Last week, I activated Pisgah Game Land and Pisgah National Forest (K-6937 & K-4510)–things didn’t exactly go according to plan. I still achieved a valid activations–meaning, I logged ten contacts–but I cut my antenna too short.
In short: I cut my wire antenna too short and my KX1 and KX2 ATUs couldn’t find an acceptable impedance match on the 40 meter band. This pretty much forced me to make do with 30 meters and above unless I modified or switched antennas.
The 40 meter band tends to be my most productive band, particularly on days like last Saturday when I’m operating in the latter part of the afternoon.
Maybe it was stubbornness, but I was determined to make a valid activation with that four-feet-too-short antenna.
I first hopped on the air with my Elecraft KX1 (above) and logged a few contacts on 30 meters. I then tried 20 meters, but the band was dead.
Eventually, I pulled the Elecraft KX2 out of the bag with the hope it might actually find a match on 40 meters, but as I said in my previous post, that darn physics stuff got in the way.
That’s okay, though. Although the sun was starting to set and I didn’t want to pack up in the dark, I took my time and eventually logged ten contacts for a valid activation. I actually enjoyed the challenge.
I complain about my wire antenna, but in the end, it made the most of my three watts by snagging stations from New Hampshire, Ontario, Illinois, Arkansas and several states in between.
Against my better judgement, I made a video of this activation. As with all of my videos, they’re real-time, real-life, and have no edits. (They also have no ads.)
A few readers and subscribers had asked me to include the odd video where I actually do a full station set up including the installation of a wire antenna–that’s what you’ll see in this video:
At the end of the day, this was still an incredibly fun activation.
This was the first time I’ve ever completed a valid activation only using the 30 meter band.
Next time, though, you’d better believe I’ll cut my antenna to be the ideal length for 40 meters and above!
If you use a similar antenna with your KX1, KX2, KX3, or other transceiver, I’m curious what lengths you find work best for 40 meters an above. Bonus points for 80 meters. Please comment!
Typically, there’s a trade off with field antennas:
High-performance antennastend to take more time to install. Some of my highest performance antennas are dipoles, doublets, delta loops, and end fed wire antennas. All of them require support from a tree if I want maximum height off the ground. Some (like the dipole) require multiple supports. While I actually enjoy installing wire antennas in trees, it typically takes me at least 10 minutes to install a wire antenna if it only needs one support and one counterpoise.
Compromised or low-profile antennas may lack performance and efficiency, but are often much quicker and easier to deploy.
In my opinion, field operators should keep both types of antennas in their arsenal because sometimes the site itself will dictate which antenna they use. I’ve activated many sites where wire antennas simply aren’t an option.
That was not the case last Tuesday, however.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
On Tuesday, December 29, 2020, I stopped by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)–one of my favorite local state parks–for a quick, impromptu activation.
I had no less than four antennas in my car that day and Tuttle is the type of site where I can install pretty much anything: they’ve a spacious picnic area with large tables, tall trees, and parking is close by. Tuttle is the perfect place to deploy not only a large wire antenna, but a large radio if you wish since you don’t have to lug it far from the car.
But en route to Tuttle I decided to take a completely different approach. One of the four antennas I had in the car that day was the Elecraft AX1 antenna.
Without a doubt, the AX1 is the most portable antenna I own. It’s so compact, I can carry it in my pocket if I wish.
When I first purchased the AX1, I was very skeptical and assumed it would only work when “the stars aligned”–days with better-than-average propagation and lots of POTA hunters/chasers looking for me.
The first time I used the AX1 in the field, it impressed me (understatement alert).
In all of my AX1 activations, however, I had only operated on the 40 meter band where the antenna’s footprint looked more like a NVIS antenna than a vertical. Meaning, most of my contacts were in neighboring states like Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia (typically, those states are in my 40 meter skip zone).
The reason I hadn’t tried 20 or 17 meters with the AX1 is because I would start an activation on the 40 meter band and accumulate enough contacts to achieve a valid activation. Since I’m often pressed for time, I simply didn’t bother configuring the antenna for the higher bands.
Time for that to change!
The question I wanted answered at Tuttle: could the AX1 antenna work “DX” stations? By DX, I mean POTA DX, so distant states and provinces primarily–not necessarily other countries.
I paired the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 at Tuttle. This was the first time I’d ever tried this particular transceiver/antenna combo.
After setting up, I started on the 20 meter band and called CQ for a few minutes.
The first two stations I worked were in Texas (KF9RX and K5RX).
The third station (W6LEN) was in California.
Honestly, it was/is hard for me to fathom how in the world 10 watts into a tabletop telescoping whip antenna could work a station exactly 2,083 miles (3,352 km)–and three time zones away–from my picnic table. I’m sure W6LEN has a great antenna on the other end, but I bet he would be surprised to learn that my 10 watt signal was being radiated by such a wee antenna.
I then worked stations in Florida (K2WO), Minnesota (N0UR), and New Hampshire (W2NR) and decided to move to 17 meters.
On 17 meters I worked W2NR in New Hampshire once again.
I should note here that each time you work a station on a different band or with a different mode, it counts as a separate contact in POTA. In other words, my contacts with W2NR on 20 meters and 17 meters counts as two logged contacts toward my overall QSO count. I’m very appreciative of hunters who go out of their way to work me on different bands and modes: those extra contacts help me achieve a valid activation in short order.
I then moved to 40 meters and worked stations from Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.
Here’s a video of the entire activation. It’s a long video as it starts at set-up and continues until my last contact. There are no edits in this video–it’s a real-time, real-life deal and contains all of my bloopers:
Note that in the video I had the KX3’s volume maxed out so that it could be picked up by my iPhone microphone. The KX3’s wee internal speaker was vibrating the chassis ever so slightly. On the 40 meter band, it resonated enough that it moved the encoder slightly. Next time, I’ll plan to bring a portable external speaker (if you have any suggestions of good ones, let me know).
I should also add that I’m very pleased with my new Bioenno 3aH LiFePo 12V battery. You can see it in the photo above–it’s slim, lightweight, and very compact.
I purchased it during Bioenno’s Black Friday sale. I was a little concerned it might not have enough capacity to carry me through multiple activations–my other LiFePo batteries re 4.5 and 15 aH–but that does not seem to be the case at all! Not only did it provide nearly an hour of intense use on this activation, but it also powered three activations the previous day–all four activations on one charge! Brilliant!
As I mentioned in a previous post, this was one of those activations that reminded me of the magic of low-power radio. It was incredibly fun!
For all of those phone/SSB operators out there, I will eventually see how successful I can be doing a phone-only activation with the AX1 antenna. I’ll plan to make a video of it as well. I’ll need to plan this for a day when I have more time to spend on the air and at a site where I know I’ll have internet access to spot myself to the POTA network. SSB isn’t quite as effective as CW when operating with a setup this modest. Still–it can be done! It just requires a little more patience. Please let me know if this sort of thing would interest you.
Yesterday, I started the day hoping I might fit in one afternoon activation at a local park. In the morning, however, my schedule opened up and I found I actually had a window of about six hours to play radio!
Instead of hitting a local park, I considered driving to parks I’d been planning to activate for months.
I may have mentioned before that, earlier this year, I created a spreadsheet where I listed of all of the parks I planned to activate in 2020.
Each park entry had the park name, POTA designator, priority (high/medium/low), difficulty level for access, and a link to the geo coordinates of where I could park and possibly hike to the site. I spent hours putting that list together as finding park access–especially for game lands–isn’t always easy.
Yesterday morning, I looked at that sheet and decided to knock two, or possibly three off the list.
I had already plotted the park run, driving to Perkins State Game Land (K-6935) near Mocksville, then to the NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847) in Spencer, and finally Second Creek Game Land (K-6950) in Mt Ulla.
The circuit required about three hours of driving. Here’s the map: When I plan an activation run, I factor in the travel time, add ten minutes extra if it’s my first time at the site (assuming I’ll need to find a spot to operate) and then assume at least one hour to deploy my gear, work at least ten stations, and pack up.
Using this formula, I’d need to allow three hours for driving, plus an additional three hours of operating time, plus a few minutes to sort out an operating spot at Perkins Game Land. That would total six hours and some change.
Knowing things don’t always go to plan, I decided I’d quickly omit the NC Transportation museum if I was running behind after the Perkins activation. In fact, I felt like the NC Transportation Museum might be out of reach, so I didn’t even schedule the activation on the POTA site.
Perkins State Game Land (K-6935)
I arrived at K-6935 a little before noon (EST).
Since this is the week after Christmas, I had a hunch game lands could be quite busy with folks trying out their new hunting gear and I was correct. I passed by the first small parking area and it was packed with vehicles, so I drove on to the second parking area I identified via Google Maps satellite view.
The second parking area was also busy, but was larger. There was just enough room for my car to park between two trucks.
I donned my blaze orange vest–a necessity at any game land–and walked outside to asses the site. In short? It was a tough one. There were no easy trees to use for antenna support and I simply didn’t have the space. I knew folks would walk through the area where I set up my antenna so a wire antenna would have acted a lot like a spider’s web.
I pulled out my trust Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna and deployed it next to the car. I rolled out the counterpoise into the woods paralleling a footpath so no one would trip on it.
Since I had no room to set up outside, I operated from the backseat of my car–it was actually very comfortable.
I pulled out the Elecraft KX3 and hooked it directly to the MPAS Lite–it easily tuned the antenna on both 40 meters, where I started, then later 20 meters.
I very quickly logged 13 stations on 40 and 20 meters.
While on the air, a number of other hunters discovered the parking area was nearly full–some turned around and left. I decided to cut the activation with 13 logged and skipped doing any SSB work. I accomplished what I set out to do here, was short on time, and I wasn’t actually using the game land for its intended purpose. Better to give others the parking space!
I quickly packed up and started the 30 minute drive to my next site.
NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847)
I knew what to expect at the NC Transportation Museum because I’ve visited the museum in the past and, earlier this year, scoped out a spot to activate the park in their overflow parking area.
The museum is closed on Mondays. In general, I avoid activating parks and sites that are closed. I never want to give anyone at the park a bad impression of POTA activators.
In this case, however, the overflow parking area is wide open even when the park is closed and there was no one at the site. I felt very comfortable setting up the CHA MPAS Lite which is a pretty stealthy antenna. Indeed, as I was setting up, I’m guessing it was a museum employee that passed by in their car and waved–no doubt, POTA activators are a familiar site!
I set up my portable table behind the car under the hatchback so I took up the least amount of space.
I used the table primarily so I could shoot one of my real-time, real-life videos of a park activation. Readers have been asking for more of these and I’m happy to make them if they’re helpful to even one new ham.
In the end, I logged 13 stations and didn’t try to work more because I was still on track to activate one more park. I didn’t feel bad about only working 13 stations, because this site has been activated many times in the past–in other words, it wasn’t exactly rare.
Again, since I planned to make a video of the activation, I set up my portable table.
I decided en route to the site, that I’d use the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical at Second Creek. Although I’ve used the more compact Chameleon MPAS Lite at a number of parks–including the two previous parks–I had a great spot to deploy the taller MPAS 2.0.
As with the MPAS Lite, deployment was very quick. the MPAS 2.0 vertical is made up of folding pole sections–much like tent poles. As with all Chameleon gear I’ve ever used, the quality is military grade. Full stop.
I started calling CQ on the 20 meter band in CW this time. Within a minute or so I logged my first contact, followed by five more.
I then moved to the 40 meter band and logged twelve more stations in twelve minutes.
I decided to then give SSB a go as well and logged two more stations for a total of twenty stations logged.
I would like to have stayed longer at Second Creek and even used the MPAS 2.0 on 80 meters, but frankly I was pushing my time limit to the edge.
All in all, it was a brilliant three park run!
These days, it’s difficult to pack more than three parks in my available time–in fact, I think this was the first three park run I’d done in months. During National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in 2016, I’d been known to pack four or five parks in a day–it was so much fun.
Here’s my QSOmap for the day (click to enlarge):
Getting outside on such a beautiful day, driving through some picturesque rural parts of my home state, and playing radio? Yeah, that’s always going to be a formula for some amazing fun!
Tuesday last week (December 8, 2020), I was still on a much-needed weeklong vacation near Charleston, South Carolina with my family. We had the day wide-open to enjoy the outdoors and my wife suggested we find a nice park where I could play radio and we could enjoy a picnic.
I looked on the POTA map and chose the Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (K-3888) primarily because I thought it would be fun to spend some time near a lake.
The drive there was over an hour from where we were staying on John’s Island, but well worth it!
Turns out, it was pretty chilly and windy that day due to a front that had moved through the area during the night. After exploring the area a bit, my wife and daughters decided to enjoy their picnic in the car while I did the activation!
On the air
The spot we found near one of the lakes was ideal for a POTA activation. Although there were numerous large trees that were perfect for wire antennas, I deployed my CHA Emcomm Lite vertical knowing it would also perform well (and it did!)
Because the CHA MPAS Lite is so easy to deploy, I was on the air in a matter of minutes. I decided to stake it in the ground next to the water about 50 feet from my operating position under a tree. You can see it in the photo above (it’s rather stealthy!).
I’m not at all bothered by cold weather, but it was windy enough that my hands did get cold.
I started calling CQ around 17:55 UTC and by 18:34 I had logged a total of 21 stations on both 40 and 30 meters.
POTA hunters will often thank me for activating a park. I always tell them “it’s my pleasure.” Because it is! Just check out the view from my shack!
This is why I love POTA and SOTA so much. I’m a firm believer that radios and their operators are meant to be outdoors!
When I operate outdoors, I tune out everything else in the world and just enjoy the radio time and the outdoors. It’s bliss.
I kept my total time on site less than one hour so my family and I could continue exploring the area and even get a long walk on the beach before sunset.
Here’s a map of the stations I worked with 5-10 watts. Since I discovered this park had never been activated in CW, I made it a CW-only activation:
If you find yourself in the Charleston, SC area, I highly recommend a trip to Bonneau Ferry WMA for some Parks On The Air fun!
I’m currently taking a little vacation time with the family on the coast of South Carolina and Saturday, December 5, 2020, we decided to explore a nearby park and activate it. I happened upon the ACE Basin Project on the POTA website and thought it sounded intriguing. Our plan was to go to the park, perform a quick activation, perhaps hike a bit, then go to the coast for a beach walk.
I’ve been to wildlife management areas and game lands that have been very basic perhaps only featuring a parking area and a trail or two– which is fine, frankly.
But sometimes you happen upon gems like the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge that are so much more!
The visitor’s center and the main gates to the house were closed, but the grounds were still open to the public. We parked in the area just outside the main gates.
Since I had no idea what to expect on site, I grabbed my Red Oxx Micro Manager field kit that had the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna packed inside.
On this vacation, space in the family car was extremely limited, so I only packed the AX1 and the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antennas to pair with the KX2. I left the CHA MPAS Lite vertical in the car assuming I might actually perform the activation back at the parking area once we walked around the main house.
The KX2/AX1 travel kit is incredibly portable and lightweight. That’s the whole kit in the bag in the photo above.
On the air
Turns out, we pretty much had the entire campus to ourselves that day and, as a bonus, there was even an excellent picnic area where I could easily set up the KX2 and AX1 antenna.
I hopped on the air around noon and started calling CQ. I had no internet access on site, but could tell the Reverse Beacon Network and POTA spots page had auto-spotted me because I worked about three stations on CW within the first few minutes.
I started on 40 meters CW, but quickly moved over to phone before converting the AX1 antenna for 20 and 17 meters.
A friend spotted me on the POTA site and I worked a couple more stations on SSB.
After only 15 or 20 minutes on the air, my wife suggested we stay put for a couple of hours. We were all loving the gorgeous weather, wildlife, and beautiful scenery by the pond. She asked our daughters to hike back to the car and grab our picnic lunch. I decided to accompany them and grab the CHA MPAS Lite vertical knowing it would be a much more effective antenna for a longer activation.
The hike was about 30 minutes round-trip (that’s a long plantation driveway!).
After I got back to the site, I installed the MPAS Lite which took all of four minutes. A friend, once again, spotted me on the POTA network and I started calling CQ on 20 meters phone.
I quickly worked stations from Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ontario.
I wanted to hop back to CW mode though, because I discovered K-0520 (this park) had never been activated in CW before and wanted to give CW hunters a chance to put it in the logs.
I worked stations across the US on 20 meters CW from Tennessee to Kansas, from Arizona, to Alaska, and from Iowa to Ontario. Major fun!
I also decided to head further up the band and work AD1C in Colorado on 15 meters (there were no takers on 12 and 10 meters, but I tried–!).
I started around 17:00 UTC and wrapped things up around 19:15 UTC with 34 logged. That may seem like a low QSO count for over two hours, but a good 45-50 minutes of that time I was off air while hiking back to the car and grabbing the MPAS Lite, setting it up, and enjoying a quick picnic with the family.
All in all it was a very memorable day at the ACE Basic WMA. If you’re ever in the low country of South Carolina, I highly recommend a visit. It’s a stunning site with lots of flora, fauna, hikes, and, of course, a great spot for a little field radio fun!
Note: If I worked you during this activation, it may not show up on the POTA website until I’m home from vacation and can create an ADIF file to submit the logs!
Many thanks to Keith (GW4OKT) who recently contacted me, noting that his took his Elecraft K1 to Llyn Brenig (Lake Brenig) in North Wales last weekend, and was impressed with its performance.
His outing coincided with the CQ Worldwide CW contest–a true test of any radio as this is one of the most RF-dense environments you’ll encounter on the CW portions of the HF bands.
Many lesser radios simply fall apart in contest environments like the CQWW.
Not the Elecraft K1, though! Keith noted that he was operating on 20 meters with his GWhip antenna on the roof of his car.
He made the following video:
Wow! I owned the K1 for a number of years and was incredibly impressed with its receiver although I can’t remember if I ever used it in a contest. It’s a brilliant field radio and sports a bullet-proof front end.
I should add, Keith, that I’m not the least bit envious of your Caterham Seven 310 SV. Not a bit. Not me. 🙂
Anyone else love the Elecraft K1 (or the Caterham Seven 310?) Please comment!
A few weeks ago, I posted a report about doing my first park activation with the Elecraft AX1 super compact antenna. If anything, I felt the activation almost went *too* well using such a small antenna. I didn’t want to give others the impression this is all the antenna you’ll ever need–it’s just a brilliant compact antenna designed for convenience and accessibility. It’s a fun field companion and can be used pretty much anywhere.
Yesterday morning, I had a number of errands to run on the south side of Asheville and had not planned to do a POTA activation. While I was waiting on a curbside delivery, however, I was admiring the nice weather and thinking that I might venture out later in the day to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. Part of me knew, though, that if I returned home, I’d get involved with projects and never make it back out to the field.
I always carry a transceiver and antenna in my car, so I opened the trunk and found my Elecraft KX2 transceiver field kit which included the Elecraft AX1 antenna. Technically, that’s a whole station! Why not give it a go–? I’m always up for a challenge.
Since I would be passing by the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home, I quickly scheduled an activation on the POTA website via my phone so that the spotting system would know to grab my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) when I started calling CQ.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I knew this might not be an “easy” activation: I would be using a super compact field antenna that’s quite a compromise in terms of performance, propagation wasn’t exactly stellar, and I was activating a popular (hence somewhat stagnant) park on a Monday morning. Not necessarily ideal ingredients for a successful activation.
I also discovered my phone tripod in the trunk of the car, so decided to make one of my real-time, real-life, no edit videos of the entire successful or failed activation. (Hint: It turned out to be a success.)
At the end of the day, the AX1 continues to impress me. It is a compromise? Yes. Does it perform as well as a resonant wire antenna? No. Can it activate a park as well as my other antennas? Yes.
AX1 QSO Map
No doubt, part of my success with the AX1 is because I’m primarily using CW instead of SSB to complete activations. I’ve made SSB contacts with the AX1, but I’ve never completed full park activations with it yet–in truth, though, I’ve never tried.
