All posts by Thomas Witherspoon

First time in the field with the Xiegu G90 QRP transceiver

(Note: this post first appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.)

Earlier this week, I took delivery of a new Xiegu G90 general coverage QRP transceiver. I’m reviewing this portable rig for The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Although this Chinese manufacturer has been around for a few years, this was my first purchase of a Xiegu product.

I’ve had the G90 on the air from home for a couple days, but I feel like the best way to test a QRP transceiver is in the field!

Due to the Covid-19 lock-down and a number of our regional parks either being closed or severely limiting visitors, I haven’t made many POTA (Parks On The Air) activations this year.

Recently, however, North Carolina has been opening state parks and allowing visitor access to hiking trails and picnic areas, but keeping all facilities (stores, cafes, visitor centers, and restrooms) closed to the public.

Yesterday, our family decided to pack a picnic lunch and head to Mt. Mitchell State Park (POTA site K-2747). My wife knew I was chomping at the bit to play radio in the field and actually made the suggestion. (She’s a keeper!) 🙂

There were only a dozen people at the park so we essentially had the place to ourselves. Better yet, it gave me the opportunity to pick out the most ideal picnic site to set up and deploy my EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 antenna.

The G90’s backlit color display was actually quite easy to read in the field. My phone’s camera filter made it look darker than it actually was.

My POTA activation was unannounced and I didn’t have Internet access to self-spot on the POTA website, so I started the activation old school by calling “CQ POTA” until someone happened upon 7286 kHz.

After perhaps 10 minutes of calling CQ, Greg (KE0HTG)–a helpful POTA chaser–finally found me and spotted me on the network.

I worked a few stations in succession, but summer QRN levels were incredibly high and I believed static crashes were cloaking would-be contacts. The G90 has no RF Gain [Actually, thanks to this feedback, I now know the G90 does indeed have an RF Gain control (firmware version 1.73 and higher).] I asked one kind operator if he would hold while I switched over to my trusty Elecraft KX2.

The KX2 did a much better job managing the noise and that same op was easily readable where with the G90 I could barely copy him. I suspect I could have tinkered with the G90’s AGC levels to better mitigate the noise, but I didn’t want to do this in the middle of an activation.

I worked about fifteen stations with the Elecraft KX2 on 40 meters.

One real advantage of the KX2 during a POTA activation on SSB is its voice memory keyer (of course, it also has a CW memory keyer). I simply record my CQ and have the KX2 repeat it until someone replies, then I hit the PTT to stop the recording. Not only does this save my voice, but it also gives me an opportunity to eat my lunch while calling CQ!

I eventually moved up to the 20 meter band and switched back to the Xiegu G90.

On the 20 meter band, the G90 handled conditions like a champ.

Someone eventually spotted me on 20 and I worked a few stations.

The 20 meter band was very fickle and unstable yesterday. For example, I struggled to finish a contact with an operator in Massachusetts, yet got a solid 59 report from Spain with only 20 watts.

No activation is complete without brewing a cup of coffee on the alcohol burner!

I had a great time with the G90 in the field. I can see why it’s become such a popular transceiver as it offers incredible bang-for-buck (it can be purchased new as low as $450 US shipped).

This week, the noise levels on the 40 meter band should be very high here in North America, so I plan to spend more time with the G90 settings and see if I can mitigate the QRN a little better. I’d welcome any tips from G90 owners.

And yes, I’m already eyeing a couple of parks to activate next week!

Post Readers: Please comment if you’re familiar with the Xiegu G90 or any of the other Xiegu transceivers.

The Yaesu FT-70G: Where the FT line met Milcom

Note: this is a cross-post from the SWLing Post.

Earlier today, I stumbled upon a very unique transceiver in Universal Radio archives: the Yaesu FT-70G.

Here’s the description from Universal:

The Yaesu FT-70G is a portable HF transceiver covering 2 to 30 MHz transmit. Receive is from 500 kHz to 30 MHz. Frequency selection is via BCD switches to 100 Hz. There is a clarifier for fine tuning. Optional FNB-70 NiCad Battery. Please note that the optional 10F-2.4DL filter is required for LSB opeation. The Yaesu FT-70F is similar, but is a channelized fixed version offering up to 11 frequencies.

Two hours ago, I was not aware that the FT-70G existed.  Now? I want one!

