Working on the Elecraft KX1 Kit

The Elecraft KX1 in its new case with a couple of new random wire antennas.

I’ve had my Elecraft KX1 for awhile now. It is a solid little radio. In fact, it is one of my favorite radios. It does so much with so little.

It is Morse Code only, but has enough filter width to handle both USB and LSB phone signals. That means I can listen to the 40m Noontime Net (7.2835MHz) with this radio and then check in to the net. Many of the net control operators copy code.

The radio makes about four watts with a good battery and will operate on the 20-, 30-, 40-, and 80-meter amateur radio bands. It will receive over the entire band and has a decent general receiver in it as well. That means I can listen to the broadcast shortwave bands if I want to.

The internal antenna tuner (ATU; which is really a matching network — it does not “tune” the antenna) is capable, quick, and quiet. It draws 50ma or so when receiving and about 700ma or so when transmitting. That means it is stingy with power and will run on the internal batteries or an external battery for hours.

I have been working on an antenna for it for a few weeks now. I was using the counterpoise wires for the Elecraft AX1 and AXE initially, but learned that the wire for the AXE was a little too close to a half-wave on the 20m band. So there is a better solution.

I built an end-fed random wire antenna, but the radio’s internal tuner was not getting a good match without an external matching transformer.

After some additional research, I decided to cut the random wire to 36-ft and built a second random wire antenna with a radiator length of 28-ft and a triple counterpoise of 16-, 12-, and 8-ft. The Elecraft documentation for the KX1 ATU suggests a radiator of 24-28-ft and a counterpoise of 1/8 wavelength on the bands of interest. So that became the second antenna for the radio.

I received a very nice 9:1 UNUN (unbalanced-unbalanced matching transformer) from Balun Designs in the mail last week. I am so glad I ordered it because their website says they are not making transformers now because of a supply hitch in the toroids (inductors) used for their builds.

I bought a Pelican 1060 case to house the radio and support equipment. The radio, antenna, BNC/banana jack adapter (plugs directly into the radio), headphones, and power cable all fit nicely. I printed and laminated a cheat sheet for the radio and velcro’d it to the inside of the top of the case. I’ll hand letter a list of QRP watering holes on 20-, 30-, 40-, and 80-m and tape it to the inside of the lid as well. All that I need to add to the kit is a battery, key, and maybe a telescoping mast.

That finished my work on the kit for Saturday. What remained to do is to test everything.

After some antenna testing, I put everything to support the portable station, except a battery, in the box.
Sunday morning I rose, worked through my morning routine, then put the radio kit into my pack and got The Girl out for a walk. At our usual place, Silver Saddle Ranch, there were a few cars but not as many as Saturday. We parked at the upper staging area and I let her out to hunt lizards while I got my pack, HT, and her lead.

We had a nice hike while I talked to Older Son on the phone. The smoke was a little less intense than many previous mornings, so I was able to walk without an N95 mask. We met some of the usuals on the trail and greeted them as we passed. Sera enjoyed a brief dip into the (very low) Carson River for a drink and to cool off.

I’ve been parking in the maintenance yard for several weeks for some portable operations. So far I have not been challenged but expect that the ranger will wander by one morning and ask me what I’m doing. I have a story prepared should that happen. I am not sharing (yet).

I parked the rig under a tree for shade, then got out my radio kit, a mast, a battery, a key, and my antenna analyzer. I set up the first antenna and checked the impedance/SWR. The 36ft random wire is still a bit high, even with a matching transformer (9:1 UNUN). So is the 28ft radiator. Both of them will work with the KX1 internal ATU (automatic matching network), but I am not quite satisfied.

I think I will do another test, with a little better setup. I will actually collect some data (measurements) so I can do some analysis of my results. I also think I will cut another radiator 53ft long and maybe a couple more counterpoise wires as well. Then I can test different radiator lengths (28ft, 36ft, and 53ft) with some counterpoise wires of 8ft to 16ft. I can also elevate the counterpoise to see if that makes any difference.

The final test was to connect the antenna to my radio and see if I could make contacts. I connected the 36ft radiator to the matching transformer and tuned 7.29MHz. No one was on that frequency, so I engaged the ATU and it readily found a match. So I returned the radio to 7.2835MHz and checked into the 40m Noontime Net. A relay got me checked in, so the antenna was working.

I chased a few SOTA and POTA stations and finally worked KX0R on a peak in Colorado with about 4w of output power.

Then the smoke rolled in seriously. So I packed up and The Girl and I headed home for a bite of lunch, a shower (for me), and a nap (for both of us). It was a good day.

Kenwood TH-F6A Handie-Talkie

This Kenwood TH-F6A HT came to live with me last week. I am learning how to use it and it is proving to be a great little radio.

My first radio was a BTECH UV-5×3, a slightly rebranded Baofeng radio. I bought it before my license was granted so I could learn how to program the memories and listen to traffic on the local repeaters.

The UV-5×3 is neither a bad radio nor a good radio. They got a bad rap because they are not expensive (less that $100, but not nearly as cheap as the UV-5R), so unlicensed individuals bought them and operated illegally. Furthermore, as they came from the factory they would transmit outside the amateur bands. And finally, they are not as pure spectrally as they should be to comply with FCC regulations. That is, the harmonics off the transmitting frequency are not suppressed sufficiently.

