All posts by Thomas Witherspoon

My first POTA Activation with the Index Labs QRP Plus Field Transceiver

Sometimes, we do things for the pure nostalgia of it all!

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently acquired a circa 1995 Index Labs QRP Plus transceiver. Being transparent here, this was an impulse purchase fueled by pure, unadulterated nostalgia.

The QRP Plus was the first QRP transceiver that I’d ever laid my eyes on only a month or so before obtaining my ham radio ticket in 1997. I’ll write about this in more detail in the future–and I speak to this in my video below–but let’s just say that this little cube of a radio made a big impression on me at the very beginning of my ham radio journey.

I thought it might be fun to take it to the field and compare this 1995 state-of-the-art radio with so many of my other field radios. The QRP Plus wasn’t a perfect radio, but it was a marvel at the time it was produced. I can’t think of a smaller, more battery-efficient general coverage 160-10M QRP transceiver at the time.

I was eager to introduce this little radio to the world of POTA so on the morning of Thursday March 21, 2024, I grabbed it and hit the field!

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (US-6856)

I called the Vance site that morning and learned that a large school group would be arriving around noon. Since I was planning to leave around that time anyway, it was perfect timing for me.

Since I hadn’t created a field kit specifically for the QRP Plus yet, I brought my watertight stackable Husky brand box that basically contains everything I need to set up a field radio station, save the radio.

I unpacked everything I needed: a key, key cable, battery, power cord, cable assembly, antenna, logbook and pencil.

Since the QRP Plus has no internal tuner, I paired it with my MM0OPX 40M EFHW antenna which would give me 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. Note that Index Labs used to make an external manual ATU for this radio called the QRP Companion–I’ve never seen one in person, though.

Even though the Vance staff told me that the school group would not be using the picnic shelter, thus I could have free reign, I still deployed my antenna in a way that it would not become a trip hazard–keeping it close to the shelter and as conspicuous as I could (I do wish I would have brought along my flagging tape, but I left it at home).

Setting up the QRP Plus station was quick and easy. Time to hit the air!

Gear:

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On The Air

I started calling CQ POTA on the 40 meter band, hoping it would be a little productive while we were still in the latter part of the morning. Continue reading My first POTA Activation with the Index Labs QRP Plus Field Transceiver

N2HTT’s Tilt Cradle for the Penntek TR-45L

Many thanks to Mike (N2HTT) who recently reached out:

Hi Tom,

I recently treated myself to a Penntek TR-45L, and I think it’s the perfect field CW rig, except for one thing: the viewing angle sitting on a table is too vertical.

I made myself a tilt cradle that holds the rig at a 15 degree angle. It is form fitted to the rig, allows good clearance to all the controls front and rear, and raises it up off the table just a smidge.

Mike thanks/blames me for his purchase of the TR-45L and asked if I wanted one of his 3D-printed tilt cradles for my TR-45L. I just received it today at no cost to me–thanks, Mike!–and I really like the angle for using the TR-45L in my shack (and in the field, for sure). 

Mike is selling these for $25 in his Etsy shop. Click here to check them out!

Here are some photos:

Thanks again, Mike, for sending one to me–I really appreciate it. Now I just need to convince you to purchase even more radios! 🙂

The TR-45L is a gem–you’ll love it!

WSPR Testing During the Total Solar Eclipse

Many thanks to Keith (KY4KK) who shares the following message originally sent to his local amateur radio club:


To anyone curious about how the eclipse might impact the ionosphere and amateur radio communications, this may be of interest.

On Saturday, 4/6/24, I set up 2 WSPR transmitters in my back yard. These will hopefully operate uninterrupted through sometime Tuesday afternoon, 4/9/2024. This should provide good baseline information before and after the solar event.

NASA scientists and other professional and amateur space engineers will consolidate data from amateur operators around the world to help understand how this rare event impacts the various layers of the ionosphere.

During the partial eclipse last year, a similar test revealed that several bands showed significant propagation changes for stations along the path of the event.

Tommy Walker (NG4S) graciously provided the WSPR transmitters and one of the antennas I’m using.

The configurations I’m operating:

  • WSPR Lite Classic (20 Meter Band)
  • Frequency: 14.097077 MHz (If you tune your HF rig to as close to this frequency as you can get, you MIGHT be able to hear some of the WSPR traffic going on)
  • Callsign: KY4KK
  • Transmit Power: 20 mW (.02 Watts)
  • Antenna: Chelegance MC-750 vertical – adjusted to resonance (no tuner)
  • Grid Square: FM04be
  • Start time: 00:44 Zulu 4/7/2024

WSPR Lite Classic (40 Meter Band)

  • Frequency: 7.040142 MHz (see above)
  • Callsign: KY4KK
  • Transmit Power: 20 mW (.02 Watts)
  • Antenna: Chelegance MC-750 vertical with 40 meter coil – adjusted to resonance (no tuner)
  • Grid Square: FM04be
  • Start time: 23:10 Zulu 4/6/2024

WSPR is a one-way digital communication protocol using VERY low power (less than .2 Watt or 200 mW). I usually set the transmitters to much lower power than that (.02 Watt or 20 mW) because the weaker signal is more likely to reflect subtle changes in either the antenna or the atmospheric conditions. The sending station transmits a beacon on a specific frequency for each band. The digital package sent by the transmitter contains the callsign of the operator, grid square location and transmitted power in milliwatts. The message is sent slowly and repeated several times. Then, there is a pause and it starts again.

There are amateur receiving stations around the world that are specifically configured to look for WSPR signals. If they can hear me, they record my information and the strength of my signal (how loud it is against the background static – measured in decibels). Their receiver, connected to the internet, then adds information about their station and automatically sends all of it to a central database that is accessible to the public in real time.

Several websites are available to extract the data or view it in map format. All of the ones I use are free and do not require a login. The ones I most frequently use are listed below, but there are others. In general, use my callsign (KY4KK) as the transmitting station, leave the receive station blank and select either 20 or 40 meters.

DXPLORER SB

This site will allow you to pull raw data into a spreadsheet in .csv format if you want to do data analysis.

It also shows the most distant contacts and can display a map
Specifically, I will use this to look at individual stations that recorded me several times during the day. Where was the eclipse during each of the recordings, and did my received signal significantly change?
Also, I will look for differences in how the two bands will be affected.
https://dxplorer.net/wspr/tx/spotsmap.html?callsign=KY4KK&timelimit=1d

WSPR Rocks

I like this site for mapping my contacts.

The interface takes some getting used to, but to start, go to the search button, select the number of spots to show, the time frame (10 minutes if you want to see immediate activity only), band (20m or 40m) and TX Call (KY4KK) and click Search. Then you can click map and it will show all of the contacts the station has made in that time frame.
http://www.wspr.rocks

PSK Reporter

This is another mapping program that may have an easier interface.

Display Reception Reports

As I have mentioned to some of you before, I am continuously amazed at how far WSPR transmissions can go with such low power. There has to be magic involved…

Final Disclaimer: When doing a test like this over several days, a lot of things can go wrong. Batteries die in the middle of the night, a dove crashes into my antenna, the dog runs away with one of my antenna radials (all of these have happened). If I see something has interrupted the transmission, I will try to correct it as soon as possible.

Best Regards,

Keith Wyrick – Amateur HAM Scientist
KY4KK

Field Report: Elecraft KH1 for a Quickie POTA Two-Fer!

On Wednesday, March 27, 2024, I had a number of errands to run in town. Before leaving the house that morning, I looked at my schedule and honestly couldn’t see a wide enough opening for an activation.

In the latter part of the morning, however, I was miraculously ahead of schedule en route to a meet-up in Asheville. I decided to take a scenic route option along the Blue Ridge Parkway (US-3378). It was misty and foggy that morning; a beautiful time to drive the BRP.

Of course, any time I’m on the grounds or within the boundaries of a national or state park, it feels odd not to activate it (do you feel that way too–?) even though I drive the BRP.

I looked at my watch and realized I had about 15-20 minutes max to perform an activation.

I only had one radio in the car: my Elecraft KH1. I didn’t have any of my camera gear which was fine, because it would have been very difficult to set up a video and complete the activation all within 15-20 minutes.