I’m a real sucker for vintage rugged field radio gear, so I never discovered the FT-70G until today. Turns out, they’re relatively rare. A little light research reveals that it’s a highly-desired transceiver in the world of HF Packers–those radio enthusiast who like “manpack” commercial and military gear.

The FT-70G has a distinct military look and feel with the BCD switches to change frequency, rugged toggle switches, chassis extensions to protect the front panel, and attached screw-on connector caps.

What’s really surprising is that the FT-70G has a general coverage receiver (500 kHz to 30 MHz). Admittedly, it would not be fun band-scanning with those BCD switches…but still!

This website has a number of photos. They also have a product description likely from the original Yaesu/Vertex Standard FT-70G description:

“The FT-70 series HF field portable manpack transceivers are designed to provide reliable communications under rugged conditions in the military and commercial environment. The frequency synthesized, all solid-state circuitry and die-cast anodized aluminum enclosure and battery pack make a highly portable, weatherproof station. Flexible operation for optimum communications under a wide range of propagation conditions are assured by SSB (USB, LSB), semi break-in CW, AM, or audio interfaced Data modes. All controls, antenna, and interface ports are available and selectable via the front panel for maximum effectiveness and ergonomics in field, base, and manpack applications. The companion antenna tuner FC-70 is compatible with walking manpack, field portable, or base configurations. The highly effective vertical tripod mount antenna system YA-70 is deployed and stowed easily and quickly, pulling double duty by converting to manpack whip while on manuevers. High quality handset YH-70 provides communications privacy and clarity.”

Again, check out the excellent photos of the full manpack kit.

As I researched pricing, I discovered this FT-70R with accompanying FC-70M antenna tuner on eBay right now with only 6 hours left of bidding:

At time of posting, the bids are at $520. I fear this will soar well above my comfort level before bidding ends. (Like I need another field radio anyway, right?)

Post readers: Please comment if you’re familiar with the FT-70G and especially if you’ve ever owned one.  I’d love to hear about your experience with this unique rig.

QRP Labs new QCX+ QRP CW/WSPR transceiver kit

Many thanks to Pete (WB9FLW) who writes:

Hi Thomas,

QRP Labs has just announced the QCX+ which as the name implies is an upgraded version of the very popular QCX line of transceivers

To date almost 10,000 kits have been sold, here’s a brief overview of the the differences and new features made to this popular Transceiver.

The QCX+ is the almost same circuit as the QCX, with two very minor changes. QCX+ runs the same firmware as QCX, and has identical operational and performance characteristics. QCX/QCX+ firmware will always be compatible with both the QCX and QCX+. The evolution of QCX to QCX+ provides several improved features in physical layout, as follows:

1) Physical layout of controls and connectors

2) Optional enclosure

3) Additional and changed connectors

4) More spacious PCB, more than double the board area, with less densely packed components, and more test/modification points

5) Improved heatsinking

6) Three minor circuit changes

7) No microswitch key

Price has gone up slightly to $55, still no other QRP Transceiver on the market today comes close to the features offered by the QCX+ at this price point.

More Info:

https://qrp-labs.com/qcxp.html

Thank you so much Pete! You’re an enabler! Since I’m not at Hamvention right now, those radio bucks are burning a hole in my pocket. The QCX+ looks like a fun transceiver to build! Thanks for the tip.

Missing Hamvention? Yeah, me too.

My friend Piero Begali (I2RTF) winner of the 2019 Hamvention Technical Achievement Award.

Note that I originally published this post on the SWLing Post:

If we weren’t all in the midst of a global pandemic, today I would be at the first day of the 2020 Hamvenion in Xenia, OH.

Since I would not be hosting a table for ETOW this year, I was going to Hamvention for the first time on Press credentials. While I absolutely loved hosting the ETOW table with my friends and fellow volunteers, I was certainly looking forward to being a bit of a free agent this year and visiting vendors and friends with no time pressures. This would have also given me much more time to do live postings.

For me, Hamvention is first and foremost an excuse to hang with good friends I only typically see once a year. Between Hamvention and several other associated events like the QRPARCI’s Four Days In May, I connect with hundreds of people. It can be a bit daunting–even draining to this “socially adept” introvert–but I still love it and look forward to it every year.

