POTA Activation Florence Marina State Park K-2174

Thursday I made a quick trip to K-2174 to finish up my N1CC award. I needed one band. My wife and I made a day of it since it’s about a 2 hour drive each way. I made 43 contacts mostly on FT8. The bands were in fair shape and we were done in about an hour and a half. Here is a QSO map.

The antenna was my 29′ random wire antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. I really like this antenna. It is my current favorite. The radio was my IC-7300 running about 25 watts. While FT8 is a great mode to use when band conditions are poor, it is not my favorite. Now that my N1CC is complete I will go back to focusing on CW and QRPish. What made FT8 a good fit for N1CC was the ability to find contacts on all the different bands needed. What I didn’t like about FT8 was the lack of cohesiveness between hunters and activators. I have seen on Facebook where activators didn’t care if hunters contacted them or not and some don’t even call CQ POTA. That is not me. Below is a short video of the activation. Enjoy and 73’s — Scott

Why I’m keeping my IC-7300

I know there’s been a lot of hoopla over the new Yaesu Radios. I am sure they are fine radios and do a great job. These will be fine radios for those invested in the Yaesu environment.

I have owned Yaesus in the past, the last being the FTDX-3000. However, I always seem to gravitate back to Icom. I am not necessarily an Icom fan boy, just that currently, Icom suits me better.

I was tempted to buy the new FT-710. I looked at it long and hard. I schemed about how I was going to buy one. Part of my justification was looking at the specs where I discovered something…

The IC-7300 hears better. The noise floor for the IC-7300 is -133 dBm vs -127 dBm for the FT-710. Rob Sherwood defines noise floor as “Noise floor measures how weak a signal one can hear.” I can work signals on my IC-7300 and IC-7610 with an S0 (zero) on the meter. I’m working a station and the meter is not moving when receiving.

I hear comments about the FT-710 being quieter. It could be possible that Yaesu has a 6 dBm high pass filter creating an artificial noise floor above the actual one? This is just my opinion based on what I see in the specs. That may be why the Icom hears better and the Yaesu is quieter. Ah, but the FT-710 has better close in dynamic range. This is true. The FT-710 has about a 10 db better close in dynamic range then the IC-7300. The question becomes, do you really need it? From Rob Sherwood “What do you need in the way of close-in dynamic range? You want a number of at least 70 dB for SSB, and at least 80 dB for CW. A 10 dB safety factor would be nice, so that means you would prefer 80 dB for SSB and 90 dB for CW.” Unless you’re a hard core contester or chasing DX, the answer might be maybe not. Rob Sherwood put an IC-7300 through its paces during an ARRL 160 meter CW contest. His comment was “I have zero complaints about using it in a CW contest.” This contest would be a good test for any receiver. Like Rob I have no issues with my Icom the way I use it.

Am I telling you not to get a FT-710? Of course not. It’s a fine radio in its own right. Like I said, I was tempted. But, if you already own an IC-7300, the extra expense of buying a FT-710 and/or selling your IC-7300 may not be worth the effort. I’ve owned my IC-7300 since 2017 and can make it dance and sing. I would have to relearn the Yaesu menu architecture and it may take me a while to get the same results as the Icom. I have 4 Icoms with the same/simular menu system so for me it’s a no brainer to keep the Icom. I believe either radio is well suited for the task it was designed to do. I am not really saying the Icom is better than the Yaesu, what I am saying is that the Icom is better suited to me. YMMV. 73 Scott.

POTA Activation K-2939 Cumberland Mountain State Park

I try to get out camping about once a month. It’s good for the soul. While out I am often activating the park. Also fun and relaxing. I book my campsites 3-4 months in advance to ensure I have a place to go. Campgrounds in the southeast fill up fast. This trip was up into Tennessee to the Cumberland Mountain State Park. It was a lovely 4-hour trip with only 44 miles being on an Interstate Highway. The park is located in the Cumberland Plateau Region of Tennessee and my drive included driving through Sequatchie Valley. The valley is rather narrow and you can see the walls of the valley on both sides. I couldn’t ask for better weather. Highs in the 70’s and lows in the ’50s. After a hot summer, it’s was a welcome relief.

The campsite was cozy. This park had a higher density than I normally like, but there was lots of foliage and greenery around to set my karma right.

Band conditions were not that good and I operated FT8 on this trip. I am working on my N1CC award which is working 10 different bands from 10 different parks. Because the park was so far away (200 miles) with gas prices what they are, I wanted a one-and-done which is why I stuck to FT8. My setup was what I have been using on the past couple of trips.

The radio was my IC-7300 and the tuner was an old LDG Z-11 Pro. Since I had shore power, I used a Powerwerx Switching power supply. The computer is a Lenovo Thinkpad T14 which I bought refurbished from Lenovo. It’s a really nice computer. The mouse is a Logitech Pebble which is Bluetooth. For FT8 I also use a GPS dongle to keep the clocks on my computer and radio synced. On FT8 the further you drift from the actual time, the probability to connect to another station goes down. Even at home I sync my computer every day that I use FT8. I also keep a flash drive plugged into the computer. I use ACLog and I have it set up that it makes a backup copy to the flash drive every time the program shuts down.

The antenna is my homebrew random wire. It’s a 29-foot wire setup as a vertical using an MFJ-1910 pushup pole attached to my truck’s trailer hitch. I use one 17-foot counterpoise with a homemade 9:1 UnUn and a 1:1 current balun for a choke. I highly recommend a choke on any portable operation. Keeping RF at the antenna prevents all sorts of things on the radio. I really like this antenna. It has become my go-to antenna. I have probably made over 1,000 contacts with it from all over the world. Since there are no holes in the ground or wires in the trees, the park staff remains happy. On this trip, my campsite was next to the campground host. I can’t say enough about the antenna, it just works, it goes up and down in a couple of minutes, and didn’t cost that much to make. You do need a good tuner though. With this antenna I managed to get my 10 bands. 6-meters was dead the whole weekend so I had to to the other end — 160 meters. On digital modes, my antenna can tolerate about 65 watts max before toroids get saturated. On 160, it’s more like 35 watts. 160 was looking a little sketchy, however, I managed 2 contacts, here is one. I have used this antenna from 6-160 meters.

The IC-7300 has become one of my favorite field radios. Compact, lightweight, and full of features. It has never let me down. I bought mine back in 2017. The only protection I use on it is a set of Portable Zero rails. When I transport it, it rides in a Dewalt Tough System box with no additional padding. Every time I pull it out and plug it in, it works. I have had other brands of radios, but I always seem to head back to Icom at least for HF.

I operated from Friday afternoon until Saturday night. I made 350 QSO’s from 43 States and 18 countries. I worked them from 10 meters to 160 meters. It was a blast. I now have 8 parks with 10 different bands. I have one with 9 and one with 7. I should be able to wrap those up in the next couple of weeks. Then I think I’ll go back to low power (less than 10 watts) and get my CW mojo back in order. See you out there — Scott

Bicycle Mobile

For the past 7 months, I have been walking to improve my health. Recently, I bought a bike to change up the routine a little. I think it would be fun to ride while I am camping and the times when I am not at the highest point in the park, I could ride my bike there. When I bought the bike I had them put on a rack. This left a very nice mounting tab for the antennas.

I had some angle aluminum from a prior project so that is where I started. I cut the aluminum to match the width of the rack and then started shaping it. I only had hand tools and there was a lot of filing involved.

The hole on the left is for a SO-239 mount and the one on the right is for a 3/8-24 bolt. The SO-239 is attached to some thin coax probably RG-174 and terminated in a female SMA connector. Perfect for an HT. To get the wide radius I cut in the metal with a Dremel tool.

This is where the hand filing came in. After the filing came sanding the old finish off and applying coats of primer, flat black paint, and a clear coat. Installed on the bike it looks like this with a Diamond NR-770HA dual band antenna.

Out by me, the repeaters are VHF, I tuned it for that band. I ended up with this.

With an HT on the other end, I was able to hit repeaters 10 miles away while under my carport. I called it good.

I also wanted to work HF using my bike as a stand. I won’t ride with the HF antenna installed but rather set it up when I stop. I mounted a 3/8-24 coupler to the antenna mount and wanted to use my Buddipole 12′ fiberglass antenna. I tried several different combinations and the one that worked best was using my Chameleon Micro Hybrid transformer with one counterpoise.

SWR on 6 meters through 40 was acceptable and can easily be handled by a tuner.

