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Have you ever regretted selling a radio? I have. More than once.

The Elecraft KX1

I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1997. In the first decade of my amateur radio life, I only owned three HF radios (Icom IC-735, Yaesu FT-817, and a Ten-Tec OMNI VI+).

As I got into writing, blogging, and evaluating/testing radios, that number increased. Quite often, radios are only in my shack for a short period of time as I alpha/beta test and/or review production run units.

I try not to get attached to radios because I know they’re often only temporarily in the shack.

Over the years, there have been a few radios I’ve sold for…let’s say “pragmatic” reasons. It’s very rare that I purchase a radio with the intention of keeping it only to find that I want to sell it shortly thereafter. More likely than not, I sell because the radio is redundant (how many field radios does one need–?) or because I’m raising money to make a larger purchase.

Here’s a short list of transceivers I regret selling/trading:

Elecraft KX1

I sold my Elecraft KX1 in 2016 in order to help purchase my Elecraft KX2. It was a solid decision. The KX2 has become my favorite field radio (here’s my review) and was SO much more versatile than the KX1. Still: I really miss the KX1. I loved how bare-bones it was, I loved the top-mounted controls and the fact I often operated it while simply holding it in my hands. The controls were super easy to use even with gloves on in the winter. Plus, it was “cute” in a boxy Elecraft sort of way. If I ever find a deal on another one, I might grab it!

Elecraft K2

I’ve owned both the Elecraft K2/10 and K2/100. Funny story: I acquired a K2/10 in 2008 or so and absolutely loved the radio. After I purchased my KX3 in 2013, however, it was rarely used and sat on my shelf as a “back-up” radio. Eventually, I decided to sell it and did so with ease. Within a week of selling it, a local ham posted on our club email list that he was selling a K2/100 in an SK sale. He wasn’t sure of all of the upgrades, but knew it was a K2/100. The price was very low, but there were no takers after a few days, so I bought it. I used the K2/100 for a few years and it served as a back-up 100 watt radio. I eventually sold it, though, to purchase a KXPA100 used. Now, of course, I do miss that radio. In truth, I’ll likely never purchase one again, because I own so many other transceivers–and the KXPA100 is truly a genius compliment to the KX2 and KX3–but I do have an affinity for that fine rig.

Index Labs QRP++

QRP+ ad from the Dec 1995 issue of QST. Source: WD8RIF

My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) is to blame for this radio. He owned an Index Labs QRP+ for years. He loved operating it in the field and at home. It was the first QRP radio I ever saw in action (at this particular field event). More than 10 years ago, I happened upon a great deal on a QRP++ and instantly bought it. It was SO much fun to operate—super simple, yet had pretty much every feature you’d want in a basic transceiver. I sold it because, frankly, performance was sub-par especially if you ever planned to use it in an RF-dense environment. The receiver front end would simply fall apart, for example, during contests or events like Field Day. Otherwise, it was a pretty sensitive radio. It was incredibly portable and had that awfully “cute” cube form factor. Another fear I had was availability of replacement parts. Index Labs was no longer in business and there were quite a few obsolete parts in the radio. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say I “regret” selling it because, in truth I don’t. But when I see them at hamfests, I’m still tempted to grab one if for no other reasons than nostalgia.

Yaesu FT-817

I purchased an ‘817 shortly after they were introduced in…what…2000? At the time, there wasn’t a radio like it on the market: it was the most compact full-featured HF/VHF/UHF radio in the amateur radio world. Back then, I was living in the UK and travelling all over Europe. I purchased the FT-817 with the idea that I could play radio while, say, working in Hagen, Munich, Chartres, Berlin, Torino, Pescara, or any of the other fabulous sites I regularly visited. I did pack the FT-817 on a number of occasions but since I’m a one-bag traveller, it was scrutinized to some degree at most airports—especially post-9/11. Also, my first production run model blew its finals within the first two years of ownership (a common problem that was addressed by Yaesu shortly after that production run).

I had the finals replaced by Burghardt Amateur Center but rarely used the FT-817 after that. Truth was, I found the radio’s front panel to be too compact and the embedded menus really frustrated me. But back then, I wasn’t as much of a field op as I am now and I could really appreciate a compact, affordable radio that also sports VHF/UHF operation—especially for SOTA activations. Plus, few transceivers have enjoyed a product life like the FT-817/818 which is now pushing 20 years on the market. While the 817/818 lacks a number of features I’ve grown to love (like memory keying) I do believe I may purchase an FT-818 next time they go on sale. In the end, I miss the rig.

How about you? Any regrets?

Please feel free to comment with any radios you regret selling, trading, or giving away over the years and tell us why you miss it! Inquiring minds want to know!

Icom IC-705: Reviewing the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 in the field

UPDATE: My review of the mAT-705 ATU below is accurate as of its original posting. Since this review, however, I’ve discovered some design issues that prevent me from continuing to recommend it. Click here for details.

Last week, Vibroplex sent me their new Mat-Tuner mAT-705 external ATU on loan to evaluate with my recently acquired Icom IC-705.

Here’s some info about the mAT-705 from Vibroplex’s product page:

The new mAT-705 antenna tuner is designed specifically for use with the new Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver. Connect the mAT-705 directly to the TUNER jack on the IC-705 with the included cable and control the antenna tuner directly from the front panel of the radio or use RF-sensing to actuate the tuner when changing bands. 1.8-54 MHz, 5-1500 ohms matching range, 16000 user memories recalling previous used settings internal to the tuner when returning to an earlier used frequency.

The tuner is powered by an internal standard 9 volt alkaline battery. Power saving technology inside the tuner allows the use of the unit for months without replacement. No battery power is consumed by the unit when powered off.

Yesterday, I stopped by South Mountains State Game Land (K-6952) to give the mAT-705 some field time. Up to this point, I had not used the tuner other than tuning to the 80 and 40 meter bands from home (mainly to make sure it worked before hitting the field).

To really give the mAT-705 a workout, I deployed my CHA Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna. The Emcomm III is the only field antenna in my arsenal that covers 160 meters – 6 meters–an exceptionally wide frequency range.

What I like about this particular POTA site is the open parking area which allows me to configure the Emcomm III a number of ways.

The Emcomm III, being a wire antenna, is incredibly stealthy. Since you can’t see it in the photo above, I’ve marked up the configuration below (click to enlarge):

I’m guessing the apex of the antenna was easily 45′ high.

Activating

I started my activation on the 80 meter band.

After working a few stations on 80 meters, I decided to test the mAT-Tuner over a fairly wide frequency range before calling CQ on the 40 meter band.

Here’s a short video:

POTA Hunters: look for me on the 160 meter band this fall and winter! I’m so impressed how well it matched the Emcomm III on 160.

 

Indeed, I am very pleased with how quickly and efficiently the mAT-705 found matches on every band I tested.

In terms of form factor, the mAT-705 is quite compact, but a little longer in length than I had anticipated. Honestly, though, there’s nothing here to complain about.

The enclosure/chassis is incredibly strong. I’m willing to bet you could accidentally drive over it with your car and it would survive in tact.

The mAT is powered by an alkaline 9V battery. Vibroplex expects that this battery will last for months under normal use.

Note that there is a specific procedure for replacing the battery in order to protect the LED “illuminators” that are press-fit to the board.:

  1. Remove the case by removing the 4 rear 2mm allen screws.
  2. Turn the tuner upside down and shake it a little to get the PCB to slide out of the case enough to grab.
  3. Carefully grasp the PCB sides and slide the board out slowly.

Update: I’ve followed the procedure above and still had an issue with the illuminators falling out. They really need to be secured better. I was able to re-insert them and close the ATU, but when you open the mAT-705 to change the battery, be in a space where you can capture both of them if they fall out.

Any mAT-705 negatives?

Not really, but I do feel the price is a little steep at $219.95–but then again the mAT-705 seems to do the job and do it well. I have to assume the TBA Icom AH-705 ATU will cost at least as much. I’m okay with paying at the top end of the market if I’m getting a quality product and this certainly seems like one.

I like the fact that the mAT-705 integrates perfectly with the IC-705 via the control cable and that I don’t have to worry about protecting it at all in my backpack. It’ll also take the IC-705 through the entire HF spectrum and even up to 6 meters.

 

I plan to continue using the mAT-705 for a while and even test it on severely non-resonant antennas just to see how far I can push it for a match.

Stay tuned! (See what I did there–?)

Many thanks to Vibroplex, again, for lending me this mAT-705 for review and evaluation.

Click here to check out the mAT-705 at Vibroplex.

Hiking to a POTA “two-fer” site from home

I feel pretty lucky that my QTH borders tens of thousands of acres of protected lands: a watershed, Pisgah National Forest, and Pisgah Game Land WRC. Our family enjoys hiking, so we often venture into the forest around our house  and explore the ridge lines, peaks, and views.

This year, while exploring all of the public lands available to activate in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program, I realized there were no less than two sites within a 30-35 minute hike of my home! Quite literally, in my back yard.

In fact, there’s a large area where two POTA entities overlap–Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land–giving me the opportunity to activate both sites simultaneously as a “two-fer.”

If it’s so close, you may wonder why I haven’t activated it yet–? Well, by the time I realized the park boundary overlap was within hiking distance of the house, we were well into spring, thus the forest was lush with vegetation and the hike to the site requires proper trail-blazing with an elevation change of 600′ (183M). It’s a much easier hike in fall and winter when you can actually see where you’re going through the trees.

Still: Saturday morning, the weather was so perfect for hiking I floated the idea by my teenage daughter, Geneva: “I’ve got a hankering to hike up the mountain today and do a POTA activation.” She replied, “I’ll need to pack my daypack and take the HT.” She was eager to see if she could communicate back to the house simplex with her mom and sis with her new FT-60R handheld.

My wife gave me her blessing, so I packed my trusty Red Oxx C-Ruck with my Elecraft KX2 kit, CHA Emcomm III Portable antenna, water, snacks, logbook and tablet, and used the ruck top flap to secure my three leg folding stool.

Pisgah Game Land WRC (K-6937) & Pisgah National Forest (K-4510)

We arrived at a suitable site about 40 minutes after leaving the QTH. My Garmin GPS and topo maps confirmed we were well within park boundaries. I found a rock outcropping and set up my station.

Even though the area was pretty dense with trees, Rhododendrons, and Mountain Laurel, I had no difficulty deploying the Emcomm III Portable antenna using my throw line.

That’s not a flying squirrel, it’s the winder/balun of the Emcomm III.

The Elecraft KX2 had no trouble at all matching the Emcomm III on all bands.

Even though Geneva was busy communicating with her sister (back at “Mission Control” via simplex) on the FT-60R, she actively logged all of my contact on the Surface Go tablet using N3FJP’s excellent contact log.

I quickly logged eleven contacts on 80 and 40 meters and my daughter suggested we cut the activation a bit short to take in more hiking.

We both wanted to follow a trail we found and see if it lead to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Hazel has that “Seriously? You want to continue hiking?” look.

I packed up the station and hit the trail!

It turned out to be a good 45 minute trek along a ridge line increasing our elevation about 1,000′ (305M) ASL compared with home. The trail to the BRP was what I would call a moderately difficult trail (much easier than trail-blazing up the mountain!).

In the end, we found the Blue Ridge Parkway and the trail head to ascend Lane Pinnacle which is an excellent SOTA site. We decided to save Lane for another day this fall/winter with a very early departure from home.

Neva also discovered she could easily chat with her sister back at the QTH via 2 meter simplex at the parkway. This means I can definitely chat with the family back home when I eventually make that Lane Pinnacle SOTA activation.

The hike back to the POTA site was mostly downhill so only took about 40 minutes. I then veered off the path to trail-blaze our way back to the house. I did get a little off course which added about 25 minutes (!!) to our descent and requiring us to mitigate the steepest part of the ridge. Next time, I’ll pay more attention to my GPS map (although, in the winter, it’ll be much easier).

Still, it was a very enjoyable hike and certainly one of the more challenging I’ve been on in ages mainly due to the steep part at the end.

All-in-all: I discovered that there are no less than three POTA sites and one SOTA site within hiking distance of the QTH. The best part, by far, was the father/daughter time. Geneva is always up for an adventure (including currently studying for her General class license!).

Alex builds a simple sideswiper

Many thanks to Alex (W3AVP) who shares this photos of his homemade cootie/sideswiper originally posted on the POTA Faxcebook page. Alex notes:

I didn’t want to lug my Begali key to the parks so I made my own using the plans from KA8VIT. Worked great! I had a little QRP key but my fat fingers would make so many mistakes. The DIY aspect of this hobby is extremely entertaining!

And I bet your “cootie” serves you well in the field! I love the simple design and the fact it even has an adjustable action. At the end of the day, keys are merely switches so are perfect for homebrewing!

If you have a sideswiper/cootie or any other key you’ve built and would like to share it here on QRPer, contact me (K4SWL at QRPer.com).

Thanks for sharing, Alex!

Proud ham family…

Apologies in advance, but I need to brag a bit…

This weekend, both of my middle school-aged daughters passed their amateur radio exams with colors flying. Volunteers with the WCARS VEC were kind enough to meet us at a local park to conduct the test in a covered picnic area.

At the test site I was more nervous than my girls were, but I really had nothing to fear. Both were hitting a 95% pass rate on practice exams in advance.

Even though the girls have obviously learned a bit about radio through osmosis in this household, they did all of the exam prep on their own. Funny story: I remember allowing them both to send CW to my buddies K8RAT and WD8RIF on my lap when they were maybe 2 years old? Of course, they had no idea what they were sending, but they loved playing with the “clicky thing” (my paddles). I think WD8RIF actually copied their code to paper. 🙂 

I purchased both of them an FT-60R handheld radio from Universal Radio. I think these HTs should serve them well for many years to come!

I know one of my daughters is already chomping at the bit to pass her General now.

Anyway, thanks for letting me brag a bit here. I’m certainly a proud papa!

POTA Portable, Picnic, Paddles, and Unpredictable Propagation

Practicing left hand lunching, right hand keying/logging!

