All posts by Marshall Harrison

Retired Sr. Software Developer with over 30 years experience in all phases of software development with an emphasis on server side technologies. I'm a licensed (W4MKH) Ham Radio operator and I'm active on HF/VHF/UHF with a love for POTA and SOTA.

Update on our move and shack update too

Well, as it stands now, we will be making the move to the North Carolina mountains on Saturday 9/24. As I write this that is two weeks from tomorrow. The date may change some as it is dependent on us getting the XYL’s dialysis moved to the Hendersonville NC area.

The shack picture is a little clearer now, I simply don’t have one as everything is packed away for the move. I was hoping to wait until a few days before the move to do this but I had to vacate two rooms of the house so they can put down new carpet. So, my “shack’ doesn’t exist anymore. But I do have options…

Hello new radio, good-bye old radios

I will write about this in more detail later but I have a new Icom IC-705. It will be my POTA/SOTA radio after we make the move and it will serve double duty in the new shack setup. The IC-7300 has a new hard case so I will be able to carry it to the field also though I’m still not sold on that idea yet.

Gone are the Xiegu X6100, the G90 and even my Yaesu FT-891 is gone. All went to the same ham and were traded/sold for an antenna analyzer and a Buddistick Pro Deluxe. Mark really was a joy to deal with as we worked out the different deals. I heard he just fell in love with the G90 and rightly so; it’s a fun radio to use.

The 705 is in a new POTA backpack that is reserved strictly for the 705 and the batteries, coax and antennas that I need tor a POTA activation. The plan is to use the Buddistick with the 705 but I also have an EFRW as well as a 40m – 10m EFHW for field use. I also have a new MAT-705 Plus auto tuner so that I can use the nonresonant wire antennas. The whole setup can also be easily setup in my yard for hunting POTA which is what I will do over the next two weeks if I can work around the thunderstorms.

If I do hunt from my yard over the next two weeks, I will post about it along with pictures of my setup. But regular posting won’t begin again until after the move.

Update to my update (about 5 minutes later)

I did hunt from the shack one night last week using the 705 and 10 watts (on external battery). I hunted 3 parks in under 5 minutes and even broke a couple of pileups with good reports. The IC=705 is an awesome little radio that just works magic.

Thanks for sticking with me and as always your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Wolf River Coils Mini with Dual Collars.

I sold my Wolf River Coils Silver Bullet 1000 TIA about two months ago as I wasn’t using the 80m band and the coil was too big and heavy to use with the 24″ extensions rods to make a center loaded vertical. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with the SBC 1000 TIA; it just didn’t fit my needs. I only sold the coil, and I kept the extension rods, the mega tripod and the radial wires along with the 102″ whip.

Silver Bullet Mini

So, last week I ordered the SB Mini along with the Dual Collar Retro Kit. Both items were in my hands within 3 days of ordering. Shipping is always fast when ordering from WRC.

Today I took the original collar off of the mini, converted it to the new dual collar system and added the second collar. It took me less than 10 minutes to do the conversion. To be honest it took longer to find the tools needed than to do the actual conversion. It was that easy.

WRC has a great video on Youtube showing you how to do the conversion and I am very happy with the results. My goal was to set the top collar up to bypass the coil and use the MFJ-1979 17′ whip for 20 meters and above. The bottom collar will be set for 40 meters. I will tune and set the collars in the next couple of days if the thunderstorms ever go away. They are starting up mid morning each day and lasting most of the day. A typical Florida weather pattern for this time of the year. In fact it is storming outside as I write this at about 1950 UT.

WRC SB Mini

Move postponed and new WRC radials setup

The Move Postponed

As I have posted previously we are moving to Laurel Park NC. We were supposed to make the transition on 7/14 but unfortunately we have had to postpone that for a few weeks. My wife went into the hospital for kidney failure on 7/1 and got out 15 days later. She has been diagnosed with ANCA Renal-limited vasculitis (RLV) which is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the kidneys. Her kidneys are making progress with regular dialysis and once her kidneys are functioning on their own she can stop the dialysis and we will move as soon as her doctor clears her.

New Wolf River Coils radial setup

I have been reading and watching people experiment with the length and number of rails that they use for their WRC. So, even though I have had good results with the stock 33′ radials that came with my Silver Bullet 1000 T.I.A. I decided to modify mine so that I can have more options. Sometimes you just don’t have a large area for a radial field so I made the decision to cut my radials in half so that I can deploy with 6 16′ radials for those times when space is limited. But, I also wanted to be able to deploy the stock 33′ version.