In fact, perhaps it’s just a lucky streak, but so far the AX1 has been as effective as many of my wire antennas in terms of simply completing valid park activations in less than an hour. My signal reports aren’t as strong as they would be with, say, my EFT-MTR resonant antenna or Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, but it’s enough to get the job done.
If nothing else, I’ll admit that the AX1 reminds me of the magic of low-power radio each time I use it. When I log stations hundreds of miles away, with such a modest station, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
In short? It’s fun to use.
Black Friday Sale
FYI: I just received Elecraft’s latest Black Friday 2020 ad and noticed that the AX1 antenna package (which doesn’t include the 40M extension) is on sale. Click here to check it out.
Yesterday, my family decided to make an impromptu trip to one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam–the highest point on the BRP.
Of course, it was a good opportunity to fit in a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, but I had also hoped to activate Richland Balsam for Summits On The Air (SOTA) simultaneously.
It being well beyond leaf-looking season, we had hoped the BRP would be relatively quiet, but we were wrong.
Trail heads were absolutely jam-packed and overflowing with visitors and hikers. We’ve noticed a sharp hiker uptick this year in western North Carolina due in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. People see hiking as a safe “social-distance” activity outdoors, but ironically, hiker density on our single-track trails is just through the roof. One spends the bulk of a hike negotiating others on the trail.
The trail head to Richland Balsam was no exception. Typically, this time of year, we’d be the only people parked at the trail head but yesterday it was nearly parked full.
Being natives of western North Carolina, we know numerous side-trails and old logging/service roads along the parkway, so we picked one of our favorites very close to Richland Balsam.
We hiked to the summit of a nearby ridge line and I set up my POTA station with the “assistance” of Hazel who always seems to know how to get entangled in my antenna wires.
Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired KX1 field radio kit.
I carried a minimal amount of gear on this outing knowing that there would be hiking involved. Everything easily fit in my GoRuck Bullet Ruck backpack (including the large arborist throw line) with room to spare.
I took a bit of a risk on this activation: I put faith in the wire antenna lengths supplied with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1 travel kit. I did not cut these wires myself, rather, they are the lengths a previous owner cut, wound, and labeled for the kit.
With my previous KX1, I knew the ATU was pretty darn good at finding matches for 40, 30, and 20 meters on short lengths of wire, so I threw caution to the wind and didn’t pack an additional antenna option (although I could have hiked back to the car where I had the CHA MPAS Lite–but that would have cut too much time from the activation).
I didn’t use internal batteries in the KX1, rather, I opted for my Bioenno 6 aH LiFePo battery which could have easily powered the KX1 the entire day.
I deployed the antenna wire in a nearby (rather short) tree, laid the counterpoise on the ground, then tried tuning up on the 40 meter band.
The ATU was able to achieve a 2.7:1 match, but I don’t like pushing QRP radios above a 2:1 match if I don’t have to. I felt the radiator wire was pretty short (although I’ve yet to measure it), so clipping it would only make it less resonant on 40 meters.
Instead, I moved up to the 20 meter band where I easily obtained a 1:1 match.
I started calling CQ POTA and within a couple of minutes snagged two stations–then things went quiet.
Since I was a bit pressed for time, I moved to the 30 meter band where, once again, I got a 1:1 match.
I quickly logged one more station (trusty N3XLS!) then nothing for 10 minutes.
Those minutes felt like an eternity since I really wanted to make this a quick activation. I knew, too, that propagation was fickle; my buddy Mike told me the Bz numbers had gone below negative two only an hour before the activation. I felt like being stuck on the higher bands would not be to my advantage.
Still, I moved back up to 20 meters and try calling again.
Then some radio magic happened…
Somehow, a propagation path to the north west opened up and the first op to answer my call was VE6CCA in Alberta. That was surprising! Then I worked K3KYR in New York immediately after.
It was the next operator’s call that almost made me fall off my rock: NL7V in North Pole, Alaska.
In all of my years doing QRP field activations, I’ve never had the fortune of putting a station from Alaska in the logs. Alaska is a tough catch on the best of days here in North Carolina–it’s much easier for me to work stations further away in Europe than in AK.
Of all days, I would have never anticipated it happening during this particular activation as I was using the most simple, cheap antenna possible: two thin random lengths of (likely discarded) wire.
People ask why I love radio? “Exhibit A”, friends!
After working NL7V I had a nice bunch of POTA hunters call me. I logged them as quickly as I could.
I eventually moved back to 30 meters to see if I could collect a couple more stations and easily added five more. I made one final CQ POTA call and when there was no answer, I quickly sent QRT de K4SWL and turned off the radio.
I still can’t believe my three watts and a wire yielded a contact approximately 3,300 miles (5311 km) away as the crow flies.
This is what I love about field radio (and radio in general): although you do what you can to maximize the performance of your radio and your antenna, sometimes propagation gives you a boost when you least expect it. It’s this sense of wireless adventure and wonder that keeps me hooked!
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
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
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.
“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?
The seller, who lives about 2 hours from my QTH, described his KX1 as the full package: a complete 3 band (40/30/20M) KX1 with all of the items needed to get on the air (save batteries) in a Pelican 1060 Micro Case.
The KX1 I owned in the past was a four bander (80/40/30/20M) and I already double checked to make sure Elecraft still had a few of their 80/30 module kits available (they do!). I do operate 80M in the field on occasion, but I really wanted the 80/30 module to get full use of the expanded HF receiver range which allows me to zero-beat broadcast stations and do a little SWLing while in the field.
The seller shipped the radio that same afternoon and I purchased it for $300 (plus shipping) based purely on his good word.
The KX1 package
I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous: I hadn’t asked all of the typical questions about dents/dings, if it smelled of cigarette smoke, and hadn’t even asked for photos. I just had a feeling it would all be good (but please, never follow my example here–I was drunk with excitement).
Here’s the photo I took after removing the Pelican case from the shipping box and opening it for the first time:
My jaw dropped.
The seller was right: everything I needed (and more!) was in the Pelican case with the KX1. Not only that, everything was labeled. An indication that the previous owner took pride in this little radio.
I don’t think the seller actually put this kit together. He bought it this way two years ago and I don’t think he ever even put it on the air based on his note to me. He sold the KX1 because he wasn’t using it.
I don’t know who the original owner was, but they did a fabulous job not only putting this field kit together, but also soldering/building the KX1. I hope the original owner reads this article sometime and steps forward.
You might note in the photo that there’s even a quick reference sheet, Morse Code reference sheet and QRP calling frequencies list attached to the Pelican’s lid inside. How clever!
I plan to replace the Morse Code sheet with a list of POTA and SOTA park/summit references and re-print the QRP calling frequencies sheet. But other than that, I’m leaving it all as-is. This might be the only time I’ve ever purchased a “package” transceiver and not modified it in some significant way.
Speaking of modifying: that 80/30 meter module? Glad I didn’t purchase one.
After putting the KX1 on a dummy load, I checked each band for output power. Band changes are made on the KX1 by pressing the “Band” button which cycles through the bands one-way. It started on 40 meters, then on to 30 meters, and 20 meters. All tested fine. Then I pressed the band button to return to 40 meters and the KX1 dived down to the 80 meter band!
Turns out, this is a four band KX1! Woo hoo! That saved me from having to purchase the $90 30/80M kit (although admittedly, I was looking forward to building it).
The only issue with the KX1 was that its paddles would only send “dit dah” from either side. I was able to fix this, though, by disassembling the paddles and fixing a short.
Although I’m currently in the process of testing the Icom IC-705, I’ve taken the KX1 along on a number of my park adventures and switched it out during band changes.
Indeed, my first two contacts were made using some nearly-depleted AA rechargeables on 30 meters: I worked a station in Iowa and one in Kansas with perhaps 1.5 watts of output power.
I’m super pleased to have the KX1 back in my field radio arsenal.
I name radios I plan to keep for the long-haul, so I dubbed this little KX1 “Ruby” after one of my favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck.
Look for Ruby and me on the air at a park or summit near you!