Video: Park To Park with WB8JAY

Sometimes when I’m activating a park or summit and work someone who, like me, is activating a park or summit for a Park To Park (P2P) or Summit To Summit (S2S) contact, in my head I wonder what their station and operating situation looks like on the other end.

At least one instance was uncovered recently when Dan (WB8JAY)  reached out and shared a video he took while working me in a P2P contact. It’s awfully fun to hear what my signal sounded like on his end.

This took place while Max (WG4Z) and I were doing a joint activation at South Mountains State Park recently.

This video reminds me how CW distills the communications down to only those dits and dahs; unlike SSB, for example, where you might hear background noises and extra chatting during an exchange, in CW it’s just pure code.

Thanks for sharing this, Dan!

Click here to view on YouTube.

POTA Field Report: Picnic table activation with the FT-817ND, CHA UCM, and MPAS Lite

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the easiest POTA sites for me to activate when I’m at the QTH.

Pretty much anytime I head into Asheville from home, I’m going to cross the parkway. The BRP is such a refuge, I often take it to avoid hitting the Interstate or a busy highways. It takes longer, but it’s orders of magnitude more peaceful and pleasant than, say, Interstate 40.

On Monday, September 13, 2021, I had a small opening in my schedule in the afternoon and decided to  pop by the Folk Art Center for a quick picnic table activation since I was passing by.

The Folk Art Center is a site where I typically deploy smaller, lower-profile antennas to keep from interfering with others who are enjoying the park.  I try to keep my antennas very close to my operating spot and my counterpoises on the ground in a space where others aren’t likely to tread.

In the past, I’ve used the Wolf River Coils TIA, the Elecraft AX1, Chameleon MPAS Lite & MPAS 2.0, and once, a Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire. I avoid anything that slopes so that I don’t inadvertently “clothesline” unsuspecting vacationers!

On this trip, I had the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical and a new toy: the Chameleon Universal Clamp Mount (CHA UCM).

Continue reading POTA Field Report: Picnic table activation with the FT-817ND, CHA UCM, and MPAS Lite

E21EJC and BG7XWF: Voice CW on RS-44

Many thanks to Dan (VR2HF) who writes:

Hi Thomas,

This is just too funny to keep to myself. My good friend, who I call Mr Satellite, Kob, E21EJC in Bangkok apparently was too bored to work BG7XWF on normal CW via the RS-44 linear (SSB/CW/FT-4) satellite again, so, they went to “voice CW (SSB).” You can even hear them adjusting for Doppler shift. 

E21EJC and BG7XWF Voice CW on RS-44:

Ain’t ham radio great!🤓😁

Yes it is, Dan! Ham radio is great!

This gave me a good chuckle–thank you for sharing!

New lab599 Discovery TX-500 firmware upgrade, UK availability, and RadCom review

This morning, I finally remembered to do a firmware upgrade on the lab599 Discovery TX-500. I’ve been in the terrible habit of only remembering to do a firmware upgrade when I’m in the field.  Much like remembering to repair your roof while it’s raining! 🙂

New TX-500 Firmware

Fortunately, Lab599 just published their 1.10.10 firmware release this weekend, so my TX-500 will sport all of the latest upgrades including (in this upgrade) corrected AGC, improved receiver parameters, and (from previous upgrades) SWR analysis tool and message memory beacon mode.

I’ve been so incredibly impressed with the Lab599 team’s dedication to continuously upgrading and improving this already phenomenal little radio. It’s such a pleasure to take to the field.

UK TX-500 availability

I also understand that lab599’s UK distributors, Nevada Radio and Waters & Stanton, will soon have their first batch of Discovery TX-500s (first part of October 2021, if I recall).  Waters & Stanton (and possible Nevada) may even have a handful of units unallocated yet. It’s best to call them to check status and possibly reserve one.

Upcoming RadCom Review

Speaking of the UK, my full review of the Discovery TX-500 will appear in the November 2021 issue of RadCom.

Remembering the amazing Ten-Tec Hamfest

I’ve been cleaning out the shack these past few weeks and have been discovering a number of gems hidden in the depths of some of my “junk” boxes–including these these pins (see above)  from the Ten-Tec hamfest.

The best fest

Ten-Tec used to have a large factory in Sevierville, Tennessee and would host an annual hamfest in the large parking area behind the factory.

Hands-down, the Ten-Tec hamfest was my favorite hamfest of the year.

Here’s why I loved it so much: Continue reading Remembering the amazing Ten-Tec Hamfest

POTA Field Report: Conquering South Mountains State Park with Max!

One of the closest parks to my parents’ home in Hickory, North Carolina (where I travel most weeks) is South Mountains State Park.

