Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Sky Buddy

Picture as promised. It doesn't appear to be in too bad shape. I haven't connected it to the variac, yet.

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

Quiet weekend

Although it was a busy weekend "civilian world-wise". it was quiet Ham Radio world-wise with two exceptions.

Saturday, the New Providence Amateur Radio Club held it's annual auction. This was the first time I ever attended. I went with the prospect of just hanging out with friends, and ended up coming home with an unexpected purchase.

John N2DV, Tim AB2ZK, Dave KD2FSI, Chris N0CC and Marty WB2BEW were all there and it was nice to see them. The unexpected purchase was a Hallicrafters Sky Buddy receiver which I picked up for $40. It had the original instruction sheet with it as well as an extra tube.

Back in the day, when I was studying for my Novice exam, the Sky Buddy was always spoken of fondly as a Novice's "dream receiver" during the Golden Days of Amateur Radio. I'm also a sucker for Hallicrafters, for some reason. The price was decent, the rig appears to be in decent shape, so it got added to my collection. I'll take a photo of it and will post.

I was contented with the purchase; but what I really should have bidded on was an MFJ QRP rig that was there. I'm not sure of the model, but it was the one with interchangeable band modules. It looked brand new and obviously hadn't seen much use.  It ended up not selling, as there was no interest in it. I didn't bring a lot of cash (not expecting to bid on anything) and the Sky Buddy had tapped me out. Wasn't meant to be, I guess. I really don't need another small QRP radio anyway - but that begs the question. Can you have "too many"?

On Sunday, I got on the radio, in an attempt to work W3BBO when I was alerted to him being spotted on RBN on 40 Meters. Propagation was such that 40 Meters was not a viable path between Erie, PA and South Plainfield, NJ. I ended up going up to 17 Meters, out of curiosity, just to see if the band was open. It was there that I heard ZW86LABRE in Brazil. They weren't very strong, but the band was dead otherwise. I sent out my call and worked them on the first try.

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

Friday, February 21, 2020


My good friend, Bob W3BBO picked up one of these this past week - the Xiegu G90.

Bob is the guy who really got me into QRP as a full time Amateur Radio pursuit - not sure whether he knows that, or not. I've said before that I was always a QRP dabbler since my Novice days, but then one day, back in the annals of history, he brought his brandie-new Elecraft K2 to one of our Piscataway Amateur Radio Club Field Day efforts. A few minutes behind the dial and buttons and I was a hooked QRP'er for life.

Bob still has that K2. Mine was sold off a long time ago in order to afford my KX3. I love my KX3; but I still have a tiny bit of remorse about having to lose the K2. The sacrifices we make ...............

Anyway, Bob bought this little rig this past week and he's been having a ball. And I must say, I've been quite impressed.  It's really gotten him back on the air in a big way.  I have W3BBO set up in HamAlert so that I know when Bob has been spotted on RBN or on the DX Cluster. If I'm home, I go out of my way to get into the shack to try and work him. While I'm at work, there's not much I can do - it just chirps at me. And it's been chirping a lot this week - which has been a good thing! And the results he's been getting are not shabby. Look at this RBN report from a couple days ago:

There's only one report that's not in double digit dB's. That's pretty darn good! Of course, no rig is going to get out without good antennas and Bob is fine in that regard. It's still a good thing to know that a purchase that you've made is a good one. And anything that gets a friend back on the air, big time, is also a good thing.

Wishing you much success and fun with your new radio, Bob - can't wait to hear it on the air!

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Marshall Emm N1FN, SK

Many of you may have had dealings with Marshall Emm N1FN who was the owner of Morse Express, Marshall was also the owner of the Oak Hills Research and AMECO lines of products. Many of us purchased keys from him over the years; as well as Oak Hills QRP rigs and accessories.

Marshall was also one of the leaders of the QRP Fox hunts. This appeared on our e-mail reflector this morning:

We are sad to announce that Marshall Emm, N1FN - long time QRP advocate, owner of Morse Express, Oak Hills Research and Ameco – is a Silent Key. Marshall passed away peacefully Monday morning, February 17, 2020, at Aurora CO Medical Center with his daughters and wife surrounding him. When more details are available, we will post a more comprehensive announcement. Our thoughts and prayers are with Marshall’s family. Messages, thoughts, stories can be sent to COLORADOQRPCLUB@GMAIL.COM.

 Dick AB0CD.

Rest in Peace, Marshall.

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

Saturday, February 15, 2020


This is what I sold the two keys for - an AlexLoop. I bought it from Peter NN9K for a very good price. My first impression is that it's not all that different from my home brewed loop, with one big exception - I can tune the 15 Meter band. Listening to P40L on 15 Meters, I was able to tune the SWR down to 1.5 to 1. I was not able to do that with the home brewed loop.

The home brewed loop is a bit easier to tune with the 6:1 gear reduction drive that I put on it. I will have to get used to how sharp the AlexLoop's tuning is. Just a slight touch will take you from an SWR of 25:1 all the way down to 1.5:1. If Alex could pack a reduction drive into that small box, he'd really have a winner.

I wanted this loop with the future in mind, I bought it for the long haul. Yes, there are times when portable ops will demand using it - in parks where wires are not allowed in trees, for example. But I'm thinking about some years from now. Marianne has mentioned moving if and when we ever retire. There may come a day when I'll be leaving in Senior housing or perhaps a condo or townhouse with an HOA. If that ever happens, there may come a day when this AlexLoop could be the difference between being able to operate or being off the air completely.

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

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Holy Shamoley!

Dan N7CQR posted his log for the 40 Meter QRP Fox hunt for Tuesday evening. I was the only NJ Hound to make it into the log! I couldn't believe my eyes! I even did a CTL+F search on "NJ" just to make sure my eyes weren't playing tricks on me.

Usually I'm the last New Jersey Hound to make it into a Fox's log. I'm gobsmacked that this time I'm the only one. There are three other Hounds who reside in the Garden State - Steve WX2S in Kingston, Charles W2SH in Millington and Glenn NK1N in Hillsboro. Normally, they all get heard before me - I told you all that South Plainfield is an RF Black Hole! But to be the only NJ Hound in the log - this will probably be the first and only occurrence in my lifetime.

It was interesting, because I was able to locate Dan pretty quickly. He had a huge pileup of Hounds calling him. Find the pack, go down one and start listening - that's usually the modus operandi. It was this time, too.

It took a while for Dan's signal to build up to the point where throwing out my call sign was doable. There's no point in QRMing the pack if you can't hear the Fox returning your call. And at around that magic minute 0250 UTC, I made it into Dan's log.

I don't know what it is about 0250 UTC. I looked back at the pelts that I have collected this season and the vast majority of them were all nabbed within 5 minutes, either way, of 0250 UTC. I guess that's when all the louder QRP stations peter out and my pipsqueak signal starts getting heard.

The 80 Meter hunt tonight should be interesting. Mary NR3Z in Pennsylvania, and Tim KR0U in Colorado. My head tells me that I should probably nab Marty and then Tim, if I'm really lucky. It will probably end up being the other way around; or a skunk session if propagation plays head games with me.

On another note, I was "WOW'ed" by John AE5X's blog post about the IC-7300. Wow, wow, WOW!

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

It works!

Last night I checked into the two monthly ARES/RACES nets that I make an effort to attend. Both Joseph and Marianne got home late from school/work, respectively.  I ended up checking into the earlier 7:00 PM Middlesex County ARES/RACES net from the dinner table, using the handheld. Bad manners, I know, but you do what you have to.

John N2DV,  our Emergency Coordinator for Middlesex County, who is a reader of this blog and was NCS for the net, caught me on the air afterward and asked me if I had checked in using the new J-Pole. I must have been a little noisy with the handheld, which is spotty, depending on where I am in the house, or how I hold it. We talked for a bit and I explained the situation.

John W2VTV, our Section Emergency Coordinator must have been listening as well, because when I checked into the 8:00 PM NNJ ARES/RACES net, he told me upon check in that the J-Pole was doing a good job. I have no idea as to whether I was dead full quieting or not, but even if I wasn't, it doesn't matter. Just the fact that I was audible enough to be heard well and check in and participate from the inside my house was success enough for me.

