Category Archives: News

Ozarkcon 2021 Virtual registration is free and now open

(Source: Johnny, AC0BQ)

OZARKCON 2021 REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!

Good Morning

I am pleased to announce the Opening of Ozarkcon Virtual 2021 registration.

Due to your exceptional support of our kit sales efforts for the last year, the 4SQRP Board of Directors has decided that the Conference will be Free of charge.

The event will take place on April 10th at 8:30 am CDT.
We will be broadcasting via Zoom and are limited to 500 participants, so please sign up early.

You can register in several ways, from the main website Ozarkcon Radio button, or direct at www.ozarkcon.com.

The conference will be an open meeting platform so you can come and go as you like.

The closing date for registration will be March 26th or until all seats are filled.

We have a great lineup of speakers with a variety of topics.
Some of the highlights are:

Special event station K0N will be on the air all week beginning April 4th.

The Wackey Key and Homebrew contests will take place prior to the conference.

Prize Drawings will be held throughout the day of the conference with the results being posted on the Ozarkcon web page.
Details for all of these events and how to register for them will be announced at a later date.

Updates to the conference will be posted on the 4sqrp groups.io email reflector.

If you’re not a member feel free to join at this link: https://4sqrp.groups.io/g/main

If you have any questions or need assistance with registration please drop us a note at this email: registration@ozarkCon.com

We are looking forward to you joining us for a Educational and satisfying day.

72
Johnny AC0BQ, President

Activating Elk Knob State Park for SOTA, POTA, and WWFF

On Monday, March 8, 2021, I had a very rare opportunity: nearly a full day to play radio!

I debated where to go the night before and I had a lot of ideas. Do a multi-park run?  Activate some new-to-me parks a little further afield? Hit a SOTA summit?

While it was very appealing to plan a multi-park run for POTA/WWFF, I really wanted to stretch my legs and activate a summit. The weather was glorious and it dawned upon me that we’ll soon be entering the season of afternoon thunderstorms which will, no doubt, have a negative impact on my summit plans for the next few months since afternoons are typically when I have time to do activations.

After examining the map, I decided to go to Elk Knob State Park. The summit of Elk Knob is a SOTA site and the park is in both the POTA and WWFF programs.

Last year, I activated Elk Knob State Park and really enjoyed the experience.

The round trip hike to the summit (adding in a little trail loop around the park) would amount to about 4 total miles and an elevation increase of roughly 1,000 feet.

Monday morning, I left the QTH around 9:00 and arrived at the park around 11:15–it was a proper scenic drive.

The 1.9 mile hike to the summit took me about 45 minutes. The path was amazingly well maintained: 4′ wide with crushed stone most of the way.

One of the nicest trails I’ve been on in ages–Elk Knob State Park is quickly becoming one of my favorite NC State Parks.

There aren’t any antenna-friendly trees on the summit, so I was happy that I packed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0.

At first, I planned to only bring the top section of the MPAS 2.0 vertical to save space, but the hike was so short, I brought the lower aluminum sections as well. I’m glad I did.

Deployment of the MPAS 2.0 was quick and I the Elecraft KX2‘s internal ATU found a match on 20 meters very quickly.

Elk Knob (W4C/EM-005)

I spotted myself using the SOTA Goat app and received quite a 20 meter CW pileup! As you’ll see in my video below, it was testing the limits of my CW skills for sure.

With 5 watts, I quickly worked stations to my east in France, Spain, and Germany, and to my west all over the west coast of North America. It was a hoot!

I eventually moved to 40 meters and operated a bit, but 40 was suffering from poor propagation so stations that are normally quite strong, were weak that day.

I needed four stations for a valid SOTA activation and 10 stations for a valid park activation. I logged a total of 38 stations in 56 minutes. 75% of those contacts were on 20 meters.

Video

Here’s one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation (less a small amount I removed while eating a quick bite):

When people tell me running QRP is like “trying to play radio with both hands tied behind your back” I’ll show them this video. 🙂

AGN?

While the hike, the weather, and the signals were all in my favor, I’ll admit I wasn’t on my “A Game” that day. We all have days like this where we struggle to copy, to keep up with the flow of contacts, and to send correctly.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a number of emails from readers and viewers who said they had a less-than-smooth SOTA or POTA activation and felt a wee bit embarrassed on the air when they struggled copying.

But you know what?

No worries!!!

This is all about having radio fun in the field, enjoying a hike, taking in the views, and soaking up the beautiful weather! It’s not a contest and we have nothing to prove to anyone.

I can also promise you that any chaser/hunter who has ever activated a field site will completely understand if they have to send their call a couple extra times or if they (heaven forbid!) have to re-send their call after you incorrectly copy a character.

This is totally normal.

Be easy on yourself and enjoy the ride. Even on days when I don’t feel like I’m 100% in the groove, I find doing a summit or park activation clears my mind and resets my soul.

My policy? When a mistake is made laugh it off and move on!

Photos

Here are a few extra photos from the Elk Knob hike:


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SOTA: “Inside the Summit-Obsessed World of Ham Radio”

Many thanks to Steve (WG0AT) who shares the following article which features him and some of his SOTA friends:

(Source: Outside Magazine)

Inside the Summit-Obsessed World of Ham Radio

It’s like biathlon, but for geeks

On a gray Friday afternoon last spring, Steve Galchutt sat high atop Chief Mountain, an 11,700-foot peak along Colorado’s Front Range. An epic panorama of pristine alpine landscape stretched in almost every direction, with Pikes Peak standing off to the south and Mount Evan towering just to the west.

It was an arresting view, and the perfect backdrop for a summit selfie. But instead of reaching for his smartphone, Galchutt was absorbed by another device: a portable transceiver. Sitting on a small patch of rock and snow, his head bent down and cocked to one side, he listened as it sent out a steady stream of staticky beeps: dah-dah-di-dah dah di-di-di-dit. “This is Scotty in Philadelphia,” Galchutt said, translating the Morse code. Then, tapping at two silver paddles attached to the side of the radio, he sent his own message, first with some details about his location, then his call sign, WG0AT.

At this point, a prying hiker could have been forgiven for wondering what, exactly, Galchutt was doing. But his answer—an enthusiastic “amateur radio, of course!”—would likely only have further compounded their confusion. After all, the popular image of an amateur-radio enthusiast is an aging, armchair-bound recluse, not some crampon-clad adventurer. And their natural habitat is usually a basement, or “ham shack,” not a windswept peak in the middle of the Rockies.

Galchutt fits part of this stereotype—he’s 75—but the similarities end there. An avid hiker and camper, his preferred shack is atop a mountain, and the higher the summit, the better.

Another rapid-fire burst of dits and dahs sprung from the radio. “Wow!” Galchutt said, “Spain!”

Nearby sat Brad Bylund (call sign WA6MM) and Bob and Joyce Witte (K0NR and K0JJW, respectively). Together, the four are part of a group called Summits on the Air (SOTA), an international, radio version of high pointing. […]

Continue reading the full article at Outside Magazine.

SOTA Field Report from Rocky Face (W4C/WP-006)

One of the things I love about POTA and now SOTA is that it gives me a reason to venture out and explore parks and other public lands that might have otherwise never shown up on my RADAR.

Rocky Face is a prime example.

On the morning of Wednesday, March 10, 2021, I would have never guessed that by noon I would be standing on the summit of Rocky Face. That morning, I had planned to activate the summit of Baker’s Mountain–a park and summit I know very well as I’ve hike the trails there almost monthly and the mountain is a stone’s throw from my parents’ home.

That morning, when I arrived at Baker’s Mountain Park and the gates were shut, I remembered that they are closed on Wednesdays.

Oops.

I was determined to hike to a summit, though, so I grabbed my iPhone and launched the SOTA Goat app, then searched for nearby summits.  That’s when I noticed Rocky Face which was *only* a 40 minute drive from Baker’s Mountain. I had heard of this 1 point summit and park, but had never been there, so why not take a little road trip and explore?

Rock Face (W4C/WP-006)

View of Rocky Face from the road.

It was a very pleasant drive which was made all the better by gorgeous sunny weather.

When I arrived on site, I was surprised to see just how well developed this park was. There were two different parking areas, a visitor’s center, picnic area, rock climbing face, playground, and numerous trails. There’s even a large area for outdoor events.

I took the “Vertical Mile Challenge” to the summit (which I would recommend) and was more of a workout that one might imagine for a 1 point 576 meter summit.

The trail was very well maintained. The ascent up the granite slope offered some welcome views of the surrounding area.

I was a little surprised to find some Nodding Trilliums blooming on the side of, and even on the path. A sure sign spring is on the way!

March 10th was also one of the warmest days of the year so far.

On the summit, there were actually a couple of picnic tables–a total surprise which made this SOTA operation feel somewhat luxurious!

On The Air

I set up the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS 2.0 which were still packed from a SOTA activation two days earlier at Elk Knob (I’ll post a report of that activation in the near future).

I had not charged the Lithium Ion pack in the KX2 after the Elk Knob activation, but I assumed I’d still have enough “juice” to get me through the Rocky Face activation at 5 watts.

I started by calling CQ SOTA on 20 meters. A friend told me that propagation was very unstable, so I feared the worst. Fortunately, 20 meters was kicking (40 meters much less so).

Right off the bat, I worked stations in France, Germany, Slovenia, Quebec, Spain, and all of the west coast states of the US. It was so much fun and exactly why I love QRP and playing radio in the field.

As I switched from 20 meters to 40 meters, some hikers passed by. Turns out it was my cousin and her husband–what a surprise! Of course, they had no idea what I was up to, so I ended up explaining not only SOTA, but amateur radio and why I was using CW (yeah, I cut that bit from the activation video below).

They moved on and I hit 40 meters which was hit harder by the poor propagation. Many stations I regularly work were a good 2-3 S units lower in signal strength.

I am certainly looking forward to some stable propagation eventually! Still…very, very pleased with the 24 stations I worked and the QRP DX as well.

Here’s a QSOmap of my contacts–all from 5 watts and a vertical:

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Rocky Face turned out to be a fun little hike, productive activation, and a great opportunity to explore a new summit and park. I’ll certainly return!


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Frank builds the EGV+ Three Band QRP CW Transceiver Kit

Many thanks to Frank Lagaet (ON6UU) for sharing the following guest post:


The EGV+ Three Band Transceiver Kit

by Frank Lagaet (ON6UU)

Another EA3GCY kit has seen daylight.  The EGV+ is ready for you all.

It was beginning 2021 I got word a new kit from EA3GCY was ready and distribution could start.  After a successful build of the DB4020 I did not need much time to decide to buy this kit,  a week later the kit arrived at my QTH.  As weather was good I did not start immediately building but then winter kicked in, with snowfall and frost,  perfect time for some quality time and building the kit.

What do you get ? 

The kit has a general coverage receiver from 6 to 16MHz,  it has a keyer built in,  has RIT without limit,  requires only 0.25A on RX and smaller than 2A on TX.  Dimensions are 18x14cm and weight is 0.3Kg.   It is CW only, able to produce 8W on 40 and some 5-6 on 30 and 20.  The kit has an AB class amplifier.   Spurious is below -50DBc.  The receiver is a heterodyne type balanced mixer,  sensitivity is 0.2µV minimum and the CW filter is some 700Hz wide,  the AGC is on audio.   Furthermore the transceiver is equipped with both output for loudspeaker as for a headset or earbuds.

The kit arrived in a brown envelope and in that envelope I found a well-packed packet of plastic bags and the printed board well packed in bubble wrap.  Around that another layer of bubblewrap.  Safe!!

All plastic bags were checked,  all needed stuff was there, super,  well done Javier.

All components were installed in about 10 hours “relax max style”,  if you have built some kits already you can easily do this one,  all elements are far enough out of each other,  the board is not overcrowded at all.  Some attention is needed when soldering the IC’s and display but even that is a piece of cake.   Be careful when installing the SI5351 module.

Winding the toroids,  just follow what is in the manual,  it is not that hard to do,  I don’t understand what many find so difficult.  Just take your time and don’t rush into it.

I got the transceiver up and running quite quick. I didn’t install a speaker in the cabinet but decided to go for a transceiver where no speaker is in. If I want to use it on SOTA or GMA I don’t need the extra weight and can take earbuds with me.  So I installed the speaker connector on the board.

I made connections towards the CW key and CMD push button with jumper cables which fit exactly on the headers Javier supplies,  a little glue to keep them in place is also added afterward.  For easy operation I mounted the CW key connector and CMD pushbutton on the front of the transceiver.

Do to be able to withstand high power nearby stations,  I mounted the EGV+ in a homemade box which is made of printboard.  The box should be a Faraday cage to keep all QRM out.  If you buy a box, buy one in metal.  I added a laminated front and back which make the transceiver look kinda cool.   Now you can also buy a box from qrphamradiokits.

Alignment

The alignment is done on 40 meters:  crank up the volume and start turning the 2 coils (L1 and L2)to maximum volume.  Be careful to handle these with caution and don’t use metallic screwdrivers.  Connect an antenna after you’ve done that and do the alignment of the coils again for maximum volume.  Find a station on 40 and redo the alignment once more.  You should already have good results now.

P1 Set sidetone level to your liking.

P2 Set the hangtime of the relay after you’ve been on air–fast fingers will need a quick release. Set this to your liking.

P3 Connect a power meter between a dummy load and the transceiver,  set power on 40 to some 8 Watts.   Measure on 30 and 20 meters,  you should find some 6-7W there.  Don’t set the power to full if you want a long life for the final in the transceiver.  Mine is set for 6W on 20,  resulting in some 7.5W on 30 and some 8.4W on 40.  I think I will reduce even more.

P4 Set to max,  it is the RX-attenuator.

P5 Don’t pay too much attention to the signal meter,  mine is set at 6/8 of the potmeter’s range.  It is only an indication.  If you don’t want the S-meter then you can do a start-up sequence with the tuning knob.

These are in fact the alignments you need to do inside the transceiver.  You should also check Xtal calibration and BFO,  these are settings which you need to do in the set-up.  Don’t forget to write all down when you have maximised these settings. If you do a reset, all these values are erased too so be carefull.

The complete CW 3 bander

Well,  you get a 3 band transceiver which you build yourself,  it has RIT and XIT,  has 4 memories on the KB-2 keyer,  speed of CW can be set between 0 and 50WPM and you can set the KB-2 as a beacon which can be handy too.   The EGV+ provides you with 3 bands which are almost for certain insurance for QSOs when going on SOTA,  GMA or POTA.

You may have noticed some resemblance with the DB4020. You are right as some parts are the same on the board.   The designer worked on the same platform to make two completely different transceivers.  The result is twice the fun for kit builders.

I made a box myself since, at the time of ordering, there were no boxes available,  here’s the result.

The naked printboard transceiver.

After adding a laminated front to the trx,  it looks now like this.  You can see it is not made professionally but I like it.

The paper which is between the plastic was first cut out for the display before placing it in the plastics so giving an extra protection to the display.

I have also made a retractable stand for it,  when folded back it is next to the bottom of the transceiver,  when folded out the stand is under the front of the transceiver,  the retractable stand is also made out of printboard.

It’s an easy-to-make stand–take some old printboard and solder it together.   The pictures explain it all, I think.

Meanwhile, I already made a lot of QSOs with this small (16 X 20 X 6 cm) QRP transceiver.   The power out is better than expected and even reduced so all bands are within QRP regulations.

Finally, I’d like to say that I’m not sponsored to make this kit,  I don’t have any ties with the kit producer, nor do I gain money with building it.   If people would like to have this QRP kit built for them I’m willing to help out in populating the board and aligning it.  A ready made box is available with qrphamradiokits.   This also stands for the DB4020 which I made earlier.

The kit comes for 125€ without shipping costs.  Many European countries will have no shipping costs at all.  The enclosure comes for 50€ all included. This means you have a complete 3 band radio for about 200€.  In my eyes, this is a pretty good deal.

Info about the kit can be found here :   Home – Página web de ea3gcy (qrphamradiokits.com)

And here : EGV+ Three band CW – Página web de ea3gcy (qrphamradiokits.com)

Icom IC-705 Firmware Update (Version 1.24)

Many thanks to Markku (VA3MK) who writes:

New Icom IC-705 firmware has been posted for version 1.24.

IC-705 | Firmware / Software | Support | Icom Inc. (icomjapan.com)

Changes from Version 1.20

– Improved the Scope function of the RS-BA1.
– Supports a 64-digit hexadecimal format WPA/WPA2 Password.

Thank you for the tip, Markku!

SOTA Field Report: Activating Lane Pinnacle with the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Don’t tell anyone, but I held off making my first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation  until the stars aligned and I could activate one particular summit completely on foot from my QTH.

Last Thursday (February 25, 2021), my daughter and I hiked to Lane Pinnacle (W4C/CM-018) and performed my first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation.

Why did I wait so long?

We live in the mountains of western North Carolina where (obviously) there are numerous SOTA summits to activate.

But I wanted Lane Pinnacle to be the first.

Why? Well, it’s the one summit I can hike to directly from my house with my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and enjoy a proper father/daughter day hike.

I had planned to do this hike last year, but I injured my ankle and let’s just say that the hike to Pinnacle isn’t a beginner’s run.  I knew my ankle would need to properly heal before the journey.

This is also more of a late fall to very early spring hike due to the amount of thick foliage we knew we would have to mitigate. It’s so much easier to keep your bearings when there are no leaves on the trees nor on the green briar!

Last Thursday, I felt confident that my ankle was up to the task. We had a break in the weather as well with moderate temps and lots of sunshine (this, after several days of rain). We knew things could be muddy and slippery, but we also knew that with my busy schedule this might be our last chance to hit the summit before the mountains green up.

So we packed a lunch, plenty of water, radio gear, and (of course) emergency/first-aid kits while trying to keep our backpacks as light as possible.

Hitting the trail!

The first part of the hike requires trailblazing to a ridge line. The distance is short, but the ascent is steep (about 800 feet).  We hike this portion regularly, so knew how to pick our path and avoid the steeper, slippery bits.

K4TLI lead the way!

On the ridge line, we intersected an established single track trail and enjoyed the hike across a couple of smaller summits until we intersected the Blue Ridge Parkway.

If I’m being honest, I had some serious concerns that the trailhead to Lane Pinnacle would be closed. This portion of Blue Ridge Parkway is currently closed to motor vehicles (for the winter season) and I had noticed a number of “trail closed” signs on other portions of the parkway.

Guessing this may be a type of shelf fungus?

If the trail was closed, I planned to simply activate the parkway and Pisgah National Forest for the POTA program. I never hike on trails that have been closed by the park service because I like to obey the rules and I certainly don’t want to paint SOTA activators in a bad light.

When we crossed the parkway, we were incredibly pleased to see that the trailhead was open.

The ascent from the parkway to Lane Pinnacle is about 1,000 feet (305 meters) of elevation gain over a pretty short distance. The trail we were taking–turns out–was primitive. It basically lead us straight up the slope (no switch backs following lines of elevation, for example) and simply fizzled out about one third of the way up.  We could tell it isn’t traveled often at all (although we did find a massive fresh bear track in the mud on the trail!).

Obligatory SOTA report “foot in snow” photo. 🙂

I bushwhacked our way to the top–at times, the slope was about 45 degrees and slippery, but we easily found our way to the summit where our goat path intersected the Mountains To Sea trail.

We found an amazing overlook and took in views of the Bee Tree Reservoir as we ate our lunches.

Geneva grabbed her dual-band HT and made the first summit contact with our friend, Vlado (N3CZ) on 2 meters FM.

On the Air

I knew there would be short trees on the summit of Lane Pinnacle, but I also knew that I wanted to get on the air as soon as possible to allow extra time for our hike home.

I did pack a super compact wire antenna, but opted instead for the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical. I paired it with my Elecraft KX2.

Gear:

The great thing about the CHA MPAS Lite is how quick it is to deploy–it might have taken me all of three minutes.

Since it was noon, I decided to start on the 20 meter band. I found a clear frequency, started calling “CQ SOTA” with the KX2 memory keyer, and spotted myself to the SOTA network via the excellent SOTA Goat app on my phone.

I had also scheduled my activation on the POTA website in advance because Lane Pinnacle is in Pisgah National Forest (K-4510). My buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) were also helping to spot me in the unlikely event I wouldn’t have cell phone service on the summit.

Within 20 seconds of submitting the spot to the SOTA network I had a CW pileup.

In all of my hundreds of field activations, I can’t think of a single time that I generated a CW pileup on 20 meters in such short order with five watts and a vertical.

The first station I logged was N1AIA in Maine. The second station was F4WBN in France.  The race was on!

It took every bit of CW skill I had to pull apart the stations on 20 meters. It was so much fun!

I eventually worked Spain and all of the west coast states (WA, OR, and CA) and numerous stations throughout the Rockies and Midwest.

I then moved to 40 meters where I worked stations in the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and in the Southeast.

In the end, I had to keep my total time on the air short because I wanted to take my time finding a path from the summit back down to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In 30 minutes I worked 30 stations. I’m not a seasoned CW operator, so this was quite the accomplishment.

Here’s a QSOmap of my contacts:

I was chuffed! What a fabulous activation to kick off my SOTA adventures.

Video

This time, I did not make a video of the actual activation. For one thing, I didn’t want to carry a folding tripod for the camera and I didn’t want to ask my daughter to film it either. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible to make the most of the airtime I had.

I did, however, make a short video before and after. You can check it out on my YouTube channel:

Hiking home

I really wish we could have stayed on the summit for an hour longer making contacts, but I knew it would be wise to allow extra time to descend Lane Pinnacle especially since I knew a front was moving through later that day.

I decided it would be easier to do my own bushwhacking back down the mountain rather than try to retrace our previous steps. We took our time and I followed elevation lines to make it slightly less steep. Since I took a more south westerly descent, when we reached the parkway, we had to hike north to reach the original trailhead.

The rest of the hike was totally uneventful and incredibly fun. The weather held and we took in the views, the wildlife, and invaluable father/daughter time.

