Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite

There’s a winter weather advisory in place here for the next 24 hours. Not much snow is expected though even an inch would be the most we’ve seen this season. Cold, windy, snow. It’s what should have happened several times before now, but so far this has been another winter season without the winter.

Regardless of what happens tonight and tomorrow, warmer days will return soon enough and that means a resumption of field radio.

Thinking about that has had me doing a mental checklist of my gear and considering how it might evolve in preparation for the upcoming season. Another antenna of the non-wire variety would be a nice option provided it was lightweight and easy to setup.

K4SWL has made several blog posts (and video) detailing his experience with the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite a military grade compact field antenna. It looked very interesting and maybe what I was looking for, but a quick check revealed that these are currently backordered and won’t ship for four weeks.

But hey, I don’t need it sooner than that anyway so I pulled the trigger and ordered the antenna. It’s not inexpensive, but it looks incredibly well-made here in the USA and I appreciate that.

I like that setup and breakdown is fast and easy and I also like that it can be configured as a self-supporting, lightweight vertical that covers 40-6 meters (using the telescoping whip). It still requires a wide-ranging auto-tuner, but I have that covered.

Mother Nature will soon enough be finished dishing out winter weather and it will be time to venture back into the field with the radio gear and my portable coffee maker in tow and optimizing my chances for success seems like a good investment.

Upcoming Sale

Two weeks from today will be my final working day before settling into what I hope will be a long and happy retirement. Even so, I expect it will remain busy around here for quite some time. One of the first things planned is the liquidation of my ham radio equipment.

Beginning the week of February 7th I’ll offer up a never used Yaesu G-5500 azimuth and elevation rotor, an unopened M2 LEO-Pack antenna system, and a barely used S.A.T. rotor/transceiver interface.

Shortly after those items I’ll list my IC-9700 all-mode V/U/GHz transceiver with a Leo Bodnar Mini Precision GPS Reference Clock and a 9700 Reference Injection Board (not installed).

I also intend to sell the handhelds - a Kenwood TH-D72A along with a TH-D74A, spare batteries and rapid chargers for both. After that I will begin selling off all the HF equipment, and there’s a lot of it to be moved beginning with the IC-7610 transceiver.

Boxing and shipping is enough of a chore that I expect to drag this process out over a few months.

If you have any interest in the items mentioned above (along with a boatload of accessories) then keep an eye on this space in a few weeks. I plan on listing it here and at all the usual online sites a few days later.

Okaloosa Island NA-142

From the OPDX Bulletin 1549:

Bernie, W3UR, Editor of “The Daily DX”, reports that he will be operating N3ME, the Glenwood DX Association Club callsign, from Okaloosa Island (NA-142) late on Friday, January 21st until mid-day Sunday, January 23rd. Activity will be on 20/17/15/12/10 meters using CW, SSB and possibly FT8. QSL via W3UR.

Islands on the Air NA-142

Gilded Age

Is it just me or does it seem every third news item about ham radio these days is about yet another grant?

Money is busting out all over which isn’t a bad thing for an avocation that’s often rumored to be dying. We’ve enough money now that if ham radio does die at least we can enjoy one hell of a funeral - complete with a solid gold casket!

Once you’ve calmed yourself a bit after fantasizing about all that money washing up on our shores, you might take a moment to consider the long term impact this could have on the hobby.

On the plus side, we can finally get funding for important projects, big things that can really bring about significant change in the world of amateur radio. Endless scholarships and high impact STEM initiatives are all suddenly within reach. Research can be funded that will yield new modes, methods, and technology that has the potential to modernize the hobby in a plethora of ways.

The potential upside is huge.

On the other hand, no matter how fairly the grant approval process might be it will be biased. The organization doling out the grant money has an agenda and recipients will need to fall in line to receive those handouts. How this bias may shift the entire track of the hobby is unknown.

The process is certain to create winners and losers among local clubs and organizations. The winners will be those who crack the code on how to write better grant proposals. The losers will never understand this new paradigm and ultimately fail to keep up.

And what will become of the individual donor in this new Gilded Age?

In a land flowing with milk, honey, and grant money I no longer find a compelling reason for me (or anyone else) to continue financial support for any ham radio cause.

It seems even rainbow stew and free bubble-up comes at a cost.

