All posts by Thomas Witherspoon

Video: QRP Labs QCX-mini 5W CW transceiver–now available to order

Hans at QRP Labs has just posted a video of the new QCX-Mini 5 watt transceiver kit. It looks like another thoughtful design:

Even though I’ve yet to build my QCX+ (!!!), I just ordered the QCX-Mini. This little kit will be a challenge for me–even though all of the SMD components are pre-populated, it’s still a tight board and requires some fancy toroid work!

Still, I’m buying it to support QRP Labs’ work and because I love the challenge of building kits. This one is awfully cute and I’m pretty sure I’ll use it to claim a summit!

My entire QCX-Mini kit with enclosure set me back $86.99 US with shipping and tax included. How could I resist? (Don’t answer that, please.)

Click here to check out the QCX-Mini product page. 

Eric’s DIY Cootie: “Levon”

Many thanks to Eric (WD8RIF) who writes:

Well, if K8RAT is going to tout Hermione, I guess I need to tout Levon.

My cootie/sideswiper was inspired by an article (http://sideswipernet.org/articles/w9ok-modernization.php) by W9LA about how hams in the 1930s might have constructed a cootie/sideswiper using a ceramic DPST knife switch. I didn’t have a ceramic DPST knife switch, but I did have a nice Leviton ceramic DPDT knife switch which I used as the basis for my cootie/sideswiper. Instead of using tape for the fingerpieces as described in the article, I used Fender guitar picks.

This cootie is the key I use most often for home-based operations.

While operating in the field, I usually use an inexpensive and lightweight Whiterook MK-33 single-lever paddle as a cootie key.

Levon is a handsome sideswiper, Eric! Thanks for sharing his story and your photo!

Thanks to both of you, I feel inspired to make my own “cootie” this winter. Perhaps I’ll try to find some historic context/inspiration as well!

Any other homebrew sideswipers, straight keys, or paddles you’d like to share? Please contact me and we’ll feature your creations!

I’ve got a very special one that’ll be featured later this week. Stay tuned!

Mike’s DIY cootie: “Hermione Hackberry”

Many thanks to Mike (K8RAT) who shares a little info about his homebrew sideswiper, “Hermione Hackberry”:

Saw W3AVP’s nifty homebrew sideswiper on QRPer.

This (see photo above) is the one I built a few years ago from a hacksaw blade, cabinet fixtures and a crafter’s block of wood. The felt pad finger pieces allow me send more smoothly than with the bare metal lever.

I also used 4 pads under the base for gripping.

Since I had most of this stuff on hand the cost of the project was less than $4 dollars.

Fantastic, Mike! And I understand Hermione sends like a dream!

Thanks for sharing, Mike! Anyone else care to share a photo of their homebrew key? Please comment or contact me!

Begali is making an Adventure Key stand and mounting bracket for the Icom IC-705

Many thanks to Ray Novak (N9JA) at Icom America who shares photos of the Begali-05 bracket prototype that is being developed for the Icom IC-705 transceiver.

Those who already own a Begali Adventure key will soon be able to mount it on the IC-705 with the Begali-05 bracket.

Ray notes that this is still an early prototype, so the finished product might look quite a bit different.

He also noted, “The plan is for the Begali-05 to be available at Authorized Icom Amateur Dealers.”

I’m a massive fan of Begali keys. Not only do they make some of the best, highest precision keys in the world, but the Begali family are proper ham radio ambassadors. I love supporting them!

Pietro Begali (I2RTF) winner of the 2019 Hamvention Technical Achievement Award.

I’ll attempt to acquire a Belagi-05 bracket and Adventure Key for review with my IC-705. In truth, though, I’m sure it’ll work beautifully. It’ll be a Begali!

Have you ever regretted selling a radio? I have. More than once.

The Elecraft KX1

I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1997. In the first decade of my amateur radio life, I only owned three HF radios (Icom IC-735, Yaesu FT-817, and a Ten-Tec OMNI VI+).

As I got into writing, blogging, and evaluating/testing radios, that number increased. Quite often, radios are only in my shack for a short period of time as I alpha/beta test and/or review production run units.

I try not to get attached to radios because I know they’re often only temporarily in the shack.

Over the years, there have been a few radios I’ve sold for…let’s say “pragmatic” reasons. It’s very rare that I purchase a radio with the intention of keeping it only to find that I want to sell it shortly thereafter. More likely than not, I sell because the radio is redundant (how many field radios does one need–?) or because I’m raising money to make a larger purchase.

Here’s a short list of transceivers I regret selling/trading:

Elecraft KX1

I sold my Elecraft KX1 in 2016 in order to help purchase my Elecraft KX2. It was a solid decision. The KX2 has become my favorite field radio (here’s my review) and was SO much more versatile than the KX1. Still: I really miss the KX1. I loved how bare-bones it was, I loved the top-mounted controls and the fact I often operated it while simply holding it in my hands. The controls were super easy to use even with gloves on in the winter. Plus, it was “cute” in a boxy Elecraft sort of way. If I ever find a deal on another one, I might grab it!

Elecraft K2

I’ve owned both the Elecraft K2/10 and K2/100. Funny story: I acquired a K2/10 in 2008 or so and absolutely loved the radio. After I purchased my KX3 in 2013, however, it was rarely used and sat on my shelf as a “back-up” radio. Eventually, I decided to sell it and did so with ease. Within a week of selling it, a local ham posted on our club email list that he was selling a K2/100 in an SK sale. He wasn’t sure of all of the upgrades, but knew it was a K2/100. The price was very low, but there were no takers after a few days, so I bought it. I used the K2/100 for a few years and it served as a back-up 100 watt radio. I eventually sold it, though, to purchase a KXPA100 used. Now, of course, I do miss that radio. In truth, I’ll likely never purchase one again, because I own so many other transceivers–and the KXPA100 is truly a genius compliment to the KX2 and KX3–but I do have an affinity for that fine rig.

Index Labs QRP++

QRP+ ad from the Dec 1995 issue of QST. Source: WD8RIF

My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) is to blame for this radio. He owned an Index Labs QRP+ for years. He loved operating it in the field and at home. It was the first QRP radio I ever saw in action (at this particular field event). More than 10 years ago, I happened upon a great deal on a QRP++ and instantly bought it. It was SO much fun to operate—super simple, yet had pretty much every feature you’d want in a basic transceiver. I sold it because, frankly, performance was sub-par especially if you ever planned to use it in an RF-dense environment. The receiver front end would simply fall apart, for example, during contests or events like Field Day. Otherwise, it was a pretty sensitive radio. It was incredibly portable and had that awfully “cute” cube form factor. Another fear I had was availability of replacement parts. Index Labs was no longer in business and there were quite a few obsolete parts in the radio. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say I “regret” selling it because, in truth I don’t. But when I see them at hamfests, I’m still tempted to grab one if for no other reasons than nostalgia.

Yaesu FT-817

I purchased an ‘817 shortly after they were introduced in…what…2000? At the time, there wasn’t a radio like it on the market: it was the most compact full-featured HF/VHF/UHF radio in the amateur radio world. Back then, I was living in the UK and travelling all over Europe. I purchased the FT-817 with the idea that I could play radio while, say, working in Hagen, Munich, Chartres, Berlin, Torino, Pescara, or any of the other fabulous sites I regularly visited. I did pack the FT-817 on a number of occasions but since I’m a one-bag traveller, it was scrutinized to some degree at most airports—especially post-9/11. Also, my first production run model blew its finals within the first two years of ownership (a common problem that was addressed by Yaesu shortly after that production run).

I had the finals replaced by Burghardt Amateur Center but rarely used the FT-817 after that. Truth was, I found the radio’s front panel to be too compact and the embedded menus really frustrated me. But back then, I wasn’t as much of a field op as I am now and I could really appreciate a compact, affordable radio that also sports VHF/UHF operation—especially for SOTA activations. Plus, few transceivers have enjoyed a product life like the FT-817/818 which is now pushing 20 years on the market. While the 817/818 lacks a number of features I’ve grown to love (like memory keying) I do believe I may purchase an FT-818 next time they go on sale. In the end, I miss the rig.

How about you? Any regrets?

Please feel free to comment with any radios you regret selling, trading, or giving away over the years and tell us why you miss it! Inquiring minds want to know!

CHA MPAS Lite: Chameleon designs a new QRP compact portable antenna system

Many thanks to, Don (W7SSB), who notes that Chameleon Antenna has just introduced the CHA MPAS Lite: a modular portable antennas system covering from 6M – 160 meters.

I know a number of participants in the Parks On The Air program who use the CHA MPAS antenna system–the MPAS Lite is the “little brother” of that antenna, according to Chameleon.

Although designed with the new Icom IC-705 and other QRP transceivers in mind, the CHA MPAS Lite can handle up to 100 watts in SSB or 50 watts in CW.

They plan to start shipping the antenna in early November 2020 and the price for the system is $340.00. That may sound like a lot of money for an antenna (it is, let’s face it!) but if you speak with pretty much anyone who owns a Chameleon antenna they’ll tell you it’s worth it. The quality is second to none. I’ve been testing their Emcomm III wire antenna recently and it must be one of the most robust portable wire antenna systems I’ve ever evaluated.

Also, all of their products are designed and manufactured in the USA.

Click here to check out the CHA MPAS Lite product page.

We recently added Chameleon Antenna to our list of sponsors here at QRPer.com. I’m very proud to include them because one of my personal missions is to promote mom-and-pop companies that push innovation here in our radio world! It’s humbling that they support us too.

The new Inkits Easy Bitx SSB TCVR kit

Many thanks to Robert Gulley (K4PKM) who shares the following news from Inkits:

This is to inform all our valued subscribers that we have launched the much awaited easy bitx kit and few customers have already bought the kit.

The easy bitx kit works on a single band and can be built
for 20mt 40mt or 80mt bands.

