En Route to Canada: An impromptu POTA activation at Swatara State Park

If you’ve been following my field reports and activation videos, you’ll note that I’m almost two months behind posting them at present.

Much of this is due to the fact that I made numerous activations during a camping trip at New River State Park with my family in April and many more activations during a camping trip with WD8RIF and KD8KNC in West Virginia in May.

May was an extremely busy month for me family-wise and I was fitting in Canadian Basic Exam prep during any free time I had because my goal was to write the Canadian Basic exam within the first few days of arriving in Canada.

(Read this previous post for more detail.)

Looking at my field report back log, I’ve got a few more reports from both the NC and WV camping trips, but I’ve decided to put them on hold for a bit so that I can post more recent ones. Plus, it might be fun posting late spring field reports this fall!

One of the things I love about writing these field reports is re-living the activation.

Objectif Québec

We began our road trip to Canada on the morning of June 15, 2022.

Our first stop would be Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the second stop Ottawa, Ontario (for three nights), and then our final destination of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec. All in all, we’d log 1,306 miles/2,102 km not including side trips.

Although I sort of fantasize about all of the amazing parks I could activate during our travels north, in reality this road trip was all about reaching the destination in fairly short order to save on hotel expenses en route.

The first leg of the trip equated to a good 10 hours on the road including stops to refuel, stretch our legs, and grab a bite to eat.

That first day, I’d completely written off the idea of performing a POTA activation assuming we’d arrive in Pine Grove, PA too late and too tired.

Turns out, though, we got an earlier start than we had anticipated, so arrived in Pine Grove around 16:00 local.  That afternoon, everyone was eager to take a stroll or hike to shake off all of those hours of sitting in the car.

I checked my POTA Map and then cross-referenced it with  my All Trails app to find the closest park with proper hiking trails. Turns out Swatara State Park met both criteria and was a mere 8 minutes from our hotel. Woo hoo!

Honestly: Swatara couldn’t have been more convenient for us.

Swatara State Park (K-1426)

Swatara had multiple access points along the highway, so we simply picked one and drove to the end to find a trailhead and picnic table under the trees. It was ideal. Continue reading En Route to Canada: An impromptu POTA activation at Swatara State Park

Joshua explores Unun insertion loss (efficiency) comparison testing

Many thanks to Joshua (KO4AWH) who shares the following guest post:


Unun Insertion Loss (Efficiency) Testing

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

A simple “side-by-side’ method can be deployed with the use of a Calibrated NanoVNA to read back “S21 Gain” which is, in this case, signal loss from the output of S11 back into S21 through the identical windings. The gain (loss) reading in negative dB gives us the total signal loss through the windings. We can then divide by 2 to get the loss through one winding and then convert with a bit of math to an efficiency number.

p = 10^(x/10) * 100 where p = percentage 0-100% and x = loss in dB

Example: -2dB reading on “S21 Gain” on the NanoVNA divide by 2 for a loss of -1dB on each winding would be 10^(-1/10) * 100 = 79.4%

We have a 50 ohm signal coming out on S11 of the NanoVNA through the first winding to some unknown exact impedance but that is then converted back through the second unun into the S21 port where the signal is measured. It is therefore necessary to use identical windings for each test to ideally match the impedance change.

I like to run the signal test with the top and bottom of each band, take the average of the two, and then convert to efficiency, 100% being perfect. I record these values to then chart each band’s efficiency for the winding pairs. The goal here is to compare the different windings. For example, with a 9:1 used for a long/random wire, compare toroid sizes, number of toroids and in some cases the number of windings. One nice advantage to a 9:1 Trifilar winding is that you can increase or decrease the winding count in multiples of 3 while maintaining a 3:1 winding ratio. Take the square of the windings ratio (3) to find the impedance ratio of 9:1.

Here is one example of two different windings compared. Both are Trifilar but one with a single T80-2 toroid and 9 sets of turns and the second with a Double T80-2 and 12 sets of turns. 100% would be zero signal loss through the windings, 0% would be full signal loss. -3dB (loss) per winding would equate to a 50% efficiency in either single winding.

The difference between these two windings across the Amature Bands was quite surprising to me. I assume typical, often used windings will be decent across the bands. Here we saw a large improvement in access to the bands by adding several extra turns.

When each component of the station induces loss to the radiated signal, or the ability to receive, you have to improve each area for the best transmit and receive capability. This test is not foolproof, it is not the most accurate way to measure efficiency and maybe not the easiest but it gives me a comparative analysis of various windings with the tools available to me. If I can increase the performance of my windings, I can increase the performance of my station. Time to wind some more transformers!

Joshua

KO4AWH

Tufteln Antennas

Tufteln.net

Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and TufteIn Random Wire at Gauley River National Recreation Area

During my West Virginia POTA expedition with Eric (WD8RIF), Miles (KD8KNC), and Theo (The “Great Warg”) dog, the last park we hit on Friday, May 20, 2022 was Gauley River National Recreation Area (the first park  was New River Gorge  and the second was Hawk’s Nest State Park).

Back in the days of National Parks On The Air (2016), I activated this site (the Gauley River, actually) but it was snowing, the winds were howling, and being on a tight schedule, I didn’t hang around to explore the site.

Gauley River National Recreation Area (K-0695)

Gauley River with the prominent Summersville Dam in the background.

On Friday, May 20, 2022, the weather was nearly ideal.

Eric, Miles, and I decided to venture down to the river for our activation.

We knew that it would compromise our signals to some degree setting up at the base of the Summersville Dam instead near the top, but how can you pass up scenery like this–?

The banks of the river were very rocky and there wasn’t a lot of space for Eric and I to separate our stations, so we knew our signals might interfere with each other.

Eric and Miles setting up.

Eric set up his trusty 31′ Jackite pole which supports a 28.5 vertical wire–the entire setup is attached to his folding chair. FYI: Eric tells me he’ll do a little write-up here on QRPer.com detailing his antenna setup in the near future.

You can barely see it in the photo above, but I deployed my TufteIn Random Wire antenna which I have configured with a 31′ radiator and one 17′ counterpoise. Continue reading Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and TufteIn Random Wire at Gauley River National Recreation Area

Why I send “72” instead of “73”

If you’ve been watching my field activation videos for long you’ve no doubt noticed that, at the end of an exchange, I’ll often send “72 de K4SWL” instead of “73 de K4SWL.”

“73” much like “CQ” has a very distinct sound and cadence in CW. Even during one’s earliest days of learning CW, the sound of “73” is sort of burned into the brain and instantly recognized.

I’m sure that’s why when I send “72” some believe I’m sending it by mistake–it’s very conspicuous even to new CW operators.

Perhaps this is why one of the most common questions I receive from new YouTube channel subscribers is:

“Thomas, why are you sending 72 instead of 73?”

The answer is actually very simple…

72 is the QRP version of 73

“72” isn’t a new ham radio abbreviation but according to my light research, it doesn’t date back to the earliest days of wireless either (please correct me if I’m wrong).

The late and great George Dobbs (G3RJV) notes in his book “QRP Basics” that 72 has been in use since the late 1980s as a way some operators identify that they’re running QRP or low power (generally 5 watts or less).

You’ll find it referenced in numerous abbreviation guides like the CW Ops CW guide and in QRP communities like QRP-L and the QRPARCI. In the past, I’ve heard 72 used in QRP contest exchanges too. I suppose it’s also a bit of a “handshake” among QRP operators.

That said, 72 isn’t as commonly used to convey “Best Regards” as the more standard 73. Not by a long shot. I’ve gotten messages from passionate radio purists who’ve told me to stop using it, in fact, since it’s not as standard as 73. I get where they’re coming from because keeping our abbreviations standard makes communication that much clearer.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit this way with the international phonetic alphabet: I like sticking to the script for reasons of clarity and simplicity.

I almost unconsciously go back to using “73” if I suspect the op on the other end is new to CW.

Then again…

72 is simple and clear

The main reason I choose to use 72 during many of my POTA/SOTA activations is because I believe it conveys a message in the most concise and clear way possible.

Sending “72” allows me to communicate my power level without having to send any extra elements/words like “3 WATTS” or “/QRP” after my callsign–especially since communicating power output isn’t typically a part of a SOTA/POTA exchange.

Sending “72” might also help to explain why my signal strength might be a bit lower, or surprise a DX contact if I’m being received 599.

While it’s true some on the other end might scratch their heads and have to look up the meaning of “72,” once they know it, they know it.

And if sending “72” isn’t your thing or you don’t agree with its use, that’s perfectly okay too! You’ll hear me using it most of the time I’m running QRP in the field, but I don’t expect anyone else to.

To each their own, I say!

When I do hear another op use 72? I know the contact was QRP on both ends and that’s kind of cool in my book!

72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Updates: Canada activations, Ham Radio Workbench, contraband, field reports, travels, and an activation later today

Greetings everyone! I’m behind on email and comments at present so I thought I might share a few updates quickly in a post:

VY2SW Activations

We are absolutely loving our travels here in Canada and I’m giving the new Canadian call sign (VY2SW) a proper workout.

To date, I believe I’ve activated 11 parks (1 in Ontario, 10 in Québec) during our extended family vacation. Instead of hitting the same parks over and over, I’m trying to activate new parks during each outing because it’s giving us an opportunity to explore some really amazing spots that we might not otherwise discover.

Camping on the North Coast of the St. Lawrence in Bon Désir.

Before we leave La Belle Province, I’ve at least two SOTA summits in mind and 3-4 more parks, family time permitting. Indeed, as I mention below, I hope to activate another park sometime today.

Ham Radio Workbench Podcast

Once again the fine crew of the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast made the mistake of inviting me on another episode of the podcast.

In truth, it’s a proper honor to join them each time (don’t let them know I said that!). Seriously, they’re an amazing group of friends.

This episode was dedicated to our Field Day activities. For many of us, it was an unconventional Field Day and perhaps that’s what made the event so much fun.

John (W7DBO) was invited back to the show and it was great hearing how he integrated his whole family in his Field Day activities.

George had to operate from home, I operated from our condo/chalet here in Québec, and Vince from his very unique club setup in Alberta. Rob had a project that took priority on Field Day, and it’s worth listening to the podcast just to hear Smitty’s tale of life as a Field Day RVer (hint: not for the faint of heart).

Click here to listen to the full episode. 

I’m a big ole hypocrite

If you listened to the HRWB podcast, you’re already aware that I’ve proven once again that I’m a hypocrite.

How so?

Remember that post where I asked for your advice about choosing two radios to accompany me on our summer travels? Remember how I said that there was only room for one other radio besides the Elecraft KX2?

I did finally choose that one extra radio: the Discovery TX-500.

I chose the TX-500 because 1.) it would be a great “bad weather” radio, 2.) it could operate from my KX2 battery packs, 3.) it’s multimode and also covers 6 meters, and 4.) it has such a slim profile. I could easily the TX-500 in my Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack with the Elecraft KX2 and it didn’t make the pack feel any bulkier.

I came very close to choosing the IC-705, but it was just a bit too bulky for the way I had my pack configured.

Back to the hypocrite part…

The day before leaving North Carolina, I removed everything from our Subaru and gave it a deep cleaning.

When I pulled up the floor panel in the trunk/boot area to check the first aid kit, spare tire, and emergency gear I discovered that there was a fairly large unused area under there–a spot where I might be able to sneak a few extra radio supplies.

After a little finagling, I discovered that I could fit spare batteries, two folding PowerFilm panels, the Buddipole PowerMini 2, and two more radios: the MTR-3B field kit, and my Elecraft KX1.

This essentially amounted to contraband since I tend to be the guy who enforces “one bag per person” policy during our family travels.

I got some serious eye rolls from the family when they discovered the hidden radios after we reached our destination. I might not ever live this down.

If I had even a shred of dignity upon our arrival here in Canada, I can confirm it’s gone now.

Elecraft KX2 getting heavy use

Other than Field Day where I primarily used the TX-500, the Elecraft KX2 has been getting a heavy workout on this trip.

The reason why is because I’ve been activating a number of urban parks where an all-in one radio paired with a random wire or the AX1 vertical has been very useful.