One of my favorite things to do at Hamvention is to see what new innovations individuals and companies have introduced. As I’ve mentioned before, I love the “mom-and-pop” innovators in our radio community and Hamvention is certainly one of those places where they showcase their goods.

Of course, I love the Hamvention flea market–easily one of the largest outdoor hamfest flea markets in the world. Although I have found some outstanding deals at the Hamvention flea market in the past–like my BC-348-Q ($40) and Panasonic RF-2200 ($70)–I’m more likely to find that obscure rig or accessory I’ve been looking for rather than a proper bargain.

This year, I would have kept my eye out for a Kenwood TR-9000 or TR-9130 VHF transceiver.

The Kenwood “Trio” TR-9130

I’ve seen the TR-9000 and TR-9130 at past Hamvention flea markets–a near ideal place to locate vintage transceivers like these. (On that note, contact me if you have one you’d like to sell!) 🙂

I would have also been on the lookout for classic shortwave portables, of course, and accessories like enclosures, antennas, Powerpole connectors, coax, ladder line, and wire. Many of these I would only buy new.

2020 might not have been a great flea market year anyway. The weather forecast calls for quite a bit of rain and possibly thunder storms over the weekend. Likely, the flea market grounds would have been a bit wet and muddy thus less vendors would have shown up.

See you next year!

Calling off Hamvention made sense this year. Even if state restrictions would have allowed for a gathering of 30,000 people, I imagine turnout would have been anemic at best. The typical Hamvention attendee also happens to be the target demographic of the Coronavirus. Many would have not wanted to take the risk. I doubt there would have much of any international attendees or vendors there either.

You can bet I’ll be at Hamvention next year and you can bet I’ve already started my shopping list! If the pandemic is no longer an issue, I willing to bet Hamvention might have a record year in 2021. I look forward to finding out in person!

Icom IC-705 International Availability

(Icom Press Release)

Icom Inc. will begin to ship the IC-705, a new all mode portable transceiver covering HF, VHF and UHF, for the Japan domestic market from the middle of June 2020. Shipments of the IC-705 for international markets will follow the release of the Japan domestic model. Timing of availability depends on the schedule of type approvals in each region. For the latest information about the availability in your country, please contact to your authorized dealer in your country. Icom Inc. is continuing to effect delivery of the IC-705 in the soonest time possible under the current circumstances caused by COVID-19. We thank you for your patience.

FCC is crystal clear: Remote ham radio licensing exams are absolutely permitted

Note: This post was first published on our sister site, the SWLing Post.

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, amateur radio VECs in the US have been experimenting with remote testing sessions–meaning, administering ham radio license exams via real-time teleconference apps like Skype, Zoom, and Google Meet.

Amateur radio operators in support of remote testing have been contacting the FCC asking for formal approval of remote exams and the ARRL has also been exploring and experimenting with the process.

Today, the FCC posted a public notice, making it clear that FCC approval is not required to conduct remote tests:

We make clear here that nothing in the FCC’s rules prohibits remote testing, and prior FCC approval is not required to conduct remote tests.  The Commission provides flexibility to volunteer examiners and coordinators who wish to develop remote testing methods or to increase remote testing programs already in place.”

I’ve pasted the text from the body of the public notice below (click here to download the full PDF doc):


DA 20-467 Released: April 30, 2020

WIRELESS TELECOMMUNICATIONS BUREAU CONFIRMS THAT AMATEUR RADIO SERVICE OPERATOR LICENSE EXAMINATIONS MAY BE HELD REMOTELY

The Amateur Radio Service provides opportunities for self-training, intercommunication, and technical investigations for qualified persons of any age who are interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest. To operate an Amateur Radio Service station, an operator must have an FCC license. The Commission issues three classes of operator licenses, each authorizing a different level of privilege. 1 The class for which each licensee is qualified is determined during an examination by the level of skill and knowledge in operating a station that the licensee demonstrates to volunteer examiners, who conduct this testing on behalf of FCC-certified volunteer examiner coordinators.

Many potential amateur radio test takers and volunteer examiners have contacted the Chairman and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to request that the Commission allow remote testing in light of current public health guidelines regarding social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We make clear here that nothing in the FCC’s rules prohibits remote testing, and prior FCC approval is not required to conduct remote tests. 2 The Commission provides flexibility to volunteer examiners and coordinators who wish to develop remote testing methods or to increase remote testing programs already in place.3

We recognize that some volunteer examiner coordinators may not have the immediate capacity for widespread remote testing. We expect those volunteer examiner coordinators with limited remote testing capacity to work closely with those requesting such testing to prioritize any available remote testing slots.

