Bike-Portable at Towpath Park

I had a couple of hours this morning, so I loaded up the bike and headed out for another ride. Since the SKCC’s Weekend Sprintathon is running this weekend, I took the radio gear along for the ride. 

I rode the new section of the Schuylkill River Trail that I mentioned in my last post. I headed west from the new trailhead and rode out to Towpath Park. Towpath Park is a small community park that I have operated from many times over the years. Today was the first time I got there by bike.

After a nice three-mile ride, I arrived at the park. I headed to a small pavilion and set up the radio. I used my TR-35 and my homebrew 19-foot vertical. I have to say that I have really been enjoying my little TR-35. It’s a great rig for portable operations like this.

My bike-portable setup at Towpath Park along the Schuylkill River.
My bike-portable setup at Towpath Park along the Schuylkill River.

I didn’t hear much contest activity, but I still managed to log four contacts in short order on 40M (NH, MI, OH, MA) and one on 20M (WI). After my radio-based pit stop, I loaded up the bike and started back down the trail. On the way back, I stopped to snap a picture of what’s left of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name.

A short stretch of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name. The bright sunlight caused a strange rainbow effect in the picture.
A short stretch of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name. The bright sunlight caused a strange rainbow effect in the picture.

This is a great ride for bike-portable operation. I’ll definitely be doing this again in the future.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Back on the Bike

The beginning of this week was a real bummer. A couple of days after Field Day, my trusty laptop gave up the ghost. Fortunately, it waited to die until after Field Day. However, this weekend I rode my bike for the first time since my knee surgery. So I put that one in the “Win” column. 

On Saturday, I loaded up the bike and headed out to a section of the Schuylkill River Trail that opened recently. I took along my AnyTone AT-D878UV, Bluetooth ear piece, and Bluetooth push-to-talk button. I planned to operate bicycle-mobile into our local repeater. 

This recently completed section of the Schuylill River Trail is nicely paved.
This recently completed section of the Schuylill River Trail is nicely paved.

Before hopping on the bike, I sat in the truck and paired the Bluetooth devices to the radio, and everything seemed to work—until I got on the bike. I think the battery in the PTT button died, so I put the radio stuff back in the truck and headed off down the trail. 

I’m happy to report that the new knee performed flawlessly—no pain or tightness at all. The bike was none the worse for sitting idle in the garage for more than a year. I didn’t want to push it, so I kept my ride to three miles round-trip. Plus, the humidity was brutal this morning, so I declared victory and headed home.

This morning I went on a longer ride on a different section of the Schuylkill River Trail, eventually connecting with the Perkiomen Trail. I’ve ridden on these trails countless times over years. My ride today was about six miles out and back, and I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to take a pit stop and get on the radio.

I set up my recently acquired TR-35 at a picnic table and used my homebrew 19-foot vertical, which was ground-mounted with four 12-foot radials. I tuned up on 40M and immediately came across K2J in North Carolina, one of the 13 Colonies stations. After logging that one, I got on my straight key and called “CQ SKCC” a few times. KK8X in Ohio came back to me. We exchanged SKCC numbers and had a brief chat. I moved up to 20M and found NA4A doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in Alabama.

My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park on the Fourth of July. My antenna is out of the shot but about 10 feet away from the picnic table.
My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park on the Fourth of July. My antenna is out of the shot but about 10 feet away from the picnic table.

After signing with NA4A, I packed up and loaded up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead. Once again, the new knee did great. I had a little fatigue but no pain to speak of, as I continue to regain my leg strength.

I want to wish my fellow American hams a happy 4th of July. Also, a belated happy Canada Day to my friends to the north.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Boschveldt Field Day 2022

Our new W3BQC banner (Photo credit: NK1N)

Another fun Field Day with the Boschveldt QRP Club is in the books. As in recent years, we spent the weekend camping on private property as the guests of a gracious local business owner. We had four members in attendance this year: Ed K3YTR, Glen NK1N, Ed WA3WSJ, and me. 

When I arrived Friday afternoon, NK1N was already onsite. As I was setting up my tent, the others rolled in and got settled in for the weekend. Later, we headed out to a local restaurant for dinner and finished off the night around the campfire.

After breakfast, I set up my antenna and radio equipment. We had three HF stations this year, all running CW. I operated on 40 meters, NK1N covered 20 and 80 meters, while WA3WSJ took care of the higher bands. K3YTR operated phone on 6 and 2 meters. We operated in Category 3A, running QRP on battery power and using our club callsign, W3BQC. Our three HF stations all used inverted L antennas, our weapon of choice for Field Day. 

  • Yours truly operating CW from my tent (Photo credit: NK1N)
  • As in previous years, I slept and operated in my tent.
  • WA3WSJ operating on 15M
  • NK1N operating under his new canopy
  • NK1N generated most of our points this year (Photo credit: NK1N)
  • K3YTR operating 6 and 2 meters from his car

This year we tried networking our logging computers together. Glen set up a small battery-powered Wi-Fi access point and used his laptop as the server. It was a simple task to configure the N3FJP logging software on the other laptops, and the network worked great.

After a dinner of brats and hotdogs, we again convened around the campfire. Before turning in, Glen jumped on 80M and I got back on 40M to make a few more contacts. 

Glen was our most productive point generator this year. Besides making the most contacts, he also copied the Field Day bulletin, transmitted our radiogram to the Section manager, and filled in as the Boschveldt Safety Officer this year. 

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we got back on our radios for a few more hours before packing up. By mid-day, we had all cleared out and headed home.

Although we don’t run the most serious Field Day operation, we always have a good time getting together. Besides our annual winter outing, we talked about doing another camping trip sometime this summer. 

I hope everyone who took part had a fun and safe Field Day weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Father’s Day with a New Rig

I needed another rig like I needed a hole in the head, but I couldn’t resist. I’ve had my eye on the Penntek TR-35 for a while now, so I finally pulled the trigger and ordered one. I considered it a Father’s Day present to myself. Two days later, I had the TR-35 in my hands.

Lacking the patience and the close-up vision for serious kit building these days, I ordered a factory-built radio with the rotary encoder tuning option. Now, I have seen plenty of pictures and videos of the TR-35, but the small size of this rig really struck me when I opened the box. Its footprint is not much larger than a QSL card. It’s a perfect size for portable operating.

Here are some features that drew me to the TR-35:

  • It covers the bands I use most in the field (40/30/20/17)
  • Built-in iambic mode B keyer (my mode of choice)
  • Two CW memories. Perfect for POTA activations, QRP contests, etc.
  • Separate inputs for paddle and straight key. I sometimes get calls from fellow SKCC members, so it’s convenient to switch instantly to a straight key for those QSOs.
  • No complicated menu structures to navigate to get things set up. The TR-35 is super-simple to operate, and that’s just how I like it. 

The TR-35 doesn’t include a built-in tuner. No worries; I’m going to dust off my little Elecraft T1 ATU and show it some love. An SWR indicator would have been a nice feature to have, but I can get along fine without it. 

Taking It For a Spin

I didn’t have a chance to put my new TR-35 on the air until today. I drove over to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761 and KFF-0761) to try the new rig on a POTA activation. Doing an activation with a radio you’ve never used is a little like going camping with a tent you’ve never set up before. But, what the heck, I was a risk-taker today. Actually, I brought a backup rig along, but I never needed it. 

I set up the TR-35 in the cab of my truck, along with my T1 tuner. The antenna was my homebrew 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck. As soon as I powered up, I was greeted by lots of loud CW signals. That’s a good sign. I quickly programmed a “CQ POTA” message into one of the two CW memories and got on the air.

My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.
My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.

One of the first things I noticed is how loud the audio is. I was using earbuds, and I had to turn the volume almost all the way down. The sidetone seemed a bit loud for my liking, but not really much of a problem for me.

Once I got going, I had a lot of fun with this little rig. I easily made contacts on each of the four bands (40/30/20/17). The TR-35 is a joy to operate, and I really appreciate its simplicity. Tuning with the optional rotary encoder is smooth as silk.

After about an hour and a half, I had 24 contacts in the log, with five park-to-park QSOs. My stomach reminded me it was lunchtime, so I packed up and headed home. I left the park feeling very happy about my recent purchase. The TR-35 is going to see a lot of use in the field.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

73, Craig WB3GCK

The Raddy RF760 Shortwave Radio

A while back, I purchased the Raddy RF750 Multimedia Music Player and did a blog post reviewing that remarkable little radio. The folks at Radioddity reached out to me recently to see if I would be interested in taking a look at their latest offering. A week or so later, I received the Raddy RF760

[Disclaimer:  In the interest of full disclosure, this radio was sent to me free of charge to evaluate and review. This was with the understanding that I would write an honest and unbiased review.]

What It Is

The seller refers to the RF760 as a “full-band radio”. That’s an apt description, since it covers everything from the AM broadcast band up through the UHF range.

Raddy RF760 Portable shortwave Receiver
Raddy RF760 Portable shortwave Receiver

Here are the specs from the website:

  • FM 1: 64.0-108MHZ
  • FM 2: 76.0-108MHZ
  • FM 3: 87.5-108MHZ
  • AM: 520-1710KHZ
  • SW: 2.00-30.00MHZ
  • CB: 25.00-28.00MHZ
  • AIR: 118.00-138.00MHZ
  • VHF UHF: 20.000-520MHZ
  • VHF: 30.00-223.00MHZ
  • VHF: 144.00-148.00MHZ
  • VHF: 156.025-163.275MHZ
  • UHF: 430.00-520.00MHZ
  • WX: 162.400-162.550MHZ
  • Product dimensions: 4.37 x 2.36 x 0.79’’ / 11.1 x 6 x 2CM
  • Lithium battery: BL5C 1000mAH 3.7v 3.8WH
  • Loudspeaker: Ф40MM 8Ω 1W
  • Headphone output: 3.5MM stereo input
  • External antenna hole: 3.5MM
  • Storage Capacity:700 stations in total(FM: 100, MW: 100, SW: 100, AIR: 100, CB: 100, VHF/UHF: 100, UBD: 100)

With the battery installed, the RF760 weighed in at a mere 3.8 ounces (108 grams) on my kitchen scale.

The box includes:

  • RF760 radio
  • 1000MAH 3.7V Lithium battery
  • Earbuds
  • USB-C cable for charging
  • External antenna wire (approx. 10 feet)
  • Wrist strap
  • Storage pouch
  • User manual

RF760 vs RF750

It’s clear from the specifications that the RF760 is not an upgraded RF750. The RF750, with its Bluetooth and ability to play MP3 files, is more of a multimedia player. The RF760 does not have those capabilities, but, rather, provides expanded frequency coverage.

The Raddy RF760 (left) and the Raddy RF750
The Raddy RF760 (left) and the Raddy RF750

In my view, the RF760 is aimed more towards shortwave listeners and scanning enthusiasts. It includes features like selectable bandwidths, selectable demodulation modes on certain bands (AM/USB/LSB/NFM), and adjustable squelch. 

The RF760 also includes a headphone jack (earbuds included) and a connection for an external wire antenna. These features are lacking on the RF750. The RF760 also has a digital display, which the RF750 does not. Both radios are charged via a USB-C connector. 

The RF760’s additional features come with a higher price tag. As of this writing, it was selling for $99.99 USD

My Impressions

The RF760 is one small radio. It’s roughly about the size of an Altoids tin and weighs next to nothing. (It weighs about 0.65 ounces less than the RF750.) You can fit the RF760 in a shirt pocket, and you might even forget that it’s in there. 

There’s a lot going on with the RF760. Even with the power off, a press of any button will light up the display showing time and temperature. Oh yeah, did I mention this thing even has a built-in thermometer? It even includes an alarm clock and a sleep timer. If you can think of a function, the RF760 probably has it. 

The user manual does a decent job of covering the myriad of features in this radio. The small size of the printed manual, however, is a little tough on my old eyes. Fortunately, the Raddy website has a PDF version of the manual for downloading. The softcopy manual allows me to search for specific functions, which is handy. I also stored a copy on my cell phone, so I always have it available. As is typical of manuals for Chinese products, some of the wording is not always clear. For example, a section covering how to delete a station that has been saved to memory is titled “Delete the radio.”

The various configuration options (e.g., bandwidth, demodulation mode, tuning increments) vary according to the band you are on. Once you get the hang of it, navigating through the options and selecting specific values becomes an easy task. 

In the FM mode, the sound quality is reasonably good, considering the RF760’s diminutive size. In all honesty though, I think the RF760’s audio lacks the richness and fullness of the RF750. When using the included earbuds, however, the RF760’s audio is greatly improved. On FM, make sure you have the radio set for the proper de-emphasis (75 microseconds here in the U.S.).

The weather alert function is one of the more important features for me, and I had the opportunity to give it a “real world” test. My area was under a tornado watch, and we had multiple severe thunderstorm warnings. While tuned to the weather band, a long press of the “SET” button places the radio in the “SCAN” mode. When NOAA issues an alert, the radio comes on with a brief tone followed by the weather station’s audio. There’s no loud siren like the RF750 has, but that’s fine with me. After an alert, you need to long-press the “SET” button to go back into the “SCAN” mode. During the storms, the RF760’s weather alert function worked flawlessly, going off three or four times. 

Tuning is interesting in that it uses a combination of two methods: up/down tuning buttons on the front panel and a rotary “shuttle tuning” knob on the right side of the radio. You can select the tuning increments for the buttons, which is helpful. You can also select the digit of the displayed frequency that is adjusted by the rotary knob. Now, I’m an old “knob spinner” from way back, so I’m generally not a big fan of using buttons for tuning. However, once you get the hang of using the shuttle tuning knob, you can tune to a specific frequency quickly. You can also scan the selected band by long-pressing the “up” or “down” tuning buttons.

There’s a lot of information shown on the display panel. On such a small radio, though, I find a few of the smaller items hard to read with my old eyes. Fortunately, these are items that I don’t have to deal with often. You folks with better eyes probably won’t have a problem. 

I haven’t done any formal measurements on battery life, but you should be able to go for days before recharging. The USB-C charging port is handy; I can charge the radio with the same chargers I use for my phone. 

Bottom Line

The RF760 is a small, lightweight, and feature-packed radio. For camping or in my emergency go-kit, I’d go with the versatility of the RF760. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of radios. I especially like how the NOAA weather alert feature is implemented on this radio. However, If I want to listen to music while working around the house, I’d go with the RF750 and it’s superior audio. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

French Creek Iron Tour 2022

I spent the morning taking part in a public service event. The French Creek Iron Tour is an annual cycling event that benefits the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. This year was the 20th running of the event.

Chester County ARES-RACES provides communications support for the event, and it’s one of our larger public service events. Besides providing a crew at the start/finish line, we have operators at five rest stops and in seven roving support vehicles. APRS is used to track the locations of the support vehicles, allowing Net Control to dispatch them efficiently to assist riders experiencing problems.

This year, my assignment was at a rest stop in historic Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania. I’ve been at this location for the past several years, and it’s become my favorite assignment. This rest stop is the first one to open for the event, so after a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I was onsite bright and early.

Yellow Springs rest stop for the French Creek Iron Tour. This was taken early in the day as the riders started coming through.
Yellow Springs rest stop for the French Creek Iron Tour. This was taken early in the day as the riders started coming through.

The day started off with some heavy downpours. I hunkered down in my truck, and the rain pounding on the roof made it hard to hear the radio. Fortunately for the riders, the rain stopped by mid-morning. Despite the initial rain and the wet road conditions, I didn’t encounter any downed riders or other major issues during my shift. 

Although the weather could have been better, it was nice to work with the friendly volunteers at the Yellow Springs rest stop again this year. Kudos to my ARES-RACES colleagues who put in a long day supporting this event.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Chance POTA Meet-Up

I made a return trip to Fort Washington State Park (K/KFF-1352) this morning for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. I activated this park back in October of last year, so I wanted to give it another go today. Along with some over-the-air contacts, I made a fun eyeball QSO.

My location and setup were nearly identical to my last visit. I started on 40M, and within a few minutes, the POTA hunters showed up. After I had logged 14 contacts, I was getting ready to change bands. I noticed a car going by with a familiar callsign on its license plate. 

Greg WA3GM turned around and stopped behind my truck. I have worked Greg many times in recent years. He’s a frequent POTA activator and a fellow SKCC member. Despite those contacts, we have never met in person. After chatting for a few minutes, Greg left to find somewhere to set up for his activation.

After spending some time on 30M and 20M, I did some searching and pouncing to pick up a few park-to-park contacts. Right before pulling the plug, I found Greg on 40M and had a quick park-to-park QSO with him. Of course, we were 599 both ways.

Greg WA3GM activating Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)
Greg WA3GM activating Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)

I packed up my gear and spent some time driving around the park to see if I could find Greg. I found him less than a mile away, operating from a picnic table near some group campsites. Greg was using his trusty Rybakov antenna. We chatted for a while and learned that we have a bunch of friends in common. After posing for some selfies, I let Greg get back to his activation and headed off on my drive home. 

WA3GM (left) and WB3GCK during a chance POTA meet-up in Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)
WA3GM (left) and WB3GCK during a chance POTA meet-up in Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)

I ended up with 19 contacts in my log, with 3 park-to-park contacts and a nice eyeball QSO.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Memorial Day 2022

May has been a busy month around here, and I haven’t had much time to get out and do some portable operating. So, on the last day of the month, I made a quick trip to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park for a short POTA activation (K-0761, KFF-0761).

I had some plans for later today, so headed out early. Most of the holiday picnic goers would likely arrive later to observe Memorial Day and take advantage of the glorious weather. Based on previous activations, I knew where to find a shady parking spot. Once situated there, I set up my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck. I operated my trusty KX3 in the truck, this time out. 

My parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)
My parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)

Starting out on 40M, I made the requisite ten contacts in about 15 minutes. My best “DX” of the day was California and Washington State, both on 20M with 5 watts. I operated for a little over an hour and ended up with 32 contacts with four park-to-park QSOs. 

Now that I’m driving again, life seems a little more normal. It was good to do an activation with no chauffeur. My (far) better half was a good sport, but I know she has things she’d rather be doing.

Friends here in southeastern Pennsylvania have been talking about how bad the ticks are this year. I think they’re right. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I found one crawling on the back of my neck. So, be careful out there.

Finally, I’d like to wish everyone an enjoyable and safe holiday. Please be sure to take time to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

73, Craig WB3GCK

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