For the record, this is a KB9VBR J-Pole.  It's made from copper tubing and will last longer upon this earth than I will, in all probability. It's fed with RG-8X coax. I know, not the best choice for VHF/UHF but it's good enough. Even with cable loss, there's enough Watts to get the job done that I need it to do. As per the instructions, I made a choke balun of (5) four inch (10 cm)  windings of the coax and placed them about one foot (30 cm) from the feed point. A two liter soda bottle is the exact diameter needed and made a good form to wind the coax around. The antenna itself is being supported by four sections of surplus military mast. That puts the base of the antenna roughly at a height of about 24 feet (7 meters). The antenna itself is about a meter long, so the tip is at 8 meters - roughly. Maybe a bit more or a bit less.

Buying an antenna does go against my grain a bit. I like to build my own whenever possible - especially for portable use and Field Day. But this one is made of really good material and I never brazed/soldered copper tubing before. I figured by the time I bought a butane torch so that I could do the job myself, it would probably end up costing more in materials and time than if I just purchased one. So I'll tell myself that I'm supporting the economy and am helping a fellow Ham put food on the table for his family. C'est la vie.

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

FDIM Speakers

Preston Douglas WJ2V posted the potential speakers list for FDIM 2020. Of course this is tentative considering that FDIM is a few months away and that things can change. But for those of you who are lucky enough to be going - this is the scheduled lineup as of this moment:

Holiday Inn Fairborn, Ohio --Thursday May14

9:15 - Jerry Wolczanski "Making an antenna coupler" 
10:00 - Dave Benson "The Phaser: FT8 and other tricks" 
10:45-11:15  - Break 
11:15 - Dennis Anderson (Kanga UK): "Why SMD?" 
12:00-1:30 Lunch 
1:30 - Jack Purdum "Using Microcontrollers in you ham radio projects" 
2:15 - Dino Papas. "Bench set up with inexpensive test equipment" 
3:00 - Hans Summers ""Reach for the skies: extreme QRP at 35,000 ft"

3:45 End

Sure makes me wish I was going!  For those of you who may still be thinking about it, you can go to the QRP -ARCI Website to register and make reservations for the hotel.

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

Monday, February 10, 2020

Looking forward to the weekend.

I know it's only Monday, but something to keep in mind THIS WEEK.  Nest weekend is the ARRL CW DX Contest. There may be may ops heading to far and distant locations during this week to get their stations set up and running. You may hear some good pre-contest DX all this week. You may want to keep your ears open and your eyes focused on the DX Clusters.  This is a prime opportunity for QRPers to get their share of DX. This week, and then again next Sunday as the contest winds down and the DX stations really sharpen their hearing, listening for weaker signals to fatten the QSO counts and point totals.

My eBay auctions ended successfully yesterday. I earned more than enough to fund a purchase of something I've been wanting for a while. If the winners are readers, by any chance, thank you so much! Your keys are going out via USPS Priority Mail today and you should both have them before the weekend.

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

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Got the antenna up

I got the VHF/UHF J-Pole up yesterday, but it seems there's always a side story involved.

I actually got a lot accomplished yesterday. Grocery shopping, errands, and I made some stuffed cabbage for dinner for today. My first time ever. It looks good; but tonight we'll see how good it actually is.

But getting back to the antenna ...........

Yesterday was pretty breezy and chilly. It's hard to believe that on Friday morning, on my way to work it was 60F (15C). A cold front swept through during the day; and by the time I left for home, it was 27F (-3C). The remnants of the wind were still evident yesterday, so I decided to connect the J-Pole to the top most mast section and connect the coax inside, where it was warm.

I worked on the living room floor. Securing the antenna to the mast was a piece of cake using three hose clamps. Then I hooked up the coax just like the picture from Friday's post. I secured the coax running along down the mast piece with cable ties. When it was all done, I went to put on my coat, so that I could carry the assembly outside and place it atop the other mast sections already out there.

That's when it got weird. I wanted to take the cable ties with me, so I could secure more of the coax neatly along the bottom sections of mast. I picked up the package of cable ties from the living room floor and then I looked around for my cutters. I couldn't find them anywhere. I JUST HAD THEM IN MY HANDS !!!!

I checked my pockets - nope. I looked under the sofa, thinking maybe I knocked them under there, somehow. Nope. I checked my coat pockets. Nope. I looked under the hassock and the chairs. Nope. I have no idea where they went. I finally went down the basement for another pair and got the antenna up easily. After I finished running the coax to the shack, I came back inside and started looking for the missing cutters, once again.

I still haven't found them. Maybe they ended up wherever the missing socks from the clothes dryer eventually end up - some sort of parallel universe. They were a pair of Harbor Freight cutters, so they weren't expensive - but they were very good and had become my favorites. I guess the bright side of the story is that I'll get to go to Harbor Freight in order to buy another pair - and you know what will happen, don't you? As soon as I buy another pair, the missing ones will somehow miraculously show up!

The bottom line is that I seem to be hitting the repeaters I need to hit, very well. I am officially ready for the monthly ARES nets that I participate in. This month they occur this coming Tuesday evening. I can finally join them from the chilly comfort of my basement shack - much better than running out to the car in order to use the mobile rig.

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

Friday, February 07, 2020

Rain, rain go away!

It seems like it's been raining here in Central NJ forever.  There have been sunny days, I guess. It's dark when I leave for work and it's dark on the drive home (although that's starting to change). The room I work in has no windows, so I don't get to see much sunshine. Today it's misty, foggy and supposedly we're under a flash flood warning. But later today, it's supposed to start clearing, get windy and the temperature is supposed to drop like a stone.

And I hope the forecast for partly cloudy skies for tomorrow is accurate. I want to install a VHF/UHF J-Pole in the backyard.

I am and always will be an HF kind of guy. For me, the "Low Bands" are what Amateur Radio is all about. Ever since I discovered that there was such a thing as Amateur Radio, the goal has always been to communicate with people via shortwave. This will always be my passion and first love.

The outdoor VHF/UHF antenna is needed for ARES nets that I regularly check into. The NNJ ARES Net is conducted on a repeater in Morristown, NJ. While it is not that far away and not that difficult to check into from the car, it is darn near impossible from inside the house with a handheld. And it's a pain in the posterior to run out to the car on cold Winter nights.

In addition, as the appointed Emergency Coordinator for South Plainfield,  I run an ARES net for our group every third Tuesday of the month on the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club repeater, NJ2SP. Hitting that with a handled is a piece of cake; but depending on what room in the house I am situated, sometimes I can get noisy.

The J-Pole, up about 20 feet or so, running down to a VHF/UHF mobile rig in the basement should do the trick. Hopefully, the job won't take more than a half hour or so. I have to run to Home Depot for a couple hose clamps. The bottom section of masting is already in place. I did that last Sunday. All I need to do is clamp the J-Pole to the top portion, connect the coax, make a balun of about 5 turns of coax and tape that to the the mast about a foot beneath the antenna, raise it and run the rest of the coax to the basement.

If all goes well, that will be another Amateur Radio chore taken care of.

Last night in the 80 Meter QRP Fox hunt, I was really able to see a difference in the W3EDP after "un-drooping" it last Sunday. The noise difference between the HF9V and the wire used to be like day and night. Now they are both pretty low. There's still a bit more hash with the wire on 80 Meters at night, but it's nowhere as bad as it used to be. I used the W3EDP to get both Fox QSOs last night.  For the majority of this Fall/Winter season, I have been relying on the Butternut to get the job done.

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

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Something else from the weekend.

Sunday was sunny; but chilly. That didn't stop me from doing a bit of antenna maintenance. I noticed my Butternut was not truly vertical, anymore. Some shrubbery from my neighbor's yard had grown tall and had kind of "pushed" my vertical out of its way. A branch cutter took care of that, PDQ. Somehow, I doubt my neighbor even notices his greenery is hanging over onto my property.

Last Thursday, another neighbor's (on the opposite side of our block) garage started on fire. The garage was a total loss, but fortunately, it was detached from the house. The vinyl siding on the house melted a in a few spots from the intense heat; but was otherwise untouched. I went to Cara's room to take a peek out her window, which offers the best view of the damage. It was then that I noticed the W3EDP was a bit droopy. The wire got tangled up by something.  Using the same branch cutter, I was able to lift the wire out and past the offending snare, and it was back to full height.

Which leads me to last night and the ARS Spartan Sprint. Lifting the W3EDP past whatever it was caught on seemed to make a difference in the noise level I was experiencing.  The QRN is still there, but is a bit less, now.  I managed to work three stations in about 30 minutes. I did not hear many Spartan Sprinters - only Don K3RLL, John K4BAI and Mark WB9FHK. Don by far was the loudest, but not at first.  He was very weak from the beginning, but over time his signal rose in strength and he became the loudest of the three.

After about 40 minutes, I noticed myself nodding off a bit and threw the big switch and hit the sack. Three more QSOs in the log for 2020.

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

Monday, February 03, 2020

ARS Spartan Sprint tonight

The monthly ARS Spartan Sprint is tonight.

The exchange is simple - RST / SPC / Power Out

This is a good one for us "giver of points" to build up the log tally, and to see how band conditions are doing.

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

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Weekend stuff

I didn't participate in FYBO yesterday. By the time I got back from Pep Boys, I was a little bummed out. I was told that the check engine light indicated that the catalytic converter wasn't functioning properly. Let's just say the repair would cost the equivalent of a couple Begali keys, or would easily cover the cost of a KX2 or KX3.

Instead, I hunted for some of those State QSO Party stations - the beginning of my personal challenge. I was surprised how easy it was to work two British Columbia stations. The VE7s were plentiful and loud on 20 Meters. I had two QSOs in the log within minutes. The Minnesota QSO Party was almost as easy, stations were loud and plentiful, too.

Vermont was another story. 40 Meters was the band for hunting in the afternoon as Vermont is way too close for 20 Meter QSOs. I worked KE1VT early and easily. But where were all the rest of the Vermonters? It seemed they were as scarce as hen's teeth. I worked Kevin again later at night on 80 Meters, but I really wanted to get a different Vermont call in the log. I hunted and twiddled and listened for a long time. As it turned out that second QSO had to way until today. I worked K1VMT this afternoon on 40 Meters again.

I got another nice surprise in the mail. My QSL cards and certificate arrived from the DVRA for the W2P and W2T Special Event.

These are going to be framed and hung on the shack wall. Thank you Delaware Valley Radio Association!

Another pleasant surprise came this afternoon, as I got into the car to make a short drive to run an errand. The "check engine" light went out on its own!  A friend had mentioned to me that there was always the possibility that the problem could have just been a "false positive" read by a sensor. He told me to keep an eye on the instrument package, because if that was the case the light would go out after driving for somewhere between 10 - 20 miles. It turned out he was right! You can't imagine how happy that made me.

In a totally unrelated matter, I am selling a couple keys from my collection to raise some dollars to make a different Amateur Radio purchase. I put two keys by  LLAVES TELEGRAFICAS ARTESANAS up for auction on eBay:



Thanks for looking!

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

Saturday, February 01, 2020

FYBO Hopes Growing Dim

Sometimes I think that if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.

I was driving home last night from the ETS of NJ radio club meeting, and in my mind, I was finalizing plans for what I was going to bring to the park for FYBO. I had intended to travel light and bring only the bare essentials. Anyway, about 1/2 way home I hear a "Bing!" and I look down at the instrument package:

Yes, the dreaded "Check engine light" came on. And that could mean just about anything, from a problem with the gas cap, to a bad sensor to "only God knows what".

So what to do about this at around 9:30 PM on a Friday night? I went online to the Pep Boys Website. I don't know if they are a nation wide chain, but here on the East Coast, they provide auto parts, tires and service. They replaced my front brakes in December when they started grinding. They did an excellent job in what I thought was a pretty short time. I figured I make an appointment as soon as possible and maybe burn a vacation day from work towards the middle of the week.

To my slack-jawed astonishment, they had openings for today - Saturday! I grabbed an open slot at 10:30 AM and I will be leaving from home in about 45 minutes to go see what exactly is wrong and how much it's going to cost. I'll most likely sit and wait while the service is being done. If it's going to take more than a couple of hours, I'll have my son, Joseph, come and bring me home.

Either way, it looks like this is going to kill my chances to participate in FYBO. On the bright side, I still have this evening and tomorrow to try and make those State QSO Party QSOs.

What was the line from that John Lennon song? I think it was something like, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." Boy, did he nail that one!

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