I pushed the last field report and activation video to the front of the line so that I could show how CW message memory keying worked in the TR-35’s updated firmware. It was, in my opinion, a major upgrade!
What follows is my field report from April 1, 2022: my first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35. This video was made a week or so before I learned that WA3RNC was working on the new firmware.
Since I have a busy family life, I always look for opportunities to fit a little field radio time into my schedule.
My policy is to always keep a radio field kit in my car or truck so I can take advantage of any last minute opportunities.
On the morning of Wednesday, April 20, 2022, I was scheduled to take my car in for warranty/recall servicing at the dealership. I decided in advance that if the service could be completed in two hours or less, I’d relax in their waiting room with my MacBook, drink a cup or two coffee, and attempt to make a dent in my email backlog.
If the service was going to take longer than 2 hours, I decided that I’d use one of their loaner/courtesy cars and activate a nearby park.
The dealership is about 45 minutes from my QTH and I’ve activated most of the parks nearby it, save one: Holmes Educational State Forest. I’ve been wanting to activate this park for ages, but my travels these days simply don’t take me in the direction of the park very often; it’s a good 75 minute drive from my QTH.
Uncertain how long the dealership would need my car, I grabbed my SOTA backpack that had a full field kit inside based on the Penntek TR-35 transceiver.
Why the TR-35? Because I was testing new firmware that added a huge upgrade: two CW message memories!
Suffice it to say, I was itching to see how well the new message memories work during a proper activation.
Front of the line
Since this upgrade was just made public, I thought those of you who either own the TR-35 or are plotting to purchase the TR-35, might want to see it in action. For this reason, I pushed this video and field report ahead of all of the others in my pipeline.
The really weird part about publishing this video so quickly is that one of my next field reports and videos will actually feature the first time I took the TR-35 to the field about 3-4 weeks ago! Back then, CW message memory keying wasn’t even on the table.
I arrived at the dealership around 9:00 AM (local) and the first thing I asked was, “So how long do you think this will take?” The representative looked at the work to be performed and said, “Three or four hours, likely. If you’re in a rush, maybe two hours.”
I decided I wasn’t in a rush because I’d much rather be playing radio at a new-to-me park than sitting in a waiting room.
I asked if I could borrow one of their courtesy cars and he replied, “We assumed you might want one Mr. Witherspoon, so we already reserved one for you.”
John (WA3RNC) has just announced a new firmware (V.0.24) upgrade for the Penntek TR-35 that will start shipping in all TR-35 orders starting Sunday April 23, 2022.
The new processor adds two new features:
The ability to record and playback two CW message memories
A function to toggle the display from black with blue characters to solid blue with black characters
Of course, the big upgrade–in my world–is the addition of CW message memory keying and I can confirm that it works very well. More on that below…
Obtaining the upgrade
As John (WA3RNC) states in his announcement:
The good news is that any TR-35 can be upgraded with a simple replacement of a properly programmed plug-in microprocessor, or with the reprogramming of the original microprocessor. No other hardware changes are required.
But…there is bad news. The availability of the Atmega328P-PU microprocessor has gone from “buy it anywhere for $1.95″ in mid-2021″ to “virtually unavailable anywhere at any price” today. Delivery dates are quoted as May of 2023 for orders that I placed last year.
[…]Because of this critical chip shortage, I do not have a sufficient inventory of the Atmega part to be able to send out programmed microprocessors for upgrades. What parts I do have are destined for production of TR-35 and TR-45L transceivers.
Therefore, a TR-35 firmware upgrade will require that the transceiver be sent to me freight prepaid for reprogramming, along with funds for return shipping and insurance of $15.00.
Understand that there is no charge for the actual upgrade reprogramming, only for the cost of returning your unit to you.
I think is excellent customer service, actually, and a clever way to get around the chip shortage: use the chip you already have.
Again, if you’re buying a new TR-35, it’ll ship with the latest firmware.
If CW message memory keying or inverting the OLED screen colors aren’t important to you, it’s not necessarily worth upgrading because the new firmware only includes the new features.
Testing message memories
Recently, John sent me an upgraded chip with an early Beta version of the new firmware to thoroughly test in the field. I replaced the TR-35 chip myself.
I tested the new functionality in the shack and on a dummy load.
As with most built-in CW message recorders, you’ll need to set the CW speed to a comfortable setting before recording. During the recording process, you need to send accurately spaced characters, else, for example, the software might interpret the “AN” in your callsign as a “P.”
The first time I set memory 1 to “CQ POTA DE K4SWL” it took three tries to get it right. When I set the second memory to “BK TU 73 DE K4SWL” I recorded it in one go.
Recording message memories on the TR-35 is at least as easy as directly recording a message on my KX2 or KX3. I’m pleased.
In the field
Last week, I took the upgraded TR-35 to the field and used the message memory keying during my activation.
It worked beautifully.
John sorted out a clever way to initiate playback without having to make any hardware additions to the radio:
To play a message memory, simply tap the AUX switch down and then hit the left side of your paddle to send message #1 or the right side to send message #2.
Recording messages works the same way, but instead of a short press of the AUX switch, you initiate a long press.
Even this early version of the upgrade worked well.
Field report and video coming soon!
I’m going to push the field report from last week to the front of the line because I know many of you will be curious to see how it plays in the field. Hopefully, I can post this by Monday (April 25).
Today was crazy: when I woke up I thought it would be a good idea to attempt a first activation of DA-0171 in central Berlin after dropping off the kids at day care. So I grabbed my KX2 bag and jumped on my bike.
Shortly later I arrived at the park and pulled up my 40-10m EFHW and started calling CQ on SSB 40m.
It took me about 30 mins to realize that the KX2 was regulating the power down to 5W since both the internal and the external 4Ah battery I took with me were nearly dead.
I had one QSO with a German station and felt I wasn’t really heard anywhere. Then my KX2 started showing “low batt”.
It’s funny because attempting an activation isn’t really what one would call a very important thing, but I do develop quite an ambition if I have decided to get it done. So my only chance was using CW even though I am all but ready for that.
Fortunately I didn’t run into a classic pileup which would have been super overwhelming for me, but instead about every 2 minutes someone would reply to my call and in a very patient fashion – including one P2P QSO with an operator from Italy.
So all in all I completed 13 QSOs on a “low batt” warning of my KX2.
CW literally saved by butt and I am a very happy person. Without your work for the ham radio community this would not have been possible. So many thanks again.
On a different note: Last weekend (kit building seminar with the club) I had my first DX QSO. It was K3LU who picked up my call from my KX2 and a random wire 9:1 Unun antenna (L-Shape on a mast) with 28 and 17ft legs. I had to sit down and open a beer not able to do anything for about an hour but smile. Such a motivating event and I am happy he was such a great operator instantly QRSing with me and repeating his call. I am in touch with him and looking forward to receive his QSL card which will probably go in a frame.
I also finished the TR-35 and must say I am super impressed. It runs very quietly and the reduced concept is something I really appreciate. When will you take it into the field?
All the best & 73s de Leo (DL2COM)
Oh wow, Leo! I love this–thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience.
First of all, thank you for the kind comments–I’m honored to have even played a minor role in your CW activation. In truth, this is all chalked up to your determination and bravery! I’m guessing what you discovered is what I discovered during my first CW activation: not only is it not as bad as I had imagined, but it was actually fun and got the adrenaline pumping! 🙂
I’m now happy to know that when I hit the Low Battery warning on my KX2, I still have some time left! In truth, the KX2 is so efficient, I’ve made six individual CW 5 watt activations on one charge of the internal battery without even hitting the low battery warning.
Again, this story just makes my day. CW is such a fabulous, efficient, and magical mode! Good on you for diving in, OM!
I also think it’s brilliant that you worked Ulis (K3LU). You couldn’t have worked a better op for your first CW contact–he’s the real deal and a wonderful fellow. Not only that, but he has some amazing QSL cards!
And the TR-35? I couldn’t agree with you more. I did an activation with the TR-35 last Friday so a video and field report is forthcoming!
Thank you again, Leo! I hope others share their experience hitting CW for the first time (hint, hint!).
I read with interest your posts about the PENNTEK TR-35 and liked it enough to go ahead and order one for myself. I built it over a couple of weekends of occasional work, and put it on the air. I really like it.
This case fits the TR-35 very nicely. See the attached photos.
There is even room for a couple of cables to be tucked away under the mesh on the lid side. The only modification I made was to add a couple of pieces of packing foam around the top and BNC side to just keep the radio from sliding around a little. But really a person preference of mine.
I thought I’d share this with you so you can share with others that have this radio and are looking for a nice hard case.
What a great tip, Mark! Looks like it fits the TR-35 perfectly. Thank you for sharing this!
John reviews both the build and performance. He even put the TR-35 on his workbench and measured a number of parameters.
In short, the little TR-35 does exactly what it sets out to do and packs a surprising amount of performance.
John and I actually had a TR-35 to TR-35 exchange a few days ago (if not mistaken, the photo above was taken after that exchange). I was lucky enough to catch him as he activated a POTA site in Texas. From this end, his TR-35 sounded fantastic.
I’m putting together a review of the TR-35 which will likely appear in the May or June issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. I’ll eventually send this little TR-35 back to WA3RNC (it was very kindly sent to me on loan) but I do plan to purchase his TR-45 Lite kit when it hits the market later this year. Why? Because I don’t have enough QRP radios, that’s why.
Good morning Thomas, from wintry southwestern Ontario.
I thought I would send you a quick message to share my experiences, so far, with the little TR-35.
Yesterday, around 3pm, I took the above unassembled kit off the shelf and began to melt solder. The smoke test was successfully performed the next morning at 1:30am, after non-stop building (with the exception of a few hours for eating and catching up on a little tv). I measure twice and solder once hihi.