Tag Archives: CW

POTA Field Report: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) December 14, 2020

Monday afternoon (December 14, 2020), after completing a long to-do list of errands, I found myself with a chunk of free time in the late afternoon. Of course, I like to fill free time with radio time, so I packed the car and headed to one of my favorite spots: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740).

I love Lake Norman because it’s only a 35 minute drive from my parents’ house (where I was that Monday) and it’s nearly ideal for POTA because they’ve a number of picnic tables widely spaced, and lots of tall trees–a perfect spot for wire antennas. It’s also a quiet location and has good “POTA Mojo”–meaning, I’ve never had difficulty racking up contacts there.

Gear:

I was the only person at the picnic area of Lake Norman that afternoon. No surprise as it was after 3:00 PM local and temps were on a fast downward trend after a front moved through earlier in the day.

You may be able to see the Emcomm III hanging in the tree.

I used my arborist throw line and deployed the Emcomm III Portable antenna with ease.

On the Air

I hopped on the air around 21:30 UTC and started calling CQ POTA. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spotted me and the POTA website auto-spotted me under a minute. Within ten minutes, I logged 8 contacts on 40M.

I then moved to 20 meters and worked an additional 5 contacts within 15 minutes.

Since I had worked a total of 13 stations, I had three more than needed for a valid POTA activation.

Since I was using the amazing Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, I decided to move to 160M just to see if anyone work work me on the “top band.”

To be clear, 160 is one of the least active bands in POTA for obvious reasons: few ops care to deploy an antenna that can tune up on 160M, and few POTA hunters have an antenna at home to work the Top Band. Although it’s not as efficient as a resonant 160M antenna, the Elecraft T1 and mAT-705 easily tune it and get a great match.

I called CQ for a few minutes on 1810 kHz in CW and N4EX replied. Woo hoo! My first 160M POTA contact as an activator.

I then moved up to the phone QRP calling frequency of 1910 kHz and called CQ for about 10 minutes. No dice. Since I spotted myself, about two stations attempted to make contact, but unfortunately, my five watts just couldn’t be heard.

I checked the time at this point and it was 22:30 UTC. The sun was setting over Lake Norman, so I started packing up.

It was then received a text from my buddy Mike (K8RAT). The message read, “80M?”

I thought it might be fun to work Mike on 80M, so I re-connected the antenna and tuned up on 3538 kHz.

I think I called CQ once, and Mike replied with a strong signal. We had a nice exchange and when we sent our 73s, I heard a few stations calling me. Of course…the RBN picked up my CQ for Mike and the POTA site spotted me.

To be clear: it’s next to impossible for me to cut an activation short when I have hunters actively calling me, so I started replying.

Getting late…

Turns out, 80 meters was on fire. In 15 minutes, I logged 17 more stations–from Florida to Ontario–with 5 watts.

Next thing I know, it’s dark. Like, pitch dark…

My iPhone struggled to make this photo look brighter without the flash engaged.

Side note: someday, remind me to write a post about how one of my earliest National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations carried on until it was pitch dark outside and how that one activation forever changed how I pack my gear. In short: if you’re in the field and you aren’t intimately familiar with your gear and how its packed–even if you have a headlamp–there’s a good likelihood you’ll leave something behind.

It then hit me that Lake Norman State Park closes at sunset in the winter.  Doh!

Friendly park rangers

I finished my last exchange (with W3KC) and sent QRT despite a few others still calling me.

 

As I quickly powered down the IC-705, I noticed a truck pass by slowly on the road behind me. He drove to the end of the road then turned around and stopped behind me. I knew it was a park ranger doing final rounds.

He walked down to my table with flashlight in hand and I greeted him with an apology as I quickly packed up my gear. He was incredibly kind and encouraged me to take my time. He also saved me a trip to the car to grab my headlamp by illuminating the area with his Maglite flashlight/torch.

The park ranger asked a number of questions about ham radio, POTA, and the equipment I was using as I packed up. He told me he’s always found it fascinating and had met other radio amateurs at the park doing activations. I gave him my contact info and I hope he considers checking out the world of radio.

Because I’m meticulous about how I pack (again, lessons learned from the past) I had no issues in low light and left nothing behind.

I drove out of the park at exactly 6:00PM which is the park’s closing time. I was happy, at least, that I hadn’t delayed their closing!

All-in-all, it was a very fun activation–so much fun, I lost track of time. I logged 30 stations all over North America on four bands with 5 watts.

Have you ever found yourself operating and packing up in the dark? Any stories to share or advice? Please comment!

Assembling the MFJ-561K Miniature Travel Iambic Paddle Kit

MFJ Enterprises has an amazingly deep catalog of products. So deep, I often overlook items that could be quite useful in the field.

MFJ recently sent me one of their travel paddle kits to evaluate on QRPer.com–no doubt, they heard my plea for paddle recommendations some time ago.

Paddles are a funny thing: they’re basically a very simple switch, so not terribly difficult to homebrew. Yet sometimes we want to simply purchase pre-made paddles instead of building them.

I don’t personally want to invest crazy money in field paddles because there’s a reasonable chance they could get damaged in my pack or I could even leave them on the forest floor after a POTA/SOTA activation.

Plus, paddles aren’t the weak link in my CW game (ahem, yeah…you might have guessed it’s the operator–!).

The price of MFJ-561K paddles hits a sweet spot at  $25 US. I know of no other paddles made in the US that are cheaper (although I know I might stand corrected on this point).

For $25, you’re not getting Begali quality: you’re getting something that’s simple and gets the job done.

The MJF-561K is actually a simple kit that you assemble at home. It’s a novice build for sure, taking (generously) 20 minutes to assemble and requiring no kit building experience. You will need to use a soldering iron to attach the three conductor wire to your paddles–otherwise, it feels more like a mini Meccano or Erector set.

At one point early in the build, I did find myself looking for a detailed photo to determine how the shoulder washers were placed. I couldn’t find one, so I decided to take my own photos to help anyone else building these paddles in the future.

MJF-561K Assembly Photos

Click on the photos below to enlarge:

The shoulder washer fits in the hole on the inside of the paddle as you can see on the upper paddle lever. The larger washer goes on the outside of the paddle, insulating the solder lug and Kep nuts.

One bolt and Kep nut holds the back of the paddles to the base.

This image shows how the center contact is screwed in. Note that another solder lug is held in place under the paddles and is not in this photo, but shown in the photo below.
Once you’ve attached the bottom solder lug and Kep nut, position the center contact (on top) so that it floats between both paddle contacts before tightening down.
Next, you’ll need to strip the supplied three conductor cable, tin the ends, and solder them to the three solder lugs. Check your radio manual to determine which side of the paddle to solder the tip and ring wires based on which side of the paddles will send dits and dahs.

Hint: when attaching the cable tie/strain relief, position the cable tie locking point so that it faces up rather than down (to avoid that part of the cable tie interfering with rubber feet contact.
Next, attach the rubber feet to the base.
And, finally, attach the rubber pads to the paddles

On the air

The building process was super simple as you can see from the photos above. I didn’t test the paddles in advance to make sure the shoulder washers were insulating the contacts properly, nor did I test that my ring/tip placement was correct before soldering. I would suggest you do this!

Fortunately, I plugged it into the Yaesu FT-817ND and it worked perfectly!

The paddles are lightweight and the action reminds me very much of Whiterook Paddles.

Any criticisms? For the price, these are brilliant. With that said, I wish the three conductor wire was just a bit heavier gauge. The conductors are very thin and I do worry how well they’ll hold with heavy use. Of course, it’s an easy process to replace this cable with one of my own.  Also, like most lightweight backpack paddles, the thin metal sheet base needs to be held in place while operating.

I think I might attach the paddles directly to a clipboard. If I drill two holes in the paddle base, I could mount them with small bolts onto the clipboard and remove them when done. I’ll give this some thought.

For $25, the MJF-561K paddles are a no-brainer.  I see keeping a set of these for ultralight operating and perhaps even as a set of backup paddles. And, hey! They’re a great stocking stuffer idea. I would suggest MFJ consider making a single-lever version as well.

Click here to check out the MJF-561K paddles at MFJ.

Can you activate a park with the Elecraft AX1 portable vertical antenna–?

In my head, this was going to be a post talking about antenna compromise vs. convenience vs. performance. I set out to make a point and will do just that. But it’s not the point I intended to make.

The Elecraft AX1 Antenna

My Maxpedition Fatty Pouch has more than enough room for the AX1, tripod adapter, bipod, antenna, 40M section, and two counterpoises.

For those of you not familiar, Elecraft designed a super compact portable antenna for the KX3 and KX2 called the AX1 a couple years ago. It’s, by far, the most compact HF antenna I’ve ever owned or operated.

What makes it so unique is that no one section of it is longer than 6″, which means when disassembled, it’ll fit in a very small pouch or pocket.

I purchased the AX1 a couple months ago. I bought the antenna, (which handles 20/17 and 15 meters), the 40 meter extension, bipod, tripod mount, and both counterpoises were included.

It’s a cool piece of antenna kit for sure! And so compact!

But let’s face it: it’s a compromised antenna!

An antenna this small and compact is not as efficient as a longer resonant wire antenna. Not even close.

The AX1 wasn’t built for performance per se–although it’s as efficient as it can be for the size–it was built for convenience!

You can set the AX1 up anywhere, anytime.

A POTA Experiment

The AX1 is in the Maxpedition pack on the left, my KX2 in the Lowe pack on the right.

A few months ago, a reader who owns a KX3 asked me if I thought he could successfully activate a (Parks On The Air) park with the AX1.

My reply:

“Sure! Especially if you’re using CW and you have a whole lot of patience.”

Yesterday morning, I decided to test my theory.

I drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378) and parked at the Folk Arts Center. I found a picnic table (wasn’t hard at all considering it was hovering around freezing and incredibly breezy!) and set up my station.

It takes me maybe 3 minutes to set up the entire station.

The antenna fits together quickly (I was operating 40 meters, so used the optional extension and 31′ counterpoise).

Three minutes later, I’m ready to rock and roll!

On The Air

I had errands to run in town so didn’t want to spend all day doing this experiment, but I was determined to complete a valid POTA activation which requires 10 total contacts.

Before leaving the house, I scheduled my activation on the POTA site, so it would know to scrape my spot on the Reverse Beacon Network.

Keep in mind, this was taking place on a Monday morning around 10:15 AM and I was activating a park almost every POTA hunter has logged numerous times. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most activated parks in the POTA network, so not exactly super desirable.

In addition, propagation number were pretty dismal.

I fired up the KX2, pressed the ATU button, and achieved a 1:1.1 match.

I called CQ POTA three times in CW.

Evidently, the RBN picked me up quickly, because I received a call.

Then another call.

Then a small pile-up of calls.

Next thing I know, I’ve logged five stations in five minutes.

I called CW again, and had another small pileup.

Short story short, I had achieve a valid activation in all of 12 minutes.

12 freaking minutes!

Seriously? My point was to prove it takes patience when using extremely compromised antennas.

After logging 12 stations, a received a phone call on my mobile and left the air (no other stations were calling me at that point and, again, this wasn’t a highly desirable or rare park). After my phone call, I decided to pack up and finish my errands in town.

After I returned home, I realized: this was easily my quickest field radio deployment and park activation.

The activation took me a total of 20 minutes: 3 minutes to deploy, 12 minutes on the air, and (generously) four minutes to pack up.

Let’s face it…

The stars were aligned Monday morning.

The AX1 is a compromised antenna but it’s obviously also quite effective.

The irony was en route to the activation, I was listening to the latest episode of Ham Radio Workbench. They were discussing wire antennas and how incredibly compromised shortened verticals are.

I was in complete agreement about compact antennas: sometimes, the compromise is worth it for the convenience.

Now, I would add: sometimes, it’s all convenience, performance, and no compromise whatsoever!

Next, I plan to attempt an SSB activation with the AX1. I do believe it’ll take quite a while to gather 10 stations for a valid activation. But who knows?

Stay tuned!

Mike’s DIY cootie: “Hermione Hackberry”

Many thanks to Mike (K8RAT) who shares a little info about his homebrew sideswiper, “Hermione Hackberry”:

Saw W3AVP’s nifty homebrew sideswiper on QRPer.

This (see photo above) is the one I built a few years ago from a hacksaw blade, cabinet fixtures and a crafter’s block of wood. The felt pad finger pieces allow me send more smoothly than with the bare metal lever.

I also used 4 pads under the base for gripping.

Since I had most of this stuff on hand the cost of the project was less than $4 dollars.

Fantastic, Mike! And I understand Hermione sends like a dream!

Thanks for sharing, Mike! Anyone else care to share a photo of their homebrew key? Please comment or contact me!

Operating the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver in CW with full break-in QSK

Readers have been asking me about operating the new Icom IC-705 in CW; specifically if the T/R relay is noisy and how full break-in QSK sounds.

Here’s a quick video that should answer a few of those questions:

I made this video yesterday while testing the new mAT-705 ATU.

Please comment if you have other IC-705 questions.

642 Miles Per Watt with the new Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver

Thursday, I set out to test how long the Icom IC-705 could operate during a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation with one fully-charged Icom BP-272 Li-ion battery pack. This, following my listening endurance test.

I knew conditions were pretty terrible Thursday in terms of propagation, but that didn’t really matter. I intended to call “CQ POTA” in CW until the ‘705 finally shut down due to low voltage. In my head, I imagined this wouldn’t take much longer than 1.5 to 2 hours and during that time, despite propagation, surely I’d work 10 stations to validate the activation, right–?

Sandy Mush Game Lands (K-6949)

I picked Sandy Mush Game Lands as my test site. Since I’d been there before, I knew there were ample trees to hang the Vibroplex EFT-MTR end-fed antenna, and I knew I’d likely be the only one in the parking area as this site is secluded and this was not a designated hunting day.

The Vibroplex/End-Fedz EFT-MTR antenna

Setup at the site was pretty straight-forward. I quickly deployed the EFT-MTR antenna–using my arborist throw line–in a “V” shape hanging over a high tree branch.

I picked the EFT-MTR because it’s resonant on my three favorite POTA bands: 40, 30, and 20 meters. Note that the IC-705 does not have an internal ATU.

Although I have an mAT-705 external ATU on loan to test, I didn’t take it to this first activation–I wanted to keep the set up simple for testing battery endurance.

On the Air

I started calling CQ at 16:30 UTC on the 40 meter band and set the IC-705 to beacon mode call “CQ POTA K4SWL.” No replies for 10 minutes. At that point, I discovered the POTA spots website was down for a scheduled upgrade (I have impeccable timing!), so I posted my spot on the POTA Facebook page.

Then my buddy Mike (K8RAT) sent a text message stating that the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) had spotted me, but with a very low signal report. Hmmm….why would that be?

Turns out, I still had the IC-705 power level set to “0” watts (this story might sound familiar). Doh!

Note to IC-705 owners: zero watts is not zero watts!

I turned up the power to 5 watts (the max the IC-705 will achieve on a 7.4V battery pack) and was greeted by an instant CW pile-up.

What a blast! I started on 40 meters in CW, but eventually worked both 40 and 20 meters in SSB and CW. I then lowered the antenna, removed the SMA cap on the EFT-MTR coil, and worked 30 meters CW for the remainder of my time.

I logged my first contact at 16:28, my last at 18:18 UTC. So 1 hour 50 minutes of near constant operating.

Remaining battery capacity after 1:50 of operating.

The IC-705 battery pack was still going strong and had about 40% capacity left, but I simply ran out of time as I needed to run an errand in town, so had to shut down the radio and pack up.

I must admit: the IC-705 is doing a much better job managing battery usage than I would have expected. I’m guessing I could have operated for 3 hours or so at 5 watts without needing to recharge the BP-272 1880 mAh Li-ion battery pack.

I do believe I’ll invest in the larger BP-307 battery pack which has a capacity of 3100 mAh. It’s a pricey battery, though, at $130 US.

How does the IC-705’s battery endurance compare with the Elecraft KX2? I’m not sure yet, but I’m guessing the KX2 will have even better longevity as its current drain is less than half that of the IC-705. The KX2 will operate at 10 watts output for about 1 hour 15 minutes with the internal battery pack, before decreasing to 5 watts output. I’ve never tried a battery endurance test with the KX2 at only 5 watts.

Of course, with an external 12 volt battery, the IC-705 will pump out a full 10 watts of power as well.

Five watts and a wire–wow!

The biggest surprise of the day?

I worked stations from Oregon, and Saskatchewan to the Azores…in single sideband!

Here’s a map of my contacts–red signal paths are SSB, CW in green (click to enlarge):

This was one activation where 5 watts SSB actually snagged more DX than CW. Great fun!

While I’d like to think it was a little IC-705 “mojo” on its first field outing, in truth it had everything to do with the EFT-MTR antenna and what must have been a moment of propagation stability.

This was also my maiden voyage with the CW Morse Single Lever paddle. CW Morse sent this paddle, along with their double lever paddle and a selection of straight keys, for me to evaluate. If you’ve been considering an affordable, portable single-lever paddle, this is a brilliant one. I really enjoyed using it and the action is very easy to adjust.

I’m already regretting the decision to send it to my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) for a proper evaluation. (Just kidding, Eric! (Maybe.)) He only uses a single lever paddle for his numerous field radio adventures.

Eric will give this single-lever paddle a proper workout and give us a full report.

I must admit, I had a lot of fun with the IC-705/EFT-MTR antenna combo.

Of course, I’ll be taking the IC-705 to the field a lot in the coming weeks.

IC-705 Questions?

Feel free to comment and ask any questions you may have about the IC-705. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Val’s Morse Code videos and practice sessions

Many thanks to Valery Titievsky (UA9OTW) who writes:

Perhaps it will be interesting to SWLing Post subscribers. A short video for those wishing to improve their skills in Morse code. Poem by George Byron “Prometheus».

The channel also has lessons in studying Morse code and a few videos with my SWL on shortwaves of various radio broadcasting, weather and other service and number stations.

73! Best Regards

Click here to check out Val’s YouTube channel.

When I practice my CW skills, I do like listening to real content like this instead of randomly-generated characters. One reason is you start to recognize the sound of common words (like “the” “an” “and” “is” etc).

Thank you for sharing this, Val!

Any advice on super portable paddles?

I recently acquired a Mountain Topper MTR-3B from LnR Precision. So far, I really love this amazing little 3 band rig.

I’m looking for a set of portable paddles to put in the activation kit with the MTR-3B.

My go pack will be very compact, so I’d like a set of paddles that could easily slip in the pouch or case with the transceiver.

I’m currently using a set of Whiterock paddles with my KX2 (see photo above) and they work well enough, but I’d prefer something perhaps a little more robust and possibly even more portable.

What portable paddles do you use? Any suggestions? Please comment!

Upping my CW pile-up game with Morse Runner

Note: The following post also appears on our sister site, the SWLing Post.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been practicing my CW (Morse Code) skills in an effort to build confidence to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) CW activation.

But how in the world do you practice handling a CW pile-up without actually going on the air–?

I’m glad you asked!

My DXing and contest friends have often touted an amazing free PC application developed by Alex Shovkoplyas (VE3NEA) called Morse Runner.

Morse Runner’s goal is simple: teach you how to manage a CW pile-up.

In short? It’s incredibly effective!

When you start a Morse Runner session, the application emulates the sound and atmosphere of the HF bands in CW mode (meaning, a narrower filter setting). It’s very convincing.

Instead of using a key to send a CQ, the Morse Runner interface emulates a contest logging system where a computer generates your CQ and sends the signal report you record for a station.

Screenshot of Morse Runner (click to enlarge)

You simply set a few parameters like your call sign, max CW speed, pitch, and bandwidth, then press the “run” button and call CQ by pressing the F1 key on your keyboard.

Within a few CQ calls, you’ll hear anywhere from one to several stations answer your CQ (depending on your settings). Your job is to then start logging those stations accurately from the pile-up. If you reply with an incorrect call, the other station will repeat their call until you correct it.

Morse runner has band condition settings you can select like: QRN, QRM, Flutter, QSB and–yes–even LIDs.

Quite often I’ll accurately reply to a weak station and they’ll send “AGN?” and I repeat their report until they copy it.

Morse Runner is so convincing that when I’m in the middle of a big pile-up, I honestly forget I’m communicating with a computer application! I get some of the same excitement and the–let’s be frank–anxiety I would get on the air during a live CW pile-up.

If you select the “LIDs” Band Conditions setting, it’ll crack you up with how accurately it portrays annoying operators who either deliberately or unintentionally try to interfere!

Here’s sample audio from a session this morning:

The screen shot above shows the settings I used for this very tame session with no large pile-ups. If you’re a seasoned CW contester, pump up the speed and the activity level then you’ll feel like you’re on the Heard Island DXpedition!

In short: Morse Runner is giving me the courage to do my first CW park activation. I highly recommend it!

Click here to check out Morse Runner and download.

CW Club lookup for logging programs

Many thanks to Paul Evans (W4/VP9KF) who writes:

If you’re using a logging program and you need instant look-up of who is in what CW Club, you can use the following page, which I look after:

CW Club Call History files: http://www.g4bki.com/club_call_history.htm

These files are kept up-to-date on a daily basis. You’ll see that this currently lists memberships of 69 different clubs, including the vast majority of QRP clubs, a surprisingly high number.

One exception: G-QRP [who] told various sites that used their (previously open) membership list to cease using it.

Thank you, Paul!