I use large battery clips to quickly attach my radials to the WRC tripod legs. After cutting the 33′ radials in half I trimmed about 5″ off the end of each wire and attached the short wires to the clips and attached female bullet connectors to the end.

Battery clips with bullet connectors

Next I attached male bullet connectors to one end of the remaining 16′ wires and I added female connectors on the other ends. One of the wires has yellow connectors and the other one uses red bullet connectors. This allows me to easily tell which wire I am using.

This setup allows me to add two 16′ radials to each battery clip (and attach a clip to each leg of the tripod. It also gives me the option of connecting the to wires together and use them as a 32′ radial.

The radials

In the future it will allow me to quickly and easily make up radials of any length that I want and attach as many as I want. I am considering making up a small pigtail harness that can handle multiple radials. That setup will allow me to plug the pigtail into the battery clip and add multiple radials wires.

This whole “modular” radial setup will also allow me to easily create tuned radials for each band if I decide to go that route. Remember that radials on the ground will decouple and don’t have to be tuned. But raised radials (or more accurately; counterpoise wires) need to be tuned for each band.

New Wolf River Coil

A few months ago I sold my WRC Silver Bullet 1000 coil as it was just too long for my liking and I rarely use 80 meters. Last week I purchased the SIlver Bullet Mini along with the two collar retro kit. I also purchased an MFJ-1979 17′ telescoping wip. The plan is to set the MIni up with one collar at the top of the coil for 20 meters. With the coil bypassed and just by adjusting the whip length I can work 20-6 meters. I will set the other collar for 40 meters.

Check back for more about the move and how I am redoing my shack setup.

Big Changes Coming – No POTA or any Ham Radio for me

I have put this post off for a week as I wasn’t sure what to say or how much detail to include. I also wasn’t 100% sure how my future ham radio activities will play out.

Some Background

For 60 years or so I have wanted to live in the North Carolina mountains. As a kid growing up my Dad would take us on vacation each summer to the area around Asheville NC. I grew up loving the area. Fast forward to modern times and after I got married my wife and I took our kids to the mountains every year or so and they have grown up with the mountains in their DNA.

Not that we are both retired my wife and I have been looking for a place in the mountains to call home. I won’t bore you with the details but I will say that in mid July my dream will finally come true. We have leased a condo in Laurel Park NC for the next year. Laurel Park is a small town just 2 miles out of downtown Hendersonville and about 30 miles south of Asheville. Laurel Park has a lot of green space and there’s even a lake and a park across the street from our condo that has walking trails along with a fitness/exercise trail.

There is a very active ham radio community in Hendersonville as well as just across the state line which is about 8-10 miles from our new home. I will have the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Club in Hendersonville and the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Society in South Carolina. I have already made friends in both clubs and have joined their Nets when I have visited the area.

The Problems

There are really only two problems we will be downsizing from 2400+ sq. ft. to about 1,000 sq.ft. and the condo is up stairs. This means my ham shack will have to be downsized too and I’m not sure what my antenna options are. I will probably have to set up my station on a small table in the closed in balcony area and throw a wire out the window for an HF antenna. Luckily the Hendersonville repeater can be easily activated by an HT but I will be using my Yaesu FT1900 as a base station so VHF/UHF shouldn’t be a problem.

I have thought about selling most of my radios and getting a IC-705 to pair with y IC-7300 in order to make my footprint as small as possible. But my current plan is to take all of my rados and see what I can do once I get there then make the decision whether to sell or not. Either way I will be off the air for a few weeks as I tear down, make the move and setup the new station.

The Benefits

I am really looking forward to the cooler weather and getting out into the outdoors. The area has a plethora of hiking trails and waterfalls. Along with The Pisgah National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, there are lots of state parks for POTA. The Dupont State Recreational Forest is about 11 miles from our location and the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site is about 4 miles away.

As, you can probably imagine there are no SOTA opportunities near my current Florida QTH but at the new home there will be plenty of SOTA opportunities.

The maps below show the active hams around our new home along with the POTA and SOTA opportunities. The Magenta circles shows a 5 mile radius around the new QTH and the Red circle is a 25 mile radius.

POTA Parks
SOTA Summits
Hams in the Laurel Park Area

Summary

For the next several weeks I will be tearing down my shack and boxing things up so I will be pretty much off the air. But in the long run I will be much better off with considerable opportunities to live a more active lifestyle and pursue my hobby.

The QRPer Board

My friend Thomas (K4SWL) announced today that he has created a QRPer discussion board that anyone can join, free of charge, at QRPer.net. He hopes that it will be a spot for community members to get quick answers to questions and connect with other like-minded operators. Everyone is welcome.

I have already joined and committed to be an active member and do anything I can to promote the board and make it a good info source for those of us who love QRP.

Good Luck Thomas

Home Sweet Home.

You may have noticed that I have been a little absent from my blog. We took a three week trip to the mountains of western North Carolina leaving on May 1st and returning home on the 23rd.

Great views but bad location to play radio

My planned activations didn’t go according to my dreams or plans. I had planned to do some POTA hunting during our first week from the place we were staying at north of Mars Hill NC. It had an elevation of 4500 feet but the ground was so sloped that there was no place to set up. I tried using my speaker wire antenna from the 2nd story deck but it was 30′ off the ground and I couldn’t get a good SWR so that was a bust.

After we relocated to Black Mountain I had planned to activate at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a site that Thomas Witherspoon (K4SWL) has activated numerous times but on the morning f the activation it started raining before we even got out of bed. Another POTA opportunity lost; this time to the rain gods (or Mother Nature). Though, looking back I really didn’t want to get me or my equipment wet so I guess that also contributed to the failure.

Carl Sandburg House

After relocating to the Hendersonville NC area for our final week, I tried an activation at the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. That was ultimately a failure mostly due to band conditions. I tried hunting after no one was responding to my CQs. I could hear an activator in Florida who said he was using 100 watts. He was a strong 59 but not even calling “Park to Park” could get a response to my 10 watts out of the Xiegu X6100. I did make contact with a MA activator but I dropped down into his noise floor so we never completed that Park to Park. This failure was due to bad conditions and QRP power levels.

High Falls

The next day we planned on hiking to the waterfalls in Dupont State Recreation Area and I was going to try activating there too. But after hiking to two waterfalls and doing a total of 3.5 miles I was just two hot and tired to do an activation. My bad knee was also bitching at me about all the abuse I had put it through.. It kept reminding me that it was used to flat land in Florida and not changes in elevation going up and down the mountain trails I had abused it with. So when we got back to the trailhead we jumped into the car to cool off in the AC and went back to town for lunch. Another failure but this time it was all on me.

We are back home now and I am slowly unpacking the radio gear and bringing the home shack back online. I downed all the antennas before I left and took the shack computer with me. But as of this morning the shack is fully operational.

I was able to spend some time on vacation thinking about my field setup and what I took with me. This resulted in several planned changes and enhancements that I will be making over the next few weeks. I will try to blog about those as I do them. Once I complete them I will activate a park near me (there are only two) and blog that as well.

More Speaker Wire Antenna (guest post from Scott KN3A)

I received an email from Scott KN3A concerning his experimenting with the Speaker Wire antenna that I previously posted about. I’m going to let Scott blog this in his own words copied from his email

Last week Marshall Harrison (W4MKH) gave me an idea based on his recent article in his W4MKH-QRP blog, and that is to do a QRP activation using speaker wire 28.5 feet long connected to a BNC binding post coax splitter adapter. One end went nearly vertical into the air with my 24 ft. crappie pole, and the other side ran along on the ground. I had done this a couple of years ago but had not done it recently, and not on my Xiegu X6100. 

I really didn’t have a lot of time to do a Parks On The Air activation, but I worked 16 QSO’s in about 40 minutes on 20, 30 and 40 meters with QRP power. This antenna configuration had surprising results.

12 of the 16 QSO’s I sent a 559, I sent one 579 and one 599, and two I gave 229. What was surprising to me was, if they were giving me honest signal reports, I was heard better than I was hearing them. 6 of the QSO’s gave me a better signal report than I gave them. I got four 599, 1 579 and 11 559. 

I’m hoping I can get out and try this again and see if I have similar results with this antenna configuration.

Thanks again Marshall for your report. I did not take any pictures from my activation, and these were all CW QSO’s.

73 Scott

KN3A

The antenna image in this post are mine as Scott didn’t provide any images of his antenna.

POTA Hunting With The Xiegu X6100

My working station for the X6100 and the speaker wire antenna

One of the things I love to do is hunt for POTA activators from my backyard. I do this for a couple of reasons but mainly because it is fun to do it outside rather than in the shack and it allows me test my field setup. It also allows me to make sure that my GoBag has all the necessary components for activating a park. If I discover that I have forgotten to include the correct coax connector for a new antenna it is easier to go back into the house and get it than it is if you discover it mising 30 miles from home when you are setting up in a park. Best to work the kinks out of your equipment before hand.

I have two new antennas that I am experimenting with to make sure they work okay for me. One is the Elecraft AX1 with the AXE1 extension for 40 meters and the other is the Spark Plug EFHW.

I set up the Xiegu X6100 in my front yard today for the first time to chase some parks and I used three different antennas. I started with the AX1 then moved to the Spark Plug EFHW and closed out with my speaker wire antenna hooked directly to the radio.

My Speaker Wire Antenna

The speaker wire antenna outperformed the more expensive antennas and I ended up with contacts from RI, PA, and NJ to my north. Running westward (I am on the east coast of Florida) I worked MO and AR plus Mike, K8MRD in Texas at K-3019 – Huntsville State Park.

The speaker wire antenna was set up as a vertical using my 21′ telescoping fishing pole leaning up against my privacy fence and it was about 15 feet to my right and slightly behind me.

To be honest it kind of sucks that my homemade speaker wire antenna out performed the other two which combined set me back well over $300. But it is also very cool and satisfying to make contacts on something I built for less than $15. But to be fair, the AX1 is somewhat of a compromise as it is such a small footprint highly portable type of antenna. I am still working on tuning the Spark Plug antenna which is still resonant above the amateur bands. I’m sure both antennas will work fine once I get them properly setup.

All of my contacts today were on 20 meters as 40 meters was just too short for any of the activators to hear my little 10W signal. I could hear the activators and the hunters and the hunters were all within a few hundred miles of the parks indicating that 40 meters was short. Too short for me. If this speaker wire antenna works this well when hunting and trying to bust through the pile ups I can only imagine how well it will work when I am the activator.

Thanks to Thomas K4SWL for the inspiration for the speaker wire antenna.

My GoBag Setup and Philosophy Part 1

My gobag philosophy can be summed up in one word; Modular.

My approach to taking my gear into the field has been heavily influenced by Thomas Witherspoon K4SWL and the great work he has done over at QRPer.com.

My goal is to come up with a gobag setup that allows me to have a small backpack as a foundation then swap in the radio bag (modular part) that I want to use in the field for whatever outing I am on. I also desire to have each component radio bag fully contained with all I need to use the radio. I like the idea of having in one hand a complete shack setup.

The Bags I use for field work

This means that each radio bag has the necessary antennas, cables, batteries, coax, and connectors necessary for operating QRP in the field. It shouldn’t matter if that is on a mountaintop, a park, or in my backyard; I should be able to just grab the radio bag and go. As Thomas has pointed out numerous times, moving items from one bag to another everytime you go out is a good recipe for leaving something at home. And that can mean the difference between a successful POTA or SOTA activation. Even if you just want to play a little casual radio it can be very frustrating to get to your remote location and find out that you have the wrong coax connector for the antenna that you brought with you.

Of course that means some redundancy in equipment as each of my radios that I have for field use have different capabilities and features. This is the ideal setup for me but I also have the backpack which contains added “luxuries” that can be used with any of the radios. It is also setup in such a way that I can drop any of my radio bags into the backpack so that I only have the one bag to deal with.

To fully understand my gobag choices you have to consider the radios I use.

Xiegu X6100 – this is my primary field radio at the moment and is the bag setup that is most complete. And it will be the model that I base the other setups off of. It has an internal battery and pretty good antenna tuner built in. It is 5W on the internal battery and 10W when using an external battery. This is also the only radio that uses a BNC connector and most of my antennas and coax are geared for this radio.

Xiegu G90 – the Xiegu is a 20W radio with no internal battery. So, it requires a different setup from the X6100. It does have an excellent built-in antenna tuner.

Yaesu FT-891 – this radio is a 100W radio and a larger form factor than the X600 though it and the G90 are very similar in size and weight. It doesn’t have an internal battery or tuner. It will require a larger external battery and resonant antennas unless I want to carry an analyzer with me each time.

I am the first to admit that my gobag setup is changing and improving as I learn more and get more field experience with it.

In Part 2 of this blog series I will address my gobag setup for the X6100 as that will be the bag and radio combo that I will have with me most of the time. I will have lots of pictures of the setup along why I made the choice to include each item. In later blog posts I will cover the other radios along with the main backpack setup as well as the special needs components such as chargers that need to go with you on business trips or vacation but are not normally needed in the field; you can’t just ignore the “home based” part of your gobag kits.

If you have any questions or suggestion concerning gobags please leave me a comment.

73

New Site Name – w4mkh-qrp.com

After much consideration I decided to change the name of the site to (1) reflect my call sign as well as my emphasis on QRP and (2) avoid any confusion with a certain purveyor of excellent QRP kits.

The new name also ties in nicely with the matching Twitter and Buy me a Coffee accounts as well as the future Youtube channel.

The old links to QRPguy will still work for short while but please change your links to the new link w4mkh-qrp.com