My Field Radios

Taking a little break from activations and hunting, I thought I would showcase my field radios as it stands today. I recently culled the herd and this is what I ended up with. The power draw was measured using a Watts Up inline meter, something like this: Not lab quality, but certainly enough for this article.

Most of my recent activations have either been camping with my little teardrop camper or in my truck for a day trip. The desire to trek to a destination is not as romantic as it used to be. Often my radio time is fitted in with my other responsibilities.

Before I go down my list of radios, I want mention that my modes of choice are CW and Digital with CW generally being my preferred mode. When band conditions are poor as they have been these past few months I use FT8. Some might say that FT8 is easy or point and click, but to be a successful FT8 operator does take some skill.

My first radio is my IC-7300. Because of band conditions these past few months, it was my radio of choice because it is a 100 watt radio. In the field, I normally operate in the 5-10 watt range, but when the bands are bad I am in the 25-35 watt (and sometimes more) range. I also want to note that over the past few months I was working on my N1CC award which is working 10 bands at 10 different parks. Most parks are a couple of hours drive away from me so I try to get my 10 bands over the course of a weekend. Because gas prices are elevated, returning to some parks may not be an option.

I’ve had this IC-7300 since 2017. It’s a great radio and a great field radio. I have 4 radios that share much of the same menu system so I do not have to relearn the radio everytime I take it out. The filtering is excellent. The noise floor is lower than many other radios by a factor of 4. I have worked stations were the meter is not moving indicating a less than S1 reading.

With Icoms, antenna tuner integration is a simple cable connection and will also power the tuner. The only mod to the radio is I added a set of Portable Zero 7300 Escort guards The radio rides in a Dewalt Tough Sytem medium case with no additional padding The guards protect the knobs from bumping into the sides of the case. They also make great handles. Power consumption for this radio at idle with nothing connected to it is 0.81 amps or 810 mAh. For a 100 watt radio, that’s pretty darn good. The paddle I use with this radio is a Begali Traveler Lite. I am a fan of Begali paddles.

The next radio is my current favorite QRP radio, the IC-705. This radio is brillant. Icom packed a bunch of goodness into a samll package with an idle amp draw of 220 mAh with the charger off and 360 mAh with the charger on. That’s right down there with many other QRP rigs.

My 705 travels with a 3D printed cover for the face inside a MTM Ammo Crate These are great cases for small radios and their accessories. A nice feature for this radio is it and be linked/controlled via Bluetooth. I have run FT8 and logged on my iPad using an app called SDR Control Another brillant feature of the IC-705 is it can be recharged via USB. That means both my iPad and the IC-705 can use the same charger. Some complain that the IC-705 is too heavy. When you realize that you do not need an HT for VHF/UHF (plus you get 10 watts of power), no cabling needed to hook the radio up to a laptop and as a bonus can use an iPad, and, can be charged via USB, you may have an actual savings of weight. No, it doesn’t have a built-in tuner and that has never bothered me. I have the AH-705 tuner and it is amazing. I use it to tune random wire antennas and can tune them without a UnUn or Balun. I would say the AH-705 tuner is on par with an AH-4 or even an SG-237 albeit at lower power.

The paddles for the 705 are Begali Adventure Dual. Big performance in a small package. Like all Begali products, they must be tried to be appreciated. I also use the Begali stand for the 705, it does a good job preventing the paddle from moving without adding a lot of weight. The screwdriver is a Nite-ize KMT-11-R3 that I modified by narrowing the screwdriver blade. I also have the begali base so I can use the paddle with other radios.

The paddles are stored in a little 3D printed box which holds the paddles, the base and the screwdriver. To the left of the box is another steel base from American Morse Equipment. The Begali base is a little light but has magnets on the bottom to attach to the AME base. Together, they work perfectly.

Last but not least is my Lab599 TX-500. This is a great rig for many reasons. Lightweight, simple to use, weather resistant and draws less than 100 mAh idle. It includes a waterfall on the easy to read LCD display. The receiver specs are pretty decent and I have not had any issues using it. I normally pair it with Elecraft T-1 tuner and Bioenno 3Ah battery. For travel I use 3D printed covers.

The paddles I use for this radio are Larry’s N0SA SOTA paddles. These are great paddles but last I heard he is no longer making them.

What is nice about these paddles is they are easy to hold in the hand and can be mounted to a flight deck.

These are my current radios and the paddles I use with them. Is this list set in stone? Of course not, you never know what you might find just around the corner. However, I could be quite happy with these. They are all good perfromers that give me a lot of latitude when operating in the field. Now that my N1CC is complete, I can worry a little less about quantity and a little more about quality. Hope to hear you out there — 73 Scott.

POTA Activation Skidaway Island State Park K-2198

Skidaway Island State Park is a beautiful park. Located southeast of Savannah, GA, With Spanish Moss, along the typical summer heat and humidity, it is a prime example of coastal Georgia. This trip came about because my wife needed a package delivered to South Carolina; I volunteered as long as I could camp one night an play radio. It’s about a 5 hour drive from NW Georgia to SE Georgia. After delivering the package I arrived at the park somewhere around 1600 hrs Local. It took a couple of minutes to get the camper setup and a little longer for the radio. Because it might be a while before I can make it back here (gas is still over $4 a gallon). I tried to get 10 bands for my N1CC award. I mostly worked FT8.

Setup. Setup was my usual for this type of activation. The radio was my IC-7300 and LDG Z-11 Pro tuner. The computer was a Microsoft Surface Go2.

The antenna was my K4SWL antenna which is a 29.5′ random wire antenna with one 17′ counterpoise. I used my Chameleon EmComm II transformer to even things out. The antenna is hoisted into the air with a MFJ-1910 33′ pushup pole. No plants or animals were harmed during this activation.

Being a former Nightstaker, working in the dark is routine to me. I stayed outside well after sunset until I finally had enough of the heat.

Band conditions were so-so, and I earned my keep making contacts. Working about 20 hours total I ended up with 174 contacts on 10 different bands. I had quite a few FT8 pileups which was fun and let me know that my antenna is working as it should. Here is a QSO map of the activation.

What was new? I recently acquired a Begali Adventure Duo with their metal base. The base is a little on the light side but there are magnets on the bottom. I had a fairly heavy base made for a AME Potra-Paddle. I set the the the begali base on the Porta-Paddle base and Viola! It works like a champ.

I also have the 705 mount coming to use with my IC-705. I really like these paddles. I only used them a little while trying to make contact with K7K. Alas, I didn’t have enough horsepower to make the trip to Alaska. My new paddles will definitely be my choice when camping.

Issues? I only had 2 and neither was catastrophic. The first was with the antenna. It seems when I increase power somewhere above 20 watts, I start getting some RF feedback through the coax on some bands. It was more of a nuisance than anything and I have since added a RF choke to the antenna bag. This antenna is one of my favorites if not my favorite antenna. It always performs well for me. The second issue has to do with the IC-7300. When I am working from inside of the camper, I set the radio down on the mattress. The tilt stand sinks nicely down in the 4″ of memory foam making the radio face plate difficult to see. I set my QRP radios on the lap desk with my computer and paddles. I banged around in my workshop and found a scrap piece of 3/4″ plywood. I cut it to 11″ x 12″ and now my radio floats on top of the mattress. The board also fits in the box I carry the big radio in.

Every time I go out, I learn something new. With gas prices the way they are, I may not be making these long trips for a while. However, there are plenty of great parks closer to home. Thanks to all of the hunters who took the time to work me. Sometimes making that contact can become a little tedious. I appreciate you all and 73’s until next time.

Begali Signature Paddles

Today is a dreary day in northwest Georgia. It looks like rain and thunderstorms most of today so little or no Ham Radio. Yesterday I received a package from Italy. After waiting almost 3 weeks, my Begali Signature paddles arrived. This is no fault of Bruna at Begali, she shipped them out early so that I would have them for Christmas. However, Fedex had different ideas and the paddles sat in a Fedex facility for 10+ days before they moved. So here they are.

Even the packaging is a work of art with a note from the master himself.

His daughter Bruna added a little holiday cheer.

To be honest, this is my third set of paddles from Begali.

So why did I choose the Signature this time? My first set of paddles were Benchers. That set up is what I call right angle arms. The contacts are to the side of the paddles and not to the rear. In my opinion they have a slightly different feel. The paddles came with the longer plastic finger pieces and the contacts screwed closed to prevent damage. I swapped the finger pieces out with the included short aluminum ones.

Adjustment was easy. I loosened the contact screws, plugged the paddles into my radio, screwed the contacts in till I heard dits or dahs, and them back it out until they stopped. No other adjustment was necessary.

The fit and finish of the paddles are typical from Begali which is excellent. I have an engineering/quality background and have an appreciation for fine fitment and finish. Begali never lets me down. Even the work on the underside is perfection. The paddles make me think of Ferrari or Lamborghini.

For the finish, I wanted something a little different. I’m from the “chrome don’t get you home” crowd. The base of the paddle is military green and the top is their titanium finish. Both are more of a satin finish rather than shiny. I like the green as I am a former soldier. The finish creates an understated elegance that is a quiet statement of quality.

How do they play? First, they are different. The action feels a little different because of the different geometry of the arms. That being said, I do not think I have ever used a smoother set of paddles. Smooth as silk or purrs like a kitten come to mind. I am no speed demon with CW. I typically run in the neighborhood of 16-22 wpm. These paddles are smooth enough to go much higher. The arms are magnetically tensioned keeping the amount of force consistent through the swing. In short, they are a joy to use and to admire. The little time I have had them and used them, they have endeared themselves to me. The now reside on my desk top and are my go to home key.

Final thoughts. The whole Begali experience is something other companies should aspire to. From their customer service, packaging, and the product itself, is all top shelf. Their commitment to customer service leaves me feeling like they made this key especially for me. Is there another Begali set of paddles in my future? Probably, but not tomorrow.

Begali CW Machine

A little while ago I purchased a Begali CW Machine. I was fascinated by it. I thought it would be good for POTA/SOTA activations.However, there is not a lot of information available on it. First, let me be clear, this machine DOES NOT decode CW. Let me repeat, this machine DOES NOT decode CW. And that’s a good thing. I have not found a piece of software that can decode as well as the CPU between the ears period. Weak signals, QSB, QRM, QRN, and bug/straight key operators with their own style or fist, often throw the software into fits, throwing out a bunch of T’s and E’s. Learning to hear CW takes practice, it is not impossible.

So what does this thing do? Actually, quite a few things. first it acts like a memory keyer. It will handle paddles, straight keys and bugs and has several different keying modes built in. It is a memory keyer, that can play back recorded messages. But it goes one step further, you can insert text in the middle of a message. Here is an example. I have a message I use in POTA (hunter) That goes like this BK TU UR (pause) GA GA BK. I can do one of two things. I can wait for the pause, insert the RST, hit the decimal (dot) key to have the message continue, or I can type in the RST while the beginning of the message is playing, it will insert the RST, and continue to the end of the message without further action from me. I can also insert silent commands that are not transmitted. In the above example, the CW Machine goes on the air to play the message, however, at the end of the message I have a silent command that takes the machine back off of the air. Your paddles are always ready to send a message with the push of a button.

Why would I do that? Because I want to enter additional information that I do not wish to transmit. I tune in a station and I copy his call sign, KK4Z and hit enter. The call sign is now in a QSO buffer. The machine can now use that call sign as a part of a message; something like their call de my call. Once I have the call sign I can add some additional information. While waiting for the pileup to die down I hear he is from GA. I type GA and I press the + key, for POTA, I hear his park, I type in K-1234 and hit the + key again. I hear a lull and I send my call which is stored in a message memory. He comes back with a RST of 559, I hit the asterisk * and type 559, it is now stored. I send him his RST using a message like in the above paragraph, and it stores it. He sends me a 73 and I send him one, but now, the machine inserts the current time/date, the band (not the frequency), saves it to the logbook which is part of the machine, and clears the buffer for the next QSO. The logbook is stored in non-volatile memory which means it would require physical damage to lose it.

The CW machine is hooked up to your radio via one cable that plugs into your key jack. For it to work correctly, you must set your radio keyer to straight key. To use it with your computer, you need a serial to usb port adapter. Power can come from either the computer or a separate power source. Whatever, you are running your radio with (12v) will work just fine. The CW machine only draws about 20 mAh so it’s perfect for field operations. It could also run off of a 9 volt battery.

Mistakes are fairly easy to correct. lets say I typed in the other stations call sign wrong. I retype it correctly, hit the enter key and the call is updated. You can do this to other fields using different key strokes, but it all works like that until you save it. You can edit after it is saved, but it take a little more effort (slightly more) to get it right.

You can run the CW machine in several different configurations. At the minimum. it needs a paddle/key and a PS2 compatible keypad. Yep, it uses a PS2 port. Basically you enter data with the paddle and commands with the keypad. You can also replace the keypad with a keyboard. This requires a PS2 compatible keyboard (Logitech still makes one the K100). This works well as you can now run the machine like a mill. You type and it sends CW. If you get a keyboard, make sure you get one with a keypad. the machine recognizes individual key strokes, the 1 on the keyboard is not the same as the 1 on the keypad for example. For those whose fingers get stiff in the winter time, this will reduce your errors. Another way to run this is with a computer using the computers keyboard and key pad. And finally you can run it from a Surface Go2 using its keybaord and attach a keypad to the machine.

One feature I really like is the ability to change CW speeds. With a twist of the knob I can go from 10 to 35 wpm (my setting). I sometimes have issues going from one speed to another when using a paddle. I’m just not that good. With the machine you can match the other station, without making a lot of errors. This really works well when you have someone activating at 13 wpm. I often bust a pileup because I am sending at a speed they can comprehend. It’s also fun on the other side. I typically run in the 16-20 wpm realm. Depending on the operator, I can copy up to about 25 wpm. When I hear one of these stations, I can crank it up and we have a quick staccato QSO.

LCD Display. The CW Machine has a one line LCD display should be readable in direct sunlight. It is adjustable. The screen is rather small and basically has one line that can scroll sideways to see what is going on and also to adjust the settings. There are annunciators that surround the one line of text to show you the status of the machine. It’s not a full sized computer screen, but there is sufficient information to run the machine without a computer.

So far I’ve been working it from home as a hunter for POTA. It works quite well in this capacity. I have used all of the configurations I mentioned and the easiest is using the machine with a computer. I have logged about 100 contacts so far and spent a lot of time reading the manuals. I would not call this plug and play, there is a learning curve. I am getting comfortable enough to try and activation with it.

Log files. The machine itself can hold about 12,000 QSO’s. It is easy to export to ADIF and it takes me about two minutes in ADIF Master to get it ready of POTA. basically I delete two columns, rename two columns and its ready.

Things I like to see changed. One is to go from a serial com port (DB9) to a straight usb port. Doing this would not only get rid of the serial/usb adapter, it could also get rid of the external power port. There are so many ways today to power something via usb. The display could be bigger and have more information available on it. There is plenty of real estate on the top of the machine to put a bigger more up to date display. A good example is the one Xeigu uses on its G90. Lastly, this is more of a niggle than anything else, put a better speaker and audio driver in there. Really, all this needs is an update, there are better components available today which could easily take this to a new level.

Caveats. It’s pricey. Right now it’s selling for about 295 Euro. Not for everybody. It takes time to learn. This machine does a lot, but to unlock the magic, there is reading and testing to be done. This is probably not for the techno-challenged. It does not decode so if you do not know CW, you have to jump that hurdle first. Who is it for? Someone doing POTA/SOTA activations who wants to travel light, have something to share the workload, easily maintain a log (especially if you have poor handwriting like me), works well in cold weather (when my fingers do not), and sips battery power. Right now it has become my POTA/SOTA go to logger/keyer. I am only using ACLog now as my master log. It is easy to import the ADIF from CW Machine (after tweaking it) into ACLog. There you have it. I will probably update once I get it out on an activation.

Begali Simplex Basic and More

The Begali Simplex Basic is probably one of the best values when it comes to CW paddles. I have had mine for several years and it easily preforms above my skill level. At the current exchange rate it sells for about $135.00. This is the paddle that currently resides on my desk.

As you can see, I like to mix work and play. I often have the radio on and make CW contacts while I am working in the office. The Simplex Basic is a very pleasant set of paddles to use. They weigh in at 2.75 pounds and with the sticky mat underneath, they do not move. You can find the mat here: I like a light touch and the Simplex is very capable of doing that. To set the paddles, I screw the contact in until I hear a dit or a dah, and them back it off about a 1/4 of a turn. The action of the paddles are very smooth. I can detect no rough spots and the feel remains very consistent.

The base is cast and the top has a rough, but not too rough finish to it. the bottom and a band around the bottom of the base is smooth to allow Pietro to sign his name and apply a serial number.

Fit and finish is what you would expect from Begali. Even though it is their Basic and least expensive set of paddles, it is still a beauty to behold. I am not a speed whiz nor am I a perfect CW op. I like to cruise around 16 to 20 wpm and I have had the paddles up to 25 wpm. the paddles didn’t flinch. I like to do Parks on the Air (POTA). I mainly do CW, so if I have hunted you, it was probably on this key. I have a set of aluminum finger pieces ordered for the Simplex. I really don’t need them; I thought it would dress the paddles up a little.

If you are looking for a good set of paddles, the Simplex Basic can not be beat. Yes, you could get a cheaper set of paddles, but not at this quality level. At this price point, I am not sure you could find a better paddle.

With all that being said, I do have another set of paddles on the way. This time is it the Begali Signature. My first set of paddles were made by Bencher. They had what I call right angle levers where the contacts are to the side instead of to the rear like the Simplex. I wanted to try a right angle lever set up again. Hopefully they will be here by Christmas. that will make my third set of paddles from Begali. No, I am not selling any of the others 🙂

Another long term project I have is I ordered a Begali CW Machine. It is a complex keyer/logger. It comes with a 75+ page manual. I plan to use it during activations. It will replace my keyer and computer. The nice part about it is it only draws about 20 milliamps of power (according to Begali). Once I get my hands on it, I’m sure it will take some time to get it set the way I want it. I will keep you posted.

POTA Activation Ft Mountain State Park and the Begali Traveler Light

This past weekend I activated Fort Mountain State park in North Georgia. The park is on top of the mountain and I was at just over 2,500 ASL. One of the things I wanted to accomplish was make a few contacts on 160 meters. This can be a difficult band because one wavelength is about 540 feet. Which means most portable antennas will not work. I dug into my Frankentenna bag and came up with my Chameleon Micro Matching Unit and two 65 foot Chameleon Wires.

I strung this as an inverted vee dipole and fed it with RG-8x into the cabin. Yes, I was was in comfort and luxury for this activation. The apex of the vee was about 15 foot above the ground. I put the antenna analyzer on it and at 160 meters my SWR was abour 6:1, close enough for my antenna tuner to match.

Inside the cabin, the setup was pretty simple. I had my trusty IC-7300 with an LDG Z-11 Pro. I used a K1EL winkeyer and a Begali Traveler Light Key. Logging and digital modes were handled by my Microsoft Surface Go2.

How did it play, most of my contacts were CW and the keyer and key worked as advertised. I used FT-8 for some bands and especially 160 meters as there was a CW contest going on. A nice thing about the newer ICOM radios is to work digital modes, all you need is a USB cable between your computer and the radio. I was running about 35 watts and made at least 10 contacts on 7 bands and 5 on one (11 on 160). I was satisfied that everything worked as advertised and made about 130 contacts.

The paddles I used were the Begali Traveler Light. The weigh in at about 15 oz and are a delight to use. When portable operations allow, this is the key I bring. They may not work lugging a backpack, but for activations like this, they are great. Begali fit and finish is excellent and the design is reminiscent of Italian Sports cars.

Looking at the side, the paddles are not that big. Near the bottom-center is a place to attach a thigh strap. You can also get these in black.

Open up, there is plenty of move for even my big hands.

Even the bottom of the paddles are wonderfully executed. The Traveler Light is magnetically dampened and I am becoming a fan. The action is smooth and consistent, and a joy to use. This is my second Begali Key, my first a Begali Simplex Basic. I believe there will be a third under the tree this year.

Everything worked well. the keyer takes some of the load off of the opertator and AC Log helps mind the frequency and the Date/Time. I tried to use the AC Log Winkeyer interface, but I don’t think the Surface Go2 wasn’t quite up to the task. It seemed to lag more than I wanted it to. Plus, it was nice to have the Winkeyer buttons close at hand. All in all I had a lot of fun, even though on the first day I was a little more fumble fingered than usual. Thanks to all the Hunters/Activators who worked me. Here is a short video of the activation.