Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

The Marines got this right. When planning for a POTA/SOTA trip. It pays to plan for contingencies. I am not talking about going overboard with this. You should still try to carry only what you need. This past weekend I did a POTA camp-out at Ft. Mountain State Park in northwestern Georgia. I usually reserve campsites several months in advance, so everything may not be perfect by trip time. Part of my planning was considering band conditions. The week prior, propagation was unstable. In addition, I was not sure about the geography of the campsite. My planning was to bring two radios; my IC-7300 (QRO) and my IC-705 (QRP). I brought my Frankentenna with an extra EmComm II transformer to handle more power.

The planning paid off. My campsite was down in a hole and the bands were not good. The site was great for camping and only so-so for radio.

One of the POTA awards I am working on is the N1CC award which is operating on ten different bands at 10 different parks. I needed 2 more bands at this park to check this park off. I chose to use the IC-7300 for more power. Since I had shore power available, I wasn’t worried about running out of juice. Station setup looked like this.

Band conditions were less than optimal, so for this trip I decided to use FT8. There were times when the waterfall on the 7300 went completely black, even on the FT8 frequency. Normally I run about 25 watts, but this time I had to go as high as 50 watts. QRP would have been a tough row to hoe. The antenna was my Frankentenna and I ran the Chameleon EmComm II transformer instead of the Hybrid Micro so I could run a little more power.

I operated from Friday afternoon until somewhere around 0100 hrs Lcl, with a couple hour break due to a thunderstorm. The next day was beautiful, much cooler than the day before when we were under a heat advisory. I operated most of Saturday until early evening when I pulled the plug with another round of thunderstorms inbound.

I made 161 Q’s including DX from Alaska and South America.

I was trying for 200 Q’s, However, the propagation Gods were not with me, but I was satisfied with the results. I have a couple of YouTube videos.

I am former US Army, so a tip of my hat to all those who serve(d). God Bless, God Speed, and 73 de Scott KK4Z

IC-705 Cover

I’ve got a couple of activations coming up so I am trying to get a few things done to bring with me and evaluate. I bought the 705 because it is a small radio. I like that feature. When looking to protect the radio, many have darn near doubled its size so it is no longer a small radio. I tried a couple of padded cases and while they fit fairly well, they still felt too large. I don’t mind tossin a radio in a pack or bag as long as I can protect the important pieces. In the case of the 705 it would be the knobs and touch screen. I decided to make a cover for the front of the radio.

Icom has an STL file for the 705 so pulling that into a CAD program, I was able to make a cover. I am not a CAD pro or even a 3D printer pro; however, I was able to scratch something together that is good enough. I roughed out the design and my son printed the cover out for me. It’s not beautiful. it’s not perfect, but it gets the job done. Here is the current prototype.

The inside is mostly hollowed out but the case is supported on the corners of the radio and the speaker area.

For POTA activations the radio resides in a plastic box with a latching lid. Should eb plenty of protection. Because I reduced the bulk and weight, it make the radio eligible for SOTA. I may make another one to adjust some of the dimensions but in reality, it works just fine. I can tweak this and burn a lot of time or I can get out and play radio. Remember “Perfect is the enemy of good”.

I made one other piece, BNC caps, which the STL files are available with a simple Google Search.

I like orange as I can readily see them if I accidentally drop them. Enjoy and hope to work you. Scott

Traveling Light

I like to travel light. Less is better. When I do POTA or SOTA activations I really don’t like to have a lot of stuff. Just what I need with maybe a few essential extras. Over the past couple of activations, I have been doing battle with my Surface Go2. It’s pretty noisy in the RF spectrum range when recharging the battery. It works great as long as I do not have to recharge the battery. When I do have to recharge it, I need more gear because I cannot charge it from the same batteries I use for my radios. That usually means shore power, or an inverter — more stuff. Yes I know I can paper log or I can log on my iPhone using apps like Hamrs or RumLog but with today’s band conditions, it is nice to have FT8 in the toolbox. I decided to try SDR-Control for Icom. This app allows me to control my IC-705 from my iPad and it includes FT8/FT4! The stuff I had to bring with my surface looks like this.

This does not include whatever power source I need to recharge this. My iPad looks like this.

Whatever I use to run my radios, I can also recharge the iPad’s battery. Two of my solar panels have usb ports so I can charge the iPad directly from them while also charging a battery. This is something else I cannot do with the Surface. My truck has usb ports so I can charge from it. I set the app up with my IC-705 and it works as advertised. I have an activation planned this weekend so I will try to give the new setup a good work out.

There is a caveat, and that is the app works with the IC-705 (also the IC-7610 and IC-9700). This is not a problem as the 705 is my goto POTA radio. On the occasion I bring a different radio, I will either forgo FT8 or bring the Surface and work with its limitations. If I am doing something like a SOTA activation, I would either log on paper or my phone in which case I would not bring either the iPad or the Surface.

I may or may not add a keyboard to the iPad. It’s screen keyboard is pretty good. Another thing is I am using a 2018 iPad (6th Gen) so it’s not the most zippy out there but does fine. Most radio apps don’t require a lot of horsepower to run them.

I have another activation planned that does not include shore power at any of the sites. I will be relying on battery/solar to make it through the activation. I’ll dig a little deeper as I put a few activations under my belt with this new set up. 73 Scott

POTA Activation Cheaha Stat Park K-1037

I was finally able to set aside some time to do an activation. Cheaha State Park is the closest to me and it is still over an hour away. It is my home park and I enjoy going there. Today’s mission was to try to pick up a few more bands for my N1CC award. N1CC is an award for working 10 different bands in 10 different parks. Propagation was not that good today so I stuck with FT8. I also reconfigured the back of my truck a little and it seemed to work better. I did a write up on my other blog here:

From the outside back of the truck facing forward looks like this.

The boxes help me keep the back of the truck more organized. As a bonus, the boxes are at a good height for a desk. The current desk is just a piece of plywood I had. In the future, I will get something smoother. With the desk as positioned I can get in and out without knocking the radios around. I haven’t tried it yet, but I may see how my lounge chair fits in there. I may be able to sleep in there for a quickie activation. From the working position it looks like this.

Plenty of room to work and log. My other mode is CW and there is space for a set of paddles. The tablet is a Surface Go2 and while it works really well, the one caveat I have is when you try to charge the battery, it wipes out the receiver with noise. The waterfall almost turns white. But, I got almost 4 hours of playtime so while it is something I have to figure out, it can be later. The radio is an Icom IC-705 with the AH-705 tuner. This really is my favorite QRP radio.

The antenna was a Chameleon Hybrid-Micro with a 65′ antenna in the form of an inverted “L”. I used my hitch mount with a 33′ MFJ pushup pole. The other end was held up with my B&M 20′ crappie pole. I ran a 65′ counterpoise.

The antenna was okay. Next time I will probably run a vertical. Either my Frankentenna or my random wire. I didn’t feel like the extra effort to put up an inverted “L” was worth it. I like a small footprint so as not to attract attention to myself. I was running 10 watts with the help of a Bioenno battery. Band conditions were not that good today. I usually work a few more DX but I am satisfied with what I got. Here is an activity map.

I ended up with 38 contacts and I have 8 bands total. I will have to come
back in the evening and pick up the last two bands 60-160m. Thanks to everyone
who worked me today, some of the contacts were difficult due to unstable band
conditions. 73 Scott


A Little More UnUn fun

This past week I wound a few more toroids using a 77 mix. The toroids are 0.5″ in diameter and wound with 22 awg insulated magnet wire. I wound one with a single core and one with a dual core. My goal was to try to get a little better low band performance. I get a kick out making a few contacts on 60-80-160 meters. The finished UnUns are 9:1.

We’ve been going through a heat wave this week with a heat advisory every day. I got up early and tried a couple different antennas. Using antenna wire from my Frankentenna, I built an end fed with a 65′ antenna and a 65′ counterpoise. I also tried the 65″ antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. The set up looked like this.

For this antenna, the best combination was a 65′ antenna wire, a 17′ counterpoise and the single core 77 mix 9:1 UnUn. I got the following readings from my Rig Expert Prostick with 6′ of RG316. As a control I also tested my Sparkplug transformer.
Band SWR (17′)—–SWR (65′)——Sparkplug 65′
160 – 2.4 ———— 4.2 ————– 5.6
80 – 5.4 ———— 1.1 ————–8.3
60 – 1.7 ———— 2.3 ————– 12
40 – 2.9 ———— 3.5 ————– 1.7
30 – 6.9 ———– 4.5 ————– 16
20 – 3.8 ———– 4.0 ————— 1.5
17 – 5.2 ———– 5.7 ————— 9.7
15 – 4.1 ———– 4.3 ————— 1.1
12 – 6.2 ———– 6.9 ————— 10
10 – 4.5 ———– 4.6 ————— 2.6
6 – 5.9 ———– 5.8 —————-14
Fiddling with the counterpoise length could make things a little better, but overall the SWR’s are low enough to match with a good tuner. I realize that running a short feed line would affect the Sparkplug so in another test I added a counterpoise and it did bring down the SWR on some bands. However, to me the winner is still the single core 77 mix 9:1 UnUn.

Another antenna that I like is a random wire antenna I call the K4SWL antenna I call it that because it was Tom K4SWL who I got the basic design form. It’s a 29.5′ antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. I built an UnUn based upon a QRP Guys design but wanted to try to get a little better performance on the lower bands. In this case I used a two core 77 mix 9:1 UnUn and got the following results.
Band – SWR
160 —- 2.0
80 —- 1.7
60 —- 1.5
40 —- 1.5
30 — 1.5
20 — 1.4
17 — 1.3
15 —- 1.3
12 —– 1.2
10 —– 1.2
6 —— 1.2
Realize that this is a small antenna and will not be as efficient as a full half wave dipole (on 160 meters, that is 270′). However, it would be fun to see if you can make a contact on 160 or 80 meters in a park with a small antenna. So get out there and play radio! 73 Scott


There is always a lot of talk about QRP vs QRO, 5 watts vs 10, ad nauseam. So today I thought I would run the numbers and see what the real deal is. First we need a few definitions. An S-unit in general terms is the minimum change in signal strength to be just noticeable ( In more technical terms it equates to approximately 6 db in change. The decibel (dB) is a logarithmic number. Each 10 dB represents a factor of 10 difference. This may be a little out there for some so we will cut right to the shortcut. There are two types of logarithms. For calculating dB, use the common logarithm which is base 10. To see if your calculator uses the right one. Punch in 100 and then log. The answer should be 2 which equates to 10 to the second power which equals 100. This is not a technical paper but an entry way to see how changing the power levels affect the signal level of your transmitting signal. As you guessed, it is not linear.

Let me introduce an equation:

Where Power P1 is the power you wish to evaluate and reference power P2 is your starting power. Let’s take going from 5 watts to 10 watts. The equation would look like this:

We take 10 and divide it by 5 which give us 2. Then we hit the log function on our calculator which gives us 0.301. Multiply that by 10 and you have about 3 dB in gain or about one half of an S-unit (remember 1 S-unit is equal to 6 dB). Let’s do one more by hand and tackle the QRP/QRO debate. How many S-units will increasing power from 5 watts to 100 watts give you? The equation looks like this:

Take the 100 and divide by 5 to give you 20 and then hit the log function to give you 1.301. Multiply by 10 for 13.01 dB. Divide 13.01 by 6 dB and you have 2.17 S-units. Going back to our definition that one S-unit is the minimum change in signal strength to be just noticeable shows that going from 5 watts to 100 watts is not that great of a change.

Let’s let the other shoe drop. What about going from 5 watts to 1500 watt? That will give you 4.13 S-units of gain vs 1.96 S-units going from 100 watts to 1500 watts?

This gives you a fairly easy equation to help you evaluate your needs based upon empirical data. Running 20 watts over 5 gives you 1 S-Unit. Using less power means less drain on the battery for longer operation. This is only part of the equation. Propagation, antenna, mode used, and station efficiency all play a part. Have fun and maybe don’t toss the QRP radio yet 🙂


I have been playing with portable antennas for years. When operating portable, the antenna probably has the biggest effect on how well you portable station works. I have quite a few portable antennas. Some are specialty antennas and some are my “go to” antennas. When operating at a park for Parks on the Air (POTA). My Frankentenna is my go to. It has evolved over the years, but now I mostly tweak to get it how I like it. Here is the antenna and its parts:

What makes it a Frankentenna is it uses parts from different companies, mainly from Buddipole and Chameleon. Here is a list of the components and links to their websites:
(1) Buddipole 7 section Lightweight Shock Corded Whip Antenna
(3) Buddipole 22″ accessory antenna arms. I am swapping out the blue arms for black ones to better reduce the visibility of the antenna (out of sight, out of mind)
(1) Chameleon CHA Spike Mount –
(1) Chameleon CHA Hybrid Micro
92) Buddipole Wire Assembly Low Band (66′)

This is the basic kit. With it I can make a vertical antenna, and endfed with a counterpoise, and even a dipole. The kit is pretty lightweight and easily fits into a standard Buddipole bag. While at park campgrounds, I usually run it as a vertical. I keep an arborist throw line and weight in with my station equipment. I have some tweaks and mods I have done. Two that you see here are the phenolic insulator and a mod to the spike.

The spike mod is an improvement on the current ground screw. It was a red plastic knob with about an 8-32 screw thread.

I felt it was too small since most counterpoises have either 1/4″ OR 3/8″ eye on the end. I carefully drilled out the hole and tapped it for 1/4″-20 thread.

This now allows me to use a Buddipole Counterpoise Wire Adapter which is 1/4-20 on one end and 3/8-24 on the other. It gives a more secure connection between the spike and the counterpoise. These are the same adapters that come with the Buddipole Wire Assembly and you can buy them separately finished, it looks like this.

One of the things I didn’t like about the Chameleon Micro was the shackle it comes with. The shackle is used to support the transformer when it is used as an end fed or a dipole since it is too heavy to be supported by the antenna wires. It was always kind of hincky getting the shackle setup right. Now I use the Buddipole Counterpoise Wire Adapters. So much easier and so much lighter.

The other mod is a phenolic (micarta) insulator. This allows me to use the vertical with something other than the Chameleon transformer. An example might be one of my homebrew 9:1 UnUn or a Buddipole coil. The insulator is threaded on one end and has an insert on the other, both 3/8-24.

How does it play? Quite Well. I tested 2 configurations I would most likely use during a POTA activation. The first is a 54′ end fed with a 50’ish counterpoise using the Chameleon Micro. Using my RigExpert Stick Pro I got the following. Format is Band — SWR
160m — 5.7
80m — 3.2
60m — 3.5
40m — 4.1
30m — 3.2
20m — 2.1
17m — 3.7
15m — 1.7
12m — 2.2
10m — 3.6
6m — 2.1
The second setup was using the Micro as a vertical. The antenna is approx 17′ (very close to the Chameleon) and running a 50’ish counterpoise.
160m — 6.7
80m — 3.7
60m — 3.5
40m — 2.4
30m — 1.5
20m — 1.3
17m — 1.3
15m — 1.9
12m — 2.8
10m — 3.1
6m — 1.8
During this last activation, I mainly used the vertical arrangement as that suited the space I had. The antenna performed well. I made 100 contacts here and abroad. To see a map check out my post about my activation at Kolomoki Mounds State Park.

What’s next for this antenna? I have two Black Accessory Arms and a Counterpoise Wire Adapter coming from Buddipole. The arms will make the antenna more stealthy and the extra adapter will reside on the spike. I may try the Buddipole coil to see how it plays and I just got some new toroids to see if they work any better. Overall, I really like this antenna. It’s light and compact and goes up anywhere. The SWR is low enough that almost any tuner, can tune it, even on the low bands.

POTA Activation Kolomoki Mounds State Park K-3726

I decided to try a park in SW Georgia and Kolomoki Mounds State Park looked interesting. It was about a 3 hour drive traveling back highways and byways. I spent two nights there with my wife and it was a very nice experience. The campground was quiet and the restrooms were clean.

Hot! it was hot and very humid while we were there. My little camper has AC but everything got damp in that kind of humidity. Ambient temperature was in the low 90’s and the high humidity made it feel hotter. I plan on going back there but maybe in the fall or winter.

The propagation gods were angry. While there, I suffered from R1 radio blackouts mainly due to flare activity. The bands were mighty quiet; however, I was still able to make 100 contacts over the weekend.

Testing! Test,test. I brought a couple of antenna projects with me to do some field testing with. These included some of the 9:1 transformers I wound. I will report on the results in a separate post.

Setup. This weekend, I brought my IC-7300. I brought it for a couple of reasons. I hadn’t used it in a while so it deserved an outing. Plus, I had foreknowledge of the possibility of poor propagation so I brought it to run FT8 and have a little more power. I ran it in the 25-35 watt range and the 7300 can run like that all day long. However, the antenna I used is happiest when the power stays 25 watts or less on digital. This was fortuitous, CW, my preferred mode, was non existent at my location. I made one CW contact on 60 meters. The antenna I used was my POTA standby, my Frankentenna.

I ran one 50 foot counterpoise off into the woods. In the photo, you can see the lower 2 Buddipole extensions, the blue is pretty easy to see. I ordered 2 black ones to better allow the antenna to blend in. The antenna was fed with about 31 feet of RG-316. The shack looked like this.

I used a LDG Z-11 Pro to match the antenna. To sync time for FT8 I use a GPS dongle I got from Amazon I sync the time to WSJT using GPS2Time. I used N3FJP for logging. The set up worked well. Since my little camper has an awning, I stayed in the shade all day and drank plenty of fluids. I lost a pound of weight over the weekend. A side note. When I operate in a campground, I wear ear buds and run either CW or FT8. I do not make “radio” noise. Out of sight, out of mind.

How did I do? Pretty good actually considering the poor band conditions. I am attempting a N1CC award so I was trying to work 10 bands while at the park. Here is a QSO Map from the activation.

It was work. Sometimes I was just banging away and no one responding. The few pileups I had were never more than 3 or 4. QSB would rear its ugly head and I lost a few contacts as they faded away. In the end I made 100 QSO with 20 minutes to spare on my last Zulu Day. I managed 10 bands with my one CW contact on 60 meters which does not have FT8. What was interesting was I worked a couple of stations in Brazil and one in Europe on 10 meters. It was fun while being a challenge. It’s always good to have a plan B. FT8 was my backup, but quickly became my primary mode. In upcoming post, I will spend time going over my antenna results, and a few other kinks I am working on. That’s all for now. 73 Scott.

K4SWL Antenna Plus

Recently, I have had the desire to try my hand at winding toroids. They have always been a mystery to me. Today’s project is winding a toroid for 40-10 meters. My target antenna is one I learned from Thomas, K4SWL. It is a random wire antenna that is 29.5 long with a 17 foot counterpoise. It is a great antenna and works well at park campsites. I either string it up in a tree or I use my 20′ B&M fishing pole

The antenna as pictured above (battery not included), weighs about 3 oz. The antenna while broadbanded can present higher SWR on some frequencies which can reduce transmit power. I decided to try a 9:1 UnUn to see if I can smooth that out. For instructions on how to wind the toroid I used QRP Guys mini unun. I was going to buy their kit, but they were out of stock at the time of this article. Max power is probably about 10 watts.

The form factor I borrowed from OM0ET. His instructions were not that clear but I liked the way it looked. Winding the toroid was probably the most difficult part. I didn’t have 3 different colored magnetic wires, so I had to pay close attention to how they were wound. I little trial and error and this is what I got.

Partially assembled, it looks like this.

Fully assembled it looks like this. I added an optional rope loop to take the strain off of the UnUn.

In use, the antenna is connected to the brass screw. Either a counterpoise or a 20′ or better length of coax connected to your radio can be used. To run a counterpoise which I prefer, you add a BNC Tee connector.

Your coax cable to your radio is connected to the other side of the tee. The counterpoise is made using a crimp style BNC connector. DO NOT use the center pin in the connector or it will short the antenna.

The other end of the counterpoise has an an eye so it can still be used with the old style configuration. I added a little shrink tubing to help with strain relief.

Here is the complete kit.

Weight is under 4 oz. which is less than a 1 oz gain over the old antenna. How does it play? Initial testing with an antenna analyzer showed SWR’s below 3:1. However, this was done quickly with the antenna more horizontal than vertical. It was a hot sunny day and it was time to get inside. This next weekend I have an activation planned and will wring the antenna out, but so far it looks very promising.

9:1 UnUn QRO

Today’s dalliance is UnUns. An UnUn which stands for Unbalanced to Unbalanced is a transformer of sorts which in this case matches or attempts to match the impedance between an antenna and a transceiver. Today I am making a 9:1 ratio UnUn which is suppose to match a 450 ohm antenna to a 50 ohm transceiver. When the impedance is matched between a transceiver and an antenna, maximum power from the transceiver can be transmitted to the antenna. A 9:1 UnUn is used with random wires and a counterpoise. I call this UnUn QRO because it is rated at 250 watts. I would use this in the field with a radio like my IC-7300 even though I rarely go above 50 watts. I went QRO because this is my first turn at winding a toroid and I thought starting with something larger would be easier.

I will only list project specific parts. The toroid kit come from Palomar Engineers This gives you the toroid, wires and instructions. The other project specific part is the case which came from amazon Everything else is generic parts that I either had on hand, purchased locally or from amazon.

The Palomar Kit looks like this.

The kit comes with decent instructions but, with a couple of caveats. One, the wire that comes with the kit appears to be random. The colors of the wires, do not match the colors in the instructions. this is not insurmountable, just makes things a little more difficult especially for first timers like me. The second nit is the pictures provided, while of decent quality, are black and white. In today’s world, color photos should not be that big of deal. The kit can be wired as a BalUn or UnUn. The way I overcame the mentioned shortcomings was to annotate the schematic they provided.

The UnUn is the schematic on the right. According to the instructions, the 3 wires are wound 10 times or turns with each pass of the wires through the center of the toroid counting as one turn. The wound toroid looks like this.

Before I went any further, I tested the toroid. I did this by hooking up a 450 ohm 50 watt resister to the antenna and counterpoise leads and attached my Xiegu X6100 to the input of the UnUn. I then used the SWR Sweep function on the X6100. I knew this wouldn’t be an exact science since I was using a 12″ RG-316 cable and 12″ jumpers, but should be close enough to see if I am in the ball park. Here are a couple of the test.

Shown are 160 meters, 30 meters, and 20 meters with all showing an SWR of ~3:1 or less. Not too shabby. With a random antenna wire of around 49 feet and a 25 foot counterpoise, I expect the SWR to even be less. That means anything from 160- 20 are well within the capability of most tuners. I suspect that I may be able to get down to 10 meters once I hook it up to a real antenna.

The case was a guess on my part, but as it turns out, it was the right size.

Then all put together, it looks like this. The toroid is mounted on a sheet of plastic and glued into the case.

The input connector is BNC and the screws are 10-32. I have some 10-32 wingnuts on the way to make it easier to attach wires. The eyebolt was to help take some of the strain off of the antenna wire and BNC connector is on the bottom to help protect it from the weather. One final test.

This was a fun little project and gave me some experience and confidence making UnUns. My next project will be a QRP UnUn. I mostly operate QRP when out in the field (max 10 watts. I know). However, some of the stuff I bring is QRO rated. I am trying to reduce the load. Making antenna parts that are QRP rated instead of QRO rated, reduces weight and space. Right now I am doing POTA activations, but hopefully this fall when the ticks and chiggers die off, I will try my hand at SOTA. 72 de Scott