Parks On the Air

Finally. I’ve been wanting to do this for a few years. It has finally happened. In fact it has happened twice now. I’ve been gathering the equipment and creating the packs, testing and watching a lot of activation videos. K4SWL’s videos made my activation feel like I had done it before. I’ve put together a couple packs with all that is needed and a couple different antennas. My favorite set up at the moment is an Elecraft KX2 with an MFJ telescopic vertical antenna mounted on a tripod.

The first park worked was Sand Dues State Forest. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures. Since it is fairly close to one of the work locations, I may repeat activating the park. Ten CW contacts in forty minutes. I’m not trying to see how quickly it can be done, but it went really well. I did answer a couple questions from a park official while he told me that they would be cleaning up the beach. I started with a single lever paddle, but quickly switched to a straight key. It has been years since I used paddles. Between that and sometimes trying to use a Cootie key, it was better to stick with what I am used to.

The next park activation was Birch Lake State Forest. I used the same equipment and made 14 CW contacts in about 25 minutes. It was all straight key. When I get comfortable enough to notice actual signal level rather than if the received station is weak or strong, I might start trying paddles again. What a nice day to be out. Mid 80’s, just a bit of breeze and a lake right behind me.

Recently I found out that the local ham club was doing POTA activations. In May I met them at a local state park and tried to activate with them, but had several things not work. I had an RF issue and if you can believe it a Palm paddle shorted. I always carry a second key. It was an American Morse I had wired as a Cootie. It lost a nut and came apart. That activation was observation only. The next club event was at another state park where I took the KX2 and made three CW contacts. Unfortunately they forgot to include them in their report. If they are included the CW part was not. The picture below was at the park with the club. Notice I brought back up equipment!

I am glad that I inspired the club president to get out and make some CW contacts at a park on his own. He does SKCC so I am sure he had a good time. I am looking forward to their next activation, probably in July. June is a busy month for most clubs doing Field Day.

So the next challenge for me is to use my other equipment. It must be tested to make sure it is truly ready for use.


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Parks Portable

I’ve been riding the bike around the neighborhood lately. I’ve also been packing up supplies for portable operation. The idea has been to make sure I am ready to go to get back out this summer and operate portable from local parks.

These are the main items to make it happen. I am hoping that the weather will cooperate for the second weekend in May.

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Simple Update

Can you guess what mode I prefer to use.

Setup after Dayton 2019

All keys are straight keys or wired as Sideswipers.


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New Antennas Added

I realized the other day that an update is overdue.

The desk now has a TS-590s and TT Eagle with a few various keys. The Czech key is still my favorite.

There is now an interface box for feed lines mounted on the outside of the house, only one empty slot remains. Antennas include a G5RV and 20 meter folded dipole, both at about 40 ft. The tall trees in the back yard are nice and tall. They are also a challenge since there are 13 of them in a very small space. There is also a 4BTV on the roof, but it may get moved if the shielded speaker wire does not help with RF in the TV audio system. Other antennas include a 2/440 vertical, 6 meter horizontal loop and a 220 yagi. Still to add is a two meter yagi for CW.

It is all still very much a work in progress. Pictures are at


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Hamfest Time

I intended to publish this before Huntsville. Oh well. Comments are added after the hamfest.

Hamfests are a lot of fun. It is great to look at a lot of the items that people bring to sell. It is sometimes a walk down memory lane. At larger hamfests it is very helpful to be able to see and learn about new equipment. If you have a plan you can sometimes take advantage of better prices. So I have a plan. We’ll be attending the Huntsville Hamfest this month and I am making a list.

Hamsticks are not expensive until you add shipping. I need to replace the old original Lakeview Hamsticks that are becoming intermittent. I’m not sure how many more times I can resolder them. I’ll need one each for 20 and 40 meters and the quick release connectors as well. I am short one. Bought the antennas, found the missing quick release. Probably need more though.

On the list are also items like an 8 pin mic connector, got it, SO-239 threaded barrel, got it, and a 24 hour clock for the vehicle, still looking. The might get list includes a DC power strip, Bridgecom 220 MHz rig and an LNR MTR-5b. Hehe, yeah, we’ll see. Nope didn’t get any of those.

I have been doing a lot of reading and watching videos on D-Star, DMR and Fusion. I plan to get a Fusion 2/440 radio, got it, may get another. Maybe I’ll get a D-Star radio, but will probably wait till or if Kenwood releases a mobile? Didn’t get the D-star.

There is no plan to buy a key. I suppose that if someone was selling a good condition Begali Blade I might have to grab that. N3ZN will be there so I might have to try out the ZN-HK straight key. I tried out several of his really nice keys. At $350 for the straight key it is on the back burner.

I did buy a bunch of 450 ladder line. I need to replace the line on the G5RV. Got a hat with my call sign and we are good with Hamstick antenna mounts for the next few years. I did manage to get all of the little connectors and parts that I had on my list. The wife replaced her old call sign sweat shirt. Saw people we know which is always super.

On the way down I made several SKCC CW contacts. The first guy I talked to met us at the Hamfest. Then on the way back up here I had a contact with a friend of his who knew about our meeting. Pretty cool.

There will be some spare time and we are even planning on some fun at the Von Braun planetarium, that was interesting, and the Space and Rocket Center. The Space museum was good, but I have to say that it was a monument to our past. Other than the space station which is great, we have little going on at the moment.


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March 2016 SKCC WES

We are having unusually pleasant weather for March in Minnesota, 66f. Took a short bike ride up to Rivers Edge park at the north end of the block I live on. Made seven contacts for SKCC WES this afternoon with the MTR3B and about 35 feet of wire.



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Outdoor-Indoor Operating

I have been on vacation this week. Yesterday I was reminiscing about operating outdoors this last summer. That was one activity that I just did not get enough of this last summer. I read the blog posts of W1PID and his friend W3ATB now and then as they report on their outdoor QRP portable operating.

Community Park, Waite Park, Minnesota

Community Park, Waite Park, Minnesota

I still have yet to make a contact with the Mountain Topper. Normally it would not have been my style of radio, but I do really like it. It is easier to use than I had thought.

So stuck inside a third floor apartment with -24C outside and nothing much to do I suppose this just made sense.

Inside third floor apartment, Waite Park, Minnesota

Inside third floor apartment, Waite Park, Minnesota

I strung a wire loop antenna at the end of the room that has the outside wall. Using an MFJ-250b I was able to tune it and listen around on the two radios. I did remove the ladder line and added a balun. This last summer I made several contacts with the HB-1B and I very much appreciate the variable IF filter. The noise level here is pretty high, but I do hear good signals and have made contacts with the desktop radio.


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Bike Rides and Amateur Radio

bikeride-naturepreserveI’ve almost always owned a QRP radio over the years, but never one that could truly be called trail friendly. During the winter after looking at the KX3 I decided to purchase YouKits HB-1B radio. It is a four band, 80-20 meter, 5 watt, CW radio. I’ve had the opportunity to set up outside a couple of times this Spring. So far what I have been doing is taking along a wire that is, I think, about sixty five feet long, a counterpoise with a small MFJ tuner and Power-SWR meter, a straight key, earphones and SLA type battery.

The first outing was just out in the courtyard at our current apartment complex. The Wisconsin QSO party was in progress. I made six contacts to Wisconsin and one SKCC contact. The next time was at the Bob Cross Nature Preserve in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. That is just across the Mississippi river, three miles from home. It was a part of a bike ride so I made one contact to Oklahoma for SKCC.

bikeride-naturepreserve2I’m hoping to have some fun combining two hobbies this summer, bike riding and ham radio. I’m going to have to get a smaller battery though. The 7AH batteries are pretty heavy on a bike.

Just adding that my next ride was 3 miles the other direction and I just used the internal battery. Two contacts, New York and Detroit.



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CW Demonstration at a Hamfest

The last couple years I missed the Brainerd, Minnesota hamfest. They changed the date a few years ago so I finally caught up. At a previous hamfest I met a couple hams promoting the Brainerd hamfest and asked them if they would provide a table for a CW demonstration. So with their encouragement I went and set up a demonstration of several straight keys. I took two code oscillators along with a way to plug in several keys at the same time.

20140419_094917sThe straight keys included: Bencher RJ-1, JJ-38, Czech key, Chinese Military key, and three variations of the Nye Viking Speed-X key. On the far right was a Bencher ST-1 single lever key wired as a sideswipper or cootie key. The sideswipper had it’s own oscillator. The JJ-38 is a Japanese version of the J-38 key. The Ameco K-4 key is also a type of J-38 that was sold at Radio Shack for many years, but is not currently available and it is unknown if it will be made in the future. At this time there is only one Speed-X key available.

On the far end was a Ten-Tec Argonaut VI with Palm paddles. The Argonaut served as the oscillator for the paddles, but was mainly there for show and tell. The Argonaut happily replaces an Icom IC-703+ that I recently sold. On the way to Brainerd I chatted with another ham on 146.52 MHz. During the hamfest he brought and showed me his KX3. It’s a very nice radio and if there had not been some unfavorable comments about it’s QSK I might have been tempted to buy it instead of the Argonaut.

