Category Archives: How To

Rich builds a simple GX12 key/paddle adapter for the Discovery TX-500

Many thanks to Rich (KQ9L) who shares the following tutorial describing how to build a compact key/paddle GX12 connector for the lab599 Discovery TX-500:

This adapter is simple, compact, and eliminated the need for yet another wire extension.

How to build a Discovery TX-500 key adapter

I love my Lab599 Discovery TX-500 however I was frustrated with all the extra “wires” hanging from the connectors on the rig.

I took inspiration from Vlad Solovey (RA9QAT) who posted his design for a small and compact 3.5mm jack that allows you to connect your paddles directly into a GX12 connector. Continue reading Rich builds a simple GX12 key/paddle adapter for the Discovery TX-500

Xiegu X6100: Two effective ways of mitigating broadcast band interference and overloading

As I’ve previously mentioned, the Xiegu X6100–at least at time of posting (January 17, 2022)–has overloading issues. If you listened to the activation video I posted yesterday, you can hear a local AM broadcaster punching through the 40 meter band, especially noticeable before/after operating SSB.

Several subscribers asked if I tried using the attenuator and RF gain to mitigate the level of overloading.  Attenuators and RF gain can be an effective means of mitigating noise levels, but they essentially affect everything on the band–all signals somewhat equally.

A better approach is to use a BCI Filter.

BCI Filters

BCI filters reduce or notch out AM broadcast band signals so that they don’t overload your receiver.

BCI Filters are placed between the radio and the antenna. They can have a dramatically positive effect if you live near a broadcast station and/or if you have a radio that’s prone to overloading.

I see them as a more “surgical” approach to solving broadcast band interference.

BCI filters are simple, inexpensive, and effective. Here are two options shared by QRPer readers: Continue reading Xiegu X6100: Two effective ways of mitigating broadcast band interference and overloading

Field Report: Beautiful weather and three parks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Last week, my family hopped in the car and took an eight hour drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

We’ve had such a busy 2021 that we decided to take a full week prior to Christmas and fit in some proper vacation and family time.

We love going to the coast off-season to avoid big crowds. Turns out, we chose well, too: it’s as is we have the whole of the Outer Banks to ourselves. Other than a couple days with some “invigorating” weather (which we actually enjoy) it’s been absolutely spectacular.

The view from our cottage

While radio plays an important role in any travels, my family time always takes priority. The good thing about activating parks is that radio and family time often go very well together!

On Friday, December 17, 2021, my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and I decided to spend the day together while my wife and other daughter worked on an art project at our rental cottage. We had a few loose plans, but mainly wanted to fit in a nice beach walk, possibly discover some new scenic spots, and enjoy a take-out lunch together.

She very much liked the idea of fitting in a bit of POTA, so we hit the field with two sites in mind.

The plan

My Subaru is still in the body shop getting repaired after a bear decided to open the doors and make himself at home, so we have a Toyota Camry rental car on this trip. It’s been a great vehicle for sure, but its trunk space is limited and we packed quite a lot of food knowing local restaurants would be closed this time of year.

We all limited our luggage and I limited the amount of radios and gear I took. I could write an entire article about my holiday radio and antenna selection process (seriously, I put too much thought into it) but in a nutshell I limited myself to two radios and two antennas.

Here’s what I chose for this trip: Continue reading Field Report: Beautiful weather and three parks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

My Motto? Less theory, more practice!

I don’t often read comments in ham radio forums and discussion groups. 

Recently, however, I was trying to dig up information on a field antenna design and the search results lead me to two articles and discussions on two of the most popular ham radio sites on the internet. 

I read through the comments and (you might have guessed) was really disappointed with the number trolls who seemed to thrive in that fertile environment. It blows my mind that discussions like these seem completely unmoderated. I assume it’s a conscious decision since we seem to live in a society that rewards drama and division–I assume this leads to more site traffic and thus more revenue.

It’s a shame. It would be incredibly discouraging to a new ham who is reading the same article and comments looking for ideas. Gives one the impression the hobby is full of (I’ll keep my language clean here) schmucks.

But I digress…

What was perhaps equally discouraging were all of the comments from those who were trying to explain to the authors how the antenna design in their article simply wouldn’t work.  Even when the author posted positive results/data from having used the antenna. 

While not all of the naysayers were being rude–and sometimes in their roundabout way I’m sure they felt they were being helpful–I can’t help but feel sorry for them.

The naysayers, that is.

Why? These are people who are afraid to experiment. Continue reading My Motto? Less theory, more practice!

Why a strong activator might not hear your call

I had a conversation recently with a ham who upgraded his license for HF privileges primarily to do park activations in the POTA and WWFF programs.

He mentioned that he had a few successful park activations under his belt but was left scratching his head on a couple of occasions when he attempted a Park-To-Park (P2P) contact but could not be heard by the other activator.

He did all of the right things: announced his call sign followed by “Park To Park” twice and was patient while the activator worked a small pile-up.

In one case, he said the other operator had an incredibly strong signal–and having always heard, “if you can hear them, you can work them“–he was really baffled that he couldn’t make contact especially being a desirable P2P. His activations were successful so he knew it wasn’t an equipment issue.

He asked for my input, so I thought I might share a few points here as this is not at all uncommon–please comment if you think of others:

Big power, small antenna

Some activators operate mobile and don’t actually deploy their gear in the field. They simply drive up to a site, turn on their mobile HF rig in the car, and start making contacts with the mobile whip antenna mounted on their vehicle. There’s nothing wrong with this approach in the POTA program (just keep in mind mobile activations are not allowed in SOTA). Mobile activators can rack up numerous park activations in one day often regardless of weather or any site restrictions.

Mobile vertical antennas like Screwdrivers, Hamsticks and whips are quite impressive and, many activators swear by them. Not only do they work well in mobile situations, but they can also be quickly set up on a tripod in the field and many models can take a full 100+ watts of power.

If an activator is pumping 50-100 watts into a small, resonant mobile antenna, their signal is getting out there. But since their antenna might not actually have a lot of gain or efficiency on 40 or 60 meters, it can’t compete–in terms of reception–with a large aperture wire antenna.

In this scenario, the activator might be logging a load of stations, but they may not be able to hear your signal if it’s weaker than the others in the pile-up.

QRM on the other end

Often summits are the location of clusters of commercial transmission antennas and towers that can cause interference

This is a big one, actually, and affects both park and, especially, summit activations.

Sometimes the other activator’s site is plagued with QRM (radio interference) emanating from power lines, nearby buildings, transmission equipment, and other electronic sources.

That QRM will not typically affect their transmitted signal, but it will have a dramatic impact on what they can receive and hear.

For example, I recently attempted to activate a game land I’d never been to before.  On Google Maps satellite view, the site looked pretty darn remote and there were no buildings in sight. When I arrived on site, I set up my station, spotted myself, and started calling CQ POTA.

When I turned up the volume on the radio, it hit me that my noise level was a solid S8-S9! Turns out, there was a nearby power line that was spewing broadband noise across the entire HF spectrum. It was pretty much inescapable–there were no unaffected HF bands.

Had I really wanted to continue with that activation (I did not) I would have only been able to work stations with signals that were above my high noise floor. Perhaps one in five contacts at best. My chasers would have all been been left scratching their heads.

QRM isn’t always S8, but even an S5 or S6 noise level might wipe out 40-50% of the signals the activator can hear.

While hitting the field is usually the best way to escape QRM, there are spots that are as noisy an an urban neighborhood.

QSB

This is a big one; especially with the unsettled conditions we’ve had over the past couple of years.  QSB, or signal fading, can be a proper obstacle in completing a contact.

If you’ve been watching my activation videos, you’ve no doubt seen chasers that call me with a 599 signal and when I respond to them, I hear nothing but silence. In those situations, I’ll repeat my reply with their callsign and signal report a few times in a row. I do this because QSB is a bit like having a three year old playing with your volume control while you’re on the air.

Seriously, imagine that three year old turning up the volume, then turning it back down, then turning it up again, and so on. It essentially has the same effect. Sometimes QSB is shallow and slow, other times it’s deep and fast–or it can be any variation in between (including deep and slow which is the worst).

In those situations as an activator, I reply a few times in a row with hopes to catch the QSB on the upswing  so I can have a window of contact with the other station. When I do make contact, I try to keep the contact as short as possible so there’s hope for a complete exchange.

As a hunter, you have less control because your only hope is that QSB will be at the peak of signal strength when you call the activator.

Environmental distractions

If you’ve been doing park and summit activations for very long, you’ve no doubt experienced some “environmental distractions” during an activation.

I’ve been at parks before when the grounds crew were blowing leaves, mowing, and using other lawn equipment. It can be proper audio QRM especially if you don’t have an option to wear headphones to isolate those noises.

Sometimes the wind can cause a lot of extra noise. I’ve also been in shelters where the rain hitting the tin roof (while somewhat soothing) adds a lot of extra noise.

I’ve also been on summits and in parks where other hikers and passersby start asking questions while I’m in the middle of handling CW contacts.

My buddy Vlado (N3CZ) draws a crowd during a joint park activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway

They don’t understand that you’re actually in the middle of an exchange and need your attention focused. 🙂 For so many of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen/heard someone operating Morse Code and they’ve loads of questions. I hate to pass up an opportunity to promote amateur radio, so I’ll often pause the activation to talk with them.

In summary

If you know your radio equipment is functioning as it should but you can’t seem to grab the attention of an activator, keep in mind that it’s likely them, not you.

They’re not ignoring you, they simply can’t hear you.

The best practice for eventually making contact is to be patient and persistent. If you’re an activator trying to work another activator for a P2P or S2S (Summit To Summit) contact, keep sending P2P or S2S with your call. Often, other hunters will hear you and point out to the activator during their own exchange that there’s a weak P2P or S2S operator calling. More often than not, that’s your ticket to busting through!

Did I miss something? Please comment and share your thoughts and tips!

Joe finds a $10 off-the-shelf clear cover for the IC-705 Peovi cage

Many thanks to Joe (WB7VTY) who writes:

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for all the interesting videos. I have a Icom IC-705 with the Peovi frame/handles and I found a clear plastic box that makes a perfect friction fit with the Peovi for a protective front cover. Thought I would pass on the info as I know people are on a quest for such a thing.

I got it at “The Container Store”. SKU is 10077089. Costs 10 bucks. Known as “THE HOME EDIT Large Bin Organizer Clear.”

 

I’ve included a few photos. Thanks again for all the videos.

73
Joe Korpela
WB7VTY

Thank you for the tip, Joe! There are a lot of IC-705 Peovi cage owners out there, so this will come in very handy!

Due to how The Container Store organizes their online store, it can be difficult to find the exact product, even using the SKU number in the search. Here’s a link to the product page for the family of containers. Simple scroll down until you find this listing (click image to enlarge):

This will allow you to add it to your cart and purchase. The price is $9.99 US.

Thanks again, Joe!

Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 2: Kit Types, Preparedness, and the Golden Rules

The following review was first published in the July 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Read Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 1 here.


Part 2: Anatomy of a field radio kit

Last month, I took us down the rabbit hole of field radio kits by discussing some of the most basic components of a field radio kit in Part 1.

This month, we’ll take a deeper dive into the types of radio kit you might choose to assemble based upon your activity goals.  And finally, we’ll look at my “golden rules” of field kits, which I hope you’ll find useful.

Types of field radio kits

I configure and outfit my radio kits based on the environment in which I plan to deploy and operate, and which determines in no small way just what I need to pack besides the basics.

I roughly divide my field kit types as follows…

The Field Day or “Picnic Table” Kit

This is probably the most popular type of field kit in the world of amateur radio. Picnic table kits are designed with portability in mind, but not designed with distance hiking in mind. This is a very popular type of kit for Field Day or park activations through POTA or WWFF.

These kits are typically packed in a backpack, a Pelican-type utility case, or a self-contained and field-ready box.

My picnic table kit is packed in a large Red Oxx C-Ruck rucksack. If I haven’t already made it clear, I’m a self-professed pack geek and I love this Red Oxx Pack because it has large zippered pockets on the outside, a rain flap with storage on top, and one large compartment on the inside.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 2: Kit Types, Preparedness, and the Golden Rules

How I pack out my GoRuck GR1 for POTA and Overnight Travel

As I’ve mentioned a number of times on QRPer and on the SWLing Post, I’m a pack geek.  I enjoy organizing and packing my gear for field radio activities and travel.

Last week, I made a very quick overnight trip to visit my parents. My time during this trip was very limited and I did not plan to fit in an activation, but Monday morning, I was able to knock out an errand very early and that freed up a couple of hours in the early afternoon. Fortunately, prior to leaving my QTH, I decided to pack a few travel items in my GoRuck GR1 pack along with a field radio kit built around my Elecraft KX2.

I never leave home without a field radio kit because I never know when an opportunity to play radio might happen.

On the way home Tuesday, I popped Lake Jame State Park and fit in a quick, last minute activation.  Moments before arriving at the lake, I received a request from one of my YouTube subscribers asking if I would make the occasional video showing what’s in my radio packs and field kits.

I’ve been meaning to make these videos but, frankly, often forget when I arrive at a park or summit because I’m just a little too focused on starting my activation.

Since I had some overnight items in my pack, it wasn’t a typical SOTA or POTA field kit, but I decided to make the video anyway. After all, I love watching videos about how others pack and organize their radio and travel kits. But then again, I’m a pack geek. I did mention this right–?

Although I’m not always the neatest person (my wife is probably chuckling at this gross understatement), I’m a meticulous and very organized pack geek. What you see in the video is exactly how I pack when no one is looking. 🙂

I’ll add here that if you’re interested in field radio kits and packs, I’d encourage you to check out my Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit series; Part 1 has already been published and Part 2 will be posted later this week.  In Part 2, I take a much deeper dive into safety gear I take on SOTA activations.

Gear

In the video, I mention that I would attempt to link to all of the items in my pack. I spent time sorting out links this morning; many links go straight to the pack manufacturer because the packs I use typically have no distributors other than the manufacturer, I have also purchased a lot of the smaller items on Amazon, but many can be found in big box stores like Walmart, Target, Canadian Tire, etc.

Activation items

Extra Travel Items in the GR1

Health & Safety Items

US Pack Companies I love…

  • Red Oxx (my favorite overall)
  • Tom Bihn (brilliant tailored/urban travel bags)
  • GoRuck (note that not all are made in the USA these days)
  • Spec Ops Brand (incredible value for tactical packs)

If I missed something, let me know in the comments.

Video

Like all my videos, this one us unscripted, made in one take (unedited), and also has no ads:

Out of order…

So this video was made prior to an activation at Lake James last week. I’ve mentioned before that my Internet speeds at the QTH are worse than dismal, but since this pack video was relatively short, I was able to upload it ahead of the activation video (it took 1.5 days to upload this 2GB file).

The activation video will be published in another week or so depending on my access to some proper broadband service.

Any other pack geeks out there?

I would love to share photos, descriptions, and/or a video of how and what you pack for field activations.  If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, please do so!

Also, I’d love to hear about your favorite packs and how well they’ve held up with time.

Feel free to comment and thank you once again for hanging out here at QRPer.com!

How to send a standard POTA CW exchange

Many thanks to Mike (KO4RIT) who writes:

For those of us really, really new CW operators and aspiring QRPers, can you do a video (or a walk n talk) showing several POTA QSO’s in slow motion?

Love your work, thanks.
73
-mike ko4rit

Mike, your timing was impeccable.  I noticed your message on my phone as I was preparing a park activation at Lake Norman State Park on August 9, 2021.

I decided to take a few moments prior to the activation and dissect a “typical” POTA CW exchange on my notepad with the camera rolling.

As I mention in the video, there is no standard or “POTA ordained” exchange, however, once you get into CW you’ll notice that most follow a common formula. POTA, SOTA, and WWFF CW exchanges are, in fact, very formulaic.

I believe in exchanging all of the important details–callsign, signal report and sometimes a state, province, or park number–along with a  little common courtesy. You don’t want to make the exchange too long, but these aren’t contest situations either, so it’s okay to go off script a bit sometimes, too. Just remember that there are (hopefully!) others in-line waiting to work your station when you finish your exchange in progress.

Video

Note that this video is impromptu, unscripted and unedited. I’m sure I missed a few details and it’s perfectly fine, dear readers, to leave other best practices below in the comments section.

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.


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Dan’s homebrew Icom IC-705 protective case

Many thanks to Dan (KQ8Q) who writes:

Hi Tom,

I saw your recent video post of an activation using the IC-705 and I thought you might appreciate one of my recent related projects. Earlier this year I purchased an Icom IC-705 and because I planned to carry it backpacking for Parks and Summits on the Air, I knew I needed some type of physical protection for it since it would be knocked around a bit on rocks and rough surfaces and during transport. The only cases I could find did not fit my vision; they were either too expensive or too flimsy. So I decided to fabricate my own.

I purchased a 9″ x 18″ sheet of 1/8”, 5052 aluminum. I bent it (with LOTS of effort) in two places which created a “U” channel. The lengths were 4.5″ x 3.5″ x 4.5″. I then cut off the excess and used it to make the side pieces. I then did some research on aluminum brazing which led me to purchase some “AlumiWeld Rods” from Harbor Freight and a canister of MAP gas. I then cut the pieces for the front and sides and brazed them in. You may notice the amateur looking joints on the sides of the armor.

I also wanted to have a mic and key port on the front of the enclosure so as not to be continuously connecting and disconnecting those items directly from the radio and for convenience.

The entire assembly was planned to fit perfectly in the plastic orange ammo box also shown. It is made by a company called Sheffield which is in the U.S.

The radio mounts in the armor via the AMPS pattern screw holes on the bottom. I believe they are 4mm screws… not supplied by Icom. The radio is also electrically connected to the armor via the four screws as well as the shields of the mic and keyer ports.

I recently added the vent holes on the top panel for a less than obvious reason. Although they do serve a dual purpose, my primary reason for adding them was to avoid blocking its GPS reception, but factors of cooling and weight reduction do apply.

73 de Dan (KQ8Q)

This is an absolutely brilliant project, Dan, and to my eye, there’s nothing amateur about it. The coating looks fantastic and I like all of the effort you put into stand-off space to protect the rig and connections. Mounted in that orange box, I think you’ve got an all-weather solution. 

Thank you for sharing this project, Dan!