Northbrook Canoe Challenge

Earlier this week, my orthopedic surgeon gave me the OK to drive again. This allowed me to take part in the Northbrook Canoe Challenge, an event to benefit the Cerebral Palsy Association. My local ARES-RACES group has provided communications for this event for many years.

This year I served as Net Control Operator for the event. Tim KB3FCJ set up a canopy for us along the scenic Brandywine River. We were situated near a dam, which the canoeists needed to portage around. A water rescue team was on hand to ensure the safety of the participants. 

My operating position for the Northbrook Canoe Challenge. This was taken while we waited for the canoes to make their was down the river.
My operating position for the Northbrook Canoe Challenge. This was taken while we waited for the canoes to make their way down the river.

As events go, it was pretty uneventful. There were no medical emergencies or overturned canoes. Just a nice day on the river operating with my Chester County ARES-RACES colleagues. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Patience is a Virtue

I’m still not able to drive yet, so my (far) better half offered to take me out for another POTA activation. Things got off to a slow start, so much so that I was tempted to throw in the towel. I hung in there, and eventually my patience paid off.

Like last week’s trip, we kept it close to home. We headed down to Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414) for some Parks on the Air action.

Like last week, I kept my gear simple and used my KX3 (5 watts) and AlexLoop. After calling CQ for a while on 40M, I finally logged a contact. Moving between 20M and 30M, I made three more contacts. Despite some decent spots on RBN, I was stuck with four contacts for what seemed like an eternity.

WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414, KFF-1414)
WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414, KFF-1414)

After bouncing around the bands for a while, I ended up back on 20M. I was going to spend a few more minutes calling CQ before packing it in and accepting defeat. 

The propagation must have improved, because a pile-up appeared out of nowhere. Over the next few minutes, I made seven more contacts. That was enough to qualify the activation plus one for good measure. Those contacts included 3 park-to-park contacts.

As I was packing up I saw something I hadn’t encountered in almost 30 years of portable operation. A little pot-bellied pig stopped by to say hello. His owner was trying to take him hiking on a nearby trail, but the little guy seemed to prefer socializing with the other people in the park. Eventually he responded to his owner’s call and went off trotting down the trail.

Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn't the only "ham" in the park today.
Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn’t the only “ham” in the park today.

It wasn’t a great day for radio, but at least I made enough for a valid POTA activation. Radio notwithstanding, the weather was excellent, and I got to meet Boss the pig. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Getting My QRP-Portable Fix

It’s been more than a month since my last QRP portable outing. I’m still recovering from my knee surgery, and my doctor hasn’t cleared me to drive yet. My (far) better half must have recognized that I was going through portable radio withdrawal, because, out of the blue, she offered to drive me somewhere to get my portable radio fix.

Naturally, I took her up on her offer. For my XYL’s sake, I wanted to keep it short, so I opted to do a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation at nearby Evansburg State Park. To keep things simple, I grabbed my KX3, a battery, and my Alexloop.

We ended up in a small picnic area. It’s still a little early for picnics, so we had the area to ourselves. While I set up the radio equipment, my XYL occupied herself with a book. 

WB3GCK at Evansburge State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)
WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)

It has been quite a while since I’ve used the Alexloop, so I was rusty at getting it tuned up. I was having some trouble finding a peak in the receiver noise. I concluded this location was just too quiet (RF-wise). Turning on the preamp during tune-up, I had no trouble finding the noise peaks. My five-watt signal seemed to get out fine with the loop.

I operated for about an hour, logging 16 contacts, including one park-to-park contact in Florida. There weren’t any exotic QSOs today, but I had a nice two-way QRP contact with N1MX near Boston. Mike was running two watts and sounded great. I also had a QSO with fellow Boschveldt QRP Club member, NK1N, over in New Jersey. It’s always a pleasure to work Glen.

After sitting for an hour, my knee was getting stiff. So, we packed up our stuff and loaded up the car. We took advantage of the great weather and went for a walk before heading home.

Many thanks to my incredible XYL for this brief field trip today. It sure felt great to be operating outdoors again.

73, Craig WB3GCK

I’m Back – Sort of

I finally had my knee replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been singularly focused on recovery and physical therapy. As a result, I haven’t been on HF since before my surgery. This weekend, however, I finally ventured down into the basement where my HF gear resides. 

The Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) was running this weekend, so I grabbed hold of my trusty J-38 key and got on the air. Band conditions weren’t all that great, but I made a handful of contacts during a few brief sessions on the radio. 

My trusty J-38 straight key - wb3gck.com
My trusty J-38 straight key

For those who have inquired, the new knee is getting a little better each day. I still have a month of physical therapy ahead of me, and it’ll probably be a few weeks before I’m able to drive again. 

I miss going out portable, but in the near-term, I’ll be on the air from home from time to time.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Spring Equinox Outing

I celebrated the first day of spring with a QRP-portable outing today. I headed out to my daughter’s property and set up on top of the hill to test a new antenna and make a few contacts in the process.

Spring notwithstanding, it wasn’t a great day to be up there. Strong thunderstorms last night left the ground soft and ushered in a cold front. Along with overcast skies, there were some strong wind gusts. So, I set up the KX3 in the shelter of the truck.

Mother Nature was trying her best to knock down my antenna
Mother Nature was trying her best to knock down my antenna

I set up the antenna I planned to test—the subject of a future post—and ran it through its paces. The results were less than satisfactory. It needs a little tweaking, and I found a mechanical issue that will need some attention. Add that to the to-do list.

As a backup antenna, I went with a Rybakov-style vertical, with a pair of 26.5-foot wires, one vertical and the other on the ground for a counterpoise. I grabbed a small 4:1 unun that I built a few years ago and mounted it at the feedpoint. The male BNC on the coax cable refused to go onto the BNC jack on the unun. It looks to me like the center connection in the BNC jack has some corrosion or something in it and needs to be replaced. Another task for the to-do list.

Fortunately, I had another 4:1 unun in the truck, and I quickly got that set up. This particular unun is about 10 years old and has never let me down. It got me on the air, so I could at least make a few contacts.

I tuned around 40M and made a couple of contacts with Virginia QSO Party stations. Later on, I checked the Parks on the Air spotting page to see what parks were being activated. I worked a couple of parks on the 40M band and moved up to 20M to work N4CD at a park in Texas.

Although I spent most of the time fiddling with antennas, I’m glad I could get out and play radio for a while. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be having knee replacement surgery this week. The recovery and rehab process will probably put me out of commission for a few weeks.

Enjoy your spring!

73, Craig WB3GCK

The Raddy RF750 Multimedia Music Player

My (far) better half and I like to keep a radio in our little travel trailer. When we’re camping, we often listen to baseball games in the evening (go Phillies!) while sitting around the campfire. It’s also handy to have a weather radio on hand, when the cell service is unreliable or non-existent. I bought this little radio to see how it compares to the old radio we’ve been using for years.

The Raddy RF750 is sold by the folks at Radioddity. When I went out to their website to buy one, it was showing “sold out.” They had some in stock, however, on Amazon, so I placed my order there. The same radio is also available at a lower price from Chinese sellers branded as the HanRongDa HRD-700. Being the impatient sort, I went with Amazon Prime at a slightly higher price than the $34.99 price tag on the Radioddity website. (When I checked a few days after receiving my radio, Amazon was showing it as “currently unavailable,” and Radioddity was still “sold out” in the U.S. These things must be selling like hotcakes.)

The Raddy RF750 from Radioddity
The Raddy RF750 from Radioddity

What It Is

The Raddy RF750 is a compact multimedia player with a radio that covers the AM, FM, shortwave, and the NOAA weather bands. It has a Bluetooth mode, so it will play audio from your smartphone. The RF750 will also play MP3 files from a micro SD memory card (up to 256GB) you can insert into the unit. It’s powered by a 1000mah Li-ion battery, which you can recharge via a USB-C port on the radio. 

When playing audio via Bluetooth or SD card, the RF750 has an audio equalizer with six preset configurations to choose from. You can also set the radio to scan a band automatically and store the stations it finds (up to 20 stations each on FM and AM, 10 stations on each of 7 shortwave bands). This can be useful when you’re traveling. There is also a sleep timer that will shut off the radio after a user-selected time (10 to 70 minutes).

Here are the specifications from the Radioddity website:

FM: 87.5-108MHz
AM: 520-1720KHz
SW: 5.7-17.9MHz
WB: 162.400-162.550MHz
Memory: Support TF card, Max 256GB
Audio format: AV, WMA
Power supply: replaceable 3.7V 1000mAh BL-5C lithium battery included
Charging: DC 5V, Micro USB-C interface
Size: 3.5″ x 2.4″ x 1.5″
Weight: 0.22lbs

My Impressions

When I first unboxed this thing, the first thing that struck me was the small size. The descriptor, “compact,” is an understatement. It’s smaller than an Altoids tin and just a bit thicker. Weighing in at less than 4 ounces, it won’t add much weight to your go-kit or backpack.

Along with the radio, the box included the Li-ion battery, USB charging cable, wrist strap, a rubberized drawstring storage pouch, and a user manual. The battery was easy to install and charge up.

I powered it up and tuned to a local FM station. Frankly, I was blown away by the sound coming out of this little radio. Apparently, it uses DSP filtering to provide that sound clarity. Given the radio’s small size, tuning can be a little touchy for an old guy with clumsy fingers. Fortunately, there’s a tuning indicator that makes it easy for me to lock in on a station.

I was particularly interested in the weather band capabilities. In addition to covering the 7 NOAA weather channels, the RF750 also includes a weather alert function. In this mode, the audio is silenced, and the radio appears to be scanning the 7 weather channels. I haven’t been able to test this out yet, but I plan to see what happens during NOAA’s next weekly test.

[Update: I set up the RF750 in the “Alert” mode for the NOAA weekly weather radio test, and the RF75o’s alert went off as expected. The only issue is that the siren sound it makes is excruciatingly loud. On a positive note, when a weather emergency happens, you will definitey know about it!]

When I tested the Bluetooth mode, it paired easily with my smartphone. Although my phone’s audio played through the RF750 was nice and clear, I don’t see myself using this function much. 

To test the “Music Player” mode, I copied a few MP3 files to a 2GB micro SD card, which I inserted into the RF750. The sound quality coming out of the tiny speaker really impressed me. I plan to load more of my music collection onto a larger memory card, which I’ll leave installed in the RF750.

I was a little surprised that the RF750 doesn’t include an earphone jack. I would have expected one on a portable radio like this.

The user manual provided is typical of low-cost Chinese products. The English isn’t always clear, but it was enough for me to figure out how to use the various functions.

I have to say, I’m impressed with this little unit and all the features packed into it. It will be a handy item to have around, especially while camping or during emergencies. In fact, during a recent snowstorm, we lost power for a while. The RF750 allowed us to check the local NOAA weather forecast, listen to local news on the AM band, and enjoy some music on FM.

Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this product. I purchased it with my own funds, and I’m merely a satisfied customer.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Managing LoTW Locations in TQSL

My (overly) fastidious approach to logging my ham radio contacts has been well-documented. Since I upload all of my contacts to the Logbook of the World (LoTW), I like to reflect my locations accurately in the TQSL software. When you do most of your operating while portable, that can add up to a lot of locations to deal with. I’ll show you my approach to dealing with locations in TQSL. 

