Category Archives: How To

Scott Builds a clever Icom IC-705 Paddle Mount

Many thanks to Scott (KK4Z) who shares the following project from his blog KK4Z.com:

Paddle Mount for the IC-705

I kinda like the idea of being able to mount your paddle to your radio when operating portable. You can use the weight of the radio to help prevent the paddles from moving around and it frees your off hand for other tasks. We see examples of this with the Elecraft KX series of radios and there are some adapters for radios such as the Yaesu Ft-817/818.

I really like my IC-705. It is probably my best radio for POTA/potable operation. I think the only time I would leave it home is if weight became a problem or I needed to exercise one of my other radios. Recently, Begali came out with a mount to attach their Adventure paddle to the IC-705. It is a sweet set-up; however, the approx. $400 USD price tag got me looking for other alternatives. I have nothing against Begali, I own three of their paddles, and they are superb instruments. I think I wanted to tinker, and this gave me a good excuse.

For paddles, I have a set of Larry’s (N0SA) SOTA paddles. I love these paddles. When I go on an activation/Portable Operation, I bring these and my Begali Travelers. If I was going to do a SOTA activation, I would just bring Larry’s Paddles. Next was a trip to Tractor Supply Company (TSC) for a sheet of 16 ga. Steel. That set me back $16. I cut it to 3″ by 3 1/2″ using a cutoff wheel on my grinder.

I already have a stand I made out of 1″ x 1″ angle aluminum so I cut this to fit behind it.

The blue on the metal is Dykem Blue which is a layout fluid. In creating this project, I am only using hand tools. Power tools consisted of a grinder with a cut-off wheel. a hand drill, and my trusty Dremel tool. Here is a picture of me giving the mount a rough finish with a file. Continue reading Scott Builds a clever Icom IC-705 Paddle Mount

Xiegu X6100: Greg uses an OTG mouse for better selection control

Many thanks to Greg who writes:

After seeing your YouTube channel, I decided to try my hand at POTA operations. There are at least three state parks on the POTA list nearby. I am trying to increase my CW speed, because CW would be a bit more efficient for operations.

[…]I have gotten an Xiegu X6100. The biggest reason was it is Linux based, which I am familiar. It is a nice size also has nice features. With an external battery (car jump starter) and a decent antenna, it should be able to make contacts.

My unit has the version 1.1.5 soft/firmware. I have found the Bluetooth and WIFI connectivity be lacking a few software components. I have been able to make Bluetooth connections to a keyboard and speaker, one at a time. However, there is no data connection to the just of the software.

So, one hears no sound and pressing a key generates no data. The X6100 has the potential to be a very capable modern transceiver. I got it through Radioddity.

I have working with the support group, who are good. Hopefully, the next software update will improve things.

What I found that worked and was a help was a mouse/trackball with OTG (on the go) cable connected to the USB Host port.

One was able to select the menu/submenu items.

The best improvement was Memory Editing the submenu Tag item. Using a trackball to update the Tag information via the popup screen keyboard was very easy and quick. Using a mouse/trackball with X6100 might be a good video.

Thank you for the tip, Greg! I will have to give this a go. I’m curious if other readers have explored using a mouse/trackball with the X6100 as well. 

One of the most appealing things about the Elecraft K4 interface (another Linux-based transceiver, I believe) is that you can connect a mouse and have full control of the radio. This made selecting items so much easier than using a finger to do the same on the touch screen. 

Dale’s solution for enhanced CW field ergonomics

Many thanks to Dale (N3HXZ) who shares the following guest post:


Ergonomics of Operating CW in the Field

by Dale (N3HXZ)

About a year ago I started getting active in Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA). I had always been an avid hiker and backpacker, and though I am getting up there in years (recently retired!) these amateur radio opportunities were just the medicine I needed to rekindle my passion for the outdoors and amateur radio.

Thanks to Thomas (K4SWL) and his blog post and videos I was able to quickly come up to speed on the basics and get out into the field for CW activations.  I quickly discovered that operating CW in the field is quite different from operating at home. The creature comforts of a good chair, a level and spacious operating table, and isolation from the weather makes for a great experience in the shack, but is not available in the field, especially if you are backpacking to your destination. My early activations were sitting on a rock, or the ground, and using only a clip board to mount my rig (Elecraft KX2), locate my CW paddle, and place a notepad to record QSO’s.

While simple, this operating setup poses problems. Attaining and maintaining a flat workspace is tough in the field in order to keep things from shifting or falling off the clipboard, especially if you are not firmly seated. There is not enough space to set your wrist in order to steady your CW operating, and the notebook pages can flap in the wind, or the wind can blow your logbook clear off the table while operating. I realized I needed to upgrade my mobile station! Continue reading Dale’s solution for enhanced CW field ergonomics

Scott’s Icom IC-705 “Shock Box”

Many thanks to Scott (KA9P) who writes:

Enclosed are a few detailed pictures of the system I’m using to protect my Icom IC-705 in the wild.

I wanted a system that would protect the radio from shock and vibration when I dropped it in use, or tripped over a cable, as well as when in transit.

Some research lead me to Sorbothane, a commercial vibration damping material available in small lots on eBay, and to a Sorbothane applications engineer. The engineer recommended that a good way to protect electronics is to use a “box-in-a-box” concept where the equipment resides in an inner box with vibration dampers between the inner box an outer box.

Sorbothane’s on-line calculators suggested that for the IC-705’s weight, some relatively small pads on each wall would be adequate.

So I started with the bottom 4.5 inches of a Harbor Freight ammo box, and added four 1/4 inch thick, 1 inch by 1 inch Sorbothane pads to the bottom and two long sides.

Then I added an aluminum plate to the inside side surfaces of the pads, and lined the plates with neoprene (see the drawing above). The neoprene adds a bit of additional padding, but primarily lets the 705 slide into “the inner box” while putting a little bit of pressure on the pads. The manufacturer recommends a slight loading pressure on the pads for proper damping.

The radio is fastened into the box with an adjustable depth 1/4-20 threaded locking knob, positioned to put a little force on the back wall vibration pads when tightened down.

The cover is made of aluminum angle stock and Lexan, and provides good protection for the front of the radio when not in use.

This “shock box” solves a lot of problems for me.

1) I can leave the cage on when operating, using dongles out the front for things I want to change like the antenna, mic, battery power, headphones or paddles. Leaving the radio in the box avoids field handling errors, to which I am prone.

2) If the internal battery needs to be changed in the field the radio comes out quickly by removing the single 1/4-20 knob and screw. But the battery can be charged in the case with a USB or power plug dongle, again avoiding handling.

3) The depth of the box protects the entire periphery of the radio front, much like the handles do for the sides of a cage, and the radio remains enclosed/covered on all sides except the front. I’ve used it in snow and rain without issues when the wind isn’t bad.

4) Impact protection is really high other than for a direct frontal panel hit within the box. The plastic box takes the first hit, deforming a bit and transferring the rest of the energy to the vibration damped inner box. Not worried about dropping the radio anymore.

5) The use of Sorbothane’s “box-in-a box” with vibration pads concept leaves a channel surrounding the radio to promote air flow and heat dissipation. For me this is much better than using the radio in a box cushioned with foam, which blocks air flow and can trap moisture.

6) The box provides a handle, which the 705 really does need in the field.

7) The footprint of the Harbor Freight box is just about a hand and glove fit in the bottom of most serious packs, making it easy to carry when backpacking.

On the downside, it’s a bit ugly, but it’s cheap, maybe $40 US to build. Other than wanting a gasket to provide better weather and dust proofing when closed, I’m happy with it.

-Scott (KA9P)

A bit ugly? Scott, I think it looks great!

I feel like shock absorption is one of the things lacking in many of the IC-705 cage solutions out there. I always feel like when a metal/aluminum frame is paired with a hard plastic chassis, in a field drop the plastic will be the weak point. 

This adds to the bulk of the IC-705 (in terms of overall size) but likely doesn’t add a lot of extra weight. In your manpack/chest pack situation, this is a great bit of engineered insurance for your $1300+ rig!

Thank you for sharing!

Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Brooks (KO4QCC), a newly-minted  ham radio operator who asked to tag along on one of my POTA field activations. 

Brooks, it turns out, lives within spitting distance of a number of parks I regularly activate here in western North Carolina. He mentioned he was interested in observing an activation to learn a bit about deploying a field radio kit and, of course, to learn what it’s like to be on the air.

Brooks was also plotting the purchase of his first field radio kit and was very interested in the Icom IC-705 and MFJ-1988LP End-Fed Half-Wave (EFHW) antenna. 

Of course, I welcomed him to join me but since we both have busy family lives–and my schedule especially took some twists and turns in March–it took a few weeks before our schedules aligned.

I asked Brooks if he would consider actually doing the activation himself instead of simply observing or tag-teaming it.  I’m a big believer in hands-on radio time.

Brooks loved the idea!

On Sunday, March 27, 2022, a window of opportunity opened in our schedules and we agreed to meet at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861). I packed my:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really a “YouTuber” so I’m not actually inclined to capture every moment on video, but it struck me that others may appreciate experiencing (vicariously) what it’s like to do a park activation for the first time.

