A Slimmed-Down Solution: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-45L “Skinny”

You might recall a recent POTA activation where Jonathan (KM4CFT) joined me at the Vance Birthplace K-6856 US-6856–?

Jonathan used my Penntek TR-45L for his portion of the activation, and I was pleased he got to spend some time with this magnificent CW machine. You might also recall that it still had a buzz in the speaker audio–something inside the radio was vibrating.

KM4CFT working the TR-45L in late December 2023.

I tried to track down the buzz as Jonathan operated by tightening some of the screws holding on the speaker grill (yeah, I’m sure that was annoying, and he’ll think again before activating with me in the same space–!). I knew, though, it was something inside the chassis that was vibrating with audio.

As I also mentioned, my TR-45L was a prototype unit (I helped Beta test it)–it had a couple of mods and wasn’t exactly representative of the upgraded production model.

John (WA3RNC) at Penntek reached out to me after I published my recent field report and video; he offered to upgrade my TR-45L to the production chassis which would sort out the buzz. I was most grateful, of course!

He then asked if I would be interested in checking out the TR-45L “Skinny,” which is essentially a TR-45L in a much skinnier chassis. The Skinny model lacks the ATU and battery options but is lighter weight and more portable. I mentioned to John that I’d like to purchase one, actually. Since John was interested in sponsoring QRPer, we ended up working out a barter (at full market price) for ad space. I love this arrangement, actually, because I was going to approach him about sponsorship at some point anyway.

The Skinny!

Now keep in mind that the TR-45L is one of my favorite CW radios. I love the audio, the receiver characteristics, and the “Apollo era” aesthetic. I think it’s one of the best-looking and best-sounding radios on the market.

The Skinny is just like the bigger TR-45L, just roughly half the depth. I did have concerns that the audio wouldn’t be as good since the acoustic chamber would be smaller, but turns out, I had nothing to fear. The Skinny’s audio is on par with its bulkier sibling.

There was no learning curve with the Skinny because 1.) it’s identical in operation to my TR-45L and 2.) Penntek radios have super simple interfaces, and almost every function has a top-level direct control.

Zebulon Vance Birthplace (US-6856)

On Tuesday, February 27, 2024–the day after receiving the TR-45L Skinny–I packed it up and took it to the Vance Birthplace for its inaugural POTA activation!

That day, I had about 90 minutes to enjoy an activation, and I was looking forward to spending time with the new Skinny.

Vance was a great choice that day because the weather was moody; it was gusty, rainy, and I knew their picnic shelter would provide excellent cover.

The Skinny (in its padded bag), the MC-750 and my ABR cable assembly.

The TR-45L Skinny, unlike my original TR-45L, has no internal Z-Match ATU, nor does it have an internal battery. In fact, there’s no room for either in the Skinny, so it’s not even an option.

I paired the Skinny with my Chelegance MC-750, which is a resonant antenna when deployed correctly, so there was no need for a matching device. I supplied power via one of my 3Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 batteries.

Setup was simple and easy!


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On The Air

I hopped on the air with the intention of working 20 and 17 meters.

Turns out, 20 meters was so active, I couldn’t work through the pileup to QSY!

I worked my first ten contacts in nine minutes, then continued working stations until I logged a total of that 36 in 35 minutes.


Here’s what this five-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.

Loving the Skinny!

When John originally announced the Skinny version of the TR-45L, I wasn’t so sure it would be a fit for me. In truth, one of the best things about the fully-loaded TR-45L is that it’s a “shack in a box.” With an internal ATU and internal battery (with tons of capacity), you only need to connect a key and antenna to play radio. It’s brilliant.

Then again, there’s a reason I’ve never taken my TR-45L on a summit activation or long hike: it’s bulkier than most of my other QRP radios. It’s perfect for picnic table POTA, but I’ve more compact radios when a long trail calls.

The Skinny version of the TR-45L, however, is roughly half the bulk of the TR-45L. I can easily slide this into my SOTA pack or even my carry-on for proper CW fun during travels. Pairing it with a 3Ah LiFePO4 battery and my 40/30M linked EFHW would provide matches on each of the TR-45L’s bands, save 80 meters (coverage is from 80-17M).

I also love the operating angle of the Skinny when the bail is extended.

I’m looking forward to even more outings with the TR-45L Skinny! Many thanks to John (WA3RNC) for working with me on the purchase and becoming a supporter of QRPer.com!

Thank you!

Thank you for joining me during this 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 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 makes 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!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

9 thoughts on “A Slimmed-Down Solution: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-45L “Skinny””

  1. I love the “retro-look” of this rig.

    I have a blind Ham friend whose station I maintain and I have promised to take him out to do some portable operating this year. If Penntek added a button for audible morse readout of the operating frequency, this radio would be perfect for use by those with a visual impairment.

    It is not something that most of us think about, but the adoption of touch screens on a lot of newer rigs is making the technology much less accessible for those hams with vision issues, as there is a lack of tactile feedback.

    72 de VE3WMB

    1. Just wanted to add, that the TalentCell 3Ah power pack referenced elsewhere by Thomas fits nicely on the back side of this radio, and adds only 7 ounces. I used 2 strips of 3M Command “medium picture hanging strips” (black) to hold it in place near the top of the radio. It easily fits between the tilt-stand mounts, and doesn’t block the speaker. I made a short power cord to run from it to a right-angle plug on the radio, so there isn’t a long power cord dangling.

  2. FYI, clicking on the second image (-19, the front face of the radio) is broken for me. All the other images I’ve clicked on work, just that one is throwing a server side error. It seems like it’s a wordpress hosting service problem, as the URL looks very similar to all the others, yet it throws back “Sorry, the parameters you provided were not valid.”

  3. Excellent video. I think you may have actually convinced me of the merits of the Skinny version of the TR-45L over the normal lunchbox size. That being said….. ZZZ ZZZ ZZZZZZZ……You and Mr. Carlson are the best for napping. Put the cat on my lap and it sometimes takes several attempts to see the entire video.

  4. I am a HUGE fan and several months owner of the Penntek Skinny! I first bought a TR-35 (which I also love) after watching your video of the Penntek line of radios. They not only look amazing, but have fantastic operational chops and ergonomics. The TR-45L is very highly recommended to both new hams and olde vets like myself. It is radio ‘play’ the way it was meant to be. Did I mention they are ‘made in America?’

  5. I’ll be looking out for the case that is “coming soon” for sale. It looked like it’d fit the full size TR-45L? I’ve been wanting to get a decent case to carry it around it when it’s not gracing the desk in my office.

    I agree with you, Thomas, the TR-45L is my favorite rig to operate CW. The main reason I hook up my 705 to my office coax, is to get a band the Penntek doesn’t do while chasing POTA while working 😉

  6. Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for the report and video.

    I think the Skinny looks cool and sounds pretty good, although there were some weird ‘breathy’ sounds while keying with one of the filters on. Also the placement of the sidetone volume is a little iffy — that’s definitely a risky location that probably will get lots of abuse.

    Glad you didn’t blow away — that wind sounded fierce! Very cool that you got K7ULM in the logs — he was my first *real* CW contact. ????

    72 / 73 and God bless you!
    Will B – AF7EC

  7. Hi Thomas —

    Well, I didn’t think that I needed another radio, but your review convinced me that I really “did” need the Skinny! Very informative review. (And, I love the “Apollo” look.)

    It should match-up well with my MC-750 and I also have a ZM-2 ATU, if needed.

    Got a note from John — shipped the day after I ordered it!

    72, Vic KB7GL

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