Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Missouri SOTA

On December 16, 2017 Woody WD9F and I journeyed to Taum Sauk Mountain and Knob Lick Mountain in Missouri for a little SOTA activity.

I was operating my Elecraft KX-2 and an end fed wire with a 9:1 unun. Power was an external Bioenno Power LiFePO4 battery.

It was a great day with plenty of sunshine, light winds and temperatures in the mid-50's. Had a great time with plenty of contacts. Many thanks to all the chasers!



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

N0SA Mini-Paddles

A new gadget landed here today. This is the mini-paddle from N0SA. Incredible craftsmanship and the small size should make it perfect for portable work. Magnetic returns, smooth adjustments.



Saturday, June 24, 2017


Recently there was a discussion on Facebook about a new radio with low power output. "A reading is not a reading" and it is seldom absolute. 

Keep in mind just looking at the reading on any instrument doesn't tell you the whole story. You need to understand a little about what you're measuring and what you are using to do the measurement. It's also important to understand why you are making the measurement. I offer these terms as food for thought:

Accuracy – designates how close a measured value is to the true quantity of what is being measured. Without comparison to a standard, accuracy cannot be determined. It's often specified in terms of being +/- some percentage of the indicated value.
Repeatability – describes how well a system or device can reproduce an outcome in unchanged conditions. In some applications, repeatability is more important than accuracy. If the system is repeatable, an error can be mapped and compensated for.
Resolution – is the smallest increment the system can display or measure. A system can have a high resolution with poor repeatability and accuracy.



Monday, June 12, 2017

A KX-2 Has Landed

Serendipity is sometimes my best friend. A couple of weeks ago while doing some random searching I stumbled upon a lightly used Elecraft KX-2 portable rig with most all of the desireable options. It included the radio, internal battery, autotuner, real time clock, and the carry bag plus an assortment of cables and adapters. A KX-2 has been on my wish list for a while and this was too good a deal to pass up!

To keep the new rig in good shape I added the protective handle and heat sink shown in this photo from the Pro Audio Engineering web site. If you add these to your own KX-2 I recommend reading the directions a couple of times and really studying how it all goes together. It's not especially difficult but there isn't a lot of extra space in this rig and you need to be prepared with some small tools and a steady hand!

I'm still learning the various features and controls at this point. It's been on the air from my home shack as well as backyard portable. It's a very impressive radio so far and you'll be hearing more in the future.



Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Trail Friendly Single Lever Paddle

If you are like most hams who work CW you probably have more than one key or paddle. You may even have an entire collection of keys and paddles. Well, I don't consider myself at the collection stage but I have a few and while my nicest small paddles are probably the Palm Radio Mini-Paddles, they still weren't exactly what I wanted. I wanted something smaller for portable work without paying the price for their Pico Paddle.

Full Disclaimer: I am not the world's greatest CW operator. Unless I can give it my undivided attention I still struggle. However, I am slowly improving and I certainly enjoy it.

Recently I ran across the web site for QRPGuys. They have some interesting items in general but one that caught my eye was their Single Lever Mini Paddle. It's intended to be built into a project of your own, a kit, etc. but one look and it just spoke to me. Actually, it said "hack me"!

The single lever paddle is a cleverly designed kit. It's made of some pieces of printed circuit board and a few common hardware items. It's small to begin with and best of all the cost is just $15.00US!

If you decide to built one of these read their very good directions and be careful to follow them. The kit is easy to build but I imagine it would be very difficult to unsolder the pieces if you hurried and made a mistake. Working carefully I spent about 45 minutes getting to the state shown in the photo above.

My idea for the hack, pun intended, was to remove the mounting ears where the paddles would normally bolt to the outside of your project enclosure. The small remaining paddle could then be attached to a clip board, top of the radio, etc. using a small square of velcro placed on the bottom of the paddles. The bottom PCB provides an adequate piece of real estate for doing this.

When you're finished you'll need to attach a connecting cable directly to the printed circuit boards to make your connections. As luck would have it I am out of small 1/8" stereo connectors so I have no photo of the totally complete setup. Here is a top view of the completed paddle. The main assembly is about 1" by 1" by 5/8" high. Total depth with the lever is about 2".

I hope this gives you some ideas of your own!



Friday, April 14, 2017

April 2017 SOTA Trip

In April of 2017 Teri and I went to the Ozarkcon QRP gathering in Branson, MO. On Thursday and Friday before the event I joined John N0EVH and Frank KD0MQO to activate several SOTA summits in Arkansas. We had a great time over two days. I activated four summits with them and the two of them did a fourth on their way home on Sunday. The weather was fantastic and the scenery was awesome. Many thanks to all the chasers. We easily made the minimum contact count at every summit.

Frank N0EVH was our leader. He's also the W0M area SOTA manager!

Frank KD0MQO had a guest OP on Sunday.

Finally, yours truly Tim N9PUZ. In this photo I was test driving John's Elecraft KX3. Nice rig!

There's always something unexpected in the field. At Boat Mountain we had some really severe local QRN making it tough to hear the other stations for a few minutes!

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. As this was my first time as a SOTA activator I'd like to thank John and Frank for their hospitality and guidance in making this a successful trip. A word of caution: Playing radio outside is very addicting. But, I highly recommend it!



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Xiegu X-108G HF "Go Bag"

Over the winter I purchased a Xiegu X-108G HF transceiver for portable operations. I have an Elecraft KX-1 which is fantastic for "CW Only" operations but a lot of times I like the ability to do SSB and also operate more bands than the KX-1 covers.

I wrote a little about the X-108G earlier in my Winter Field Day post. The basic info is it covers 160M to 10M (AM, SSB, and CW) and has power output which is adjustable from 0.1W to 20W. In my opinion reliable SSB operation usually needs more than 5W and I find that 15W or so works really well.

The photo above shows the "guts" of the portable station. Major items are as follows:
*I plan to put some sort of rubber or foam ring around the two buttons on the tuner. I did not notice any problems today but I don't want the pack to hold them down and drain the battery while traveling.

These three items are all mounted to a thin piece of masonite peg board, maybe 1/8" thick,  using nylon zip ties. The tuner is attached to the radio with Velcro for ease of accessing the battery.

This method with the zip ties isn't especially pretty but I've found that an awful lot of my projects spend their lives in "beta test" mode as I constantly tweak and tinker with the designs trying to achieve the elusive "just right" configuration. The reason for the corners of the masonite being chopped off will be obvious shortly.

Everything I need to go portable fits in a small backpack with the exception of my collapsible 28-foot kite pole. The top of the pack I chose is slightly rounded so I trimmed the masonite base so it would fit easily. Although it might be possible, I don't plan to operate the radio in the pack. With higher power comes more heat. I spaced the radio up off the board to provide some airflow but being inside the pack would prevent that from doing any good. Besides I need to get to the antenna connector on the tuner.

Here's the station all buttoned up and ready to travel. The outside pockets of the pack hold the X108G's microphone, a small set of paddles, a 9:1 unun and wire for the antenna. There's also a small notebook, pen/pencil, and a pocket knife for "field repairs" if needed. 

A 25ft length of RG-58 is coiled and attached to the outside with velcro. That length coax provides an adequate counterpoise for the antenna. The coax will actually fit in a thin pocket that is the same size as the entire pack. I ended up putting it on the outside because it was just a lot easier. 

This afternoon when I was trying things out in the back yard with a 30ft wire I was able to get a low SWR on 40, 30, 20, 17, and 15 Meters. The WPX contest was going on and I made contacts on 40 and 20 Meters without any problems.



Monday, March 06, 2017

My Humble Station

I'm not sure why but it seems every time I post here, on Facebook, etc. someone always contacts me and wants to know about my station. It isn't bare bones but considering I've been at this for 40 years now I still think it's modest but functional. Note there are no VHF/UHF FM items listed here. I change those too often and in general I think they are mostly a matter of which one you like the looks of the best. HF is my favorite part of amateur radio.

Here goes:

Radios & Antennas

  • - Icom IC-7200
  • - Ameritron AL-811H (seldom used) 800W amplifier
  • - Palstar AT-1K Manual Tuner
  • - 80 Meter Inverted V w/Balanced Line feed.

  • - Xiegu X108G Portable HF Transceiver (20W)
  • - Elecraft T-1 Autotuner
  • - End fed wires & 28 ft Jackite collabsible kite pole
  • - Buddipole

  • - Elecraft KX-1 Really Portable QRP Transceiver (40/30/20 Meters)
  • - End fed wires

  • - Assorted novelty rigs (Heath HW-8, Pixie, Rockmite)

Computers and Software

  • - Windows 10 Desktop, Windows 7 Laptop
  • - N3FJP Amateur Contact Log and Contest Logs
  • - FLDigi for most digital modes
  • - WSJT-X for JT65

No, this isn't every piece of gear I own but it's the major stuff. I have a few odd small tuners and accessories tucked away here and there along with some test equipment but I'm too lazy to get all of that out and inventory it. By and large these are the things I use regularly.



Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Pixie Lives On!

I remember being all excited years ago with the notion of a 40 Meter transceiver kit that could be had for the princely sum of about $15.00US! I recall buying the kit but never built it. I let it age on a shelf near my bench and ultimately sold it at a hamfest.

Pixie II Kit

Well, a few years have gone by and the venerable Pixie lives on but in an updated version. While most ham gear has gone up in price the Pixie has actually gained an enclosure and gone down in price. You can buy an assembled Pixie in a case on eBay for around $8.00US as I write this. Oh, that price includes shipping by the way.

Chinese Pixie

In theory, one could claim that if you changed the crystal to somewhere a Technician has 40M HF privileges, added a simple dipole tuned for the Pixie's crystal frequency, an inexpensive key, 9V battery, and some earbuds a person who puts in the effort to learn Morse Code could get on HF for under $15.00US. While that's technically true I absolutely do not advise this as a plan to get into ham radio cheaply. The reality of the situation is that operating a very lower power transceiver on a single frequency with little to no CW skills and experience would be, in my opinion, a recipe for frustration and disappointment.

None of that of course means you shouldn't get a Pixie. If you have some modest skills or a couple of friends who live nearby it could be a lot of fun. If your operating skills are up for it you can probably make a lot of contacts.

I mentioned changing the crystal. The Pixie comes with a frequency of 7.023 MHz which is in the US Extra Class allocation. While you could certainly operate there as an Extra I'd recommend you switch it out to the more common 7.030 MHz QRP "watering hole" or even move up the band to around 7.122 MHz where there's quite a bit of slower speed CW activity. Things are a lot more casual there.

As for the crystals, one supplier I've had great success with, and who has great prices, is KC9ON's 3rd Planet Solar site. He sells crystals on many of the common frequencies for just a $1.00US each and ships very fast.



Monday, February 27, 2017

Wire Antenna Confusion

I see a lot of misleading comments about antenna wires fed at their ends. Perhaps I can clear up some of the confusion.

There is a general category of antennas that are "end fed wires". These consist of two basic types. First is the EFHW (End Fed Half Wave) antenna. As its name suggests it is a half wave long and is normally only usable on a single band. It requires a small matching network in most cases. The EFHW design isn't quite as obvious as it sounds. Steve Yates AA5TB does an excellent job of explaining the End Fed Half Wave Antenna.

The second common type of end fed wire antenna, and one I usually use for portable operations, is the Random Wire Antenna. The name of this one is confusing. First off, it is not exactly a random length and second of all you definitely DO NOT want it to be an actual have wavelength long on any of the bands where you want to operate. The reason for this when you feed a half wave long wire at its end the impedance is very high compared to the 50 Ohms we typically want. Most internal radio tuners and many external tuners cannot bring this high impedance down to 50 Ohms which will result in an SWR that is too high for most radios. My choosing a length of wire that is NOT a half wave long on any band where you will operate a good match is more likely. The following article describes how the author calculates good wire lengths and provides a hand chart that shows suggested lengths for different combinations of bands. Mike AB3AP's Random Wire Lengths.

One small tuner that works very well for these random length wires is the MFJ-16010. It's small so I like it for portable operation and you often see them for very reasonable prices at hamfests.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Autotuner - Elecraft T-1

Well, Elecraft has been making the T-1 for some time now. I just recently added this little 20W model to my portable setup.

The MFJ-16010 I normally use for portable work is a great little tuner. However, not only is the T-1 smaller it can probably tune a lot faster than I can manually.

Elecraft claims it can even tune in both CW and SSB mode. As soon as I have the proper cables made up for the Xiegu X108G I'll have a full report.



Sunday, February 05, 2017

Winter Field Day 2017 and Portable HF

Winter Field Day 2017
This year I and several friends from the Sangamon Valley Radio Club participated in Winter Field Day from the Clayville Historic Site west of Springfield, IL. Not only was it a chance to get outdoors with friends but it was the first field test of a new HF radio and LiFePO4 battery pack for me.


I recently bought a Xiegu X108G HF rig for portable HF operating. They are readily available from several suppliers on It works great as a QRP radio but also allows up to 20W of power if you desire. I love pure QRP operation with CW but with its broader bandwidth requirements 10-15W SSB seems a lot more practical. No, I'm not a purist. I just enjoy operating outdoors.

The X108G is fairly small. Here's a quick comparison to my IC-7200. Sorry for the mess. This was taken the day I unpacked the radio.

The X108G has a small but clear and bright LCD with all the pertinent information clearly shown. Along the right side where you SQL, CMP, and SWR it displays "soft" labels for the corresponding function buttons F1 - F4 to the right.

For Winter Field Day and most of my portable operating I use an end fed wire supported by a 28-foot tall fiberglass pole. For this outing I drove a piece of angle into the ground.

I use Velcro straps to secure the pole in place. There is no picture of the wire going to the top of the pole. You can't see it because it is so thin.

Here's an antenna photo before deployment. You can buy it ready made from the Emergency Amateur Radio Club of Hawaii or you can download the documentation free of charge and make your own.

Here's the rest of the "station". From left to right are 1) The X108G transceiver, a Bioenno Power 9AH LiFePO4 lightweight battery, and a manual MFJ-10610 antenna matcher.

On this particular day I chose to operate from the car because it was cold and windy. You can see from the components that it would be just as easy to toss the items in a small pack for hiking, SOTA, etc. or do "picnic table portable".