’t you have three KX1s???

Yes, this is true.

With this latest addition, I have now have two fully-functioning KX1s (a 3 and a 4 band version) and one other in need of repair. After I make the repair, I plan to give this radio to a friend (one who doesn’t read QRPer regularly) so will be back to two KX1s.

Since Elecraft has discontinued the KX1, they’ve become difficult to find on the market and when they do appear, they often demand a very high price.

That said, if you’ve been looking for a KX1, you will eventually find one. All of my friends who’ve wanted one have put out word and found willing sellers in due time. Elecraft sold quite a few of these back in the day, so there are units floating around out there.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

On Sunday, August 27, 2023, I had an opening to play a little radio and fit in a hike at Tuttle Educational State Forest.

At the time, I needed a little radio therapy and outdoor break: my mom had been admitted to the hospital the previous day (they released her a few days later and at time of posting she’s doing much better).

Tuttle was only a 30 minute drive from the hospital and, as I suspected, I was the only visitor there that Sunday–educational forests aren’t nearly as busy as other NC state parks.

After a nice 3-ish mile hike, I grabbed my radio backpack from the car and started recording an activation video.

My goal was to test this new KX1 and to set up CW message memories.

First, though, I needed to deploy an antenna. I chose my MM0OPX EFHW because it was in my pack from a previous activation. This antenna has never let me down.

I fed the EFHW with RG-316 and set up my station under the roof of the picnic shelter at Tuttle. I did this mainly because it was a very hot and humid day–the picnic shelter provided some reliable shade from the sun.

Since I was the only guest at the park and there was no notice that the shelter was reserved, I had free reign.

Configuring the KX1 message memories

I’m not sure if it was a good or bad idea, but I actually filmed the whole process of sorting out how to set up KX1 message memories.

It’s not a difficult process, but radios like the KX1 that have limited digit displays almost require a small cheat sheet if you don’t use them constantly. I actually printed and laminated a KX1 cheat sheet–I just didn’t have it with me that day.

No worries, though! I had internet service on my phone, so I pulled up a PDF of the KX1 Quick Reference sheet [PDF] and quickly sorted out how to set up the memories–easy peasy once you know the procedure.

With the CW message memories in order and the radio hooked up to the EFHW, it was time to hit the air and see what I could do with this little radio!


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On The Air

I started calling CQ POTA on the 20 meter band with the KX1 pushing three watts.

Within ten minutes, I logged my first 10 contacts thus validating the activation. I then worked one more station making a total of 11 on the 20 meter band. I then QSY’d to the 30 meter band.

I had hoped that the KX1 ATU might match my EFHW on 30 meters, but it could not. The KX1 ATU isn’t of the same caliber as the one that’s in the KX2 and KX3: it’s much more limited in matching range. Still, I believe my three band KX1 could have matched this, so I may check out the ATU module and see if the windings were counted correctly. Not a big deal, though, as I suspect this ATU will still match proper random wire antennas per the KX1 manual.

I QSY’d to the 40 meter band and bypassed the internal ATU again.

On 40 meters, I logged an additional 20 contacts all within the space of 18 minutes. Pretty exceptional especially for an early afternoon activation!

All in all, I logged 31 contacts with my new KX1. Woo hoo!


Here’s what this three 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.

What will I name this one–?

I have a habit of naming radios that are a permanent part of my QRP collection. My (in need of repair) KX1 is Ruby, and my three band KX1 is Ingrid.

I name my radios after 1930s and 40s actresses. (I’m a hopeless fan of this era of film.)

Any suggestions? Please comment!

In the meantime, I’m thinking about building a small self-contained field kit around this KX1. Well, either it or my MTR-3B. I’d like the kit to be small enough to slip into my EDC pack that I take everywhere.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this KX1 activation!

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them. Creating these is a true labor of love and allows me to relive these fun activations a second time.

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.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me!

Have an amazing weekend!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

25 thoughts on “QRP POTA: Breaking in an Elecraft KX1 and setting up message memories in the field”

  1. I have a four-band and I love it. The encoder is a bit wonky, and I too need to reeducate myself whenever I need to do some programming. The cheat-sheet is handy. It really makes you appreciate the KX2 and KX3 software apps for CW memories! The tuner is limited, but a T1 or ATU-10 are good substitutes. I often use a cootie, so it’s a little tricky to use the KX1 as the tip and ring are not common in “hand” mode, whereas the KX2 and KX3 are. The KX1 makes for a good Spartan Sprint rig at just under 1 LB with the key and three 14500 batteries (plus three AA blanks), which makes for a great rechargeable option for this rig.

    1. Just a note that i took my (new to me) KX1 to a POTA activation today in Oregon- K-2844 Molalla river park. Weather was amazing for this time of year-84 degrees. The setup was with my AX1 so I was curious how the ATU in the KX1 would handle it. No problem with 1.7/1 considering it’s not as wide ranging as the KX2 or 3 ATUs. Had fun and managed a nice P2P to MN. I’m so glad I found this one!

      1. I did the same thing with my KX1 only a week or so ago. I found that it handled the AX1 with no problem.
        I think I recorded an activation video with it, too, so that will eventually surface. 🙂
        The KX1 is a gem!

  2. Thomas,

    How about naming the rig after May West, “Why don’t you pick me up and (operate) me some time.”


  3. I’m also looking for a KX1 for years,
    But I never saw one in the various Canadian flea market, and I checked once a week

    Really no luck with US swapshop simply because the sellers do not want to sell outside USA .
    Don’t know why ???
    But if you look it is always “CONUS” or “LOWER 48 !!!

    Thomas, thanks again for another very good post,
    and congrats on getting another one.

    OH! name it ” Georgie”

    Have a superb sunny week-end .

    72 Mike VE2TH

    1. I know it can be incredibly difficult in Canada for some reason. Almost worth getting to know someone in VT, NH, or ME to use as a ship to point, then driving across the border to fetch it. 🙂

      Great name suggestion!

  4. I have a 3-band KX1 that I built in 2006 and still use it from time to time. It’s a fun little portable rig. I think that “Betty Boop” would be a good name.

  5. Recently found a second KX1 in fantastic shape, with many extras for a decent price. Used my original one for about 18 years in various fixed and portable locations. Fully understand liking it. I keep it, a KX2 and a few small antennas in my truck and car for impromptu operations when the need strikes. Just added a KX3 to the permanent portable pack.

  6. One more suggestion:

    Maureen as in Maureen O’Hara. One of my favorite actresses of that era and a feisty redhead.

  7. Thomas-you’re responsible for my re acquiring a KX1! I happened to be talking to a friend who ended up with 3 and was refurbishing one where the batteries were left in too long…after an extended rebuild and some ‘unobtanium’ parts from Elecraft he offered it to me for a price that was ridiculously low $200 for everything fully equipped except the 80M band. I built one when they first came out and enjoyed it immensely. In a fit of generosity I sold it to a friend after I got the KX2 and really regretted it. But-I love the KX2 (and my KX3 and K2 and K4, and NorCal 40!) addiction runs deep. So now I’m reunited with a 1, and loving it once again. My original one covered many many miles of trails in the Pacific NW and I hope to do more. There’s just something about the pleasant audio and experience of this radio that keeps sucking me back in. I find myself hooking it up at the home shack in front of the K4D and making contacts…but then I still fire up my original TenTec 509 Argonaut for similar reasons. The 509 was my first trail radio back in the late ‘70’s and’80’s powered off of a couple of 6V lantern batteries-and then the NorCal rigs-NC40-SST-Sierra. All pre SOTA and POTA but I still took them to summits just because..sorry for the long post! Thanks again for stirring up my desire for the KX1! The only thing I never really bonded with was the paddles they built for it,but otherwise what a winner. If the weather holds I’ll get it out for some activities SOTA/POTA soon. So-for names-what about Veronica (Lake) or Irene (Dunn)? Or Laura for one of my favorite movies? I assume you already have Lauren ( Bacall) and Rita (Hayworth) -I can’t recall who was the actress in the Maltese Falcon-Maureen O’Hara?

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