If you’ve been here long, you’ve no doubt noticed that I have a sizable collection of QRP radios I take to the field.
Although I have some favorites, I try to rotate all of my radios in the field and even pair them with different antenna combinations as much as possible. If I only owned one field radio, I’d shake things up by pairing my one radio with different antennas deployed different ways during my POTA/SOTA activations.
I get a real thrill out of testing different combinations, actually, and I feel like it keeps me on my toes because I don’t get too comfortable with any one setup in the field.
No doubt, using a wide variety of radios gives me a more informed perspective when beta testing or evaluating new radio models.
That said, there is one radio in my collection that has been overlooked too many times: my Icom IC-703 Plus.
Many of you have noticed this, in fact. I’ve gotten several emails and comments asking, “So Thomas…when are you taking the 703 out again–?” 🙂
When I purchased the ‘703 from my buddy Don a couple years ago, I imagined taking it to the field very regularly. I always thought it was a cool little radio and with its built-in ATU, it’s quite compact for a tabletop-style rig.
Thing is, each time I’ve taken it to the field, I’ve had issues with the electronic keying that I did not have when using it in the shack. It’s quite sensitive to RF, so end-fed antennas seem to create unwanted dits and dashes in the keyer.
The simple fix, I hoped, was simply using an in-line common mode choke to keep the RF away from the radio. Thing is, the IC-703 has an SO-239 antenna port and two of my common mode chokes are BNC. I meant to purchase a BNC-to-PL-259 adapter at the Shelby Hamfest, but picked up the wrong item (I should have been wearing my glasses).
I’m a pretty organized field radio guy if I do say so myself.
In all of the hundreds of field activations I’ve attempted since the days of the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, I’ve only arrived on site two or three times and discovered I was missing a key component of my field kit. Out of those times, only once do I remember that the missing component prevented my activation (it was hard to power my radio without a battery and power cable). The other times, I was able to improvise.
or one that’s modular, where component families (transceiver, antenna, power, etc) are in their own packs and can be moved from pack to pack.
I always prefer having dedicated field kits, but they’re pricey because they require a dedicated antenna, battery, radio, key/mic, earphones, pack, connectors, and sometimes even their own throw line.
I assemble modular kits around a particular radio and antenna system prior to leaving the QTH to go on an activation. I have a method for doing this which prevents me from leaving stuff behind.
Save this time…
On Thursday, April 7, 2022, before leaving the house for a quick overnight trip, I grabbed my SOTA pack and disconnected my Elecraft KX3 from the KXPA100 amp in the shack.
My KX3 is used a lot in the shack–along with the Mission RGO One and Ten-Tec Argonaut V–it’s one of my staple rigs at the QTH. I didn’t think I would have time to complete an activation on this quick trip, but if I did, I wanted to use the KX3. I also grabbed one of my pouches that contained a 12V battery, distribution panel, and power cord.
Also inside the pack was my Elecraft KX2 kit. It was in there from a previous activation, so I just left it in the bag.
When a window of opportunity for a quick activation opened on Friday, April 8, 2022, I grabbed it. I didn’t have time to go far afield, so I chose to activate the closest park to where I was running errands that day.
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
As I was driving to the site on I-40, it dawned on my that I might have forgotten to pack an antenna.
Not a good feeling, but I was only 10 minutes from the park, so there was no turning back.
You see, a couple days beforehand, I did a bit of an antenna inventory at the QTH–I took all of my antennas out of their packs, checked them over carefully for any damage or fault points and made notes.
I normally keep a 20M EFHW antenna in my KX2 field kit, but I remembered that also I removed it during the inventory.
Once I arrived at Fort Dobbs, I opened my SOTA pack and confirmed that I had no antenna. Not a one.
I kept a clear head and realized that if I wanted to complete the activation, I needed to do one of two things:
Search the car in case, somehow, I had a spare antenna floating around in there. Unlikely, but I’d feel like a fool if I aborted an activation with an antenna in the car.
Go to a nearby hardware or dollar store and find some cheap wire. The KX3 has a brilliant internal ATU to match pretty much any wire I connect to it.
After making my first activation of Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, I knew I’d be back in short order. It had all of the things I love about a great POTA site: it’s accessible in my weekly travels, has tall trees, a huge shelter, and friendly park rangers. Plus, it’s chock-full of history.
Does it get any better?
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
On Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I stopped by Fort Dobbs for a quick activation.
Even though I arrived only shortly after the park opened and I was obviously the only guest there, I checked in at the visitor’s center to get permission to do the activation.
Not only did they grant me permission, but they also allowed me to set up in their main covered picnic area.As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe you should always ask permission at small historic sites like Fort Dobbs. For one thing, I want the staff to know where I am and what I’m doing. Unlike vast state and national parks, their spaces to set up may be more limited and the last thing you’d want to do is set up shop in a space where they plan to do a scheduled outdoor presentation in period costume.
In addition, some historic and archaeological sites may have restrictions on the types of antennas you employ. I’ve known of some, for example, that require fully self-supporting antennas that need no trees nor no stakes in the ground.
The folks at Fort Dobbs couldn’t be more friendly.
On the air
I decided I’d pull out the trusty 28.5′ speaker wire antenna and see how well it might perform while paired with the mAT-705 Plus and Icom IC-705.
Set up took all of three minutes.
With super lightweight antennas like the speaker wire antenna, there is rarely a need to tie off the end of the throw line to hold the antenna in a tree and in position. Unless there are strong winds, the weight of the throw line itself will hold it in place. Deploying the antenna and connecting it to the ATU and transceiver may have taken me two minutes.
Relying on trees can be a little unpredictable; some sites may have trees that are too short, some with branches that are too high, some that are too dense with branches, and/or trees may not be ideally situated for a field activation. When things aren’t ideal, it might take much longer to deploy a wire antenna in a tree. This is one reason why so many POTA and SOTA ops choose to bring their own collapsible support–it gives them a degree of predictability when setting up at a new site.
Fortunately, at Fort Dobbs, there are numerous trees that are ideally situated for effortless field deployments.
I hopped on the 40 meter band and started calling CQ.
Fortunately, propagation was in pretty good shape, and I worked a string of contacts.
It was nice to experience a more “normal” activation where propagation wasn’t completely in the dumps.
I eventually moved up to the 20M band and did a little hunting before finally packing up.
All in all, I made eleven contacts–just one more than the 10 required for a valid POTA activation.
I could have stayed and played radio for a much longer period of time–and I was tempted for sure–but I chose to fit in one more activation that morning at nearby Lake Norman State Park. So I packed up and moved on.
Here’s the QSO map of my contacts at Fort Dobbs:
I made another real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation as well. You can view it via the embedded player below, or on YouTube:
I didn’t work any DX at Fort Dobbs, but I was super pleased with the speaker wire’s performance using only 5 watts of output power. I imagine if I would have stayed on the air for another hour or two, I could have worked a couple stations in Europe. It was a tad early for much activity on 20 meters.
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.
If you can, find some time to chase or activate a park or summit near you! Or, if you have an opportunity, just take your radio outdoors, hop on the air, and have some fun. It’s good for your soul!
And a friendly reminder: you don’t need a fancy radio or fancy antenna. Use what you’ve got. Pretty much any transceiver you’re willing to lug to the field will work. And antennas? As you can see, even $4 of speaker wire conjures up some serious QRP magic!
It’s funny: when I started my POTA journey in earnest during February 2020, I plotted out all of the state parks in the part of western North Carolina where I travel the most.
At the time, POTA had only a wee fraction of the community it does now and many of the parks and game lands were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones)–parks that had never been activated. Fort Dobbs was still one, in fact, and I had marked it on my POTA game plan spreadsheet.
My mission back then was to rack up unique-to-me parks as I explored the region; in doing so, I ticked off quite a few ATNOs. It was fun!
I focused on parks a little further afield first. This provided me with a sense of adventure and travel during the first round of Covid-19 lockdowns.
At the end of 2020, I realized I had never activated Ft. Dobbs State Historic site which was, ironically, one of the lowest hanging fruit sites around. It’s only, perhaps, 30 minutes from where I travel each week.
I suppose Fort Dobbs has been “out of sight, out of mind” until I saw a tweet from Andrew (N4LAZ) who activated Dobbs on August 6, 2021. I mistakenly assumed that the only spots to set up on site were around the periphery of the parking lot. This time of year, in the middle of the hot and humid summer? I’m less enthusiastic about open parking lot activations.
Andrew mentioned that the site actually has an excellent covered picnic area where he was allowed to perform his activation.
That’s all I needed to know!
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, I traveled to Fort Dobbs State Historic Site and quickly found the covered picnic area Andrew had mentioned. It was, indeed, ideal for POTA!