The Quickie Whip

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.

The Quickie Whip attached to my old Icom 207-H dual band radio
The Quickie Whip attached to my old Icom 207-H dual band radio

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).

Quickie Whip Antenna components: telescopic whip antenna, PL-259 to BNC-F right-angle adapter, and the modified 9V battery clip for the counterpoise wires.
Quickie Whip Antenna components: telescopic whip antenna, PL-259 to BNC-F right-angle adapter, and the modified 9V battery clip for the counterpoise wires.

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.

73, Craig WB3GCK

 

Trailer Operations – Lessons Learned

We recently wrapped up our first camping season with our little travel trailer. Over the past 6 months, I learned a few things about operating inside a metal box that has lots of electrical doo-dads inside.

Antenna

Over the 18 years of camping in a pop-up tent trailer, I evolved to a simple but effective vertical antenna, which was supported by the trailer. We basically used the old camper as a tent on wheels.  It had few electrical amenities, so noise wasn’t an issue.  Being mostly canvas, the pop-up camper had little influence on the vertical antenna I attached to it.

On our first trip with the new camper, I tried something similar. I used the new camper to support my vertical antenna.  Bad choice.  I quickly learned that the new travel trailer was a different animal.  I made contacts but there were two main issues: 1) The camper is a big metal object and 2) it’s noisy as heck when plugged into AC power at the campsite.

It became quickly apparent that I needed to keep the antenna as far away from the trailer as possible. For most trips, I used a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole. I fed it with a 9:1 unun and ran a 25-foot piece of coax into the trailer. In some campgrounds, I was able to strap the Jackite pole to a lantern post or other object. Otherwise, I used my Jackite ground mount. (Unfortunately, Jackite no longer sells this ground mount.)

Some state parks provide lantern hanging posts that make great antenna supports. These are pretty common in Maryland state parks.
Some state parks provide lantern hanging posts that make great antenna supports. These are pretty common in Maryland state parks.

This set up worked well for me. There’s still some intermittent noise on 40 meters but it’s still usable. The other bands are pretty quiet. A pleasant surprise is that my KX3 loads up this antenna on 80 meters and the noise there is very low. I’ve had some nice late night/early morning contacts on 80 meters. On trips when we camped without an electrical hookup and used battery power only, I had no issues at all with noise.

My trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical. It's supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole and fed with a homebrew 9:1 unun.
Jackite ground mount. I bought this years ago. This particular mount is no longer sold by Jackite.

Radio Location

When the weather is decent, I prefer to operate outside of the camper, either from my camp chair or picnic table. However, when the weather is cold or rainy, I seek the shelter of the camper.

WB3GCK making some straight key contacts from the trailer.
Radio set up inside the trailer. The coax is routed through the window.

Initially, my big dilemma was routing a coax cable into the trailer. I really didn’t want to drill holes in a brand new trailer so I took the easy way out. There’s a conveniently located window next to the dinette table, so I brought the coax through there. To keep the bugs and inclement weather out, I used a piece of pipe insulation to help close up the gap. This window is also under the awning, so I get some additional weather protection there.  The dark-colored pipe insulation isn’t very noticeable, so my set up is “XYL-approved.”

Pipe insulation used to help close the gap in the window. The black pipe insulation is barely noticeable making it XYL-approved.
Pipe insulation used to help close the gap in the window. The black pipe insulation is barely noticeable making it XYL-approved.

Wrapping It Up

So, now it’s time to Winterize the trailer and put it into hibernation until Spring. Over the Winter, I’ll have lots of time to look into other antenna options I can try next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A “Cooler” Idea

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.

Arctic Zone Upright HardBody® Lunch Box. This one has seen years of use and now holds my KX3 and accessories.
Arctic Zone Upright HardBody® Lunch Box. This one has seen years of use and now holds my KX3 and accessories.

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.

This is the lunch box with the KX3 and accessories packed up. Out of sheer paranoia, I normally wrap the KX3 in a layer of bubble wrap for extra protection. When placed on top of everything, the clipboard provides another rigid surface for even more protection.
This is the lunch box with the KX3 and accessories packed up. Out of sheer paranoia, I normally wrap the KX3 in a layer of bubble wrap for extra protection. When placed on top of everything, the clipboard provides another rigid surface for even more protection.

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…

73, Craig WB3GCK

Jackite Pole Locking Pin

Here’s a quick little hack that might come in handy if your Jackite pole should suddenly collapse in windy conditions. It’s very easy to do and costs nothing, depending on what you have in your junk box.

Once in a blue moon, in windy conditions, I have had my 28-foot and 31-foot Jackite poles spontaneously collapse. Usually, when it happens, it’s the second largest tube that collapses into the largest tube.  To remedy this, I drilled two 1/8-inch holes in the second largest tube right where it meets the largest tube. I drilled the two holes such that they were directly opposite each other. (See the accompanying pictures if my explanation is confusing.)

To remedy this, I drilled two 1/8-inch holes in the second largest tube right where it meets the largest tube. I drilled the two holes such that they were directly opposite each other. (See the accompanying pictures if my explanation is confusing.)

Jackite-Locking-Pin-Hole-500x375Here’s how it works. When the pole is fully extended, I just slide a pin through the two holes to prevent the pole from collapsing. For the pin, I used a hook from a bungee cord that I straightened out, using a pair of pliers. The resulting pin is just the right size and it has a nice rubberized coating on it. You could, of course, use something else (a nail, a piece of wire, etc.) for the pin.

These are the two pole sections with the locking pin inserted.
These are the two pole sections with the locking pin inserted.
This is before (top) and after of the bungee hook I used for the locking pin.
This is before (top) and after of the bungee hook I used for the locking pin.

I don’t usually use the pin, except in very windy conditions. I’ll definitely use it during my upcoming trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My Jackite pole will be up for a week and facing some stiff ocean breezes.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Murphy and MacGyver

My XYL and I traveled out to the Harrisburg, PA, area over the weekend to spend some time with our daughter and her family.  Yesterday, I set up my KX3 and Alexloop in the backyard to make a few SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts.  Ol’ Murphy was certainly with me.

First, I had a problem with my little American Morse MS2 straight key.  Well, not the key itself, but rather a bad connector or cable.  I spent some time playing around with it but I had no multimeter to  troubleshoot it and no parts to repair it.

Tuning around the bands, I couldn’t hear a lot of activity.  The SKCC stations I heard seemed pretty weak and I wasn’t having any luck making contacts.  I checked the Band Conditions website and saw that the bands were in bad shape.  At that point, I threw in the towel and chalked up a win for Murphy.

Tough going on the bands
Tough going on the bands

Today I decided to give it another shot.  The bands sounded better and I could hear some WES activity.  I remembered a trick that Burke N0HYD employed to pull off an SKCC contact with me a while back.  So, I channeled my inner MacGyver and set up the KX3 for a straight key and connected my Palm mini paddles.  I turned the paddles over on their side and used one lever as a straight key.  The straight key workaround worked surprisingly well.  The “feel” wasn’t half-bad, actually.

My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.
My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.

With the improved band conditions and the straight key workaround, I made several SKCC WES contacts, including one with Bert F6HKA.  Bert has great ears and has managed to pull my puny QRP signal out of the noise on several occasions.  I finished my session with a nice two-way QRP QSO with Mac NN4NC down in North Carolina on 40 meters.  I was only on for an hour or so but it was fun.

Despite my lack of a functioning straight key, I managed to put a few new SKCC stations in my log today.  MacGyver would have been proud.

72, Craig WB3GCK

More Jackite Pole Hacks

Here are a few more things I have learned, based on my experience using Jackite telescopic poles.  Although some of this might be fairly obvious stuff, hopefully, this will be helpful to some.

Dealing with Stuck Sections

About four months ago, I had the top two sections of my 31-foot pole become hopelessly stuck.  After trying several things, I stumbled across a solution (at least for me).

My wife came home from the store one day with one of those rubber pads that are intended to help you grip and remove the lids from stubborn jars.  A light went off in my head.  I bought a couple of them at the local dollar store and by using them to help me get a grip on each of the two stuck sections, I was able to twist them enough to get them unstuck.  A few months later, I again had two sections that became stuck.  I went right for the grip pads and was able to instantly get them unstuck.  I now keep a pair of these pads in my backpack for when I run into this problem again in the field.  As a bonus, these pads work great under your paddles or straight keys to keep them from sliding around on the table.

This is one of the jar lid grippers my XYL found at our local dollar store.
This is one of the jar lid grippers my XYL found at our local dollar store.

Just a piece of advice.  Don’t try to use pliers to get fiberglass mast sections unstuck.  You’ll create a bigger problem for yourself.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Just trust me on this one.

When wrapped around the two stuck sections of a pole as shown, these jar lid grippers help you twist the sections to get them apart.
When wrapped around the two stuck sections of a pole as shown, these jar lid grippers help you twist the sections to get them apart.

Maintenance

This is sort of related to the stuck section problem.  I use my Jackite poles quite a bit and they can sometimes take a beating when camping or at the beach in a salty environment.  Dirt and debris might be contributing factors in getting sections stuck together.  Just a theory on my part.  I found that regular cleaning of the pole sections seems to minimize sticking problems.

Every other month or so (if I’m being diligent), I completely disassemble the poles.  Then, I spray a little WD-40 on a clean rag and wipe down each piece of tubing.  I wipe off any excess WD-40 with another clean rag and re-assemble the pole.  It seems to work for me.  After spending a week at the beach, this procedure is mandatory for me.

Bottom Cap Shock Absorber

When collapsing a 28-foot or 31-foot pole, the lower sections can sometimes come down so hard that they knock the bottom cap loose.  To counter this, you can cut a thin piece of sponge and place it inside the bottom cap.  I actually used two layers of that dollar store jar lid gripper material in mine.  Just make sure whatever you use doesn’t interfere with the threads in the cap.  This should help absorb some of the impact if you collapse the pole too quickly or if it comes down by itself in a strong wind.

This is two layers of material cut from the dollar store lid gripping pads placed inside the bottom cap of a Jackite 31-foot pole. The intent is to absorb some of the impact when collapsing the pole.
This is two layers of material cut from the dollar store lid gripping pads placed inside the bottom cap of a Jackite 31-foot pole. The intent is to absorb some of the impact when collapsing the pole.

I hope some of this is useful to someone out there.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Measuring Audio Frequencies with a Guitar Tuner

Here’s a little hack that serves no real purpose.  I’ll tell you about it anyway.

I recently built the T-Tone Code Practice Oscillator (CPO) kit from Morse Express.   It’s a handy little addition to the shack for adjusting straight keys or testing keyers.  After building it, I just adjusted the audio frequency for a pleasing tone.  Most people would have just left it alone at that point.  I’m not most people.

I started to do some thinking, which is a dangerous practice that can sometimes lead to unexpected consequences.  I wondered how the frequency of CPO compared to the sidetone of my FT-817.  There was no particular point to this mental exercise other than idle curiosity.

Now, I certainly could have keyed both the CPO and the FT-817 and done a comparison by ear.  I could have just adjusted the CPO by ear to match the FT-817.  But what fun would that be?  I was curious about the exact audio frequency of the FT-817’s sidetone, so I opted to do some experimenting.

Having been playing guitar for more than 50 years, I have acquired a gadget or two over the years.  One of those gadgets is a clip-on guitar tuner.  I can clip this clever device on the headstock of my guitar and, by sensing vibrations, it will tell me what note I’m playing and whether the pitch is sharp or flat.  I figured I could use this thing as an audio frequency meter of sorts.

First, I laid the guitar tuner on top of the FT-817’s speaker and keyed up.  That indicated that the pitch of the sidetone was an F note.  Consulting a conversion chart I found on the Internet, that equates to 699Hz.  I seemed to recall that the FT-817’s sidetone was somewhere around 700Hz, so that seemed about right.  I was sure I was in the right octave.

Guitar tuner on top of the FT-817
Guitar tuner on top of the FT-817

Next I took the lid off of the CPO and clipped the guitar tuner on it.  It initially indicated that the CPO was tuned to F#.  That equates to a frequency of 740Hz.  I tweaked the CPO’s frequency adjustment pot to F, matching the FT-817.  A side-by-side comparison of the CPO and the FT-817 showed that I was successful.

Guitar tuner clamped onto the lid of the code practice oscillator
Guitar tuner clamped onto the lid of the code practice oscillator

So, what’s the point of all this?  None really.  Is there a practical use for this?  Probably not.  Does it really matter that my CPO matches the sidetone of my radio?  Nope.  I just had one of those “I wonder what would happen if…” moments.  Now I know.

72, Craig WB3GCK