Something Good in the Mail

Along with the usual junk mail yesterday, the mailman brought a couple of envelopes from the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) QSL Bureau. Among the QSL cards I received, were two special ones.

First was a QSL card confirming contacts I made with K3Y stations during the annual Straight Key Month (SKM) event. SKM is held each January with event stations operating around the world. I didn’t have my best year in the event, but I worked K3Y stations in eight of the ten call areas in the continental U. S. I also worked SKM stations in Puerto Rico and Portugal this year. 

K3Y Straight Key Month QSL card for 2023
K3Y Straight Key Month QSL card for 2023

Each year SKCC members submit designs for the K3Y QSL card, and members vote to select the final design. I always try to work some of the K3Y stations each year to ensure I receive a QSL card. 

Another card I received was for the VC3Y Canadian Operating Event. Taking place during the month of September, this is an annual SKCC event that promotes the club’s many Canadian members. This year, I worked VC3Y/VY2 (Prince Edward Island) on 40M and 20M. I remember those particular QSOs because I was out bicycle-portable in a local park at the time. 

VC3Y QSL card for the 2022 Canadian Operating Event
VC3Y QSL card for the 2022 Canadian Operating Event

Sadly, when the mailman came by today, it was back to the usual junk mail. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA with the MFJ-1820T

I made a quick run down to Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414) for an early morning POTA activation. For a few minutes, though, I thought I might fall short of the 10 contacts needed to complete the activation.

I dusted off my old MFJ-1820T 20M whip antenna and thought I’d try it out on my window mount. Inside the truck, my Elecraft T1 tuner loaded it right up. After calling CQ a few times, I checked the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). The first spot I received was from Costa Rica. So, the antenna seemed to get out OK. I was running about five watts from my TR-35.

The MFJ-1820T 20M whip on my old window mount
The MFJ-1820T 20M whip on my old window mount

Things got off to a good start on 20M. I had a steady stream of callers for the first several minutes, and I was getting strong RBN spots to the west of me. Then, things slowed down. It was five minutes before the next QSO. Then another six minutes after that. I was beginning to consider the prospect of a busted activation when activity picked up again. I suspect it was just a bit too early on a Sunday morning. 

After I had 11 contacts in the log, I switched to the Elecraft AX1 to give 17M a try. I didn’t hear much activity there, and the RBN wasn’t seeing me at all. I stayed with the AX1 and went back to 20M. 

The activity on 20M started picking up this time around. When I wrapped things up, I had 20 contacts in the log, with two park-to-park QSOs. I didn’t have any DX contacts today, but I did work two Idaho stations.

I continue to be amazed at what you can do with five watts and one of these little whip antennas.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Short But Sweet Activation

Pressed for time this weekend, I drove down the road to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761) to get in a quick activation. I was only on the air for about 40 minutes, but it was a very productive outing. 

The weather this morning was chilly but sunny and clear. The crowded trailhead parking lot I pulled into reflected that. I had the good fortune to find a spot where I could set up and not be in the way. 

To keep things simple, I used my Elecraft AX1 and window mount, along with my KX3. It took me all of a minute to set up the antenna. I really like that about the AX1.

My location in the crowded trailhead parking lot. It's hard to see, but the AX1 is mounted on the passenger-side window with two counterpoise wires.
My location in the crowded trailhead parking lot. It’s hard to see, but the AX1 is mounted on the passenger-side window with two counterpoise wires.

Starting out on 20M, the calls came fast and furious for the first 10 minutes or so. The second station to call was F4ILH. Given my 5 watts and little antenna, I was thrilled with that. Later on I worked IK4IDF up on 17M. The little AX1 never ceases to amaze me. 

At the end of my brief activation, I had 18 contacts in the log. Along with the two DX contacts today, I had one park-to-park QSO. 

Not too bad for an early morning, spur-of-the-moment activation, I suppose.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Raddy RF75A Shortwave Radio

Since I purchased the Raddy RF750 Portable Multimedia Player a year ago, it has become my favorite portable receiver. So, when the folks at Radioddity asked me if I’d like to have a look at a new upgraded version, I jumped on it. The new radio is the Radioddity RF75A Shortwave Radio, and it includes some interesting new features.

[Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, Radioddity sent this radio to me free of charge to evaluate and review. However, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and were not influenced by the vendor.]

What It’s All About?

Like its predecessor, the RF75A is a multimedia device. It covers the AM, FM, Shortwave, Weather, and VHF bands. In addition, you can play audio files from a micro SD card. In Bluetooth mode, it’ll play audio from an external source. You can also connect a computer to the USB connector and use the RF75A as a speaker.

Some specs from the Raddy Website include:

FM: 64-108MHZ (Step Value: US: 10KHZ, EU: 9KHZ)
AM: 520 -1710 KHz
SW: 4.75 – 21.85 MHz
WB: 162.400 – 162.550 MHz
VHF: 30 – 199.975 MHz
TF Card Max Capacity: Max 256GB
Audio Format: MP3, WAV, WMA
Size/Weight: 3.6’’ x 2’’ x 1” / 3.7 oz
Components & Accessories: 1 x RF75A, 1 x Storage bag, 1 x Lanyard, 1 x Wire antenna, 1 x Type-C cable, 1 x Earphone

The internal 1000mAh battery is charged via a USB-C connector, which is handy for a portable radio. The RF75A also has a built-in flashlight and an “SOS” mode. In the SOS mode, the flashlight flashes and the radio emits an ear-piercing siren. 

At the time this post was written, the RF75A was selling on the Radioddity website for $52.99 (USD).

The Raddy RF75A from Radioddity
The Raddy RF75A from Radioddity

Major Improvements in the RF75A

While the basic functions of the RF75A and RF750 are similar, there are some big changes in the RF75A. The first thing you’ll notice is the digital display and digital tuning. I found the analog tuning on the RF750 a little touchy and the frequencies hard to read. The RF75A’s digital tuning makes tuning much easier. 

One interesting improvement in the RF75A is an app that lets you control the radio from your smartphone over a Bluetooth connection. While the RF75A is pretty simple to operate as it is, the app makes it even easier.

Screenshot of the RF75A Android app, which allows you to control the radio from your smartphone.
Screenshot of the RF75A Android app, which allows you to control the radio from your smartphone.

My Impressions

The first thing that struck me is the RF75A’s small size. It’s smaller than an Altoids tin and thinner than the RF750, so it’ll easily fit in your pocket. 

The Raddy RF75A (left) compared to the RF750. Besides the digital display and controls, the RF75A has a slimmer profile making it more "pocket friendly."
The Raddy RF75A (left) compared to the RF750. Besides the digital display and controls, the RF75A has a slimmer profile making it more “pocket friendly.”

Like the earlier radio, the sound quality is impressive. Listening to the FM band, the sound through the speaker has a rich sound you wouldn’t expect from such a small radio. The supplied earbuds are comfortable and also sound great to these old ears. The RF75A seems to have a little less bass than the RF750, but the sound is still very good.

I found the reception on the AM broadcast band to be very good, easily pulling in local stations. Because of high noise levels, my home location isn’t the best place for testing the shortwave bands. However, using the scan function, I was able to find several shortwave stations. I should note that the RF75A only receives in AM on the shortwave bands. So, if you want to listen to SSB or CW signals, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It comes with an antenna wire (approximately 10 feet long) that you can clip onto the built-in antenna to improve reception.

On the VHF band, I programmed in some local 2M repeaters and a few public service frequencies to test it out. Using the buttons on the radio, I found the tuning steps too coarse to zero in on some frequencies. Using the app, however, it was a simple task to enter the frequencies and save them as presets. Reception was good, but there’s no squelch setting. So, you’ll hear some background noise between transmissions. 

The memory card function works great and gives you a choice of four different play modes. I set it to play my MP3 files in random order. You can also choose from six different EQ settings. Using the RF75A’s Bluetooth mode, I was able to pair it to my cell phone and play audio files that way.

I also tested the alarm function. I like having the option to have the radio turn on instead of sounding an alarm. The alarm sound is a loud series of beeps, so I’d rather wake up to music. 

The smartphone app is easy to install and makes it easy to operate the radio (especially for my old eyes). The Android version of the app, however, requires the manual download and installation of a .apk file. I would feel safer getting the app through the Google Play store, instead of downloading it from an unfamiliar website. Apple iPhone users, however, can get the app from the Apple app store. 

Once installed, the app requires access to your phone’s location in order to pair with the RF75A. I’m not sure why the Bluetooth pairing depends on location. In any event, I only allow access to the phone’s location when I’m actually using the app, and I close the app when I’m not using it.

While the Operational Guidelines booklet provided with the radio is sufficient to get you up and running, it’s not without some issues. The wording is confusing in some places, and I came across a few errors and formatting issues. Despite these editorial shortcomings, I had no problems figuring out how to use the radio. 

The Radioddity website claims 7-8 hours of use from the 1000mAh battery. I haven’t actually measured it, but that seems about right. The USB-C charging port is handy, too. I can charge it using my cellphone charger or a portable power bank when I’m camping.

The last function I evaluated was one of the more important features for me: the weather alert function. To test it out, I set up the RF75A in the “Alert” mode in time for the weekly NOAA Weather Radio test. The alarm went off as expected, and boy, did it ever go off! Like the RF750, the weather alert triggers an extremely loud siren. Along with the siren, the light on top of the RF75A flashes, just like the SOS mode. I really wish there was the option to just activate the weather radio in response to an alert. Or, at the very least, be able to adjust the volume of the siren. As it is, I can’t imagine using it in a campground at night.

The Bottom Line (for me, at least)

All in all, I really like this little radio. It’s small in size, weighs next to nothing, and sounds great. I like that it’s simple to operate without having to navigate through a bunch of menu options. The smartphone app is a terrific improvement that further simplifies things.

Since I received it, the RF75A has seen a lot of use around the house, and I plan to take it along on camping trips and travel. Now, if there was only a way to tone down that weather alert, I’d be a very happy camper. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Mixed Bag Weekend

I had two different portable operations this weekend—a mixed bag of sorts.

Yesterday morning, I took part in an EmComm exercise with my local ARES-RACES group. We have a relatively new network of Vara FM digipeaters and Winlink gateways around the county, and the exercise was intended to try them from various locations. 

For this exercise, I deployed to the local high school, where I operated “stationary-mobile” from the parking lot. My task was to connect to the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and send a Field Situation Report using Winlink over Vara FM on 2M. Then, I connected to the EOC using VarAC and sent a text file containing my Field Situation Report data. I was running 5 watts for both voice and data, so, technically, this was a QRP operation.

Winlink session on my Evolve laptop. This was my first time using the steering wheel tray, and it worked great.
Winlink session on my Evolve laptop. This was my first time using the steering wheel tray, and it worked great.

My setup in the truck worked great. I used one of those plastic steering wheel trays to support my little Evolve laptop. I used my trusty old Icom IC-207H dual band rig and a Signalink for the data. Both the IC-207H and the Yaesu FT-8800 I used for voice were powered by separate deep cycle batteries. While everything worked fine, I have a couple of cables I’m going to build to simplify the battery connections.

My setup for Vara FM. The radio was powered by the deep cycle battery on the floor.
My setup for Vara FM. The radio was powered by the deep cycle battery on the floor.

This morning, I went to nearby Evansburg State Park (K-1351) for a quick POTA activation. I used my TR-35, T1 tuner, and my 19-foot vertical mounted on my truck. (I didn’t take any pictures today, but, then again, there wasn’t anything special about my setup.) In about an hour, I logged 30 QSOs, including three park-to-park contacts.  

While tuning around looking for park-to-park contacts, I worked a station operating with the Straight Key Century Club’s callsign, KS1KCC. My last contact of the day was with NL7V in North Pole, Alaska, on 17M. It’s always a thrill for me to work an Alaskan station. Paul gave me a 229 report, but I’ll take it. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable with the AX1

Inspired by some blogs I follow, I’ve recently dusted off my Elecraft AX1 antenna and started putting it to use. Until now, I’ve kept it stashed away in my backpack as a backup antenna that I’ve never needed.

So far, I’ve used this versatile little antenna a couple of ways. Most recently, I’ve used it with an old window mount, while operating “stationary-mobile” in my truck. I’ve also used it while “picnic table portable,” using an Elecraft AXT1 tripod mount and my little Ultrapod tripod. If I’m using my KX3, I can use the AXB1 BiPod Mount to support the antenna.

One other use case I wanted to address is operating “bicycle portable.” If I’m out on a bike ride and stop for some radio, it would be handy to use the bike to support the AX1. Browsing around on eBay, I came across an interesting camera mount clamp that looked like it might work well with the AXT1.  

I found this gizmo listed as a “clamp mount ball head” from a company called, SmallRig. It’s a clamp with a standard ¼-20 camera mount, and it works perfectly with the AXT1 tripod adapter. I can fasten the clamp to the handlebars, to give the AX1 some elevation. I would post a link for the clamp, but eBay listings come and go too fast. However, if you search for “clamp mount ball head,” you should find lots of them from a variety of sellers.

This is the camera clamp I used. When coupled with the Elecraft AXT1 tripod mount, it made for a very versatile mount for my AX1 antenna.
This is the camera clamp I used. When coupled with the Elecraft AXT1 tripod mount, it made for a very versatile mount for my AX1 antenna.

To test it out, I packed my radio gear and headed out for my first bike ride of the year. I rode a few miles on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails to a local park. 

The AX1 mounted on the handlebars of my bike.
The AX1 mounted on the handlebars of my bike.

I set up my TR-35 on a bench in the picnic area and mounted the AX1 on the handlebars of my bike. Even with the bike leaning, the clamp’s adjustable swivel allowed me to keep the antenna vertical. I used two radials clipped to the AXT1 tripod adapter with an alligator clip. A six-foot length of RG-8x coax was more than enough to reach the rig. I was on the air in about 3 minutes.

My setup in the park with my AX1 bike mount. I used two 12.5-foot radials attached to the AXT1 tripod mount with an alligator clip.
My setup in the park with my AX1 bike mount. I used two 12.5-foot radials attached to the AXT1 tripod mount with an alligator clip.

The T1 tuner easily tuned up on the 20M band. During my brief stop in the park, I worked POTA stations in Virginia, Illinois, and Georgia. Pleased with my new bike mount, I packed up and continued on my ride. 

I have a feeling I’ll be taking this handy antenna setup along on more bike rides in the future. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

More Fun with the AX1 Antenna

Sometimes, you just have to be flexible. Originally, I had planned to do some bike riding today and experiment with a bike mount I cobbled together for my Elecraft AX1 antenna. However, Mother Nature decided to throw some freezing temperatures at me today. Instead of a cold bike ride, I opted for a more comfortable “stationary-mobile” POTA activation.

I loaded up my gear and made the quick trip to nearby Evansburg State Park (K-1351). My setup today was similar to the one I used a couple weeks ago. I used my AX1 antenna on a window mount. The rig today was my PennTek TR-35 (5 watts), coupled with an Elecraft T1 tuner. The TR-35 limited my operation to the 20M and 17M bands. With this simple setup, I was on the air within a couple of minutes of arriving. 

My window-mounted AX1 antenna
My window-mounted AX1 antenna

Contacts on 20M came as easily today as my last activation with the window mounted AX1. I had my first 10 contacts in about 15 minutes. I was pleased to get a call from K4SWL down in North Carolina. Thomas has a bunch of recent posts on the AX1 over at Of course, I had to let him know I was using an AX1 today.

The organized chaos in the cab of my truck, which includes my PennTek TR-35 and Elecraft T1 ATU.
The organized chaos in the cab of my truck, which includes my PennTek TR-35 and Elecraft T1 ATU.

After logging 20 contacts on 20M, I changed over to 17M. I didn’t have as much luck, but I made four contacts there. After that, I went back to 20M to make a couple of park-to-park contacts. My last contact was with WA3GM. Greg is a local ham who is spending some time in Florida and was activating a park down there.

I shut down after an hour of operating with 26 contacts in the log including 3 park-to-park contacts.That exactly matched the results from my last activation with the AX1. This little antenna never ceases to amaze me.

Hopefully, we’ll get some more moderate temperatures this week, so I can finally get that bike ride in.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Samurai Tactical Wakizashi Backpack

Over the past couple of years, some knee issues have slowed me down. My new knee joint resolved those issues, and life is getting back to normal—as normal as my life gets, I suppose. Anyway, I’m planning to get back to doing some light hiking this year as the weather improves. With that in mind, I bought a new backpack to use on day hikes.

For the past four years, I have been using the Rambler sling pack from Red Rock. It has been—and still is—a great backpack. It has plenty of storage for hauling a radio and accessories out to the field, and it is one sturdy, well-built pack. My only issue with it is that it is a sling pack. For short trips, it’s fine. But, for longer trips, having all the weight on one shoulder feels a bit “lopsided” to me. If I could have the same pack with two shoulder straps, I would be a happy camper (hiker).

A while back, I came across the Wakizashi backpack from Samurai Tactical and saved it to my Amazon wishlist. The Wakizashi is similar in size to my Rambler sling pack. While it has fewer storage pockets than my sling pack, it has more than enough storage for my needs. (I tend to carry too much stuff with me anyway.) 

When I purchased it, the Wakizashi backpack in black was selling for a mere $24 (USD). (Other colors are available at slightly higher prices.) For that price, if I didn’t like it, I could always give it to one of the grand-kids. The average ratings were 4.6 out of 5, so I took a chance and placed an order.

I should also note that I have no financial interest here; I paid for the backpack with my own funds. Also, the Amazon link above is not an affiliate link.

Amazon delivered the pack to a neighbor’s porch a few days later. I had to wander the neighborhood in the rain to find it. Not cool, Amazon. 

I wasn’t expecting much for a $24 backpack, but I was pleasantly surprised. For a cheap backpack, it seems well built. A few of the many reviews complained of poor stitching and general issues with quality. I saw none of that in the item I received. Mine was well-built, and the material appears to be durable enough. 

Samurai Wakizashi backpack. The patches and HT pouch were added by me.
Samurai Tactical Wakizashi backpack. The patches and HT pouch were added by me.

The pack measures 17.1 x 11.1 x 6.1 inches with a capacity of 24 liters. There’s a large main compartment and a smaller admin compartment. There are also two smaller compartments near the top of the pack. A side pouch is large enough for a water bottle, and there is plenty of MOLLE webbing on the sides and back. If you’re so inclined, it accommodates a hydration bladder and has a hydration port at the top of the bag.

Samurai Wakizashi backpack shoulder and sternum straps.
Samurai Wakizashi backpack shoulder and sternum straps.

Although the Wakizashi backpack has fewer compartments than my sling pack, there is enough storage to accommodate everything I normally carry in the field. Besides the radio gear, I always carry a small first aid kit, emergency poncho, headlamp, and a few other emergency items. The main compartment is a bit larger, so things that present a tight squeeze in the sling pack fit easily in the Wakizashi. 

I’ve been using this pack for the past couple of months now with no issues. How well it holds up in the long term remains to be seen. For now, anyway, I’m happy with this budget backpack.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Reviving My Old Car Window Mount

Recently, Thomas K4SWL over at featured an excellent guest post from W2AEW describing a car window mount Alan built for his Elecraft AX1 antenna. Inspired by Alan’s post, William KR8L, did some experimenting and came up with his own window mount. These folks got me thinking—a dangerous thing, sometimes.

I remembered a commercially made window mount I bought 25+ years ago. (I think it came from RadioShack, but I’m uncertain of that.) Back then, I was traveling for work a lot, and I usually took my old RadioShack HTX-202 HT along with me. When I was using a rental car, I used the window mount with a rubber duck antenna. When parked, I used a 2M half wave telescopic antenna on it. I hadn’t used it—or seen it—in years. It was somewhere amongst the miscellaneous stuff acquired over my 48 years in ham radio. 

It took a little searching, but after rummaging through some old parts, I found the old window mount. The mount is made of steel with a female BNC connector on it. It also has six feet of RG-58 coax attached. The coax is more than enough to reach the center console of my truck from the passenger side window. 

The old window mount I resurrected from the junk box. The bolt next to the BNC connector is something I added.
The old window mount I resurrected from the junk box. The bolt next to the BNC connector is something I added.

The next task at hand was to figure out a way to connect a counterpoise wire to the mount. The steel mount has a black coating on it, which electrically isolated the BNC connector from the mount. To resolve that, I removed the BNC connector and used a rotary tool to remove some of the coating around the mounting hole. Then, I drilled a hole for a small bolt that I could use as a place to attach an alligator clip for the radials. 

I already had an Elecraft AX1 antenna that I bought years ago when they first came out. I usually carry it in my backpack as a backup antenna, but I really haven’t used it very much. So, I guess it’s time to put it to use.

To see how this setup worked, I drove over to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761) for a brief activation. Along with the AX1 on the window mount, I used two 12.5-foot radials. I have to admit it was nice being able to deploy an antenna in less than a minute. 

My AX1 deployed on the window mount with two radial wires clipped on.
My AX1 deployed on the window mount with two radial wires clipped on.

Back in the truck, I fired up my KX3 running five watts. I was prepared to crank the power up to 10 watts, if need be, but that proved unnecessary. Within a minute of spotting myself, the calls started coming in. The signal reports were decent, and I was seeing some strong hits on the Reverse Beacon Network. It took all of 12 minutes to make my prerequisite ten contacts.

In less than an hour, I had 14 contacts on 20M, nine on 17M, and three on 15M. Among those 26 QSOs, I had one park-to-park contact with a station in Quebec. At one point on 17M, I had a DX station calling. I believe it might have been Italy, but I just couldn’t pull out the entire callsign. My apologies to that station, wherever they were. 

The AX1’s performance was a pleasant surprise. Although it has been in my antenna arsenal for a few years now, I really haven’t given it a serious test. Well, that changed today. It has proven itself to be a worthy antenna choice, when a larger antenna is impractical.

Thanks to W2AEW and KR8L for inspiring me to dust off my old window mount and put it to good use.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA/PBMME/FYBO – February 2023

I made a trip down to Ridley Creek State Park today to take part in three events. Besides a normal POTA activation (K-1414), the annual FYBO contest and the monthly Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME) were happening. 

Because of the cold weather, I operated from the truck, using my KX3 (5 watts) and homebrew vertical. At 23F (-5C), my weather was nowhere near what folks up north were experiencing. Still, it was a little colder than I wanted to deal with today. The sun coming through the windshield kept my operating position around a comfortable 58F.

The "QRP-Mobile" at Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414}
The WB3GCK “QRP-Mobile” at Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414}

After approximately 90 minutes, I had 31 stations in my log. Among those were two fellow Polar Bears, John VA3KOT and Jamie AA4K. Jamie was one of five park-to-park contacts I made today. I didn’t hear any FYBO stations. I spent most of my time calling, “CQ POTA.,” so I wasn’t really looking too hard.

Towards the end of my outing, I spent some time up on 15M. My 5-watt signal was getting some strong European hits on RBN, but I didn’t hear much activity on the band. I eventually had four contacts on 15M, including Belgium and Italy. 

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be getting back to more moderate weather here in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to it.

72, Craig WB3GCK