Although the last statement is true, things are not quite that simple. So, those disparaging those radios ignore the fact that those spurious emissions are not strong signals. The radio only makes about five watts. So those “spurs” are less than a milliwatt. It is unlikely that they will cause problems, even if outside of the regulations.

All that said, for a new ham or as a backup HT, these inexpensive (cheap) Chinese radios are not bad. Experience needs time and practice to develop. With experience, every operator learns more about the equipment and what they want to accomplish with that equipment.

A few months after receiving my grant (my license), I was at breakfast with a group of hams. One of them brought in a small plastic security box. In it was a Kenwood TH-D7A(G). This is an HT from more than 20 years ago. He had a number of accessories for it and the asking price was reasonable. The other hams all looked at the radio. When it came my turn, I had already looked it up on the Internet (using my iPhone) and knew it was a solid radio. I asked him “What do you want for it?”

He thought for a moment, then said “How about 350 bucks?”

“Make it $300 and I’ll take it.”

“Done.” So I bought my first brand-name HT. I knew I wanted a better radio than the BTECH. I also knew I did not want to buy a top-shelf radio with a lot of features (such as digital voice modes) without more experience. So the Kenwood was in that sweet spot as far as technology goes.

What I learned is that the audio output of the Kenwood is in best-of-class. The radio is relatively easy to program from the front panel. It has two receivers so two frequencies could be monitored. It has other features that I never used.

The principal drawbacks of the TH-D7A(G) are: 1) It is a large, heavy HT and 2) it requires 19VDC to operate the charger and 3) the battery cannot be charged through the radio. The former made it too heavy to carry in my pocket. A belt clip does not work for me because I often carry a pack in the field. Plus I find an antenna tapping me on the side or back annoying.

I also do a lot of portable operating. I dry camp out in the public lands for fun and for special radio events. I love it out in the desert, especially with friends sharing the campsite and the fellowship that comes with that. I could make 120VAC with an inverter (and keep one in the rig), but it is another piece of equipment to handle and another possible point of failure.

Eventually, I decided I wanted a newer radio. As I read about the Kenwood radios, I learned that Kenwood added a general coverage receiver to their HTs (although it requires an external antenna) that will receive the AM broadcast band and the HF amateur bands, plus the shortwave listening bands. Kenwood also added the 1.25m amateur band to their HT line and eventually added APRS and D-STAR modes.

I still have no use for those modes, but am interested in the 1.25m band (around 220MHz). I am also interested in a smaller radio that will charge from the station power supply. What I found is that the Kenwood TH-F6A is a smaller radio, has the three bands, has a general coverage receiver that will decode AM, SSB, and CW, and will charge from the station power supply (it uses a lithium-ion battery).

Later models introduced those features I still do not care about. Plus, they are more expensive. The current top-line radio is the TH-D74A. It is a lot of radio. Because of the semiconductor shortage and the high demand for radios, they are scarce as hen’s teeth.

I started watching for Kenwood radios on fleaBay. When available, asking price for the D74A radios was north of $750US. I saw them selling for upwards of $1,000US. For that price, a capable HF radio can be bought. I just thought it was ridiculous for me to think about one of these radios and the feature set given where I am and how I operate a HT.

I found the older TH-F6A radio has those features I want. It is a tri-band radio with a general coverage receiver. I also found it has the NOAA weather radio frequencies pre-programmed into it (just like my mobile radio, also a Kenwood). This is a great feature when out of cellular coverage. And it will charge the battery in the radio with a station power supply. That means I could charge it from my LFP batteries when operating portable or dry camping.

Finally, because it is an older radio, the selling prices are much lower than the current offerings. I watched fleaBay for awhile and saw a couple of nice outfits sell for $350–$500US. The latter had almost everything one might want and I regret (slightly) not buying it outright. I finally bought on for about $200US plus shipping.

It arrived last week. The programming cable for my BTECH will allow me to connect the radio to my computer. CHIRP (a freely available software for programming HTs) allows programming the memory of the radio. It charges the battery from main power with the battery attached to the radio (it has an internal battery charger). I have a spare battery (cheap Chinese) and charger. The latter will run of station power.

The TH-F6A is relatively easy to program from the front panel. Operation is similar to my experience with the TH-D7A(G) and the audio quality appears to be just as good. The little radio is a chunk, but can be carried in a cargo pocket. It fits into the top pocket of my Osprey pack with the antenna sticking out above my head. Carried this way, the antenna does not tap on the brim of my hat. (That is extremely annoying to me!)

With a week of experience with this radio, I am already pleased with my purchase. The Kenwood speaker/mike works perfectly with the radio. I clip the speaker/mike to the sternum strap of my pack. I have some things to learn about operating the radio (there are features I have not explored), but I can already tell this was a good upgrade for me. My couple of years of experience since my first Kenwood HT purchase gave me some insight into how I want to use a handheld (I use one quite a lot, really) and what features I require in a handheld.

I ordered a new cover for the right-side ports and a new glass for the LCD. The former was missing (very common) and the latter will replace the existing glass. It has a few scratches on it. I will replace them when the parts arrive.

I will enjoy learning to use this new-to-me radio. I think it is a good move for me. Soon I will offer the older TH-D7A(G) radios for sale. (I have two of them. One served as the mobile radio in my 4Runner for a year or more.) I will likely pick up a second TH-F6A as a backup radio, although I always have the BTECH UV-5×3 as a fallback.

Here is what I think:

  • It is a tri-band radio, 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm.
  • It has a general coverage receiver and will receive AM, SSB, and CW as well as FM.
  • It has the NOAA WX channels pre-programmed for those times when I am out of cell service.
  • It uses a lithium-ion battery, which makes the radio smaller without sacrificing operating time.
  • That lithium-ion battery can be charged from the station power supply (13.8VDC).
  • It is relatively easy to program from the front panel and CHIRP supports the radio.

In short, the features of this radio punches the items on my list that are important to me. These are things I learned over the last couple of years of operating. The 1.25m band is nice, but not a requirement. I am interested in learning more about that band. We (amateur radio operators) need to use the allocation or we will lose it.

Aside: I kept the UV-5×3 in part as a backup, but more to be used as a loaner for new hams who do not have a radio. It has gotten service in several new-ham workshops over the last couple of years.

AAR: 2021 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt

My station for the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.

The NJQRP Club hosts an annual event for low-power (QRP) radio amateurs. The event lasts four hours and the objective is to make as many contacts with other low-power operators as possible.

QRP generally means five watts or less for CW Mode (Morse Code) operators and 10w or less for voice (phone) operators. Operations can be home or portable.

With only a few watts to work with, signals can be very weak and operating in a low noise environment with a good antenna becomes important to making contacts. Because of the noise at my home, I usually operate portable. I have some favorite places to set up my portable station and play radio.

This morning I woke about my normal time, rose, made a cup of coffee, and working through my morning routine. I decided to get out and walk Sera, then go up in the Pinion Hills and set up a station and play a little.

It was smoky this morning, but not as bad as it has been. The day promised to be smoky and hot, with afternoon temperatures near 100F. We got in a good walk and then headed for the operating point just after 0930h local.

On the way, I decided to deploy my kit-built EFHW in an inverted “L” configuration using a 10m telescopic mast. I found a anchor point for the mast (an old juniper tree that was cut off at about 4ft. I ran the wire from the wire winder along the mast, tied it off near the top of the mast, and then lashed the mast (and vertical portion of the wire) to the juniper. I tied a bit of cordage to the end of the wire and used that to tie off on another juniper, forming the leg of the inverted “L.”

This is a good antenna and is reasonably tuned to resonate on 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m. The 30m band was not in the band plan for the event, so there was no loss not having access to the 30m band.

I deployed my Elecraft KX2 with power from a 4.5Ah Bioenno LFP battery and a PowerFilm foldable solar panel. (I was not sure of the state of charge of the battery.) Given I was going to run only 5w, I knew that power usage would be minimal. My station was set up in the shade of the open hatch of my 4Runner.

Doggo was tired and hot, so she laid in the dust out of the sun. I moved an old furniture blanket to give her some relief from the dust. I also retrieved water and her bowl from the rig and both of us got a drink.

I was about an hour late getting started. I am not a serious contester anyway. I just like to play some radio. I started by searching for a few SOTA (Summits on the Air) activators, but quickly noticed two things: First, some kind of contest was ongoing and there were a lot of stations on the air. Second, I heard a couple of stations calling “CQ BZZ” and that meant I could hear Skeeters!

So I abandoned the SOTA chase and focused on the skeeters! I had not prepared a digital log, so paper would have to do. I worked the runners steadily, looking for the loudest first since they were easier to copy. The operators were patient with me as my code skills are still developing. I noticed that a few operators were running slowly, so I added some space between characters to give them a chance to copy my callsign and information. Good operators accommodate slower operators. It is the right thing to do.

Over the course of the next three hours, I logged a dozen contacts. The farthest was in Florida, which is not bad for five watts. I spent most of my time on the 20m band as that is where I heard them. I checked 40m and 15m, but heard no skeeters calling.

Tired, hot, and hungry, I shut down about 1350h local. There was only another ten minutes and I was ready to be out of the heat. So was The Girl.

I took my time packing the station, gave The Girl some more water and drank some myself. The smoke had worsened as the day wore on.

I put the transfer case in 4L and we eased back down the trail to the pavement. Then I switched back to AWD and we drove over to DQ for a bite and a treat. Of course, I ate dessert first (love me some Blizzard) and shared with The Girl. (I always share with her.) Then I nibbled at some chicken strips and shared those with her as well.

It was a good day, despite the heat and smoke. Some of the contacts were difficult, requiring multiple repeats. The signal would fade into the noise and I could only copy part of the exchange. But we worked the radio waves and made the exchange.

One operator called me over the runner’s frequency just as I finished working the station. I thought “how rude!” (oh my, that sounded like Jar Jar Binks!) and did not answer the call. I am not quite sure how I should have handled that call. Perhaps I should have sent “up one” and changed the frequency. I do not know but will ask one of my more experienced operator friends.

In all, I made 12 contacts in 10 different states/provinces. The KX2 performed. I practiced my code. I had fun, even if some of the exchanges were a challenge. I think that is part of the fun or radio and QRP (low power).