I didn’t try HF on the bike but I have used the configuration before. It’s part of my Frankentenna system. The only thing left I have to add is a handi-talkie mount which I will probably order today.

There you have it. A fun little project that will add to the adventure of ham radio. I hope this may spur some of you to try a few projects of your own. Most of these projects I do are with hand tools. I do have a cheap drill press that only seems to be a little better than a hand drill. Get out there and do it. 73 — Scott

POTA Activation Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area K-3683

Today I was lucky enough to get away for a couple of hours and play radio. I chose Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area which resides within the Talladega National Forest for a 2-fer. The trip gave me an opportunity to try a new configuration on my laptop. I recently purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad T14s. It has 3 available USB ports. Two type A and one Type C (Thunderbolt). There is another Type C but as far as I can tell it is used for power delivery.

When I operate in the field, I use a flash drive to give ACLog a place to store a backup file when it shuts down. Makes no sense to have the backup file on the same drive. I also use a GPS dongle along with the GPS2Time app to keep my computer’s clock synced. It doesn’t take much of a time difference to lose a contact. That used up my Type A ports. To hook up the radio, I bought a USB type B to USB type C cable and tried it out. I first in error plugged the type C connector into the power delivery port and of course I had problems. When I figured out my mistake and plugged it into the correct port, things went swimmingly. It’s always good to experiment on smaller trips.

Here is the setup in the truck.

I normally have the radio setup where I can better see it, but this was a quick activation. If I ever try a RADAR event, it might look something like this.

The radio was my IC-7300 with the LDG Z-11 Pro riding piggyback. The antenna is my 29.5 foot random wire antenna with a homemade 9:1 UnUn and choke. I use a 17′ counterpoise. The coax is RG316 with BNC connectors. I was running somewhere around 40 watts. Here is a previous picture of the antenna.

The antenna is hoisted in the air via an MFJ-1910 33′ pushup pole in a trailer hitch flag holder. Nothing fancy, but gets the job done. I have since replaced the 3D printed winder with one made from ABS to resist heat better.

How did my little setup do? I think pretty well. Bands were up and down but I managed 26 contacts without breaking a sweat. I did jump around the bands a little bit, trying to get set up for 10 bands for N1CC. I managed to make it to 7. Six meters was dead and it was too early for the lower bands. My club has a campout planned for the fall Support your Parks weekend so I should be able to get the rest. I worked a lot more DX than I thought I would which was a pleasant surprise.

Thanks to all the hunters who worked me and for your patience as I tried to work through some of the pileups I had. It was a fun little trip hopefully with more in the future. Until then — 73, Scott

POTA Activation K-2168 Chattahoochee Bend State Park

Chattahoochee Bend State Park is only 17 miles from me as the crow flies but to drive there it’s 37 miles and takes about an hour. I needed 2 more bands for the 10 band per park requirement for the POTA N1CC award. Since the band that were left were nighttime bands I decided to spend the night there. This park is only a few years old. It is tucked away off the beaten path. It is a nice park, that never seems to be overly filled, which is my preference. Cell service is spotty and you are quite a ways from any grocery store.

Set up was pretty simple. I used my homemade random wire antenna with an MFJ-1910 pushup pole attached to my truck’s trailer hitch. I really like this antenna. Simple to set up and it just works.

The antenna is fed with RG316 coax using BNC connectors. The exciter was my IC-7300 with an LDG Z-11 Pro to balance things out. New this trip is a Lenovo ThinkPad T14s that I bought refurbished. I also added a mini docking station. I’m kinda nerdy when it comes to computers and can be a little picky. Since it was a one-nighter and rainy, I chose not to set up outside and instead operated from inside the camper.

I decided to cut the memory foam as it is not that comfortable to sit on. This is much better. When I am solo, I will leave the extra foam at home.

My intent was to use FT8 to get my needed 10 QSO per activation day and get the 2 bands I needed and then switch to CW. However, band conditions were not that good, often with a lot of QSB so I decided to stick with FT8, and even then sometimes had issues completing a QSO. I worked from about 1830 hrs UTC to 0530 hrs UTC or about 11 hours. All I can say is that the bands were –weird. I was working parts of the country I didn’t normally work. DX-wise, propagation was more easterly than usual. Still, I had a good night. I ended up with 200 contacts. I worked 41 States and 21 countries.