That was the first strenuous hike I had done in months due to my ankle, so let’s just say I was feeling “spent” after our 6.5 hour adventure taking in 2,000 feet (610 meters) of elevation to the summit.

I knew it was bad when I even dreaded walking upstairs to take a shower.  I think I remember telling my wife, “I’m never building a house with stairs again!”

More SOTA!

Now  that I’ve got Lane Pinnacle in the books, I’m ready to start hitting the summits! I’ve got a lot of pent up SOTA energy!

My goal is to activate a total of ten this year. That may sound like a modest number, but since at this point I’m less interested in “drive-up” summits, it’s more difficult to fit SOTA summits into my schedule than, say, typical POTA/WWFF parks.

In fact, I’ve already plotted my next SOTA activation and hope to do it within the next couple of weeks. It’s also a meaningful (to me) summit.

How about you?

Are you a SOTA activator or are you planning your first SOTA activation soon? Please comment!

The Microsoft Surface Go: My portable logging computer

I’ve received numerous questions from readers and viewers about the computer I use for logging POTA contacts in the field and realize that I have neglected to highlight it even though it’s an integral part of my field kit when space allows.

The Microsoft Surface Go

The Surface Go  is essentially a touch-screen Windows 10 tablet with a magnetically-attached keyboard (typically sold separately). It has a fold-out back stand and when the keyboard cover is closed, it stores flat (and is incredibly thin).

In short: I absolutely love the Surface Go and it is an example of the one time when an impulse purchase actually paid off!

In 2019, on the way back from the Huntsville Hamfest, I stopped by the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. This center has a wide variety of used portable electronics at discount prices. I felt pretty lucky when I discovered a like-new condition Microsoft Surface Go tablet and keyboard with original charger for $190.

The catch? This unit (like all of their units) was used, had no documented user history, and I had no idea if it would be noisy (in terms of RFI/QRM) when paired with or near my radios.

Another issue was that the only data port on the tablet is a USB-C. But I grabbed a small USB-C to standard USB 3.0 dongle (for $2!) and took a risk that it would work with my portable SDR receivers and transceivers. In short: it did.

One huge bonus? The Surface Go has a dedicated power port. So many other tablet options do not as they’ll use their one data port for both power and data.

I immediately ordered a DC power cable with a standard car lighter plug. In the field, I can hook the Surface Go up to my LiFePo4 battery and power it for ages. Even a modest solar panel will also charge it in short order.

The Surface Go paired with my Airspy HF+ Discover SDR and a homebrew noise-cancelling passive loop antenna. A portable hotel DXing setup!

While this Surface Go is no CPU powerhouse (I’m guessing mine is a first generation–there are faster generations available) it’s fast enough to run my logging software–N3FJP’s Amateur Contact Log–and to even make spectrum recordings with my SDRs up to 2 MHz in bandwidth without stuttering.

The only noise it seems to inject into the mix is a little RFI when I touch the trackpad on the attached keyboard and this is typically only centered around the 20 meter band. That can often be solved by simply moving the tablet further away from the radio or using the touch screen rather than the trackpad.

The Surface Go has ample horsepower to run applications like WSJT-X flawlessly and, as I mentioned, I’ve even made numerous spectrum recordings which is much more demanding on CPU resources. Indeed, I even wrote a piece about portable SDR DXing with the Surface Go for The Spectrum Monitor magazine–click here to read the full article on the SWLing Post.

I recently paired the Surface Go with my IC-705 and made FT8 contacts confirming that it’ll make for a simple digital mode setup in the field.

I love the Surface Go and will plan to purchase another when this one eventually dies. I’ve found it much more useful than my iPad, Android tablet, or even a full sized laptop. When I’m back to doing ultralight one-bag air travel, the Surface Go will be my travel PC as well.

Where to buy?

Of course, you can find the latest releases of Surface Go at retailers like Amazon.com (affiliate link), or any big box electronics retailer.

If you’re willing to take your chances on a used one, like me, you might check out eBay.com or better yet, Swappa.

Of course, if you can make a detour to Scottsboro, Alabama, check out the Unclaimed Baggage Center!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Icom IC-705 with the CHA MPAS Lite at Tuttle

Last week, we had a glorious break in the weather–it felt almost spring-like.

On my way back home after visiting my parents, I decided I would take in a quick afternoon hike. I originally planned to go to one of my favorite county parks, but I also had a hankering to get on the air and that park wasn’t a part of the POTA network.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

I decided to stop by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861) instead and make February 19, 2021 not only a hiking day, but a Parks On The Air day. Tuttle sports both excellent sites for POTA and a nice little trail system.

Gear:

I decided to play radio first then go on a hike, so I pulled out an antenna that I thought would give me quick deployment and pack-up: the CHA MPAS Lite.

I also remembered that a reader recently asked if I would include the deployment of the CHA MPAS Lite in one of my real-time, real-life activation videos. So I did just that!

Deployment was quick and the mAT-705 Plus ATU did a fine job finding matches on the CHA MPAS Lite.

I started calling CQ on 40 meters and worked quite a few stations in short order. When the first batch of eight chasers was worked, I moved up to the 20 meter band and started calling CQ. My hope was that I could work at least a couple of stations on 20 meters then pack up and go for a hike.

I started calling CQ on 20 meters and was quickly rewarded six additional contacts.

Without a doubt–if this wasn’t completely obvious in my video–the highlight was working my friend John Harper (AE5X) in Texas. I’ve known John for years now and have followed his excellent blog but we’ve never managed to catch each other on the air!

Turns out, John was using his recently unboxed Icom IC-705 as well. Click here to check out his post which includes a mention of this very activation. In addition, check out his thoughts after taking the IC-705 (all amped-up with the KPA-500) on the ARRL CW contest that weekend.

Another highlight was logging CU3BL in the Azores again. To me, it’s still mind blowing that 5 watts can reach out that far.  Here’s a QSOmap of the activation (click to enlarge):

In total, I logged 14 stations with 5 watts and a vertical in very short order, leaving me a full hour of hiking time! Mission accomplished!

Video

Here’s a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:

The hike afterwards was just what the doctor ordered, too. I’ve mentioned before that my ankle has been healing nicely after twisting it badly in December. This hike was an easy one and gave me a chance to properly test my ankle before the (epic-to-me) SOTA activation I planned with my daughter, K4TLI the following week. (More on that in a future post!)

Here are a few photos from the Tuttle hike:

If you ever find yourself at Tuttle Educational State Forest doing a POTA activation, make time to take in a hike as well. It’s a gentle hike and even the long loop can be completed within an hour at a very leisurely pace.

Thanks for reading this field report and please comment with your experiences on the air and in the great outdoors!

POTA Field Report: Reviewing the MFJ-1984LP EFHF with the Icom IC-705 at Lake James State Park

I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1997, but until 2016, I had never purchased a pre-made portable antenna–I had always built my own.

During the 2016 NPOTA (National Parks On The Air) program, however, I purchased the EFT Trail-Friendly end fed 40, 20, and 10 meter resonant antenna and it quickly became my favorite field antenna. I found that it was simply built better than I could have built a similar antenna at home.

Pre-made antennas, though, come at a cost. Most time-tested, trail-friendly, portable antennas will typically set you back $90 US or more. You can make similar antennas much cheaper especially if you already have some of the parts (wire, toroids, RF ports, enclosures, etc).

Recently, while browsing the MFJ catalog, I stumbled upon the MFJ-1984LP End Fed Half Wave wire antenna designed for for field use and retailing for only $49.95 US.

That price point is very attractive because I believe if I built this antenna myself and needed to buy new parts, I might easily sink $20-25 in it.

Most MFJ products are manufactured in the USA and the company has an incredibly extensive and diverse selection of items in their catalog. Why I had forgotten they also sell antennas is a mystery to me.

MFJ is well-known for offering products that are basic,  affordable, and accessible (they’re available directly from the manufacturer and through most major radio retailers across the globe). I wouldn’t expect their antennas to be engineered like Chameleon Antenna, for example, but I would expect them to work well and get the job done.

I know the folks at MFJ and (in the spirit of full disclosure) they even sponsor QRPer.com, so I reached out to them and asked if I could evaluate their MFF-1984LP which is their most affordable field wire antenna.  They kindly sent one my way and I took it to the field last week.

I should add here that MFJ welcomes critical reviews, which is one of the reasons I asked them to be a sponsor. That and, well before they knew me, I was an anonymous customer and they repaired my MFJ roller inductor tuner for free a good two or three years after the warranty expired. My experience with MFJ has only been positive.

First impressions

The antenna looks exactly like the product photo in their catalog (see above).

For a field antenna, the coil enclosure is a little on the large side (especially compared with my EFT Trail-Friendly), but it’s still very backpack-able. Knowing MFJ, they kept costs at bay by using one of their standard enclosure boxes for this antenna.

The enclosure also has an open grill to allow the coil to dissipate heat (see above). I found that a bit surprising since the core is so large inside, but I assume some heat must be generated if you’re running 50% duty at a full 30 watts (the maximum rated power). The matching network impedance ratio is 49:1, so there will be loss and heat.

The 66 foot radiator wire has a dark jacket that glides nicely over tree limbs and doesn’t encourage tangling when unwinding.

The end insulator is made of a thin plastic/composite material that is lightweight and shaped so that it won’t snag on tree limbs.

To the field!

Hey–the proof is in the pudding, right? Let’s put this antenna on the air and make a real-time video of the activation!

Last Wednesday (February 17, 2021), there was a break in the weather so I made a detour to Lake James State Park (K-2739) en route to visit my parents for a few days. I left the house without deciding what park to activate, but picked Lake James because I knew I would have access to tall trees and my pick of operating locations.

Gear:

Deploying the MFJ-1984LP is no different than deploying any other wire antenna. It was super easy using my arborist throw line. That thin, rounded end insulator did certainly glide through the tree branches with ease. No hint of snagging.

On The Air

I connected the antenna directly to my IC-705 with no ATU in-line. Hypothetically, I knew this antenna should be resonant on 20 meters where I planned to start the activation.

Keep in mind that pre-made antennas are often designed to be a tad long and need to be trimmed so the operator can tweak the resonant point for their preferred spots on the band. Since I tend to use the lower part of the band for CW, I typically leave my antennas with a resonant point somewhere on the upper side of the CW portion of the bands. It’s not super critical for EFHW antennas because they tend to have ample bandwidth to give a full meter band good matches.

I had not trimmed the MFJ-1984LP, but decided it should be “resonant enough” for my purposes.

I found a clear frequency on 20 meters and checked the SWR. It was spot on at 1.3:1 on 14,031 kHz! Woo hoo!

I started calling CQ and collected several stations in short order despite the poor propagation that day.

I then moved to the 40 meter band and discovered the antenna also gave me an excellent match there. I started calling CQ POTA and was rewarded with a steady stream of contacts.

I imagine I could have racked up a lot of contacts at that activation, but I made up my mind that I wanted to fit in another quick activation afterwards, so cut it a bit short.

In the end, here’s a map of my 18 contacts made in 26 minutes of on-air time:

Not bad for five watts and a wire!

Video

I made a real-time, real-life, no edit video of this activation which starts shortly after I deployed the MFJ-1984LP and ends a few moments after my last QSO. Against my better judgement, it includes all of my mistakes (including my inability to form the number 4 that day!):

Click here to view on YouTube.

MFJ-1984LP summary

No antenna is perfect and each time I start a product review, I keep a list of pros and cons. Here’s my list for this EFHW antenna:

Pros:

  • Very affordable at $49.95
  • Effective: results so far have been excellent
  • EFHW is a proven field antenna design and resonant on several bands
  • No coil on the radiator to snag in trees (see con)
  • Backed by MFJ warranty
  • Purchase supports US manufacturing

Cons:

  • Bulkier than comparable low power field antennas
  • No built-in winder (MFJ should consider altering the design to include one!)
  • Radiator is 66 feet long since there is no in-line coil to electrically shorten the length (see pro)
  • End insulator is effective, but feels slightly flimsy

In the end, there’s no magic here: the end fed half wave is a time-tested, proven antenna design and the MFJ-1984LP delivers. In terms of performance, I couldn’t be more pleased with it right out of the box. This isn’t a military-grade antenna, but it should last for years with proper use.

POTA activators that have access to trees in the field will appreciate the MFJ-1984LP. I should think you could also make an effective “V” shaped antenna if you have a telescoping support that’s 29-33′ tall.

I’m not so sure the average SOTA operator would find this antenna design as convenient–especially on high summits where you’re near or above the tree line. It could be difficult deploying a 66′ wire. That and this antenna is bulkier than other designs. If you’re backpacking it in, you typically want the most compact solution possible (this is where the EFT Trail-Friendly, Packtenna, and QRPguys designs really shine).

I will certainly employ the MFF-1984LP regularly–especially on days with less-than-stellar propagation.  I think this might become a go-to antenna for the MTR-3B, LD-11, and IC-705 since all of them lack an internal ATU.

If you’re looking for an affordable, effective wire antenna, I can certainly recommend the MFJ-1984LP.

Do you have an MFJ end fed half wave antenna? What are your thoughts?

Click here to check out the MFJ-1984LP at MFJ’s website, and click here to download the PDF manual.