Random Wire Antenna Build

This is a random wire antenna I built for my Elecraft KX1 kit.

After walkies on Friday morning I met Tom for a radio demonstration. He wanted to see my RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) setup and see my Elecraft KX3 in action.

Tom is interested in portable operations and that is about all I do. Lately I setup my little radio, the Elecraft KX1 (a four-band CW-only transceiver), with a random wire antenna to a 6m mast. I use the counterpoise wires from the Elecraft AX1/AXE portable antenna as the radiator (40m counterpoise) and counterpoise (20m counterpoise) to form the random wire antenna.

So I used this approach with the KX3 setup. When I checked into the 40m Noon Net (7.2835MHz), I noticed the KX3 threw a “High Current” warning and rolled the power back to 5w. That sent me on a hunting expedition later in the day.

I think the 40m counterpoise from the AXE is too close to 10m long, which is one-quarter wavelength at 40m and a half-wavelength at 20m. That’s not going to work because a half wavelength will be resonant and the impedance will be too high at the end of the wire.

I remembered seeing some work on random wire antennas (which really are not so random in length) so I retraced my path through the Internet. Mike, AB3AP (https://udel.edu/~mm/ham/randomWire/), wrote a small C program and a Matlab/Octave script to calculate the wire lengths NOT near a half wavelength.

I tried to get the Octave code working once before, but failed. This morning was too smoky to be outdoors, so I worked on it some more. I was able to get the code working and calculated the wire lengths that will work for my application. I decided on a 17ft counterpoise and a 42ft radiating element. That should work for 10m–40m on the ham bands.

With the target length of wire, I gathered up my materials (wire, open terminals, shrink tube, mast ring, and link) and tools (diagonal cutters, pliers, wire stripper, crimper, soldering gun and solder) and laid my 100ft tape measure on the floor of the garage. The counterpoise (17ft long) was easy and readily completed.

The radiating element required a little more engineering. I wanted to affix a tab that will fit on the top section of my telescoping masts. I also wanted to affix a link and leave a leader so I can add another 42ft of wire if I want an 80m antenna.

I decided to use a larkshead knot with shrink tube to make the antenna-to-mast connection and also a larkshead knot and shrink tube to fasten the tag to the link. If I add another section of wire for 80m, then I can use the link for strain relieve and an Anderson Powerpole connector or a pair of alligator clips to connect the two segments. I think the 80m add-on radiator will be something I deploy occasionally so I want the ability to attach and detach it when needed.

After a couple of hours of work, I had the antenna assembled and ready to test. It was too hot and smoky this afternoon, so I will probably test it in the morning after we walk.

It was a fun little project to build. I have a couple more of these planned, including a lightweight end-fed halfwave antenna. I have the matching transformer for that antenna. I just have to work out how I want to engineer the remaining parts.

Activating Prison Hill, W7N/TR-075, 27 July 2021

This is one of my favorite radios — the Elecraft KX1. It is code-only, will operate on four bands (20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m), has an internal antenna tuner, and makes about four watts.

On Tuesday, 27 July 2021, I woke to relatively clear air. The smoke was so bad for so many days (and nights). There were nights when I either would not open the windows or when I woke during the night smelling smoke. On those nights, I rose, walked the house, and closed any open windows.

I know we do not have it as badly as those either near or directly affected by the fires. Yet I am careful with my respiratory health having had asthma as a child.

I miss those evenings with the windows open. It cools here about 2200h local and I can shut off the air conditioner and let nature cool the house. So many mornings I will need a blanket because of the wide temperature spread of the high desert. It is one of the things I love about the west.

So Tuesday morning was better regarding smoke. Some overnight clouds kept the temperature from falling as much as it might. But the lingering clouds meant that the sun would not be beating down during morning walkies. So I rose, made coffee, and began my day.

I got The Girl out about 0700h to go walk. She is always excited about our walks and I really enjoy walking her and working with her. We had a good walk, pausing a few times for a little water before we returned to the rig.

With our walk done early and the pleasant morning, I decided to go play radio a little. It was a year ago that I activated Prison Hill, which is not far from my home. I decided it might be fun to do it again this year. So off we went.

This was the view from my operating position on Prison Hill on Tuesday, 27 July 2021. We had some clouds and smoke is visible in the distance from the Tamarack Fire. But the air was much better than on previous days.
I inadvertently took the long way up to the top of the hill and traversed a few parts of the trail that a pickup truck would not be able to do (too long). But the 4Runner is a beast and had no difficulty making the slope changes and crawling up the steep parts. It was a little nerve-wracking though as I intended to find a place to operate the radio and not play on the trails.

Nonetheless, we made it to the activation zone about 1000h. I decided to go simple, so I got out the Elecraft KX1 (a code-only radio), a telescoping mast, and some Bongo ties. I keep a couple pieces of wire in the case with the KX1, so I used a random wire antenna, with one end affixed to the top of the mast with a Bongo tie and the second connected directly to the radio. A short piece of wire served as the counterpoise (the other part of the antenna).

I called QRL? (is the frequency in use) a couple of times on 40m at 7.060MHz. Hearing nothing, I began the process of spotting myself. I knew with only four watts I would not be loud. So some Internet assistance would be useful.

Then I thought the 40m noon net might be warming up, so I tuned to 7.2835MHz. Sure enough, they were taking early check-ins. So in a gap, I sent my callsign. Someone stepped on me. So I sent it again. The Net Control Operator heard me calling, so he said “There’s a CW station trying to check in. Everyone else be quiet while I try to copy him.” It took a few tries before Net Control copied my signal and signed me in. That meant that everything was working well enough. Those 40m Noon Net operators are all very good operators.

So I returned to 7.060MHz, listened a bit to ensure the frequency was not in use, and spotted myself on the SOTA website. I took a deep breath, and called CQ CQ CQ SOTA de AG7TX AG7TX AR. That means I’ll take a call from anyone working SOTA stations and am waiting for a call.

It did not take long before my call was answered. A small pile-up got started and I worked the stations one by one. I admit I was a little bucky and had to call for a few repeats.

I heard an S2S, which means summit-to-summit (highly desirable) so I sent S2S in return and waited for the callsign. He was faint, so I adjusted the filter to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. He was very readable and I recognized the callsign as an active SOTA operator. We made the exchange (which made me quite happy) and I sent TU 73, which means thank you and best regards.

This was my view of Carson City from my operating position on Prison Hill on 27 July 2021. There is some smoke up towards Eagle Valley and Washoe Valley, but Mount Scott is visible and the air was so much better than on previous days.
This went on for awhile. My code copy was pretty ragged as was my sending. The copy was because I have not been doing much radio the last couple of months. The sending was just ragged.

I logged 11 contacts. I decided to stop for the morning and not switch to another band. Had I more time, I would definitely have run 30m and 20m. That would have given some chasers an opportunity to hear me and then call. But I had a 1300h appointment and did not want to be pressed for time. I knew I still had to get down off the hill, get home, and prepare myself for my appointment.

So what did I learn?

  • I need to make a lapdesk or something similar. That will give me a better platform from which to send.
  • A lapdesk would also make logging with either my iPhone or a paper log easier.
  • A short length of coaxial cable (maybe even three feet) would take some pressure off the BNC connector of the radio and I would not feel like the antenna was trying to drag off the radio.
  • A lapdesk would also provide a solid place to hold the radio.
  • I could wind the antenna wire around the mast to stabilize the wire. The short length of coaxial cable would permit me to sit near the base of the antenna and everything would be more secure.
  • I should sit in my chair. I would be more comfortable. I know this would improve my sending and might improve my copy as well.
  • I need to get back to practice copying Morse Code. I also need to operate more.

All in all, I still had fun. I had only one station who called that I just could not get an exchange. It was not all my fault either. His/her sending was choppy and irregular, so I suspect he/she was not an experienced operator… or they were having a rough day like I was.

What a good day it was. The air was much clearer than it had been. The temperature was pleasant. The sun was at bay. Sera was wonderful.

Life is good.

Stampede Reservoir

This is the view from my OP at Stampede Reservoir. It was a nice view, even with the smoke.

After being gone for more than a month, it took me nearly two weeks to regroup. At first, the heat was oppressive here in Carson City. I have one cool room in my house, the living room. The portable A/C is sufficient to keep that room cool, but not the remainder of my house. In general, I am able to cool the rest of my place by opening the windows at night and drawing in the cool evening air.

But on 16 July 2021, the Tamarack Fire bloomed from a single isolated tree to a raging wild fire. I happened to be in Gardnerville to have Sera’s ears checked. I could not get a vet to see her, so we left. As I stepped outside the office, I saw the plume rising in the south and the winds blowing it over the Pine Nut Mountains. I had no idea how bad it would get.

Over the next few days the fire grew as the crews sought to protect structures in and around Markleeville. The aggressiveness of the fire and the rough landscape made fighting it difficult. Winds from the southwest blew the smoke into Carson Valley, Carson City, Washoe Valley, and Reno. At times, Mount Scott is invisible from my house, just a couple miles away.

The air quality has been in the very bad range. We had a few reprieves when the winds turned westerly and moved the plume to the east (poor folks east from us). The management team projects they will have things under control by the end of August. That is a long time to deal with this smoke.

We continue to walk in the morning. I am rising earlier to get us out before the heat rises. Sera does not handle the heat well. So I carry water for her as well as myself. So far, I have not felt the impact of the smoke too much. I can tell it affects me, but not badly.

My friend called and asked to to meet him, his bride, and another couple at Stampede Reservoir Saturday. I was concerned that the smoke would be bad, but agreed anyway. The worst case scenario would be I turned around and returned home. So I agreed.

Sera and I got an early walk Saturday, then I loaded the rig. I made a mistake of driving SH 28 along the northeast side of Lake Tahoe. Traffic was awful and unnecessarily slow. I knew much of the route because I have a project on the Truckee River near Boca Reservoir. It is a pleasant route once off the Interstate.

Boca was very busy with the campgrounds and dispersed camping fairly full. However, because it is a little farther out, Stampede Reservoir was not bad. There were a few rigs down by the water and a few watercraft on the lake.

I found a copse of trees to shelter in. The smoke was bad, but less so than at home. I parked the rig, set up my radio, and watched Sera chase the local squirrels. I made a couple of contacts with SOTA activators before my friends arrived.

I turned off the radio and visited the remainder of the afternoon. We got a little westerly wind and the smoke was a little better. The wind also provided a little cooling.

Before we broke up to head back home, I made a capture of the lake through the trees. It was my only photograph of the day.

It was a good day.

AAR: Field Day 2021

Setup under the pavilion at the Salvation Army gymnasium, I worked Saturday of Field Day outdoors with my portable radio and Morse Code only.

Field Day 2021 was different than the last two years. The previous years involved an expedition to a relatively remote location. The expedition involved significant planning and preparation to ensure everything needed (for both radio and camp) were assembled and loaded into the rig/camper. Once at the operation point, we setup camp and stations far from the noise of civilization. There was much fun and fellowship.

This year I was in Springfield, Missouri, visiting family. I had no plan. I did not even know if I wanted to do any radio activities so far from my friends. After waffling about what I should do, I elected to visit the Southwest Missouri Amateur Radio Club (SMARC).

But first, I need to present a little backstory.

While in Springfield, I programmed two of the local repeaters into my HT — the SMARC repeater and the Nixa Radio Club repeater. Older Son, who has a license, told me he tried several repeaters and did not hear much traffic, with the exception of a Skywarn net during a heavy thunderstorm.

After programming my HT, I regularly listened for traffic and heard little. When in the 4Runner, I called on both repeaters to see if anyone was monitoring them. I knew my programming was good because I could hear the repeater radio respond to my transmission. What I learned is that these repeaters are not heavily used. More on that below.

I checked into the Friday evening SMARC net. There were a few stations checking into the net, but even Net Control remarked that traffic was light. However, Net Control took my call and asked a me a few questions. He was curious about my visit and my background. He also invited me to attend their Field Day operation. It was to be held at the Salvation Army gymnasium not far from my kids’ place.

Saturday morning, I took Sera and we navigated to the Salvation Army gymnasium. When I arrived, I gave Sera a little time to sniff around and eliminate. (I did police up after her.) Then we entered the gym and looked around. There were about dozen folks inside, some working and some just chatting. An additional dozen personnel were outside wrangling a couple of multiband beam antennas.

No one greeted me. No one asked me to pitch in to help and showed me where. I was not quite an invisible person, but close.

After trying to start a couple of conversations without success, Sera and I stepped back outside where we surveyed the scene. The two groups wrangling beam antennas were still wrestling with their prey. Another group started erecting a vertical antenna. A young man was working on a wire antenna. He was raising a fan dipole for the 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m bands using a hitch-mounted telescoping mast. (I thought “Ah, a portable operator.”) He introduced himself as Mike, but I cannot remember his callsign. I helped with one end of the antenna and another person pitched in on the other end. We helped Mike get his antenna deployed and then joined him in the gym where he began assembling his station.

Mike was personable and engaging. He is an active Parks on the Air (POTA) activator and often operates portable. He is a doer.

I didn’t get the other young man’s name, but he works in the SKYWARN (storm spotter) network. He needs his General license and wants to get it. He is also a doer.

After giving Mike a ride to a nearby convenience store to get a drink and some lunch, Sera and I met the kids for lunch at a local Italian restaurant. I really like it and will visit again. Then we returned to the gym to see what was up.

There was not much. Mike was one of three operators who were working the bands and was focused on what he was doing. So, Sera and I left the building and walked the perimeter of the large field adjacent to the gym building.

When we returned to the parking lot, we found another ham, Patrick, assembling a portable antenna. He uses a vertical wire either wrapped around a Black Widow mast or suspended from a tree limb. He uses one of two low power radios (QRP rigs). As he prepared to setup his station in the back seat of his vehicle, I asked him if he thought the pavilion with a roof and shade might be more comfortable than the back seat of his vehicle.

“Maybe,” he said.

I moved my rig near the pavilion and then got out my Elecraft KX2, a telescoping mast, my end-fed halfwave antenna, and a battery. I had my station set up in about fifteen minutes. Patrick was working on his as well. He had moved to the pavilion.

“I won’t bother you will I?” he asked.

“No, I often operator portable with other operators.”

“Do you have a log?” he asked, “I’m going to see if I can get some sheets of paper to keep my log.”

“I think I’ll use my iPhone. I don’t think I’ll make that many contacts.”

I ran my KX2 at about 10w. I started searching and pouncing and after a couple of hours had 15 contacts or so. It wasn’t bad.

Now and again I heard Patrick transmitting or one of the stations inside the gym on my radio. But there was not a lot of interference.

I decided to walk Sera around the perimeter again before calling it a day. Patrick offered to watch my rig while I walked.

As we walked along the back lot line of the nearby houses, three dogs ran up to their fence aggressively and Sera got away from me. When she turned to respond to me, one of them nailed her hip through the fence. If I had realized that it got her, I would have kicked its teeth in. I should have carried my pepper spray and hosed them down.

Tired, soaked to the skin from the humidity, and hungry, we returned to the pavilion and I tore down my station. I said good evening to Patrick and Mike and we headed home.

On the way home, I heard an operator call on the Nixa repeater asking for help with the Field Day exchange. No local ham answered his call. He called again and no one answered. So I answered his call and we had a nice chat. He had been away from the HF bands for awhile and wanted to play during Field Day. But he could not figure out the exchange and was having trouble navigating the ARRL website. I think I got him straightened out. At least he had an idea of what to do.

