Author: AE4RM

A Radio, an Antenna, and a Mac

A Radio, an Antenna, and a Mac

It has been a busy week, but I’ve spent little time on the air. Last week I had to send the venerable KX3 back to Elecraft for warranty repair. It was transmitting on its own when it got warm, especially when operating outdoors in the heat. I waited until I could squire a backup radio before I sent it in.

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I was able to pick up an Elecraft K2 at a very good price. I got it last week and sent the KX3 in. A week later I’m still waiting to hear about the radio. Meanwhile, I’m really liking the K2. It’s an older radio but works great. It has an antenna tune, the SSB module, and KIO2 (serial port). I’ve had fun with it and it makes a great backup and being a field radio, I’ll pack it on long park runs as a backup as well (so I don’t have the same issue I did when the KX3 starting going south on me and I lost contacts).

I was also able to pick up a Cushcraft R9 antenna that is a year old for under half the img_2203price of a new one. It is a 9-band vertical antenna. It’s 31′ high and requires no ground radials. It took me 3 days of working on it off and on, the humidity was a killer, and 2 trips to Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware to get some missing hardware. I love Crowder Bros! I went there with the parts list from the antenna with the missing pieces highlighted and the salesperson went and got every piece for me.

Sara and I were able to mount it on a 10′ pole I had cemented into the ground for an old project. It is almost perfectly tuned on all bands except 40 and 80 meters. That means it is going to have to come down for me to make the adjustments. Hopefully I get it right the first time. I’d hate to have to take it down twice.

I also got tired of Windows again and moved my logging and control back to the Macbook. I tried RumlogNG but it did not print QSL labels properly and developer was no help. I tried Aether but it did not have DX cluster support. I ended up biting the bullet and buying MacloggerDX and so far I have not been sorry. It integrates with the KX3 and K2, has multiple cluster support, and not only prints QSL labels but prints the actual QSL cards as well!

I’ve been able to get Fldigi, WSJT-X, and JT-Bridge all to work together nicely with MacloggerDX as well. My Macbook is a 2009 vintage and all is good. I also have TeamViewer set up so I can attach to the Mac from any other computer and my iPhone.

Overall its been a good week.

AE4RM Shack and Antenna Upgrades

AE4RM Shack and Antenna Upgrades

I moved the shack back into the garage office where I originally had it.  I had moved it into the house but I just didn’t have the room I needed.  I also felt like I was making too much noise for everyone. So, I’m back where it all began. 

I love my Alpha-Antennas DX-CC antenna. I’ve made almost 2000 contacts in 2 years with it and got my DXCC with it. In fact, I plan on adding 8 feet to the tower I have it on. Yet, I’d like to get up a few more antennas to play with.  First, I’m going to put up a long wire antenna. I have around 100 foot of wire, a balun, and a mast and a tree. I’d like to see what it can do. 

Next, I’ve had an unbelievable opportunity to get a Cushcraft R9 antenna.  It’s a 31′ vertical that need no radials. I have a 9′ mast I can put it on and the room for guy ropes. I’ve known verticals are better for DX in some cases because of the lower take-off angle. So, I’d like to see if it’s true. 

Finally, I have another piece of equipment that should be here this week. A KXPA-100 with tuner. This will get me back up 100 amps and help breaking through some of the pileups my 15 amps can’t get through. I’ll write about it when I get it. 

I should have the antennas up in the next few weeks and the amp soon. I can’t wait. I’ll be out tree trimming soon to get ready for the antennas. 

KFF-1848 and KFF-3627 Activations

KFF-1848 and KFF-3627 Activations

Today I activated KFF-1848 – Colt Creek State Park and KFF-3627 – Van Fleet State Trail (at Polk City Trailhead). This is the first time I worked two parks in one day and I must say, I’m exhausted.

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I started with the drive out to Colt Creek. I got there at 7:50 and had to wait until 8:00 for the gates to open. I used my newly minted yearly pass and drove back about a mile and a half to the picnic area. I was a little worried as the pavilion was screened in but then I saw an open air pavilion about 100 yards down the trail. Sam and I set up there. I img_2141decided to time how long it took me to set up. I didn’t rush and even guyed the antenna. Set up took me 11 minutes. Tear down took me 10.

This is the first time I’ve been to Colt Creek and it is a beautiful area. The view from our operating position was awesome! I had woods behind me and a lake with a huge fishing pier in front of us. Sam spent the whole time staring into the woods listening to the noises.

The activation was successful at Colt Creek and I made a total of 12 contacts. I tried 40 meters for 15 minutes at first and didn’t hear a thing. I went to 20 meters and in 45-minutes I had my 12 contacts.

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Sam and I packed up and trekked back up to the truck. We had some water and a snack and headed up to the Van Fleet State Trail. This area is no way as nice as Colt Creek. It was a muddy parking lot with one pavilion. It is basically under an overpass and is adjacent to people’s back yards. So close I could hear the conversations. Granted, this is aimg_2146 trailhead in the middle of the trail.

We set up with no issues and just went on 20 meters. I quickly made 10 contacts but I like to have at least 11 in case I messed up a call sign. Well, that didn’t happen. My radio started acting up and transmitting on its own. It sounded like the key was shorting out. So, we tore down and headed home.

Once home, I set up the radio just like I had it in the field and had zero problems. I called Elecraft tech support and they were unsure what to tell me. They did say if it did do it again that it is under warranty and pack it up and send it in. I will have to operate it in the same outdoor conditions with the heat to see if that had anything to do with it.

Logs are turned in and I feel like it has been a successful day of activations.

 

Alafia River State Park – KFF-1829

Alafia River State Park – KFF-1829

Just got home from the Alafia River State Park as part of the Parks on the Air program. I even bought a yearly pass to the Florida State Parks so I can go to any park as many times as I want.

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My Operating Spot

I  just checked the log and I have 11 contacts, including 1 Canadian and 1 Ukrainian! 40 meters was a bust. SWR was all over the place with my BuddiPole but it worked flawlessly on 20. I’ll be looking into that before I go out again. My new battery worked great as well as the KX3 and PX3.

Used my KX3 paddles for the first time. Thanks everyone for being patient with my sending. I kept losing my last dit… I really have a lot of work to do to get comfortable with them. Using them is the only way to learn.

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PX3, Battery and KX3 with Paddles

Biggest issue was the guy spraying weeds for 20 mins 10 feet from me from the back of a 4×4. I know I missed 2 calls during that time I couldn’t hear.

Sam enjoyed watching the wildlife and the mountain bikers roll by. After we were there for almost two hours, and it getting up to 90 degrees, Sam looked like she was melting. I’ll have to decide if to keep bringing her with me in the summer as it is not good for her to be in the heat like that.

I’ll be going later this week to Colt Creek State Park and going to try to make a day of it by going to Fort Foster Historic Site and Hillsborough River State Park

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Sam is Melting…
Local Park Activations Planned

Local Park Activations Planned

This week I plan on activating 4 parks and hopefully getting 10 contacts at each one. Monday or Tuesday I plan on going back to Alafia River State Park. I’ve been there once and did my first activation there but I only got nine contacts and need 10 to make it “official.” I also want to go through another complete set-up with no pressure of getting to other parks again.

Then, later in the week I plan a three park run – Colt Creek, Fort Foster and Hillsborough River State Parks. It is 80 miles round trip so if I get an early start I should be able to do it. Once again, there is no pressure, this is just a personal goal in preparation for activating parks further away.

I’m planning a Space Coast run, if the stars align, for July. I plan on working 3 parks the first day and 3-4 parks the second day. It’s about 30 mins from park a to b. Another 30 mins from park b to c, and so on, so this is doable and a good challenge for me. It’s far enough away where I have to be prepped and have everything I need but close enough where I can get home in 2-3 hours if needed (or someone come to me).

I’ve also added another tool to my arsenal. I have a mag mount and Hamstick antennas for 20, 30 and 40 meters so if I go to a place that is not “ham friendly” I should be able to at least operate from my truck.

Here goes nothing…..

Working on a plan

Working on a plan

My activity on the radio has been limited lately. This is due to many reasons – health, poor band conditions, and family commitments – just to name a few. I’ve been doing a lot of listening the last few days and made a few contacts.

 

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What I have done is start my Parks on the Air (POTA) plan. I found out that there are 84 parks within 100 miles of my QTH and 25 miles from my moms house! See all the stars on the map? Those are the parks. That is a lot I can activate without driving far. Now, some of them are wildlife preserves and actual islands that I may not be able to get to (especially the islands since I don’t have a boat) but that is still a lot.

There is some special POTA awards called the Warthog, Rhino and Cheetah. That is for operating 2,3 and 5 parks in a 24-hour period. Looking at the map, there is no reason I should not be able to get these awards.

I also have decided that I will most likely stay overnight at a hotel when working the east coast of Florida. I’ll invite the family and they can hang out at the beech when I work the parks. I figure to work the multiple parks in a few days and not drive back and forth, staying at a hotel, will cost the same as the gas money and wear and tear on the truck.

I’ve also tuned up the 20, 30 and 40 meter verticals on the mag mount on my truck. I did that since some of the locations I may not be able to set up an antenna and have to work from the parking lot. Some of the sites are museums so I defiantly cannot set up my BuddiPole there.  This way I can pop the mag mount on the top of the truck with the right antenna and hopefully get my 10 contacts.

Hope to see you in the logbook soon!

 

1130 MPW

1130 MPW

What does 1130 mpw mean? To me, a great deal. What it means is I was able to make a contact today at 1130 miles per watt. That is my longest, low power contact. I want to thank Duc, F5UQEin Saint Jans Cappel, France for helping me achieve this goal. I am now eligible for the SKCC 1,000 miles per watt award.

Who says you need a high power station and a huge antenna farm to make contacts? I was able to do it today with 4 watts and a wire!

Oh, if you are wondering how I’m doing on the NAQCC challenge… I just have 15 more letters to get:
1 – C
4 – E
1 – L
2 – R
2 – S
1 – T
1 – U
3 – Y

Wish me luck!

Museum Ships Weekend

Museum Ships Weekend

I admit it.  I’m a paper chaser. I like getting awards, special event certificates, and, of course, QSL cards. This weekend was one I was seriously chasing some paper.

You never have to worry about keeping ham radio fresh.  There is always a contest or special event to participate in. Some last a day, some a month and some can go on even longer (think National Parks on the Air). There are also groups like Strait Key Century Club that have awards and levels based on how many fellow member you contact with the proper exchange.  Another one of my favorites is World Wide Fauna and Flower (WWFF-KFF Parks on the Air). It’s very similar to NPOTA but is worldwide and ongoing.
This weekend was Museum Ships Weekend. There were 109 ships on the air this weekend. I was able to work 16. I needed 15 to get the special certificate. I wanted the extra one just in case I had a busted call sign. The one thing I was really disappointed that  I did not hear more stations working CW. There were many voice stations I could not work because of my power limitations but CW is the great equalizer.

I was able to work:

6 – SSB
9 – CW
1 – PSK31

I’ll get my QSL cards and log out this week. As you saw in my last post, I like getting them and there are some really neat ones for special events. The best part about this is I went into this weekend with no expectations of getting the 15 ships for the certificate. I just thought I’d get a few cool QSL cards. Next thing you know, I’m at ten contacts and need just five more for the certificate. I never left the radio until I got the five.

On to my next quest, NAQCC monthly challenge and then field day in two weeks. Like I said, never a dull moment. Although I’m not a big fan of field day, I do participate. Since I activate parks for WWFF-KFF I am already well versed in setting up my station without power and with a temporary antenna.

QSL Cards

QSL Cards

Many people think QSL cards are a thing of the past. Why do we need them? We have Logbook of the World, eQSL, QRZ, Clublog and the list goes on.

When I first started in ham radio in the 80’s there were none of these services and before a QSO could be deemed complete we sent out a QSL card. I was so excited when each QSL came in return. Where did it come from? The next state over or the other side of the world? Either way, it didn’t matter, I looked at each one with awe and wonder knowing that I was able to contact this person over the radio. No wires. No cell service. Just by talking into the radio mic or using a strait key and tickling some electrons in a wire that created a radio wave that went out my antenna and somehow hit their antenna and tickled some electrons in their radio where my voice or code came out. Why wouldn’t you want that card that confirms your contact?

I can look at each one of my cards and remember the contact. I still even have cards from the DeVry Amateur Radio Club. I’ll look through them over and over never getting tired of seeing where I’ve talked to.  I am astonished that my little radio and antenna has made so many contacts. I show my kids (maybe someday grandkids) the exotic places I’ve talked to. These cards are exciting to me and does not have the same wow factor as looking at a check box on a computer screen.

I’ve sent out commercially made cards since I started in radio but this week I decided to design my own. I wanted that personal touch on my card. I ordered QSL card stock from Ham Stuff and used Microsoft Publisher to create my cards. I have four different designs all highlighting unique areas of Lakeland. I want the person who receives my card to know that some thought and time has gone into my QSL card and I hope it inspires them (and you) to send out cards. Please, keep on updating LoTW and the other sites, but don’t forget that personal touch and send out a QSL card.

Setting Up the KX3 to work with Fldigi and Windows 10 (Part 2)

Setting Up the KX3 to work with Fldigi and Windows 10 (Part 2)

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Welcome Back! Did you get your hardware all set up? Great. Now, lets get to Fldigi and set it up to work with our KX3.

Go ahead and open Fldigi. The first thing we are going to do is set up Rig Control. Click on Configure – Rig Control.

Once there, click on the Hamlib tab. Be sure to check the Use Hamlib check box. Then choose Elecraft K3/KX3 (Beta) for rig. For device use the Com port you discoved your KX3 was using in Part 1. In my case it is Com 5. The rest of my settings are:
Retries – 3

rig

Retry Interval – 600
Write delay – 0
Post write delay – 100

Baud rate – 38400 (that is default for the KX3)
Stopbits – 1
Polling Interval- 250
Mode Delay 200
Sideband – Rig Mode

Then check the following two boxes:
PTT via Hamlib command
Audio on Auxiliary Port

Once you have all that click on Initialize. Once you have done that you should see the frequency readout in Fldigi change to what is on your KX3. If it did not change confirm all your setting, especially the device (com port).

Save the configuration then close.

Now lets configure the sound card. Click on Configure – Soundcard.

SC.Once there click on the Devices tab. Click the Port Audio box. The capture device should be the microphone we identified in Part 1 and the Playback should be the speaker/headphone jack we identified in Part 1 as well. I’ve left all the other setting at default.

Now, lets test it. Click on the little phone book (Open List). I like to use 14070 most of the time but depending on band conditions you may need to use a different band. So click on 14070 and the KX3 frequency should change to 14070.

If the mode on your radio is not Data, go ahead and press the Data button. Alternatively you can chose PKTUSB from the drop down menu on the left under the frequency. Tweak your volume until you can see some signals and decodes on the left.

Congratulations. You have set up Fldigi to work with your KX3.

If you have any issues, feel free to contact me. I’m good on QRZ.