The Maiden Voyage of the Radio Flyer

Radio Flyer Logo (PRNewsFoto/Radio Flyer, Inc.)

When I was young, it was a simpler time. All you needed was a pen knife, cap gun, your dog, and a Radio Flyer red wagon to put your stuff in. The world was your oyster and adventure was right around the corner. Even though I am much older now, and my horizons have expanded; adventure is still right around the corner. It was fitting that my new camper is also a Flyer. I thought it fitting to name my camper the Radio Flyer, big boy’s red wagon.

For my first adventure, I chose to go to the Stephen C. Foster State Park located within the Okefenokee Swamp. It’s about a 6-hour drive from my home QTH. Getting off of the interstate at Valdosta; it’s about a 45-mile drive down a highway that is largely uninhabited. For a man who likes his solitude, I felt alone. I pulled into Fargo, GA for gas, and then it was another 18 miles of desolation to the park. The first gate was entering the refuge. Then another lonely stretch to the park entrance.

The park was quiet with several different species of Owl providing commentary. The park never got noisy while I was there. I liked it. The campsite was rustic and nice. In short order I was set up and ready to go.

One of the things I like about the camper is its simplicity. The interior is open and spacious. there is enough room for me and my gear plus I can sit comfortably. The AC and heater work well. The galley is all I need. I added a microwave that fits on the storage shelf.

My intentions were to operate CW and FT8 while out. However, the propagation gods were not with me and band conditions were rather poor. Often only one or two of the bands were open and even then they suffered from heavy QSB or fading. You could see it on the WSJT waterfall. Now you see it, now you don’t. I tried CW a couple of times but to no avail, so FT8 it was. Here is a shot of my screen at 40 meters. Normally, it would be wall-to-wall signals at the time the image was taken.

I tried a couple of different radio configurations inside the camper and the one that had the most promise was this:

I set up at the rear of the camper facing sideways. I was using a lap desk, leftover from my last camper. I was sitting in a canoe chair and balancing the desk on my legs. Not the best setup, but it gave me some ideas for next time. I was much more comfortable in this camper operating.

Station Setup. The antenna was my 29′ random wire antenna and 17′ counterpoise. It is fed with a homemade 9:1 UnUn and a 1:1 current balun. Here’s what the outside looked like.

Coax is RG-316. The radio was my Yaesu FTDX10 with a Mat-30 antenna tuner. I will comment more about the radio in a separate paragraph.

How did I do? I was on the radio pretty steady from 1800 hrs lcl Friday night, unitl about 2200 hrs lcl Saturday night. I would have worked a little later on Saturday, but the bands made it a struggle. I came out okay. I made 353 contacts from 45 states and 11 countries. Band break down as follows: 10m – 5, 12m – 2, 15m – 4, 20m – 130, 30m – 48, 40m – 151, 80m -13, and 160m – 6. I should have had more contacts on all of the bands, but conditions were not that good. I think the only reason I got the 6 on 160m, is people were trying to find propagation — any propagation.

FTDX Woes. I continue to find things I do not like about this radio. I plan on keeping this radio for a while to really give it a shakedown. You really can’t give a radio a good review if you only use it for a short while. I am keeping my IC-7300. On this trip, the biggest niggle I had was the main dial lock. It also locks the MPVD (outer ring) dial. Why is this bad? To use the clarifier, you have to use the MPVD. I recently wrote about split operation and some of you asked why not use the clarifier. The answer is you can but. The Yaesu main dial is large, too large in my opinion, and it is easy to bump it off frequency. This is important if the other station is running split. if you bump the main dial, you no longer hear the other station. You may not notice right away if something is wrong and you can miss your opportunity. If you are the station being worked and you bump your transmit frequency, no one can hear you. With the IC-7300, you can lock the main dial and still operate the RIT/DeltaTX (clarifier) with the multi-function knob.
Woe #2. You cannot easily operate FT8 on 60 meters. Yaesu programmed the 10 channels into memory and to get it to operate on 60 meters, you have to jump through some hoops, more than you should for a modern radio. The Icom will run 60 meters right from the WSJT app.
Woe #3. Using the Mat-30 tuner, the FTDX10 refuses to tune my antenna on 17 meters. I have 3 other portable tuners that work just fine on 17 meters including my 15-year-old LDG Z-11 Pro.
I don’t know, Yaesu, just misses the mark. I still kind of like the Yaesu, there seems to be a lot of almost, but not quite there. The reality is, whatever I can work on the Yaesu, I can work on the Icom. The Yaesu has a more refined receiver, but the Icom has a lower noise floor. For now, I am keeping the Yaesu, and I will continue to take it to the field and use it. I want to have a good feel for it before I decide which one to keep. Like I said, you really can’t do a good review over a short period of time. I really want to give the radio a good workout on CW, which I think will be its niche, if only the propagation gods will favor me. If one of you has an in with Yaesu, send them the link to my blog.

Below is a link to the accompanying YouTube video.

Quibbles and Bits

I was hoping to get the FTDX10 out in the wild this weekend; however, that did not happen. I thought I was going to get an Echolink Conference Room going but that didn’t work out either. The software they use to create the room is archaic with little or no knowledge base on how to start it up. I guess this sacred knowledge is handed down from father to son. I spent a good part of the weekend trying to figure it out. It’s probably a simple setting or something right in front of my nose. I was frustrated enough to start reaching for the Holy Hand Granade of Antioch.

Today I thought I would get the FTDX10 going on WinLink and FLDIGI. This was a little easier. I already used the FTDX10 with FT8 using the instruction found in the manual. To get things going on the radio, I did the following:
Go to RADIO SETTINGS and then MODE PSK/DATA
Set DATA MOD SOURCE to REAR
Set REAR SELECT to USB
Set RPTT to RTS
Go to OPERATION SETTING and then to GENERAL
Set CAT RATE to 38400
Set CAT RTS to ON
In Winlink
Select FT-991/A for the radio
Select USB DIGITAL
Select the proper COM PORT
RTS is CHECKED
BAUD is 38400
PTT PORT (OPTIONAL) SET TO FT-991/A
For FLDIGI
Use FTDX10 for the radio in FLRIG
Use DATA-U in FLDIGI
BAUD is 38400

Today’s FTDX10 quibble is the QMB or Quick Memory Bank. It’s clunky to use. Here Icom is clearly the winner. With my Icom’s which includes the 705, 7300, 7610, and 9700, the QMB, or as Icom calls it Memory Pad is one push to add a frequency to the memory. In addition, the Memory Pad is viewable and can be edited. Neither of these is available for the Yaesu. I use the Memory Pad on the Icoms a lot. Here is an image of the Memory Pad on my 7610.

I use this feature a lot. Yaesu, if you are listening…

Another quibble I have is the main tuning dial sticks out too far from the radio. The extra length turns it into a bump magnet. I think they could lob a 1/4 inch or so off of the dial, and it would still be very usable. I have had my Yaesu on my hobby workbench to set it up the way I like it. It puts the radio to my left side which means I use my left hand to work the controls. I am ambidextrous, with the radio on my left side it is a little easier to use. YMMV. When I take it out to the field, I am going to try it on my left side to see how it works. Generally, I have been enjoying the Yaesu. The crystal roofing filters really make the radio a delight.

Should you be selling your other radios to buy this one? Maybe, maybe not. I am keeping my IC-7300. I think it is a better EmComm radio than the FTDX10. Like others have said, the bells and whistles of the FTDX10 really benefit the CW crowd and really, only those ops who DX/Contest where there is a high density of signals. The Yaesu may also benefit POTA activators who put out enough signal to create large pile-ups or hunters trying to work the weak ones.

Upgrades/Update FTDX10

I am continuing to spend time with the FTDX10. Like many things, it is a process. The ergonomics are not like my Icom’s and frankly, not as good. The touch screen can be sluggish at times when making changes. None of this is insurmountable and like the U.S. Marines, I can adapt, improvise and overcome. Some of the controls are a little tight for my size large hands and yes, it can be pretty easy to knock the frequency off while trying to manipulate a control by the main tuning knob. Here are a few things I do to help mitigate the ergonomics of the radio.

Usually, once I get the radio setup for a band or mode I do not make very many other changes. In the field, I change the power setting and CW speed the most. Before I start operating I set the Function knob to RF Power. Now changing the power is but a knob twist away. I set the MPVD to CW Speed. To reduce errors I turn the ring from the bottom where it is clear of any other buttons.

I also use the Main Dial Lock Button to prevent inadvertently changing the frequency. One thing Yaesu did well was put a big warning on the screen when the dial is locked. When you turn the dial, you see this.

I have made some upgrades to the radio in preparation for getting it ready for the field. One of the first things I did, ordered the CW 300 Hz Filter.

One of the reasons I purchased the FTDX10 was its crystal filters. They do make a difference and may be the reason why the 2kHz dynamic range is so good. Installation was simple, remove 9 screws and then insert the filter.

Just make sure the pins on the radio match the holes on the filter. Yaesu provides a good set of instructions on page 112 of the manual.

The next addition was a set of side rails from portable zero. The rails protect the knobs on the front of the radio and the connections on the rear. I don’t use a special padded case. My radio goes in with all the other radio gear in a Dewalt toolbox. I often find myself setting the radio on end during setup and teardown. It just makes things easier. In addition, the rails protect the knobs and buttons while being transported in the toolbox.

The last addition today was a Mat-30 tuner. Yaesu is more fiddly than the Icoms, when it comes to tuners. With this tuner, it is pretty much plug-and-play. Even the tune button works like it is supposed to. The big rubber band is a Grafitti Band Joe silicone band found on Amazon.

Wrapping up, the radio is pretty much ready for its first outing. I have been making contacts from the home shack and I am pleased with its performance. The crystal filters are a godsend. I worked a couple of CW stations that were mired by QRM and fairly easily got a clean signal. My final thoughts for today are I wish the ergonomics were better. They are a little clunky and awkward, but not so much that the radio becomes unusable. I think Icom has the correct balance and layout of buttons, knobs, and screen interface. One thing I do like better about the Yaesu’s is the separate shift and width filter knobs and having the programmable MPVD ring. Setting the MPVD ring to CW speed and the Function Knob to RF power saves me a few steps over the Icom which both are buried one layer down the menu system.

The receiver in the Yaesu has better filtering and the roofing filters do make a difference. However, looking at Sherwood’s specs, the Icom has a lower noise floor which means it hears better by a factor of 4 over the Yaesu. Initial thoughts are that the FTDX10 has a better receiver than the IC-7300 and is on par with the IC-7610. One thing I can do on my 7610 is tune both receivers to the same signal and then set up different filtering on each. I have it set up where each receiver goes to a different channel giving me a unique stereo view in my headsets.

Are the IC-7300’s days numbered? I don’t think so. There are things I like about both radios. Each will get their time in the field. After a good amount of time, I will see which one gets more. Over the past year, the IC-7300 has seen a lot of use. I am sure I will be wearing the new off of the FTDX10 for the next couple of months. de Scott

FTDX10 Setup for the field

The majority of my activations are successful. In fact so far (knock on wood), I have had only one failed attempt and that was because I started too late and didn’t get my 10 contacts before the new UTC day. The time I spent in the Army was mostly with ready reaction forces or rapid reaction forces. This often entailed us getting up at 0300 hrs loading up all our gear and heading for the hills. I was in aviation and that meant a lot of gear that had to be loaded quickly. While the helicopter crews hopped in their aircraft and took off, there were still trucks and semis that had to be ready to go. This same equipment was also used in day-to-day operations so it wasn’t just sitting there waiting for something to happen. It took organization. “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

I keep my field gear packed but accessible. My big radios go in this box.

Permanent residents of the box are loosely stored with the caveat that if I take something out, I put it back when I’m done. You will notice in the bottom picture there is a bag marked IC-7300. That is all of the peripheral stuff that goes with the IC-7300/LDG Z-11 Pro to the left. When I get the FTDX10 ready, it will have its own clearly marked bag. Whichever radio I take, I can quickly see if I have the proper bag to go with it. The radio that is not in use will go in a smaller storage box to help keep things together. The antennas I use stay with my truck, always ready.

One of my first projects for the FTDX10 is the power cord.

It’s not zip cord like the Icoms, so it can get jumbled up pretty quick. Also, when operating in the field my battery or power supply is close to the radio so I do not need a long run.

The first thing I did was add heat shrink tubing to keep the wires together. Loose, they seem to tangle no matter how hard you try to keep them straight. Make sure you put the heat shrink on before you make any connections.

The butt splices are covered with heat shrink tubing so that after they are mechanically crimped, they are sealed to the wire insulation.

The finished cable is about 18″-24″ long. I guesstimated. I use Anderson Powerpole on all of my radio gear. I have been using them since the mid-2,000s. My power supply and batteries all have Powerpole connections. It’s a very safe way to keep the electrons flowing in the right direction.

With the leftover cable, I applied heat shrink tubing and Powerpoles to both ends. This gives me an extension should I ever need one.

There’s the completed project. Ready to rock.

In a couple of days, my side rails will be here and then I will see how the radio fits in the box. The FTDX10 is a little wider than the IC-7300 so it may be a tight fit. If it’s too tight, I will have to figure something else out.

So far, I am enjoying the radio and I am looking forward to getting it out in the wild. 73’s de Scott

Look What Followed Me Home

Yesterday, I drove to HRO in Atlanta and picked up a Yaesu FTDX10. No, this does not replace my Icom IC-7300 which I still consider to be the best all around HF field radio out there. I bought the FTDX10 for a couple of reasons. It has been a while since I owned a Yaesu radio and I thought I would try this one out. I do tend to gravitate towards Icoms and will probably get to a couple of those reasons in this post.

Its purpose as a part of my stable of radios is going to be a field radio. Just like I have 2 QRP field radios, I now have 2 QRO field radios. This radio brings a few things to the table that the IC-7300 doesn’t and also has a few niggles absent in the Icom. In the field, I primarily operate CW and FT8. This radio has several features that enhance CW operation over the IC-7300 that are found on the IC-7610. I feel that I have an IC-7610 radio in an IC-7300 size (not totally true, but you get the idea).

Size wise, the FTDX10 and the IC-7300 are fairly close in size with the FTDX10 being about an inch wider.

The FTDX10 also weighs about 4 pounds more. Weight and size differences this small are insignificant when considering how I plan to use the radios. Mostly, it will be portable operations either operating out of my truck or my camper. I might have to lug the radios maybe 15 feet. I carry the IC-7300 in a Dewalt Tough System 2.0 medium box and plan to do the same with the Yaesu.

Setup – Display/Power. There are lots of options on the Yaesu. I would say that this is not a beginners radio. While the manual is pretty good, you still have to have some idea of what you are doing. One of the niggles I have is receive current. When I first turned on the radio, it was drawing over 2 amps in receive. The Icom only draws a little over 0.8 amps, less that half of the Yaesu. I changed the following settings to bring it down to 1.78 amps:
LED Dimmer 7
Dimmer 10
Color 5
Max HF RF Power 50 watts.
The last 2 didin’t help with the amp draw but they were set at the same time as the others. I normally don’t operate past 50 watts in the field.

Setup – SSB. I don’t plan on operating SSB in the field, but then again, you never know. I tried to setup SSB according to the manual and found I didn’t get the expected results. I had to fiddle with the settings in order to stay within the prescribed parameters. Here are the setting I used:
Mic Gain – 65
Processor Level – 71
AMC – 41
Of course MMMV. This was using the hand mic. I really like the hand mic with its controls. It has a mute button to mute the receiver as well as up/down buttons and 4 “P” buttons which perform the following:
P1 – Main Dial Lock
P2 – QMB Quick Memory Bnak
P3 – VFO A/VFO B
P4 – VFO/Memory
I may keep the microphone connected just for the convenience of the buttons. I did not set all of the parametric settings. That will be another endeavour.

Setup – CW. This is where the FTDX10 really shines. It has APF, Audio Peak Filter Zin/Spot (same as the 7610). A really nice feature is the high cut and low cut filters, which help to isolate the incoming desired signal. My initial CW settings are based upon 700 Hz sidetone:
Low Cut – 600
High Cut – 800
CW Out – 50
CW BK-IN – Full
Keyer Type – B
Ratio – 3.3
Like the Icoms, you can set the the keyer BK-IN to off, you can use the radio as a practice oscillator. One thing the FTDX10 has over the IC-7300 is it can decode CW. Often your ears are better filters, but I can see the decoder maybe helping with difficult callsigns or your brain is not firing on all cylinders that day.

Setup – FT8. Here I was surprised. My last Yaesu radio was a FTDX3000 and the computer interface was tedious at best. You had to make the radio use digital modes. It was one of the reasons I shied away from Yaesu. Icom has been doing this better since the IC-7100. However, Yaesu has learned. Now setting up for digital modes and computer logging is a breeze. Once you setup the software for FT8, on the radio you do the following:
Set Mode to USB and PRESET (both must be on or blue color)
Set Roofing Filter to 3K
That’s it. I made about 5 quick contacts on FT8 to include europe. I also set up ACLog to work with the Yaesu. Easy Peezy.

External Antenna Tuner. This has been another sore spot with me. Using an LDG tuner with an Icom is plug and play. One cable and I can tune using the radios tune button and the tuner is powered by the radio. The Yaesu on the other hand, has never been an easy fix. It seems that to use an external tuner, you had to do something extra or something different. When I bought the FTDX10, I bought an adapter cable for my LDG Z-11 Pro. It was still more fiddly than I liked.

What’s next? I am seting this up for field work. I ordered a Mat-30 antenna tuner for the radio which is supposed to work like the LDG tuner does for the Icom. Push the tuner button on the radio and it matches the antenna. I also ordred the 300 Hz filter and a pair of Portable Zero side rails. I don’t put my radios in Pelican type cases. Those cases take up too much space and in reality, the radios do not need that much protection. The side rails prevent the knobs and buttons from hitting the wall of Dewalt box while in transit and allow me to set the radio up on end which I seem to do alot while setting up and breaking down.

Where does the FTDX10 fit? I think this radio will get its most use when I am either camping with shore power or in a cabin. In general I try to go camping at least once a month where there is power available. The IC-7300 will get used in areas where I am operating under battery power. I have been an Emergency Communications Specialist for my church for 25 years and if I were to deploy to a disaster again, I would take the IC-7300. The FTDX10 is not a radio you can learn about over an hour or two. I will take a while to learn all the goodness it contains. On my POTA activations, you will still see both radios along with my QRP radios. Tnx for stopping by de Scott