How It Started

As best I can recall, I started using LoTW about six or seven years ago. I started creating new locations in TQSL for every place I operated away from home. So, there were lots of campgrounds that my (far) better half and I frequented, along with an assortment of parks and other places my radio has been to. Then, along came National Parks on the Air, followed by Parks on the Air. Before I knew it, I was scrolling through a long list of locations to find the one I wanted for an upload to LoTW.

One approach to paring down the list, I suppose, would be to go in and delete the one-off locations I’m not likely to visit again. That, however, conflicts with my inherent packrat nature. (That also explains the boxes of assorted leftover screws I have in the basement.) 

One thing I noticed is that many locations in my list shared the same attributes, e.g.: state, county, grid square, etc. For example, all the parks in northern Delaware I activated recently are all in the same county and grid square. (Fun fact: Delaware only has three counties.) Based on this observation, I came up with an approach to tame my locations list and make it easier to scan the list to find a particular location.

My Location Naming Convention

I ended up deleting most of my locations is TQSL and created some new ones using the following naming convention:

STATE_COUNTY_GRID

The STATE is just the standard two-character abbreviation. The GRID is the four-character grid square. Here are some examples from my locations list:

DE_NewCastle_FM29
MD_Cecil_FM29
PA_Chester_FN20
PA_Chester_FM29
PA_Delaware_FM29

TQSL automatically stores the locations alphabetically, so it’s easy to scroll through the list to find the location I’m looking for. I kept one or two of specifically named locations for frequently used places like “Home.”

My "Station Locations" pane in TQSL showing some of the locations I have stored
My “Station Locations” pane in TQSL showing some of the locations I have stored

While this works for my situation here in the States, operations in other countries would likely need some tailoring. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Also, if you have certificates for more than one callsign, you’ll need to account for that.

Where Am I, Anyway?

To use this approach, I need to know what county and grid square I’m in. There are a couple of resources I use to do that. Before I get on the air from a portable location, I use these resources on my Android phone:

  • What County am I In. When I access this website from my cell phone, it shows the county I’m in, along with the zip code, address, and coordinates.
  • Easy QTH Locator. When you launch this app, it uses your phone’s location services to show your grid square, along with your coordinates and elevation.

Once I have determined the county and grid square I’m in, I jot this information down in my notebook or take screenshots from the apps on my phone.

These are the resources I use, but a web search will yield lots of similar tools you can use. I should also note that I have no financial interest in these apps.

Wrapping Up

This could very well be another case of over-thinking on my part. Regardless, I’ve been using this approach for a while now, and it has been working out for me. I’d be interested in hearing your method of managing portable locations for LoTW.

Oh, and before I forget… Remember to make regular backups of your TQSL locations, certificates, and preferences. Someday you’ll be glad you did.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Auburn Valley State Park Re-visit

I made another quick trip to Delaware this morning for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. My destination was Auburn Valley State (POTA K-4366, WWFF KFF-4366), a park I activated by in November of last year. Delaware state parks resume charging a parking fee on March 1st. It’s $4 for state residents and $8 for out-of-state vehicles like mine. So, I saved a few bucks today.

Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

Like last time, I parked at the Yorklyn Bridge Trail trailhead. Once again, I used my KX3 at 5 watts with my 19-ft vertical mounted on the back of my truck. The last time I was here, there was a little of noise on the bands, but, fortunately, that noise was nowhere to be found today. 

My cell coverage wasn’t as good as the last time. Using the Wi-Fi in my truck, however, I managed to post a spot on the POTA website. Unfortunately, I fat-fingered the park designator and inadvertently spotted myself at a park in Iowa. Doh! I quickly made the correction and got on the air.

My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

I spent most of my time on 40M and quickly racked up 27 contacts. I moved up to 20M, which was good for another seven contacts. Although the 17M band seemed to be open, I only picked up one QSO there. After an hour and a half, I packed up and headed back north to Pennsylvania.

I ended up with 35 QSOs in the log with three park-to-park contacts. One of the park-to-park contacts was with W6LEN in California. The best DX of the day was with TI5JON in Costa Rica. 

Delaware parks are always fun for POTA. I swear, a Delaware location adds a few decibels to your signal.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Fox Point State Park

Fox Point State Park sign

I drove down to Delaware this morning to do a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of a new (to me) park. Fox Point State Park (K-1738, KFF-1738) is located along the Delaware River near Wilmington. The park is in an industrial area, with busy railroad tracks on one side and cargo ships navigating the river on the other side.

I parked my truck near a picnic pavilion and a large playground. The park was mostly empty today. At times, I was the only one in the park.

WB3GCK at Fox Point State Park in Delaware
WB3GCK at Fox Point State Park in Delaware

I went with my go-to setup: my Elecraft KX3 (5 watts) and my homebrew 19-foot vertical. The hunters showed up en masse on 40M a minute or two after posting a spot. The activity was steady for about thirty minutes, netting me twenty-five contacts..

The higher bands weren’t quite as productive. I only picked up three on 30M and one on 20M. The 17M band yielded another four contacts. I headed back to 40M for another thirty minutes before packing up.

A cargo ship making its way up the Delaware River at Fox Point State Park
A cargo ship making its way up the Delaware River at Fox Point State Park

I finished up with forty-eight contacts today, including seven park-to-park (P2P) contacts. The park-to-park contacts included QSOs with KØBWR in Kansas on three bands. I also had a P2P contact with K3RTA, who was at another Delaware Park down the river from me. The best DX of the day was EC1R in Spain on 17M. Alfonso gave me a 339 report. I’ll take it!

It was another good day in the state of Delaware. I always enjoy operating from the “First State.”

73, Craig WB3GCK

Weekend Sprintathon in the Park(s)

This weekend was the monthly running of the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. I took part in this month’s contest from two state parks, combining both the WES and Parks on the Air (POTA).

Marsh Creek State Park (POTA K-1380, WWFF KFF-1380)

I went to Marsh Creek State Park on Saturday. It had been about six months since I last activated Marsh Creek. Today, I had two goals in mind. First, since the World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) program requires 44 QSOs to qualify an activation, I needed 19 more contacts from this park. Second, I needed 4 more qualifying SKCC contacts to achieve the Senator x2 level. 

The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my "shack"
The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my “shack”

I started on 40M and picked up 17 QSOs. When things started thinning out, I moved up to 20M, but my 5-watt signal wasn’t being heard by anyone. I checked the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and found that I wasn’t getting a single spot on this band. With no luck on 20M, I went back to 40M. I couldn’t get the SWR below 3:1, and that was highly unusual. Time for some troubleshooting.

Although the temperature today was moderate for Pennsylvania at this time of year, it was cloudy and very windy. My 19-foot vertical had been whipping around with the wind gusts. The wind had moved the antenna around enough to disconnect the ground connection to the body of the truck. After I remedied that issue, I went back and logged a few more on 40M. My last QSO was with F6HKA on 20M.

My session ended with 18 contest contacts and 2 POTA park-to-park contacts. Although I had enough to meet my WWFF goal, I fell short of my SKCC goal. I still needed one more qualifying contact for the Senator x2 level. I picked up that last elusive contact after I got home.

Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414)

This morning (Sunday), I drove down to Ridley Creek State Park to work a few more SKCC stations. The weather was different this time out. The temperature had dropped to 32°F, and there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of it sticking to the roads.

My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.
My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.

I drove to a picnic area on the top of a hill and got the antenna and radio set up. There weren’t as many WES stations as yesterday. As I was operating, the snow started coming down steadily. I had to get out a few times to clear the snow off the exposed connections on my antenna matching box.

I didn’t stay too long today, but I made 14 WES contacts, plus one POTA park-to-park contact. Among those contacts were W7GB in Washington State on 20M and F6EJN in France on 15M.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad weekend. My SKCC WES score won’t set any records, but I always have fun participating in this contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK