As I mentioned in the previous post, the IC-703 has not gotten a lot of outdoor time this year because I’ve had issues with the electronic keyer locking up when using the radio with end-fed antennas.
Of course, there are a number of ways to mitigate or radiate the RF that could be coming back to the radio, so at Fort Dobbs, the previous day, I used a simple common mode choke. It seemed to do the trick.
I was curious if using a common mode choke might be the only solution needed to solve this problem, or if I’d need to perform a mod to my IC-703.
I was ready to test the IC-703 again.
I had a fair amount of antenna options in the trunk of my car, so on the way to Tuttle Educational State Forest (on Friday, October 7, 2022), I considered a few options to shake things up a bit.
Since I was feeling comfortable that the common mode choke was taking care of things, I decided to push the limit a bit and deploy an end-fed random wire antenna. I didn’t have any of my mini portable 9:1 random wire antennas in the car (PackTenna, Tufteln, etc.), but I did have another solution: the Chameleon MPAS Lite.
The cool thing about the CHA MPAS Lite is that while it’s primarily designed to be a vertical antenna with counterpoise, it can be reconfigured and deployed a number of ways including as a simple end-fed random wire antenna.
After giving it some thought, I decided it might be fun to deploy it as an inverted V random wire. In fact, here’s a diagram from the MPAS Lite manual of exactly what I planned to do.
I’d be using the MPAS Lite counterpoise as the radiator, so I wouldn’t have the optional second counterpoise as seen in the illustration above. That’s okay, though, because I was feeding the antenna with Chameleon’s 50′ RG-58C/U cable with in-line choke; the shield of the coax would act as the antenna counterpoise.
Have you ever had an activation that didn’t quite go to plan?
Yeah. Me too.
Truth is, it’s just the nature of field radio that things sometimes break, behave erratically, and/or some key component goes missing. When you’re lugging your gear around in a pack and deploying it outdoors in a wide variety of settings it’s a much less “controlled” environment than, say, in the shack.
When a problem arises, you have to work that problem in the field to get on the air and complete the activation.
If you watch my activation videos, you’ll note that I try to include everything in them–including mistakes and mishaps.
Mishaps that lead to a failed activation happen less frequently than they did when I first got started in the world of field radio. Over the years, I’ve refined my field kit and made sure I’ve got the right spare components and tools to solve minor issues I might encounter.
That said, I felt like my activation attempt of Lake James State Park on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 was a total comedy of errors. It seemed like an extra layer of complication presented itself each step along the way as I tried to activate that park.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
The plan was to leave my home around 17:15 local, arrive at the park around 18:00, set up my Icom IC-703 Plus, pair it with a 40 meter end-fed half-wave, hop on the air and work stations until about 19:00 (23:00 UTC) at the latest, then pack up and continue driving another hour to my final destination.
Here’s how it actually played out…
I had all of my bags packed and ready to go at 17:15, but as I was ready to leave, I discovered a plumbing leak under our kitchen sink. It required immediate attention (obviously) so I grabbed my tools, pulled everything out from under the kitchen sink, found the leak, and sorted out the issue. Thankfully, I had some spare plumbing parts at the house. This only delayed my departure about 30 minutes.
I arrived at Lake James around 18:30 and had the entire park to myself.
My real goal at the park was to take the Icom IC-703 Plus out for a little fresh air. It had been ages since I put it on the air in the field. The last time I tried to use it in the field, the internal keyer was tripping up due to a little RF coming back to the radio from my end-fed half-wave. This is a known issue with the Icom IC-703–it’s more sensitive to RF than any other radio I own.
This time, I planned to eliminate the RF with the inline common mode choke built into my Chameleon 50′ cable.
I grabbed my throw line, MM0OPX EFHW and had the antenna deployed in record time.
You can’t tell from the photos because my iPhone does a great job with low-light, but the sun was setting quickly even as I set up the IC-703. I knew I’d be finishing the activation in the dark, but I had a headlamp handy so wasn’t concerned (again, never leave home without a headlamp!).
I turned on the ‘703 and the 40 meter band was chock-full of signals. A very good sign!
Then I switched the 703’s meter to the SWR setting and sent a couple of dits on an open frequency to confirm a low SWR.
The SWR was off the charts poor, pegging the SWR meter at 9:1 (or worse?).
If you’ve been following this site for long, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Elecraft KX1 [understatement alert].
I owned one for the better part of a decade, then sold it to purchase a KX2 in 2016. I almost instantly regretted selling it.
In 2020 I purchased another KX1 for $300; like my previous one, it was a four band model, with ATU and paddles. In fact, it even came with a number of other accessories like a proper Pelican 1060 case.
I made dozens of POTA activations with this little KX1 and named her “Ruby” (because I tend to name radios that are a permanent part of my collection).
Trouble in paradise
In the summer of 2021, though, Ruby started exhibiting some issues. This was not completely unexpected because:
All KX1s started life as a kit. None were factory assembled and tested by Elecraft. Quality varies based on the original kit builder.
I believe Ruby is pushing 20 years old.
The main issue was, after turning on the power switch, the rig wouldn’t completely power up. Instead of the typical two clicks we KX1 owners are accustomed to hearing, I only heard one click and neither the display nor any of the functions worked.
This was an intermittent issue–the next day it might power up as it should. I continued operating and tried to find the issue myself, but my skills at doing repairs on radios is very limited.
I took Ruby to Dr. Vlado who traced the issue to a faulty encoder. I purchased a replacement encoder from Elecraft (along with a number of other spares) and Ruby was back on the air!
Back on the air for a while…
A couple months later, I discovered that power output would drop to nearly zero watts after about 20-25 minutes on the air. Basically, when the radio would get warm from operating, power output was affected.
Vlado traced the issue to a cold solder joint and repaired it (while also double checking other joints). Ruby worked perfectly for a few more activations…then once again the same issue with power output dropping reared its ugly head.
Right before we left for Canada this summer, Vlado found yet another cold solder joint and made the repair.
Once we were back home from Canada, I put Ruby back on the air. I did a lot of SOTA/POTA chasing from home and took her on a couple activations.
All was going well until a few weeks ago (you may see this in an upcoming activation video) when once again, power output took a nose dive after the radio warmed up from operating.
It appears old Ruby is just littered with cold solder joints.
I brought her home and decided that I would pull her completely apart this winter and re-solder every point on her board.
Parts radio hunt
Last year, I started hunting for a second KX1. I didn’t care if it was fully functioning because I was mainly searching for a parts radio.
The KX1 has become–and you’ll know this if you’ve been looking for one as well– as rare as hen’s teeth. When they do appear on the market, they command a premium.
In a full year, looking pretty steadily, I only found one reasonable deal on what sounded like a quality KX1. I contacted the seller and he told me that within the one hour his ad was published, he received 10 offers. He asked if I wanted to be put on the waiting list if all ten fell through.
“Okay, I guess?”
I blame the KX1 price increase on a few factors:
Elecraft discontinued the KX1 several years ago. No more are being made.
Others are looking for spare KX1s.
The CW renaissance we’re going through (truly an amazing thing!)
The popularity of POTA and SOTA
It is still a very unique and capable field radio
And quite possibly me, being so public about my love and admiration of the KX1 (where’s that foot of mine so I can shoot it?)
If you’ve been looking for a KX1, you’ve no doubt noticed the low supply and high prices.
Frankly, I’ve even felt a bit guilty looking for a second KX1 knowing how few there were on the market.
Then an opportunity
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend and–long story short–I discovered that a mutual friend of ours would be willing to sell me his KX1.
It was a three band model with ATU and paddles.
He was the original builder and, in fact, this was the third KX1 he’d built. I know him and his soldering work; it’s top-shelf and professional.
I knew I’d likely never get an opportunity to be only the second owner of a KX1 and to actually know that the builder is one of the best out there.
He offered it to me for a fair price based on the current market. I didn’t want him to lose money by selling to me, so I agreed.
I’ve already taken the new KX1 on three activations and it’s performing flawlessly. In fact, I believe the built-in ATU is even doing a better job finding matches that the one in Ruby.
I still plan to work on Ruby this winter–it’ll make for a nice relaxing project some cold, snowy day. It’s the same process Vlado would have to go through (and he’d do it without hesitation) but I’d rather do it myself and save his time especially since it’ll be a bit tedious.
As I noted last week, I participated in the W4G SOTA campout at Lake Winfield-Scott Campground in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in north Georgia.
In short? It was amazing!
I thought I’d share a few photos and memories…
Campsite and friends
These SOTA campouts typically involve an announcement via the W4 SOTA group then we all make individual reservations at the chosen campground. Since we’re not reserving the whole campground as a block, we tend to share our individual camping sites with others who might not have been able to reserve a spot.
At Lake Windfield Scott campground, the SOTA group did reserve one large group campsite, but only a couple months ago it was canceled by the park service due to a trail maintenance group that needed it.
Typically, I camp with my friend Monty, but he had other family plans that weekend.
As you can see in the photo above, both of our tents fit on the tent pad with absolutely no extra room to spare. 🙂
It was such a pleasure getting to know Joshua. What a kindred spirit and super nice fellow.
We ended up doing all of our SOTA activations together as you will see in upcoming activation videos and field reports.
Joshua is as pack and organization obsessed as I am. A proper pack nerd! I really enjoyed checking out his bags, cases and all of the brilliant accessories that are a part of his field kits.
He brought both an IC-705 and TX-500 along for the ride. He logs in the field using the HAMRS app (same one I do) but on an iPad Mini (see photo above) and I must admit that the size of the iPad mini is nearly ideal–much better than a phone for logging.
He also used the SDR-Control app to connect wirelessly with his IC-705 and operate digital modes.
We activated a total of three summits during the weekend (Big Cedar,Black Mountain, and Yonah Mountain). It would have been easy to activate six or more if that was the goal–the area is chock full of accessible summits.
On Monday, September 12, 2022, I had one primary objective in mind: to test the Eton Elite Satellite portable shortwave radio.
Many of you know that besides being a QRPer, I’m also an SWL or shortwave listener. Over on my other blog, the SWLing Post, we post news, information, guest posts, and reviews covering the diverse world of shortwave radio and international broadcasting.
Occasionally, I evaluate new receivers and the Eton Elite Satellit is the latest shortwave portable from the Eton Corporation. It was meant to be their flagship, benchmark portable but unfortunately early production units were plagued with a bit of internally-generated noise. On September 12, I was trying to sort out just how much this internal QRM affected the radio’s performance.
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
I wanted to go to a known RF-quiet area to check the Elite Satellit and the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access was an easy detour during my errands that day.
First thing I did after arriving on site was to put the Elite Satellit through some basic paces (AM/SSB, Mediumwave, Shortwave, FM, AIR, etc.). I also compared it with the Tecsun PL-990 portable.
I made a long list of notes and observations to send to Eton that afternoon.
After I finished the tests, I checked my watch and–woo hoo!–I had just enough time to squeeze in a short activation. I only had a 45 minute window, so this activation needed to be a very quick one.
I had a number of antennas in my pack, but chose the excellent PackTenna Mini End-Fed Half Wave that I cut for 20 meters. This is one of my go-to SOTA antennas since it’s compact, rugged, efficient, and easy to deploy even if your only option is a short tree or telescoping mast as is often the case on a summit.
I felt like 20 meters would be a worthy band for the time of day and recent propagation trends as well. Hopefully, it would be productive enough to provide the 10 needed contacts to validate the activation. If I needed, I could use it on 30 meters with either its internal ATU or (more likely) the Elecraft T1 that was also along for the ride.
After returning from Canada this summer, I had a number of projects on the table including three radios to evaluate and a number of DIY projects on our investment house. The home projects took priority, so for the month of August, I did very little in terms of POTA activating.
In September, there was one radio in particular I was very eager to take to the field (besides the Penntek TR-45L). That was my Elecraft KX1, “Ruby.”
Before leaving for Canada, Ruby went into surgery once again under the care of my good friend “Dr.” Vlado (N3CZ).
I couldn’t figure out why she kept dropping power output to nil after being on the air for 20-25 minutes. I knew Vlado would sort out the issue.
Vlado discovered the source was a cold solder joint that was failing when the radio would become warm from operating. He fixed this and checked a number of other spots on the board.
He then tested the KX1 on a dummy load for and hour and she performed flawlessly after the surgery.
He fixed Ruby in early June and then we went to Canada for two months. I never put Ruby on the air in Canada.
After our return to the States, I was eager to take Ruby out to the field again and that’s exactly what I did on Sunday, September 11, 2022.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
Lake James State Park–along with South Mountains State Park–are the easiest parks for me to hit during my nearly weekly travels on Interstate 40. I feel so fortunate that both are superb POTA sites with loads of spots to operate.
I arrived in the late afternoon and to my surprise there was hardly anyone at the park (I think it was a little too close to evening mealtime for families).
I set up my station at a table close to the parking area just to keep things simple. I was looking forward to enjoying at least 30 minutes on the air and seeing just how well Ruby might hold up.
I decided to use the Tufteln End-Fed Random Wire antenna knowing it would be a quick to deploy and frequency agile.
I tried to use the KX1 ATU to tune the random wire, but I wasn’t pleased with the SWR. Frankly, it was doable (1.9:1 on 20 meters), but I wanted something much closer to 1:1 since I was already only pushing 2.5-3 watts output.
Keep in mind, the KX1’s internal ATU is not in the same league as the ones in the Elecraft KX2, KX3, or T1–the KX1 ATU has a much smaller matching range.
Also, I suspect Ruby’s ATU wasn’t built for optimal performance by the original builder. I do plan to re-work her ATU as best I can at some point in the future.
I pulled out the Elecraft T1, put the KX1 ATU in bypass mode, and hooked it up to the antenna. The T1 had no problem at all finding 1:1 matches across 40, 30, and 20 meters, of course.
After sharing a few photos by request comparing the size of the Mountain Topper MTR-3B, MTR-4B, and Elecraft KX2 yesterday, I took a few pmore photos by request comparing those same radios with the Elecraft KX1.
I decided to simply post these on QRPer.com in case they could also be of help to someone else:
At least ninety percentof all of my radio operations happen in the field. Whether I’m in a park, on a summit activation, or I’m out camping, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed “playing radio” outdoors. In fact, it was the joy of field radio––and the accompanying challenge of low-power operations––which launched my labor of love in the world of ham radio.
I’ve been running QRPer.com now for fourteen years, and during that time, the questions I’m asked most deal with selecting a field radio. Turns out, it’s an incredibly difficult question to answer, and we’ll touch on why that is before we dive into the reasons one radio might hold appeal over another for you.
Instead of offering up a list of field radios on the market, and reviewing each one—and, to be fair, there are so many these days—I’ll share with you a series of questions you might ask yourself before making a radio purchase, and follow up with a few bits of advice based on my own experience.These deceptively simple questions will help hone your decision-making. Finally, I’ll note a few of my favorite general coverage field radios and share what I love about each.
Spoiler alert: It’s all about the operator, less about the specs
When searching for a new radio, we hams tend to take deep dives into feature and specification comparisons between various models of radios. We’ll reference Rob Sherwood’s superb receiver test data table, we’ll pour over user reviews, and we’ll download full radio manuals before we choose.
While this is valuable information—especially since radios can be quite a costly “investment”—I would argue that this process shouldn’t be your first step.
I’ve found that enjoyment of any particular radio—whether field radio or not—has everything to do with the operator and less to do with the radio’s actual performance.
A realistic assessment of yourself
The first step in choosing a field radio is to ask yourself a few questions, and answer them as honestly as you can. Here are some basic questions to get you started in your search of a field radio:
Question 1: Where do I plan to operate?
If you plan to operate mostly at the QTH or indoors with only the occasional foray outdoors, you may want a field-capable radio that best suits you indoors—one with robust audio, a larger encoder, a larger display, and more front panel real estate.
On the other hand, if you plan to take your radio on backpacking adventures, then portability, battery efficiency and durability are king
Of course, most of us may be somewhere in between, having park activations or camping trips in mind, but overall size may be less important as we may be driving or taking only a short walk to the activation site. When your shack is a picnic table not too far from a parking lot or even an RV, you have a lot more options than when you have to hike up a mountain with your radio gear in tow.
Question 2: What modes will I operate the most?
Are you a single mode operator? If your intention is to only use digital modes, then you’ll want a radio designed with easy digital mode operation in mind.
If you plan to focus on single sideband, power output may be more important and features like voice-memory keying.
If you plan to primarily operate CW, then the radio world is your oyster because it even opens the door to numerous inexpensive CW-only field radios.
If you plan to primarily operate CW, I would strongly suggest going low power or QRP. I’ve often heard that 5 watts CW is roughly equivalent to 80 watts single sideband. I tend to agree with this. CW field operators hardly need more than 5 watts, in my experience.
My hope was that these little Li-Ion cells might power my Elecraft KX1 long enough to complete a field activation.
The KX1 is a marvel of QRP engineering, in my humble opinion, and it was the first super portable transceiver I owned that could be powered by internal batteries.
When the KX1 was first introduced, Elecraft recommended using non-rechargeable Advanced Lithium AA cells from Energizer and Duracell. These batteries sported a rather flat discharge curve and could power the KX1 for quite a while. Of course, the downside is they’re single-use and expensive. Six of those cells would often set me back nearly $9 or $10. Before I started doing POTA and SOTA, I kept a set of advanced lithium cells in my KX1 for casual, impromptu QRP in the field.
Doing frequent field activations–which tend to have much more transmitting time than casual Qs–it’s just not sustainable to purchase these cells, so I tend to power the KX1 with an external battery.
I couldn’t resist the thought that I could use USB rechargeable batteries in the KX1, so I forked out $60 (mild gasp!) for a set of eight AA batteries (these are purchased in packages of 4).
The cool thing about the Pale Blue batteries is that they can be directly charged from any 5V USB power source. Each battery sports a Micro USB port and its own internal battery/charge management system.
I was well aware these batteries would not power the KX1 for hours at a time, but I was hoping they could for at least 30-45 minutes.