Conditions have been very rough during some of these activations as well, so it’s nice to have both CW and SSB modes available and a full 5 watts (the KX1 and MTR-3B are CW-only hover around 3 watts). I’ve snagged some excellent QRP DX at times, but everything has been so unstable.

I didn’t bring the KX2 hand mic on this trip, so all of my SSB contacts have utilized the KX2’s built-in mic. It’s actually worked brilliantly!

Field Reports and Activation Videos

In the lead-up to Canada travels, I spent most of my spare time studying for the Canadian Basic exam and fell behind on field reports.

I’ve recorded a number of activations here in Canada and will likely post a couple of these out of chronological order while I’m still on this side of the border.

Uploading from our chalet hasn’t been possible–the upload speeds are about as dismal as they are at my QTH. Download isn’t too bad, though.

Hôtel Le Manoir, Baie-Comeau

While at the hotel in Baie-Comeau a few days ago, I uploaded at least four videos with their high-speed internet, so I’ll soon post a couple of them.

In short: the activations here have been amazingly fun. Some of the sites have been truly spectacular in terms of scenery and others are in urban settings taking me well outside my comfort zone.

In short: I’ve loved every minute of it!

Travels

Photo by K4TLI

We have had an amazing time here in Québec as always.

Our flavor of travel is the opposite of many: we tend to rent a home or apartment for a few weeks or couple of months and use it as a base for exploring the region. We do this as opposed to traveling long distances and only spending relatively short periods of time at multiple stops.

 

Activation today

I plan to activate a park while in Québec City today. I’ve no clue which one it’ll be yet, but I’ll announce it on the POTA site once I’ve got a plan together. If you have the time, look for me on the POTA spots page (as VY2SW) or via the RBN! I’d love to put you in the logs.

Here’s wishing all of you a week full of radio and fun!

72/73,

Thomas (VY2SW / K4SWL)

Paul’s potentially explosive portable ops in St. Elmo, Colorado

Many thanks to Paul (W0RW) who shares the following guest post:


Operating in St. Elmo Ghost Town, Colorado

by Paul (W0RW)

I have operated in St Elmo (Ghost Town) several times with my PRC319 Pedestrian Mobile.  St. Elmo is at 11,000 feet in a deep canyon so it was hard to make contacts.

My PRC319 runs 50 Watts and I use a 10 foot whip so I had some success to the East on CW. I use a Whiterook MK-33 for a hand held single lever paddle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Right after my last visit,  July 2015, members of St. Elmo and Chalk Creek Canyon Historical group  cleaned out the outhouse behind the Home Comfort Hotel in St. Elmo, they found a potentially explosive surprise. On the floor of the outhouse, they found what they believed to be dynamite. Later in the day the bomb squad found blasting caps rather than dynamite.

St Elmo Outhouse

[Per the Historical Society] there were only 6 Blasting Caps found at St Elmo’s. They called Ft. Carson US Army EOD and they blew them up right there in the center of town.

While the electric blasting caps are usually shorted and would not be effected by a QRP radio, my 50W radio was  at a dangerously high level to be transmitting near a box of blasting caps.

It would be a smart idea to avoid operating in any old mining areas where unexploded dynamite might exist.

Paul    W0RW

St Elmo, Colorado

Reunited with the venerable Elecraft K1 at Hawk’s Nest State Park

As you might have guessed, I’m a bit of a QRP radio addict.

Over the years, I’ve owned and sold quite a few rigs; there are some models that gave me instant seller’s remorse.

In the past, I sold good QRP radios to buy “better” ones: transceivers that had a more compact form factor, better feature set, better battery management, or other desirable updates/upgrades.

Boomerang!

In almost every case when I experienced seller’s remorse, that particular model of radio has eventually found its way back into my field kit.

A few examples:

  • I sold my original Yaesu FT-817 to purchase an Elecraft KX1. In 2020 I purchased a used FT-817ND then the following year a second FT-817ND for full duplex satellite work.
  • I sold my Elecraft KX1 to help fund the purchase of the Elecraft KX2. I purchased another KX1 in 2020.
  • I sold my Elecraft K2/100 to fund the purchase of my Elecraft KXPA100. I don’t regret purchasing the KXPA100 in the slightest (even though I so rarely use it), but I do regret selling not one, but two K2s over the years! I’ll snap one up if I find a good deal.

I also sold my Elecraft K1 to help fund the purchase of my Elecraft KX3 in 2013.

At the time, the seller’s remorse wasn’t immediate because the KX3 was such a revolutionary portable radio in almost every respect. The K1 seemed so limited in comparison.

Still, since I started doing CW POTA and SOTA activations, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a good deal on another 4 band/ATU Elecraft K1.

Why does the K1 have appeal when I have so many “superior” radios at my disposal–?

Good question! I reckon I just like it.

(Image via WD8RIF)

The K1 feels more like an analog radio rather than a digital one; no doubt, this is due to its VFO’s limited range. It’s more akin to an analog radio with a digital frequency display.

The K1 is also super compact for a radio with a traditional tabletop form factor. The menus and features take a bit of time to learn–they’re cleverly implemented, but you definitely need an owner’s manual or cheat sheet to master them.

The K1 is not general coverage; it can only be configured to operate on a maximum of four CW bands. It does have an internal ATU option, but I don’t think it’s on par with the KX-series internal ATUs in terms of matching range. It works well with a variety of field antennas, though!

The K1 does have a very low noise floor and wonderful audio. Those are perhaps the two things I love most about it.

Hawks Nest State Park (K-1813)

During my West Virginia POTA expedition with Eric (WD8RIF), Miles (KD8KNC), and Theo (The “Great Warg”) dog we hit  Hawk’s Nest State Park on Friday, May 20, 2022; this was our second park of the day (New River Gorge was our first).

En route to the site, Eric suggested I use his Elecraft K1 travel kit during this activation and I quickly accepted the offer!

I used everything in Eric’s Kit save the antenna.

Photo courtesy of WD8RIF.com

Instead, I paired the K1 with the homemade 40M End-Fed Half-Wave MW0SAW kindly sent me.

I also used a 50′ of feedline so that I could move the antenna as far away as possible from the picnic shelter Eric and I would both be using during the activation.

The long feedline also made it possible to set up the antenna in a way that it wouldn’t interfere with any park guests who might walk by.

Gear:

On the Air

The separation/distance from Eric’s Tri-Bander antenna worked a charm: there was very little interference between our two stations.

I started the activation by calling CQ POTA on 20 meters. Funny: I actually thought I was on 40 meters; the K1 display (much like that of the KX1) only shows the last three digits of the frequency display; when I saw “61.1” I assumed “7061.1” but of course it was actually 14061.1. I realized this as I later changed meter bands.

Although the propagation forecast was pretty dismal, the EFHW performed very well.

Within 18 minutes, I logged 16 hunters (including WD8RIF some 20 feet away).

I then moved to the 40 meter band (so Eric could move to 20) and worked an additional six stations in six minutes!

The final contact was both an HF and eyeball QSO with WD8RIF. I got that on video–very much a fun first for me!

QSO Map

Here’s what my five watts into an end-fed half-wave looked like on a QSO Map:

Activation video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation with WD8RIF. I include a bit about Eric’s station and also his QRPguys Tri-Bander antenna after I go QRT. As with all of my videos, there are no ads and I don’t edit out any of the activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

WD8RIF’s report

Make sure to check out Eric’s field report which includes details about his KX3 set-up that you’ll see in the video above.

Thank you!

We spotted this little guy on a hike after completing the Hawks Nest activation.

Thank you for joining me (and Eric, Miles, & Theo) on this POTA activation.

Although detailed field reports take a few hours to write-up and publish (along with activation videos), I truly enjoy the process. It gives me a chance to re-live an activation and share the whole experience with kindred spirits. This was such a fun activation.

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.

Oh, and if you have a four band Elecraft K1 with ATU you’d like to part with? Get in touch with me! 🙂

Cheers & 72/73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

I could use some help at VE-0054 this morning…

Baie-Comeau, Québec

Note: See update below!

This morning, I’m going to attempt a POTA activation of Manicouagan-Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (VE-0054) around 11:30-12:30 UTC. This is an ATNO (All Time New One) park.

I’ll be using my Canadian call VY2SW.

We’re in the Baie-Comeau area at present, and I’ll only have a short window to fit in this activation before we hit the road again and do a little off-grid camping for a few days!

I’ll be QRP and hopefully on 20 and 40 meters CW. If I have the time (and mobile coverage to self-spot) I’ll attempt to do a little SSB as well. If I can find an adequate tree (they’re not so tall along this trail) I’ll deploy an EFHW, else it’ll be a random wire.

Conditions have been so rough lately, I’m not quite sure what to expect; especially this early in the morning at this location.

If you have a moment, look for me on the RBN. I appreciate any/all spots!

This will likely be my only activation for a few days because there are sadly no POTA/WWFF parks nor SOTA summits within easy reach of our campsite along the St-Lawrence.

Update!

Thanks to everyone who listened for and logged me this morning. The activation was a big success. I logged a total of 30 stations on three modes all in very short order.

Thanks so much! Now it’s time to pack the camping gear and go whale watching!

73,

Thomas (VY2SW / K4SWL)

Photos from the 2022 Milton Hamfest on the SWLing Post

Many thanks to Mike (VE3MKX) who has shared a large gallery of photos from the 2022 Milton, Ontario Hamfest.

Mike notes:

“The Burlington Amateur Radio Club organizes the event and confirms that they had 108 vendor spaces sold and over 475 general admin passed through the gates. A great day of meeting friends, lots of deals and smiling faces!”

I’ve created a gallery of 132 images that can be viewed on our sister site, the SWLing Post.

Many thanks to Kevin (VA3RCA) and Mike (VE3MKX) for taking and sharing these excellent photos!

Click here to view the full gallery on the SWLing Post.

Joshua tests the ATU-10 portable automatic antenna tuner

ATU-10 with TufteIn protection case

Many thanks to Joshua (KO4AWH) who shares the following guest post:


ATU-10 Random Wire Testing

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

I had a bit of time to do some field tests and I recently acquired an ATU-10. So I jumped right in and did some ATU-10 Random Wire Testing. The testing was completed with a Tufteln 9:1 QRP Antenna configured with an elevated feed point sloper and a counterpoise hanging straight down. The coax feed was RG316 17′ with the ATU at the radio with a short jumper. Several different radiator lengths are used as mentioned below. The ATU-10 was sourced from newdiytech.com, price was $120.24 shipped to me in GA USA, Ordered June 25, delivered July 8th.

A quick list of ATU-10 Features:

  • 0.91″ OLED Display that shows Power, SWR and internal battery remaining.
  • USB-C Rechargeable LiPo 1.7Ah
  • Grounding Lug
  • Bypass Mode (When I set to this mode however it would tune anyways)
  • Latching Relays (No power needed to keep in position. Hold tune with ATU off)
  • Input port for communication with IC705 (and potentially others)
  • 7 Inductors, 7 capacitors
    • (Elecraft QRP)
      • C array, pF 10, 20, 39, 82, 160, 330, 660
      • L array, uH 0.05, 0.11, 0.22, 0.45, 0.95, 1.9, 3.8
    • ATU-10
      • C array, pF 22, 47, 100, 220, 470, 1000, 2220
      • L array, uH 0.1, 0.22, 0.45, 1.0, 2.2, 4.5, 10.0
  • USB-C firmware update (ATU shows up as a drive, simply copy the new firmware file to the device and it will automatically update)
  • Weight 232g (8.1oz)
    • Tufteln Case adds 23g (.8oz) for a Total of 255g (8.9oz)
    • Compared to the T1 with cover for a total weight of 187g (6.5oz)

SWR measured with a RigExpert RigStick 320, Lab599 Discovery TX-500 and the ATU-10

The test process was to first check the SWR on the antenna with no tuner. SWR values recorded from the TX500 and RigExpert Stick 320. Values recorded in the 2 columns under the “No Tuner” section. This was completed for each of the Bands listed in the table rows (see below). SWR values were the lowest in the band range for all recorded numbers. Continue reading Joshua tests the ATU-10 portable automatic antenna tuner

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