– FCC –


Ham Radio Friedrichshafen 2020 has been cancelled

Many thanks to Harald Kuhl (DL1ABJ), who shares the following announcement from Ham Radio Friedrichshafen:

Radio silence due to coronavirus COVID-19: Ham Radio not taking place as planned 15.04.2020 Friedrichshafen – Due to current developments in regard to the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, Messe Friedrichshafen has been forced to make a very difficult decision: the international amateur radio exhibition Ham Radio will not be taking place in the planned period of June 26 to 28, 2020, but instead from June 25 to 27, 2021. The Federal Government and the Minister-Presidents of the Länder decided yesterday, April 15 that no major events shall take place until August 31, 2020. “Due to current developments relating to the coronavirus, we have the unfortunate duty of announcing that we cannot hold the 45th edition of Ham Radio as planned,” explains Klaus Wellmann, Managing Director of Messe Friedrichshafen. In recent weeks, it was already necessary to make the same decision in regard to other events (Aqua-Fisch, IBO, AERO, Tuning World Bodensee, and Motorworld Classics Bodensee). Project Manager Petra Rathgeber also expressed her sadness about this turn of events: “We very much regret that this event cannot take place as planned. However, the health of all exhibitors and visitors is of utmost importance to us. Unfortunately, our trade fair calendar and the dates of other industry events leave no room for postponing this fair to another date this year.” Christian Entsfellner, Chair of the German Amateur Radio Club (DARC), adds: “Our members, domestic and foreign guests, and we ourselves have been hit hard by this decision, which now became necessary to make on short notice. Until we get together again in Friedrichshafen, we as amateur radio operators are looking forward to keeping in contact with one another using amateur radio.” However, radio amateurs do not have to do without everything the Ham Radio fair normally has to offer: On the Ham Radio website, exhibitors will be presenting product innovations in the form of a virtual trade fair. DARC will also be offering presentations there. The exhibitors, visitors, and partners involved are currently being informed about this opportunity.

Thank you for sharing this, Harald! Not a surprising development, but sad nonetheless. I assume Covid-19 might also lead to the closure of Ham Fair 2020 in Tokyo.

Icom IC-705 delivery delayed

Please note this is a cross-post from our sister site, the SWLing Post.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Evans, who writes:

As you’d expect, Icom has formally delayed the delivery schedule of the IC-705.

Here’s the announcement from Icom Japan: https://www.icom.co.jp/news/4720/

The following is a machine translation of the announcement:

“Thank you very much for your patronage of ICOM products.

We have received reservations from a large number of customers about the IC-705, a 10W walkie-talkie with HF~430MHz all-mode, which was scheduled to be released in late March 2020. Some of the parts involved in the production of the product are delayed due to the new coronavirus issue, and production has been delayed due to this.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused to all of you who are looking forward to our products.

As for the delivery of the product, because it is a situation in which the arrival schedule of the part does not stand now, I will guide it separately as soon as it turns out.

We will take a while to deliver it, but we will do our best to deliver it as soon as possible, so please understand us.”

Thanks for sharing this, Paul. No doubt, delays are due to the affects of Covid-19 on both manufacturing in Japan and throughout the IC-705 supply chain.

For updates, bookmark the tag IC-705.

Silent Key: Marshall Emm (N1FN) owner of Morse Express, Oak Hills Research and Ameco

Many thanks to Dennis (K2DCD) who shares the following from the Fireflies QRP Group:

We are sad to announce that Marshall Emm, N1FN – long time QRP advocate, owner of Morse Express, Oak Hills Research and Ameco – is a Silent Key. Marshall passed away peacefully Monday morning, February 17, 2020, at Aurora CO Medical Center with his daughters and wife surrounding him. When more details are available, we will post a more comprehensive announcement. Our thoughts and prayers are with Marshall’s family. Messages, thoughts, stories can be sent to COLORADOQRPCLUB@GMAIL.COM.

Dick AB0CD.

Thank you for sharing this sad news, Dennis. Rest In Peace, Marshall.