A Tale of Two Radios

Alright, so I might be working the Dickens metaphor a bit too much. But I cannot help myself. It works for what I am writing.

Last weekend I was quite sick. I was sick enough that I thought I finally managed to catch the COVID virus. I tested myself Thursday a week ago and it was negative. I continued to decline, although I remained active but for one day. Saturday morning I thought “I’m going to be miserable. But I am not bedridden. I can be miserable laying about the house or I can be miserable outside.”

I elected to take Sera back to Washoe Lake State Park where we could be outside. I also decided to take along a radio in case I felt like activating the park.

We left late in the morning, arrived on site, and found bunch of folks decided to be at the park for the day. So we drove north along the shore for a half-mile or so until I saw the herd of feral horses a few hundred yards out. I decided to pick a spot between the crowd of people and the crowd of horses. I parked the rig. Sera and I got out and walked a half-hour so she could burn off some energy and I could get a little exercise and some sun.

We returned to the rig and I got out my chair, some water, and her mat. We both had a nice drink and she laid on her mat. After a few minutes I decided I was not ready to go home, so I gout out the table, the Elecraft K1, the SOTAbeams 6m mast, then antenna bag, a battery, and my Begali key.

The K1 legacy radio is still a very good QRP radio.
I deployed a random wire antenna, end-fed, in a sloper configuration and deployed it to the mast. The feed end was connected directly to the radio. I connected the battery and key to the radio. It took me about ten minutes to deploy the station. Then I checked the location of the horses, put some more water out for Sera, got some for myself, and sat down at the table. I was partly in the sun and partly in the shade. The sun felt good. It felt good to be outside.

I sent at text message to my buddy Dick that I was going to activate. Then I chased a few other activators that I could hear. I then spotted myself of the Parks on the Air (POTA) website and started calling.

After an hour or so I noticed the horses moving south, towards us. I knew that Sera might go chasing them and that would likely not end well. So I put her in the rig and closed the doors.

Part of the herd of feral horses that wandered by the station. Slide Mountain is in the background.

They passed, but decided to linger a hundred feet in front of the rig. So I stepped around the rig and told them to “git!” They ignored me. So I took a few steps forward, and started waving and flapping my hat. They did not care for that. I stepped forward again and repeated the process.

They decided to move along.

With them far enough away, I got Sera back out of the rig to be close to me. She returned to her mat, a happy dog. I then sent Dick a text that I was short a couple of calls for the activation. He put out word that I was at a park and needed a couple more contacts.

Friends in New Mexico came through and I had more than my required ten contacts. I was tired and sick, so I took down the station while chatting with Dick. Then Sera and I took a very short walk and headed home.

The Elecraft K1 radio feeding an random wire antenna at Washoe Lake State Park.

I decided to stop at the CVS for a few supplies. That done we returned home and had some supper. I tested myself for COVID a second time with a negative result. I did not feel well at all and shut down quickly.

Sunday morning I woke about my normal time. My fever broke during the night and I felt better, but not great. Again, I decided I might as well be miserable outdoors. So after breakfast we headed back to the park for a walk and maybe some radio. At the very least I could sit outdoors next to the rig and enjoy Washoe Valley.

When we got there, we found the herd of feral horses near the place I usually park on the lake bed. Of course there was a buttload of happy-lookers for the “wild” horses. So again we headed north along the shore to get away from the squatters.

Aside: The “wild” horses are not truly wild. They are feral horses that escaped or were abandoned. There have been no native horses in North America for a very long time. There is some debate on the issue and there is a reasonable article here. But, I digress.

We basically returned to the same location as Saturday. I parked the rig, and we got out to walk. The sun and air felt good. The Girl was quite happy and bounced me a couple of times wanting to rough house. We got in a good half-hour walk and I returned to the rig.

For the Sunday activation, I deployed an end-fed half-wave antenna as a lazy inverted-L. I used the Elecraft K1 again with the same battery as Saturday, although I added a small solar panel to recharge the battery while I operated. I used the same chair, table, and key. The K1 readily adjusted for the slight impedance mismatch with the antenna and I was off chasing a few other activators.

I sent Dick a text message and chased a few other activators. I then spotted myself and started calling.

This time I stored my call in one of the memories of the radio. That meant a press of two buttons on the front panel sent my call. That is what is in the video in the header of this report. That saved me quite a bit of effort. Given I am sick, that was a good choice. It was also very easy to do.

I worked Dick a couple of times, but he could not hear me on the 15m band. He said “Can you do 17m?”

“Not with the K1.”

“Too bad.”

“Not to worry, let me get the KX2 out of the rig. Then we can try 17m.”

Swapping out the radio took only a couple of minutes. It was a very difficult copy, but we were able to make the exchange on 17m for another log entry. I then returned to the 20m band to try a little more.

I worked maybe one or two more stations, then sent “LAST CALL ON 20M” and listened.

In my experience, every time I send last call, I get a bunch of calls. As expected, my frequency got busy again and I spent maybe a half-hour working another ten or so stations. I made maybe 30 contacts Sunday. That was with 7-12w of power.

After the last station, I listened for a bit. I then posted myself QRT (done for now), shut down the radio, and put away the equipment. It does not take very long, maybe 15-minutes for this deployment.

Sera and I walked a little more. Then headed home. It was a good day and a good weekend.

After working with the K1, I setup the KX2 for 17m.

As always, I have a few lessons learned:

  • The Elecraft K1 is still a great QRP radio.
    • It has a great receiver.
    • It is easy to operate
    • It has a built-in speaker
    • It has two memories
  • But it is a legacy radio, is code only, and only covers the lower portion of its four bands.
  • The Elecraft KX2 is a modern, full-featured radio that covers the 80m through 10m bands and all modes.
  • The tradeoff between the K1 and KX2 is that the latter is more complicated for the additional features.
  • Both are excellent radios.

It is fun to take the legacy radios out to work. I am surprised that they are quite capable, given their limitations. The receivers are good. The KX1 will decode sideband (phone) transmission and covers the entire range of frequencies in its bands (unlike the K1, which only covers the lower portion). I really like both of them and have no intention of letting either go.

I believe that if Elecraft developed and marketed an updated KX1, with four or five bands, an equivalent receiver, and in kit form, they would sell. I would love to have two of them — one with 10m, 12m, 15m, 17m, and 20m and another with 17m, 20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m. Or I would use a compromise, like the K1, with the 15m, 20m, 30m, and 40m bands. With the increase in solar activity, the 15m band is working again.

In any event, it was fun and illustrative to run the K1 and then the KX2 from the same park on the same activation. I realized that I like both radios, that they are both excellent performers (surprising given the age of the K1), and that the limitations of the K1 come with lighter weight and simplicity.

It was a good weekend, despite being sick.

Sera posed prettily for me on her mat. She was a very content dog.