Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Big or Small: Radio, Key and Antenna

When deciding what to take on a QRP field trip any number of variables must be considered and planned for; will you unload it from the car or carry it on your back, will you operate inside or out, use an antenna already in place or put one up yourself? I guess it is these variables and our finding solutions for the circumstance of the day that keeps QRP interesting. As one QRP'er put it, QRO is just too easy. Of course there isn't necessarily any one answer to any of these situations, it usually is a matter of personal preference and/or how strong your back is. This post is not intended to present any grand solution but simply to capture some of the alternatives.

In the picture below there are two keys, actually three if you count the Begali Adventure key on the KX3. Also in the picture, on the left side,  is the Te Ne Ke and next to it is the Micro Key. Clearly a size difference, but also a weight difference. Also in the picture is the KX3 (160 - 6m)and the KD1JV designed Mountain Top'er Rig (MTR), (40m/20m CW only). Again, the bigger radio brings more options, the smaller one easier to carry.

Below is a picture of the two versions of the LNR Precision 40/20/10 EFHW. The larger one to the left is the MKII model and the one on the right is the "Trail Friendly" model which uses the 40m coil as a wire winder (brilliant). I've used both and the perform identically as far as I can tell.

Of course you must have an antenna support. Below are three telescoping poles to choose from,  a 33ft. MFJ Telecsoping Pole, a 20ft Black Widow and a 13ft Spirit of Air. Again, size, weight and optionality.

So many options and so little time. As WA0ITP says, "I like this radio stuff".

Saturday, May 25, 2013

SOTA Sloth Award

There are numerous awards available in the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. There are awards for activators and chasers alike, and just about any way you want to slice and dice the data, there is probably an award for it. There are certificates and trophies and you can pick the increments (in steps of 100) on the certificates. There are however two benchmark awards, the SOTA Sloth Award for working summits totalling 1,000 points and the SOTA Goat award for activating summits totalling 1,000 points. The "Goat" is obviously much tougher but both qualify you for a very nice glass trophy depicted below.

Today I qualified for the SOTA Sloth award, working W6UB on 40m from Black Balsam Knob in North Carolina to put me over the 1,000 point level. It has been a lot of fun to get to this point and honestly the program is quite addicting. A synonym for the award is SOTAholic, which is very appropriate. Since peaks can be worked once each day for points there is no worrying if you need it or not and you always have something to work.

The SOTA community are usually well versed not only in QRP operation, but also in hiking and backpacking. There is a Yahoo group (nasota) that has many knowledgeable members on the best way to get to the top of the mountain and put out a good signal. So if you are inclined toward such things, you would enjoy the program.

So I suppose my slothfulness has be officially certified and I can no longer deny it. I can't wait go get the award.

More information on SOTA can be found at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Backpacking Your Radio

There are always questions about what is the best way to pack a radio to insure that it is protected and gets to and from the remote location in the same condition that it left home. I suppose the function for the answer to that question would be:

R = # of Radios
C = # of Containers
H = # of Hams

R x C x H = the number of ways to pack a portable radio.

Translation = a lot of ways to pack a radio

So here is my solution for carrying an ATS4B and an MTR to the top of the mountain, complete with power supply, ear phones and key.

Pelican 1020 and 1040 Case
I put a thin layer of spongy material on top to keep the radios from moving around in the box. So there you go, my main rig and a back-up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Field Trip

I've been slowly getting back into backpacking shape. Not only physically, (I recently had my annual physical and lasted 16 minutes on the treadmill test(faster and steeper every 3minutes), not bad for an old man), but also getting my equipment, both radio and packs, etc.., updated. So it was time for a real test to see what works and what doesn't as well as what I forgot to include.

So a few days ago, my son AB5EB, invited me on a backpacking trip with he and my two grandsons, Reid, KF5GYE and Boogie, KF5GYD, ages, 10 and 12 respectively. Well, of course I could go. Our destination was Lost Maples State Park in the Texas Hill Country. What a beautiful spot. We would hike 4 miles to one of the high points in the park, ~2,300 ft. elev., making a 550 vertical climb and camp for the night. The last 330 feet of the climb come in the last quarter  mile of  the hike, so it's pretty pedestrian until that point.

From the backpacking perspective, I planned pretty well. A lightweight MSR Nook tent served me well, however, my old 20 degree sleeping bag and Thermarest  pad need updating, lighter versions exist. My titanium alcohol cook stove and titanium cook pot worked great. One omission, I didn't bring any thing to sit on, so I need to get a Thermarest chair set-up that allows me to make a seat out of my sleeping pad, sitting on the ground gets old. I used to have one, but I have no idea where it is. One lesson that I haved learned when carrying everything you need on your back is to dual purpose your gear as much as you can. An example, for eating, I carry a plastic spoon and a coffee cup. If  I don't eat the backpacking meal from the bag, I use the coffee cup to eat from and I have very little clean up. While I didn't bring a trekking pole on this trip, I could easily  use one to mount the 13' pole on, after I figure out the adaptor issue. A trekking pole also works well as a base for the Buddi-stick vertical.

I would also say the radio set up worked as well. My main goal was to test the new 13' telescoping pole that I bought from SOTA Beams. I like this pole because it is much easier to pack in a backpack and it fits easily into a suitcase. Of course it's only 13'. I set it up on the $10 tripod that I use with my AlexLoop, that gives it another 4 feet or so. Both the telescoping pole and small tripod slide easily into the slot behind the sidepockets on most backpacks.

Telescoping Pole and Tripod
w/LNR Trail Friendly 10/20/40

I used two antenna configurations, the 40 -6 End Fed antenna from the Emergency Amateur Radio Club (EARC) in Hawaii, using the 31' wire they provide with the kit and the LNR 40/20/10 Trail Friendly Antenna. The results were hard to compare as I used each during different parts of the day and only on 20 meters. I did tune the EARC antenna on 15 meters, but the band was basically dead to me. I used the Elecraft T-1 tuner and the ATS-4B so matches were easy to find. I would say that the LNR had louder signals as you would expect from a resonant antenna. The trade off of course is that that EARC can be tuned on most any band. I managed to work both coasts with both antenna's so they both work. I will probably stick with the LNR for a short term SOTA activation, but the EARC might be good if I wanted to  try the higher bands for a little DX.

BTW, from a backpacking perspective, when carrying tent, sleeping bag, food and water, etc..., I deemed the AlexLoop to be too big to pack, at least for long hikes. I would have had to go to a bigger back pack to accommodate it. Day hikes, of course, are a different story. Now, if I had a goat or pack mule, that would create some opportunities to carry more as well.

Operating Position (No Chair)

I also employed my rigged up operating desk. I used a backpacking style cutting board and a couple of bulldog clips. I printed the log pages from a template found on-line and have some waterproof ink jet paper on order.

Operating Desk

It was a fun trip. Backpacking, enjoying the outdoors with my son and grandsons and playing radio. It doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Electric Bill

Some of you 'not so old timers" may have never heard of Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD. Cass, as he was referred to, wrote humorous stories about DXing for the West Coast DX Bulletin that featured the QRP'er who went "up the hill" to discuss and get counsel on the Mysteries of the Ages and the Eternal Enigmas of DXing. If  you haven't read any of Cass's work, you really should read a couple before you read my story below. His stories can be found on the this website,
So in the vein of Cass, I submit another story of the DXer and the QRP'er

The Electric Bill

The DX’er came up the hill the other day with a stern look on his face. “What’s wrong with you” we said, just trying to start a conversation. “I just received my electric bill and I’m going to have to tell my XYL that we just can’t keep the house as warm as she wants it”. We were very careful not to get too involved in a domestic squabble, but we thought we should explore the situation a little further. “How warm does she want it?” we asked. He ranted, “Not only does it cost a lot of money to keep the house warm, but I break into a sweat when I’m in the shack trying to work a little DX, I don’t know why the thermostat has to be so high” The situation was starting to become clear to us now because we knew that the DX’er had a least one Alpha in his shack plus a mysterious black switch on the wall that he clicked “on” when he didn’t work the DX on the first call.
“Did you ever think that it’s all the tubes in your shack that keep you warm and that maybe it’s cooler in other parts of the house, perhaps where your XYL sits in the living room”, we suggested. He stopped to think for a minute, we knew that the situation was getting clearer for him. He then got an indignant look on his face, “You QRP’ers are always picking on me because I run a little power, I think that you are just jealous”. “Run a little power”, we said, “Last week the power company had 5 complaints in your neighborhood of dimming lights and a loud hum. Wasn’t Bouvet on last week?” “I don’t know what you are talking about” he said, looking away, “but yes Bouvet was on and I bet none of you QRP’ers worked him” he said with an arrogant grin. “On the contrary” we replied, “we all worked them”. “That’s impossible, none of you run more than 5 watts and the pile-ups were huge, I had to fire up both….I mean I had to use my amp or I would have never gotten through on the first day”. We let him have his fun as he bragged of nabbing Bouvet on 6 bands and then we reminded him that it was a three week expedition and that the pileups on the last days were much more manageable and that each of the QRP’ers had contacts on multiple bands with just 5 watts. He was speechless, as he confronted one of the eternal enigmas of ham radio. He was a little deflated and it seemed to us that in his own eyes his accomplishments had been diminished. “You mean each of you guys worked Bouvet?” he said quietly. “Yes” we said in unison “and our electric bills are much less than yours because we don’t need to run two, I mean we don’t need to run an amplifier”. The DX’er was humbled as he headed back down the hill, electric bill in hand, much slower than he came up. He was heard to say, “They worked Bouvet and have a lower electric bill”. Working rare DX with QRP; truly one of the Mysteries of the Ages.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Two Additions: MTR and Begali Adventure Key

It's always nice to get new toys. Toys are usually never in the category of "needed", but almost always in the category of "wanted". Over the past week I've had two new additions to the shack that are definitely "wanted toys"

I received the Begali Adventure paddle. What a work of art. This paddle is another example of the precision workmanship found in Begali keys. I installed the key on my KX3 (you must plug the key into the key port on the side of the radio) and it is pure joy to operate. So a KX3, with a Begali key, this isn't your your Dad's QRP. Most luxurious.

The key also had available hardware that will allow this key to be used with the KX1 and FT-817.

Begali Adventure Paddle

This week I also received from TJ, W0EA, my Mountain Top'er Rig, MTR, a KD1JV designed 2 band QRP radio. This is a SMD kit that I asked TJ to build for me since, at the time, I didn't really have any experience soldering SMD components. My MTR is set up for 40m/20m operation, CW only. It is very light and is well designed. I made my first QSO with W7WHO shortly after taking it out of the box. I look forward to using it on SOTA activations.

MTR 2 Band QRP Radio

Oh the temptations of QRP gear. Right now I'm a happy camper.

Monday, May 6, 2013

SMD Project

I finally took the plunge. I am just getting back into building my own radio gear after a few years off the wagon operating primarily QRO commercial gear. As I have built gear in the past, I found it very satisfying to put something together that works and then use it to make QSO's. However, while I was away from the kit building scene there was a step change in the technology of radio components and the methodology to build them, that is SMD, (surface mount devices). These are very small capacitors, resistors, diodes, etc... that greatly reduce the size of whatever you are building. Let me repeat, very small. They are tweezers and magnifying glass kind of small. I would say simply, that I was very intimidated by this change. However I wanted to learn.

When Steve, KD1JV, kitted another run of his MTR (Mountain Top Rig), I wanted one. It is however an SMD kit, but I thought why not take the plunge. However when the kit arrived with its cool looking case and I looked at the components I thought maybe I should have someone else build this kit. I didn't want to ruin such a cool radio with my learning mistakes. So I outsourced that one. However, I still wanted to learn SMD construction. Somehow I felt like a QRP wimp because I couldn't build SMD projects. So, what to do?

As I searched the QRP kit world, I found the perfect project. The SMK-2, a kit from Doug Hendricks,, is a 300mw, 40m crystal controlled transceiver. It is specifically designed for SMD training. So I ordered the kit.


There are a couple of methods to build SMD projects that I wanted to try. The first is the solder paste, hot plate method. To be brief, you put small amounts of solder paste on the component solder pads and then place the components on the pads. You should use a syringe to apply the paste.  You can do this with as many components as you feel you can keep in place. It is a delicate operation but when done properly can save a lot of time. You should only have one "cooking' if you will, so put as many components on the board this way, if not all, as you can. I chose to do a few of the capacitors. After applying the paste and placing the components you put the board on a cooking griddle set at 200 degrees F. When the solder paste starts to smoke you use a hot air gun, (available at hobby stores or with commercial SMD soldering stations), and direct the hot air at the components. Before your very eyes the solder adheres and makes a very nice looking solder joint. When completed, let the plate cool before removing the board.

After I let the board cool, I wished I had set more components in this manner as the joints looking almost professionally done. However, I wanted to learn to hand solder these small SMD as well, so I would have plenty of  small parts to practice on.

Hand soldering requires some magnification device. I use a relatively cheap, lighted magnifying lamp like the one below. It is a 2X glass with a small 5X circle that you will need to identify parts.

You will also need some tweezers to hold the components during the soldering operations. The hand soldering process is as you would suspect, tin one pad, set the component and then tin the second pad. So far, with the right tools, the hand soldering has been much easier than I suspected.

I haven't finished the project yet, but have put down the capacitors, resistors and diodes, so the bulk of the work is done. One thing to be aware of, try to do the work where you can find dropped parts. I dropped a resistor onto the carpet in my shack and had to use a nylon trap on a vacuum cleaner to find it.

I will let you know when I pass the smoke test.

Friday, May 3, 2013


Some of you 'not so old timers" may have never heard of Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD. Cass, as he was referred to, wrote humorous stories about DXing for the West Coast DX Bulletin that featured the QRP'er who went "up the hill" to discuss and get counsel on the Mysteries of the Ages and the Eternal Enigmas of DXing. If  you haven't read any of Cass's work, you really should read a couple before you read my story below. His stories can be found on the this website,
So in the vein of Cass, I submit the following


The QRP’er came sprinting up the hill last week with a gleam in his eye. We were all surprised as it isn’t often the QRP’er was happy, we were anxious to hear the subject of his happiness. “I’ve found a new way to DX” he proclaimed. We were all confused as we believed that DX is DX, what could be different? “And what sort of new DX have you found?” we asked. “It has been right here all the time”, he said, “Right here on top of this hill”. We were confused as this must be one of the Eternal Enigmas that few could understand, what could possibly be under our feet on this hill?
“Have you ever heard of SOTA” he asked. We were bewildered at such a simple question. “Of course we have, I’m sure we all drink at least a couple every day.” He laughed at us, which really made us uncomfortable; it was different to us that the QRP’er seemed to have the upper hand. “Not soda, but Summits on the Air, S,O,T,A.” We were speechless as he continued, “You see this very hill top is DX, there are guys out there right now who want to make a contact with this hill top and it counts for award points” We stood in silence as he quickly deployed and simple vertical antenna, hooked it up to his QRP rig, called CQ and immediately had a pile-up”.
We were humbled as the QRP’er had truly left us speechless. Right here on top of this hill was on someone's needed list and all this time we thought DX was beyond our borders. We pondered the Mystery of Ages as there is always something new to work and that such fun has been within our reach all this time. We were forced into a new DX state of mind and we all uttered, SOTA IS!!.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Project: KI6J SOTA Tuner

As I have written I am building up my QRP and SOTA arsenal, focusing on portability, efficiency and weight. While weight and portability are obviously desirous for  your primary station configuration, I like to have some redundancy in case Plan A doesn't work. For example, I prefer resonant antenna's, but resonance in a given configuration in the backyard may not always equal resonance in the configuration you end up with in the field. So, I like antenna options.

With that in mind and a need to build something I opted for the KI6J SOTA Tuner as part of my back up antenna system. I haven't built anything in a few years and wanted to get back in the groove on melting a little solder, so I ordered the kit from Stu. Relatively speaking it is an easy kit to build. You do get the pleasure of winding a small transformer and toroid. However if that scares you as a new builder this is a great kit to learn on.

This kit is designed for use by portable QRP operations needing a lightweight, easy to deploy antenna system. Using this tuner, a portable station needs no ground radials and little or no feed line to achieve excellent results. The tuner matches the impedance of end fed, half wavelength (EFHW) wires on 40m -15m and contains a built in SWR indicator. The tuner is designed for durability and reliability of operation and handles QRP power levels, 5W CW and 10W PEP SSB.


The build went very smoothly and when I finished, it didn't work. Wait a minute this is an easy kit, no solder bridges, correct number of turns on the toroid, continuity in the circuit, what could be the problem? So here is a lesson, always read the addendum or errata, or whatever the kit designer calls it, that amends the original building instructions. My problem, I soldered the LED in backwards, which was clearly explained in the addendum that I failed to read. So, I reversed the LED and the unit worked like a charm.

SOTA Tuner
Not a bad Toroid

So, to the field test. I found a piece of wire, roughly 1/2 wave on 20m and put it up on my Jacktite mast and hooked it up to the SOTA tuner. I found resonance on  40m -15m just as advertised. I love when a plan comes together, especially when the plan includes something that I built myself.

Needless to say , I recommend this kit and Stu supports it very well, by asking questions like, "did you put the LED in backwards?" Plan B is now ready to go.

The kit is available at: