Monday, April 24, 2017

The weekend

Saturday was a normal, busy Saturday and it was cool with on and off rain. As such, that forced me to operate indoors for QRPTTF - and in a way that was a blessing. As it turned out, the bands were so dismal, that had I went out and traveled to a river and gone through the whole outdoor setup procedure, I would have been bitterly disappointed.  Somehow, making only four contacts isn't as disappointing when you don't have to brave the elements and the added work of setting up a portable station in the rain.

I could not believe the conditions on 20 Meters!  I heard stations, but only to the degree that I knew they that someone was there. Signals were so weak and into the ESP realm, that I was not able to copy any call signs.  I knew Morse Code was being sent; but that was about it.

40 Meters yielded my four QSOs.  I worked North Carolina, Ontario and Maine. There was one station (call sign withheld as I can't remember it! LOL!) that was frustratingly loud that I called and called and called ....... only to get "CQ TTF" as an answer for my effort. I finally gave up, figuring that he was either in a high ambient noise location, or that once again, propagation was not reciprocal.

The bad thing (or maybe it's a good thing?) about being a home station is that when the bands are dismal you can trot off and do other things, like chores and stuff. If I were a field station, I would have stuck it out longer because of the effort of putting a portable station on the air. I think the frustration level would have been markedly higher, though, as you look for a return on your expended effort.

In other things, I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of Jerry Haigwood W5JH on April 21st.  I read of Jerry's passing via an e-mail to 4 States QRP Group (of which I am a member) by Terry WA0ITP.  While I did not know Jerry very well on a personal basis, I have worked him numerous times on the air.  In addition, Jerry was the driving force behind the AZ ScQRpions Black Widow and Mini Black Widow paddles.  I still have my Black Widow paddles and at one time I did own a set of the Mini Black Widow paddles attached to my PFR3A.  Both were/are excellent paddles and are a testament to Jerry's machining skills.

RIP, Jerry - you will be missed.

Lastly, I finally had the opportunity to sit down and play with something that was sent to me by Richard, G3CWI, owner of SOTABEAMS.  A few months ago, Rich graciously sent me a WSPRLITE, to play with and evaluate. The WSPRLITE is a small WSPR transmitter beacon, if you will, that you can use to test your antennas.

I hadn't the time, up until now, to give it the attention it deserves. Mind you, it's very easy to use - as easy as falling off a log - but as John Lennon wrote in a song, "Life is what happens while your busy making other plans."  I don't want to give the impression that I put off getting this little beauty on the air due to it being a difficult process. Nothing could be farther from the truth!  It's just that things (obligations, chores, colds) always seemed to get in the way each time I had planned to get it up and running.

Well, last night I got it up and running within a few minutes and got results almost immediately!  This lil' guy is way cool and I want to play with it for a few more evenings this week and then I want to let it run for a few hours in the daytime before I let you know what my impressions are.  But so far, it's a very neat tool to have, especially if you have more than one HF antenna and you want to see how they stack up against each other.

I hate to keep you hanging; but that's all I'm going to say about it for now.  The WSPRLITE will deserve it's own post to properly give it the evaluation it deserves - and you can look for that either next Saturday night or Sunday.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


The last few Field Days, the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club has been plagued by that perennial old bug-a-boo ........ stations interfering with each other.  Even QRP transmitters at close proximity can wreak havoc on each other! This year, I intend to do something about it. Since we typically run only two HF transmitters, I was thinking of building a set of these K4VX filters.

I've spoken with my good friend Bob W3BBO about this in the past, and he put the bug in my ear about using coaxial stub filters, instead. He has some experience using them and he told me they worked well for him.

I did some Googling and searching of the ARRL Web site last night and found this: as well as this YouTube video:

As I'm going to be replacing the coax out to the Butternut as soon as the weather cooperates, I'll have a useful purpose for the old coax, instead of just tossing it.  It would end up being a lot cheaper than purchasing toroids and capacitors and enclosures and antenna sockets needed for the K4VX filters. All I need for the stub filters would be some PL259s (which I have) and a few T-connectors which I can get at a local hamfest.

If they don't work as well as I'm hoping, then maybe a combination of the K4VX filters along with the stubs can be used next year.  But it's already mid-April and time is growing short. Field Day will be here before you know it.  And even just the stub filters will be better than the nothing we've been using.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

QRPTTF this weekend

This coming Saturday, the 2017 "Summer" Outdoor QRP Season begins with QRP To The Field. This event, put together and sponsored by Paul NA5N is one that I always look forward to. Sometimes, I even get to participate!

The extended weather forecast for the day is still somewhat ...... meh.

Overall, an overcast day with temperatures reaching a high of about 64F (18C).  The chances for showers increase as the afternoon rolls on.  The weather that day will be a big factor.

This year, the theme of the event is "A River Runs Through It".  The idea is to get out and operate from the nearby vicinity of a river, creek, stream, brook or what have you.  There are various possibilities around here ...... depending.  "Depending on what?", you may be asking.

Depending on ease of access, location, and name of said body of water.  The name of the estuary is part of the exchange.  I can go a bit farther from home to a nice park and have "Raritan" as part of the exchange; or I can stick close to home and have "Bound Brook" as part of the exchange. Obviously, the name of the river is a heckuva lot shorter than the name of the brook.

This might be one time that I may be sorely tempted to load a "canned" exchange into one of the KX3's memories, so I don't have to pound out "Bound Brook" all day long. I don't like doing that, as for me, that seems a bit too "automatic" for my tastes.  I know, I know ....... all the die hard contesters do that with their N1MM logging program and all they have to do is hit the F1 key all day long and make a ton of contacts to take the top places.  I'm old school.  I like making the exchange by myself and doing it the "old way". Of course, that's another reason that I rarely ever get beyond the middle of the contest pack.

The other factor, as mentioned before, is the weather. If it really looks like rain, I'll be tempted to stick closer to home.  If it's a gray day; but seems like it will most likely stay dry, I might be more inclined to go to the park farther away from home.

Hopefully, nothing will come out of Left Field (as it so often does) to make all the above a moot point - and for all intent and purpose ..... spoil the day.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday 2017

Wesolego Alleluia
Death has died - the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Happy Easter!

72 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
 And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.
 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!"

A Blessed Good Friday to all de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, April 13, 2017


"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

Ain't that the truth?!?

I am taking tomorrow, Good Friday, off from work.  Tonight, with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, we Catholics enter into the holiest time of our year - The Sacred Triduum.  There will be a lot of time spent between now and Easter Sunday in prayer, remembrance and commemoration.

But there will be time for other stuff, too.  Namely, mowing the lawn for the first time in 2017.  I am hoping to get that done tomorrow. IF the lawn mover starts without a hitch.  The first time starting it up in the Spring is always dicey.  I always make sure to run the gas tank out in Autumn before stowing it away, and always put in fresh gasoline ....... but, you know.  So if you're so inclined, please say a little prayer tonight that W2LJ's mower will start tomorrow - OK?    :-)

If I get that done tomorrow then on Saturday, I plan to run the new RG213 that I bought from DX Engineering last Summer, to the Butternut. (You were wondering when I was going to get to Amateur Radio, weren't you?)

Now's a great time as it will not be freezing outside and the new "greenery" (weeds) hasn't begun to grow yet.  It's a 150 foot run from HF9V along the back fence, along the side fence and house into the basement.  I'll need to go to the hardware store to pick up a small amount of plumber's putty.  When I seal my coax connections, I put down a layer of electrical tape, then some plumber's putty, and then another layer of electrical tape.  The plumber's putty works just as well as Coax-Seal (TM), but it comes off a lot more easily and cleanly when you want it to.