It seems like lately I’ve had to work hard to log 10-15 contacts during my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations.  Propagation has been so flaky, I use every trick in the book to snag at least my ten contacts for a valid activation: change antenna configuration, run up to 40-50 watts output, employ both CW and SSB, have friends spot me on the network, and try every band possible (typically from 80-17).

Note that the majority of my activations are proper QRP and rarely do I spend longer than 60 to 90 minutes actually on the air. Indeed, many of my activations are only 60 minutes long including set-up and take-down. That may seem short to most POTA folks, but that’s what works in my schedule and family life: quick hits. It’s one of the reasons I’m not more active in Summits On The Air (SOTA)–I need more time for those sites as they’re not as accessible as our numerous POTA entities.

Still, our local star has been misbehaving, and I had not planned to do an activation on Sunday (September 28) because I saw the propagation forecast and it was rather discouraging (A index 26, SW 505, Bz -2).

From home that morning, I chased a few parks but found it challenging to hear most of them. QSB was incredibly deep–strong stations gone in an instant.

Still, my wife suggested we take a picnic to one of our favorite local spots and how could I possibly visit a park without activating it? Right–?

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

What we, as a family, love about this site is the large covered picnic area and historic log cabins. Also, the site receives very few visitors on Sundays when the main museum is closed.

Each time we visit the Vance site, we bring my MSR liquid fuel stove and make lunch/dinner.

I set up the stove, got lunch started and my wife took over food prep.

Knowing propagation was unstable, I opted for more than QRP power this time–at least, at first–so I chose the Mission RGO One transceiver (capable of 55 W output) and CHA Emcomm III Portable antenna for this activation.

I deployed the Emcomm III in a sloping configuration with the end of the 73′ radiator high in a nearby (dead) tree and the counterpoise on the ground. I also suspended the winder/balun from the corner of one of the shelter’s rafter’s with paracord.

Since it’s difficult to see a wire antenna in photos, I’ve labeled the components in the following image (click to enlarge):

I didn’t know if this configuration would prove useful, but I knew it would be better than attempting this activation with my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical antenna.

I hopped on the air starting on 80M CW (at the request of my buddy WD8RIF), worked him and three stations in rapid succession. After a few minutes of silence, I moved up to the 40 meter band and worked 16 stations. I then moved to 30 meters and worked 11 stations.

I was working more stations than I would have ever guessed beforehand.

Since I only had about 10 minutes to spare after working 30 meters, I decided to plug in the microphone and work some park-to-park contacts. While I always intend to hunt for other parks while I’m in the field, more times than not, I don’t have the luxury of an Internet connection to check the POTA spots page like I did at Vance on Sunday.

I worked 5 parks: 3 in SSB and 2 in CW.

Speaking of CW, this was my first field activation using CW Morse Double Paddles.

CW Morse recently surprised me by sending a few of their products to evaluate in the field (guessing they saw my previous post asking about keys–?).

I must say, I really love the CW Morse double paddles. They’re fully (and easily) adjustable, the action is responsive and smooth, and with the base, they’re incredibly stable on a hard surface. I highly recommend them.

At a setting like we had at Vance, I love the heavy base plate, but if I planned to hike into a site, I believe I’d remove the base to save on weight.

Unpredictable Propagation?

Perhaps there was a brief window of stability between solar events and I was able to take advantage of that while I was on the air? I’m not sure.

I never expected to log 37 contacts in the space of a little over an hour (with some of that time being off the air to help with picnic prep). Not on that Sunday when the solar numbers were in the dumps.

I’d like to believe it was a combination of things:

  • A large wire field antenna with decent gain and the ability to work multiple bands
  • 40 watts of power (at first, I backed down to QRP on 30 meters)
  • Using CW for 34 of the 37 contacts
  • Perhaps unintentionally good timing

All I know is, I had a blast! It’s hard to beat a combination of good radio, good food, good scenery, and good weather!

I suppose this was also a lesson in simply hitting the field and ignoring the propagation.

Or as Rear Admiral David G. Farragut once famously said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

An Introduction to the uSDX transceiver kit

Many thanks to Pete (WB9FLW) who shares the following article by Bob (KD8CGH) regarding the uSDX transceiver kit.

I reached out to Bob who has kindly given me permission to share his article on QRPer:


An Introduction to the uSDX

by Bob Benedict (KD8CGH)

There is a new open source, home brew multi band, multi mode QRP transceiver that grew out of the QRP Labs QCX. Through some serious wizardry  it retains an efficient class E RF amplifier for SSB and digital modes. It crams impressive SDR capabilities into an Arduino.

This has an interesting international development process conducted on  https://groups.io/g/ucx/topics with contributions by many, including the usual gang of suspects: Hans Summers G0UPL, Guido Ten Dolle PE1NN, Barbaros Asuroglu WB2CBA , Manuel Klaerig DL2MAN, Kees Talen K5BCQ, Allison Parent KB1GMX, Jean-Marie T’Jaeckx ON7EN, Ashhar Farhan VU2ESE,  and Miguel Angelo Bartie PY2OHH. I apologize to the many others whose names I didn’t list. A summary is in the WIKI https://groups.io/g/ucx/wiki.

The basic work uSDX appears to have been accomplished by Guido Ten Dolle PE1NNZ. It uses pulse width modulation of the PA supply voltage to transmit  modes other than CW while retaining class E efficiency and uses a direct conversion SDR receiver.

The basic idea behind Class E nonlinear amplifiers is that transistors have little loss when they are switched fully on or off. The losses occur when devices are limiting power flow in linear amplifiers. The idea behind a Class E amplifier is to use transistors in a switching mode to generate a square wave to drive a resonant circuit to generate RF power.

This method is used in the popular QCX QRP CW transceiver kit line developed by Hans Summers and sold through QRP Labs  https://qrp-labs.com/.  More than 10,000 of these great transceiver kits have been sold (I built one). There is a good discussion of the circuit and particularly of the class E amplifier in the excellent QCX documentation https://www.qrp-labs.com/images/qcx/assembly_A4-Rev-5e.pdf.

The QCX was the base for the QCX-SSB which starts with a QCX and modified the circuit and software to add SSB capabilities. The wizardry that  Guido accomplished uses pulse width modulation of the PA supply voltage to control the amplifier in an Envelope Elimination and Restoration (EER) technique  https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/148657773.pdf. To generate SSB a DSP algorithm samples the  audio input and performs a Hilbert transformation to determine the phase and amplitude of the complex signal.  The phase changes are transformed into temporary frequency changes which are sent  to the  clock generator. This result in phase changes on the SSB carrier signal and delivers a SSB-signal with the opposite side-band components is attenuated.

On the receive side a direct conversion SDR receiver is used with the I and Q signal digitized and all further processing carrying out digitally. Attenuators are included to help not overload the ADC range.  Documentation is at  https://github.com/threeme3/QCX-SSB .  In addition to a good description of the theory and hardware mod there is also a good description of the software command menu.

From there development took off in several directions. One is by Barbaros Asuroglu WB2CBA  and Antrak that uses through hole components (mostly) and replaceable band boards that  hold the low pass filter and band dependent class E amplifier components (an inductor and capacitor). Barb also includes boards designed to be a case top and bottom, battery pack and a PA.

Another development track by Manuel Klaerig DL2MAN uses SMT components in a stacked board layout and has a relay switched band pass board https://groups.io/g/ucx/message/1596  and  https://groups.io/g/ucx/files/DL2MAN uSDX-Sandwich Files. A new revision has been released that uses serial resonance class E amp design and easier to obtain relays, https://groups.io/g/ucx/files/DL2MAN uSDX-Sandwich Files with new Serial Resonance Class E Multiband Circuit .

Other development streams include one by Kees Talen K5BCQ https://groups.io/g/ucx/files/K5BCQ uSDX Board Schematics and Jean-Marie T’Jaeckx ON7EN https://groups.io/g/ucx/files/QCXV4.zip.

I built the variant designed by Barbaros Asuroglu WB2CBA   and I’m pleased with it’s performance. I ordered 10 main boards and 40 LP filter band boards PCBs from PCBWAY, but now you can also purchase single boards sets from https://shop.offline.systems/.

I also designed and 3D printed a case for the transceiver and a small box to carry band boards. Info at https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4582865 and at https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4587868 and also in the files section https://groups.io/g/ucx/files/3D printed case for Barb WB2CBA V1.02.

In an example of hams collaborating at its finest, Hans Summers  announced on 9/11/2020 that his new QCX mini product, a QCX in a smaller package,  will include a daughter board that can be used to give the QCX mini a uSDX like SSB capability. The QCX mini has the same circuit as the QCX but uses SMD components packaged it into a two board stack that is less than half the volume of the original QCX. The mod is unsupported by QRP-LABS but may be supported by the uSDX group.

http://qrp-labs.com/qcxmini.html 

More information at https://groups.io/g/ucx/topics and don’t forget the WIKI https://groups.io/g/ucx/wiki.

73

Bob,  KD8CGH


Many thanks again, Bob, for sharing this excellent uSDX introduction. Thanks again for the tip, Pete!

Pete also notes that there is a very active uSDX experimenters discussion group on Groups.io with over 100 members: https://groups.io/g/ucx

Seven Park Activations in Six Days: A review of the adaptable Chameleon Emcomm III Portable antenna

Weather in North Carolina has been absolutely stunning over the past week, with the exception of two days where the remnants of Hurricane Sally dumped torrential rain. Two cold fronts provided us with gorgeous clear skies and dry conditions before and after Sally’s visit.

Of course, what better way to enjoy the outdoors than taking my radios to the field?

Last Wednesday, after several hours of knocking out home projects, my wife and I decided to enjoy the fall-like weather and get lost in Pisgah National Forest. My daughters were also keen for a little outdoor adventure, waterfalls, and hiking.

And our canine family member, Hazel? Always up for an outing!

“Let’s go, daddy!”

Of course, my wife was throwing me a bone as she knew I was chomping at the bit to try the new-to-me Chameleon Emcomm III antenna.

CHA Emcomm III antenna

Photo Source: Chameleon Antenna

I decided I’d pair the Emcomm III with the amazing Mission RGO One transceiver (a rig I’ll be reviewing in an upcoming issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine).

Up to this point, I’d never used a Chameleon antenna in the field.

Chameleon Antenna kindly sent me both the CHA Emcomm III and CHA P-Loop a couple weeks ago for an honest field evaluation (and disclaimer: at no cost to me).

And being honest? The overall length of the Emcomm III wire antenna was intimidating.  I’m used to field-ready wire antennas that are perhaps 30-41 feet in total length. The Emcomm III has a 73 foot long radiator and 25′ counterpoise! Holy smokes!

In my head, I imagined the only places I’d be able to use the Emcomm III would be in an open park with large, widely-spaces trees.

Turns out, I was wrong.

Two things make deploying the Emcomm III a breeze–even in the middle of a forest:

1.) An arborist throw line: this piece of kit has revolutionized my  field antenna deployments. Not only does it give me the ability to suspend antennas much higher than I could before, but also to raise/lower antennas with ease compared with fishing line.

2.) The Emcomm III also has a floating dielectric ring on the radiator wire that allows you to create a suspension point. In fact, there are a number of ways you can deploy the Emcomm III which, I see now, makes it such a popular antenna among POTA operators.

To the field!

The first activation was actually a “two-fer”–meaning, two geographically-overlapping POTA park entities.

Wednesday, September 16: Pisgah National Forest (K-4510) & Pisgah Game Lands WRC (K-6937)

Propagation conditions on Wednesday were so crappy I found myself breaking with QRP to run 40 watts with the Mission RGO One into the Emcomm III. (The Emcomm III can actually handle up to 50 watts CW, 100 watts SSB.)

I first deployed the Emcomm III by pulling the radiator over a tree branch about 50′ high with the balun and winder near the ground. I then unrolled the counterpoise stretched out on the ground.

After only snagging about eight contacts in 50 minutes (a very meager amount for the typical park activation), I decided to re-configure the Emcomm III Portable so that it would act more like a NVIS antenna and perhaps grab a few regional hunters on 80 meters. There was no way I was leaving the forest without my 10 contacts to validate the activation!

I reeled in the radiator and re-attached my throw line to the floating loop and reconfigured the antenna to roughly match this “V” shape with a lower (roughly 25 ft) apex point:

NVIS “V” configuration (lifted from the CHA Emcomm III Portable product page)

I used the RGO One’s internal ATU to match the 80 meter band 1:1.

I started calling CQ on 80 meters CW and, evidently, the POTA site auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) because within a minute, I found myself at the other side of a mini pile-up! I very rapidly worked 8 stations–most of them were in nearby Tennessee. These were callsigns I was not used to logging because typically they’d be under my skip zone–a little too local.

It was nice to get solid copy on 80 meters without the deep QSB on 40, 30 and 20 meters.

The thing that struck me about the Emcomm III at this first activation was how easy it was to reconfigure in the field despite the lengthy radiator. The wire is Copper Clad KEVLAR PTFE (Telflon-coated) and doesn’t easily tangle. It slides so easily through the trees–there’s no coil or bulky bits to get caught in the limbs.

When packing up, it wraps around its built-in winder very easily. Kudos to the designer.

Saturday, September 19: Pisgah National Forest (K-4510) & Pisgah Game Lands WRC (K-6937)

Last Saturday, I wanted to try the CHA Emcomm III in a different region of Pisgah National Forest and see how well it might pair with my Elecraft KX2.

We found an ideal spot to set up: a forest service road that had obviously been closed the entire season.

I deployed the Emcomm III Portable in the same “V” configuration as I did during the first activation, but this time raising the apex of the “V” up to 45 feet.

It’s important to note here that being a random wire antenna, the Emcomm III relies an an ATU to get good matches on each band. The Mission RGO One’s internal ATU did a brilliant job finding matches and, turns out, my KX2 did as well.

In fact, before I started calling CQ, I moved across the bands to see if I could get good matches with the KX2 ATU. From 80-20 meters, I think the highest SWR I had was 1.3:1. (The KX series ATU is truly a benchmark in my book!)

That day, even though the weather was gorgeous, propagation was terrible.  I read a few reports from experienced POTA and SOTA folks who couldn’t snag the needed 10 contacts for a valid activation earlier that day. There were contests and QSO parties on the bands so lots of signals–but more than once on the phone portion of the 40 meter band,  I could hear two stations calling CQ on the same frequency and trying to work the same stations totally unaware of each other. Not a good day to play radio in the field and was starting to wonder if I could even snag my needed ten contacts.

Turns out, I had nothing to fear.

Since I could, quite literally, pick any band the KX2 could transmit on, I was able to float across the HF spectrum, call CQ, and the RBN would make sure I was spotted properly to the POTA network.

Getting that first ten is a great feeling!

I pretty effortlessly snagged my ten, and then a number to boot.

When I seek a spot to set up in a national forest, I often look for forest service roads with locked gates. When I set up on an unused road, it typically means I’ll have a high branch to hang the antenna and also a little space to deploy it without touching other trees. Our spot on Saturday was ideal.

Again, hanging and deploying the Emcomm III was effortless. I did bring about 12 feet of paracord with me this time allowing me to tie off the end of the radiator if I chose the “V” shape.

Monday, September 21: Mitchell River Game Land (K-6926) & Stone Mountain State Park (K-2754)

Monday was another stunning weather day.

I decided I wanted to finally make a pilgrimage to an ATNO (All Time New One) POTA site I’d been eyeing for a few months: Mitchell River Game Land.

Because propagation was fickle and this site was a good 3 hour round trip from where I was staying with family, I planned to use the Mission RGO One and run 40-50 watts or so.

However, when I got to the site, I realized I’d left the RGO One’s power cable at home. Fortunately, I still had my Elecraft KX2, so 10 watts would have to do.

I found a large parking pull-off area surrounded by trees. There was a ton of room to deploy the Emcomm III.

I decided to extend the radiator in a sloping configuration and elevate the 25 foot counterpoise.

The configuration was Identical to the one above , but the balun/center winder and counterpoise were suspended about 4 feet off the ground.

I fired up the KX2  and started calling CQ on 80 meters. The RBN picked me up and the POTA site auto spotted me. In a couple of minutes, I snagged my first three stations, then I heard no other calls, so moved up to 40 meters where I worked a big pile-up of stations. It felt like a mini-DXpedition at times. I loved it!

I even hopped on the phone portion of the 40 meter band and worked a few stations, getting respectable signal reports despite unstable propagation.

This activation went so well and the weather was so ideal, I decided to fit in another park that was only a 30 minute drive and was new to me: Stone Mountain State Park.

The thirty minute drive was relaxing and reminded me how much I enjoy this portion of the NC foothills leading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and escarpment.

By the time I reached the park it was 1:30 pm on a Monday and I essentially had the place to myself (even though in my head I was preparing for crowds).

I had my pick of picnic spots so I found the one with the highest branches. One shot with the arborist throw line and I snagged a branch that must have been 45-50 feet high.

I first deployed the Emcomm III by simply running the radiator over a tree branch and laying the counterpoise on the ground–much like I did in the first Emcomm III activation and deployment.

I started calling CQ and worked about 4 stations, then nothing. The bands simply died on me!

After 30 minutes, I reconfigured the Emcomm III into a similar “V” shape I used at Pisgah National Forest with the apex at about 40 ft and the center winder and counterpoise elevated about 3 feet.

After some persistence, I finished off my ten contacts and then packed up–I spent about 70 minutes on the air and needed to grab lunch!

I honestly believe I would have found this activation even more challenging if I didn’t have an antenna that could snag stations on the 80 meter band since it was in the best shape that afternoon.

Again, I was very impressed with how easy it was to reconfigure the Emcomm III.

Tuesday, September 22: Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-2754)

After staying two nights with my parents in the Piedmont of North Carolina, I made my way back home to the mountains Tuesday afternoon. Again, the weather lured me back out to make just one more activation! (Let’s face it: the weather is a bit of an excuse).

One of my favorite parks that’s only a 20 minute detour off my path is Tuttle Educational Forest. It’s never busy there and they have a large picnic area with ideal trees for hanging antennas.

After searching through my main field pack (a Red Oxx C-Ruck), I found a spare power cord that would work with the Mission RGO One transceiver.

I didn’t have a microphone, though. That’s okay: it would be a CW-only activation.

Although I had the park to myself, I didn’t want to take up a large portion of the picnic area by deploying the Emcomm III in a sloping configuration similar to my activation at Mitchell River. I decided, instead, to be space efficient and use the “V” configuration once again with the apex at about 35 feet and the counterpoise on the ground. By doing this, the antenna footprint could almost fit within my picnic table area (although my counterpoise did snake into the woods).

I can’t remember how long I was on the air, but I do remember it was a breeze logging contacts that afternoon. Very enjoyable. I do love the Mission RGO One–the receiver is amazingly quiet, sensitive, selective, and signals simply pop out of the ether. It also sports silky-smooth QSK. Again, although I’m 90-95% a QRPer, it’s nice to push the juice a bit when propagation isn’t kind. The RGO One will push 55 watts.

The Mission RGO One ATU also snags excellent SWR matches across the band with the Emcomm III.

Emcomm III initial impressions

This past week, I gained some serious respect for the Emcomm III.

What impresses me most is its versatility and robust quality.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a magic antenna or anything. It’s essentially a random wire antenna.

What makes it such a fabulous field antenna, though, is its configurability. That and its uncompromised military-grade construction.

I shouldn’t have been so concerned about the radiator length as it’s actually pretty easy to accommodate and helps make this an efficient antenna on the low bands. (Look for me activating parks on 160 meters this winter!)

I believe I can deploy the Emcomm III anytime I have a half-decent tree nearby. I believe I could also use my 31′ Jackite fiberglass pole to extend one end or even the middle of the antenna if I wanted to go NVIS, but I would have to be careful to accommodate strain relief since the Emcomm III Portable is made of heavier materials than my EFT Trail-friendly antenna, for example.

I’m not sure I’d ever reach for the Emcomm III for a SOTA activation when I’d need to take a close look at weight and size. But for POTA? It’s brilliant. And, of course, for emergency communications (as the model name implies). The Emcomm III would also be an excellent addition to a radio club’s antenna arsenal.

The Emcomm III, like all Chameleon products, is designed and made in the USA. Since they use military-grade components, you pay a premium.   The Emcomm III is one of their least expensive products at $139 US.  Is it worth the price? Absolutely. In fact, I’m thinking about buying a second one to keep in my camper.

Click here to check out the CHA Emcomm III Portable.

Moreover, the Emcomm III has earned its place in my main field radio kit.  Now let’s just hope Chameleon doesn’t ask for it back anytime soon!

Note that there are actually two models of Emcomm III antennas: the Portable version ($139) I reviewed here, and a Base version ($149) which is much larger designed for permanent installation.

Thank you, Chameleon Antenna, for sending me the Emcomm III Portable for a proper field evaluation. I’d also like to thank Chameleon Antenna for agreeing to be a sponsor of QRPer.com! 

CHA MPAS Lite: Chameleon designs a new QRP compact portable antenna system

Many thanks to, Don (W7SSB), who notes that Chameleon Antenna has just introduced the CHA MPAS Lite: a modular portable antennas system covering from 6M – 160 meters.

I know a number of participants in the Parks On The Air program who use the CHA MPAS antenna system–the MPAS Lite is the “little brother” of that antenna, according to Chameleon.

Although designed with the new Icom IC-705 and other QRP transceivers in mind, the CHA MPAS Lite can handle up to 100 watts in SSB or 50 watts in CW.

They plan to start shipping the antenna in early November 2020 and the price for the system is $340.00. That may sound like a lot of money for an antenna (it is, let’s face it!) but if you speak with pretty much anyone who owns a Chameleon antenna they’ll tell you it’s worth it. The quality is second to none. I’ve been testing their Emcomm III wire antenna recently and it must be one of the most robust portable wire antenna systems I’ve ever evaluated.

Also, all of their products are designed and manufactured in the USA.

Click here to check out the CHA MPAS Lite product page.

We recently added Chameleon Antenna to our list of sponsors here at QRPer.com. I’m very proud to include them because one of my personal missions is to promote mom-and-pop companies that push innovation here in our radio world! It’s humbling that they support us too.

The new Inkits Easy Bitx SSB TCVR kit

Many thanks to Robert Gulley (K4PKM) who shares the following news from Inkits:

This is to inform all our valued subscribers that we have launched the much awaited easy bitx kit and few customers have already bought the kit.

The easy bitx kit works on a single band and can be built
for 20mt 40mt or 80mt bands.

This is an enhanced bitx design from the previous versions.
There is a complete manual available with link below.

Easy Bitx Version 1

Complete details are provided in the construction manual to build the kit in 15 Steps.

There are 15 individual kits packets provided to assemble the kit step by step.

The si5351 BFO VFO is provided with the kit in working condition. Only The IF frequency has to be set as described in the manual.

The easy bitx kit is an excellent educational kit for new Hams
who are wish to learn how to build a single band transceiver.
And later use it on the air.

The bitx in various kits and individual mods has been build by thousands of hams world wide, so this way easy bitx is a perfect kit for newbies.

The complete kit can be purchased from our website.

Presently we are shipping world wide with DHL Express.