Final Thoughts? First a big kudo to all the hunters out there. We have some fantastic hunters who go out of their way to make contacts. Along with the kudo, a big thank you for being there. Probably 99% of my contacts were from me being spotted and calling CQ POTA. Here’s a YouTube video about the activation:

POTA Activation K-2174 Florence Marina State Park

Wow! What a weekend. 438 QSO’s successfully uploaded to POTA. What a blast it was. I had a great time, got little sleep, and tried some new gear. Thanks to all who worked me and thank you for your patience as I worked through some of the pileups. Mode this weekend was FT8. I was going to try some CW but FT8 was running non-stop. Much of the time my WSJT software looked like this.

I was QRV from Friday 1800 hrs Zulu until Sunday 0500 hrs Zulu. Band conditions were good. I didn’t see as much DX as I have in the past, but I still managed to work quite a few. This time I got about 98% of my contacts by activating, that is calling CQ. I did hunt a few, mainly P2P and a few call signs that interested me. So, you don’t have to hunt to get the Q’s. The secret is picking a frequency and holding it. There were times I held a frequency for hours.

For this trip and the past few, I have been bringing my IC-7300. I am trying to complete my N1CC award and having a few extra ponies under the hood helps. There has been some discussion about packing radios. I put mine in a box with the rest of my stuff. I do have Portable Zero Escort side rails, but that’s about it https://tinyurl.com/45dcupe5. They keep the knobs away from the box sidewalls.

Shack setup is pretty straightforward.

I can be QRV within 30 minutes from the time I pull into the site. The computer is a Microsoft Surface Go2. I use a USB hub to attach everything to it but if to jiggle it even slightly, it drives WSJT software bonkers. I may look to replace it. The tuner is my old LDG Z-11 Pro which I have had for over 15 years. It takes a lickin’… For coax, I run RG-316. I don’t see the need to use anything bigger. After this trip, I am redoing my radio box. After every trip, I do a mental after-action report. This time I decided I am bringing too much stuff.

What is new? This time I brought the KK4Z enhanced random wire antenna. This is a 29.5′ random wire antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. Same old, same old. What is new, is I added a 9:1 UnUn rated at 250 watts PEP and a choke balun.

I use my truck hitch and an MFJ-1910 – 33′ pole to get it up in the air. No holes in the ground, no rope in the trees.

This was a pretty exposed campsite. I had Park Rangers and Camp Hosts drive by all day long. All they would do is wave at me. The other secret is don’t make excessive noise. With FT8 I keep the volume turned way down and with CW I use Skull Candy Ear Buds https://tinyurl.com/2p89mz8u. The benefit of this antenna setup is the amount of power I can use. With my Chameleon transformers, I am lucky to run 35 watts and only 6-80 meters. With my antenna, I can run up to 65 watts without anything getting warm on 6-80 meters. On 160 meters, I have to reduce the power down to 25-35 watts. A larger choke balun may solve that problem. This past weekend I was running 50-65 watt range just to see and I had no problems. This antenna will become part of the Frankentenna system. So I guess I have a new favorite antenna. It gets the job done (see map above) and it keeps the campground staff happy. One of the real benefits is how little space it takes up and its low visual profile. If I am beyond the eyes of those who care, I can easily sling it up into a tree.

I do have a short video about the activation on YouTube.

Minding your P’s and Q’s

The expression, mind your p’s and q’s probably dates back to the 18th century.  There are several explanations of the meaning of the phrase.  I grew up with the meaning of either watching your language or minding your manners.  However, I am using it today as a segway into minding your Prosigns and Q signals.

In the world of CW, continuous wave transmission, we use the language of Morse Code.  Like a language, there are many nuances that must be learned in order to effectively communicate with others throughout the world.  In this post, we will take a brief look at some of the more common P’s and Q’s used in the Parks on the Air (POTA) program.

Prosigns are one or 2 letters used as a kind of telegraphy shorthand.  Often, 2 letters are mashed together to form one character.  For example, the prosign BK which stands for Back to You, would sound like this dah-di-di-di-dah-di-dah, and not dah-di-di-di, dah-di-dah.  When you see prosigns written with letters mashed together, they have an overbar to signify that they are sent together.  Here are some of the Prosigns you may hear during a POTA contact or conversation:

AS (with overbar)This prosign means to wait.  Typically an activator will request a wait to fix something with their station or take a short break.