This was my station at the kids’ house… my KX3, N3ZN key, and magnetic loop antenna.
Sunday morning I thought about visiting the Nixa club to see how they were doing. It was threatening rain, so I stayed home.

I sat at my Elecraft KX3 station running 15 watts into a magnetic loop antenna. I tried several times on previous days to raise a call, but no one answered my call on any band that I tried. Sunday morning I worked another slug of stations with the KX3. I logged my contacts on my iPhone as they were made. I quit about 1000h local.

On Monday morning I moved all of my contacts (36 of them) to my computer. Then I prepared the log for submission to ARRL as my contribution to Field Day. It was quite different than my previous Field Days, yet I still had fun — even with the disappointment in the club.

I learned a few things again this year.

  1. Amateur radio clubs are their own worst enemies. Survival of the service requires new people participating. New operators need a community where they can receive instruction (answers to questions as well as more formal work) and fellowship. They need a place to belong.
  2. Clubs that don’t dedicate personnel to capture new people and greet visitors are not going to add members. This is a critical issue to bringing in new operators and getting them active on the bands.
  3. I still have work to do on my Morse code skills. I was uncomfortable with the idea of running a frequency. I would have made more contacts if I had. I still had fun and it was challenging.
  4. It’s a good idea to have a computer that can run logging software and reads data from the radio. A phone logging program can be used, but all the data fields have to be entered manually. N1MM+ will read the radio if connected via USB. Even a low power Windows computer can run N1MM+.
  5. I was not prepared for this Field Day. Normally I prepare a few weeks in advance. I have my station organized, know what I am going to use and what I am going to do, and I have the rules and supporting material printed and in a notebook for reference. Still, I had fun and made a few contacts. So it ended well.

Next year will be different again, I suspect. I am sure I will learn more on the next Field Day.

Roadtrip 2021

I needed a cup of coffee before we headed south to Durant. While stopped to get said coffee, I made a capture of our little caravan.

Greetings from Lubbock, Texas. I am at the KOA here in Lubbock for a couple more days. I stopped here to visit some friends and to pause before the trip back home.

It was a great trip in many ways and sad in a couple more. I might elaborate later on some parts of the trip. I certainly have a few more images to share.

But for this morning, this is it. I’ll share an image I made as the kids and I left Ozark, Missouri on our way to Durant, Oklahoma and then on to Lubbock. The kids came to visit my DiL’s folks and I was headed this way anyway, so we shared the road together.

We stopped over at Durant to visit Young Son and DiL-to-be. I enjoyed the night at Lake Texoma, where I camped before.

Older Son has his Technician license, so we were able to chat 2-meter simplex all the way. It was a reason why I think an amateur radio operator’s license is a good investment of time and energy. The Technician license is not difficult to acquire and provides privileges at 50MHz and above.

Now I need a late breakfast. The Girl needs an outing.

Winter Field Day 2021

The portable station I used for a couple of hours of Winter Field Day fun.

The plan for Winter Field Day 2021 started late in the fall of 2020. My friends and I drove out to the potential site and spent a few days camping there over the Thanksgiving holiday. We cleaned up the old tank and they played on the dirt bikes while I played with The Girl and a little radio.

But project work got busy so I could not leave Friday to camp and enjoy the weekend. My friends went out Friday, setup camp, and threw a couple of tarps over the tank to keep any weather out and some heat in.

I received a call yesterday morning that the generator they were using to power the stations was generating so much interference that it was affecting operations. So I decided to load up my smaller generator (a Honda) and drive it out there. The outing would do me and The Girl some good and I thought I might play a little radio before returning home.

It took me an hour to collect things and run an errand, but we headed out by about 1030h. The drive was a bit more than an hour. The trail was mostly snow-covered or damp sand/gravel. There were a couple of places that were slimy, but the 4Runner had no trouble traversing them.

Camp was a muddy mess, though. There was enough sun to melt the snow and the surface freezing, so they were left with sandy mud. The Girl did not mind and took off to check all her favorite sagebrush clumps for critters.

With one eye on The Girl, we got my generator running and providing power for the equipment. I learned that my friend’s radio was having an audio issue and not working reliably. This is odd for an Icon 7000. It had been a solid performer for the last couple of years we have been operating portable.

I offered to leave my Elecraft KX2, but he declined. He encouraged me to setup my rig, though, and make a few contacts. So I setup the rig and used his antenna (a very quick setup). I heard a number of loud stations calling and answered a few calls. I worked stations in California, Nebraska, Illinois, Florida, and Texas before deciding it was time to pack up and head home. I wanted to be off the trail before dark.

So I broke down and stowed my radio equipment, called in The Girl (who was very happy), and we said our goodbyes. She was not too muddy with just a little bit on her feet and a few splashes on her tummy. She mostly snuggled next to me on the way home, as she usually does. Most of the sand had fallen off her by the time we arrived home, just after dusk.

It was an easy unload, then supper for both of us and some rest. I watched a little Netflix while I ate some supper and she laid on her mat next to me, lightly begging for a bite of pizza. After supper and my show, I stayed on the sofa awhile longer, simply enjoying the quiet and the company of my dog.

I made about a dozen contacts over the couple of hours I worked the bands. Most of them were on the 20m band, which was nicely open yesterday.

Today I need to get a little work done, as well as take care of both of us. I am hoping for a little sun later today so we can enjoy that on our walk.

Wild Oat Mountain, W7N/TR-065 SOTA Activation

The Wild Oat Mountain operating point and station. The CalTrans benchmark is visible near the station.

A few weeks ago (seems like forever now), after the Nevada QSO Party, I was not ready to settle down for very long. I started working up a new outing almost as soon as I had the camper unpacked and the laundry running. My friends suggested that I was not working hard enough, but I am not quite sure what they meant.

Given that everyone in our little group was tied up or busy doing other things, I planned a little outing to a SOTA summit south of Carson City near Lake Topaz in Douglas County. I posted an alert on SOTAWatch that I would be attempting an activation and emailed a few of my CWOps Academy friends to be on the lookout for me.

Saturday morning arrived and I loaded up the rig, put some dog food in a baggie (The Girl will not eat before an outing), and made sure we had plenty of water. The route was in the GPSr and I had everything needed. So, out the door we went.

I stopped at McDonald’s for a biscuit and a coffee. I ate on the way south, saving a bite of my biscuit for The Girl, who was watching me like Snoopy on his doghouse.

I did not miss the turnoff for the trail and it was a fairly easy trail drive to up near the summit. In the spirit of SOTA, I schlepped my radio equipment to my selected operating point and then paused to give The Girl a short walk around the summit to burn off some energy.

We found a CalTrans benchmark on the summit. I thought that was pretty cool. I never tire of finding the old benchmarks on top of mountains or near highways as I travel around.

The Girl is also a SOTA Dog. She is learning to sit on command and loves to have a mat for said sitting.
The Girl settled down a little, so I put out her mat and assembled the station. I have put together the little Elecraft KX3 station so many times that I think I could do it blindfolded. I tested the setup and everything looked to be operating normally.

I did not connect the microphone to the radio. I determined that I would operate code only and do my best. I found a frequency on the 40m band that was quiet and asked a few times if it was in use. Nothing heard, so I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and posted my spot on SOTAWatch.

Then I began calling CQ (general call) SOTA (identifying myself as a SOTA activator), sent my callsign, and listened. It took only a few calls before a pileup of stations were returning my call. My hands shaking and my breath a little ragged, I responded to the fragments of callsigns I could pick out, sending the fragment plus a question mark indicating that the calling station should send their callsign again so I could copy it.

My radio, power supply, key, log, and Topaz Lake from my operating position.
One by one I worked these stations, putting each one in my log (on my knee) with their signal report, my signal report, and the time. I heard a few S2S calls (summit-to-summit, cherished contacts for double points) and worked those stations the best I could. Some were just too weak for me to hear, but I worked everyone I could hear, including one of my CWA instructors.

I made a dozen or so contacts on 40m, more than enough to qualify my activation. As I fished out the hole, I called a couple more times “last call before I change bands” and listened. I cleared the frequency and moved to the 30m band.

Again I called CQ SOTA and listened. Several station returned my call, but not as many as on 40m. Many chasers had their contact for my activation and were looking for other activators. I worked another of my CWA instructors and that was a treat. With that hole fished out, I cleared the frequency and moved to 20m.

I worked a few more chasers on 20m, but I could tell that the herd was thinning. Then I heard a call that sounded like “EA2…” and listened a couple more times. The station was fading in and out of my noise floor and I had trouble getting a full callsign. I returned the call and we worked and worked until I got the callsign. I was reasonably sure I also copied the signal report.

At that point I decided to call it a day. I cleared the frequency, looked over my log, and shut everything down. The Girl was ready for some movement so we walked the area again a couple of times. I took her to the rig and got her some water. She was ready to go home. So I tore down the station, stowed my gear in the rig, and then did one last walk-around to be sure nothing was left behind. I paused one more time to take in the view, even with the smoke. I made sure I had captures of the area.

Then we returned to the rig and headed down the trail. I was tired, hot, and sweaty, but deeply gratified that I had completed my SOTA activation in CW mode only. It was good to be home, get a shower, enjoy a little cooler air in the house, and settle down for the remainder of the day. With a shower and some food, I was nearly done. But I worked on my log a little, played with The Girl a little, and then called it a day. It was a really good day.

I learned a few things as well:

  • I should tie my pen to the kneeboard. I kept dropping my pen in the dirt.
  • I got hot in the sun even if it was a little cool when we got to the OP. I should have setup the station in the shade even if I needed a cover to be warm. It was too much sun that day.
  • Headphones would probably make copying the calling stations a little easier. I do not like to be isolated from my surroundings, so perhaps just one phone or earbud would help without disconnecting me from my environment.
  • I should determine my own pace. Chasers will either wait to work me or they will not. I only need four contacts to make the activation. I can afford to slow down my pace a little so I can breathe and have fun. I had fun anyway, but I let myself get stressed.
  • I had plenty of power with the 15w that the KX3 makes. I might have worked a few more stations with a few more watts, but I made my activation and it was a lot easier without having an amplifier along too.
I stepped away from the station as I started tearing down for this view. It was still a little smokey from the fires and it was fairly hot in the sun. Still, it was a good day.