Tag Archives: N3CZ

Recap of Great Smoky Mountains NPOTA activations

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Last week, I attended the W4DXCC convention in Sevierville, Tennessee. The road trip afforded me several opportunities to make NPOTA activations through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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I took my field kit which included the Elecraft KX2, QRP Ranger battery pack (not pictured), and EFT Trail-Friendly antenna.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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My first stop was the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC, where I had planned the “two-fer” activation of the Great Smoky Mountains (NP26) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01).

First thing I did was ask the park ranger on duty how I could find the footpath to the point where the two parks overlap. Turns out, I had at least a one mile hike ahead of me.

PK01  and NP26

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I love hiking, so that wasn’t a problem.

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The only problem was I hadn’t accounted for the hike in my plans, so I knew I would be a little late for the scheduled activation time.

When I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway, I ventured down to the river where I found an excellent spot to set up my field kit.

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Thankfully, within thirty minutes, I had logged 15 contacts. I quickly packed up and attempted to catch back up with my schedule.

Thankfully, the Elk were elsewhere today!

I was grateful the Elk were elsewhere Thursday!

Back at the ranger’s station, I learned that the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center is also another National Park entity: the Trail Of Tears (TR12). I had no time to deploy my station once more, but made a mental note to add it to activations on my return trip.

NP26 and TR01

Next, I hopped in my car and drove to the Newfound Gap parking area where the Appalachian Trail (TR01) crosses the Great Smoky Mountains Park (NP26).

The view there was/is amazing:

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The area was packed with tourists, so I decided to hike up the Appalachian Trail (AT) to escape the bulk of the crowd.

img_20160922_150632201I hiked at least one mile up the narrow and steep AT before finding a suitable spot to set up my gear. It was a tight operating spot, but I managed to hang the antenna and position myself in a way that wouldn’t block foot traffic on the AT.

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I logged 18 stations in the span of about 45 minutes.

I also took several breaks to answer questions about ham radio from hikers.  I was particularly happy that one family took sincere interest in what I was doing and their young kids were fascinated that I was making contacts across the globe where there was no cell phone coverage nor Internet.

I packed up at 20:30 UTC, hiked back to my car and  managed to arrive at the conference center in Sevierville in time for dinner with my friends.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My activations on the return trip, Sunday, included the same locations as Thursday.

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TR01 and NP26

Instead of heading north on the Appalachian Trail, I decided to head south. I was running late to activate the site and knew if I headed north I’d have a long hike ahead of me. Once again, there were a lot of visitors at the site–many were there for a Sunday morning hike and were making their way (quite slowly) north. The southern route had no foot traffic at all, so I headed south.

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I found a suitable site to set up radio, but only because the trail was so quiet I could sit in the middle of it. The entire time I operated, I only encountered one hiker who was absolutely amazed I was making contacts across the continent when he hadn’t had cell phone reception in days.

I logged 14 contacts in 45 minutes.

NP26 and PK01

Next, I headed back down the mountain to the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center to the same site where I set up before.

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Unlike my Thursday activation, contacts trickled in very slowly. It took over one hour to log 11 contacts. Propagation was very strange: the only stations I worked on the 20 meter band–a total of four–were located in Idaho and Slovenia.

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You can *almost* see my antenna hanging from its first location.

Once, I even re-deployed my antenna, thinking that may help. I managed to raise the entire 35′ length into an ideal tree on the bank of the river. It was completely vertical with no slope. That did, perhaps, help snag my final two contacts.

TR12

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Despite the fact I was running late and I had struggled to make the minimum ten QSOs required for the NP26/PK01 activation, I decided to also attempt TR12 (Trail of Tears).

I hiked back to the Ocunaluftee Visitor’s Center and found a quiet spot, once again, near the river. I was happy with my operating location and the fact the antenna deployed with no problem.

Sadly, though, this activation was not meant to be. Even with multiple spots on the DX Cluster, I stopped operating after having only worked four stations in 45 minutes. If I hadn’t been on a schedule, perhaps I would have stayed another hour.

I didn’t let this bother me, though. I knew the TR12 activation would be a gamble and I was happy to have provided four NPOTA chasers with another NPOTA catch for the day!

All in all, I worked a total of 64 stations en route to and return from the W4DXCC conference. I call that a success, especially since I was able to enjoy some excellent hiking, scenery, weather and I even had a few opportunities to promote ham radio to the public. Of course, I feel like each time I do one of these activations, it also hones my emergency communication skills.

W4DXCC

Speaking of the W4DXCC, the conference was amazing as always and I’m happy to have been a part of it. For the second year in a row, we hosted a “Ham Radio Bootcamp”–a day-long tutorial on all aspects of ham radio. Once again, it drew a large crowd.

Vlado (N3CZ) demonstrating the IC-7300 functions and features at the Ham Radio Bootcamp.

Vlado (N3CZ) demonstrating the IC-7300 functions and features at the Ham Radio Bootcamp.

Each year, the convention operates as KB4C in a dedicated radio room. This year, we had two IC-7300 transceivers on the air.

Each year, the convention operates as KB4C in a dedicated radio room. This year, we had two IC-7300 transceivers on the air simultaneously.

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We had at least three antennas available including this excellent hex beam.

If you’re into DXing, contesting, or you’d simply like to make some new friends in the community, I would encourage you to put the W4DXCC conference in your calendar for 2017!

NPOTA activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A crowd gathers as Vlado (N3CZ) works station after station in CW!

A crowd gathers as Vlado (N3CZ) works station after station in CW!

I’m not sure what I’m going to do after the National Parks On The Air event is over at the end of this year. I hope the ARRL organizes something equally as fun for 2017.

Truth is, I love playing radio outdoors and I love National Parks. The two are a perfect combo.

Vlado (N3CZ) on left, and me (K4SWL) on right.

Vlado (N3CZ) on left, and me (K4SWL) on right.

My buddy, Vlado (N3CZ), and I decided to do an NPOTA activation on Sunday. The weather was fantastic–a little foggy with mild temperatures and the HF bands were open!

We arrived at our site–the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area (PK01)–at 14:30 UTC or so.

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We brought the following antennas and supports:

  • a self-contained  20 meter band telescopic fiberglass vertical (I recently purchased at the WCARS Hamfest for $40–!) and
  • a 31 foot fiberglass Jackite pole (the fluorescent orange on in the photos) which we used to suspend a homemade 40 meter doublet Vlado built the day before.

Setup was quick. We were both especially pleased the 20 meter vertical. It was so easy to install, even considering it was the first time either of us had used it.

I powered the LD-11 and the KX3 with my QRP Ranger.

The 20 meter vertical antenna.

The 20 meter vertical antenna (in foreground).

I operated SSB from a picnic table using the LnR Precision LD-11 transceiver, connected to the doublet on 40 meters, and the mono-band vertical on 20 meters.

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Vlado started by operating CW with his Icom IC-7000 which was installed in his car, but later moved to the picnic table and logged a number of contacts with the Elecraft KX3.

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We easily logged the number of stations needed to activate the site.

The 40 meter band was hopping and a good path was open into Ohio, Virginia and other surrounding states. The 20 meter band was serving up some excellent QRP DX.

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Vlado operating CW on the 40 meter band.

When I moved to the 20 meter band, the noise floor was so low on the LD-11, I thought perhaps the band was dead.  Not so!

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It’s hard to believe that with a mere eight watts in SSB  I worked Rhode Island, Texas, Montana, Manitoba, Washington, California and Slovenia from a picnic table on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Reports on the LD-11 audio were all very positive. I’ve used the LD-11 for eight NPOTA activations this year and can say with confidence that it’s a brilliant & fun little field radio. (FYI: I’ll be publishing a full review of the LD-11 in the October 2016 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.)

Vlado and I are planning on several more activations together this year. Our next one will most likely be at the Carl Sandburg Home-. I can’t wait!

Any other post readers participating as an activator or chaser in the National Parks on the Air event?

National Parks On The Air: Activating PK01 this weekend (August 28)

The QRP Ranger (left) and LNR Precision LD-11 transceiver (right)

The QRP Ranger (left) and LNR Precision LD-11 transceiver (right)

After two months in Canada and one month spent catching up on work, I’m pleased to make some time this weekend to activate PK01 (the Blue Ridge Parkway) for the ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA).

I’ll be joined by my good friend, Vlado (N3CZ) on August 28–we plan to set up at the Folk Art Center on the parkway around 11:00 EDT and be on the air by 11:30 EDT (15:30 UTC).

I plan to use the LNR Precision LD-11, QRP Ranger and EFT Trail Friendly Antenna combo. Vlado will either use his Icom IC-7000, Kenwood TS-480 or my Elecraft KX1.

Look for us on the following frequencies:

  • CW: +/- 7031, 14061 kHz
  • SSB: +/- 7286, 14286 kHz

Life has been so hectic after having been on the road for two months–I’m pleased to finally have a moment to play radio in the field again!

Heard VK0EK on the radio

Heard Island (Image: VK0EK)

Heard Island (Image: VK0EK)

Regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m a ham radio operator (call sign K4SWL). Being a shortwave radio enthusiast, of course, I spend most of my time on the air in the HF portion of the amateur radio spectrum. Contacting distant stations and connecting with other ham radio operators around our little planet gives me immense joy.

Most of you also probably know that I’m a fan of all things Antarctic, so it should come as no surprise that I really wanted to work VK0EK: the Heard Island DXpedition.

Thing is, my life has been so hectic lately, I’ve barely been home during the Heard Island DXpedition (March 29th – April 11th). And the days I have been home, VK0EK’s signals have been incredibly weak.

In short: timing and propagation were all working against me.  And VK0EK was soon to pack up and come back home. I was becoming desperate…and beginning to lose hope that I’d make any contact with this unique and rare entity in the isolated stretch of ocean between Madagascar and Antartica.

"Antennas with a clearing" on Heard Island (Photo by Bill, AE0EE)

“Antennas with a clearing” on Heard Island (Photo by Bill, AE0EE)

My hope was waning.  Then, Tusday evening, I gave a presentation about shortwave radio at the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Club. On the hour-long drive home, I stopped by my good friend Vlado’s (N3CZ) to confess my troubles to the radio doc.

Now it just happens that Vlado has a much better antenna set-up to work DX than I do, and what’s more, (close your ears, fellow QRPers) he has an amplifier.

Most importantly, though, Vlado is a keen DXer.  He’s got 330 countries under his belt, and ever up for a challenge, routinely pushes himself to accomplish more with less. In January, with members of the local club, he entered a QRP challenge; he had 100 countries worked by the following month, all in his spare time. And a few years ago, Vlado actually built a radio of his own design and worked 100 countries within two months (you can read about that here).

So, of course, he was game to help me make a contact…even if it was a long shot.  A very long shot.

Juan de Nova

When I arrived at Vlado’s QTH around 21:00 local, VK0EK was impossibly weak, so we focused our efforts on 30 meters and FT4JA: the Juan de Nova Island DXpedition (another all-time new one for me).

A portion of the FT4JA antenna farm. (Image: FT4JA)

A portion of the FT4JA antenna farm. (Image: FT4JA)

After more than an hour of calling, FT4JA finally heard my call and (woo hoo!) I was confirmed in their log.

But what about Heard Island?

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After working FT4JA, we moved down to 40 meters where VK0EK was slightly louder than before. Well, maybe it’s not impossible, I thought hopefully. Just next to it.

Between QSB (fading) and tuner-uppers, my ears were bleeding trying to hear Heard’s minuscule CW signal–so faint, so distant were they.

After only about ten minutes of steady calling, Vlado made a sign to get my attention, and we strained to listen, very carefully.

VK0EK came back very faintly with just one letter incorrect in my call–it was enough that I didn’t catch it at first. But Vlado heard it, and after sending the call back a couple of times, then the report, VK0EK confirmed my call with a signal report, and I reciprocated.

Vlad and I leapt to our feet, yelling, “WOO HOO!” (and hopefully didn’t wake up any of Vlad’s neighbors).

Heard Island is actually running an online log that is updated live. We immediately looked there to confirm I was in their log, and was greeted with this great circle map and a line from Heard Island to my call sign in the States. Vlado made this screen capture as a momento:

k4swl VK0EK 40m cw 0231 april4 2016

Here’s to good friends and mentors

In one incredible evening, I snagged two all-time new ones–and I owe it all to my good buddy, Vlado. Most importantly, I’ve been learning so much from him as he patiently coaches me through some weak DX with serious pileups. Plus it’s just always fun hanging around Vlado, the best broken radio doctor I know, to whom “challenge” is…well, a piece of cake.

Thanks Vlado, for your enthusiasm and patience–I’m lucky to have a friend like you!

A repair story: Vlado’s fix for the classic Sony ICF-SW100

Sony-ICF-SW100In June, I made a small leap of faith and purchased a (dead) Sony ICF-SW100 from Universal Radio (see the listing on right).

ICF-SW100-Used-NonWorkingYou see, for many years, I’ve dreamed about owning this wee little receiver, now a classic among tiny radios, but used ones are typically too expensive for my modest budget.

This time, seeing the ad at Universal, I spoke with Universal Radio directly to obtain more details about their defunct unit; while they simply didn’t know what was wrong with the Sony, they were able to very accurately describe its cosmetic and functional condition…I took a deep breath, and decided to take a chance on it anyhow.

In full disclosure, I have a secret weapon in my camp:  my talented friend, Vlado (N3CZ), who is not only the most adept electronics engineer/technician I’ve ever known, but one who truly welcomes a challenge.  The thought had occurred to me as I admired the wounded Sony, Wonder if Vlad would like to take this on–?

The answer, of course, was Yes!  So I dropped the DOA Sony off at Vlad’s home last week. He disassembled the radio, only to discover that my ICF-SW100 was a victim of the (dreaded) damaged ribbon cable.

A short history of the Sony ICF-SW100 and SW100S

These radios are indeed brilliant, incredible performers for their miniscule size.  Yet the first generation of ICF-SW100 radios–those produced before the fall of 1997–have a design weakness: the ribbon cables which connect the upper and lower portions of the radio’s clamshell design eventually fail. Multiple openings and closings bend and cut the cables, rendering the otherwise remarkable little radio useless.

SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, recently shared his knowledge about the ICF-SW100 series. Dan notes:

SW-100 Seekers Beware

As shortwave veterans know, the classic SONY miniportables — SW-1, SW-100(S) and  SW-07, represented some amazing technological achievements. SONY managed to  shrink some fantastic technology into these receivers, including (with the last two in the line) — SYNC capability. The SW-07, which was the last of these receivers, still brings some high prices on Ebay.

But if you are searching for the ICF-SW-100S there are some things to consider and beware of. As everyone knows, the SW-100 suffered from the well-known ribbon-cable failure problem. SONY addressed this problem in later serial numbers, and changed the design of the radio case.

Modified SW-100s have a notch where the top cover meets the base.

There are some dishonest sellers out there who are trying to pass off older version SW-100s as modified ones. Usually, the tip-off is that the photograph in the Ebay auction will be dark or out of focus, so it’s hard to tell if the radio is the modified version or not.

It has become quite rare to find an original SONY modification kit, which includes a new top cabinet of the SW-100. And some sellers are trying to get as much as $300 for these, though they rarely sell at this level.

This repair kit was on eBay at time of posting.

ICF-SW100 modification kit found on eBay at time of posting.

It’s also becoming rare to see SW-100S radios new-in-box. I had two of these, sold one and kept the other.

If you’re after one of these marvel radios, do what everyone should do when considering items on Ebay — ask many questions about [the] cosmetic condition, accessories, serial numbers, etc.

Universal Radio, a trustworthy seller I know, had fully disclosed the model number and problems with this radio, so I knew exactly what I was buying. Dan has a very good point, though: unless you know the seller to be honest, do your research and ask questions!

The ailing ICF-SW100

Vlado discovers the faulty ribbon cable.

Vlado discovers the faulty ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

Back to my ailing unit:  Vlado delivered the news about the ribbon cable via text message, and though I was well aware that the chances were high that was the ribbon cable, I was a little bummed, to say the least, to get the formal diagnosis.

Why? As Dan mentions above, you’ll find that the SW-100S upgrade kit Sony produced in the 1990s is no longer available new; sellers typically list these kits at prices in excess of $300 US.  Out of my budget.

But Vlado, ever the intrepid engineer, had no idea I would be disappointed with this news; he was just giving me this FYI via text. Indeed, he seemed entirely unfazed, as in, hey, no serious internal damage here…

Another hour passed. Then came another message from Vlad; this one simply said: “Call me.”

Oh no, I thought. But I called, and Vlado answered cheerfully, “Hello? Tom, is that you? Sorry, I can’t hear you very well because your SW100 is playing too loudly. Hang on–let me turn the volume down!”

Vlad installs the replacement ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

Vlad installs the replacement ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

“What!?!” I responded, in utter disbelief.

Yes, he’d got it working!  It seems that Vlad had unearthed an old DVD player in his garage that he’d kept merely for parts. He opened it up, identified a ribbon cable with the right pitch, then cut and folded the cable to fit into the SW100.  Ingenious!

That’s Vlado for you!

And should I be interested in replacing this used cable with a new one–or in repairing other Sonys–Vlad directed me to eBay listings for new cables which only total about $20, shipped. Truthfully, I’m in no hurry, as this one is functioning perfectly and changing out the ribbon cable seems to have no effect on stored memories, etc. With a single affordable eBay purchase of multiple cable sets, it occurred to me that Vlad would have enough replacement cables to repair the SW100 many times over…

So I bought the cables.  (This one for the narrow cable and this one for the wider one.)

My “new” Sony ICF-SW100

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with my “new” (to me) SW100. It’s a little masterpiece of receiver engineering in such a tiny package.  And since the ICF-SW100 is unquestionably the smallest portable I own–and is one of the few I own with a proper line-out jack–it may very well become my go-to radio for one bag travel.

Listening to the 'SW100 before I pack it for my next trip.

It’s in the bag: listening to the ‘SW100 before I pack it for my next trip!

Stay tuned the review…

Vlado’s radio E.R.:  the doctor is in

Sony-ICF-SW100-Open2As I’ve said, Vlad is one of the most adept repair technicians I’ve ever known.  At my prompting, he’s kindly agreed to let me promote his services here on the SWLing Post. Vlad acknowledges that he “likes a challenge,” adding that he enjoys nothing more than making repairs even when”parts are scarce” and radio”surgery” is required.  Moreover, his bench fees will be quite reasonable, especially considering what you receive: new life for a failing radio. So, if you’ve got an ailing rig on your hands, and don’t mind waiting for Vlad to get to it, send it to his radio emergency room, where radios (like my Sony) have life breathed back into them once again.

Long live the Sony ICF-SW100!  And long live Dr. Vlado, who makes this possible with his creative (and nearly miraculous) repairs.

To contact Vlad, simply contact me with a description of your radio and its problem and I’ll put you in touch with Vlado.