This is an enhanced bitx design from the previous versions.
There is a complete manual available with link below.

Easy Bitx Version 1

Complete details are provided in the construction manual to build the kit in 15 Steps.

There are 15 individual kits packets provided to assemble the kit step by step.

The si5351 BFO VFO is provided with the kit in working condition. Only The IF frequency has to be set as described in the manual.

The easy bitx kit is an excellent educational kit for new Hams
who are wish to learn how to build a single band transceiver.
And later use it on the air.

The bitx in various kits and individual mods has been build by thousands of hams world wide, so this way easy bitx is a perfect kit for newbies.

The complete kit can be purchased from our website.

Presently we are shipping world wide with DHL Express.

One week and eight parks with the lab599 Discovery TX-500

Over at our other radio blog, the SWLing Post, I’ve been publishing reports and videos of the lab599 Discovery TX-500 general coverage QRP transceiver. If you haven’t been following those posts, you might like to check out the following articles in particular:

Experimental Methods in RF Design (Classic Reprint Edition) $20 closeout price via the ARRL!

Many thanks to QRPer, Pete (WB9FLW), who writes:

Get it while you can (Classic Edition) includes CD-ROM PDF Files for Solid State Design and Introduction to RF Design.

Closeout Price $20!

Very sad to see this go,even if you own a copy buy a spare!

Click here to order your copy at the ARRL.

Thank you for the tip, Pete!

Lockdown Lunacy is sending me down the path of QRP EME

Note that the following post first appeared on our sister blog, the SWLing Post.

When my buddy, Pete dives into a project that would have otherwise been placed on the backburner, had it not been for sheltering at home during the Covd-19 pandemic, he calls it an episode of “Lockdown Lunacy.”

Lockdown Lunancy

I don’t think there could be a better name for the bug that has bitten me.

Since my earliest days of reading ham radio magazines–well before I was licensed–I found the concept of EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) communications absolutely fascinating. I mean, communicating with someone across vast distances by bouncing signals off the freaking moon?!?

What’s not to love?

After becoming a ham, the reality set in about how much equipment and financial resources it would take to set up an EME station in 1997. I would need big X/Y/Z steerable antennas, big amplifiers, and very pricey transceivers. Even if I built half the system, I couldn’t imagine piecing it together for less than $3,000 US.

Plus, HF/shortwave signal work was what really pushed me into the world of ham radio.  Once I set up my first dipole and started making DX contacts with my Icom IC-735, I never really looked back…that is, until, I met Bill.

In 2016, my family spent yet another summer on the east coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada, in an off-grid cottage.

The cottage living area.

I brought along my Elecraft KX3, of course, with a LiFePo external battery and PV panel for charging One day, I hopped on the 17 meter band to work a little DX with a large dipole I’d set up in the trees behind the house. After turning on the rig, I heard a PEI amateur radio operator working another strong station in Europe. As he sent his 73s to the other station, I quickly interrupted and asked where he was located. Turns out, he was only 5 km way as the crow flies! After a quick chat, he invited me over for coffee the next morning and to talk radio.

That next morning I discovered two things about Bill (VY2WM / VY2EME):

Firstly, he’s a coffee snob…just like me. Best coffee I’d ever had on the island.

Secondly, the man had been bitten by the EME bug. Indeed, the mission to build a station to do moon bounce communications is really what energized him to play radio.  We spoke at length about EME and it was then I realized that QRP EME was an actual “thing.”

Bill informed me that, with the advent of weak-signal digital modes like JT-65, QRP EME contacts were possible for almost anyone and the investment in equipment, much more modest than in the past. I was truly impressed with how, over the course of a few years, Bill slowly and methodically built his station and started making contacts. Bill gave a lot of credit to his EME Elmer, Serge (VE1KG)–just check out Serge’s big gun station on his QSL card below:

Though Bill didn’t know it at the time, our little talk re-ignited my interest in EME.

Bill and I have kept in touch over the years and only last week, after talking EME a bit more via email, I realized it was time I start my own little QRP EME station.

One thing that pushed me to commit to EME is the fact that both of my daughters are studying for their Technician licenses at present. Both are into all things astronomy and space, so I thought it might be rather fun to give them a chance to play radio off the moon with their Tech licenses!

Like Bill, I plan to take time assembling my QRP EME station. I would like to have all of the components together by December and perhaps start building things like a long yagi and some sort of antenna support by next spring.

I’m facing a big learning curve here. Other than what I learned on my ham radio license prep, I know little to nothing about signals north of 30 MHz!

But that’s the thing about radio in general: I love learning new skills and exploring the world just a little outside my comfort zone!

I’m already putting out feelers for a good transceiver (thinking a used Yaesu FT-897 or FT-100D).

Yaesu FT-897 via Universal Radio

How committed am I? A QRP EME station has been officially added to my Social DX bucket list. That’s pretty darn serious!

Post readers: Any EME enthusiasts in our community?  If so, please comment with any suggestions you may have as I dive deeper into the world of moon bounce!