Category Archives: News

Livestream: We’re talking portable radio on Ham Radio Crash Course

Josh (KI6NAZ), with Ham Radio Crash Course, has invited me to join him in a livestream tomorrow, February 26, 2022 at 20:00 EST/17:00 PST (01:00 UTC Feb 27, 2022).

We’ll be talking Morse Code, QRP, Field Radio and who knows what else! I’m looking forward to it.

Click here to view on YouTube and set a reminder.

POTA RaDAR Run Activation #3: Table Rock Fish Hatchery

On January 26, 2022, I decided to fit in multiple park activations in one day as a RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) run. My hope was to activate four or five sites between 14:00 – 21:30 UTC.

Here are the field reports and videos of my first two activations from this run:

The next park in my run (#3) was Table Rock Fish Hatchery, a good 40 minute drive from the spot where I operated at activation #2.

The drive to Table Rock was most pleasant and I stopped a couple times to take in views along the forest service road leading down the mountain.

I was pointing my finger and saying, “I’m going to activate your summit soon, Table Rock!”

I mentioned in a previous post that I made this RaDAR run unnecessarily more complicated by deploying a different antenna and radio combo at each site.

On the drive to the fish hatchery, I decided to use the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna and pair it with my Yaesu FT-817ND.

It had been a while since I used the FT-817ND in the field, so I was very much looking forward to putting it on the air! Continue reading POTA RaDAR Run Activation #3: Table Rock Fish Hatchery

Amateur Radio in Ukraine Banned under Martial Law and State of Emergency

Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo by @lifeinkyiv)

I have a number of friends (and many QRPer readers) in Ukraine, so it’s difficult to think of much else this morning after news of the invasion. From Reuters:

Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday, assaulting by land, sea and air in the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War Two.

Missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities. Ukraine reported columns of troops pouring across its borders from Russia and Belarus, and landing on the coast from the Black and Azov seas.

Explosions were heard before dawn and throughout the morning in the capital Kyiv, a city of 3 million people. Gunfire rattled, sirens blared, and the highway out of the city choked with traffic as residents fled.

The assault brought a calamatous end to weeks of fruitless diplomatic efforts by Western leaders to avert war, their worst fears about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions realised.[]

Trevor (M5AKA) shared the following message via Twiter from Anatoly Kirilenko (UT3UY) of the Ukrainian Amateur Radio League:I’ve friends in both Ukraine and Russia and none of them want what’s happening here. My heart goes out to them. As with many of these situations, citizens have so little to do with the political, financial, and military interests of their leaders.

Repairing Ruby: Dr. Vlado performs surgery on the Elecraft KX1

I might have mentioned in a previous post that I named my little Elecraft KX1 “Ruby.”

I name all of my field radios that are permanent; ones I never plan to sell or trade at any point in the future. Ruby is firmly in that keeper list.

Why do I anthropomorphize field radios? That’s perhaps a discussion for a different day but I reckon it’s because I feel they have a lot of character and are, quite literally, trusted companions. They go with me on travels, hikes, and all sorts of outings.

Ruby love

So Ruby is actually the second KX1 I’ve owned.

My first Elecraft KX1 also had a dedicated Pelican 1060 case. There’s even room to fit an external Whiterock paddle.

The first one I purchased in 2008 as a reward to myself for learning CW (see photo above). I enjoyed that KX1 until 2016 when I sold it to help fund the purchase of my KX2.

I immediately regretted selling it, although it helped that I sold it to an amazing person.

In October 2020, I purchased Ruby and wrote a post about how great it was to be reunited with this gem of a radio.

 

At the time, I had no idea what a great deal I had landed.

Ruby turned out to be a four band radio (it was advertised as three), included the built-in ATU, and the package came with a simple wire antenna, three different coaxial DC plugs, a Pelican 1060 waterproof case, earphones, and a set of KXPD1  paddles. All of this for $300 US shipped.

I took Ruby on a number of field activations and couldn’t have been happier

Intermittent issues surface

In the summer of 2021, I started noticing some odd behavior.

Sometimes, after turning on the power switch, the rig wouldn’t completely power up. Instead of the typical two clicks we KX1 owners are accustomed to hearing, I only heard one click and neither the display nor any of the functions worked.

