I made an impulse buy this week. After reading an old Elecraft mailing list post from Wayne Burdick N6KR where he made a strong recommendation, I ordered an MFJ-1820T whip antenna. I need another portable antenna like I need a hole in the head but I figured it might be fun to give this little whip antenna a try.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the MFJ-1820T is a 4-foot, telescopic, loaded whip for the 20M band. It collapses down to a tiny 10-inches. It will handle 25 watts but my whip will never see that much power. It sells for around $30 (U.S.). Wayne recommended using at least one 13-foot radial with it. I went with two 13-foot radials made from some cheap speaker wire I had on hand.
This morning, while operating from a local park, I connected the whip to my KX3 with a BNC right angle adapter. I connected my radials to one of the knurled nuts on the KX3 with an alligator clip. To keep the whip from swiveling, I used a small, plastic spring clamp.
The KX3’s internal tuner loaded up the whip with no problems. I heard W8SVC calling CQ from Michigan and gave him a call with 5 watts. He got my callsign on the first call but he wasn’t sure he had copied it correctly. I upped my power to 10 watts (gasp!) and called again. He gave me a 559 and we exchanged our basic information. Unfortunately, I lost him when the band faded.
Moving up to the 20M QRP calling frequency, I called CQ a couple of times. AA8WQ (QRP at 5W) responded from Ohio and gave me a 569 report. Again, we were able to exchange our basic info before I lost him completely.
Frankly, I wasn’t really expected much from a 4-foot whip but I was surprised that I was able to make two contacts this morning. It certainly isn’t the best antenna for 20M but, when the band is in good shape and you need something that sets up in an instant, the MFJ-1820T is certainly a usable antenna. I’ll probably be carrying the MFJ-1820T in the field as a backup antenna.
There’s an old saying that goes: “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.” I think that was the case for me 23 years ago.
As I was submitting my meager entry for last week’s QRP to the Field (QTTF) Contest, it made me think back to the very first QTTF contest in April of 1995. I’ve never considered myself a serious contester; not by a long stretch. Somehow, though, I actually placed 1st overall in the NorCal QRP Club’s inaugural QTTF. I actually did it with a most unlikely setup, too.
A local ham, Rolf N3LA (SK), graciously allowed me to operate my modest QRP station from his rural property. I operated from my truck with my antenna supported by one of Rolf’s trees.
My antenna was simply a 40M inverted vee that I made from #22 stranded hook-up wire. I fed it with about 30-feet of RG-174 coax. The center of the antenna was only about 12 to 15 feet high. One end was tied off to a bush about 4 feet off the ground. The other end ran into a fenced-in area that was home to a ram with a bad attitude. I had to wait until the ram was otherwise pre-occupied to tie-off that end of the antenna. That end was only a foot or two off the ground.
My rig was a Small Wonder Labs SW-40 running 950mW. This was from the first batch of kits offered by Dave Benson’s (K3SWL) former company. I was also using a keyer built from an old NorCal kit, which used the classic Curtis keyer chip. I used a set of paddles that I had cobbled together from stuff in my junk box. The whole station was powered by a 7 A-H gel cell battery that was almost as big as the rest of the equipment combined.
Over the course the afternoon, I worked a steady stream of QRPers. I was in QRP heaven. Even Rolf, who was monitoring from inside his house, was amazed at the number of contacts I was producing with less than a watt.
QRP to the Field 1995 - WB3GCK (950mW)
1615 K4XY VA
1641 WA9MTO MD
1646 KG8FL OH
1653 KI2L MA
1655 VE3VAW ONT
1659 W2RPH NJ 1W
1701 K2SJB NY
1706 VY2MP PEI
1710 N1OZL MA
1715 VY2MP PEI (DUPE)
1723 WQ1T NH
1728 VE3FRF ONT
1740 KC1FB CT
1743 W3TS PA 1W
1745 AC4WC VA 4W
1749 K1PUG CT 1W
1807 WK8S MI
1810 WA8IBT OH
1827 N7ANT VA
1836 W3EEK PA
1840 W2TFL NY
1841 VE3UWL ONT
1844 KB8GAE OH
1848 AA3GN PA
1851 K2MV NJ
1855 WA0JTL MI
1858 WB8EEL MA
1903 N4JEO VA
1905 NO1E NH
1913 AA2PF NY
1915 K4XY VA (DUPE)
1917 N2CX NJ
1929 AA2NL NJ
1930 AA4YZ/8 OH
2038 W2QUV NY 5W
2048 KD4PUP VA
2050 KT3A PA <1W
2054 KA4GVA VA
2056 W03B MD 250mW
2101 W8MVN OH 4W
2117 AA2WJ NY
2129 KZ4D VA 2W
2137 WA8LCZ MI
2139 AA1EX NH
2141 WQ1F VT 4W
2144 KC1FB CT (DUPE)
2146 K2JT NJ
2204 K0JPL MO
2209 KA3WTF PA 5W
I specifically remember a couple of the contacts. I worked Joe N2CX, who was testing a new antenna over in New Jersey. Joe later mentioned that QSO in an article about his antenna in QRP Quarterly. I also remember working Ernie W8MVN (SK) in Ohio. Back in the day, Ernie ran a pair of phased, full-wave 40M delta loops on top of a 60-foot tower. He called me with an ear-splitting QRP signal that had me scrambling for the RF gain control on my rig. I think my ears are still ringing from his incredibly loud signal.
Even though I only operated on one band with my 950mW rig, I managed to log 46 contacts (plus a few dupes) that day. With my QRPp multiplier, I ended up in first place out of a field of 50 stations.
I haven’t done that well in a QRP field contest since. (I did, however, place 2nd in the New England QRP Club’s QRP Afield contest using the same equipment later that year.) Rather than skill or prowess as a contester, I have always attributed my win to a combination of great propagation and lots of plain old dumb luck.
If your callsign is in the log above, thank you for helping this blind squirrel find a nut!
I recently bought another key from KC5ILR & Sons over eBay. This inexpensive little straight key could become one of my favorites.
Last year, I came across these straight keys that KC5ILR and his sons produce on a 3-D printer. They sell a variety of key styles in various colors. I bought a camelback style key and wrote about my initial impressions. While it is a nice key, the aluminum contacts didn’t always close cleanly and I detected some slight noise in the keyed signal.
I noticed that KC5ILR’s keys are now using solid brass contacts, so I bought one of their new lightweight Micro keys to give it a try. I received it a few days after ordering it and boy am I impressed.
Here are the specifications from the eBay listing:
Weight : <2 oz.
Action: Single Max .100" gap.
Spring: Coil Chrome
Style: Camel Back Arm
Wiring: Stranded Copper
Contacts: Solid Brass
Resin: Biodegradable PLA Polymer
Construction: 3D Thermal Printed
Screws: 18-8 Stainless Steel 3MM Socket Head Cap Screws
Nuts: 3MM Stainless Steel Jam Nuts
Screw Holes To Mechanically Fasten.
Standard 3.5MM Receptacle (Use Tip & Sleeve Mono Or Stereo)
Solid Brass Contacts For The Ultimate QSO.
It took no time at all to adjust the contact spacing and tension to my liking. The base has countersunk holes for permanent mounting but I applied the four stick-on, rubber feet that came with the key.
The key has a 1/8-inch audio jack for connection to the rig. A cable is not provided so you’ll need to provide a stereo or mono patch cable. When using a stereo cable, the key is wired to use only the tip and sleeve. So, using a regular stereo patch cord, I can connect the key directly to my KX3. I connected it to my code practice oscillator for my initial tests.
The solid brass contacts are a huge improvement over the earlier aluminum contacts; the keying was absolutely clean. Even though the key weighs less than 2 ounces, I found that the design of the base makes it very stable when keying. The overall feel of the key is impressive.
I recently took my new key out for some portable operating. I used it to make a few SKCC contacts during a Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. As expected, this little key performed well and keyed cleanly. This will be a nice little key to take along when weight is a major concern.
If you’re looking for a small straight key for portable operation, look no further. For $19.95 USD, you really can’t go wrong. You can also buy these keys directly from the C. W. Morse website.
73, Craig WB3GCK
[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this company. I’m just a satisfied customer.]
I wanted to get out and do a little QRP-portable before all the holiday festivities get started. I hadn’t operated from Black Rock Sanctuary in a while, so I headed over there. It was dreary and drizzly today, so it was a good day to operate from the truck and give my homebrew 19-foot vertical another workout.
Since the last time I used the 19-foot vertical in the truck, I found a way to ground the antenna to the body of the truck. It was a simple matter of backing out one of the screws that hold the bed liner in place and using it to attach a small L bracket. This now provides a convenient spot to attach my ground lead.
I was using my little MS2 straight key with the KX3 today. The bands were in pretty decent shape and the antenna seemed to be working great. I made a half-dozen SKCC contacts on 40 and 20 meters with some respectable signal reports. One SKCC’er in California called me on 20 meters but the frequency was taken over by other stations. I wasn’t able to complete the QSO but at least I was being heard on the West Coast.
I also had some nice two-way QRP QSOs. W4UV in North Carolina had a great signal on 40M with his Ten Tec QRP rig. Jim N0UR was really pounding in from Minnesota on 20 meters. My favorite QSO of the day was with Dirk W8IQX. Dirk was running 2 watts from his FT-817 to an AlexLoop on 20 meters. If I copied correctly, he was in Florida. QRP never ceases to amaze me!
This week, my ham radio activity was focused on an emergency communications exercise with my local ARES-RACES group. I thought I’d do a post about the simple whip antenna I used with a dual-band radio. I cobbled this set up together a few years back and it has come in handy on several occasions.
During the exercise, I was operating indoors with easy access to our local repeaters. I was copying digital traffic using the Narrowband Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS), so a handheld radio wasn’t a good option. In this situation, a dual-band mobile radio and this little whip antenna hack were able to get the job done.
For the whip, I use commercially available, collapsible BNC whip antennas for the 2 meter and 440 bands. To connect the whip to the radio, I use a UHF-Male to BNC-Female right angle adapter I picked up on eBay. To help improve the efficiency, I attach two 1/4-wave counterpoise wires, one for 2 meters (about 19 inches) and one for 440 (about 6.3 inches).
To attach the counterpoise wires, I re-purposed a 9-volt battery holder. I just drilled out one of the mounting holes and used a small bolt and nut to attach the wires. The clip is just about the perfect size to snap onto the right angle adapter.
The antennas I use came from Smiley Antenna. I have 5/8-wave whips for 2 meters and 440, along with a halfwave whip for 2 meters. Although some of the antennas are specified to handle 50 watts, I generally use them only for 10 watts or less (in the interest of RF safety). If I need to run more power, I’ll go with an antenna placed a safe distance away.
I’ve used this simple antenna arrangement in several situations in recent years. It’s become a permanent part of my emergency communications go-kit.
When I was in need of a container to transport my QRP rig, my XYL came up with an inexpensive solution. The answer was as close as the nearby grocery store.
A few years ago, I was using a plastic food container to keep my little YouKits HB-1B and accessories organized and protected in transit. It had enough room for the radio, a Li-Ion battery, keyer, paddles, K1 tuner, earphones, my clipboard/paddle mount, and assorted cables and connectors. Life was good until I cracked the plastic box while out in the field for a QRP Skeeter Hunt contest. I started searching for a replacement.
I mentioned my dilemma to my XYL. She came back into the room carrying a nifty insulated lunch box that she was using for a first-aid kit. I emptied out the first aid stuff and found that it could hold all of my radio stuff. I was particularly happy that my clipboard/paddle mount fit in there perfectly. I made a trip to the grocery store where she found the container and bought one for myself.
The box my XYL found was the Upright HardBody® Lunch Box made by Arctic Zone. The outer material is padded for insulation and it has a rigid plastic liner that provides some extra protection. It also comes with an adjustable divider, which might be useful in some cases. There’s an outside pocket that I use to hold a notebook and pencil for logging. At the time, I paid less than $10 USD for it.
Last year, when I bought my KX3, I went through the same trial and error with the lunch box. I was able to get the KX3, Palm Mini paddles, MS2 straight key, microphone, earphones, clipboard and assorted cables and adapters in there. It holds everything but my LiFePO4 battery and antenna. (These items can vary from trip to trip, so this isn’t much of an inconvenience for me.) So, off to our local KMart store I went. I bought two of the lunch boxes this time — one for the KX3 and one for a first-aid kit for in my truck.
When I load up the KX3 box, the other items keep the radio for shifting around while in transit. Out of sheer paranoia, I put a layer of bubble wrap around the KX3. I’m not really sure that’s necessary though. When I’m ready to head out to the field, I just grab the KX3 box, my battery, and antenna of choice for the day and I’m all set.
There are certainly better, more expensive containers available. For the price, it’s hard to beat these lunch boxes. Maybe I should buy another one to hold my lunch and a couple of cold ones when I go into the field. Hmmm…
[This is an updated version of a post that appears on my old website. – WB3GCK]
Something about the “Up and Outer” antenna has fascinated me since I first came across it in the 1974 edition of the ARRL Antenna Book. This antenna, which was once popular many years ago, is about as simple as it gets. Simply put, the Up and Outer is a dipole or doublet where one leg is vertical while the other leg is horizontal. Although it seems to be overlooked by Amateurs these days, this antenna offers some significant benefits:
It’s a good limited space antenna since one leg of the doublet is vertical. It only requires half of the space that a horizontal doublet would take up.
When fed with balanced line and used with a suitable transmatch, it’s a good multi-band antenna.
It combines characteristics of both verticals and horizontal wire antennas. That is, it is good for both local and DX work.
It’s very easy to build and erect.
First, a little background on this antenna. According to some handwritten notes from QRP Hall of Famer, C. F. Rockey W9SCH (SK), this antenna goes back to the 20s and 30s. Lew McCoy W1ICP (SK) wrote about it in the October 1960 edition of QST . He didn’t use the name, “Up and Outer;” he merely referred to it as a “limited space antenna.” McCoy recommended horizontal and vertical elements of 30-feet each for operation on 80-10 meters. He also recommended using an open-wire feedline to minimize losses. Information from McCoy’s article has appeared for years in the ARRL Antenna Book. (I first saw it in my 1974 edition  and it was still shown in the 1997 edition .)
W9SCH wrote a couple of articles about this antenna for SPRAT and appears to have coined the term, “Up and Outer.” In the first SPRAT article , Rock suggested using 1/4 wave elements for the lowest band and feeding it with either coax (for single band operation) or balanced line (for multi-band operation). In a follow-up article , Rock suggests pruning the horizontal element to equalize the current in the balanced feeder. He noted the imbalance when operating with the horizontal element close to ground. He started with 16-foot elements to cover 30-10 meters.
Another Hall of Famer, L. B. Cebik W4RNL (SK), wrote about a coax-fed version of this antenna for 10 meters . Cebik built his antenna using aluminum tubing and referred to it as the “L Antenna.”
I also exchanged some correspondence years ago with Fred Bonavita K5QLF (SK), another QRP Hall of Famer and fan of the Up and Outer. He told me that W9SCH once mentioned using the copper ball from an old toilet float to top-load the vertical element of the antenna. I have never tried it but it does sound intriguing!
For me, the Up and Outer has turned out to be an ideal portable antenna to use while on vacation in a rented house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For several years I’ve used a 56-foot doublet with one wire supported by a 28-foot fiberglass telescopic mast and one 28-foot leg run horizontally. The vertical radiator is typically situated on a 3rd or 4th story wooden deck with the horizontal wire secured to a nearby tree or other support. For feedline, I use 25-feet of TV twinlead (the cheap brown stuff). Using either a homebrew Z-match tuner or an autotuner with a short run of coax to an external 4:1 balun, I’ve been able to use this antenna on 40-10 meters. Your mileage may vary. Depending on the transmatch you use, you might need to adjust the length of the feedline to get a good match on 40 meters.
I did some quick modeling of a typical Outer Banks installation using MMANA-GL and you can clearly see the results of the combined horizontal and vertical elements. The horizontal polarity (shown in blue) shows lobes perpendicular to the axis of the horizontal wire, similar to a dipole. The vertical polarity (shown in red) shows a fairly low take-off angle and exhibits some slight directivity on 40 meters in the direction of the horizontal wire. This effect is due to the proximity to ground of the horizontal element and diminishes as you go higher in frequency. So, try to mount the Up and Outer as high above ground as you can.
The modeling bears out my empirical results with the antenna. My version of the Up and Outer has worked very well for both stateside contacts and DX. In particular, it has been very effective for DX contacts on 30 meters. As an added bonus, the 56-foot doublet can also be pressed into service as a normal horizontal antenna in locations where the Up and Outer configuration isn’t possible. So, it’s like getting two antennas in one. Can’t beat that.
If you are looking for a limited-space antenna, give this obscure classic a try!
73, Craig WB3GCK
1. McCoy, Lewis G. “A Limited-Space Antenna.” QST October 1960: pp 23-25. (Available in the ARRL online archives)
2. “The ARRL Antenna Book.” 13th Edition, 1974. Newington, CT. pp 187-188.
3. “The ARRL Antenna Book.” 18th Edition, 1997. Newington, CT. pp 7-15, 7-16.
4. Rockey, C. F. “Up and Outer.” SPRAT Issue #67 (Summer 1991): p 18.
5. Rockey, C. F. “A Four Band Up and Outer Antenna.” SPRAT Issue #69 (Winter 1991/1992): p 16.
6. Cebik, L. B. “Whips, Tubes and Wires: Building a 10-Meter L Antenna.” QST December 1999: pp 52-54. (Available in the ARRL online archives)