Category Archives: Portable

Which should you buy? The Icom IC-705 or the Elecraft KX2?

Without a doubt, the most popular type of question I receive from readers here on QPRer.com and over at the SWLing Post has to do with making equipment purchase decisions.

In the past two months, I’ve had numerous questions from QRPer readers asking my opinion about choosing between the new Icom IC-705, or the Elecraft KX2. In fact, as I started putting this post together this morning, I received yet another email from a reader asking my opinion about these two iconic QRP transceivers!

I love both of these radios for different reasons, so the answer is not an easy one.

Let’s discuss this in some detail…

I decided to make a video talking about the pros and cons of each transceiver and note the reasons why one might pick one over the other. My hope is that this will help inform a purchase decision:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Do you own both of these radios? Or did you recently decide to purchase one instead of the other? Please comment with your thoughts and opinions!

Tutorial: How to call CQ as an HF QRP station in SSB/Phone


Many thanks to Susan who writes:

I am new – just about to start – portable, QRP operating. I’m just waiting for the weather to cooperate a bit.

Via phone, I have been looking around for the “proper” way to call CQ indicating either QRP or portable – or both! but I haven’t found that. I do see CW “calling CQ” samples. Can you give me that information or direct me to a site that might give some guidance? Not a big deal but I would like to start out on the right foot and sound like I know what I’m doing.

Thanks.

Susan

Thanks for your question, Susan! I’ll share, below, how I call CQ when QRP and portable:

Calling CQ Basics

There is no truly standard way to call CQ, but most CQs follow a certain pattern. Some are short, and some are long.

In general, if you’re calling CQ and simply want to work anyone anywhere and you’re open to a rag-chew (extended conversation), you might start by giving a longer CQ. Some operators will do CQ calls that last nearly 30 seconds, but I don’t personally do that. I use a call and repeat it leaving an interval of maybe 5-8 seconds between repeats. I’ll say something like:

“CQ CQ CQ, CQ CQ CQ, this is Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima, Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima calling CQ and listening.” 

I repeat until I receive a reply.

I’ll sometimes change the length of the CQ call and add/remove words when I repeat. I might use a variation like:

“CQ CQ CQ this is Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima, Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima calling CQ and listening.” 

then

“CQ CQ CQ this is Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima calling CQ to anyone, anywhere and listening.” 

Side note: If you’re doing a Park or SOTA activation and you’ve been spotted on one of the networks, then keep your CQ short. Something like:

“CQ POTA CQ POTA CQ POTA this is Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima calling CQ for Parks On The Air”

Calling CQ QRP or Portable

Again, there’s no truly standard way of doing this, but when I call CQ QRP–which actually isn’t often–I’ll say:

“CQ CQ CQ, this is Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima calling CQ QRP and listening.”

or

“CQ CQ CQ, this is Kilo Four Sierra Whisky Lima calling CQ Portable and listening.”

I’ve even been known to say the number of watts I’m running in the CQ call.

But it’s truly rare that I note I’m running QRP in my CQ call. Why?  I enjoy receiving and sending a good signal report then revealing “I’m running 5 watts into a dipole antenna.” I usually get very positive reactions and I believe I get more replies to my CQ when I’m not revealing I’m QRP until we’re in the exchange. But honestly? It’s all just a matter of personal preference.

Working stations: My favorite approaches as a QRP station

K4SWL portable VY2!

I’ve been known to spend the bulk of the summer in an off-grid cabin with my family in the Canadian Maritimes. I’m always QRP during these vacations and I love making contacts.

Here are a few approaches I use that I feel get the most contacts:

1.) Call CQ on a QRP calling frequency

When I’m operating QRP, I try to operate on or near generally accepted QRP calling frequencies–here’s a handy reference sheet. QRPers hang out there, so there’s a decent chance I might make a QRP to QRP contact on one of those frequencies. Again, I typically use a standard CQ call instead of identifying I’m QRP, but it’s also perfectly fine to say you’re QRP.

Also, when I’m at home and have a radio turned on in the background, I’ll often keep it set on a QRP calling frequency so I can answer a QRP call.

Click here for a list of QRP calling frequencies.

2.) Call or “hunt” other stations

Sometimes, the best approach is to reply to other stations’ CQ calls.

This is so effective because the station is listening carefully for someone to reply to their CQ. If your signal is a little on the weak side, they’ll likely still reply.

As a QRPer, I’ll often start my search by tuning to one of the QRP calling frequencies mentioned above, but if no one is there, I look for any stations calling CQ with no replies.

3.) Move to a band with less activity

I’m sure some will disagree with me here, but I enjoy moving to bands like 17 meters when I’m QRP.

I’ve had very good success in the past if propagation is reasonably stable (an important factor in making this work).

I love 17 meters because the band is typically quiet and the density of stations isn’t that of, say, the phone portion of the 20 meter band. When I’m calling CQ on 17 meters, I’m often one of only a handful of operators I hear on that band, so I stand out a bit more. In fact, I’ve worked some of my best QRP DX on 17 meters. The trade-off is you might call CQ a while since there are less people on the band. This is where a voice memory keyer comes in handy!

Have fun!


Once you’ve made a few contacts on the bands, you’ll sort out your favorite CQ calls and what you include in them. Of course, learn from others you hear on the bands. Listening is always key.

My only advice would be not to do 30-45 second long CQ calls without leaving a break for a station to call back. Many would-be contacts will move on if they feel like they have to wait too long to answer your call. It is important, though, to send a few CQs and repeat your call at least twice anytime you’re giving a general CQ call on the HF bands.

Readers: What’s your favorite way of calling CQ QRP or Portable? What strategies work best for you? Please comment!

Mike rediscovers radio and POTA “gently reopened the door to an amazing hobby”

Many thanks to Mike (W6MVT) for sharing the following guest post:


Back to Ham Radio for a Year – A Brief Reminiscence

by Mike (W6MVT)

This story will sound like many I have heard over the past year, but I will write it nonetheless as a note of gratitude.

Last March COVID had just restricted our activities and I was wondering how to spend my time. I had received my licenses back in the 80’s. There was a code requirement, there was no internet, no QRZ, no spotting.

Though I enjoyed ham radio very much, family and work took precedence, and the equipment went into storage. I eventually sold it off (who is dumb enough to sell matching Drakes?).

Fast forward to the around 2010, when I knew I would be retiring and might want to get on the air again. I picked up some used equipment and stashed it away without really using it.

Then 2020 arrived and the world changed dramatically. One day, prompted by who-knows-what, I had the bright idea to dust off the gear and hook it up, mostly to see if it even still worked. A makeshift wire in the back yard and a quick listen and there it was – a CQ.

I was actually nervous to answer – it had been that long. It was KE8BKP, who it turns out, was activating a park. I hadn’t a clue what that meant, but I shakily answered. We exchanged reports and he went on the to the next one. I had two immediate reactions. First, I was reassured by that brief, painless interaction. The stuff worked and I could still “do this.” Second, things had changed a great deal since the “old days.” But I researched POTA and SOTA and DX Clusters and all the other magic that now exists.The point is that POTA gently reopened the door to an amazing hobby, one that still fascinates me. I went on to become an active hunter and now a prolific activator.

Since it has been a year now, I felt it important to acknowledge this moment, and to note one more thing. When an activator answers a call, we don’t know the other person’s circumstances. Maybe they are a new – or returning “old” ham. Maybe it took courage to key the mic or pound the key. I have appreciated the manner in which POTA hams enthusiastically help one another improve, learn and in turn help others. Thanks to Jeff, KE8BKP, and all the others since, and to come. And thanks to the many volunteers that keep the program running each day.

73, and be well,

Mike W6MVT


Mike, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think all POTA, WWFF, and SOTA activators are essentially ambassadors for ham radio. We never know what’s happening on the other end and I strongly believe in patience and understanding when answering calls and performing an exchange. It can have a huge positive impact for the person on the other end.

So glad you found Parks On The Air and that you’re enjoying playing radio once again!

Thank you for sharing your story.

Testing the new Chameleon Tactical Delta Loop (CHA TDL) antenna

Chameleon Antenna has sent me a number of their antenna systems to evaluate in the field over the past few months at no cost to me. I appreciate not only the opportunity to test these antennas, but to provide the company with my frank feedback.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Chameleon antennas are military grade and build here in the US (check out Josh’s tour of their factory).  You pay a premium price–compared to imported options–but their gear is built for performance, easy deployment, and longevity.

What has impressed me most about Chameleon gear is how flexible and modular it is. Their antenna systems are adaptable to almost any situation and always built around the idea of emergency communications.

Recently, Chameleon sent me their new CHA TDL or Tactical Delta Loop antenna. This vertical loop antenna has been designed to be portable, and tunable from 3.5 to 54.0 MHz (80-6M), but, as Chameleon points out,  “is most effective on the bands from 10.1 to 54.0 MHz (30-6M). ”

TDL deployment

If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect this antenna to look like–in terms of size–once deployed, so I set it up in the front yard prior to taking it to the field.

Set up couldn’t have been more simple: attach the 17′ telescoping whips to the stainless steel spike (with one whip attached to the Hybrid Micro), extend the whip sections, then attach the loop wire to connect the tips of both whips.

It might have taken me four minutes to set up the TDL on the first go.

This antenna needs a little space  for sure: this isn’t one you could easily deploy in a dense forest, but it has a very flat profile vertically. I can’t think of a single park I’ve activated that couldn’t accommodate the CHA TDL.

I like to try to give gear a fair chance when I do evaluations and thought I’d wait until propagation was at least stable before taking the TDL to the field and making a real-time, real-life video (as I used it for the first time). But, frankly, I’m way to impatient to wait for the sun to play fair! Trial by fire…

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

On Monday (March 15, 2021) I packed up the CHA TDL and headed to Lake Norman; one of my favorite parks to play radio.

Gear:

Propagation left much to be desired that afternoon, but the weather was perfect.

I decided to pair the CHA TDL with my Icom IC-705. Since the CHA TDL requires an ATU, I connected the mAT-705 Plus.

NVIS on the low bands

I had no idea what to expect from the CHA TDL in terms of performance, but Chameleon notes that it provides Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) propagation on 40 and 80 meters. NVIS antennas are very popular for the military and for emergency communications since the propagation footprint is much closer to home than it might normally be.

NVIS is also a brilliant option for park and summit activators, especially if they’re activating in an area with a high density of park/summit chasers. For example, if you live and activate sites in the state of Maryland, employing a NVIS antenna might make your site more accessible to the DC metro area, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey–regions that might otherwise be in the skip zone of your 40 meter signal.

On the air

Operating five watts CW, I started calling CQ POTA on 20 meters and snagged four stations in about seven minutes.

I was very pleased to work a station in California and one in Montana with five watts. (Though I need to check, this might have been my first MT station logged from a park.)

Next, I moved to 40 meters and was very curious if the TDL would provide me with proper NVIS propagation.

It did! One litmus test for me is when I work stations in Tennessee on 40 meters. Typically, I only log TN stations when on 80 meters or when I’ve configured one of my wire antennas for NVIS coverage.

Here are my logs from this 28 minute activation:

Here’s a QSOmap of the activation–the delineation between my four 20 meter contacts and eight 40 meter contacts is pretty evident:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation which also shows how the CHA TDL easily fit in among trees:

In a future video, I’ll show how I deploy the CHA TDL.

Unfortunately, I left my tripod at home, so apologies for the viewing angle as I operated the IC-705.

Summary

This first test of the CHA TDL really couldn’t have gone better.

I was able to easily deploy it on sloping ground, among trees, in a state park, and snag both locals and QRP DX within a brief window of time on the air.  All this, while our local star tried its best to interfere.

In terms of construction, the TDL is what I would expect from Chameleon: military grade.

For park activators and Emcomm purposes, the CHA TDL makes for a convenient, portable NVIS antenna on 40 and 80 meters.

While I have lighter, smaller footprint antenna options for SOTA, I must admit I’m very curious how it might perform on 20 and 17 meters from the summit of a mountain. The idea of being able to rotate the antenna and change the propagation footprint is very appealing. I’ll save this experiment for a summit that doesn’t require hours of hiking, though, and one where I know I can jab the stainless steel spike in the ground (i.e. not on top of a rocky mountain).

Any negatives? When I first deployed the TDL at home, we were having 30+ MPH wind gusts. When the gusts shifted, it did move the antenna. This could be remedied pretty easily by using a bit of fishing line filament to tie off one side of the loop. With that said, I’m not sure I’d configure the TDL as a loop if I expected strong winds. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this might not be the best antenna to pack if you plan to include a multi-hour hike in your activation.

And herein lies the brilliant thing about Chameleon Antennas: If I packed in the CHA TDL and found that winds were strong on site, I would simply configure it as a vertical instead of a loop!

The CHA MPAS Lite vertical

The CHA TDL can easily be configured as a CHA MPAS Lite portable vertical: all it’s missing is a counterpoise wire which you can buy separately from Chameleon or, better yet,  just use some spare wire you have on hand!

Or, you could configure it as a random wire antenna by directly connecting a length of wire to the Hybrid Micro transformer.

That’s the thing about Chameleon HF Antennas: they can be configured so many different ways.

If you’re interested in the CHA TDL, I’d strongly encourage you to read though the user manual: it’s chock full of info and ideas. Click here to download as a PDF.

Next time I take the CHA TDL out, I think it’ll be to a summit where I’d like to see how it might perform on the higher bands with the ground sloping away from the antenna site.

Click here to check out the CHA TDL at Chameleon Antenna ($355 US shipped). 

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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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!

My review of the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver

I recently published my full review of the Icom IC-705 over at the SWLing Post. If you’ve been following QRPer for long, you’ve likely seen this little radio in action.

If you’d like to read the full review, which was originally posted in the February 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, click on this link to visit the SWLing Post.

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!

Pairing the MFJ-1984LP EFHW with the Elecraft KX2 at South Mountains Game Land

Last week, I squeezed in two activations on the afternoon of February 17, 2021 to test out the MFJ-1984LP end fed half wave antenna that MFJ sent me to evaluate.

The first park was Lake James State Park where I paired the MFJ-1984LP with my Icom IC-705 (click here to read the report and watch the video). The second was South Mountains Game Land where I paired it with the Elecraft KX2.

Gear:

In both instances, I did not use an ATU because the EFHW is resonant on the bands where I operated. I bypassed the internal ATU in my KX2 and, of course, the IC-705 has no ATU.

I’ve got a very busy few days ahead including a presentation tomorrow at the Virtual Winter SWL Fest (the topic being QRP transceivers). In lieu of writing a full field report, I’ll simply share the (partial) video I made at the activation.

I’ll admit it, I was not on my “A Game” at that activation. Not only did I forgot to press the start button on the camera, but I also struggled copying CW more than I usually do. I had a lot on my mind that afternoon, though, and really felt pressed for time.

I don’t mind sharing this experience, however, because we all have days like these.

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.