Tag Archives: Ham Radio

SOTA: “Inside the Summit-Obsessed World of Ham Radio”

Many thanks to Steve (WG0AT) who shares the following article which features him and some of his SOTA friends:

(Source: Outside Magazine)

Inside the Summit-Obsessed World of Ham Radio

It’s like biathlon, but for geeks

On a gray Friday afternoon last spring, Steve Galchutt sat high atop Chief Mountain, an 11,700-foot peak along Colorado’s Front Range. An epic panorama of pristine alpine landscape stretched in almost every direction, with Pikes Peak standing off to the south and Mount Evan towering just to the west.

It was an arresting view, and the perfect backdrop for a summit selfie. But instead of reaching for his smartphone, Galchutt was absorbed by another device: a portable transceiver. Sitting on a small patch of rock and snow, his head bent down and cocked to one side, he listened as it sent out a steady stream of staticky beeps: dah-dah-di-dah dah di-di-di-dit. “This is Scotty in Philadelphia,” Galchutt said, translating the Morse code. Then, tapping at two silver paddles attached to the side of the radio, he sent his own message, first with some details about his location, then his call sign, WG0AT.

At this point, a prying hiker could have been forgiven for wondering what, exactly, Galchutt was doing. But his answer—an enthusiastic “amateur radio, of course!”—would likely only have further compounded their confusion. After all, the popular image of an amateur-radio enthusiast is an aging, armchair-bound recluse, not some crampon-clad adventurer. And their natural habitat is usually a basement, or “ham shack,” not a windswept peak in the middle of the Rockies.

Galchutt fits part of this stereotype—he’s 75—but the similarities end there. An avid hiker and camper, his preferred shack is atop a mountain, and the higher the summit, the better.

Another rapid-fire burst of dits and dahs sprung from the radio. “Wow!” Galchutt said, “Spain!”

Nearby sat Brad Bylund (call sign WA6MM) and Bob and Joyce Witte (K0NR and K0JJW, respectively). Together, the four are part of a group called Summits on the Air (SOTA), an international, radio version of high pointing. […]

Continue reading the full article at Outside Magazine.

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Mission RGO One with the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable Antenna

While I tend to use small, field-portable transceivers on many of my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, I also love using  tabletop transceivers when I have a picnic table available or decide to use my portable table. Tabletop radios often provide more power output when needed and better audio from their built-in speakers.

Although I have an Icom IC-756 Pro transceiver, and an Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier that I can pair with my KX2 and KX3 (or any QRP transceiver for that matter), my favorite tabletop fiel;d radio at present is the Mission RGO One 50 watt transceiver.

If you’re not familiar with the Mission RGO One, I’d encourage you to read my comprehensive review over on the SWLing Post.

In short: it’s a brilliant, simple, tabletop transceiver that’s very happy in the field and a pleasure to operate. My RGO One has the optional built-in antenna tuner (ATU). The rig designer is allowing me to keep this unit on extended loan as I help him evaluate and test updates and upgrades.

While I’ve used the RGO One on numerous POTA activations, I don’t believe I’ve ever made a video of it in use, so I decided to change that last week with another one of my real-time, real-life, unedited (lengthy!) videos of this activation (see video below).

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

As I’ve mentioned before, I love activating Lake Norman State Park because it has numerous spots for setting up my gear. While I actually prefer activations that require a bit of hiking, it’s nice from time-to-time to activate a state park that has so many widely-spaced picnic tables under tall trees.  That, and my right ankle is still healing after I twisted it in December, so I’m avoiding any proper trail hiking until it is better.

I made this activation of K-2740 on January 4, 2021.

Gear:

On the Air

This was my first activation of 2021!

Since I have Internet access at Lake Norman, I can check out the  POTA spots page on my phone or tablet and self-spot as well as see spots of other activators.

When I have Internet coverage like this–and I’m not pressed for time–I try to work as many Park-To-Park contacts as I can before I start calling CQ POTA myself.

As I mention in the video, one of my 2021 goals is to obtain a valid activation of each park with only five watts or less. This means that each time I start an activation, at least my first ten stations logged will be with a max of five watts of power. I would actually make the goal for all of my 2021 activations to be 100% QRP, but I evaluate gear regularly and part of that process is to push wattage limits so it’s simply not realistic.

This isn’t actually a crazy goal because a number of my transceivers max out at five watts or less, and I know it won’t be an impediment as I activate parks in CW.

In SSB, though? It makes it a bit more challenging, but certainly not impossible and I’m always up for a challenge!

So I started this activation by trying to work a few Park-To-Park contacts but first cranked the RGO One power down to five watts. Trying to be heard over other hunters in SSB was difficult, but CW was much easier.

After working a few P2P stations, I started calling CQ on the 40 meter band in SSB. I worked about four stations, then switched to CW and worked seven more on 40 meters.

Since I’d snagged my ten contacts for a valid activation, I moved up to 20 meters phone (SSB), cranked up the power to over 40 watts, and started calling CQ POTA and racked up an additional 11 contacts for a total of 26 contacts logged at this activation.

Here’s my QSOmap:

Click to enlarge

Note that I left the callsign labels off the map this time to make it a little easier to see the geo location of the stations I worked.

Real-Time Video

I made a video of the entire activation and posted it on my YouTube channel. As with my other videos, there are no edits and no ads. It’s all real-time and includes my many goof-ups! But hey–mistakes are all a part of a real activation!

Again, if you’d like to know more about the Mission RGO One, you might check out my review on the SWLing Post.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts or questions and thank you for reading QRPer.com!

Upgrading my Yaesu FT-817 with G7UHN’s rev2 Buddy board

This article was originally published on the  SWLing Post.
Last August, SWLing Post contributor, Andy (G7UHN), shared his homebrew project with us: a genius companion control display for the venerable Yaesu FT-817 general coverage QRP transceiver.

Andy’s article caused me (yes, I blame him) to wax nostalgic about the popular FT-817 transceiver. You see, I owned one of the first production models of the FT-817 in 2001 when I lived in the UK.

At the time, there was nothing like it on the market: a very portable and efficient HF, VHF, UHF, multi-mode general coverage QRP transceiver…all for $670 US.

In 2001? Yeah, Yaesu knocked it out of the ballpark!

In fact, they knocked it out of the ballpark so hard, the radio is still in production two decades later and in demand under the model FT-818.

I sold my FT-817 in 2008 to raise funds for the purchase of an Elecraft KX1, if memory serves. My reasoning? The one thing I disliked about my FT-817 was its tiny front-facing display. When combined with the embedded menus and lack of controls, it could get frustrating at home and in the field.

I mentioned in a previous post that I purchased a used FT-817ND from my buddy, Don, in October, 2020. I do blame Andy for this purchase. Indeed, I hereby declare him an FT-817 enabler!

FT-817 Buddy board

When I told Andy about my ‘817ND purchase, he asked if I’d like to help him test the FT-817 Buddy board versions. How could I refuse?

Andy sent me a prototype of his Version 2 Buddy board which arrived in late November. I had to source out a few bits (an Arduino board, Nokia display, and multi-conductor CAT cable). Andy kindly pre-populated all of the SMD components so I only needed to solder the Arduino board and configure/solder the cable. I did take a lot of care preparing and soldering the cable, making sure there was no unintentional short between the voltage and ground conductors.

Overall, I found the construction and programming pretty straight-forward. It helped that Andy did a remote session with me during the programming process (thanks, OM!). Andy is doing an amazing job with the documentation.

I do love how the board makes it easier to read the frequency and have direct access to important functions without digging through embedded menus. While there’s nothing stopping you from changing the program to suit you, Andy’s done a brilliant job with this since he’s an experienced FT-817 user.

The Nokia display is very well backlit, high contrast, and easy very to read.

“Resistance is futile”

I mentioned on Twitter that, with the backlight on, the FT-817 Buddy makes my ‘817ND look like it was recently assimilated by The Borg.

Don’t tell any Star Trek captains, but I’m good with that.

Andy has a rev3 board in the works and it sports something that will be a game-changer for me in the field: K1EL’s keyer chip!

For more information about the FT-817 Buddy, check out Andy’s website.

Of course, we’ll keep you updated here as well. Many thanks to Andy for taking this project to the next level. No doubt a lot of FT-817 users will benefit from this brilliant project!

Proud ham family…

Apologies in advance, but I need to brag a bit…

This weekend, both of my middle school-aged daughters passed their amateur radio exams with colors flying. Volunteers with the WCARS VEC were kind enough to meet us at a local park to conduct the test in a covered picnic area.

At the test site I was more nervous than my girls were, but I really had nothing to fear. Both were hitting a 95% pass rate on practice exams in advance.

Even though the girls have obviously learned a bit about radio through osmosis in this household, they did all of the exam prep on their own. Funny story: I remember allowing them both to send CW to my buddies K8RAT and WD8RIF on my lap when they were maybe 2 years old? Of course, they had no idea what they were sending, but they loved playing with the “clicky thing” (my paddles). I think WD8RIF actually copied their code to paper. 🙂 

I purchased both of them an FT-60R handheld radio from Universal Radio. I think these HTs should serve them well for many years to come!

I know one of my daughters is already chomping at the bit to pass her General now.

Anyway, thanks for letting me brag a bit here. I’m certainly a proud papa!

Adding CW mode to the EA3GCY DB4020 Dual-band 40 and 20M QRP Transceiver Kit (Part 2)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Frank (ON6UU), who shares the following guest post which expands upon his previous DB4020 article:


The EA3GCY DB4020 transceiver now has CW mode

by Frank Lagaet (ON6UU)

After telling you all about the DB4020 SSB build I’m here with the CW part of the kit,  let’s say this is part 2.  At a certain moment Javier let me know the CW interface kit was ready for shipment and some week later it was delivered to my QTH.

Again, a well packed kit arrived in a brown envelope, components and boards well packed in bubblewrap.  I found even a board I did not expect which can hold a push button,  a switch and the connector for your morse key.  Javier thinks of everything it seems!

Unpacking the bubblewrap gave me this result,  all components in 2 bags.  In the bigger bag another 2 bags with 2 printboards,  one for the CW interface,  one for the CW filter.  Great !!  Checking the material bill resulted in all components there,  another thumbs up.

I started, of course, immediately building it because I wanted CW in the transceiver as soon as possible.  I don’t do much in SSB mode anymore and I already started missing CW on the DB4020,  so I started my KX3 to listen to while I was populating the boards.  I never thought CW was going to have this impact on me! …. ..

I started building the CW interface,  again starting with all small items.  I soon saw that the 2 relays which need to be soldered in were ideal to protect all components when the board is upside down, so I soldered them in very quickly.  I then soldered in all other components ending with the elco’s.

Next phase was the CW filter.  This board is small and came together in a blink of an eye, no problems there, the long legs of the 3 and 4 pin headers went in last.

The following day, I made all wire connections and soldered a 13pin connector,  leaving one pin out since I want to have the option to choose the width of the CW signal I’m listening to.  By cutting the FL CW + pin and adding an additional switch, I have now 500Hz or 2400Hz.  Great option, for very little effort and simple.  Another thumbs up here.

Now it was simply a matter of inserting the sub boards in the main board and all should be working.  And it did!  Hurray!  The 500Hz filter works perfectly,  filtering away all above or below stations nearby my operating frequency.

This is the result of the soldering work,  2 small boards which need to be inserted in the main board:

The CW interface still needs the 13pin header of which I cut one pin and mounted a switch to have the 2400Hz width.

The IC you see in the middle of the CW interface is the KB2 keyer which gives you several functions like 4 memories and beacon mode.  The 4 potmeters are used to set the level on 40 and 20 meters,  to set the delay between TX and RX switchover and to set side tone monitor level.   The keyer also provides functions as keyer mode A or B,  straight key function and can be set for speeds between 1 and 50WPM.   WPM speed can be set in 2 different ways.  Handy!

Here a picture of the CW filter inserted on the main DB4020 board.

The CW interface is inserted at the side of the main board,  notice the 2 wires which go to the switch to allow switch-over between 500 and 2400Hz.

(Wiring still needs to be cleaned up in this picture.)

Finally, the result:  a good working multimode QRP transceiver with 2 bands.  It should be possible to make close to medium range with it as well as DX,  even with QRP power.

And while I was building I also made a new key for this radio,  it is made out of a relay and cost nearly nothing,  looks good doesn’t it ?  hihi.

Homebrew key

The key, when in practiced hands (fingers hi), can do 50 WPM without a problem. My friend HA3HK does without blinking an eye at 40WPM with this kind of key and tells me that he can go faster if needed.  Me? I’m going it a bit slower.

Battery pack

As this radio is only using little power (0.4A in RX,  1 to 2A in TX depending the power you set it) I thought,  let’s make a battery pack for the radio.

The first plan was installing it in the box.  I did not do that because the batterypack is also powerful enough to feed my KX2 and other QRP transceivers. Since I can use it with all of them, a loose battery works out better for me.

I started with an old laptop which had a broken screen and some other malfunctions,  but still had a good battery,  although I needed the battery connector of course.  A piece of wood to mount the connector on was my next goal.  And since I still have another laptop using the same batteries, I can charge the battery without problems.  Simple, but good and it weighs much less than a gel cell battery.

The battery provides me with 12.5V and some 5Ah.  Enough to last for hours on RX and for sure good enough to activate 2 SOTA sites in one day.   It doesn’t look great but works great– that is what matters and to test it was more then good.  Next will be getting the battery pack in a nice box.  Better to re-use stuff than throwing it away I’m thinking.

I need to do something about the cover of the OLED display,  there is still some work there to make it look nicer.

Some video can be seen on YouTube :

Finallym I’d like to thank you all for reading my articles about the DB4020. I had big fun soldering, tinkering with the box, making the key, and batteryholder/batterypack.  My Hungarian friend HA3HK told me it looks a bit like a spy radio. …. ..

I also include one more time the link where you’ll find this kit :

https://www.qrphamradiokits.com/

73 TU ee

Frank

ON6UU


Thank you so much, Frank. No doubt, you had a lot of fun putting this excellent little kit together.

Implementing a filter switch was a fantastic idea and, obviously, not terribly difficult to do.

Based on the videos, the DB4020 has a low noise floor and very good receiver characteristics. I’m impressed that the CW portion of the radios has so many features as well, such as a memory keyer and beacon mode.

I also love how you reused that 5Ah laptop battery! I think that could almost give you a full day of SOTA activations at those consumption levels!

Thanks again for sharing this with us, Frank! We look forward to your future articles!

The ALT-512: A new general coverage QRP transceiver

Note: The following has been cross-posted from our other radio site, the SWLing Post.

There’s a new QRP transceiver on the market: the twelve band ALT-512 by Aerial-51.

At first glance, you’ll see a similarity between the ALT-512 and the LnR Precision LD-11/Aerial-51 SKY-SDR. The LD-11 and SKY-SDR, are very similar, save the LD-11 is marketed to North America (via LnR) and the SKY-SDR to Europe. The SKY-SDR had several iterative upgrades, most importantly the dual-threaded software used in the firmware, which cut CPU latency in half. Both the LD-11, SKY-SDR and now the ALT-512 are made in Europe.

Click here to read my review of the LnR Precision LD-11.

ALT-512 Waterfall display (Photo: DJ0IP)


According to Aerial-51, the new ALT-512 is built on the LD-11/SKY-SDR platform, has the same chassis design but has many improvements over the SKY-SDR:

  • 4m Band
  • 4.5 in. Color Display
  • Improved receiver pre-amplifier
  • 2 transistors in the transmitter PA (was 1)
  • Waterfall in addition to the Pan-Adapter Bandscope
  • 4 additional front-panel buttons
  • User friendly front-panel adjustment of often used parameters (formerly embedded within the software menu)
  • FULL TS-2000 command set implementation
  • Built-in Sound Card; Digi Modes run using only one USB-2 cable connected to the PC. No additional hardware required.

If the ALT-512 performs as well as or better than its predecessor, it’ll certainly be a great little QRP radio and an excellent general coverage receiver for HF broadcast listening.

Pricing has not yet been posted, but Aerial-51 plans to make this transceiver available in the next few weeks.

Click here to check out the ALT-512 on the Aerial-51 website.

Robert talks uBITX and navigating the world of used radio gear

Robert’s uBITX QRP transceiver kit with fire red chassis.

Many thanks to my buddyRobert Gulley (AK3Q), who shares the following announcement from his blog All Things Radio:

I have posted two new articles in the Reviews and How-Tos section. These were both previously published in The Spectrum Monitor magazine earlier this year.

The first article deals with buying used and new equipment, while the other article is a review of the uBITX QRP transceiver. Thanks go to Ken Reitz for graciously allowing these to be posted after their initial publication!

And thank you, Robert!

Readers, I highly recommend both of these articles.  In his used equipment guide, Robert makes practical suggestions for navigating the world of pre-owned radio gear and shares some important tips. His uBITX QRP Transceiver article is essential reading for anyone who has considered building this incredibly affordable kit.

Scott’s Elecraft KX3 Go-Box

[Note: this article was originally posted on my shortwave radio blog, The SWLing Post.]

Many thanks to Scott (AK5SD) who shares the following photos and bill of materials for his custom Elecraft KX3 go-box:


IMG_0531 IMG_0534

IMG_0532 IMG_0535 IMG_0537 IMG_0536

Bill of materials

The panel was custom laser cut by Front Panel Express. I have the CAD
file and I’m willing to share it with anyone who wants to reproduce my effort.

Amazon.com
Case B&W Type 1000 Outdoor Case with SI Foam
You won’t use the foam, so you can buy the version without it if you can find it cheaper.

Battery Anker Astro Pro2 20000mAh Multi-Voltage (5V 12V 16V 19V)
Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank
Avoid look alike batteries and the next generation model from Anker. The newer Anker
battery is only capable of delivering 1.5A from the 12V supply. Two look alike batteries
I tried did not have the auto-off feature that the Anker does.

Vetco.net
ACC2 and I/Q Jacks 2 x 2.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (PH-666J-B)
Phone, Key, and ACC1 3 x 3.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (High Quality) (PH-504KB)
Mic Jack 1 x 3.5mm 4 Conductor Jack Panel Mount (PH-70-088B)
12V IN and CHG IN 2 x 2.1mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2112)
12V OUT 1 x 2.5mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2512)

You also need plugs and wire for interconnects. I bought some 2.5mm (CES-11-5502)
and 3.5mm (PH-44-468 for stereo, PH-44-470 for 4-conductor) audio cables with right
angle plugs and just cut them to use for the signal lines going to the KX3. I did the same
thing for the 2.5mm (PH-TC250) and 2.1mm (PH-TC210) power cables. A couple of
caveats are in order. The Phone, Key, and ACC1 interconnects require low profile
right angle connectors. The cables I listed above won’t work. Vetco part number
VUPN10338 will work. The power cables I’ve listed above use 24 gauge wire. This
is a little light, but the runs are small so I think it is OK. You can use higher gauge
cables if you can find a source.

USBfirewire.com
USB OUT USB 2.0 Right Angle Extension Cable (RR-AAR04P-20G)

Digikey.com
L Brackets 8 x Bracket Rt Ang Mount 4-40 Steel (612K-ND)
These L brackets are used to mount the KX3 to the panel and the panel to the case.
For mounting the KX3, I use a little piece of stick on felt on the bracket to protect the
KX3’s cabinet from damage. Replace the KX3’s screws with #4-40 Thread Size, 1/4”
Length Steel Pan Head Machine Screw, Black Oxide Finish (see below). For the panel
mounting, use #6-32 Thread Size, 3/16” Length self tapping sheet metal screw. You
may need to cut the tip off in order to not puncture the outside of the case.

RG316 BNC Male Angle to BNC Female SM Bulkhead Coaxial RF Pigtail Cable (6”)
This is not the original interconnect I used for connecting the KX3’s antenna output to
the panel. However, I think it is a better option for new designs. The caveat is that you
will need to verify the hole in the panel matches the bulkhead connector on this cable.
There will be a little loop in the cable when you are done, but that is fine.

Micrfasteners.com
Screws for Sound Card 2 x FMSP2510 – M 2.5 x .45 x 10mm
Screws for KX3 Bracket Mount 4 x MSPPK0404 – 4-40 x 1/4
Screws for Countersunk Panel Holes 8 x FMPPK0403 – 4-40 x 3/16
Screws for USB Connector *** 2 x FMPPK0406 – 4-40 x 3/8

I’m pretty sure these are the right length for the USB connector. I am doing it from memory.

Amazon.com or eBay.com
Soundmatters foxL DASH A Wireless Bluetooth Soundbar (OPTIONAL)

Sonoma Wire Works GJ2USB GuitarJack 2 USB Portable Audio Interface (OPTIONAL)
(Make sure you get the USB model, not the 30-pin model.)

This is optional if you want a built-in sound card interface for a waterfall display using iSDR. Make sure to eliminate the holes in the upper left corner of the panel if you are not installing. You will also need 2.5mm x 10mm screws to mount this to the bottom of the panel (see below).

bhi Compact In-Line Noise Eliminating Module (OPTIONAL)

In my opinion, the KX3’s noise reduction is totally ineffective for SSB communications. This external noise reducing DSP is one solution, albeit an expensive one, to that problem. It is only for SSB, not CW or digital modes. It is also available from GAP Antenna Products.

IMG_0530


Scott: you have done a beautiful job here and have spared no expense to make a wonderfully-engineered and rugged go-box. No doubt, you’re ready to take your KX3 to the field and enjoy world-class performance on a moment’s notice. 

Though I’ve never used them personally, I’ve noticed others who have taken advantage of the Front Panel Express engraving service–certainly makes for a polished and professional front panel.

Again, many thanks for not only sharing your photos, but also your bill of materials which will make it much easier for others to draw inspiration from your design!

AK5SD_QSL_Card

Speaking of designs, when I looked up Scott on QRZ.com, I noticed that he also sports a QSL card (above) designed by my good friend, Jeff Murray (K1NSS). Obviously, Scott is a man with good taste!