Because I receive so many tips from readers here on QRPer, I wanted way to share them in a concise newsletter format. To that end, welcome to QRPer Notes, a collection of links to interesting stories and tips making waves in the world of radio!
Check out this short article by John (AE5X) where he uses a CW Flea transmitter and Belka-DX receiver for a QRPp POTA activation. I love what John’s done here and I think I may have to give the CW Flea a go too someday.
We need to do a little time-travel in this short field report…
In 2022, I accumulated so many activation videos that I have a small backlog and some that got lost in the shuffle. The following activation report is one that I meant to post in November, but it got lost in the shuffle.
So let’s time-travel…
On October 20, 2022, I pulled into Tuttle Educational State Forest to enjoy quick a POTA activation with my Penntek TR-45L.
I remember now that I wanted to hold off publishing this video until John (WA3RNC) at Penntek had time to ship the bulk of the radios from his first production run of fifty units. Demand has been very high for this sweet rig and for good reason: it performs brilliantly, is fun to use, sports amazing audio, and (with its Apolloesque design) strikes the right nostalgia chord for many of us.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
I had a very short window to do this activation–a maximum of 45 minutes or so. You see, I still had a good 1.5 hour drive back to the QTH and needed to pop by the post office to pick up parcels before they closed at 17:00 local.
I had planned to pair the TR-45L with my PackTenna random wire antenna and use the 45L’s Z-Match tuner, but I discovered I’d packed the PackTenna 20M EFHW instead.
Many thanks to Scott (KK4Z) who shares the following post from his blog KK4Z.com:
by Scott (KK4Z)
Men in general, have a habit of naming things. All sorts of things, cars, body parts, you name it, we will cast our own nickname on it. I thought I would share some of the names I have given my radios. Typically, I don’t just throw a name on something. I am around it for a while, before I decide what I am going to call it. My poor dogs, when I first get them, I go through a plethora of names until I find one that fits. My latest dog, a boxer mix from the pound was named Hawkeye by them. I got him home. I had to get to know him.
He ended up being Andy but likes to be called pup-pup. Maybe his last owners called him that. He’s still very much a pup but is going to be a great dog.
I will start with my main radio which is an Icom IC-7610. It is my workhorse radio. It is probably the best radio I have ever owned. I have worked the world on it and it does everything I need it to do. I call it Zeus, the king of all my other radios. I believe there is not a radio out there that can do anything that Zeus cannot do. Any improvements over Zeus would be marginal.
I mentioned in a previous post that I’m quite behind publishing activation videos. Much of this has to do with the fact that I’ve been a pretty busy activator (by my standards) the past couple of months.
While I don’t make field reports and videos for each of my activations, I usually do one or two per week. Two is typically the max I can post because my field reports take 3-4 hours each to write-up and publish; it can be difficult carving that kind of time out of my busy schedule!
In order to catch-up, I’ve decided to post shorter format field reports from time-to-time; especially for reports like this one where I give quite a lot of info and detail in my activation video.
Immediately after wrapping up our SOTA activations on Black Mountain, we decided to hit a park on the way back to the campground. Desoto Falls National Recreation Area made for a short detour and a nice way to relax after a few miles of hiking that day.
We pulled into the parking area of Desoto Falls and set up our stations in the picnic area placing some distance from one another to help with any interference.
I pulled out my trusty Penntek TR-45L and two 28’/8.5m lengths of 24 gauge wire. I extended the radiator vertically and unrolled the counterpoise on the ground. The wires were connected to the binding posts on the back of the TR-45L (red=radiator, black=counterpoise). I used the built-in manual Z-Match tuner to match the impedance in short order.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I feel pretty lucky to live in an area that is flush with POTA sites. It’s not that we have numerous individual parks, but the parks we do have encompass massive portions of the area.
One park, in particular, that literally runs around and through Asheville, NC, is the Blue Ridge Parkway. When I’m in town and have a few free minutes, it’s quite easy to hit the BRP; it’s never far away. I can set up along the parkway pretty much anywhere, or go to the Visitor’s Center or Folk Art Center if I want to operate from a picnic table. In addition, the Mountains To Sea Trail runs along large portions of the parkway, so it’s very easy to hit it as well.
On Wednesday, September 28, 2022, I took my daughters to a class and had the better part of an hour to play radio. The BRP’s Folk Art Center was only a 10 minute drive from their class, so I made a beeline for the site as soon as I dropped them off.
I had the amazing Penntek TR-45L packed in my car, and decided to pair it with my Tufteln End-Fed Random Wire antenna.
Many thanks to Mark (W8EWH) who shares the following field report:
An Afternoon POTA Activation with the PENNTEK TL-45L
by Mark (W8EWH)
I have a hard time resisting new QRP radios, and I have an equally hard time resisting getting outdoors when late October brings 70F (21C) temps to Michigan. Days like these are especially sweet given we saw the first snow here last week (no accumulation – but still…). For me there was no better way to enjoy this unexpected weather gift than with an early afternoon POTA activation with my newest QRP radio, the PENNTEK TL-45L.
The TL-45L is the latest radio from WA3RNC, joining the TR-35 and TR-25 in his online store. It’s a 5-band, 5-watt CW transceiver covering the 80, 40-, 30-, 20- and 17-meter bands. That in and of itself is not particularly noteworthy. But when you look at this radio, you’ll immediately see what makes it different.
The retro look for me is unlike anything I have seen in a modern QRP radio. It frankly looks like it was removed from an Apollo Command Module. From the front meter to every knob and switch, this radio just begs to be fiddled with. And each knob and switch serve a function that means no longer needing to dig through menu after menu to find where the narrow filter is switched in because of nearby QRM, or so I can slow down when my CQ POTA is responded to by a slower CW call.
The speaker is located on the (left) side of the radio, a feature many smaller QRP radios don’t have, though headphones can be used via a front mounted jack. The radio sounds great – I think the radio’s case provides a nice sound chamber.
The TR-45L comes with a couple of options, neither of which I chose to add to my order. One is a built-in rechargeable battery (5200 mAh), and the other an antenna tuner. I have plenty of batteries, and normally use resonant antennas.
With the Monday late morning temperature approaching 70 I packed the car with radio gear, and my wife, and we headed out to Island Lake State Recreation Area (POTA K-3315) to activate this park with the TR-45L for the first time. My wife is not a ham but often comes with me to POTA activations. While I set up, activate, and then pack up, she enjoys the outdoors with a magazine and crossword puzzle, and sometimes, like today, a light lunch. Usually, once the activation is complete, we’ll go for a hike on park trails.
Island Lake is about a 20-minute drive from my house. Its 4000 acres is a mix of open fields and hardwood forests surrounding Kent Lake and the Huron River. Today it was warm enough that someone was using a paddle board on the lake.
I have found a set of picnic shelters on elevated ground overlooking Kent Lake as a great place from which to activate. I worked North Pole Alaska from this location on 20M CW using my IC-705 with 10W into an EFHW last May.
Once at the shelter I set up my EFHW (KM4ACK kit) in a sloped configuration using a conveniently located mature tree and my throw line. It was roughly in an East/West orientation. Over the preceding weekend, I added PowerPole connectors to the provided power cord, and programed both internal CW keyer memory slots. These are activated using either dit or dah paddle when I toggle Play using the provided switch. Of course, I did a little POTA hunting using the home antenna to familiarize myself with the TR-45L’s operation. The learning curve is short with nothing hidden deep behind any menus.
With the radio and antenna ready to go, I set up HAMRS on my iPad, spotted myself on the POTA website, and started calling CQ POTA on 14.0615. Over the course of the next 35 minutes, I worked a total of 30 stations on 20M and 40M (most on 20M) at which point I basically ran out of hunters. Not bad for a weekday afternoon. I packed up and went on a couple mile hike with my wife.
The TR-45L is an absolute joy to use.
I forgot to put it in CW Narrow mode at first, and when nearby QRM popped up, I was able to add this in with the throw if one switch. QRM gone. (Note, this setting – wide vs. narrow filtering – must not be retained after the power is shut off or the battery is disconnected.)
It sounds wonderful. I used the side speaker the whole time as my wife doesn’t seem to mind, although the random guy who wandered in with a laptop to get some work done on a warm fall day decided to find somewhere else to work. There are front mounted jacks for headphones, paddles and a straight key. Even a rear mounted jack for an external speaker. The built-in speaker can be turned off and on via a toggle switch. The two CW memory slots are easy to fill using your paddle. The front meter can show power output or SWR based on toggle switch position, and you are alerted to high SWR via a front mounted red LED.
I waited a while to get this radio. Recent supply chain issues caused unexpected delays, but it’s available for order now in factory-built form and most definitely worth the wait. Kits will eventually be available. Check out all the TR-45L details here.
Last month, my buddy Steve (VA3FLF/KM4FLF) was in North Carolina visiting family and we hoped to meet up in person at some point. Thing was, both of our schedules were pretty busy with various family activities and projects.
On Wednesday, September 21, 2022, we found an opening in the evening that coincided with a trip to do a little caregiving for my parents. We agreed to meet up at Lake Jame State Park (K-2739) which was on my way and also convenient to Steve.
Steve is also a fan of Parks On The Air, so why not fit in an activation? No better way to spend time with POTA family than at a POTA park, right? Right!
I arrived at the park around 18:30 local (22:30UTC) and set up MM0OPX’s 40 meter end-fed half-wave.
I only had one radio with me at the time: my prototype Penntek TR-45L.
At that point, the TR-45L had not yet been released and was in the very final stages of Beta testing. I was waiting on one more firmware update to bring the radio up to what would eventually be version 1.
Since I was still waiting on the final update that sorted out the CW message memory recording function (and boy did it–the final version is benchmark) I didn’t use message memories during this outing.
I offered Steve a hand at the TR-45L, but he claimed he wasn’t a heavy CW operator–he was interested in helping me with logging, though. How could I refuse that?
Turns out, if you go to Canada for nearly two months, when you return home you’re going to have about two months worth of catch up.
It’s all explained in one of Einstein’s theories. If memory serves, Einstein stated:
“One cannot simply ignore stuff for two months and expect no repercussions. Time lost must be accounted for due to the principles of the conservation of energy. Plus…what in creation were you thinking?”
When we returned from Canada in early August I had some pretty big plans about the parks and (especially) summits I would hit here in North Carolina. But after returning, I quickly realized I had so much work to do around the house and a number of DIY jobs I’d postponed at our investment property. They all immediately took priority.
Indeed, in the one month span after returning from Canada, I only performed three park and no summit activations. There was a three week period of time without activations of any sort. I simply didn’t have the time to fit anymore in my schedule. This all gave me a serious case of activation withdrawal.
If you’ve been following my field reports, you’ve no doubt noticed that I never do multi-hour activations at one site unless I happen to be camping at a POTA park.
I’m asked about this fairly regularly (why I don’t do longer activations to achieve Kilo awards, etc.) but the truth is I make POTA/SOTA fit in my busy family schedule. This often equates to short (30-60 minute) activation windows.
Then quite often, I’m on the road or doing errands in town and realize I have a short opening for an activation, so I squeeze it into the day. This is why I always have a fully self-contained field radio kit in my car. At a moment’s notice, I can set up a station, and play radio.
In a way, I find this style of quick activation fun, too. “Can I seriously validate a park during this short window of time–?”
These activations remind me of that scene in A Christmas Story where the father gets a small thrill out of timing himself as he changes a flat tire on the side of the road. I totally get that.
Except with me it’s deploying antennas instead of managing lug nuts.
Friday, September 2, 2022 was a big day for me. On the way back from visiting my folks that morning, I spent a couple of hours at the Shelby Hamfest.
The Shelby Hamfest typically has the largest outdoor tailgate market in all of North Carolina and likely one of the larger ones in the southeast US. I had no items on my wish list, I just wanted to see what was there.
This was the first hamfest I’d attended in a little over a year. It was a lot of fun and I got to meet a number of friends and readers/subscribers.
Driving home after the Shelby Hamfest that early afternoon, I realized I was passing dangerously close to the Clear Creek access of South Mountains State Park.
I had a couple of errands to run back home before the post office closed at 17:00 that day, but in my head I believe I had just enough time for a quick activation. The total amount of detour driving would only be about 15 minutes; I’d just need to keep the activation (including most set up and pack up) under 45 minutes or so.
At the last minute, I took a right turn and headed to the park!
Fortunately, the one lonely picnic table at the Clear Creek access was unoccupied.
I grabbed my IC-705 kit and a new antenna!
The MM0OPX QRP End-Fed Half-Wave (EFHW)
A few weeks prior, Colin (MM0OPX) reached out to me and asked if I would consider testing a new high-quality, highly-efficient QRP EFHW he’d designed.
Of course, there’s nothing new about an EFHW–it’s one of the most popular field antenna designs on the planet–but Colin’s goal was to make one with the lowest insertion loss possible in a compact, lightweight (50g), and durable format.
I say he succeeded.
In fact, this activation was actually the second one where I used Colin’s QRP EFHW. The previous day, I paired it with a then very Beta version of the Penntek TR-45L at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).
In short, the antenna made for a wildly successful QRP activation. Here’s the QSO Map (you’ll need to click and enlarge to see the number of contacts):
The Penntek TR-45L was still quite new at the time and even though I got John’s (WA3RNC) blessing, I didn’t post the activation video and mini overview on YouTube. Keep in mind the TR-45L was still in Beta so not all features had been finalized.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve now invested in a Pro account with Vimeo that allows me to post completely ad-free videos that my Patreon supporters can enjoy and even download. I recently discovered that YouTube unfortunately inserts ads even though I have monetization turned off. I pay for Vimeo’s bandwidth and server space, so I also can control the ad experience completely (basically eliminating any possibility of ads!).
My Patreon supporters are the ones making it possible for me to pay the annual $420 fee to Vimeo and I am incredibly grateful, so I pass along the benefit to them.
Many thanks to QRPer.com reader, Charles, who recently sent me the following question:
Thomas, I’ve watched a number of your videos and read your activation reports. I’m studying for both my Technician and General class license right now and hope to pass both in one session later this month. I’m also learning CW.
I consider myself an audiophile and appreciate good audio fidelity. I know that amateur radio modes are narrow and by their very nature have less audio fidelity than commercial broadcast modes.
I’ve already obtained a Kenwood TS-590G for the shack. It was practically given to me by a friend. I’m very pleased with its audio fidelity especially when I connect it to an external speaker.
Next year, I plan to buy a dedicated QRP field radio. Out of the radios you’ve owned, what are your favorites in terms of audio fidelity. Also, what are your least favorites?
What a great question, Charles!
Being an audiophile, I’m sure you understand that this is a very subjective area: one person’s idea of good audio might not match that of someone else’s.
I can only speak to how I evaluate a transceiver’s audio.
What makes for good audio?
A lot goes into what I would call “good audio” in an amateur radio transceiver.
To me, “good audio” means the radio
produces clear accurate sound,
has stable AGC (Auto Gain Control),
has audio properties that benefit amateur radio modes like CW and SSB,
has enough audio amplification to be heard in noisy field conditions,
and has little to no internally-generated noises leaking into the audio amplification chain. (In other words, a low noise floor.)
In contrast, radios with poor audio
have a high noise floor or produce audio hash making it difficult to hear weak signals,
have speakers that become distorted at higher volume levels,
have poor AGC characteristics which lead to pumping,
and are simply fatiguing to listen to during extended on-air sessions (like long activations or contests).
I would add that a good receiver front end is an important part of audio because it keeps imaging and overloading at bay, thus producing a less cluttered and noisy audio experience.
My field audio favorites
I’ll keep this discussion limited to QRP field portable radios. There are numerous 100 watt desktop radios with excellent audio because those models aren’t trying to limit their current consumption like field radios typically do. They can use more amperage to benefit audio amplification and push a much larger speaker.
In addition, I’ll limit the scope to field radios with built-in speakers. There are some great CW-only radios out there that lack an internal speaker but have great audio (thinking of the Penntek TR-35 and the Elecraft KX1, for example); choice of earphones or headphones can have a dramatic effect on audio. That’s a different discussion altogether!
Best audio: My top three picks
The following are three of my favorite portable field radios in terms of audio quality. I limited myself to three simply because all of the radios I use regularly in the field have what I would consider good and acceptable audio.
The following are simply stand-outs, in my opinion: