Category Archives: News

N0SA SP4 Mini Morse Magnetic Paddles Review

You might recall my previous announcement about the new  N0SA SP4 POTA/SOTA Mini Morse Code Magnetic Paddle from CW Morse.

The first production run of these paddles sold out very quickly, but I just received the following message from CW Morse about the new paddles:

We’ve finally gotten caught up and will be shipping out Monday & Tuesday [Nov 21/22]! Also have a few more in stock. Making another batch as well.

CW Morse sent me a set of these paddles to evaluate at no charge to me (keep in mind, they’re both a sponsor and affiliate of QRPer.com) and I got a chance to use them Thursday afternoon.

In short?

I love these paddles!

In fact, I think these may become my preferred compact paddles.

I like the size of the finger pieces/pads.  They’re large for such a tiny paddle, which I believe gives them a solid feel while keying. I prefer a larger contact surface area as opposed to thin finger pieces.

The response is very precise, too, and the action can be adjusted by a supplied Allen wrench.

I agree with a few readers who’ve already received their paddles and noted that the carbon fiber reinforced PETG material make the key grippy and very easy to hold.

The size and design is very similar to the SOTA paddle N0SA sold out of last year in a matter of a few hours.

Bonus POTA Activation!

Thursday afternoon, my daughters attended a two hour meeting not even a stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had *just* taken delivery of the new N0SA paddles, so grabbed the shipping box from CW Morse, my new-to-me Elecraft K2/10 (more on that later!), and my PackTenna Random Wire antenna.

I only discovered that my daughters’ meeting was so close to the parkway about 10 minutes before leaving the QTH. This was one of those bonus activations that deserved a little happy dance, especially since I could spend a good 1.5 hours on the air–a proper luxury for this busy father!

I’ll post a full field report and activation video in a couple of weeks, but in a nutshell, 30 meters was on fire. I’d planned to work 20, 30, and 40 meters (to test the K2’s internal ATU) but 30M was so dang busy, I never had time to QSY.

I had not put the K2/10 on the air yet, so all of the settings were default and it had been a few years since I used a K2, so had to re-familiarize myself with the settings. Thirty meters was so consistently busy, I didn’t have a breather to tinker with the settings.

The new N0SA SP4 paddles worked flawlessly.

I expected nothing less from an N0SA design, but still–the feel and action is superb.

I think this paddle may become the new benchmark for where price and quality meet.

I feel like CW Morse could be charging  $112.95 instead of $82.95 for these and I would still be very pleased with that price. I’m glad they’re not, though, because sub-$100 pricing does give new CW ops an affordable quality mini paddle option.

Based on so many reader recommendations, I purchased a BaMaKeY TP-III paddle recently. It’s also a wonderful paddle, but cost me 157.25 Euro which is nearly twice the price of the SP4 paddles. While I think the TP-III paddles are brilliant (and I’ll soon post a review) I actually prefer the N0SA SP4 paddles (note that this is my own personal preference–both are amazing keys). I prefer the SP4’s larger finger pieces.

Size comparison: CW Morse CNC Machined Aluminum Paddles (left) N0SA SP4 Paddles (right)

The great thing about CW Morse is that they have the capacity to handle customer demand of the SP4 paddles–this is something N0SA couldn’t do as a one-man show. I think CW Morse also has economies of scale working in their favor and, no doubt, this is how they continue to be the market leader in terms of quality for price.

If you’ve been looking for quality mini paddles for your compact field kit or shack, look no further. These are a no-brainer. You’ll love them.

Click here to check out the new N0SA SP4 SOTA/POTA paddles at CW Morse.

The enduring Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers

The following article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


The enduring Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers

by Thomas (K4SWL)

Last April, our family went on a camping trip at New River State Park in Ashe County, North Carolina; we had an absolutely brilliant time.

Naturally, as with any camping trip or extended travel, I’d put a lot of thought into choosing the portable transceiver and field kit to take along.