The coax run that is currently there is probably fine, but it's almost 16 years old now and I think I may have nicked (but not punctured) the outer jacket with the lawn mower a time or two. While I'm at the hardware store I need to find something that I can use to elevate the coax a few inches to a foot above the ground, so that I don't nick the new stuff. Some kind of heavy duty garden stake - or something like that. Once I get to the side fence, which is a chain link fence, all I do is cable tie the coax to the top cross posts.  That keeps it completely off the ground.

Once I get that done, I think I'll need to order another bit of RG213 to replace the feed line to the W3EDP antenna.  That could use it, too.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tough going

As planned, I did participate in the SKCC 150th Sprint last evening, for about 90 minutes of the two hours. I must say that from the beginning, my fist was rather lousy. It's one thing when your fist is lousy and you're blissfully unaware. It's altogether another thing when your fist is lousy and you're wincing as you make mistakes! It's strange to be looking at your hand while you're sending CW, making a mistake and thinking, "Why did you just do that?", as if your arm and hand belonged to someone else.

Thanks to all who hung with me for that barbaric assault on your ears - I deeply apologize.  That was the end result of using only a keyer and paddles or a bug for the last however. I do have to admit that as the evening went on, and I got more comfortable, my fist improved ........ marginally. I found out that I got better if I pounded the brass with my eyes closed, and relied solely on concentrating on the sound.

I must have been doing something right, though, because after 90 minutes of NAQCC Sprint, my wrist, hand and elbow suffered no discomfort at all. And people DID copy me ........ I did not get many "?'s", so again, I must have been doing something right. And the Reverse Beacon Network was able to copy my 14/15 WPM CQs, so I guess I wasn't as bad as I thought.  I AM my own worst critic!

I don't have my log in front of me; but I think I walked away with 18 QSOs - scattered across 20, 40 and 80 Meters.  40 Meters seemed once again to be the money band, yielding the most contacts. My meager effort was a lot of fun and brought back fond memories of when I participated in these sprints on a regular basis.  I'm now kind of interested in doing that again.  Not only will it help to fatten up my log book, but it will also keep me in regular practice on the straight key.

Last night, I used my LTA SKCC Straight Key, which is a nice enough key.

I keep on telling my buddy, Bill Koeth W2WK that I want to buy one of his straight keys.  Bill is a machinist with amazing talent and he produces straight keys that feel great and work marvelously and they're beautiful to look at, too!  I've test flown a few prototypes for him and want to add one of his production models to my bench. I think using one of his straight keys would be a further enticement for entering these NAQCC Sprints on a regular basis.

The other thing I noticed, quite happily, is that there seemed to be no increase in the ambient RF noise level at my QTH.  A neighbor two doors down just installed solar panels on his roof.  I've been told that with some installations, when the inverters kick in, there can be plenty of RF hash.  That was not the case last night; but I'll have to check this weekend during the daylight hours to make sure there's not a problem. Can you imagine going to your neighbor and saying, "Hey, I hate to tell you; but your brand new solar panels are wiping out radio reception at my house." THAT would go over like the proverbial lead balloon!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Special NAQCC Sprint tomorrow night

Tomorrow night, April 11th ( The morning of April 12th for those of you not bothered by UTC conversions), will be the 150th NAQCC Monthly Sprint.  That's 12 and a half years of monthly NAQCC Sprints now - since the club was formed.  In honor of this momentous occasion, the leadership of the NAQCC has planned something special.  Rather than try and go into my own details, I'll post the email announcement here:

On Tuesday evening, April 11 (4/12 UTC), we will have our landmark 150th regular monthly sprint. We want to celebrate this event by giving away a prize worth $150 to one member-participant! But there is a catch, we will only have a prize drawing if we get at least 150 submitted logs. You don’t have to be an experienced contester or a high speed CW operator to participate. Just get on the air, make at least 1 sprint QSO, and submit your log, and you will be eligible for the prize drawing. So mark your calendar and get ready!

EDT - 8:30-10:30PM, CDT - 7:30-9:30PM, MDT - 6:30-8:30PM, PDT - 5:30-7:30PM), which translates as Wednesday, April 12th, 0030 to 0230Z in all cases.

For all the "official" information, please go to:

There you will find all the details as to time, frequencies and other important information.

This is a monthly event that caters to the CW veteran, the CW newcomer, straight key and bug fans. All are welcome to participate (this includes QRO); but you must use QRP power levels to compete for awards.

If you've been hesitant to join in our sprints because you hear other sprints running at breakneck speeds, have no fear. Our sprints are geared to the newcomer to CW and/or contesting. Virtually everyone including the many veteran contesters who regularly enter our sprints will slow down to YOUR speed to help you make your contacts.

If you are not already a member of NAQCC... membership is FREE! Now is your chance to join the largest QRP CW Club in the world!! We currently have 7100+ members in: All 50 States - 9 VE Provinces - 100 Countries. Sign up on the NAQCC website today ( and receive a handsome certificate, with your membership number on it, which is good for life.

Come join us and have a real good time!

72/73 de Larry W2LJ NAQCC #35


Admittedly, I have not participated in one of these in a long time. Between various commitments, I have either not been home Tuesday or Wednesday evenings; or I have been too pooped to pop from a long day's work. But I am going to try and participate for at least the first 90 minutes tomorrow night.  I'm not eligible for the prize as I'm quasi-NAQCC staff, but I can help drive the number of log entries up.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, April 07, 2017

QRP ARCI Spring QSO Party this weekend

I hope to get on!  But it looks busy - VE Exams tomorrow morning, followed by grocery shopping and some house chores.  Sunday afternoon is our monthly stint at the soup kitchen, so maybe some time in between chores and possibly Saturday evening?  I sure hope so!  I have not been on the air much lately and I'm feeling that tug to get on more.  Again, not that I'm that much into contesting; but the idea to flex some CW muscle and fatten up the log book is appealing.


1200Z on 8 April 2017 through 2400Z on 9 April 2017.  You may work a maximum of 24 hours of the 36 hour period.

Mode: HF CW only.

Members send:  RST, State/Province/Country, ARCI member number
Non-Members send:  RST, State/Province/Country, Power Out

QSO Points:
Member = 5 points
Non-Member, Different Continent = 4 points
Non-Member, Same Continent = 2 points

SPC (State/Province/Country) total for all bands.  The same station may be worked on multiple bands for QSO points and SPC credit.

Power Multiplier: 
>5 Watts = x1
>1 - 5 Watts = x7
>250 mW - 1 Watt = x10
>55 mW - 250 mW = x15
55 mW or less = x20

Suggested Frequencies:
160m - 1810 kHz
80m - 3560 kHz
40m - 7030 kHz (please listen at 7040 kHz for rock bound participants)
20m - 14060 kHz
15m -  21060 kHz
10m - 28060 kHz

Final Score = Points (total for all bands) x SPCs (total for all bands) x Power Multiplier.

BONUS POINTS: None available for this contest.

Entry may be All-Band, Single Band, High Bands (10m-15m-20m) or Low Bands (40m-80m)

How to Participate:
Get on any of the HF bands except the WARC bands and hang out near the QRP frequencies.  Work as many stations calling CQ QRP or CQ TEST as possible, or call CQ QRP or CQ TEST yourself!  You can work a station for credit once on each band.

Log Submission:
Submit your entry online at
Contest logs are not required for entry, but may be requested by the Contest Manager if required.

Deadline: Entries must be postmarked on or before 23 April 2017.

Results: Will be published in QRP Quarterly and shown on the QRP-ARCI website.

Certificates:  Will be awarded to the Top 10 Scoring Entrants.

Hopefully, I'll see you on the air at some point this weekend!   (At least this year, the contest doesn't fall on Easter Weekend!)

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Ham Cram Results

Let's just say I was expecting and hoping for better results and leave it at that.  I drove home Saturday afternoon disappointed and a bit depressed.  It's hard on the instructors when candidates fail to pass the license exam. In my case, I immediately wonder, "What more could I have done?"  My personal problem is that, since I love Amateur Radio so much, I assume that every one in the class wants their license as badly as I wanted mine. So when they fail, I tend to internalize the blame.

But there was a clear division between the two camps. There were the people who wanted their license and actually studied the material diligently and there were the others who may have cracked open the license manual once or twice, if at all.  Listening to some of the comments from the folks who didn't pass, I was surprised at how little they applied themselves.

Let's face it, the Technician Class license exam is not the hardest exam in the world, but you DO have to study and you DO have to want it. Going to class because your good friend talked you into it; or because your supervisor thinks it would be a good thing to have a license is not good enough.  There has to be some personal motivation driving the effort.  As my RACES Bureau Chief said to me as we were leaving the building, "Just remember Lar, you can lead a horse to water; but you can't make him drink".  He's 1000% correct, but maybe there's more we can do to make drinking more enticing.

So where do we go from here?  While I am still wary of the Ham Cram process, I am willing to give it another shot.  I still think the full blown eight week class concept works better, but I do realize that less than perfectly motivated people are busy and have lives, and are not willing to give up that much time from their busy schedules.  I think with a couple of tweaks, the Ham Cram route can be a successful one.

Two changes in particular that I would like to make:

1) Ahead of the next "home study cycle", I would like an accurate head count of all the participants.  I would like to order their ARRL license manuals ahead of time and have a meeting with the candidates BEFORE the front cover of the manual is even opened.  I would like to take that opportunity to hand them their manuals, study guides and point blank tell them, "If you fail to study over the next month, or wait until the last minute to study, past experience indicates that you will not pass the exam."  I think it needs to be impressed upon the candidates how important the home study portion of this process is; and that without it, there's really no point in continuing on.  It would also be an excellent opportunity for Marv and I to introduce ourselves and give the students our contact information - so if they have any difficulty whatsoever, they know there's someone they can reach out to for help.

At that same meeting, there's an excellent video on Amateur Radio that we use for the first session of our eight week class sessions, that I would like to show. It comes in two versions, one 30 minutes long, the other an hour. Both go into a lot of the "fun" aspects of the hobby.  For those who are getting a license just for CERT and EMCOMM purposes, if they see the fun they can have once they're licensed, I'm willing to bet that it might be easier to get them to take a good, long drink.

I know that time is precious, but between handing out the manuals and study guides and then giving a little pep talk and then showing the video, we can keep that introductory meeting to less than 90 minutes.  I am coming to believe that this may be a crucial step in the process. If you're not willing to come to a meeting to get your manual and get a little pre-home study guidance, there isn't really a point with continuing on, is there?

2) A change of the Ham Cram review material. We used the W9PE Power Point last Saturday.  While it is complete and comprehensive and very good, I think it is more geared to the prospective Ham who is into getting a license for the hobby aspect of it.  I was given a Power Point produced by Alan Wolke W2AEW of YouTube Ham Radio videos fame.  His presentation is ideal for presenting to those who are coming to the Amateur Radio world from the First Responder world.  It is more visually appealing with lots of graphics; and as a result, I think it will be more successful.

I think if we make these two changes, our next Ham Cram venture will be more successful.  Now all I have to do is pitch this to the "Powers That Be".

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, April 03, 2017

I've never worked either of these ........

Courtesy of the ARRL:

Midway and Kure Islands are Now Deleted DXCC Entities

Midway and Kure Islands have been placed on the list of DXCC deleted entities, effective August 26, 2016. This came about as an unintended consequence of action last summer by then-President Barack Obama that expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to include the northwestern Hawaiian Islands west of Ni’ihau Island, making it the largest contiguous protected conservation area under the US flag.

Midway (KH4) had qualified for DXCC status by virtue of its being governed by a separate administration. Because it is now under the administration of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, however, it becomes a deleted entity. Approximately 50 people live on Midway, including US Fish and Wildlife Service staffers and contractors. The Battle of Midway, a turning point in the Allied World War II Pacific Campaign, took place in June 1942.

Now uninhabited, Kure Island (KH7K), a part of Hawaii, is separated from the rest of the state by Midway; because of that, it qualified for DXCC status under Section II, 2 (b) (iii) of the DXCC Rules — separation from its “parent” Hawaii. Midway Island’s change in DXCC status in turn made Kure Island no longer eligible for DXCC status, since Kure no longer is separated from the rest of Hawaii by intervening land or islands that are part of another DXCC entity.

Kure Island once was home to a US Coast Guard LORAN station, remnants of which are still evident. It has been a state wildlife sanctuary since 1981.

The relevant parts of Section II of the DXCC Rules follow:

A Geographic Separation Entity may result when a single Political Entity is physically separated into two or more parts. The part of such a Political Entity that contains the capital city is considered the Parent for tests under these criteria. One or more of the remaining parts resulting from the separation may then qualify for separate status as a DXCC Entity if they satisfy paragraph a) or b) of the Geographic Separation Criteria, as follows.

b) Island Areas (Separation by Water):

A new entity results in the case of an island under any of the following conditions:

iii) The island is separated from its Parent by intervening land or islands that are part of another DXCC entity, such that a line drawn along a great circle in any direction, from any part of the island, does not touch the Parent before touching the intervening DXCC entity. There is no minimum separation distance for the first island entity created under this rule. Additional island entities may be created under this rule, provided that they are similarly separated from the Parent by a different DXCC entity and separated from any other islands associated with the Parent by at least 800 km.

Neither Midway nor Kure was able to be activated without prior permission and only for a planned DXpedition. Only contacts made on August 25, 2016, or earlier will count for these two entities.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Product reviews

I have two product reviews to do, from two kind Amateur Radio vendors who sent me some "cool stuff" to try out. Many. many thanks to and SOTABEAMS for thinking highly enough of me to do some product testing.

I am going to do one review tonight and another after next weekend.  I have played with both products and both are superb; and I want to give each its due, so tonight, I will talk about's Mini Iambic Mini Paddles, which I received first

I received these paddles a couple of months ago - soon after their availability was announced. They looked interesting to me and I had even mentioned on this blog that I would have liked to purchase a set.  Not long after that, a sample arrived in the mailbox. Thank you, !!!

These are constructed from parts printed out from a 3D printer if I am not mistaken.  They are light in weight and are ideal for QRP portable ops, whether that be SOTA, POTA, or just a trip to your backyard, if that's what you have in mind.

One might think that something that came out of a 3D printer would be cheap or shoddy and I have to tell you honestly, that nothing could be farther from the truth.  I have played with these paddles for a while now and I have to tell you that they compare VERY favorably with my Palm Pico paddles. They are roughly the same size, but the's iteration are a bit lighter and also a tiny bit larger. They use a magnetic return for a very smooth feel and a very positive return.The tension can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the big screw at the top and lever spacing can be adjusted by two tiny set screws by each paddle at the front of the housing.

These first run paddles came without a cable and I had to wire them up myself, but that was not a big issue.  I see on the website that the paddles now come with a cable for the circuit board pin configuration that they use as a connector.

So, how do they work?  Very well actually! I have been using them on the KX3 and they have been a joy to use. As I mentioned, they are smooth and have a good feel to them. The positive return makes sure the paddles always return to "home" position reliably, so there is no issue with getting stuck sending unintentional strings of dits or dahs. I have sent at speeds from about 13 WPM to 25 WPM with no fumbling or mistakes due to the equipment. Any mistakes originated from the "gray matter between the ears".

They are ideal for portable ops as they are a breeze to carry in a backpack and are so light that you can hold them in your hand all day and send Morse for hours without getting tired.  I see now supplies them with magnets on the base so that you can stick these to something if you'd rather not hand hold them for any length of time.

The price is a selling point, too. Currently, a set of these paddles go for 25 Euros, which is about $27 US Dollars. Compare that to the Palm Pico Paddles, which go for about $116.  I know, I know - this is kind of like comparing apples to oranges.

Would I give up my Pico Paddles?  No, not at all. When you compare the two, the craftsmanship and the materials used in the Palm paddles justify their cost.  But for $27, I think the paddles are a bargain!  The operability, size and weight compare favorably to the more sophisticated Pico paddles, but the price is a clear winner.  If you're on a tight budget, you can have a set of really good miniature paddles for a very reasonable price. And, if you should have an accident and damage them; or even be unlucky enough to lose them, there's no heart attack factor involved - you just order another set!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Great news

for QRPers with REALLY long wire antennas:

The FCC has authorized two new bands for experimentation. 2,200 Meter (Yes, that's right - 2200 Meters) and 630 Meters.  Can you imagine having enough property to build a true 1/2 wave dipole?

2200 Meters will be limited to 1 Watt EIRP and 630 Meters to 5 Watts EIRP.

There are lots of rules to adhere to because "we" will be secondary on these bands, as they are used primarily by Electric Utility companies for controlling the power grid.

Click on the link above for more information.

ALSO ............ there's a new "NA5N-type" fun QRP Sprint debuting today/tonight (depending on where you live).

It's called the "Sasquatch Stomp" and it's sponsored by the Pacific Northwest QRP Group.

Here's "Da Rulz":

My official Sasquatch Stomp Badge

Tonight is our monthly radio club meeting, so I doubt I'll get much time to participate, but it looks fun, in the same vein as the "Zombie Shuffle".

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Long day, yesterday

'Twas a very long day, yesterday. After a full day of work, I immediately traveled to the Middlesex County Fire Academy for our CERT class on catastrophic bleeding control. To say that it was eye opening and intense would be an understatement. But of all the CERT training sessions that I have attended, this one was by far the best. No competition, there.

Our instructors included an EMT who works with Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in Newark, NJ. That right there caused the needle on the "Impressed Meter" to go off the scale.  Another was an EMT who used to be in the Air Force and did two tours in the Mid East as a Casualty Evacuation Corpsman. (I was mentally debating, "Which is safer - Newark or Iraq?) The third instructor was an EMT who works with the NJ Medical Reserve Unit and he specializes in S&R and Wilderness Emergency Treatment.  We were in good hands for the evening. Very, very good hands.

The instructors taught us in the proper deployment and use of tourniquets, as well as how to pack a wound with both regular gauze and gauze treated with coagulant materials in order to control or stop hemorrhagic bleeding.  We also learned how to dress sucking chest wounds and how to do quick assessments for catastrophic injuries in the field.
The job for our trainers was difficult.  It had to be no nonsense, in order to impress upon us the need for speed, clear headed thinking, and acting upon a really bad situation without freezing or choking up.  But yet, they manged to keep the session light enough that we were not frightened by the task before us. These guys were the best, hands down.

As a CERT volunteer, sometimes you get the feeling that you're considered somewhat as "an outsider" by the local police and fire personnel.  They know their jobs, they do them well, and it can be very apparent that they consider CERT to be unnecessary; or just a bother, in their eyes.   I have to say that out of all the training that I have received so far, the guys last night, and the people from Homeland Security, who gave us our AuxComm training, were definitely different in that regard. Last night we were treated ......... what's the word I'm looking for .......... seriously - very seriously.  In their eyes, we CERT volunteers were just as valuable to them as any regular police or fire officer, or EMT.

I guess when you're in a situation where three minutes can make the difference between life or death, the gentlemen who taught us last night were very happy to have some good eyes, hands and minds out there in the field.  At the end of the evening, each of us were issued an IFAK - and Individual First Aid Kit, complete with supplies needed to make that difference.  I pray I'll never be in that situation where I have to implement it; but if I am, I'm pretty darned confident that I now know enough to save someone's life, if it comes to that.

Kudos to our three instructors and the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management for last evening.  We hope we'll make you proud.

As an aside, when I got home at 9:45 PM, my Harold was sitting in the bay window, faithfully waiting for me. What a good doggie; and just the thing to come home to after a very long day!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

New QRP Podcast

A new QRP Podcast - "The QRP'ian" - can be found at  This one is hosted by Mike Malone KD5KXF, and the first episode can be found here:

The guests on the first episode are Brian KB9BVN, who's a good friend and a fellow Flying Pig. Also appearing is Dave Cripes NM0S - a QRP Hall of Famer and a guy I enjoy following on Facebook.

I'm listening to Episode 001 as I type this and it is excellent!  It's like sitting around the workbench with your QRP buddies, shooting the breeze, while sharing a cup o' Joe.

I'm not big into following podcasts, but this is one that I will listen to on a regular basis. This and QSO Today will be my two favorites.

BTW, I'm going to a different kind of CERT training class tonight .... Bleeding control.  I have to high tail it over from work; as the class starts promptly at 6:00 PM. Should be interesting as it's a "practical" class with hands on experience. I was told we each get a tourniquet for our CERT kits, since we will have been trained on their proper use.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ham Cram

This coming Saturday, Marv K2VHW and I will be attempting our first one day "Ham Cram". Normally, we conduct Technician License classes over an eight week period, one evening a week for two hours with self study in between sessions.

The group that requested this did not want to go that route.  With the unpredictable winter weather that we have been having, that's understandable. Instead of the usual routine, we composed a "Technician Class Self Study Guide" which was issued to all the prospective candidates a month ahead of time.  We broke down the ARRL License Manual into four manageable chunks. We also provided links to appropriate You Tube videos, as well as other on line resources to accompany the material in the manual.

The session on Saturday will start at 8:00 AM and will break for a one hour lunch period at Noon. We will continue on to about 3:30 PM with exams following at 4:00 PM.  The half hour in between will be used to fill out 605 forms and all the other necessary paperwork.

Marv and I will be "going boldly, where we have never gone before"!

Wish us, and our candidates luck!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Toothpaste works!

Yesterday, we had a work detail at the Middlesex County Fire Academy, where I volunteer as a RACES operator.  Our goal for the day was to assemble our UHF/VHF Go Kits, put them on the air, and make sure the antennas were marked, so that when they're deployed by the various municipalities in the county, that the SWR will be optimal.

As I was putting the kits away in the storage room, which is tiny, I heard a strange noise. I wasn't aware of what it was until I got in the car to come home.  I had my Wouxun UV8D on my belt, and I was navigating the storage room, I was unknowingly rubbing the face of my HT against the cinder block wall.

It was nowhere near as bad as the above picture that I found on the Web, but there were a few noticeable, long scratches.

When I got home, I went into one of our bathrooms to see what kind of toothpastes we have. I use AIM, which is a blue, minty gel (and is cheap); but my daughter uses Arm & Hammer Extra Whitening, which is a standard "white" toothpaste.  I put a tiny dab of that on my finger and made continual circular motions across the HT screen while slowly counting to 100 in my head.  I cleaned off the toothpaste with a paper towel and was happy to see the scratches were almost gone!  I repeated the procedure once more, and now the scratches are 99% removed. You can still see them slightly, but you have to know that they're there and you have to look for them.

So if you ever scratch the display of your HT (and it's not a touch screen), don't despair. A few minutes of your time and some toothpaste will fix that right up.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mag loop success!

After Sunday's discouraging outcome,  I decided to give the mag loop another little workout tonight during the 40 Meter QRP Fox hunt. Even though I'm dog tired after a long day at work,  I had enough energy to give it a shot.

I must say that I'm getting pretty darn good at putting it together.  It's getting to the point now that I can be on the air within 5 minutes. I do need to get a better tripod, though. My little Buddistick minipod doesn't offer enough stability.

At any rate,  tuning the capacitor was once again a breeze, and I found Todd N9NE rather quickly. He had a great signal, as always;  and he's such a great op that it wasn't hard to figure his split.  I got him on my second or third call. What's nice about the loop is that I was able to rotate it for maximum signal strength from Todd. He was his usual strong 559 and I received the same in return.

Even though I usually have a pipeline to Todd in Wisconsin, it was nice to have another success with the loop. I'd still rather use a conventional antenna whenever possible, but it sure is nice to have another reliable RF arrow in the quiver. After some 39 years of "More wire ....... and the higher, the better!", it's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that a 3 foot diameter loop at no more than a few feet off the ground works at all, let alone that it seems to work well. Physics and results don't lie, I guess.

Conventional wisdom isn't so conventional - again.  Maybe I need to go search for some of that "unconventional" wisdom.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bands were crappy yesterday

Saturday was a very busy, busy day for me.  I was determined to do "not much of anything" on Sunday, as a result of that busy-ness. It was still chilly in the basement; so I brought the magloop upstairs to do a little experimenting

First off, in my mind, the loop has proven itself as a viable performer on 20 Meters.  I have made several trans-Continental and trans-Oceanic QSOs with it.  However, I have not used the loop much on 40 Meters, or any of the other bands at all, if I remember correctly.

That said, I was itching to log some QSOs, so I started out on 20 Meters, where my previous success had been.  I was disappointed as I didn't hear many signals; and the ones I did hear were weak and watery.  On the bright side, I was able to find the "sweet spot" on the tuning capacitor as easily as I did before and it was pretty easy to bring the SWR down to about 1.2:1.

So I hopped to 40, 30 and 17 Meters, respectively.  On each band I was able to find the "sweet spot" on the tuning capacitor with ease.  The background noise would peak very easily and some careful tuning back and forth resulted in very respectable SWRs on each band.  But again, 17 and 30 Meters seemed to both be pretty dead.

40 Meters had a few loud signals; but it seemed everyone I heard was already in QSO. I wasn't able to hear anyone calling CQ.  Because of that, I called CQ on both 20 and 40 Meters.  No answers on 40 Meters, but there was a very weak answer on 20 Meters.  I could tell that a station was calling me; but I just could not pull them out of the background noise.  Whoever that might have been, I apologize.

In all I spent about 45 minutes playing around, mostly just band switching to see how quickly I could tune the loop after band/frequency hops.  Even with the 6:1 reduction drive installed, it was not long at all before I was ready to go after making a change.

Here's an RBN map of where my CQs were being heard:

Disappointed by the band conditions, I headed down to the basement shack to see if perhaps it was the antenna instead of the band being dead.  Nope - the Butternut HF9V and the W3EDP weren't hearing any better, if at all.  Just another one of those days of when you want to get on the air; but there's just not much doing.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stella !!!!

Not done yet. For now, due to the storm sweeping in tropical warmth in the upper troughs, the precipitation has changed from snow to sleet and ice pellets.  As things wrap around, we should go back to snow within a few hours. So far, 7 inches on the ground and the antennas are still up; but the winds are starting to increase.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, March 13, 2017


I "just" make it into the 18-24 inch area.  The boundary between us and less snowfall will be the Raritan River; and I'm north of it.

The reminds me of a snow event back sometime in the mid 80s when I was living in East Brunswick. We got rain; but my sister and I were in her car and we crossed one of the bridges over the Raritan and it was like driving through a door - rain on one side, snow on the other.

Weather can be a funny thing.  I just hope my antennas escape, unscathed. I never worry about the Butternut; but I'm always checking the wire during events like these.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Another cold weekend

Another cold March weekend in New Jersey.  The trees are budding, and the daffodils are quite sad as thry are being blanketed with snow.  We got just a coating yesterday, but the possibility is emerging for a MAJOR snow event this coming Tuesday.

Budding trees

Snow on the gound (not much ....... for now!)

Very disgruntled Daffodils!

And this morning, when I woke up, it was a very brisk 15F (-9C) outside.  Not my favorite time of year, by any means. It seems Nature is playing a game of tug-o'-war with Old Man Winter; and he's in no hurry to give up and go!

To warm my heart and to remind me of what's shortly to come, I received this certificate via email from the WWFF/KFF folks:

I am hanging on for dear life to the fact that soon, this cold weather will be just a bad memory, and that I will be in a park somewhere in NJ activating POTA entities - with the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair and a song (to the tune of CW) in my heart.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

C-c-c-c-old !!!!!

It seems surreal that just two Sundays ago, I was sitting in Washington Rock State Park making QSOs at a picnic bench. The temperatures were in the 60s (18C).  Today, I woke up and the thermometer read 8F (-13C). The temperatures took a nose dive on Friday and this weekend was frigid.  So instead of doing much operating, I spent Saturday and a bit of today cleaning the shack.

I'll admit it, I got sloppy and lazy the last few months. But on top of that, it seems the rest of the family used my little area of the basement as a dumping ground for cardboard, Christmas wrapping stuff and other effluvia.  I spent the day cleaning, tossing and organizing, and ended up filling up five large garbage bags.  I also cut up about a dozen cardboard boxes and consolidating them for our bi-weekly recycling pick up tomorrow.  I can now sit in my shack again without being totally disgusted with myself!

Here's a video tour of the somewhat cleaned up W2LJ shack:

I apologize for the video quality as it's not the best; and I'm still getting used to this.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, March 03, 2017

QRPTTF 2017 announced!

Today, Paul Harden announced the theme for QRP To The Field 2017 - "A River Runs Through It" or, as he also refers to it - "Rivers On The Air".

To quote Paul:

Qualifying River: To avoid any confusion defining a river, creek, stream, canal, etc. – if it has a name, it qualifies, whether or not there's water in it when you arrive.  This would include dry river beds and arroyos (with a name) common in the Southwest.  Operate from near the river as safety or local facilities allow.

This year, QRPTTF falls on Saturday, April 22nd. It runs 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Local Time (so it varies from time zone to time zone).

The name of the river is a required part of the exchange, but you're welcomed to shorten it to something manageable - so something like the "Chattahoochie" won't be so daunting on CW.

There's no shortage of rivers, creeks and streams near me, so finding a suitable location to operate shouldn't be a problem.  QRPTTF is one of my most favorite events of the year and is the kick off to the Summer QRP Outdoor Operating season.  Once QRPTTF rolls around - you know Winter is definitely over!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, February 19, 2017


February 19th and it was warm!  It felt more like a Spring day than the middle of Winter; as it reached a high of 68F (20C).So what does a relatively young man's fancy turn to when it warms up like this? Why, Amateur Radio of course!  In particular, portable QRP operating.  Too nice to stay cooped up inside, right?

I decided on a very impromptu activation of Washington Rock State Park, which is designated as KFF-1635 in WWFF (World Wide Flora and Fauna nomenclature). Probably not my brightest idea as it's the ARRL DX Contest weekend; but I decided to head out, anyway.  Before heading to the park, I had to stop by Dick's Sporting Goods to pick up some fishing swivels (with clasps).

I use these to attach the "bullet" of my Joplin ARC Antenna Launcher to the fishing line. This allows me to quickly detach the projectile and attach in it's place the Mason's twine that I use as support rope during these activations.  A package of a hundred (a lifetime supply) cost all of about $5.

I got to the park and it appeared that everyone else from Central NJ had the same idea that I did! There was a small crowd at the park. It's very popular, because as I've mentioned before, Washington Rock is located on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains and provides an unobstructed view of the NJ Shore and the Piedmont.  On a clear day, like today, it is even possible to see Manhattan and Staten Island with the help of binoculars or a telescope.  This is why General Washington used this spot during the Revolution.  By going up there at night, he was able to clearly see the campfires of all the British troop encampments.

But I digress.I found the last empty picnic table and claimed it by placing my equipment on top. Then I got to the business of hoisting the antenna.  Again, the Joplin ARC Launcher made this an easy task. I become a better shot each time out and once again, the "bullet" cleared the tree and went exactly where I wanted it to go.  The PAR END FEDZ 40/20/10 went up easily and within minutes, I was on the air.  Actually, I arrived at the park at about 1850 UTC and was calling CQ by 1900 UTC,

I really like the PAR END FEDZ 40/20/10, as it deploys easily and with the KX3's autotuner, it also loads up and seems to get out really well on 30 Meters and 17 Meters in addition to the three bands it was designed to operate on.

I started out on 40 Meters with no takers, despite spotting myself on DX Summit as well as the WWFF/POTA Facebook page.  That was a disappointment, as I was hoping for a decent amount of local activity.  At that time of the day, DX from Europe (and thus any contest QRM) is minimal, so I was hoping to work folks along the East coast and up into Canada. After about 20 minutes or so of no answers, I went up to 20 Meters.

Calling CQ POTA in the midst of the ARRL DX Contest was probably pure folly, but I did get answers. I worked S52A, EA8KW, S50Q, C6ARU, FY5KE and CO2JD at various points.  They were probably wondering what the heck "KFF1635" was. I think they probably just wanted the "599 NJ", but that's neither here or there.  They were QSOs made from the park; and they count whether they were looking specifically for me or not.

17 Meters yielded contacts with KG5CIK, WR2E and WB2MKX, both of whom were in New Jersey.

30 Meters was good for two contacts. One was with KA9CFD and the other was a half hour or so rag chew with N1KW, Bob in IL.  Bob was also enjoying the warm weather in Illinois and was in his back yard, using his K2 at 10 Watts straight off a solar panel - no battery.  I really enjoyed the QSO with Bob and it's made me anxious to try out the solar panel that I bought from Harbor Freight last October.  I purchased a voltage controller from Bangood, and once I wire it up, I should be able to get a good and steady 12 Volts on a decently bright day - more than enough to power the KX3.

After the rag chew with Bob, I realized I had been at the park for close to two hours, so I decided to pack up and head home while there was still plenty of light.  I did have a few people come up to me, asking me what I was doing. I was able to give Amateur Radio, QRP and portable operating a couple of good plugs.

With that, I'll close this post with a very short and hastily made video that I took just prior to tear down.  I apologize for the quality - Steve WG0AT has nothing to worry from me as far as video expertise goes. But maybe, just maybe, if I keep this up, I can get better at that, too.  Lord knows, I've come a long way from my first attempt at portable QRP ops!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017


It appears that in September of 2016, the ARRL formed a committee, looking into the possibility of petitioning the FCC to create a new entry level Amateur Radio license.  At this point, they are looking for membership input.

So if you're a member of the ARRL, please log in to their Web site and take a survey, by clicking here.

Personally, some of the best times I have had in Amateur Radio occurred when I was a Novice.  I learned so much, most of it by the Amateur Radio School of Hard Knocks.  So, I was very saddened when the FCC ditched the Novice license.  I thought this was an excellent way to enter the Amateur Radio world, with the focus on operating in the HF bands, not just VHF/UHF.  Not that there's anything wrong with VHF/UHF, but I think opening up the world of the HF bands is the way to go, keeping interests piqued and offering endless possibilities.

It will be interesting to see how this all pans out and if anything comes of it.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Had to post!

Saw this on the "100 Watts and a Wire" Facebook page - too funny not to share!

KUDOs to Andre Vorreiter


72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Skunked again - sort of.

I got on the air last night, in my 62F (16C) shack in order to participate in the 40 Meter QRP Foxhunt.  These hunts have been deplorable for me this year, with hardly any success.  Last night was no different.  The Foxes were NK6A in California and KV2X in New York.  I didn't hear either one of them - although W1AW/KP4 was absolutely booming in to NJ.

Instead of turning the radio off and running upstairs to warmer quarters and an episode of MacGyver on MeTV, I decided to participate for a bit in the NAQCC 160 Meter Sprint.  Just for grins and giggles, I did the search and pounce thing for better part of a half an hour, and also called CW for about 15 minutes or so.

Although my W3EDP tunes up on 160 Meters, thanks to the dazzling auto tuner inside the KX3 (I'd swear that thing would tune up a strand of wet spaghetti), I was probably sending RF into the HF equivalent of a rubber duckie antenna.  Even so, with 5 Watts I made 10 contacts, ranging from Maine, down to North Carolina and as far west as Michigan.  Not a band burner in any sense of the concept; but satisfying enough for an evening that looked pretty bleak, Foxhunt-wise.

What was also satisfying is that, thanks to a great suggestion gleaned from Facebook, I successfully stowed away my magloop antenna.  A few weeks ago, I went onto the DIY Magloop page and asked for suggestions on how the various members stored and carried their loops.

One of the suggestions was a stuff sack - a nylon bag with a draw string that normally you would use to stow away a sleeping bag or other camping equipment.  I went to Amazon and purchased this in the 25" (63 cm) version.

It's made by Liberty Mountain.  The longest piece of the antenna fits with room to spare, and the coiled up loop of LMR400 went in very nicely.  It doesn't look like as picturesque the above photo, as I'm not stowing away a sleeping bag - but it will serve its purpose very well.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Delinquent in posting

I began 2017 with a pledge to post more often, and there's one resolution already shot to Hades!  But I do have a reason for my lack of blogging activity. I've been battling a crummy case of sinusitis the past two weeks. I'll spare you the gory details, but it's been accompanied by a bad, hacking cough,  As a result, I've been staying out of the chilly basement shack. Staying out of the shack limits me severely as to what I can talk about.

I did get these through the mail, though - so I'll post two images:


I could be picky and say I actually participated in 10 activations, as one of those was under the NJ2SP call sign of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club - but only 9 under my own call.

A few folks have been bothered by the price of the certificates, However, if you consider the IT, publicity and staff man hour costs that it took to make NPOTA such a success, it's really not that much.  The amount of enjoyment I received throughout the year from NPOTA makes the cost of these two pieces of paper a mere pittance in comparison. Also, you have to consider that this is probably a "once in a lifetime" event.  I highly doubt that I'll make it to the National Park Service bicentennial.

I did receive something very recently from Rich G3CWI at SOTA Beams that I'm very excited about, I hope to play with it this coming weekend and I'll be posting about it real soon, so stay tuned!. This stupid sinusitis is definitely a drag.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

To help with your NPOTA withdrawal

There IS a Parks On The Air program that has been up and running for a while.  In the USA, POTA is part of the World Wide Flora and Fauna program, which is international in scope.  Like NPOTA, WWFF was devised in order to get Amateur Radio ops off their duffs and into the Great Outdoors. I love their catch phrase - "Make nature your shack!"

POTA is the United States arm of WWFF and POTA encompasses not only NPOTA, but State Parks as well.  So if NPOTA was difficult for you as an activator, POTA should be easier as it will include many places that were not part of POTA.

Take for instance, the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge (KFF-0454)  here in NJ.  I drive through it every time I go up to HP28, Morristown National Historical Park (KFF-0746), which is part of NPOTA.  Since the Refuge is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, it was not part of NPOTA - but it IS part of POTA. My favorite portable operating spot, Washington Rock State Park, is also part of POTA (KFF-1635).