Powerfully Curious

Just finished listening to the latest edition of the Eclectic Tech podcast (#51), an interview with H.P. Friedrichs, AC7ZL, who talked about his new book Marvelous Magnetic Machines and the joys of extreme homebrewing.

“Extreme” seems accurate to me. For instance, when Pete builds a crystal radio he doesn’t purchase a variable tuning capacitor. He cuts the plates out of sheet metal and builds his own. It’s an artisan view of crafting electrical and electronic components into things that work in a way that few would consider practical.

Reader warning, I found this all powerfully curious enough to have spent an entire morning digging deeper…

Ten. Done. Logged.

A few days ago I noticed that the VOL control on my KX3 wasn’t working. No matter how much I turned it the volume level never changed. It’s a multi-control encoder that in normal mode handles the volume but with a quick press it becomes the RF control and with a long-press it controls the Monitor level.

I’ve read these encoders are notorious for failure though this was the first time I had seen any indication of a problem. My first inclination was to order a few new encoders from Elecraft so I could replace the problem control and have a few to keep on hand. Replacing it is just a solder job and I figured to do it myself.

But the more I thought about it the more I decided to send it back to the factory for the replacement and for a complete checkout to make certain it’s in tip-top condition. After all, time is short until I retire (19 days) and while it would be gone 4-6 weeks for service I would appreciate knowing all is well with my favorite transceiver.

Before sending it off I wanted to look a little more closely to see if there were any other problems to report so I set it up with a battery and the little AX2 portable antenna on the kitchen table and turned it on. 20 meters was slammed with a big contest, the CW edition of the North American QSO Party as it turned out.

You see where this is headed…

All these loud stations calling CQ, and here I was with five watts and a small, portable antenna perched on the kitchen table. What’s a fellow to do? I called one of them. Boom. Done. Logged. It happened so fast and was so easy that it occurred to me that I could probably work three in total and the circumstances and contest entry soapbox would be chuckle-worthy.

So I worked three. Done. Logged. That took all of two minutes and then I thought, five. I’ll work five. Done. Logged. Then I thought if five was that easy, why not ten? Five more in the log. Ten. Done. Logged.

By that point I was convinced I could work twenty, thirty, or maybe even fifty. But this was getting me nowhere with regards to potential problems with the KX3. Besides, now the VOL control seemed to be working properly and I was doubting my initial observation. Was the problem intermittent or had it been my imagination all along?

In the end I decided not to ship the transceiver back to the factory, but will just keep an eye on it – though I did order a couple of replacement encoders. At five bucks a pop why not, just in case.

New 4-Band 5-Watt CW Transceiver Kit

A new four-band, five watt, CW transceiver kit from WA3RNC is set to be made available in a few days. The TR-35 follows up on the two-band TR-25 transceiver released last year. Full-coverage on 40, 30, 20, and 17 meters with 5 watts output on all bands with 12VDC input. I like that my TR-25 has separate jacks for straight key and paddles and that feature is also included in the TR-35.

The TR-35 will be available factory-built or as a kit. I could find no price for the new transceiver yet, but the site indicates it will be available for order beginning on January 17th.

The assembly manuals, schematics, and full operating instructions are available for download from the site - scroll down to “Resources”.

The TR-35 is a 4-band 5-watt CW transceiver covering the 40-, 30-, 20-, and 17- meter bands with generous receiver tuning ranges above and below each band. Selectable receiver modes allow for narrow band CW, wideband CW, and SSB reception. Refer to the front panel for the location of the switches and controls. The four rotary controls are pretty much self-explanatory. There is a keyer speed control (5-45 WPM) on the left, then the TX Power (0-5W) adjust pot, an RF gain control, and a volume control. The power on-off switch is at the upper left, the Receiver Mode and AUX switch is in the middle, and the Band selector and RIT switch is to the right. The two right-most switches are 3-position spring return toggle switches. To change bands, momentarily flip this switch upward and allow it to return to the center off position. Do this quickly, and the unit will consecutively switch from one band to another.

The TX-500 Stand

While supplies of the Discovery Lab599 TX-500 portable transceiver have remained somewhat constrained, the after-market for the low-powered radio continues to grow.

The rugged transceiver is perfectly suited for winter weather but I’m not and have moved my operation of it into the shack until spring. But with it perched on my operating desk the viewing angle is unacceptable using the supplied tilt-feet so I went looking for a suitable holder.

Having had a KX3 (similar format) for several years I’ve collected numerous stands and holders and while any of them would have worked, I decided to purchase a custom desktop holder for the unit from the QRP store online.

The TX-500 (desk) stand is as close to perfect as it gets. The 3D printed design looks every bit as rugged and modern as the transceiver. The color is well-matched and it provides optimum viewing that can be adjusted across a wide range of angles and the custom design of the holder keeps it out of the way of all the radio controls.

But it’s best feature is that the TX-500 “clips” into the holder. This is a huge advantage as it hugs the radio securely permitting operation of the controls without bumping or otherwise moving the radio.

Every other stand I own works by placing the hardware onto a “lip” that serves to prop up the transceiver into a more favorable viewing angle (though most are fixed) but these don’t actually grip the radio and the slightest bump can cause the whole thing to move or spill onto the desk.

It’s an excellent device and easy to recommend for anyone who wants to use the TX-500 in the shack or any semi-permanent location. I would post photos but several are available on the vendor site along with a video that further details the desk stand.

Field Stand

Extending the same approach to a stand (not yet available) that better supports the TX-500 in a variety of field settings I was given a prototype of the TX-500 Field Stand for evaluation.

It’s the same look and feel, along with the same solid grip on the transceiver but with a wider base for better support on a variety of surfaces that are likely to be encountered in the field.

This extra support comes in especially handy as its much easier for cables to be inadvertently yanked and pulled when operating in the field. See the photo below and compare and contrast this with the photos from the vendor Web site (above) for the desk stand.

This one is probably subject to change based on additional user feedback before it becomes available for purchase, but its utility is such that I intend to carry it to the field this season.

Keep an eye on the the QRP store for further developments and availability of this holder.

Hilltopper Redux

The popular ‘Hilltopper’ single-band CW transceiver kit is finally back in stock from the Four State QRP Group. The compact unit designed by Dave Benson, K1SWL had already been thru several successful production runs before having been paused for more than a year. It’s back, with 40, 30, and 20 meter models being offered and without a price increase.

With no way to know how long it will be available this time around I’ve already ordered the 30 meter version to complete my Hilltopper Hat Trick.

Interested? I wouldn’t wait too long…

The Hilltopper is a high performance CW transceiver and the perfect solution to your portable operation needs - small, lightweight, wide frequency coverage and low current drain, extending the life of your portable power source. The receiver is adapted from K1SWL’s SW+ Series with minor modifications. The front-end circuitry was revised to replace the now-vanished 10.7 MHz IF transformers. The receiver output is suitable for headphone use.

The transmitter strip is a proven design using three BS170 transistors for the PA. The frequency source for both transmitting and receiving is a DDS VFO employing a Si5351 PLL module. Control for the rig is provided by an Atmel ATmega328P. This runs both the frequency control and the full-featured CW keyer.

A custom silk-screened PCB enclosure is included with the kit. No drilling or cutting required!

There are two pre-installed SMT ICs on the board, but the remainder are ALL THROUGH HOLE parts, and all jacks and connectors are board mounted, the combination making this kit very easy to assemble with no external wiring needed.

Morse Express

Marshall Emm, N1FN proprietor of the online shop Morse Express (and related enterprises) became a Silent Key in February of 2020. His site seems to have been on auto-pilot in the interim causing me to be a little reluctant to place an order.

I recently visited the site and noticed a NEW message that says, “Milestone Technologies & Morse Express is closed. We are now selling our inventory at 33% off”. While there seem to be all manner of odds and ends available at discount, the Oak Hills Research (OHR) brand seems to have vanished.

I think it was more than 20 years ago when I purchased and built an OHR-500, a five-band CW only transceiver that originally flowed from the Oak Hills Research lab of Doug DeMaw, W1FB. It was the first multi-band HF transceiver I built from a kit and it delivered outstanding performance.

But like almost every sad ham radio story ever told I sold that off at some point (though I can’t recall why or what I got in return for it). A few years later, after OHR was in the capable hands of N1FN, I tried to capture lightning in a bottle again when I purchased and assembled a single-band (40M) CW station.

The OHR-100A along with a WM-2 wattmeter and DD-1 digital frequency display work extremely well and reside on a shelf in the shack ready to be put into service on a moments notice. It’s one of the few analog transceivers remaining in my collection and I would have loved to have added one for 30 and another for 20 to the collection, but apparently that was not to be.

I’d recommend a visit to the old Morse Express site to do a little spelunking to see if you can find any discounted treasures that will only be available for a short time longer.

Radio Amateurs of Canada

News from up north, changing of the RAC guard:

The new year brings with it several changes to the Radio Amateurs of Canada Board of Directors and Executive.

Glenn MacDonnell, VE3XRA, has completed the maximum three consecutive two-year terms as President and former RAC Ontario South Director Phil A. McBride, VA3QR/VA3KPJ, is the new RAC President effective January 1st.

RAC Directors Ernest Clintberg, VE6EC, (Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Region) and Phil A. McBride, VA3QR/VA3KPJ (Ontario South) have completed their maximum terms as Directors.

Doug Mercer, VO1DM and Richard Ferch, VE3KI, have both completed their tenures as Vice-President and Regulatory Affairs Officer respectively. Former Ontario North/East Director Allan Boyd, VE3AJB, is the new Vice-President and former Member Services Officer and previous Atlantic Director Dave Goodwin, VE3KG, is the new Regulatory Affairs Officer.

Former Deputy Director Stephen Lee, VA6SGL, is the new Alberta/NWT/NU Director and Barry Brousseau, VE3SLD, is the new Ontario South Director. In addition, former Deputy Director Pat Dopson, VE3VC, is the new Ontario North/East Director and is completing the remaining one year in Allan Boyd’s term.

RAC would like to thank everyone for their significant contributions to the organization and to the Amateur Radio Service, not just in the previous six years but all of the years they have dedicated in their lifetimes.

DX Marathon

The 2022 DX Marathon is underway!

The CQ Magazine sponsored event is a worldwide operating challenge. On January 1st of each year all scores are reset to zero and it begins again.

REMINDER: You have until 2359Z on January 5th to submit your 2021 log. The forms and instructions are available here.

The concept is simple. Work as many countries and CQ Zones as you can in each calendar year, regardless of the band or mode. Each country and zone counts only once, so you can concentrate on working new ones rather than working the same ones on multiple bands and modes. Awards are given for the top overall scores in four classes plus top scores in modes, bands, etc.

The “classes” are divided by power and antenna categories which levels the playing field for all involved. Clubs are strongly encouraged to use the framework of this contest for intramural and regional competitions. 

Plaques and certificates are awarded annually and it’s important enough to me that a plaque be given for the highest score using five watts or less that I sponsor that plaque and want you to win!

Logs must be submitted but QSLs are not required.

Complete rules for the 2022 event can be found here and I recommend you review the entire DX Marathon Web site as it includes many ideas and strategies for improving your score.

Given that it’s a year-long event operation can be a bit more enjoyable. You can take the time necessary to hone your skills as a world-class DXer. Scoring is simple and QSLs aren’t required.

It’s all of the fun of chasing DXCC without all the paperwork!

Spartan Sprint

The inaugural ARS Spartan Sprint for 2022 is Monday evening, January 3 - as always on the first Monday of each month.

Spartan Sprints are two-hour gatherings sponsored by the Adventure Radio Society, held the first Monday of every month. The Spartan Sprints have a unique, three-faceted focus. They encourage outdoor operation with backcountry radio gear (if outdoor operation isn’t practical, home-based operation is fine). They gather fascinating information about the upper atmosphere, documenting how low power signals can travel long distances. And they encourage the growth of a like-minded community of amateur radio operators who generously share their knowledge and experiences.

Let’s get the New Year started in style!

It is a two-hour CW sprint around QRP calling frequencies on 80, 40, 15 and 20-meter CW.

Full details are available here and scroll to “So, What’s a Spartan Sprint and How Do I Play?”

Site Update

I really don’t like blogging about blogging…

But I made a few changes yesterday as part of the year-end archiving work on the site that deserves a mention.

The main page of the site typically is home to the last 30 entries, and that hasn’t changed. But it reflects the last 30 blog posts for the current year and since the year is new there isn’t much there. Yet. Complete archives for the current year are available from the Archive link at the top of each page.

All of the posts from 2021 remain in place and the direct access URLs for these are unchanged and unbroken. These can be accessed from a new link that appears on the Archive page directly under the “Search” title.

For the first time in nearly 20 years of blogging I’ve been satisfied with the content layout and there have been no major modifications to the look and feel of the site for an entire year and I don’t expect to make any changes for the foreseeable future.

Kitchen Table QRP

I woke this morning to a very light covering of snow that wasn’t much of a surprise. It’s been raining here daily since before Christmas and last night the temperature was dropping. Had temperatures been normal these last few weeks we would have been buried in the white stuff, but this season has been warmer than usual, like the last several, which really makes me wonder just how normal the weather is these days.

With the rain keeping me indoors more than I would like I decided it might be interesting to setup the portable station on the kitchen table and give the AX2 portable whip antenna another indoor workout. The new antenna is configured for 20 meters and I use it with a small tripod mount that sits easily on the table or any flat-surface. Whenever I do this I route a single radial wire across the kitchen floor.

I can set all this up along with the battery powered KX3 in about three minutes which includes getting all the toys out of the shack and carrying them to the kitchen.

I like to hunt POTA activators because they are a hungry crowd who are usually well-spotted and easy to find. A quick visit to the POTA spots Web page where I flick on two filters - 20M and CW. It’s not unlike using a fish locator and in seconds I can see the action. There were four such stations that had been spotted in the last few minutes listed and I tuned to the first and sure enough, I could hear the prey working someone.

These contacts go fast since the exchange is brief and in a matter of seconds I had dropped my call and copied the satisfying reply I was looking for. This one in Florida and two minutes later another who was also in the same State but at a different park.

One minute later I worked another who was in Georgia and with that I closed the kitchen station for the day. It took all of a couple more minutes to log and upload those contacts to LoTW and return the gear to the shack. Less than 15 minutes in all which is why I like using these portable antennas – fast and easy to deploy and breakdown.

Compromised by their diminutive size they are not terribly efficient, still I’ve become confident that I can make contacts using them whenever I want, even from inside the house.

It’s even more amazing when you consider the POTA stations hunted and worked are operating under less than ideal working conditions with battery-power, portable antennas and (usually) low-power.

With even more rain on New Years day I did it all again yesterday and the first station worked in 2022 was W2NR who was operating from the Greenfield State Park (K-2655) in New Hampshire.

The QRP powered New Year is officially underway!

Happy New Year!

Another year has passed and while we seem to have plunged even deeper into the pandemic with no light seen at the end of the tunnel just yet, the calendar year reset always brings with it hope for a better tomorrow.

This is the point where I usually do a little prognostication about events to come in the New Year though I’ve mostly abandoned trying to read the tea leaves in such murky water. The best I can offer at this point is the obvious prediction that with the virus still raging there will doubtless be more hamfest and convention cancellations in 2022.

Same goes for DXpeditions where the most difficult part will continue to be passage to suitable drop-off points. All eyes are on Bouvet Island whose desolation might provide welcome respite from a global pandemic, but how many locked-down countries must be traversed in order to get the operators there?

Having just come off the least active radio year of my entire 45 years in the hobby there’s nowhere to go except up. My logbook barely filled two pages with 2021 activity, but I have some reason to be hopeful for a more prolific New Year on the air.

I’ll be retired in few more weeks and that’s reason enough to hope for more time on the air. Whenever I mention that I get the usual warnings from other retirees about how I will be busier when retired than when working which seems pretty far-fetched, but I’m taking that under advisement.

Fresh off my annual reading of Walden, the 1854 book written by Henry David Thoreau, I’m sufficiently chastised for backsliding into all manner of convenience and technology and now am eager to resume my minimalist radio journey. Readers should expect a lot more QRP and CW activity from me in this New Year.

Given that I’ll turn sixty-three in 2022 I have need to focus on health improvements. The quintessential New Year’s resolution, “weight loss and better health”, are given the usual lip-service each year, but with all that has transpired lately the time has come to get serious about this one. I won’t be able to blame “work” for not having time for exercise and better eating choices.

There are a number of writing projects, some have been in the works for years, that will finally be completed in the New Year. And I expect to resume creating audio content like Cornbread Road.

2022 won’t likely be the best year ever but let’s all hope that this new beginning will be be the first year of our comeback from this global pandemic that has impacted every one of us.

Happy New Year!