This was an intermittent issue–the next day it might power up as it should.

I did a little troubleshooting: I completely disassembled it, visually inspected all of the solder joints, and removed/cleaned and reinserted the firmware chip. This had no effect at all.

So, I took Ruby to one of the best radio repair technicians in the world who also happens to be one of my best friends: Vlado (N3CZ). He actually does a lot of repair and even has a radio repair website.

Dr. Vlado

Vlado (N3CZ) draws a crowd during a joint park activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway a few years ago.

Vlado will be the first to tell you that the worst problems to diagnose are those that are intermittent; it takes much longer to trace the source of the problem.

A few days later, Vlado sent me a message notifying me that the patient (Ruby) was on the operating table and surgery was about to begin. (See why I call him “Dr. Vlado”–?)

Vlado checked the circuit board very carefully. He found a few solder joints that needed work including a couple on the chip holder. In fact, he completely desoldered the chip holder and soldered it back in properly. Keep in mind here that the KX1 was only ever available as a kit, so quality had everything to do with the skill of the original builder.

He re-assembled Ruby and she worked perfectly.

A second operation

I put Ruby back on the air for a few months, but then in December 2021, a variation of the same issue resurfaced. This time, the “two clicks” in startup took a couple seconds longer than it should. Then it simply stopped working altogether.

Vlado wanted Ruby back in surgery ASAP, so I dropped her off at his “Emergency Room.”

Since the problem was no longer intermittent, Vlado quickly sorted out the main issue: a faulty encoder.

I should note here that since the KX1 hasn’t been produced by Elecraft in many years, there’s always the fear that a replacement part might already be “unobtainium.”

I called Elecraft support and fortunately for KX1 owners everywhere, the encoder is one Elecraft uses in a few of their radios. They have a healthy inventory and the part costs less than $5.00. Woo hoo!

Admittedly, when I placed the order, I also order a few extra parts I thought could fail in the future and might be difficult to find: 3.5mm jacks, pots, and even the LED screen. If I was paying shipping anyway, why not add a few extras? The parts are all very reasonably priced.

The KX1 doesn’t seem to have a lot of unobtainium in it–I seem to recall though that the firmware chip can no longer be ordered from their website and neither can the pushbuttons.  I bet you could find other pushbuttons if needed, though.

I had the encoder shipped directly to Vlado and he completed Ruby’s operation in short order. Thank you, Vlado!

To the field!

I’m so happy to have Ruby back on the air! We’ve chased numerous parks and summits in the past week and I took her on an activation Monday, pairing her with my recently-built K6ARK EFHW antenna.

I’ll post an activation report and video in the coming weeks.

KX1 advice

Elecraft KX1s have become as rare as hen’s teeth lately. You’ve no doubt noticed this if you’ve been looking for one. I’m sure I could sell my KX1 package in a heartbeat for twice more than I paid a year and a half ago. It’s a little insane, really, but I get it.

If you’ve been looking for a used KX1, I would offer the following notes/advice:

  • Since these were only available as kits, you might ask the seller about the original builder and/or have them take photos of the soldering work inside prior to purchasing.
  • Assume issues might arise with time. With radios like this, I mentally set aside at least a couple hundred dollars for future replacement parts and/or repairs.
  • Keep in mind that as with any other radio that’s a bit long in the tooth, you may find that some components are simply no longer available. That’s the risk we take being custodians of these cool little rigs.
  • Actively looking for a KX1 at time of posting (Feb 2022)? Note that interest in particular radio models waxes and wanes over time. With a little patience, you’ll eventually find one. I’ve seen this happen with so many other radios over the years.
  • The KX1, as with most Elecraft radios, comes in a number of configurations and you need to be aware of this if purchasing. Some only have two bands, some have three, and some have four. I’m not certain if band modules are still available via Elecraft, so you might get stuck with the configuration you purchase.  Also, the internal ATU was an option; don’t assume the one you’re purchasing has the ATU.
  • KXPD1 paddles are very difficult to find these days. It’s a big bonus if your radio comes with them. Not everyone likes these paddles, but the version I have now seem to work really well, actually. N6ARA Tiny Paddles are a brilliant little replacement, but you might wish to make a 3D-printed holder to attach the the paddle point on the front of the radio to take a little strain off of the 3.5mm jack inside.