Activation requirements for WWFF are a bit stricter. For a valid activation, WWFF requires 44 QSOs, while NPOTA required only 10.  Happily, according to my good friend Greg N4KGL, POTA also requires only 10 QSOs for a valid activation. A good day's worth of portable operations should cover you. If you're bound and determined to work towards Activator awards, then you have a good program here to fill your heart's desire.. Me? I'll just be happy to have the "excuse" to go out and put some NJ parks on the air.

I've only just registered and have not looked into all the details about how to upload logs and stuff; but I am bound and determined to put some parks in New Jersey on the air this coming Spring and Summer for the chasers that are really into this.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Portable operations antennas

So with all the NPOTA operating and other portable operating that I've done over the years, you might think that I've become some sort of expert on portable antennas, right?

Nope - not even close.

I have become "expert" enough to tell you that there's no "one size fits all" or all purpose antenna that will work in every situation.  That antenna continues to be the "Holy Grail" or "Golden Fleece" of Amateur Radio.  It is rumored to exist and is still being searched for.  Some will tell you that they possess it, or a reasonable facsimile, thereof.

In my mind, it's a myth, a fairy tale, a legend.  I have found that in every situation, all portable antennas will work well, some better than others. It all depends on the situation and the circumstances of that particular day or event.

Do you have trees available?  Awesome!  I think back on Day One, the Good Lord knew that someday, radio would be discovered, and that our species of hobbyists would be spawned. So He created trees.  "The World" seems to think that trees were created for the purpose of shade, food, converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, as well as a source of wood.  We Ham Radio operators know better - that trees were created to hold our aerials up in the sky, away from the ground,  and that the other services that trees provide are just side benefits.

If you have trees available at your location, put them to their intended purpose ....... get wire in them, as high as you can get it.  Whether it be a dipole, doublet, end fed, zepp, or any other kind of wire antenna, get it up as high as you can.  Of course, for portable operations, you want to keep the antenna as uncomplicated as possible, while still maintaining the ability to work as many bands as possible. In my experience the W3EDP or an end fed wire connected to a 9:1 UNUN will give you the most bang for the buck.  These can be used as verticals or slopers. And if you have enough real estate and feedline, they can even be stretched between two trees, as high as you can get them.  In the five years of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt, my best year was accomplished using a W3EDP strung between two trees in a horizontal configuration, about 40 feet up, or so.

But what if there are no trees; or only one tree?  If there's only one tree, then I would suggest using said arbor as a support for a sloper - again. getting the end up as high as possible.  If there are NO trees, then you have to become creative and a bit more flexible.  If you're at the top of a mountain, you might try taking an end fed and just allow it to dangle off the side of the peak. If that's not practical, or you're bothered by heights like I am, and will go nowhere near the edge of a cliff, then you have to resort to something else.

That something else might be something like a portable vertical. Portable verticals can work very, very well. But to work very, very well you need to lay down a radial field or use a counterpoise. When I used the PAC12 antenna, I used to lay down a set of 8 sixteen foot lengths of wire, arranged around the antenna in a wagon wheel fashion.  It worked well, but could become a nuisance if the radial wires became entangled.  Care had to be taken during storage to make sure that didn't happen. Also, the radials will work the best while being elevated, even if that means just an inch or two off the ground, which means some sort of radial support also becomes necessary.

If you operate from your car .... if you can operate from your car, the radial problem becomes much, much easier to deal with.  Put your vertical on a magmount and allow your vehicle to become the ground plane.  I was only so-so pleased with my Buddistick until Bob W3BBO recommended this to me.  After I abandoned using the Buddistick counterpoise wire, and let my Jeep fulfill that function, my Buddistick literally began to soar!  Over the years, I have worked over 60 countries and just about all 50 States using 5 Watts or less.  Having a huge hunk of metal under that vertical makes all the difference in the world.

That being said, does it work on ALL bands well?


The Buddistick on the roof seems to work well for me on 20 through 6 Meters.  If I want to hop on 40 Meters from the Jeep, I resort to a Hamstick.  The Hamstick, on that same magmount, works exceedingly well.  I suppose I could get the Buddistick to work decently, but I would need to add extension arms and figure out whip length.  It seems easier to just plop the Hamstick on for 40 Meters and the Buddistick for 20 - 6 Meters.  I have fiddled around with the Buddistick enough to find a tap setting that will allow me to work 20, 17 and 15 Meters without changing the physical configuration. The autotuner in my KX3 compensates as needed for each band, and minimally at that.

So what do you do, if you're away from your vehicle, there are no trees, and no way to support a wire with a portable mast; and you don't want to mess with a vertical and radials?  This is where a magloop can come into play.  The magloop is the newest antenna in my portable ops arsenal, and I have to admit that for a long time, I was doubtful of its capabilities.  But (there's always a but) I remained intrigued by the idea of having something like that and hoped against hope that the stories I had been reading were not just wishful thinking.

So far, I have found that the claims seem to have some truth to them.  From the limited use I have given my home brewed magloop, I have been quite pleased as well as surprised.  I have easily hopped the Atlantic several times with 5 Watts as well as crossing the Continental US to the west coast.  What has surprised me about the loop is that the noise floor, while using one, is so low that you may think you have it tuned wrong.  The incoming radio signals seem to jump out of nowhere and are quite loud. But using a loop takes some getting used to.  You have to teach yourself how to find the "sweet spot", which means turning the tuning capacitor for loudest ambient band noise. In an environment where there may be lots of traffic or people talking, that means resorting to using earbuds or headphones.  Once you carefully tune for that loudest band noise, though, means you are there - flat SWR.  But you have to be careful, though, because the tuning is very sharp and if you're even a tiny bit off, the SWR can be sky high.  If you're going to be frequency hopping a lot, this is a major pain.  Also, the tuning capacitor works best with some sort of reduction drive. As I've mentioned before, tuning can be tricky until you're used to it, and without the reduction drive, it can be difficult to find that noise peak.

The bottom line is that, if you're going to do a lot of portable operating, you really should have at least three or four options at your disposal. There is no situation where one antenna where work in all cases, either due to lack of set up time, real estate, available antenna hanging resources, etc.  Once you've gotten some experience under your belt you will be able to size up the situation and will be able to determine what option will work the best for that given day.

Always keep in the back of your mind the equation, "MOE = A + R + T" . That is, Maximum Operating Enjoyment becomes an art. It is a mixture of Antenna Efficiency  Resources and Set Up Time.  The desired outcome for an enjoyable outing is always using the most efficient antenna you can, using the resources you have at hand, with the minimal amount of set up and tear down time. After all, the idea is to be on the air making contacts, not silently cursing antenna wires or trees under your breath while simultaneously elevating your blood pressure.

A word of warning, though ..... this will become a lifetime endeavor and you will be constantly perusing the Internet and Ham publications looking for that "all purpose, all in one antenna".  I doubt that you or I will ever find it, but as they say, "The fun is in the journey, not the destination."

Have fun and see you on the air from the Great Outdoors in 2017!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy New Year !!!

Fervent wishes from W2LJ to all of you for a happy, healthy, prosperous and joyous 2017!

My resolution for 2017 is to get back into the blogging spirit. It seems too many things otherwise occupied my attention in 2016.  My post total for the year wasn't a low - but almost. Only 2006, my second year of doing this, had a lower post total.

Not that I am an Amateur Radio expert or anything like that; but I'd like to get back into the swing of things with sharing with you folks.  It keeps my head in the game.

I also have to find a new place to operate from during lunch break at work.  We relocated from the building we were in to a new destination about 10 minutes farther on down the road.  The bad thing, radio-wise, is that this location has an underground parking deck.  It's very nice that my Jeep will be protected from the elements, but not good at all for trying to generate RF into the aether.  I will have to Google map the are to see if there's a near by park or some kind of open space that I can utilize without eating up too much operating time.

That's it for today. I am going to post in the next day or two my impressions about my experiences with portable antennas during NPOTA.  Nothing I haven't covered before; but something I'd like to write a bit about again.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Wow ..... just wow!

I'm not sure how to even begin this post. Yesterday, the final day of NPOTA was such a good day, there was no time to be sad or mourn its end. If NPOTA was the gift of a great big cake to Amateur Radio in 2016 - then December 31, 2016 will go down as the icing on the cake.  It was definitely one of the best days in Amateur Radio that I have ever had. If it wasn't the best, it was right up there in the Top 10 .... maybe the Top 5.

As stated in my earlier post this week, my intention was to come full circle and to end NPOTA as it began, with activations of both the Washington-Rochambeau Trail (TR23) and Morristown National Historical Park (HP28). The day started sunny and a bit cold as I made my way up to Morristown.  I haven't been up there since last May, and since I take all back roads to get there, I was using my TomTom GPS unit to guide me there. About 1/3 of the way there, the TomTom gave up the ghost.  Rebooting and resetting did no good.  The map screen was nothing but a blank, white screen.  Fortunately, I was able to retrace my steps without getting lost.

I set up in the parking lot and set up my 40 Meter Hamstick on the Jeep roof and the magloop right next to the Jeep. I was intending to start out on 40 Meter CW with the tried and proven Hamstick in order to get the 10 minimum QSOs that are needed for a valid activation; and only then switch over to the magloop for 20 Meters, as I really haven't used it enough to be confident in it as a proven performer.

After getting everything set up, I made myself comfortable and self spotted my activity on both DX Summit as well as the NPOTA page on Facebook.  I was rewarded with 38 QSOs on 7.038 MHz and then called CQ for a bit until the activity died out.  Then I switched over to the SSB portion of the band in order to find an empty frequency.  My goal was to work Dave KD2FSI who was staying in nearby Morris Plains. Dave and I have a history as far as NPOTA goes.  When he activated HP28 last January, I drove up to lend him some assistance.  Together, we both coached several fledgling members of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club during an activation of TR23. And when Dave would activate an NPOTA entity during his travels throughout the year, he kept me abreast of his agenda and gave me several ATNOs.

To work Dave on the last day of NPOTA would have been a privilege and an honor.  Gladly, it came to fruition; and I was able to have a brief sideband contact with him on 7.220 MHz (gladly, I thought enough to bring the microphone along, which turned out to be very important). After working Dave, I turned my attention to 14.061 MHz and the magloop.  With the 6:1 reduction drive, it seemed to take forever to find a noise peak, but eventually I did.  After carefully turning for peak noise, I hit the auto tune button on the KX3, thinking that I would "clean up" and lingering SWR. The auto tuner clicked and clacked for about a millisecond as I was already there - the KX3 showing me that I had a 1:1 match.  Now the proof would be in the pudding, Was my home brew magloop as good as advertised; or would be just a waste of my time and money?

The magloop turned out to be a great performer, way beyond what I thought was possible. With only 5 Watts, I was getting great signal reports from California, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, the Azores and Italy! Wow! Something that I built from scratch actually worked and it ended up costing me substantially less than a commercial unit. To say that I was pleased would be an understatement. I was more akin to walking on air.

Then then next hour even topped that!  Much to my surprise, Dave KD2FSI drove up next to me and parked in the space next to mine.  I got out of the Jeep and greeted him and we had ourselves a very nice time talking and discussing NPOTA and the day's events.  

While we were shooting the breeze, we both noticed a group pf people a little bit over in the same parking lot.  They had set up tables and had some drinks and some food that they were enjoying.  One of the women from the group came up to us and asked what we were doing and was my magloop "Some kind of antenna?"  We explained NPOTA and Amateur Radio and that's when she invited us over to join her friends for a warm drink and to explain to all of them what we were doing. It seems they were a group of Norwegian descendants who usually get together, either on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve to enjoy some food, drink and fellowship outdoors.  They gave Dave and me a hot cup of Glug, which was a mixture of red wine, almonds and raisins.  While we sipped we gave a good talk about Amateur Radio, NPOTA, the ARRL and the National Parks System as well as a few points about Emergency Communications.  They thanked us and we thanked them and then Dave and I headed back to our cars. He left to get back to Morris Plains, and I packed up to head back home to TR23.

About a 1/2 hour later, I arrived at the Frazee House in Scotch Plains, which is right on the Washington - Roachambeau Trail; and it was the same place I activated the Trail from during the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.  When I activated TR23 last January, I did it from the entrance to the Ashbrook Golf Course.  It was open yesterday and I didn't want to cause any commotion, so I came back to the Frazee House which is only a couple of minutes farther down the road.

This time I decided to use another arrow from my antenna quiver,  I also brought along my Joplin ARC antenna launcher and I got a line over a tree and made use of the PAR ENDFEDZ 40/20/10.

I ran the coax into the Jeep through a crack in the window and got down to business.  I ran off a bunch of QSOs on 40 Meters and was about to switch over to 20 Meters when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a vehicle had pulled up next to me.  This time, it wasn't another Radio Amateur. This time, it was a member of the Scotch Plains Police Department.  I guess I called some attention to myself, being the only car there, in an otherwise empty place.   I got out of the car and walked a step or two to his rolled down window. I introduced myself and gave the spiel about NPOTA and how Raritan Road is part of the Washington - Rochambeau Trail, which he knew.  What the Officer didn't know was that the trail is part of the National Parks System and he was very surprised by that. Then he told me about how his grandfather was a Ham, that in fact W2KKG was his call sign.  We talked a bit, shook hands and he went on his way; and I returned to the Jeep for 20 Meters.

20 Meter CW proved to be a disappointment. Even with self spotting, I garnered only about 15 QSOs before the activity petered out, way too soon in my opinion.  I sat there, with KX3 calling CQ, debating whether I should pack it in and go home.  It was getting to be around 2:30 PM EST, and I only wanted to be out until around 3:00 PM as I had a previous commitment at 5:00 PM and I had to get ready for that. Wanting to get a least a few more Qs in the log; so I decided that I would give 20 Meter SSB a shot.  With the deep cycle battery, I could boost the KX3's output to 10 Watts. The PAR was up in a tree about 50 feet up or so, so I figured, "What the heck!".  I didn't even bother to spot myself, I just hooked up the microphone and started calling CQ on 14.340 MHz, figuring that what would be, would be.

Much to my surprise, about 60 QSOs later, the pileup ceased.  With 10 Watts, I had worked all up and down the East Coast, across to California and Washington State and even up into Alberta, Canada. In all, there were only 1 or 2 instances where I had to repeat anything. It was pure bliss!

As it started becoming overcast and dusk started settling in, I packed everything up and headed home. I was in another world, walking in rarefied air. NPOTA turned out to be everything it was chalked up to be; and more.  Thanks to Sean, Norm and all the ARRL staff who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make NPOTA the success that it was. I have never been more proud to be a Life Member of the ARRL.  Friendships that will last a lifetime; and new memories that will last a lifetime are the direct results of NPOTA. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Later, I was talking with my good friend Bob W3BBO on Skype, as we do just about every Saturday evenming,  I had worked him earlier from HP28 and we talked about our QSO a bit more in depth and about the day in general. Bob stated that, in a way, he felt bad for me.  As he tuned around 20 and 40 Meters, it seemed like it was just wall-to-wall NPOTA. He told me that he was sure I should have been at home boosting up my entities worked total. I told him not to feel bad, as not only had I worked a couple new ones via Park to Park QSOs; but there was nowhere in the world that I would have rather been - handing out QSOs as an Activator on the last and best day of NPOTA.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!