The great thing about camping at a state park is that I can “activate” that park via the “Parks On The Air” (POTA) or “Worldwide Flora and Fauna” (WWFF) programs pretty much anytime: early morning, late afternoon, or even in a late shift well into the night. Or, of course, all of the above.  Since my activation site is also where I’m eating and sleeping, my radio usually gets heavy use.

Before leaving on that April camping trip, I knew what radio I wanted to operate the bulk of the time: my Yaesu FT-817ND. For a lot of reasons which  I’ll delve into later, I think the FT-817ND (or its latest iteration, the FT-818ND) is an amazing QRP field radio.

Despite unstable propagation and a little campground QRM that moved in over the weekend––no doubt from a neighboring RV, chock full of noisy switching power supplies––I found the FT-817ND activation to be a most enjoyable experience. I posted a few field reports and activation videos from my New River activations on QRPer.com

The thing is, each time I publish a field report using the FT-817ND, I receive a string of questions from subscribers and readers. Questions such as…

  • Should I buy a new FT-818 or a used FT-817?
  • Why do you like the FT-817ND so much?
  • What’s the difference between the 817 and 818?
  • How does the FT-817/818 compare with _____ radio?

Most queries, however, are a version of this comment from reader David:

“We have such a wide array of QRP rigs available to us these days, I’m curious what brings you back to the Yaesu for activations? It’s bigger than our more modern radios, with no ATU and more current draw.   I’m just wondering if there is something that you find it does particularly well, or if it’s just ‘because I like to use it,’ which to me is an entirely valid reason, too! My 897 served me well, as does my 891; I’ve had Yaesu handhelds forever, so I’m certainly a fan. I don’t own an 817/8 but they have a devoted following so I just wanted to get your perspective on it.”

Or as another subscriber distilled the question:

“Why choose a legacy design like the 817/818 when newer QRP transceivers have better overall field specs and features?”

Of course, these types of questions are simple enough when it comes to asking, but when it comes to answering, much more complex.

Of course, as I said in my recent TSM article about choosing a field radio, one’s love of a particular radio is by definition quite subjective, and this certainly applies to my response…we all have our own personal preferences.  But behind these preferences are objective facts, such as product’s unique features, specifications, and form factor; let’s take a look at these.

Continue reading The enduring Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers

Spring Flashback: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite at New River State Park

This year, it’s been a challenge for me to keep up with field reports that accompany my activation videos.  It’s been a very busy year with a fair amount of travel, DIY projects, and family activities.

I recently realized that I have a number of activation videos from much earlier this year–videos I skipped over in order to post some of my Canadian field reports while I was still in Canada (at one point, I was over 2 months behind posting field reports and activation videos!).

I’ve often said that even if only a handful of people enjoyed my reports and activation videos, I’d still post them. I feel like they could even play a small part in someone’s path to doing field radio or learning CW, it’s wort it.

Plus, I occasionally like looking back at them myself.

In a sense, these reports are my travelogues and they bring back memories of some beautiful spots where I’ve played radio, gone camping, and enjoyed time with my family.

So why don’t you join me as we travel back a few months to…

Springtime

Photo by K4TLI

In late April 2022, I took my family on a camping trip to New River State Park here in North Carolina. You might remember this post and a couple field reports from that trip.

In short, it was an amazing trip and I got to play radio quite a bit!

Each day, I played radio from the morning into the evening. The camp site was actually ideal for playing radio. Until…

Saturday morning (April 30) I woke up, made some coffee at the picnic table, then fired up my radio. It was then I learned that one of the new RVs that joined the campground Friday evening brought some sort of RFI-spewing device with them.

I’ve no clue what it was. If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was likely something used in electronic warfare. It was intense.

At the campsite that morning, I couldn’t copy a single signal that wasn’t S9+ on my meter. The noise level was S8 or S9.

I decided that I’d need to move to a different part of the park to play radio after breakfast and our family’s morning hike.

Fortunately, there was a large picnic shelter within a short drive of our campsite.

I had the whole place to myself! Continue reading Spring Flashback: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite at New River State Park

Vince’s chilly #POTAThon1111 run on Remembrance/Veterans Day 2022

Many thanks to Vince (VE6LK) who shares the following guest post and field report from Alberta, Canada:


#POTAThon1111 – report from the field

by Vince (VE6LK)

My goal is to activate all of the parks I can that have never been activated.

I’m blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world and see these parks up close. One wall in my shack has a map of all the un-activated parks and routes within a day’s drive of me, and most are already planned with routes. There will be more #POTAThons!

[Click all images to enlarge.]

#POTAThon is what I call it when I plan on getting to more than one park in a day. Usually these things aren’t thought of for weeks in advance, they are more like a “tomorrow morning” kind of thing. Opportunistic, if you will.

But first, a note about the day I chose…

November 11 is called different things in different countries, but what we share in common is we honour our Veterans and we give thanks for the freedoms they fought for. So today I paused to give thanks and think of the lives they gave so that I have the freedoms I do today. I would bundle up that giving of thanks into an urgently needed day away from the office.

And with that, #POTAThon1111 was born.

#POTAThon is what I tag these activities on my Twitter feed and the month and day denote when it happened. By definition a #POTAThon is more than one activation in a day; I’m simple like that. #POTAThon1111 is the third such event.

The first was #POTAThon0930, an ambitious day attempting 8 sites with two operators and most of them in backcountry outside of cellular range. You can see the video from that day when you click on this link. We didn’t get to all 8 but we had a hoot trying.

Just before I departed for #POTAThon0930, Thomas Witherspoon K4SWL (you know him, right?) said words to me I’ll never forget: “Vince, just work CW at a speed where you are comfortable, people will adjust. If you work the sacred language, I will find you.

With those words of encouragement, I gave it a go. On that day I worked CW and a bit of SSB, but since then it’s been all CW for POTA. While the propagation wasn’t with Thomas and I on 0930, we did connect some weeks later – KX3 to KX3 no less.

You need to understand that I think I’m terrible at CW, but I also need to let you in on a secret: there’s no such thing as a Bad CW Contact. I explain that concept in more detail on YouTube, and the essence is: just do it and roll with it, warts and all. People adjust their ways and usually their speed. Go out and have fun trying. Continue reading Vince’s chilly #POTAThon1111 run on Remembrance/Veterans Day 2022

New N0SA SP4 POTA/SOTA Mini Morse Code Magnetic Paddle from CW Morse

Update: This post was originally posted a few days ago which turned out to be prior to this paddle being in-stock in any quantity. CW Morse has some of these online and available for order at time of posting this morning (14 Nov 2022) and will have many more later this week. We’ll post an update on QRPer when their main production run is available. 

Many thanks to Timothy who notes that CW Morse has added a new key to their product line: the SP4 POTA/SOTA Mini Morse Code Magnetic Paddle.

This key looks a lot like the N0SA paddle you see in many of my videos because it is designed by N0SA and made by CW Morse!

Here’s the description from CW Morse’s website:

The SP4 POTA/SOTA CW Morse Magnetic Iambic Double Paddle – Designed By N0SA.

Super Lightweight, Portable Compact Paddle With An Attached 3.5mm Cable.

Uses Magnetic Tension And Easily Adjustable With Stainless Steel Contacts.

Great for portable operations, and supplied with 3M Dual Lock Velcro for easy mounting and removal of the paddle from base or anything of your choosing.

FEATURES: Small and light weight – only 1.7ozs.
WITH BASE: Small and removable from base – 1.25 lbs.

Measures 2.5″ x 1.1″ x 1″

Frame and finger pieces are 3D printed with carbon fiber reinforced PETG.

Levers are solid CNC Machined 6061 aluminum.

3 foot flexible cloth covered cord with molded 1/8” plug stays flexible down to 0 Deg F.

All fasteners used are Stainless Steel.

Allen wrench that is needed for spacing adjustment is also included with the key.

Adjustments stay put when set, so adjust once and forget about it! 🙂

This paddle is available with or without a steel base.

I have not tried this new paddle yet, but I did know it was in the works. I’m so glad it’s now being offered because I’m a huge fan of both N0SA and CW Morse (disclaimer: CW Morse is a proud sponsor and affiliate of QRPer.com).

The price for the new key is $82.95 without a base or $109.95 with base.

Click here to check out the new N0SA paddle at CW Morse.

Field Report: How I evaluate a new POTA site plus serious QRP fun with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1

On Friday, October 7, 2022, I had a couple of errands to run in/around Morganton, NC. Of course, I always have POTA in mind so squeezed in an activation at nearby Tuttle Educational State Forest that morning.  That activation took longer than expected due to swapping out antennas and radios, but it was a success and quite fun.

After Tuttle, I knew I could fit in one more activation if I made it quick, so I set my sights on Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012), but first I had a couple of errands to run in Morganton!

I visited my friend Hamilton at his ceramics studio, popped by another store to pick up a couple of items, then (on Hamilton’s advice) grabbed lunch at the The Grind Café.

I must say that Hamilton was spot-on. My wrap was delicious!

Just what I needed to fuel another POTA activation, right? Right!

After lunch, I drove to Table Rock Fish Hatchery. The weather was ideal and the leaves were beginning to show color.

At our home in the mountains, we were almost at peak leaf color, but the fish hatchery site is much lower in elevation. The weather was simply ideal.

On days like this, driving to a site is half the fun. Continue reading Field Report: How I evaluate a new POTA site plus serious QRP fun with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1

Guest Post: QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest

QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

I had an opportunity to activate Fort Yargo State Park (K-2177) during the CQ WW DX contest.

Fort Yargo is my local park, about 30 minutes away. The park features a great playground for the kids to play on and many tall trees which are perfect for deploying a wire antenna. There really is not much more I could ask for in a POTA location. Even the noise floor is very low, about S0, so I typically turn on the pre-amp which brings it up to S2-S3 on my Discovery TX-500.

This was very much a last minute plan. I knew the contest was going on which may present some difficulty activating QRP. I knew I would not be calling CQ on 20m where I normally activate and hunting stations could be difficult but likely doable.

There was a bit of rain at the house in the morning, then a promise of drizzle the rest of the day. Not too sure what I would find at the park, but hopefully the rain would hold off and I could get the activation in using the TX-500 without too much worry about it getting wet. I threw in a picnic blanket with a water barrier that promised a bit of protection from the rain if needed it.

I have a go-box setup with my TX-500 and IC-705, as well as several antennas, an ATU, and all cabling and power needed to run FT8 either on my Raspberry PI4 with the TX-500, or on my iPad through the IC-705.

I was taking my wife’s vehicle as she had the car seats needed for the 3 kiddos that were coming along. So, I had to be sure I had everything I needed. There are quite a few additional radio items I keep in the back of my car that I would not have available. But everything should be in the go-box, right?

Go-Box with two full stations, TX-500 and IC-705

After a bit of mist and some rain on the drive over, I planned to setup the TX-500 knowing it would get a bit wet. I tossed the throw line in the tree and pulled up my Tufteln EFHW QRP cut for 20m. In retrospect I probably should have pulled up the EFRW for a bit more band agility.

I tuned around for a few minutes.

Yup, there was not a single free place across 20 meters where I could start calling CQ in the clear. In fact, the stations I listened to for more than a few seconds had someone else start calling right on top of them. 20 meters was indeed crazy.

I could try to hunt some DX with my QRP signal, it would be a fight no doubt, and a nice challenge. After another DX station I tuned to had someone in the States start calling right over top of them, decided not to hunt. Continue reading Guest Post: QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest

QRP DX: A quick POTA break with the Penntek TR-45L on the Blue Ridge Parkway

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I feel pretty lucky to live in an area that is  flush with POTA sites.  It’s not that we have numerous individual parks, but the parks we do have encompass massive portions of the area.

One park, in particular, that literally runs around and through Asheville, NC, is the Blue Ridge Parkway. When I’m in town and have a few free minutes, it’s quite easy to hit the BRP; it’s never far away.  I can set up along the parkway pretty much anywhere, or go to the Visitor’s Center or Folk Art Center if I want to operate from a picnic table. In addition, the Mountains To Sea Trail runs along large portions of the parkway, so it’s very easy to hit it as well.

On Wednesday, September 28, 2022, I took my daughters to a class and had the better part of an hour to play radio. The BRP’s Folk Art Center was only a 10 minute drive from their class, so I made a beeline for the site as soon as I dropped them off.

I had the amazing Penntek TR-45L packed in my car, and decided to pair it with my Tufteln End-Fed Random Wire antenna.

Continue reading QRP DX: A quick POTA break with the Penntek TR-45L on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Rich re-activates Santa Fe Prairie State Park with QRM-busting in mind

Many thanks to Rich (KQ9L) for sharing the following field report:



Field Report: Testing a horizontally-polarized antenna at a high QRM POTA site

by Rich (KQ9L)

I wanted to give a quick follow up report from Santa Fe Prairie State Park (K-7839).

As you may recall I wrote up my POTA activation from this park on Oct 23, 2022. I made 15 Q’s that day but deep down felt I could do better. The setting of the park is quite industrial and consequently the man made noise is bad. Reflecting back on this activation, I feel that the limited the number of QSO’s I made that day was due to this QRM.

I resolved to try again but this time my objective was to figure out a solution to mitigate the effects of the QRM on my QSO count. Thinking about the problem, I recalled than manmade noise typically is vertically polarized and therefore for my second attempt, I decided to test this and use a horizontal antenna.

As luck may have it, here in Chicago we continue to experiencing unseasonably warm weather and my work schedule wasn’t too busy on Thursday, November 3, 2022, so it seemed like a great chance to put my theory to the test.

For the antenna, I decided to use one which I have owned for awhile, but have never used. I had purchased a RadioWaves Double bazooka from an online retailer some time back when they were on sale and planned to set up it a flattop dipole.

If you recall from my description of the Santa Fe Prairie State Park, there is a scenic overlook which has a tree mounted pulley system perfectly spaced to mount a 20m dipole. Although this would be the first time I used the system, it turned out to be a well designed and intuitive hoisting solution to use.

The “pulley” is actually an eyelet with paracord running through the eyelet. The paracord is in a continuous loop just like rope on a flag pole. By employing a simple overhand knot I secured the end of the antenna to the paracord and hoisted the antenna up into the tree about 20ft. It literally took a few minutes and I was ready to go.

Antenna was fed with my RG-316 feedline with built in common mode choke. Since a dipole is a balanced antenna system, it really doesn’t need the choke, but it was the coax that I had packed with me and I figured it wouldn’t cause any harm or negatively affect my test. I was QRV by 3:20pm, and anxious to get on the air. Continue reading Rich re-activates Santa Fe Prairie State Park with QRM-busting in mind

Sam sources a larger tuning knob option for the Penntek TR-35

Many thanks to Sam Duwe (WN5C) who writes:

John (AE5X) had suggested a while back finding a larger tuning knob for the Penntek TR-35.

I was striking out in finding one that fit but had to put in a Mouser order and thought I’d give this knob a shot (Mouser # 706-11K5013-KFNB) and I really like it!

I accidentally bought the gray version and had to paint it black. It’s shiny because of the clear coat and rough because of sanding and because I’m apparently awful at painting, but I find that it fits with the plastic bezel of the radio.

With the optical encoder it really glides, and totally changes the feel of the radio. Pretty good deal for $2.36.

Thank you for the tip, Sam!