I pulled over to quickly schedule my activation on the POTA website. I then drove about 5 minutes up the BRP to a larger pull-over with a short path to the Mountains To Sea Trail (US-8313).

Instead of setting up on the MST, I just walked down the bank and stopped within a few feet of the MST. This would yield an easy POTA two-fer!

I set up the KH1, sporting some new pressure paddles via K6ARK (one’s I’m testing), and I hit the air.

Gear:

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I called CQ POTA and started receiving replies slowly. Well, in truth, it wasn’t that slow, but it felt like it when I was in such a rush.

After working five stations, I checked the POTA spots page and discovered that I had not been auto-spotted. Sometimes the connection between the POTA spots page at the Reverse Beacon Network is down. Indeed, several times lately, I’ve tried to activate when it’s been down–my timing has been impeccable.

I had a little mobile phone service, so I self-spotted and the rest of the contacts rolled in quickly.

I called QRT after logging 10 contacts with apologies to those who were still calling me. I had to get back on my schedule.

My QSO Map:

Screenshot

This quick activation did make me realize how the KH1 seems to be fitting into my POTA/SOTA routine.

I never intended going pedestrian mobile 100% of the time after I got my KH1. Instead, I find it to be the radio that gives me the most freedom and flexibility when I need it. The KH1 allows me to seize radio opportunities I’d otherwise miss.

In this case, setup and pack-up time was really no more than 40 seconds in total.  It took me a minute to walk down the bank to the spot next to the trail to do the activation. All the rest of the time was radio time. I feel confident that had I been spotted properly, I would have validated the activation (10 contacts) in less than 15 minutes.

It’s fun to realize you can play radio anywhere (almost literally) with a handheld transceiver like the KH1. It almost feels like cheating!

Eclipse Time!

As I write this post, I’m in our hotel’s breakfast area. We’re in Dayton, Ohio to view the total solar eclipse tomorrow. I hope to fit in a couple of activations– the only radio I’ve brought along for the ride is the KH1 (well, save my SW-3B Headrest kit).

Traffic yesterday (en route to Ohio) was pretty heavy. I imagine it’ll be much worse today and even crazier tomorrow.

We took a break from traveling, yesterday, to visit my father-in-law’s alma mater. Can anyone recognize this beautiful campus? Bonus points for correctly identifying it!

Our family is meeting up with Eric (WD8RIF) and his wife, so I’m sure we’ll manage to hit at least a couple of parks!

I must admit: it feels odd to be in Dayton a few weeks prior to Hamvention.

Maybe I should camp out at the Greene County Fairgrounds for the next five weeks just to be the first to grab a good deal in the flea market–!?!

[Sinister laugh slowly fades…]

72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Thank you!

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Cabin POTA with the IC-705 and MC-750 at Gorges State Park!

As I mentioned in this previous field report, my buddy Mike and I spent the third weekend of March at Gorges State Park (US-2732) in Sapphire, North Carolina. We had a great weekend of hiking and just hanging out. Of course, I fit in a few activations!

On the morning of Sunday, March 17, 2024, after a nice breakfast and beautiful sunrise, we started packing up. Since we rented a cabin this year, it was an easy process–especially since it was also raining lightly. While I love tent camping, I’m not the biggest fan of packing up a wet tent and gear because later in the day I have to attempt to dry it all out back home.

The cabin also made it very comfortable to do a little Parks on the Air (POTA) until the rain passed and we could start our hike.

I set up my MC-750 vertical next to the cabin.

Inside, assuming I might have more radio frequency interference (QRM) to deal with, I chose my Icom IC-705.

The cabin had a small side table attached to the wall which was the perfect spot to set up my station close to the front door and porch. The weather was very temperate that morning, so I simply left the front door of the cabin open while I operated.

I was correct about the QRM: its pervasive throughout most of the park and is due to arcing on the high-tension power lines that run through the site.

Other than the QRM, Gorges is an amazing park to do POTA.

While I played Parks on the Air, Mike caught up on a book he was reading. Neither of us were pressed for time, so it was a pretty laid-back morning.

QRM Mitigation

After hooking up the IC-705 to the MC-750 and turning it on, the QRM was not only audible–that unmistakable frying sound–but it was clearly visible on the IC-705’s color display.

The noise level was about S5-S6 and persistent.

The IC-705 is a 21st-century radio and I decided to use some of its 21st-century, SDR-powered features in order to improve the audio.

First, I turned on the Noise Blanker (NB). While this feature works best for pulse noises (engine noise and electric fences, in my experience) it also removes a layer of noise from persistent arcing as well.

Next, I also used the IC-705’s built-in DSP (Digital Signal Processing). By turning on the DSP, another layer of noise is removed.

With both NB and DSP engaged, the audio was much more pleasant and less fatiguing.

Keep in mind that even though the noise was minimized in the audio, it was still there in the receiver so this didn’t help much with recovering weak signals under the elevated noise floor. It just made playing radio much more pleasant! Continue reading Cabin POTA with the IC-705 and MC-750 at Gorges State Park!

John’s KH1 Redeems an Otherwise “Frustrating” Start to a Cross-Country POTA Rove

Many thanks to John (NS6X) who shares the following field report:


Frustrating rove from California QTH to OzarkCon in Branson, MO.

by John (NS6X)

I had great plans for a radio-centric, POTA activation road trip from my home in Camarillo, CA (outside Los Angeles) to my first visit to OzarkCon in Branson, MO. The Four State QRP Club hosts the two-day conference. I recently became a kitter (I put together one of the kits) for the club, assembling the parts and shipping the Cricket20 (see kits a 4SQRP.com).

I had the parks planned out along I-40 where I would stop, overnight stops for my little trailer, and my traveling companion Sachiko (Agnes), my Tortie cat.

Long story, but my wife of 48 years died three years ago from ovarian cancer, so I now enjoy traveling alone. I am calling my trip story, “Traveling with Agnes,” a shout out to John Steinbeck and Traveling With Charley. I seldom plan ahead, so to have night stops, parks planned, and such was something for me.

I packed my Elecraft KX2, KH1, FT-891, Penntek TR-35L, and my 22-year-old KX1. I have multiple Bioenno batteries for power, that I packed in an official QRPer.com/HRWB bag and placed next to the door.

I should have stepped out of the door and put it in my truck or trailer, as I left the batteries at home. I did have a Bioenno solar “generator”, but it doesn’t have power pole output connectors, and I haven’t made power pole-adapted cables for it. And of course, I left my power pole crimpers and connectors at home, too. I didn’t discover this until I stopped at my first POTA park, the US-1058, Homolovi Ruins State Park in Arizona, just outside of Winslow.

My KX2 had a partially charged battery, so after futzing about with the power sources, I set up my KX2 and AX1 antenna. I was able to make 7 QSOs in a little less than an hour, even after spotting myself, but did not have the time to stay longer to complete the activation. My campsite was at a KOA in Albuquerque; it was raining/snowing/hailing, and my next stop at the Petrified Forest was out, too. I was discouraged, so packed up and took off.

I had watched Thomas’, K4SWL’s videos and read about the KH1 being used as a radio for an activation, but after my limited number of contacts in Arizona, I wasn’t too positive about it. However, coming from a suburban lot in a housing tract, the lack of QRN/M noise in the Arizona desert was amazing. I didn’t think that I had turned on the radio, seriously.

So, driving through New Mexico, and part of Texas, into Oklahoma for the evening, stopping at a Harvest Host location for the night, I decided I would listen to the bands, using the KH1. I heard a few signals. My stop was only a few miles from the Washita County Wildlife Management Area, US-8661, so I decided to take the KH1 and mosey over to the POTA site.

I told myself why not, spotted myself on 20 meters at 14.058.2, called CQ and was I surprised. LOUD signals came back. Many stations were calling me. I completed my activation with 12 QSOs in 16 minutes, using the KH1, putting out 4.6 watts. The SWR was about 1.1:1. I was impressed with the stations from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Missouri, and North Carolina that called me. Did I say they were LOUD? And no noise.

I just finished the activation – forgot to take photos. I was a photojournalism major (although my career was as a firefighter and paramedic). How could I keep forgetting to take photos?

My takeaway and lesson learned was to pack ahead of time, with a checklist (I am never that organized), and that the KH1 is a real radio, able to do things like be used for a POTA activation.

It didn’t hurt that I had a zero noise level, and that there were QRO stations calling me, as well as the spotting system that makes POTA and other similar activities workable, and fun.

After becoming first licensed in 1966 at 11 years old, I am once again excited about ham radio. The social aspect of ham radio is a real positive. The fun of POTA and SOTA is invigorating my radio life. I am back contesting, and putting up a better antenna at my house: the CC&Rs are no longer valid as they haven’t been enforced for more than 35 years, no HOA, and the city issued a permit to me.

I will be back at another Oklahoma park in the morning. I am writing this in the early evening after getting back to my trailer. My KH1 battery is charged, ready to go, if anyone else is ready at 8 AM.

Off to Joplin, MO tomorrow, then Branson, MO for the conference on Thursday, beginning Friday morning. The conference is over Sunday. I did make a reservation for Sunday night in Branson to hang over and watch the eclipse as the sun passes over Branson on Monday.

72’s, NS6X, John Kitchens

Xiegu X6200: New Product Photos and Videos

Many thanks to Don (W7SSB) who shares the following photos (via Xiegu) of the new X6200 transceiver. Click images to enlarge:

Update: A number of readers also note that Radioddity has posted the following videos on their website:

Freddy (F5IRO) also notes that Passion Radio will be shipping the X6200 in June 2024 for 899 €. Click here to read on Freddy’s blog.

Pairing the TR-45L Skinny and the MC-750 at Gorges State Park!

Once a year, I meet up with my friends Monty and Mike for a weekend of camping. We’ve been friends for over 30 years, so it’s always brilliant hanging out with them, hiking, and just enjoying the break in our busy family lives.

This year, we planned our weekend campout for March 15-17, which is slightly earlier in the year than we usually do, but all of us have complicated schedules in April, May, June, and July. So March it was!

We chose to camp at Gorges State Park (US-2732) in Sapphire, North Carolina.

We also decided to opt for one of the park’s five cabins instead of tent camping. The park ranger I spoke with on the phone prior to making the reservation convinced me that we should reserve one of their newly built cabins. The cabins can sleep six, have electricity, and even have heating and air conditioning.

Mid-March in the mountains of western North Carolina is a fickle part of the year. It can be cold, hot, dry, or wet–all easily within one weekend. Choosing a cabin would mean packing in a lot less gear. Done!

Unfortunately, only a few days prior to the camping trip, Monty had to duck out to attend a funeral. We really missed hanging out with him.

Gorges State Park

To my knowledge, I had never been to Gorges State Park. It’s one of the newer parks in the NC system and, frankly, it’s located in a part of WNC that I rarely travel through these days.

The park is vast, and there are a number of trails that lead to waterfalls.

The visitor’s center was built in 2012 and is really impressive. We stopped by there and spoke with staff about some of the hiking options.

I’ve always preferred state and national park camping facilities over private campgrounds. They’re typically well-maintained, and the sites are spaced apart (so I can easily set up an antenna!).

Cabin #5

The camping area at Gorges is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. It’s all very new. The cabins and shower/bathroom building are only two years old.

The weekend, overall, was warm during the day and cool at night with periods of rain. We both felt pretty happy we’d picked a cabin for the weekend–packing up wet camping gear is never all that fun!

Saturday morning, Mike and I planned to do a bit of hiking, and I wanted to fit in a short activation.

Picnic Shelter Activation

At one of the trailheads for a short hike, we found a spacious picnic shelter. Despite the amazing weather that morning, there was no one else at the shelter.

I scoped out the trees around the perimeter of the shelter, and most were pretty small trees with larger trees behind them. I decided that it would be easier to simply deploy my Chelgence MC-750 vertical.

I brought three radios along on this camping trip: my TR-45L Skinny, Icom IC-705, and Elecraft KH1. I chose the Skinny for this activation! Continue reading Pairing the TR-45L Skinny and the MC-750 at Gorges State Park!

N6ARA Introduces: THE GIANT PADDLE–!

I’ll just leave this product announcement from N6ARA right here:

K4RLC Field Report: POTA with Blackbeard!

Many thank to Bob (K4RLC) who shares the following guest post:


POTA with Blackbeard in Bath, North Carolina

de Bob (K4RLC)

While in Eastern North Carolina for the North Carolina QSO party, I decided to take a trip to visit historic Bath, North Carolina, the oldest city in our state and one of the original 13 colonies.

Bath, named after the English Earl of Bath, was founded in the late 1600s. It soon became the first port for the Carolina colony, then soon thereafter, the center for the colony’s government.

While I enjoy the wilder side of POTA, like state forests and game lands, and the mountains of SOTA, these historic sites often have a vibe that lets the mind wander back in history.

Additionally, two historic houses had recently been added to the POTA program: the Palmer-Marsh House (US-10388)  and the Bonner House (US-10263). The Palmer-Marsh House was built in 1744 by Captain Michael Coutanch, the original governor who came from the Isle of Jersey. The house was sold around 1762 to Robert Palmer, then later to the Marsh family around 1805. It is deemed the oldest standing house in North Carolina. While this state historic/POTA site had been activated on SSB, it had not been activated on Morse code yet, and it was appealing to me to be the first CW activator.

Palmer-Marsh House

It was a quiet clear Saturday morning with beautiful Carolina blue skies and chilly temps when I arrived at the Palmer-Marsh House.

The house itself was closed and open only to guided tours, however there were large open grounds with pathways, benches, and a family cemetery for the Marsh family. I had my North Face RECON pack full of the Elecraft KX2 set up I’ve taken overseas, and ready for almost everything.

On the bench near the cemetery there were no overhanging ancient oak branches. I set up the KX2 and laid down the screen wire counterpoise. On top of that, I put a 17 foot Chameleon whip which is resonant on 20 M CW, without wire counterpoises, and running only 5 watts.  The key was the CW Morse SP4 key.

Not knowing what would happen, I called CQ and was quickly answered by multiple stations wanting to work this new POTA site for the first time.

KX2 Setup in the Palmer House back yard
Palmer Family Cemetery

This entire section of town is loaded with historic houses. If you walk a few blocks down Main Street to Bonner Point, turn left on Front Street, and turn left again on King Street toward the visitor center, you will cover over 300 years of history, in a few blocks.

While the visitor center in the old school building is a POTA site, I chose the other POTA site in Bath – the Bonner House, built around 1830. This is the second house on the site, as John Lawson, the founder of Bath, built a house there which no longer stands. The entire original town boundary is considered a National Register Historic District.

I walked down Main Street to Bonner Point and Bonner House. From the Bonner House, I was looking into the Pamlico River sound fed by Bath Creek, with its deep blue water.

It took a moment to process, but I soon decoded waveforms of a school of dolphins playing close to the shore. They were incredibly graceful and efficient breaking the water. My over analytic mind tried to discern a pattern – could they be responding to the sound of Morse code? Or, simply a highly evolved graceful sea creature at play.

Bonner House
Looking at Pamlico Sound

In just a few hours, propagation seemed to have changed so it was difficult to make the requisite contacts still on 20 m CW with the same KX2 and antenna setup. My mind wandered back in history to the historical street sign to my right that said that Edward Teach had made his home here in 1713, while taking a brief break after the King’s pardon.

Most people know Teach by his more famous nickname of Blackbeard the Pirate. My mind time traveled, and I wondered what it would be like to have sailed with Blackbeard and his outrageous exploits in his time, or what he would’ve thought of the KX2 in our time!

Teach sign at Pamlico Sound

Not wanting to leave the site right away,  I enjoyed the typical lunch my YL Alanna K4AAC makes for a me on sojourns away from home – a really good peanut butter and jelly sandwich with  fruit punch Gatorade and a Reese cup. It’s great brain food for all the cognitive processing needed for Morse Code.

After a wonderful morning taking in Bath and being the first to activate the Palmer-Marsh house for POTA CW, I packed up my KX2 kit and headed off for nearby Goose Creek State Park (US-2731) where the other Dr. Bob , W4TTX and I were setting up as NC4QP, a bonus station for the North Carolina QSO party.

As there is still one more POTA site to activate, a return trip to historic Bath is on the list to take in its wonderful ambience, watch dolphins and daydream about Blackbeard playing radio.