Despite its convenient location, I haven’t activated South Mountains many times and, in fact, the times I have activated it, I’ve always found it a struggle to log the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation. I suspect it’s had less to do with the physical location of my operating spot (which has admittedly been in a bit of a “bowl” surrounded by hills) and much more to do with the fact that propagation has been crappy on the days I tried to activate.

Ironically, I’ve activated the adjoining South Mountains Game Land numerous times with wonderful success. It’s funny how that works.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

Max (WG4Z) set up the CHA TDL.

I had a good reason to hit South Mountains on September 9, 2021. My buddy Max (WG4Z) had just purchased an Elecraft KX3 at the Shelby Hamfest (at an incredible deal, I might add). He plans to pair it with a Chameleon CHA TDL (Tactical Delta Loop) he has on order.

Continue reading POTA Field Report: Conquering South Mountains State Park with Max!

POTA Field report: Pardon my French…

Sometimes we do things that take us outside of our comfort zone.

That’s exactly what I did on September 8, 2021 at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).

My friend, Jérôme, asked I would consider doing a POTA activation video in French!

Jérôme lives in France and wants to do a POTA activation there eventually, but had a number of questions about what to do in the field (spotting, logging, etc.). He’s been watching my videos for a while but admits that while he can understand written English (with the aid of Google Translate), he doesn’t understand spoken English.

Although I regularly listen to news and YouTube videos in French, it’s been ages since I’ve spoken French for any extended period of time.

Jérôme has been bugging me about the French video for some time, actually, but I’d put it off because there were a number of radio terms I simply never learned when I lived in France (well before I was a ham radio operator).

When he very diplomatically asked me again via email on the morning of September 8, I thought, “Why keep waiting? Just do it!

So I did.

Continue reading POTA Field report: Pardon my French…

POTA Field Report: Tinkering with the MPAS Lite at Lake Norman State Park

After completing a successful activation at Fort Dobbs State Historic Site on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I decided to fit in one more activation that day. I thought about heading out to one of the game lands I hadn’t hit in a while, but frankly, I needed a park a little closer to home due to my time constraints that day, so Lake Norman State Park it was!

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

Lake Norman is such an effortless park to activate. Their main picnic area has numerous tables (including two large covered areas), and tall trees providing support for antennas and much needed shade from the NC summer sun!

One thing I had not decided upon was what antenna I’d use at Lake Norman. Earlier, I used my trusty speaker wire antenna at Fort Dobbs, but I like to shake things up. I checked the trunk of my car and found the Chameleon MPAS Lite. Seeing how propagation plummeted after my previous activation, I decided that I wanted a large wire antenna deployed rather than a vertical.

The MPAS Lite can be configured as a wire antenna, of course: instead of attaching the 17′ whip to the “Hybrid Micro” transformer, you attach the 60′ wire that might normally be used as a counterpoise.

Setting it up was quite easy, in fact. I used my arborist throw line to snag a tree branch about 45′ high, then attached the throw line to the floating dielectric ring on the Chameleon wire spool. I stretched the entire length of wire out, attached the end to a tree, then hoisted up the center, forming an inverted vee shape.

Wire antennas are so low-profile and simply disappear in trees.

Even thought the 50′ coax shield would act as a counterpoise, I really wanted another ground wire attached, so I pulled one of the wires off of my speaker wire antenna and attached it to the grounding post of the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike. I figured a little extra counterpoise wouldn’t hurt.

Gear:

On the air

Although I’d never used the CHA MPAS Lite quite like this, I was pretty confident my Elecraft T1 would find a match. The Chameleon transformer (the Hybrid Micro) brings most any (but not all) lengths of wire within reasonable matching range of an ATU.

I started on 40 meters and found that, without employing the ATU, I had a match that was slightly below 2:1. Not terribly surprising since I had a good 60′ of wire in the tree. Still, I hit the tune button on the T1 and easily achieved a 1:1 match.

I will add here, though, that perfect 1:1 matches are not that important–especially at QRP levels. I’m certain the TX-500 would plug along with a match of 2.5:1 or higher and still radiate perfectly fine. I’ve known hams that truly equate that 1:1 match with an antenna that’s performing efficiently, but that’s not always the case. Keep in mind a dummy load will give you a 1:1 match but is hardly efficient. The ATU’s job isn’t to make the antenna radiate better–it’s to match impedance.

The CHA MPAS Lite will get you within matching range across the HF bands and, many times, it’s close enough that an ATU isn’t really needed.

I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within 28 minutes had logged the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation–all with 5 watts, of course. I was very pleased with these results because, as I had suspected, the bands were still pretty darn rough.

I then moved up to the 30 meter band where I worked a couple of stations and then, for fun, found a match on 80 meters and worked one NC station (possibly on ground wave!).

Here’s a screenshot of my logs from the POTA website:

I must say that I do love using the Discovery TX-500. It’s such a brilliant little field radio. I’m just itching to take it on another SOTA activation soon!

I’m also loving the TX-500 field kit that I built around a Red Oxx Micro Manager pack.

I used the same bag (different color) for my KX2 NPOTA field kit in 2016. It’s such a great size and can even easily hold my arborist throw line along with all of the station accessories and rig, of course. I’ve made a short video showing how I pack it and will upload that video when I have a little bandwidth!

Video

I did make a real-time, no-edit video of my entire Lake Norman activation. Feel free to check it out below or via this YouTube link. No need to worry about ads popping up–my videos have no YouTube ads!

A Brief Public Service Announcement…

If I have a little advice for you this week, it’s this: don’t wait to play radio because someone says you don’t have the right gear for the job.

I received an email this morning from a ham that’s new to field operation and just received an antenna he had ordered. He was upset because a YouTuber claimed his antenna was basically a dummy load. To add insult to injury, he also found a blogger or YouTuber was also highly critical of his recently-acquired Yaesu FT-818. [Note that the FT-817ND–the 818’s predecessor–is one of my favorite field rigs.]

Keep in mind that many of these YouTubers are trying to produce “click bait” videos that will stir up a reaction and, thus, increase their readership numbers which will have a direct and positive impact on their ad revenue.  It’s a red flag when someone doesn’t have real-world examples and comparisons proving their points and typically a sign that they’ve never even used the products in question.

I’ve been told antennas I use don’t work, yet I’ve snagged some incredible QRP DX with them. I’ve been told that some radios I use are junk, yet I’ve hundreds of successful field activations with them. And funniest of all are those who tell me that QRP is ineffective and–quoting from an actual message recently–“a complete waste of time.

My advice is to simply ignore these folks. The proof is in the pudding! Get out there and play radio!  In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” 🙂

Thank you!

As always, thank you for reading this field report and a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 2: Kit Types, Preparedness, and the Golden Rules

The following review was first published in the July 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Read Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 1 here.


Part 2: Anatomy of a field radio kit

Last month, I took us down the rabbit hole of field radio kits by discussing some of the most basic components of a field radio kit in Part 1.

This month, we’ll take a deeper dive into the types of radio kit you might choose to assemble based upon your activity goals.  And finally, we’ll look at my “golden rules” of field kits, which I hope you’ll find useful.

Types of field radio kits

I configure and outfit my radio kits based on the environment in which I plan to deploy and operate, and which determines in no small way just what I need to pack besides the basics.

I roughly divide my field kit types as follows…

The Field Day or “Picnic Table” Kit

This is probably the most popular type of field kit in the world of amateur radio. Picnic table kits are designed with portability in mind, but not designed with distance hiking in mind. This is a very popular type of kit for Field Day or park activations through POTA or WWFF.

These kits are typically packed in a backpack, a Pelican-type utility case, or a self-contained and field-ready box.

My picnic table kit is packed in a large Red Oxx C-Ruck rucksack. If I haven’t already made it clear, I’m a self-professed pack geek and I love this Red Oxx Pack because it has large zippered pockets on the outside, a rain flap with storage on top, and one large compartment on the inside.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 2: Kit Types, Preparedness, and the Golden Rules

Susan seeks feedback about the HAMRS logging application

Many thanks to Susan W(B2UQP), who writes:

Hi. I just had HAMRS recommended to me and wondered if anyone had used it extensively and reviewed it. I think I only saw one article (parenthetically mentioned by Scott, KN3A in August).

Thanks. QRPer just seemed like the perfect place to vent and/or explore this!

Avid QRPer Reader and 73,
Susan, WB2UQP

Thanks for your question, Susan–my hope is that others will comment as well.

I can say that I’ve been using HAMRS now for perhaps 3 weeks and have been very pleased. The great thing about HAMRS is that it works on any platform and OS you would take to the field: iOS, MacOS, Android, Linux, and Windows.

I have only used it on iOS (on my iPhone) and find that it’s overall, quite intuitive. I love the fact that it can pre-format the logs to be accepted in some of the most popular field activities like POTA and SOTA. If you have an internet connection, it can show live spots and even a QSO map with polylines. Great feedback when you’re in the field.

I’ve also used it while offline and it worked beautifully.

As with any electronic logger, though, I would also keep a paper copy of my logs as a backup.

You’ll be seeing me use HAMRS more in my field activations. It’s all but replaced N3FJP ACLog as my field logger.

My hope is that others with even more experience can comment. Very curious what experience is like on other operating systems!