20140419_104055sTo make this happen I bought and built a T-Tone pure sine wave code oscillator. (link) That is the small black box in the middle. There is also an Ameco code oscillator. (link and link) I rewired the Ameco oscillator with a power switch to keep the oscillator running and reduce the chirp. Keying is now accomplished in the speaker circuit. Connected to the Ameco oscillator is a box with six 1/4 inch jacks to plug in keys. I had those in my junk box, but had to go to the plumbing area of a hardware store to get nuts. I used a splitter to get two keys plugged into the T-Tone kit oscillator. The T-Tone has a bit more volume and does not use a 555 timer chip so the waveform is not a square wave. Since some radios use 1/4 inch jacks and others use 1/8 inch jacks for key or keyer input. I typically just wire all keys with a 1/8 inch plug and add an adapter. I set both oscillators for about 700 Hertz, but let them both be a tad different so you could tell which was which.

20140419_105940sSo several people came by and tried out the keys and talked about CW, straight keys and the sideswipper. One guy actually knew how to use the sideswipper. It’s going to take a while for me to get it. Several taught me something that I didn’t know about some of the keys. It was a good opportunity to promote some of the CW organizations. I had an SKCC sign, but mentioned FISTS a few times. It will be a long time before I could become a member of the CW operators club, if ever. A few people checked out the Argonaut. Everyone who came by seemed to appreciate the display and the opportunity to get to try out the keys. I’ll be doing this again.


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Remote Radio Operation

As I have mentioned in pasts entries I can not operate from my RF noisy apartment. I do now have an IC-703+ set up and monitoring 28.05 MHz, 52.525 MHz and 50.081 MHz with the idea that I might participate in some local CW practice. I have heard one station, amazingly enough one from Hawaii, on 28.05 MHz, but as I type this the signal meter reads S5-7 noise on all three frequencies, usually it’s S7+.  So most of my operation is in the car or from the apartment remotely operating a radio 35 miles away at work. Recently I received an email asking about my remote operation. Since I have never really explained how I do this and how it works in one post I thought this would be a good thing to do. Here is how I do it and how I made it work for me.

The radio I use is the Kenwood TS-590s. I use and prefer to use all Kenwood software. So I use the ARCP-590 and ARVP-10R in the apartment. ARCP is for control and ARVP is the audio VOIP. At work I have a Windows machine that is hooked by RS-232 cable to the rig for control. I avoided using a USB connection due to lag and issues with Windows dealing with a USB port for audio and control. There I have the ARHP-590 and ARVP-10H running with VNC. VNC is used just so I can get in and adjust audio levels, restart software or the computer if really needed. On this end I have a Plantronics headset. On that end I use the speaker out and the line in ports to a couple of in line transformers then the ACC2 port on the radio. I use a 1:1 transformer for the rig audio out (ACC2) to the computer line input. I use an 8 ohm to 500 ohm transformer to go from the computer audio out to the Audio in pin on ACC2. This prevents ground loops and hum.

I just retired an old Pentium 4 computer on the radio end. That is too slow for the audio. One could use a much older computer for control, but with the Pentium 4 the audio, both receive and transmit, would cut out about every ten seconds. An even older machine I tried once had even worse audio cut outs. That was still the case with me going into Windows and maximizing RAM, etc to favor audio. By the way I have Win7 on the apartment computer and Win8.1 on the rig end and they work fine.

With a pair of the Remote Rig boxes I could run CW with this setup and drop the need for a computer on the radio end. I have been a bit skeptical of that, but will probably eventually try them.

So what do I think about how it all works? I think it’s great. It beats not operating or having to drive into work anytime I want to use the radio, which is not always possible, or sitting out in the truck with the Kenwood TS-480sat and a Hamstick antenna. I went out to the truck in -17 degrees to work a couple SKCC contacts for the K3Y event last month.

One recommendation. As I mentioned I use a Windows machine to access the radio at work. I have a second computer, an iMac exclusively running Ubuntu Linux that is used to run the N1MM logging software and occasionally check a contact on QRZ. One can use just one computer, but I highly recommend using one computer for control of the rig and another computer for everything else, logging, QRZ and whatever. When I first started doing this I can’t tell you how many times I went to hit transmit (I have it as F2) and the control software was not the active window because I was trying to log or look at QRZ. This was very frustrating and it really slows down one’s contact rate. So it is best if you can dedicate a machine for radio control. By the way don’t forget to set the radio time out timer to on. It is rare to lose internet here, but it has happened during three contests in the past two years.


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