I should also add that Vlado is a brilliant repair technician and has worked on numerous Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, and Ten-Tec models over the years–if it’s solid state, he can repair it. If you ever need his services he can be reached via his website HamRadio.repair.

Also, Dave (W8FGU) is an Elecraft employee that is devoted to their legacy radios like the KX1/KX1/K2, etc. He’s a great guy, brilliant resource, and I believe can also arrange repair, if needed.

Enough blogging: I think Ruby and I will chase a few summits now while I finish my morning cuppa’. 🙂

Check out John’s review of the Penntek TR-35

If you haven’t already, hop over to John’s (AE5X) blog and read his review of the Penntek TR-35 transceiver kit.

John reviews both the build and performance. He even put the TR-35 on his workbench and measured a number of parameters.

In short, the little TR-35 does exactly what it sets out to do and packs a surprising amount of performance.

John and I actually had a TR-35 to TR-35 exchange a few days ago (if not mistaken, the photo above was taken after that exchange). I was lucky enough to catch him as he activated a POTA site in Texas. From this end, his TR-35 sounded fantastic.

Click here to read John’s report.

I’m putting together a review of the TR-35 which will likely appear in the May or June issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.  I’ll eventually send this little TR-35 back to WA3RNC (it was very kindly sent to me on loan) but I do plan to purchase his TR-45 Lite kit when it hits the market later this year. Why? Because I don’t have enough QRP radios, that’s why.

Brent builds the Penntek TR-35 transceiver kit

Many thanks to Brent (VA3YG) who writes:

Good morning Thomas, from wintry southwestern Ontario.

I thought I would send you a quick message to share my experiences, so far, with the little TR-35.

Yesterday, around 3pm, I took the above unassembled kit off the shelf and began to melt solder. The smoke test was successfully performed the next morning at 1:30am, after non-stop building (with the exception of a few hours for eating and catching up on a little tv). I measure twice and solder once hihi.

I ordered the kit a few weeks back from John Dillon, WA3RNC, and it arrived quickly by courier and all in one piece. John has super customer service and knows how to pack for delivery. Continue reading Brent builds the Penntek TR-35 transceiver kit

POTA RaDAR Run: Planning, Plotting, Packing, and Activating Park #1!

You may have noticed a common theme in my field reports: basically, it’s rare that I plan out an activation more than 24 hours in advance.

Indeed, due to my “dynamic” (I think that’s a good word for it?) family schedule, I often don’t plan an activation more than one to two hours in advance.

But last month, I saw an opportunity open on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. Basically, I had from early morning until late afternoon to play radio.

Making plans

At first, I thought about striking out early and hitting some of the parks that are a little further afield–parks I hadn’t visited in a couple years, or some new-to-me parks.

Then, I hatched an idea to activate two SOTA summits. Both would qualify for bonus winter points and both were technically doable in the time I had allotted. It would involve about 9-10 miles of hiking in addition to 3 hours of driving plus allotting for the time I’d actually spend on the air. It would equate to a very early departure and some steady hiking.

That Tuesday evening, I started putting the plan together, downloading all of the maps, preparing my SOTA alerts, and packing my SOTA pack. I spent the better part of an hour plotting and planning these activations.

Then the realization hit me: the trails I’d be hiking were likely covered in snow and ice which would slow me down considerably especially since my Yaktrax Traction Chains hadn’t yet been delivered. I realized the schedule was just a little too tight. There’s be no room for mishaps and if I made the trip I really wanted to hit both summits in the same day. So, I saved all of my maps, links, and notes to do this multiple SOTA run in the near future.

Back to the drawing board!

I decided that I did like the idea of doing multiple activations in a day, so why not fit in a RaDAR run?

RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) is basically an activity that can be combined with summits and/or park activations and the idea is simple: you complete multiple rapid field deployments within 24 hours.

If you’d like more information about RaDAR, check out this webpage. Parks On The Air even has a few awards for RaDAR runs–it would be fun to apply for one of them (thanks, WD8RIF, for the heads-up!).

I so rarely have enough time to consider more than two or three activations in a day that the idea of fitting in four or possibly five activations was very appealing.

I looked at the POTA map and sorted out a route between park entities that were all in western North Carolina. I was familiar with all of the locations save one which had the potential to be both a POTA and SOTA activation. Continue reading POTA RaDAR Run: Planning, Plotting, Packing, and Activating Park #1!

Any experience using the FT-818/817 CQHAM TB-BOX?

Many thanks to Motters (M7TRS) who writes:

For some strange reason I stumbled across something on eBay for the FT-817/818 as I am still looking for my first HF setup.

Anyway, it’s a tuner and battery pack for a 817/818 and when I saw it I wondered if you knew about it.

https://ebay.us/vSiNwc (partner link)

YouTube video demonstration:

[Update] And this video:

Thanks for the tip, Motters. I was not at all familiar with this pack. I do like the simplicity of the setup. 

The price is certainly right at $179 US.

There are so many FT-817/818 owners out there, I’m very curious if anyone has any experience with this particular pack and if you can report on the overall quality. Please comment!

Field Activation Antenna Challenge #1: Military Fixture Homemade Multi-band Doublet!

I mentioned in a previous post that my personal “Activation Challenge” for 2022 was “to build a new antenna each month and deploy it at least once that month during a field activation.”

On Thursday, January 27, 2022 I took my first antenna–the military fixture doublet–to Lake Norman State Park for a Parks On The Air activation!

For more information about this doublet and how it was constructed, check out this post.

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

I picked Lake Norman knowing that it had numerous spots to set up a doublet.

Unlike an end-fed wire antenna, doublets need a little more clear space to deploy both legs; the idea is to avoid as many low tree branches and other obstacles as possible.

Many (if not most) of the operators I know who regularly deploy field doublets actually use a telescoping mast for the center support to make the whole process easier.  I didn’t take either of my fiberglass masts on this outing because, frankly, the winding fixture on this doublet acts as the center insulator, and is “heavy” compared to most of my field antennas. Continue reading Field Activation Antenna Challenge #1: Military Fixture Homemade Multi-band Doublet!

(tr)uSDX kit: Just pulled the trigger

In January, I missed out on the initial pre-orders of the (tr)uSDX kit being managed by Rowaves in Romania.

I had my calendar marked for February 15 to check the site again for the 3rd batch as I thought that was the day they planned to issue another pre-order.

My buddy Eric (WD8RIF), who is the President of the Athens County Amateur Radio Club (ACARA), contacted me yesterday asking if I knew of any QRP kits designed with phone/SSB operation in mind. One of ACARA’s members was searching for one.

He was already aware of the

The only other kit I could think of was the new (tr)uSDX. When Eric asked for a link to the product, I went to the Rowaves site and discovered that they were taking pre-orders for the third wave of kits. Like, right then and there!

Without hesitation, I added one to my shopping cart and checked out.

I thought perhaps Rowaves caught up and no longer had a waiting list. This morning, when I checked the site again however, it appears they’ve sold out of the third batch.

Without Eric’s prompting, I would have never thought to check the Rowaves site yesterday.

Side note: There are various (tr)uSDX group buys out there. I don’t completely understand how they work, but perhaps someone with more experience can comment. DL2MAN has information and links on his webpage.

Intimidated

(tr)uSDX board “sandwich”

If I’m being brutally honest, the (tr)uSDX kit is a bit intimidating for me. I recently referred to myself as a “gross motor skills” kit builder. I think that’s a pretty accurate description.  I’m fine with through holes, simple toroids, and very clear, illustrated instructions. Truth is, I absolutely love building kits. But I’m not an electronics engineer, so when instructions are vague, I can get lost quite easily.

The (tr)uSDX toroids don’t look terribly complicated and all of the surface mount components are pre-installed. Still: it’s a wee kit and I’ve yet to check out the build instructions.

It might be a challenge for me, but I’m really looking forward to it. Besides: knowing that John (AE5X) will build his kit before I do, I’ll simply bug him if I have questions! [Sinister laugh slowly fades…]

More SSB Kits?

While on the topic of kits, can anyone point Eric to other SSB kits that are currently available on the market?  If so, please comment with a link and thank you in advance!