Prior to meeting, I asked Brooks if it would be okay if I made a video of his activation adding that there was absolutely no pressure to do so–just a thought. I’ll be the first to admit that if I were in his shoes, I’m not sure if I’d want a camera capturing my first activation jitters for all to see. 

Brooks loved the idea–as he, too, saw value in this sort of video–so I brought my camera along for the ride.

In the same spirit, I asked Brooks if he would write up the field report and he wholeheartedly agreed, so I’ll turn it over to him now: Continue reading Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation

How to use the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) for automatic POTA and SOTA spotting

If you’ve read my field reports or watched any of my activation videos, you’ve no doubt noticed that I rely very heavily on automatic spotting  via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) for both POTA (Parks On The Air) and SOTA (Summits On The Air).

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to use the RBN functionality for both SOTA and POTA, so thought I might clarify (in very basic terms) how the system works and how you can take advantage of it.

Note: CW and Digital Modes Only

Keep in mind that Reverse Beacon Network spotting only works with CW and some digital modes.

I, personally, have only used it for CW activations.

The system does not currently recognize voice transmissions (although as voice recognition becomes more accessible and effective, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if something like this is offered in the near future!).

Here’s how the RBN works

The RBN is essentially fueled  by a global network of volunteer receiving and decoding stations that feed information into the RBN spotting system. This system is running 24/7 and recording spots constantly.

This is what the RBN spots search results look like using my call at time of posting.

If I hopped on the air right now and made at least two generic CQ calls with my callsign–barring any abnormal propagation–the RBN would no doubt collect my information and spot me automatically to their network.

Click here, for example, to see all of the times the RBN has spotted me recently. Click here to search for your own callsign on the RBN.

To my knowledge, the RBN is a completely independent resource and not directly affiliated with POTA, SOTA, WWFF, or any other contest or activity. Continue reading How to use the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) for automatic POTA and SOTA spotting

Video: A complete POTA field activation from planning/scheduling to QRT

A few weeks ago, one of my YouTube channel subscribers asked if I could make a video showing the entire process of activating a park: everything from planning, scheduling, packing, driving, setting up, to activating.

Why not, right?

So on January 20, 2022 I scheduled an activation of K-6856 and recorded a very, very long activation video!

It’s 1 hour 42 minutes long, in fact, but I broke the video into chapters to make it easier to navigate and digest.

Activation Video:

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Since the entire process has been captured on video, my field report below will simply focus on the various sections of the video along with my results. That and I didn’t even think to take a single photo I was so busy with the camera (images here are all screen shots).

In the shack

My OSMO Action camera does a brilliant job outdoors, but in the shack it did struggle with my monitor brightness/contrast while I scheduled the activation. When I checked the quality from the camera’s built-in monitor screen, it looked pretty acceptable, but after being uploaded to YouTube, it was less so. Sorry about that!

Knowing this could be a problem, I did my best to describe everything I was doing on the screen. Frankly, I couldn’t go back and re-shoot this if I wanted to because it was all happening in real-time.

Before I scheduled the activation, I did sneak in a wee bit of park hunting! After all, this is how I do things in the shack.

Oh yeah, my shack wasn’t exactly tidy that day as I had a project on the table. You’ve been warned. Continue reading Video: A complete POTA field activation from planning/scheduling to QRT

Tony tames X6100 audio with a simple ground loop noise isolator

Many thanks to Tony (K2MO) who writes:

Tom:

My X6100 arrived this week and I did notice some noise on the receive audio when wearing headphones. It shows up as a 1000 Hz tone with a few harmonics and it’s loud enough to make the audio a bit fatiguing to listen to. The good news is that the noise disappeared when I added a mini line isolator between the rig and headphones. It also removes the hiss!

Click here to view on Amazon (affiliate link).

I thought you’d be interested since you have the same rig so I recorded a short video that illustrates how well the isolator works.

You can see the 1000 Hz carrier and it’s harmonics appear in the audio spectrum when the line isolator is removed. You’ll also notice an increase in the audio noise floor.

X6100 Internal vs. External Speaker

I also uploaded a short video that shows how the X6100 audio sounds with the internal vs. external speaker.

Note that the ICOM speaker requires a mono-to-stereo adapter to work with the 6100. Plugging the speakers mono jack directly into the rig wont work.

The camera mic doesn’t do justice to how much better the rig sounds with the external speaker, but it should give you some indication.

Click to view on YouTube.

Thank you for sharing this, Tony!

I like how the isolator is such a simple solution and imagine it could help other radios with similar issues. Often these noises and harmonics come from display noise. Also, your video certainly shows the improvement using an external speaker on the X6100! Thank you for sharing!

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