BK (with overbar) as stated earlier, this prosign means back to you.  The sender is done sending and waiting for the other operator to respond.

DE This is from.  Probably the most widely known prosign

K – Stands for over and an invitation for any station to transmit.  CQ POTA DE KK4Z K

KN (with overbar) Invitation for the named station to transmit.  E.g.  W3AAX DE KK4Z

N – Negative or no

R – Roger, received, or yes.

SK (with overbar) End of contact same as 73.

Note: Neither MS Word nor WordPress has an easy way to insert and overbar. An overbar is a bar on top of the letters to signify that they are sent together.

Q signals are another form of telegraphy shorthand.  They are composed of 3 letters beginning with a Q.  Q codes or Q signals are different in that they can either be a statement or a question.  The Q code is turned into a question by adding a question mark to the end of the signal. Listed here are some of the more common Q codes and their uses.

QRL?  Is this frequency in use?
QRL This frequency is in use.

QRM? Are you bothered by noise? (typically, manmade)
QRM I am bothered by noise.

QRN? Are you bothered by natural noise (lightning)
QRN I am bothered by natural noise.

QRO?  Shall I increase my power?
QRO Increase your power.

QRP?  Shall I decrease my power?
QRP Decrease your power.

QRQ? Shall I send faster?
QRQ Send faster by…

QRS? Shall I send slower?
QRS Send more slowly.

QRT? Shall I stop sending?
QRT I close all transmissions.

QRV?  Are you ready?
QRV I am ready.

QRZ?  Who’s calling me?
QRZ You were called by…

QSB? Does my signal fade?
QSB Your signal fades.

QSL?  Can you receive?
QSL Confirmed, received

QSO? Can you communicate with…directly?
QSO I can communicate with…directly.

There are many more codes out there but these are probably the most common you will find outside of a CW traffic net. Hopefully, this will help those learning the new and fascinating language of CW/Morse Code. The beauty of this language is that it is used worldwide and it doesn’t matter what your first language is. Enjoy de KK4Z SK

Lightweight Choke Balun

I like to use random wire antennas. My favorite is a 29.5′ antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. I usually use a 5:1 (Chameleon) or a 9:1 (homemade UnUn with it. I have noticed with either combination, some stray RF finds its way back to the radio and me. To combat this, I have a Chameleon Choke balun which is nice but it is rather clunky and uses RG-8X coax. There are times when I am operating QRP, I use RG-316. So I decided to see if I could make a Choke balun using RG-316.

For a toroid, I found a FT114-31 from KF7P Metalwerks. These are rather small.

The toroid I believe cost about 3 bucks plus shipping. I had a 3′ RG-316 jumper with BNC connectors on each end. With a little bit of fiddling, I got 6 turns through the toroid without having to cut a connector. The next step was to straighten out the turns and set them in hot glue. I also applied a ty-wrap at turns 1 and 6.

Hot glue is never an easy medium; this time I managed to keep it off of me. Even though it is messy looking the turns are secure. Toroids are generally brittle and can easily break. I am not always gentle with my gear so I decided to first wrap the toroid in coax seal or “elephant snot”. This will seal out the weather and provide a little bit of a cushion. After putting it on I molded it to the toroid.

Because this stuff is very sticky, I then wrapped it in Scotch 88 electrical tape.

The whole thing weighs in at 3 ounces and should handle somewhere up to 70 watts. It ain’t pretty, but I have less than 10 bucks rolled into it. I will be taking it out this weekend to a park to try it out. I to hear you out there. 73’s Scott

UPDATE 08/16/2022

Today I managed to get into town and buy some wire for my choke project. While there, I bought some heat shrink tubing for my first project. The heat shrink cost more than the little box I had for my second choke. Here is the revised choke with the new heat shrink along with the new choke.

The new choke is made with 16 ga wire, I could’ve and probably should’ve used 18 ga. The toroid is a FT114-31 and it is wrapped 6 turns. the toroid is secured to the bottom of the box with hot glue. Here is a picture before I put the lid on.

Here is the final product.

The box weighs about half an once more than the coax choke. Of the two, I prefer the box, mainly because the toroid is wrapped with primary wire and not coax. It’s a little easier to wrap and looks neater. More than likely, both will perform about the same. For my next outing, I will have an antenna totally made by me. 73 de 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.