Category Archives: News

Xiegu X6100: New compact throwline, POTA pileups & overloading in Pisgah National Forest

On Thursday, January 6, 2022, I woke up with one goal in mind: take the Xiegu X6100 out on a proper hike-in activation!

While I’d had this radio on loan from Radioddity since December 23rd, I hadn’t had an opportunity to truly hike it into an activation site. Between the weather and my tight schedule, I haven’t had an opportunity to plot out a proper Summits On The Air (SOTA) Activation. SOTA activations that involve hiking usually take a much bigger bite out of my day and, lately, I’ve been to busy to plot one.

I do live near a vast trail network, however, and it so happens that much of the trails run through overlapping public lands: Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah State Game Land.

So I packed my Spec-Ops EDC tactical pack, grabbed Hazel’s harness, and headed out the door.

“Let’s go, Daddy!”

Hazel knows me too well.

When she sees my pack and my hiking boots, she  waits in front of the door so there’s no possibility she’ll be left behind. Continue reading Xiegu X6100: New compact throwline, POTA pileups & overloading in Pisgah National Forest

Dan’s QRP journey and report on the Venus SW-3B

Many thanks to Dan (KE0ZAR) who writes:

Hi Tom,

I just finished watching your video on resonant/non-resonant antennas and ATUs. I enjoyed it a lot.

For context, I got my ticket in 2020 and got on the air at the end of July 2020. Since that time I have only worked QRP CW using a QCX (the original) on 20 meters and then after September 2021, I got a Venus SW-3B so I have done a bit of work on 40m and 30m now as well.

I really enjoy the challenge of QRP and in a bit over a year, I worked all states, as well as Japan, Canada, several Europe countries, etc, so with good band conditions, QRP really does work and is a lot of fun. My experience working /P stated when I got the SW-3B but I only got out 3 times as the weather up in the hills west of Denver got too chilly very fast; this spring I’ll get back to more /P. Continue reading Dan’s QRP journey and report on the Venus SW-3B

The new (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver kit by DL2MAN & PE1NNZ!

Oh my giddy aunt!

I just learned–via AE5X’s excellent blog–that Manuel DL2MAN and Guido’s PE1NNZ fork of the uSDX series of transceivers is now for sale in both kit form and fully assembled (projected in March/April) via the Romanian retailer/manufacturer roWaves.

Of course, it hit the web and everything is already sold out. John snagged a second production run one, though!

As John makes clear, this is not the Chinese uSDX version (that I recently sent back to the retailer due to its numerous issues). It’s a complete kit version of the uSDX sandwich transceiver.

I would encourage you to check out AE5X’s post for more details.

My oh my, we live in exciting times! I have been hoping that someone out there would kit up the original uSDX sandwich for all to enjoy!

A Last-Minute, Late Afternoon New Year’s Day Activation!

Photo by K4TLI

I’ve always believed that the first day of the year should be symbolic of the whole year.

At least, that’s the excuse I was using to fit in a quick activation on New Year’s Day (Jan 1, 2022).

I have had the new Xiegu X6100 on loan and planned to take it to the field, but that afternoon waves of rain were moving into the area in advance of a weather front. Since I don’t own this X6100, I didn’t want to risk getting it wet.

In fact, I had almost talked myself out of going on an activation, but my wife encouraged me to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we jumped into the car and hit the road.

Our options on the parkway were very limited as they often are in the winter. In advance of winter weather, the National Park Service closes off large sections of the BRP because they have no equipment to remove snow/ice. Plus, you’d never want to drive the BRP in slippery conditions. There are too many beautiful overlooks to slide off of.

Thankfully, the Folk Art Center access is always open and incredibly convenient.

Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

We arrived at the parking lot and I very quickly made my way to a picnic table while my wife and daughters took a walk.

I knew this would be a short activation even by my standards but hopefully, it would represent the first of many meaningful field outings this year! Continue reading A Last-Minute, Late Afternoon New Year’s Day Activation!

“What battery, antenna, and ATU should I pair with the Discovery TX-500?”

Many thanks to Vitor Morais who asked the following question in the comments section of my YouTube video:

Hi,

Greetings from UK.
I recently learned that POTA [is now in the] UK so I am really looking forward to it.

I also recently put an order for [the Discovery TX-500] so I am really excited as well.

I would like to create a very compact setup pouch for field use to pair with this radio; one that I could take to summits or parks and also travel abroad.

What battery and antenna would recommend?

Would you recommend an ATU?

Or would you compromise to fewer bands or pack a secondary antenna?

I love to know your opinion.
Thanks

Great questions, Vitor! In truth, these sorts of questions are easy to ask but quite complicated to answer due of the insane number of options and possibilities available. It’s impossible to cover them all so I’ll try to give you some suggestions based on what I tend to use in the field. Continue reading “What battery, antenna, and ATU should I pair with the Discovery TX-500?”

SOTA & POTA with the QRP Labs QCX-Mini and Packtenna EFHW on Flat Top Mountain

When I head out the door to activate a summit, if it involves a long hike, I reach for one of my super compact QRP transceivers like the Mountain Topper MTR-3B, Elecraft KX1, or KX2. If you’re carrying your entire station and all of your hiking provisions in your backpack, it’s best to keep the load as light and compact as possible.

I purchased the single-band QRP Labs QCX-Mini last year specifically with Summits On The Air (SOTA) in mind. My QCX-Mini is built for 20 meters which tends to be my most productive SOTA band.

The QCX Mini has a rugged, utilitarian feel: basic controls, two line backlit LCD display, and a sturdy aluminum enclosure. It’s super compact.

One of the first things I did was build a dedicated field kit around the QCX-Mini. Everything–save my throw line–fits in my Spec-Ops Op Orders pouch:

After the QCX-Mini’s insane debut on Mount Mitchell in November, I was eager to hit the field with it again.

A window of opportunity opened on the morning of Thursday, December 9, 2021, so I packed my new Spec-Ops EDC backpack with the QCX-Mini kit and drove 1.5 hours to Flat Top Mountain off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Continue reading SOTA & POTA with the QRP Labs QCX-Mini and Packtenna EFHW on Flat Top Mountain

Overloading: The Xiegu X6100’s biggest negative

I’ve had the Xiegu X6100 on loan from Radioddity since December 23rd, 2021. In that time, I’ve used it heavily in the shack and I’ve taken it on three field activations using a variety of antennas.

Overall, I think it’s a great little field radio.

I’ll be producing an in-depth review of the X6100 for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, but in the meantime I’m trying to bring up any points in advance that might help others make a purchase decision.

On that note?

Receiver overloading

Let’s face it: receiver strong signal handling and overload performance are important factors when you choose a radio.

No one buys a new radio and says, “I really hope it overloads easily!

As the title of this post implies, the biggest negative with the Xiegu X6100–in my humble opinion–is that it is prone to overload when in the presence of a strong signal. It’s a shame the front end isn’t more robust.

I’ve noticed this from my QTH, especially when tuning the X6100 outside of the ham radio bands. Indeed, I recently made a post about this on the SWLing Post. In truth, though, all bets are off when we move into the broadcast portions of the HF spectrum. Transceiver manufacturers usually don’t guarantee performance outside the ham bands. It makes sense as the focus is placed on ham band filtering.

But I have noticed overloading on the ham radio bands as well.

Earlier today, I did a park activation in Pisgah National Forest with the X6100. Before my activation started, I could hear a local AM broadcaster punching through the X6100’s front end all over the 40M band. I think it was a station on 1010 kHz which is only about 4-5 miles away from the site as the crow flies.

Disappointing.

Was it an issue? Not really. Not for me. Continue reading Overloading: The Xiegu X6100’s biggest negative

QRPer Notes: Price increases from Icom and a few TX-500s in stock at HRO


Icom America 2022 Price Increases

Many thanks to Dave (N9EWO) who notes that Ray Novak with Icom America recently announced price increases we’ve already started seeing in 2022. Dave shares the following video from DX Engineering queued up to the point where Ray makes the announcement:

 

The price of the Icom IC-705 seems to have already increased to $1,369.95 at DX Engineering, and to $1,399.95 at GigaParts.

If you’ve been considering the IC-705, you may still be able to order it for the 2021 price from a couple of Icom authorized distributors.

We’ve noted that both  R and L Electronics and Ham Radio Outlet are still advertising the IC-705 at the 2021 price of $1,299.95.

Of course, this price increase likely applies to the entire Icom range, not just the IC-705 and probably applies internationally since all Icom products are produced at the same facilities. It appears the increase is roughly 5 to 6 %.

A few Discovery TX-500s in stock

Speaking of Ham Radio Outlet, I received a message from Owen (KB2QQM) with HRO who notes:

If you know anyone that wants a TX-500 we have 4 ready to ship.

They $949+ tax. Free shipping in 48 states.

Click here to check it out.

Just a heads up.
I’m enjoying your videos of POTA and the website.

73

Thank you for the heads-up, Owen. As I post the link this morning, I see that HRO may already have sold these units (that was fast!). If interested in one of these units, you may wish to call HRO and confirm if you’re interested.

POTA this morning!

As a side note, Hazel and I are hitting the trail in a few minutes and plan to activate both Pisgah Forest (K-4510) and Pisgah Game Lands (K-6937) as a two-fer.

We’ll be taking the new Xiegu X6100.

It may be too late by the time you read this (it’s 12:30 UTC, January 6, 2022 now), but readers have asked me to announce when I might be doing part of an activation in SSB and since I was making a QRPer Notes post, I thought I’d add this.

I plan to include some SSB time this morning, if I can get spotted. The area where I plan to set up has no Internet coverage whatsoever–it’s in a very deep valley–but I hope to send a text via my Garmin In-Reach Mini to have friends spot me.

Listen for me in/around 7188 kHz (+/- 5 kHz depending on available frequencies) around 14:15 UTC (+/- 30 minutes). I’ll start the activation on 40 meters CW.

You might check spots on the POTA.app website.

Thank you and have a brilliant day!

73, Thomas (K4SWL)

Portable Doublet-Building Party & my 2022 Activation Challenge!

This past weekend, my good friend Vlado (N3CZ) and his wife came over to the QTH for the afternoon. It’s been a while since our families got together, so it was fantastic to hang with them.

I’ve been trying to tempt Vlado to do more field activations–we’ve done a number together in the past and it has always been loads of fun. Thing is, both of us have pretty active family/work lives, so it’s challenging to make schedules work out.

Nonetheless, our 2022 goal is to do at least one activation per month as a team!

MK-911

If you recall, a couple months ago, I posted an activation report and video using my buddy Eric’s 40-10 meter doublet. I called it a “stolen” antenna because it had been on loan to me for so long, I think Eric forgot it even existed.

Exhibit A: The stolen antenna.

Eric’s doublet was build around a Hughes Aircraft MK-911 Dipole Fixture that was designed and manufactured for the US Military and appears to have been part of the PRC-74 manpack radio-set.

I had assumed Eric found this as a one-off at a military surplus sale. Turns out Eric (and a few readers) made me aware that it was available at Fair Radio Sales in Ohio for $10.

Image of the MK-911 from Fair Radio’s product catalog.

In fact, here’s a link to the MK-911.

I decided to buy two of them: one for me, and one for Vlado. The temptation was strong to purchase a few more just for the 30 feet of 72-ohm military-surplus twinlead, however I understand that there’s a limited inventory and wanted others to be able to purchase this gem.

I was also thinking this antenna fixture would pair beautifully with Vlado’s Yugoslavian RUP-15/PD-8 manpack or even his IC-703 Plus.

Doublet time!

While our wives were catching up, Vlado and I made our way to the storage shed and opened my antenna parts boxes.

I did a little digging and found what I was looking for: some wire I purchased at a thrift store many years ago.

This wire has a black jacket that’s quite slick. Guessing it might be 20 gauge and might even be teflon coated. It was ideal for antennas and eyeing it, I thought there might be enough for two doublets.

For a Norcal-inspired doublet–which covers 40-10–we would need two 22′ legs. I decided (prior to cutting) that I wanted our doublets to go as low as 60 meters (5,332 kHz) and cover everything above. 60 meters is such a useful band. Thing is, I hadn’t done research into suggested leg lengths in advance.

We decided to pick a longer non-resonant length and just give it a go. If it worked, great–if not, we’d cut them down to 22 feet and be happy with 40M and up.

We cut the legs to 31 feet, so there’d be a total of 62 feet of wire in each doublet. Many thanks to my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) for helping stretch, measure, and cut the antenna wire with us!

Assembling the antennas was incredibly simple as there are built-in binding posts attached to the twin lead on the winding fixture.

Vlado and I both decided to use the winder as the center-insulator of the antenna. This is actually how this military fixture was designed to be used. The negative, of course, is that the center insulator is relatively heavy. This isn’t a problem for me at all since I use super strong arborists throw lines to deploy my antennas.

From WD8RIF’s website.

Eric (WD8RIF), by the way,  actually detached the twin lead from the fixture and posts on his unit and built a new center-insulator from a discarded 35mm film canister (see photo above). He wanted to keep the weight down so he could support the center of the doublet on his fiberglass masts.

Testing QRV!

I had planned to hook up the doublets to my RigExpert antenna analyzer, then I realized it was essentially an unnecessary step.

The big question for me was, “Will my Elecraft KX2 find impedance matches on 60M and above?”

Vlado and I connected the doublet to the KX2 and tuned to 5,332 kHz. After confirming the frequency was clear, I pressed the ATU button. The KX2’s internal ATU churned for a couple of seconds and confirmed a 1.4:1 match.

Score!

We checked all of the bands above 60M and the matches were even better.

Standing in the middle of my driveway, I asked Vlado to load the POTA.app website and look for CW spots.

I couldn’t put the antenna away without chasing some parks!

We then proceeded to work about three stations on the air in CW with 5 watts. All of them gave us 599 reports!

Vlado chasing a POTA activator.

It was serious fun.

As I mentioned to Vlado, it might have been the first time I’ve ever used an HF “Handy Talky” with a doublet antenna!

In the end, we both walked away with two effective military-grade field doublets. A perfect antenna for our monthly “Team Baklava” activations.

2022 Activation Challenge

Last year, my personal challenge was to validate all of my park and summit activations with 5 watts or less.

Since I’m very much a QRPer and primarily a CW op these days, this turned out to be low-hanging fruit; lower than I would have guessed in this part of the solar cycle.

For 2022, I plan to continue the 2021 five watt challenge and add another layer…

This year, my challenge will be to build a new antenna each month and deploy it at least once during that month during a field activation. 

The MK-911 doublet will count as January’s antenna.

I’m going to allow myself to build these antennas from anything and everything. I might even cannibalize a few of my broken/worn-out antennas.

I do want to keep these projects quite simple and easy for anyone to build in one sitting. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from the super-simple speaker wire antenna I built in the field last year no doubt because it was so easy to build and super cheap.

I already have enough ideas to take me through the summer months, but I plan on dusting off some of my antenna books for more ideas!

With that in mind, I welcome your input! If you have a suggestion, feel free to comment!

Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500, Elecraft T1, and CHA MPAS Lite

You might recall that I’ve been testing a new backpack that I plan to use primarily for SOTA activations. It’s the Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC.

I’ve now taken it on a few activations, but the very first outing was on Monday, December 7, 2021.

That afternoon, my daughters attended an afternoon art class that was only four miles from our QTH as the crow flies, but took 45+ minutes to drive. Gotta love the mountains!

I had no complaints whatsoever about the drive, though, because it was within five minutes of the Zebulon Vance Historic Birthplace; one of my favorite local POTA spots!

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

After dropping off the girls, I drove to Vance and was happy to see that no one was occupying their one picnic shelter. Even though the Vance site is relatively spacious and they’ve numerous trees along the periphery of the property, it’s a historic/archaeological site and as a rule of thumb I only set up at picnic areas in parks like these.

It was a breezy day and temps were hovering around 44F/7C. These are ideal conditions in my world.

I grabbed the Discovery TX-500 for this activation. I had been using it quite a bit in the shack, but realized I hadn’t taken it to the field in a few weeks. I decided to pair it with the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna since I had already loaded the Lite in my pack, using the pack’s built-in antenna port. Continue reading Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500, Elecraft T1, and CHA MPAS Lite