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.