Tag Archives: CW

Icom IC-705 Blind Receiver Test #2

Icom IC-705

Test #2: 40 meters CW

In this second test (click here for #1) we’ll listen to the Icom IC-705, and one other comparable radio, tuned to a 40 meter CW station. Each recording is roughly the same length (2 minutes).

I’ve done my best to match these radios in terms of audio and receiver settings, but it’s certainly not perfect–these are essentially real world, not laboratory conditions. Indeed, making these recordings comparable in CW is incredibly challenging as the mode is so incredibly narrow and challenging to zero beat with radios that can tuned so precisely.

Notes:

  • Both radios are using the same antenna via my ELAD ASA15 Antenna Splitter Amplifier
  • Both radios are set to the same bandwidth: 0.5 kHz
  • I’ve tried to match AGC settings on all radios
  • Both radios have different audio EQ characteristics–not all are fully adjustable
  • Both have separate recording devices and are not matched perfectly in terms of audio levels. In other words, you may need to adjust your volume a bit to compare.

My advice would be to focus on aspects like signal intelligibility, selectivity and signal to noise.

Please listen to each recording, then kindly answer and submit the survey below. Thank you!

Radio A

Radio B

Survey

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The HobbyPCB IQ32 transceiver fills a special niche in the ham radio world

The following review was first published in the September 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


The HobbyPCB IQ32 transceiver fills a special niche in the ham radio world

This summer, I’ve been exploring the world of general coverage QRP transceivers. I’ve been taking my LnR Precision LD-11, Elecraft KX3 and KX2 into the field; and I’ve just finished a comprehensive review of the Xiegu G90. I also have a TX-500 and IC-705 arriving in the near future [update].

Yes, I’ll admit, I’m a devotee of the “all-in-one” nature of the latest model portable QRP transceivers.

Most of the QRP transceivers now on the market are products of large, popular ham radio manufacturers. Usually, a company will come up with a product concept, follow through with their market research, then design, develop, and produce the radio. In fairness, that’s an over-simplification of the process, but let’s just call it a “top down” design approach––meaning, the product idea is generated within the company, and is often based upon customer feedback.

Not all ham radio products come about this way, though. Some have more “grassroots” or collaborative origin.

The HobbyPCB IQ32

(Image Source: HobbyPCB)

I first noticed the HobbyPCB IQ32 transceiver at the Dayton Hamvention a few years ago. I checked it out carefully at their booth, and recall a crowd gathering around their table. Noting this, I decided, at a later time, I would also find an opportunity to check out the radio in more detail.

A couple of months ago, I was working on my list of General Coverage QRP Transceivers and asked for help filling in details of any radios I’d forgotten. A reader commented and reminded me that the IQ32 was, indeed, general coverage.

At this point, I reached out to HobbyPCB and asked for a loaner unit to explore for a few weeks. The company very kindly sent one my way some weeks ago, and I’ve been testing it on the air ever since.

Form factor

When I received the IQ32 package, I was surprised by how lightweight this transceiver is:  a mere 1.5 lbs (700 grams) packs it all in one compact package.

The chassis is made of aluminum and incredibly sturdy. It even includes side panel extensions to protect the front faceplate and knobs.

The IQ32 sports a 3.2″ color LCD touch-screen display large enough to contain all of the functions, a spectrum display, and even an area for text––both transmitted and received in PSK31 and CW. The display is reminiscent of the uBITX V6 I recently reviewed. It is recommended that the operator uses a blunt plastic stylus (or retracted ballpoint pen) for navigating the color screen, since several of the  menu settings, memories, and the like require some fairly precise tapping. The graphic user interface (GUI) feels a bit like what I’d expect to find on a piece of test equipment: a bit old school, but nonetheless quite functional.

The main encoder and selector knobs are lightweight and made of some sort of plastic or nylon. They work quite well––but if I owned an IQ32, I believe one of the first things I’d do is replace those with a lightweight aluminum equivalent.

As I mentioned earlier, the weight of the IQ32 is very reasonable at 1.5 lbs. I don’t think I’d even notice it packed in a backpack.

The IQ32, like the recently released Lab599 TCX-500, lacks an internal speaker. However, my unit came with a speaker microphone, which works fine.

The right side panel of the IQ32 has a toggle power switch, power amplifier connection, power port (5mm X 2.1mm, positive tip), PS2 keyboard connector, USB Type A, and a BNC antenna port. The left side has a 3.5mm I/Q Output, 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm speaker/mic port,  and a 3.5mm CW key input.

The IQ32 also has two legs that can be adjusted so that the radio will prop up at a comfortable angle for operation. The legs can be a bit finicky to adjust and keep in place, so I preferred using an angled radio support I use for my Elecraft KX3.

A collaboration

The IQ32 also feels like a project joint effort, bringing to mind the old chocolate-peanut butter cup commercial of a bygone era: “My chocolate got mixed with your peanut butter!” And or, “My peanut butter got mixed with your chocolate!”

Curious about this seeming blend of radio ideas, I reached out to Jim Veach (WA2EUJ) at HobbyPCB for more information; he gave me a little history behind the IQ32.

Jim writes:

The IQ32 is the fusion of two products: the HobbyPCB RS-HFIQ, and the STM32-SDR. 

The RS-HFIQ was designed to be a 80-10M, 5W soundcard-based SDR––similar to the popular Softrock SDRs with some expansions and revisions. 

The STM32-SDR was designed to work with a soundcard-based SDR and [thus] eliminate the need for a PC and provide stand-alone operation. 

Inside the IQ32 is a mostly stock RS-HFIQ (in fact, we offered an upgrade kit so RS-HFIQ owners could go the IQ32 route) and a custom version of the STM-32 […] specifically for the IQ32.

The original development of the STM32 [began] a few years ago when PSK31 was the digital mode du jour and [the] PS2 keyboard roamed the land. The firmware team recently released the current FW, which greatly expanded the CW modes and reworked the memory structure based on user input.

And there you have it: even though this unique little rig has been around for a few years, I’m impressed that they continue to refine it and upgrade the firmware. Indeed, if the community of IQ32 users grow, they may be able to do even more.

On the air

To be clear, my intention here isn’t to conduct a comparative review of the IQ32. I simply want to convey what I’ve learned in the process of playing with the rig and trying out some of its unique features.

Immediately after unboxing the radio, I hooked it up to my main skyloop antenna, plugged in the power supply that accompanied the radio, then plugged in the handheld speaker mic.

I discovered rather quickly that the IQ32 user interface takes a different approach than any other transceiver I’ve ever tested. Instead of one main user interface window in which you navigate modes, frequencies, and perhaps alter spectrum and bandwidth settings, the IQ32 has a different screen layout for each mode. It’s as if each mode––SSB, PSK31, CW, etc.––has its own “page.”

Despite the very minimal controls, you can adjust many of the IQ32s settings, macros, and memories in a very granular way via the settings pages using a stylus for fine control of the screen. On the flip side, during operation, it can be frustrating when adjustments need to be made quickly between the AF Gain, RF Gain, CW Speed, and AGC, as they all use the same multi-function knob and switching between them requires several screen taps––not as quick a process as one might prefer.

Indeed, the IQ32 isn’t immediately as intuitive as most commercially-marketed radios.  But once you fully understand the settings and modes pages, it becomes easy to navigate. Note: I would advise any future owner of an IQ32 to read the manual in advance. I did this, and it certainly helped. I should add here that the IQ32 manual is one of the most comprehensive I’ve read––especially considering its collaborative roots.

Now, let’s talk modes.

SSB

Since the IQ32 requires a PS2 keyboard for PSK31, and optionally for CW, I tried my hand at SSB first.

After learning how to switch modes and filter settings, I hopped on the air. Instead of calling CQ, I decided instead to seek a park activator in the POTA program via the POTA spots website. Within 10 minutes, I made contact with two parks: one in Pennsylvania and one in Florida on the 40 and 20 meter bands, respectively. While both parks gave me a “5×9” report, I seriously doubt it was accurate based on their own signal strength. (Some park activators, like contesters, only give 5×9 reports.)

Still, my success in contacting these two parks told me that the mic settings were probably suitable and that the audio had enough punch on 5 watts to be heard. To confirm, I called CQ a few times and listened to my own signal at a KiwiSDR site in Maryland. The signal was about 5×5, but the audio was clear, clean, and had excellent fidelity.

Over the past few weeks I’ve worked dozens of stations across North America with the IQ32.

PSK31

One of the very unique features of the IQ32 is its ability to natively encode and decode PSK31. This was the second mode I was eager to try.

To use PSK31 on the IQ32, a PS2 keyboard (or USB keyboard with PS2 adapter) must be connected. I searched my shack in vain for a PS2 keyboard, but fortunately, my friend Vlado (N3CZ) came to the rescue and let me borrow one of his keyboards.

Again, note: IQ32 beginners should certainly plan to read the PSK31 section of the IQ32 manual prior to attempting a PSK31 QSO.  For starters, you’ll want to enter in your personal information into the tags settings so that you can use your keyboard function keys to automatically send CQs and to answer calls. The manual will also walk you through any other necessary settings.

Once I had everything set up, I started calling CQ on the 20 meter band; unfortunately I had no luck snagging a station. This had less to do with the radio and much more to do with the mode, which has, alas, fallen out of popularity since the advent of FT8. It’s a shame, really, because although PSK31 is a digital mode, it feels much more like a proper QSO than FT8, in my opinion. While I have a lot of respect for FT8, with PSK31, you can, as we hams say, “rag-chew”––a much more personal interaction.

And rag-chewing is exactly what I did. I contacted a friend, we set a sched for a PSK31 QSO, and it was, indeed, fun. The IQ32 has a screen with enough text space so that it’s easy to follow and to read. In fact, with this radio, I don’t feel like a computer is needed.

With the keyboard attached, PSK31 just works…and works quite well. I really like the way this feature has been implemented in the IQ32.

CW

Truly, the IQ32 actually has a lot to offer the CW operator. The IQ32 supports Iambic keyer modes A and B, with speeds up to 35 wpm. You can also adjust the weight of the dits and dahs. The IQ32 doesn’t support full break-in QSK, however: there is a slight delay after sending before the relay puts the radio back into receive mode. At present, this delay is not manually adjustable but is, rather, based on the selected keyer speed.

I’ve been very pleased using the IQ32 in CW mode with my Begali paddles and Vibroplex single lever paddle.

Of course, a really unique feature of this rig is that it provides the operator with the means to use the PS2 keyboard to send CW, just as you can with the PSK31. At present, there is no CW decoder, but for those who feel their fist isn’t quite up to par, you can surprise the operator on the other end by sending perfectly formed and spaced CW by simply typing it on the keyboard.  Herein lies a very unique feature and application for the IQ32.

Indeed, as a frequent Parks On The Air (POTA) field activator, I rely very heavily on memory keyers to call CQ, send a park number, as well as give my thanks and 73s to those who contact me. Using a pre-programmed message means that I then have time to log a station while it sends, and to ensure my code is cleaner when I send park numbers––especially since I don’t exactly excel at sending strings of numbers!

With the IQ32, I find I can program full CW messages to play when I simply press one of the function keys on the keyboard. This gives me much better flexibility and control than, say, the built-in memory keyer on my venerable Elecraft KX2.

With the IQ32, a CW op would actually have the choice of never even touching a key, and just sending all messages with the keyboard. While I could never see myself doing that (as I quite enjoy sending CW with a key), the flexibility of pre-programming an array of CW memory messages and having them conveniently at hand is nonetheless quite appealing.

As a CW operator, I’m quite pleased with the IQ32. My only wish would be for a slightly shorter relay hang time for use in contesting or on Field Day.

The IQ32 Niche

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the IQ32 as a first transceiver to a newly-minted ham, I can certainly envision a niche market for this unique rig.

For one, I think the IQ32 could satisfy those operators who desire a very clean and stable transmitter. The IQ32 sports a Class A 5-watt power amplifier with individual low-pass filters for each band that exceed FCC requirements for spectral purity. It also has a Temperature-Compensated Crystal Oscillator (TXCO) for frequency stability––truly, this is not common in a radio of this price class.

For another, the IQ32 could be used as a driver for a transverter when operating on VHF or UHF. Another of its unique and useful features is that the user can set an offset to display the transverter output frequency rather than the IQ32-driven frequency.

 

 

And, finally, let’s face it: I know of few other radios that you can take to the field, hook up a keyboard, and natively send and decode PSK-31 transmissions. My KX2 can do this to a degree, but I have to input the text as CW, and the number of characters in the display is quite limited. The IQ32 is robust enough to permit you to carry on PSK-31 rag-chews, if you wish. If this is your thing, you’ll definitely want to play with this rig.

Being able to send CW with a keyboard and pre-programmed messages also means CW operators could make their workflow much more efficient in either the shack or the field.

In conclusion, I’ll admit that the IQ32 isn’t as intuitive as other radios and that the ergonomics leave room for improvement. But it’s still a cool little radio. If, after having read this tour of the IQ32, you feel like you’re in this radio’s niche market, then definitely reach out to HobbyPCB: I’ve found their customer care and support to be absolutely benchmark.

All in all, I’ve had a lot of fun tinkering with this unique general coverage QRP transceiver; I expect others like me will, too. Many thanks to HobbyPCB and the IQ32 crew for letting me take a deep dive into this very special little rig!

Click here to check out the IQ32 at HobbyPCB.


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Radio Waves: Arecibo Damage, Airchecks, Remote Ham Exams, Kids Learning CW Through LI Club, and West Bengal Ham Confirms LRA36

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Ron, Dave Cripe, and Trevor R for the following tips:


A Broken Cable Has Wrecked One of Earth’s Largest Radio Telescopes (Vice)

The Arecibo Observatory, one of the largest single-aperture radio telescopes in the world, has suffered extensive damage after an auxiliary cable snapped and crashed through the telescope’s reflector dish.

The accident left a 100-foot hole in the observatory, which stretches 1,000 feet over a karst sinkhole in northern Puerto Rico. The cable broke at about 2:45 AM local time on Monday, but the cause of the failure remains unknown, according to the University of Central Florida, one of three institutions that operates Arecibo.

“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” said Francisco Cordova, Arecibo’s director, in the UCF statement. “Our focus is assuring the safety of our staff, protecting the facilities and equipment, and restoring the facility to full operations as soon as possible, so it can continue to assist scientists around the world.”

Arecibo was the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world for decades, but it was bumped into second place in 2016 by the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China. Some radio observatories, such as the Very Large Array in Chile, consist of vast networks of antennas that take up far more space than Arecibo or FAST, but the latter telescopes are the largest facilities in the world that collect light in a single big dish.

Arecibo also suffered damage during Hurricane Maria in 2017, though it was nowhere near as debilitating as the wreckage caused by the broken cable.[]

The Ever-Evolving Role of Airchecks (Radio World)

Anyone who has deejayed in radio in the past 60 years knows about airchecks. They are as much a part of top 40 radio’s legacy as spinning Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and exploiting its 8:02 running time for a much-needed bathroom break.

In top 40 terms, “an aircheck is an off-air recording usually intended to showcase the talent of an announcer or programmer to a prospective employer,” said Rick Burnett, former radio deejay and owner of TwinCitiesRadioAirchecks.com in St. Paul, Minn. “Additionally, the airchecks were used for self-critique and evaluation by radio management and for legal archiving of content that is broadcast over the air.”[]

Technology and Technique Making Ham Radio Testing Possible During Pandemic (ARRL News)

Amateur radio license testing continues during the pandemic, with a combination of remote Volunteer Examiner (VE) test sessions and careful in-person session planning. In Hawaii, VE Team leader and Section Manager Joe Speroni, AH0A, said he and his team passed the 100-candidate mark on August 10 for video-supervised remote test sessions. Speroni said the most recent session administered exams to 10 candidates simultaneously.

“Candidates from all Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and US military bases in Okinawa have had an opportunity to sit for licenses,” he told the ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator. “The high pass rate of 95% is most likely due to candidates having had time to prepare for the exam.” Speroni also said his VEs’ willingness to contribute their time has made the program a success and available to a wide geographical range.[]

With kids stuck home, Long Island group teaches a ‘new’ hobby: Morse code (Newsday)

Even though Alana Bernstein of Manhasset is a 17-year-old high school senior, this spring she had to learn the alphabet all over again.

Bernstein signed up for a new, free Zoom course in Morse code created by a Long Island ham radio operators’ club to offer kids a chance to learn a new skill and stay occupied during the pandemic.

“This is a good opportunity for me to connect with people around the world, make some Morse code friends and have some fun,” Bernstein says. She finished the beginner course and is now taking a summer intermediate course that meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The program has reached 125 children in kindergarten through high school since it launched in March, says Alana’s father, Howard Bernstein, 68, of Manhasset. He cofounded the Long Island CW Club — the CW standing for continuous wave — in 2018 with Rich Collins, 57, a UPS driver from Hicksville. The men are known by the call signs WB2UZE and K2UPS respectively when they’re on the air.[]

Radio ham picks up Argentine Antarctic base signal (Southgate ARC)

New Delhi Television (NDTV) reports a radio amateur in West Bengal received a signal from the Argentinian base in Antarctica

They say:

An amateur radio operator from West Bengal, who intercepts radio signals from far away countries as a hobby, received one from Antarctica, the southern tip of the globe, over 11,835 km away.

The feat of 65-year-old Babul Gupta is unique as it is the first successful DXing – receiving and identifying distant radio signals – with Antarctica from the state in recent memory, Secretary of West Bengal Radio Club Ambaresh Nag Biswas VU2JFA told PTI on Thursday.

Babul Gupta, a member of the club, received a radio transmission from a camp set up by an Argentine team of scientists in Antarctica when he was in Bakkhali, a seaside spot in the South 24 Parganas district, on August 8, he said.

“The transmission was made from LRA 36 camp. It was transmitted from the scientists’ camp in South Pole. I sent the recording of the audio to the Argentine team via email,” Mr Gupta said.

The Argentines have sent an acknowledgement citation to Babul Gupta referring to his tracking their radio signal on 15.476 kHz.

Read the full story at
https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/amateur-bengal-ham-radio-operator-intercepts-signal-from-antarctica-camp-2282700

A picture of Babul Gupta’s receiving station can be seen at
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/358599189055138206/[]


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Let’s hit the field with the new lab599 TX-500 Discovery QRP transceiver!

Yesterday, I took delivery of a lab599 TX-500 Discovery QRP transceiver. Many thanks to Josh at Ham Radio Crash Course for shipping it here and Ham Radio Outlet for trusting me with this fine machine for the next couple of weeks.

I’ve been looking forward to this day for months–indeed, nearly a year.

A few initial impressions…

I won’t lie: the TX-500 is a gorgeous little transceiver and it’s solid.

The form factor is even a little smaller and lighter weight than I had imagined. I thought the multi-pin connectors on the side panels were the same size as, say, an XLR connector. Turns out, they’re much smaller and quite easy to use.

To put the TX-500 on the air, you’ll need to connect a minimum of three things: the power cable (terminated with Anderson Power Poles on the battery side), an antenna (BNC), and the speaker microphone. The TX-500 has no built-in speaker.

That’s all you’ll need if operating SSB. If operating CW, of course you’ll need to connect your key, but you’ll still need the speaker/mic connected for audio. That does make for quite a few things connected to the radio all at once.

The backlit display is high-contrast and easy to read indoors and in full sunlight. (And yes, that’s the Voice of Greece!)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a fan of speaker microphone combos, but I’ll readily admit that the one with the TX-500 is about as good as they come. It feels durable and produces serious volume. The audio fidelity is obviously built around voice and CW, so it’s not ideal for HF broadcast listening, although it does have an external mono speaker port on the side of the mic.

If I owned this TX-500, I would order another speaker/mic 6 pin connector and build a headphone cable for broadcast listening and CW use. An easy fix.

For SSB though? The provided speaker/mic works. Indeed, it works quite well in the field because it’s so easy to hear.

There’s so much more to this radio, but I’ll save that for future posts and my full review. Let’s talk code…

Attaching a key

This morning, the first thing I did was fire up my soldering iron and make a CW paddle cable. (I hope HRO doesn’t mind–I didn’t exactly think to ask. Come to think of it, let’s just keep this between us, ok?). I soldered three wires to the supplied 5 pin connector (pins 1, 2, and 5).

To keep things simple, I hooked the TX-500 up to my Vibroplex single lever paddle which sports three terminals, making it easy to connect to the CW cable pigtail. Plus, heck, any excuse to play with the Vibroplex, right!?

CW

I was so eager to see how the TX-500 would perform on CW, that immediately after hooking up the key the first time, I checked POTA spots and worked two stations (WR8F in Ohio and NG5E in Texas) in rapid succession. Here’s a video of the exchange with NG5E:

Note that I used my iPad to make this video and, for some reason, the mic accentuated the clicking/clacking of my Vibroplex key. It’s not normally that pronounced. 🙂

CW memory keying

One of my complaints about the TX-500 when I read the final feature list a couple weeks ago was that it lacked CW memory keying. To me, this was a major negative because many POTA and SOTA activators rely on CW keyer memories to help with their logging workflow in the field. I certainly do.

lab599 must have been listening because I found out last week that they implemented CW memory keying in the most recent beta firmware update. Woo hoo!

I was sent the firmware file and this morning had no issues installing it in the TX-500 with the firmware application/tool.

After I sorted out how to record and play back the CW memories using the top row of function buttons, I was ready to hit the field!

I packed the TX-500, and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a POTA activation!

CW POTA activation

I only had a brief period of time to fit in an activation today, so I kept it simple by going to the Folk Art Center which has a number of picnic tables. A park ranger once asked that I not hang an antenna in a tree at this particular site, so I used my Wolf River Coils TIA portable vertical antenna.

The Wolf River Coils TIA

Truth is, I feel like I always get more mileage out of a wire antenna than a vertical when running QRP, but I worked with what I had.

I started calling CQ on 7063 kHz and within 10 minutes worked five stations.

The CW memory keyer worked well. There is currently a two second delay before the TX-500 begins transmitting, but I’m guessing that can be fixed in a future firmware update.

Here’s a short video of the TX-500 memory keyer in action:

The TX-500 uses a relay to switch between transmit and receive, so you can hear clicking in the background. I had the recovery time set to the shortest interval which resulted in the maximum amount of clicking. Good news is the TX-500 body is so solid, the clicking is quite soft and muted–about the softest clicking I’ve ever heard in a transceiver. You could, of course, minimize relay clicks by setting the T/R delay to a higher number.

I’m very impressed with the TX-500’s low noise floor and filtering. Signals just seem to pop out of this thing.

I played radio for a while longer but was eventually chased off by a thunderstorm.

I must admit: for the first time, I wasn’t terribly worried if it started raining and the radio got a bit wet. The TX-500 is weather-resistant so can certainly cope with a sprinkle.

More to come!

I’ve set a personal goal to take the TX-500 to the field seven days in a row. I’m not entirely sure that’s realistic as I see the amount of thunderstorm activity in the forecast. Still, one must have goals, right? Plus, any excuse to hit the field and play radio!

Please comment if you have questions about the TX-500. I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can!


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Val’s Morse Code videos and practice sessions

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Valery Titievsky, who writes:

Perhaps it will be interesting to SWLing Post subscribers. A short video for those wishing to improve their skills in Morse code. Poem by George Byron “Prometheus».

The channel also has lessons in studying Morse code and a few videos with my SWL on shortwaves of various radio broadcasting, weather and other service and number stations.

73! Best Regards

Valery Titievsky (R9O-16) SWL

Click here to check out Val’s YouTube channel.

When I practice my CW skills, I do like listening to real content like this instead of randomly-generated characters. One reason is you start to recognize the sound of common words (like “the” “an” “and” “is” etc).

Thank you for sharing this, Val!

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Parks On The Air: Finally biting the CW bullet!

I mentioned in a previous post that one of my Social DX goals was to activate a Parks On The Air (POTA) site in CW (Morse Code).

Mission accomplished!

Yesterday, I mustered up the nerve and drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway (site K-3378 in POTA).

My wife and kids were knee-deep in another project so I planned to go solo until my dog, Hazel, caught wind I was leaving with my radio backpack in-tow. Always ready for a hike or road trip, she jumped in the car the moment I opened the door.

I’ll admit it: I was nervous. I had the same jitters I had the first time I spoke in front of a large crowd.

In the end, though, I really had nothing to fear. The POTA community is a very kind, courteous, cohesive and supportive group of radio operators.

I picked the Blue Ridge Parkway as my first site not only because it’s so convenient to where I live, but it’s also one of the most activated parks in the POTA program. I knew a BRP activation wouldn’t attract a mad pile-up of park hunters because everyone in POTA has this one in the books already.

My full radio kit–including my KX2 transceiver, KXPA100 100W amplifier,  two antennas, Heil headset, two battery packs, chargers, and all accessories–is packed in my Red Oxx C-Ruck and always ready for action. I grabbed the full kit, although in truth I only needed the KX2, my CW paddles, coax cable and antenna.

Conditions were rough yesterday. Propagation was pretty good, but there were pop-up thunderstorm everywhere in the region, so the bands were very noisy with constant static crashes. Herein lies one of the great things about CW: you can use a filter width so narrow that it doesn’t affect you as much as it does operating phone.

Because I had limited operating time, I deployed the Wolf River Coils TIA portable antenna. It takes me all of 4 minutes to set up.

I got on 40 meters, started calling “CQ POTA” and the next thing I know I had 13 stations logged.

My nerves dissipated quickly after I logged the first couple of contacts and I was even looking forward to stations answering my call. The operators were also incredibly patient with me and two of them even followed me to higher bands and made contact there.

Hazel the dog staring at my portable logging computer.

Hazel was a bit upset this activation didn’t include a hike, so several times she insisted on “helping” with the logs as I sweated it out!

All-in-all, I logged 17 stations in one hour on three bands using about 10 watts of power.

Elecraft KX2 Whiterock CW paddles Red Oxx C-RuckI deployed my station quickly, and I packed it up quickly. A pop-up thunderstorm, once again, chased me off the air. That’s okay, though, because I was already feeling pretty chuffed about bagging my first CW activation.

If I’m being completely honest here in front of my community of radio enablers, as soon as I arrived back home, I started mentally putting together a super-compact CW activation kit built around an LnR Precision MTR3B transceiver. I’ve always wanted one of these little CW-only transceivers to carry in my EDC bag for impromptu field radio fun, but never could justify it. Until now! 🙂


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Upping my CW pile-up game with Morse Runner

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been practicing my CW (Morse Code) skills in an effort to build confidence to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) CW activation.

But how in the world do you practice handling a CW pile-up without actually going on the air–?

I’m glad you asked!

My DXing and contest friends have often touted an amazing free PC application developed by Alex Shovkoplyas (VE3NEA) called Morse Runner.

Morse Runner’s goal is simple: teach you how to manage a CW pile-up.

In short? It’s incredibly effective!

When you start a Morse Runner session, the application emulates the sound and atmosphere of the HF bands in CW mode (meaning, a narrower filter setting). It’s very convincing.

Instead of using a key to send a CQ, the Morse Runner interface emulates a contest logging system where a computer generates your CQ and sends the signal report you record for a station.

Screenshot of Morse Runner (click to enlarge)

You simply set a few parameters like your call sign, max CW speed, pitch, and bandwidth, then press the “run” button and call CQ by pressing the F1 key on your keyboard.

Within a few CQ calls, you’ll hear anywhere from one to several stations answer your CQ (depending on your settings). Your job is to then start logging those stations accurately from the pile-up. If you reply with an incorrect call, the other station will repeat their call until you correct it.

Morse runner has band condition settings you can select like: QRN, QRM, Flutter, QSB and–yes–even LIDs.

Quite often I’ll accurately reply to a weak station and they’ll send “AGN?” and I repeat their report until they copy it.

Morse Runner is so convincing that when I’m in the middle of a big pile-up, I honestly forget I’m communicating with a computer application! I get some of the same excitement and the–let’s be frank–anxiety I would get on the air during a live CW pile-up.

If you select the “LIDs” Band Conditions setting, it’ll crack you up with how accurately it portrays annoying operators who either deliberately or unintentionally try to interfere!

Here’s sample audio from a session this morning:

The screen shot above shows the settings I used for this very tame session with no large pile-ups. If you’re a seasoned CW contester, pump up the speed and the activity level then you’ll feel like you’re on the Heard Island DXpedition!

In short: Morse Runner is giving me the courage to do my first CW park activation. I highly recommend it!

Click here to check out Morse Runner and download.

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