Category Archives: Videos

Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

The entire time I was in Canada this summer–about two months–I  used two field transceivers: the Elecraft KX2 and the Discovery TX-500.

I did sneak in two extra radios under the floor of my trunk/boot space, but they both were limited to three watts and conditions were so rough during many of my activations, I wanted the option of a QRP “Full Gallon” (5 watts). Thus, I stuck with the TX-500 and KX2 (which are both actually capable of 10 watts output).

When I got back to the States, I was eager to do a POTA activations with my other radios–many of you know I like to rotate them–but there was one, in particular, I was eager to put back on the air…

The Mountain Topper MTR-4B.

This MTR-4B V2 is on loan to me from a very generous reader/subscriber. In fact, get this: he ordered the MTR-4B early this year and had it drop-shipped to me directly from LnR Precision. He knew I’d be in Canada for the summer, so has been incredibly flexible with the loan period (basically leaving it open ended).

My review of the MTR-4B will be published in the November or December (2022) issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Then I’ll be sending the MTR-4B to its rightful owner!

In the meantime, I built an ultra- compact field radio kit around the MTR-4B and in my Tom Bihn HLT2 EDC pouch.

This kit is nearly identical to the one I made for my MTR-3B (just a different color, really).

It contains the radio, a battery, an antenna (although I used a different one during this activation), fused power cord, paddles, earphones, RF choke, RG-316, logbook, pencil, and even a full throw line and weight. I’ve listed all of the components with links below.

It’s hard to believe it all fits in such a compact kit and it works so well. It’s nice to know that with the kit it in my backpack, I’ve got everything I need to play SOTA or POTA at the drop of a hat.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

On August 8, 2022, I drove to my hometown to check in on my parents. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to fit in a quick activation with the MTR-4B along the way.

One of the easiest parks for me to hit en route is the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access–it’s maybe a 10-15 minute detour off of Interstate 40.

The weather was amazing that day, although I’ll admit I had to get used to the heat and humidity after spending so much time in Canada this summer!

This access point of South Mountains only has one picnic table. I’m always prepared with a folding chair if that table is occupied, but so far it’s always been available. I’m sure the reason is because this particular South Mountains access point is way less popular than the main entrances. Most of the visitors here come to fish at the reservoir.

Setting up

The great thing about having your whole station in a pouch is that setup is quick and easy.

Continue reading Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

The New Penntek TR-45L: A Video Tour/Overview, then a full POTA activation!

Yesterday, John (WA3RNC) opened orders for his long-awaited Penntek TR-45L 5 band, CW-only, QRP transceiver.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had the pleasure of helping John beta test this radio for the past month. In that time, I’ve gotten to know the radio from the inside out and have even taken it on a few POTA activations. In fact, with John’s permission, I just posted my first TR-45L activation video for Patreon supporters yesterday. The radio was using an early firmware version in that video.

TR-45L Video Tour and Overview

Yesterday, after an early morning appointment, my schedule opened up; a rarity in my world.

I then got the idea to take the TR-45L out to a park, do a full video overview of its features, then put it on the air in a POTA activation.

Hazel loved this idea too.

So I packed the TR-45L, a log book, my throw line, and two 28′ lengths of wire. Hazel jumped in the car before I could invite her.

I’ve used a wide variety of antennas on the TR-45L over the past weeks, but I hadn’t yet performed a park activation only using two lengths of wire and relying on the TR-45L’s optional Z-Match manual antenna tuner. This would make for a great real-life test!

Quick note about video timeline

Side note for those of you who follow my field reports and activation videos

I pushed this video to the front of the line since the TR-45L just hit the market. I wanted to give potential buyers an opportunity to see and hear this radio in real world conditions thinking it might help them with their purchase decision.

I’m currently about 7 weeks behind publishing my activation videos. Much of this has to do with my travel schedule, free time to write up the reports, and availability of bandwidth to do the video uploads (I’ve mentioned that the Internet service at the QTH is almost dial-up speed).

I was able to publish this video within one day using a new (limited bandwidth) 4G mobile hotspot.  Patreon supporters have made it possible for me to subscribe to this hotspot service and I am most grateful. Thank you!

So that I can publish this report quickly (this AM), I’m not going to produce a long-format article like I typically do. Instead, this is one of those rare times when the video will have much more information about the radio and the activation than my report.  I’ve linked to and embedded the video below.

Now back to the activation…

Continue reading The New Penntek TR-45L: A Video Tour/Overview, then a full POTA activation!

Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

Our travels in Canada this summer exceeded our expectations.

Looking back

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

If you’ve been following my Canada POTA activations and field reports, you’ll get an idea where we traveled and a small sampling of the many amazing parks Canada has to offer.

We started off our trip in Ottawa where we spent four days.

Only moments after arriving at our hotel that first day, Vince (VE6LK) made time in his schedule to administer my Canadian Basic exam remotely. That evening–despite being a bit bleary eyed after a fairly long day of driving–I passed my Basic with Honours. (I’m still chuffed about that!)

By the next morning, I already had the callsign I requested: VY2SW. My mailing address in Canada is in Prince Edward Island hence the VY2 call. Since essentially every new call in Canada is a vanity call, I chose the suffix SW to reflect my US call. PEI is one of the few provinces where as a Basic license holder you can request a 2×2 call.

My first activation in Canada was at Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve.  I had the good fortune of meeting up with Andrew, one of my subscribers, at the park. It was great getting to know him–what a nice fellow–and to start off a series of activations in Canada on the right foot.

St-Anne River in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges

After leaving Ottawa, we made our way to Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec where we’d reserved a condo/townhome for 6 weeks. That served as our home base as we traveled around Québec City, Saguenay, the Charlevoix region, and the North Shore of the St-Lawrence.

At our local farmer’s market in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, I especially loved the VW campervan bookstore.

I noted in many field reports how surprised I was to discover that a number of popular parks were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) in the POTA network. Then again, POTA hasn’t been in Canada as long as other similar programs like WWFF and SOTA.

Many of the POTA activations I made in Canada were in urban parks–especially the ones in/around Québec City. These activations took me outside of my comfort zone; I’m used to activating state and national parks back home that are expansive and largely in rural areas.

Continue reading Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!

This spring, as we planned our two months of travel in Québec, Canada, I jotted down one location in particular that I wanted to visit: Baie-Comeau.

Baie-Comeau is located about 420 km (260 miles) northeast of Québec City on the north shore of the mighty St-Lawerence river. It’s a small city with a population of around 21,000 and is pretty darn isolated. For many travelers, Baie-Comeau is the last major stop before a long, lonely road journey north to Labrador City or further northeast along the St-Lawrence.

I’ve always wanted to visit Baie-Comeau and my wife and daughters were game to make a proper trip out of it!

While in Québec, we plotted the details of our trip to coincide with a good weather opening.

We packed our gear, left the home base near St-Anne-de-Beaupré on July 13, 2022, and drove up the St-Lawrence, crossing the Saguenay River by ferry, and on up to Baie-Comeau with a few stops along the way.

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

It’s a beautiful drive.

We reserved lodging at the Hôtel Le Manoir Baie-Comeau (an excellent hotel, if you ever find yourself overnight in Baie-Comeau). We’re frugal travelers, so this was a bit of a splurge, but the stay coincided with our 20th wedding anniversary, so why not?

I was very happy to see that the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve was on a hill only a short drive from the hotel. It was approaching dinner hour, so I didn’t want to fit in a late afternoon activation with the family; we had other plans that evening. My wife suggested instead that we check out the park and walk the trails before dinner which would allow me a bit of time to scope out an activation site.

Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (VE-0054)

We discovered that Google Maps doesn’t have the trailhead marked very well. It led us to a neighborhood street a short walk from the park. I remembered reading a note from a local (online) mentioning there was ample parking at “the church” so we drove to a beautiful church nearby and immediately spotted the trailhead. If you ever find yourself in Baie-Comeau, here are the coordinates for the trailhead.

Turns out, the church is no longer a church, but has has been converted into the headquarters for the park which is a part of the Jardins des glaciers.

There are some brilliant views of the St-Lawrence from the parking lot.

We quite easily found the trailhead of the sentier which led into the biosphere reserve. I used my GPS to confirm when we were well within the boundaries.

We enjoyed a scenic hike that evening.

As I mention in my activation video, this is one of the amazing things about doing POTA during travels: you discover so many incredible parks that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. My family truly appreciates this particular aspect of POTA. It opens the opportunity to find spots only locals might otherwise know about.

After our hike that evening, I had a pretty good idea where I could set up in the morning. We made our way back to the hotel and enjoyed dinner and a movie.

Morning activation

So that my activation time wouldn’t interfere with family plans that day, I scheduled an early morning activation for July 14.

Continue reading An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!

A challenging but fun POTA ATNO activation at Parc des Moulins

Some activations are more challenging than others.

I think we had all hoped on our climb into Cycle 25 that we’d get some brilliant propagation, stable conditions, and the opportunity to use less power and yield more DX.  Who doesn’t want that?

But we get what we get from our local star and the theme this year is that it is indeed showing some positive indicators, but at the same time–this summer, especially–it’s spitting stuff toward our pale blue dot that makes a mess of the ionosphere.

Photo by K4TLI

Lately, each time I head out the door to activate a park, I never know what to expect. It’s part of the fun. Will band conditions be in the dumps, or will the ionosphere provide the perfect platform for my QRP signals–?

On Thursday July 7, 2022 it was the former rather than the latter.

My family decided to head into Québec City that day to visit one of our favorite used book stores (in search of some Bandes Desinées–read more about that at the bottom of this post) and other errands.

I checked the POTA Map and discovered a park we’d never visited in the past, so it looked like a good candidate for a POTA activation!

Digging deeper, I also discovered it was an ATNO (All-Time New One) and had never been activated for POTA before. Hard to believe given its location, but there you go!

I put my POTA backpack in the car and we hit the road!

Parc des Moulins (VE-5068)

After a little searching, we finally found a good parking spot at the park. There was a LOT of construction going on around the grounds.

Parc des Moulins, like many of the parks I’d recently activated in/around Québec City, is a proper urban park with manicured paths and gardens. It’s a beautiful little park!

Continue reading A challenging but fun POTA ATNO activation at Parc des Moulins

Yaesu FT-710: Video update from Yaesu USA

Many thanks to Frank (K4FMH) who shares the following video update from Yaesu USA:

Click here to watch on YouTube.

SOTA in the Clouds: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and MPAS Lite for brilliant QRP fun on Craggy Dome!

Although I live in the mountains of North Carolina and am surrounded by SOTA summits, it’s much easier for me to activate a park rather than a summit.

Parks can be quite easy: find the park on a map, drive through their main entrance, find a good picnic table to set up, and next thing you know you’re on the air! Of course, wildlife management areas and game lands can be more tricky, but typically you can drive to the activation site.

Summits–speaking as someone who activates in North Carolina–take much more planning. If it’s a new-to-me summit, I typically need to:

  1. find the GPS coordinates of the true summit
  2. map out the drive to the trail head
  3. read through previous activation notes (if they exist) to find out
    • what type of antenna/gear I might pack
    • and any notes I might need to find the trail or bushwhack to the true summit (quite often published, well-worn trails don’t lead to the actual summit)
  4. look up the trail map and make sure I have a paper and/or electronic copy
  5. pack all needed gear for the hike, activation, and emergencies
  6. sort out the time it will take to travel to the site, hike the full trail to the summit, activate, and return home

If you ask most any SOTA activator, they’ll tell you that the planning is part of the fun.

It really is.

One summit I’ve had on my activation list for ages is Craggy Dome (W4C/CM-007). Out of the higher summits in this region, it’s one of the easier ones for me to reach from the QTH. In fact, as with Lane Pinnacle, I could simply hike from my house directly to the summit (although one way to Craggy might take the better part of a day). The trailhead is about a 50 minute drive, and the hike about 30 minutes.

SOTA notes and All Trails indicated that Craggy Dome’s trail isn’t always easy to follow and that it’s steep and slippery.

Craggy has been activated loads of times, though, so I wasn’t concerned at all.

Living here and knowing how much brush there was on the manway to the summit, I knew that Craggy would be a pretty easy summit if I could activate it after the parkway re-opened for the spring and before the mountain “greened-up”; about a five week window.

Meeting Bruce

My schedule opened up for an activation of Craggy Dome on the morning of April 21, 2022 and I was very much looking forward to it.

I wouldn’t be alone on this hike either. Bruce (KO4ZRN), a newly-minted ham, contacted me and asked if he could join me on a hike and simply be an observer during a SOTA activation.

Fortunately, timing worked for him to join me on this particular SOTA activation. Continue reading SOTA in the Clouds: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and MPAS Lite for brilliant QRP fun on Craggy Dome!

Hike and Talk: Future of Ham Radio, POTA/SOTA’s Role, CW Renaissance, Power of Kindness, and Engaging our Youth

As I drink a cup of coffee and type this post, I’m also packing my camping and radio gear in the car for a four day POTA expedition with my buddy, Eric (WD8RIF). As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s what we’re doing in lieu of going to the 2022 Hamvention.

I’d planned to write up a field report this morning (I’ve a few in the pipeline) but I simply don’t have the time to do a proper job and I like taking my time with these reports.

Instead, I unearthed a “Hike and Talk” video I made earlier this year and completely forgot about.

Be warned…

My “Hike and Talk” videos aren’t for everyone. I don’t edit them–they’re pure unscripted stream of consciousness. And they’re quite long by YouTube standards.

If this isn’t your sort of thing, just skip this one–I won’t be offended.

On this particular day, I had the future of amateur radio on my mind.

Since it’s been a couple of months since I made this video, I listened to it this morning while packing if for no other reason than to simply refresh my memory. Since I don’t typically do this sort of thing (sharing my thoughts and opinions out there in the public space) I always find it a bit cringe-worthy to review these after the fact. I’m no authority on any topic and never want to paint myself as one, so I typically only discuss these things in interviews and even then, I rarely, if ever, listen my interview post-broadcast (save this one, perhaps).

Proud Prof

But this rambling “Hike and Talk” session reminded me of something that still makes me swell up with pride. I mentioned one ham radio class in particular that I taught for the high school students in our home school cooperative.

It reminded me of a couple of photos I took during that class:

In this first photo (above), I took the class out to the parking lot at the school and I had them set up a (then prototype!) Mission RGO One transceiver on a folding table under a large tree. I had the students erect both an end-fed resonant antenna and a simple 20 meter vertical. I picked the RGO one because all of the adjustments we had talked about in the classroom—AGC, Filters, A/B VFOs, Direct Frequency Entry, Pre Amp, Attenuation—are on the front panel and one button press away. Plus, it’s just a cool radio!

We hopped on the air with one of my students calling CQ (SSB) on the 20 meter band. Her very first contact was with a station in Slovenia—and she simply beamed with excitement. Thank you propagation gods!

In the photo above–taken a week or two later–we were forced to play radio indoors. I’d planned to set up the ALT-512 QRP transceiver outside and see what sort of DX we could work with a simple home brew mag loop antenna. Heavy rains moved in, though, so we moved back to the classroom, they set up the loop in a small window of this large brick building, and we worked station after station on FT8. You can see one student operating, another logging, another looking up each grid square and address, and one at the board calculating how many miles per watt we were achieving with each contact. We had huge fun!

All of the young ladies in my class passed their Technician exam by the end of the term and are all now licensed amateur radio operators. They were all amazing students.

I couldn’t have been more proud of them.

The Video

But I digress. Here’s my “Hike and Talk” video in all its glory:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed watching (or skipping) the video!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support which allows me to open up my work life to write more field reports and film more activation videos.

Here’s wishing you some rewarding radio activity this week!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Field Report: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35

My most recent field report and video featured the Penntek TR-35 but it was not my first activation with this fantastic little QRP rig!

I pushed the last field report and activation video to the front of the line so that I could show how CW message memory keying worked in the TR-35’s updated firmware. It was, in my opinion, a major upgrade!

What follows is my field report from April 1, 2022: my first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35. This video was made a week or so before I learned that WA3RNC was working on the new firmware.

Side note: If you’d like to read my full review of the TR-35, check out the May 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

Although I’d used the TR-35 in the shack for more than a month I was eager to find an opportunity to take it to the field. April 1, 2022 was that day and I made a little detour to one of my favorite local POTA sites to break in the TR-35… Continue reading Field Report: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35

Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Brooks (KO4QCC), a newly-minted  ham radio operator who asked to tag along on one of my POTA field activations. 

Brooks, it turns out, lives within spitting distance of a number of parks I regularly activate here in western North Carolina. He mentioned he was interested in observing an activation to learn a bit about deploying a field radio kit and, of course, to learn what it’s like to be on the air.

Brooks was also plotting the purchase of his first field radio kit and was very interested in the Icom IC-705 and MFJ-1988LP End-Fed Half-Wave (EFHW) antenna. 

Of course, I welcomed him to join me but since we both have busy family lives–and my schedule especially took some twists and turns in March–it took a few weeks before our schedules aligned.

I asked Brooks if he would consider actually doing the activation himself instead of simply observing or tag-teaming it.  I’m a big believer in hands-on radio time.

Brooks loved the idea!

On Sunday, March 27, 2022, a window of opportunity opened in our schedules and we agreed to meet at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861). I packed my:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really a “YouTuber” so I’m not actually inclined to capture every moment on video, but it struck me that others may appreciate experiencing (vicariously) what it’s like to do a park activation for the first time.

Prior to meeting, I asked Brooks if it would be okay if I made a video of his activation adding that there was absolutely no pressure to do so–just a thought. I’ll be the first to admit that if I were in his shoes, I’m not sure if I’d want a camera capturing my first activation jitters for all to see. 

Brooks loved the idea–as he, too, saw value in this sort of video–so I brought my camera along for the ride.

In the same spirit, I asked Brooks if he would write up the field report and he wholeheartedly agreed, so I’ll turn it over to him now: Continue reading Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation