I must thank my buddy John (AE5X) for this excellent tip.
I was watching one of his YouTube videos some time ago and noticed that he added fold-out feet to his Penntek TR-35.
Like John, I appreciate my radios sitting at a bit of an angle as I operate and these fold-out feet looked like the perfect addition to my TR-35.
These feet are designed for laptops which are much heavier than the TR-35 or pretty much any similar field radio.
They arrive in a small package with an alcohol wipe to clean the bottom of the radio. The adhesive pads on the feet are made by 3M and high quality. I doubt they’ll ever fail. Since they’re designed to allow airflow under a hot laptop, I believe the adhesive should withstand hot summer days in the field as well.
“Look at this, Tom! Only the stuff I need and nothing more,” cheerfully noted my good friend and Elmer, Mike (K8RAT). It was Field Day two decades ago, and Mike was gazing at his TEN-TEC Scout. I glanced over, and agreed. “So simple and so effective,” Mike added.
I’ve never forgotten Mike’s sage words. That Scout (Model 555) was about as simple as a then-modern HF transceiver could be: it had a total of three knobs––one for AF gain and IF bandwidth, one for RIT and Mic gain, and an encoder. It also had three mechanical switches on the front: one for power, one for TUNE and NB, and one for CW speed and RIT. It also had an analog SWR/power meter. The Scout used plug-in band modules for each HF band and featured a large segmented bright green LED frequency display that was characteristic of so many TEN-TEC rigs of the day.
And Mike was right. For those of us who appreciate radios with a simple, uncluttered, and an almost utilitarian interface, the Scout was, in vintage parlance, “the bee’s knees.” And that the Scout also performed beautifully was just icing on that cake.
When the Scout first appeared in 1994, embedded menu options and spectrum displays were not yet commonplace among amateur transceivers. Embedded menu items can open the door to near granular level control of your radio’s functionality and features. Then again, if those embedded menus aren’t well thought out, it can lead to awkward operation practices in the field, during a contest, or even during casual operation.
As a radio reviewer, I spend a great deal of time sorting out embedded menu functionality and design. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I so enjoyed reviewing a radio that bucks this trend and reminds me of a time that was simpler, not to mention, easier.
All of his transceiver kits are available at his website WA3RNC.com.
I was first drawn to the TR-35 after reading the opening paragraph of the product description:
“Compact but powerful 4-band, 5-watt CW transceiver kit that uses no tiny push buttons, and without those seemingly endless and hard-to-remember back menus. There is a knob or a switch for every function!”
I considered buying and building the TR-35 kit, but I wanted my eventual review––this one!––to focus on the radio’s functionality and performance. So a factory-assembled and tested unit was right for this purpose, just so that any performance issues wouldn’t be a result of any shortcomings in my kit building skills.
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).
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.