You might have noticed a lack of posts this weekend and that would be because I was completely off-grid and off-line, camping with two good friends in Pisgah National Forest.
It was brilliant, actually. I got to hang with friends I’ve known for over 30 years, test my new one person backpack tent (a.k.a. the “Bear Burrito”–the one on the right above), and of course I played a bit of radio.
Black bears are a fact of life here in the mountains of western North Carolina and we spotted three hanging out within 25 meters of our campsite.
By the way: the trick when camping with bears? Don’t put food in your tent, else that whole “bear burrito” thing becomes a reality.
I had a fabulous time putting my Elecraft KX1 “Ruby” on the air. I made perhaps 15 contacts in CW (Morse Code) with 3 watts of power.
One of the cool things about the KX1 is you can change the mode to SSB and actually tune through several shortwave broadcast bands (if you have the three or four band version of the KX1). Of course, I had to do a little SWLing.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m also a proper coffee snob and I firmly believe coffee tastes better when brewed outdoors. Yesterday morning, I brewed a pot of Rock Creek French Roast.
Off-grid, off-line camping recharges my internal batteries and it’s for this reason, I’ll be doing a lot more this year with my family.
It’s is also a brilliant way to experience an environment without any forms of radio interference (QRM or RFI). If you want to do some proper DXing, take your radio on some primitive camping experiences. It’ll remind you what life was like before switching power supplies ruled the world!
Yesterday [Saturday, November 14, 2020] my family decided to make an impromptu trip to one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam–the highest point on the BRP.
Of course, it was a good opportunity to fit in a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, but I had also hoped to activate Richland Balsam for Summits On The Air (SOTA) simultaneously.
It being well beyond leaf-looking season, we had hoped the BRP would be relatively quiet, but we were wrong.
Trail heads were absolutely jam-packed and overflowing with visitors and hikers. We’ve noticed a sharp hiker uptick this year in western North Carolina due in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. People see hiking as a safe “social-distance” activity outdoors, but ironically, hiker density on our single-track trails is just through the roof. One spends the bulk of a hike negotiating others on the trail.
The trail head to Richland Balsam was no exception. Typically, this time of year, we’d be the only people parked at the trail head but yesterday it was nearly parked full.
Being natives of western North Carolina, we know numerous side-trails and old logging/service roads along the parkway, so we picked one of our favorites very close to Richland Balsam.
We hiked to the summit of a nearby ridge line and I set up my POTA station with the “assistance” of Hazel who always seems to know how to get entangled in my antenna wires.
“I’m a helper dog!”
Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired KX1 field radio kit.
I carried a minimal amount of gear on this outing knowing that there would be hiking involved. Everything easily fit in my GoRuck Bullet Ruck backpack (including the large arborist throw line) with room to spare.
I took a bit of a risk on this activation: I put faith in the wire antenna lengths supplied with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1 travel kit. I did not cut these wires myself, rather, they are the lengths a previous owner cut, wound, and labeled for the kit.
With my previous KX1, I knew the ATU was pretty darn good at finding matches for 40, 30, and 20 meters on short lengths of wire, so I threw caution to the wind and didn’t pack an additional antenna option (although I could have hiked back to the car where I had the CHA MPAS Lite–but that would have cut too much time from the activation).
I didn’t use internal batteries in the KX1, rather, I opted for my Bioenno 6 aH LiFePo battery which could have easily powered the KX1 the entire day.
I deployed the antenna wire in a nearby (rather short) tree, laid the counterpoise on the ground, then tried tuning up on the 40 meter band.
The ATU was able to achieve a 2.7:1 match, but I don’t like pushing QRP radios above a 2:1 match if I don’t have to. I felt the radiator wire was pretty short (although I’ve yet to measure it), so clipping it would only make it less resonant on 40 meters.
Instead, I moved up to the 20 meter band where I easily obtained a 1:1 match.
I started calling CQ POTA and within a couple of minutes snagged two stations–then things went quiet.
Since I was a bit pressed for time, I moved to the 30 meter band where, once again, I got a 1:1 match.
I quickly logged one more station (trusty N3XLS!) then nothing for 10 minutes.
Those minutes felt like an eternity since I really wanted to make this a quick activation. I knew, too, that propagation was fickle; my buddy Mike told me the Bz numbers had gone below negative two only an hour before the activation. I felt like being stuck on the higher bands would not be to my advantage.
Still, I moved back up to 20 meters and try calling again.
Then some radio magic happened…
Somehow, a propagation path to the north west opened up and the first op to answer my call was VE6CCA in Alberta. That was surprising! Then I worked K3KYR in New York immediately after.
It was the next operator’s call that almost made me fall off my rock: NL7V in North Pole, Alaska.
In all of my years doing QRP field activations, I’ve never had the fortune of putting a station from Alaska in the logs. Alaska is a tough catch on the best of days here in North Carolina–it’s much easier for me to work stations further away in Europe than in AK.
Of all days, I would have never anticipated it happening during this particular activation as I was using the most simple, cheap antenna possible: two thin random lengths of (likely discarded) wire.
People ask why I love radio? “Exhibit A”, friends!
After working NL7V I had a nice bunch of POTA hunters call me. I logged them as quickly as I could.
I eventually moved back to 30 meters to see if I could collect a couple more stations and easily added five more. I made one final CQ POTA call and when there was no answer, I quickly sent QRT de K4SWL and turned off the radio.
I still can’t believe my three watts and a wire yielded a contact approximately 3,300 miles (5311 km) away as the crow flies.
This is what I love about field radio (and radio in general): although you do what you can to maximize the performance of your radio and your antenna, sometimes propagation gives you a boost when you least expect it. It’s this sense of wireless adventure and wonder that keeps me hooked!
The seller, who lives about 2 hours from my QTH, described his KX1 as the full package: a complete 3 band (40/30/20M) KX1 with all of the items needed to get on the air (save batteries) in a Pelican 1060 Micro Case.
The KX1 I owned in the past was a four bander (80/40/30/20M) and I already double checked to make sure Elecraft still had a few of their 80/30 module kits available (they do!). I do operate 80M in the field on occasion, but I really wanted the 80/30 module to get full use of the expanded HF receiver range which allows me to zero-beat broadcast stations and do a little SWLing while in the field.
The seller shipped the radio that same afternoon and I purchased it for $300 (plus shipping) based purely on his good word.
The KX1 package
I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous: I hadn’t asked all of the typical questions about dents/dings, if it smelled of cigarette smoke, and hadn’t even asked for photos. I just had a feeling it would all be good (but please, never follow my example here–I was drunk with excitement).
Here’s the photo I took after removing the Pelican case from the shipping box and opening it for the first time:
My jaw dropped.
The seller was right: everything I needed (and more!) was in the Pelican case with the KX1. Not only that, everything was labeled. An indication that the previous owner took pride in this little radio.
I don’t think the seller actually put this kit together. He bought it this way two years ago and I don’t think he ever even put it on the air based on his note to me. He sold the KX1 because he wasn’t using it.
I don’t know who the original owner was, but they did a fabulous job not only putting this field kit together, but also soldering/building the KX1. I hope the original owner reads this article sometime and steps forward.
You might note in the photo that there’s even a quick reference sheet, Morse Code reference sheet and QRP calling frequencies list attached to the Pelican’s lid inside. How clever!
I plan to replace the Morse Code sheet with a list of POTA and SOTA park/summit references and re-print the QRP calling frequencies sheet. But other than that, I’m leaving it all as-is. This might be the only time I’ve ever purchased a “package” transceiver and not modified it in some significant way.
Speaking of modifying: that 80/30 meter module? Glad I didn’t purchase one.
After putting the KX1 on a dummy load, I checked each band for output power. Band changes are made on the KX1 by pressing the “Band” button which cycles through the bands one-way. It started on 40 meters, then on to 30 meters, and 20 meters. All tested fine. Then I pressed the band button to return to 40 meters and the KX1 dived down to the 80 meter band!
Turns out, this is a four band KX1! Woo hoo! That saved me from having to purchase the $90 30/80M kit (although admittedly, I was looking forward to building it).
The only issue with the KX1 was that its paddles would only send “dit dah” from either side. I was able to fix this, though, by disassembling the paddles and fixing a short.
Although I’m currently in the process of testing the Icom IC-705, I’ve taken the KX1 along on a number of my park adventures and switched it out during band changes.
Indeed, my first two contacts were made using some nearly-depleted AA rechargeables on 30 meters: I worked a station in Iowa and one in Kansas with perhaps 1.5 watts of output power–not bad from North Carolina!
I’m super pleased to have the KX1 back in my field radio arsenal.
I name radios I plan to keep for the long-haul, so I dubbed this little KX1 “Ruby” after one of my favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck.
Look for Ruby and me on the air at a park or summit near you!
So the SWLing Post has been online now for twelve years and during that time I’ve been accused of being a “radio enabler.” Of course, I’ve never counted just how many, but I’m guessing somewhere in the region of 115,900 times.
Truth is, radio love is infectious.
In the past, I’ve read reviews and articles about radios that have lead me down the path to making a purchase. Countless times.
Yesterday, though, I quite literally enabled myself.
I owned the KX1 for years. It was my first CW-only transceiver and my fist backpack-friendly radio for proper lightweight, low-impact, field radio fun. I sold it in 2016 to help fund the purchase of my Elecraft KX2.
Besides simply admiring a radio that embraced the philosophy of “form following function,” the KX1 had features you wouldn’t expect in a radio so compact and so lightweight. For example…
SWL Band RX
Wayne Burdick (N6KR)–co-founder and engineer/designer at Elecraft–is a shortwave radio enthusiast.
The KX1 was designed so that while you’re camping, hiking, or activating a SOTA site, you can also do a little SWLing!
Even though the KX1 is a CW-only rig in transmit, they added both LSB and USB out-of-band reception. Depending on the KX1 band configuration, you can zero-beat broadcasters, widen the adjustable filter, and enjoy shortwave listening in the field.
When I owned the KX1, I did this quite often. Don’t get wrong: it couldn’t compete with, say, a dedicated shortwave receiver like the Tecsun PL-680, but it worked well enough that listening to even weaker stations was very doable. When one-bag travelling or camping, it was great to have one radio that could serve two functions.
LED Log Book Lamp
Photo: Eric (WD8RIF)
To my knowledge, the KX1 is the only portable transceiver I know of that includes a built-in logging lamp.
I remember once operating the KX1 on the beach at Jekyll Island, GA one evening and using the lamp to illuminate my logging sheet. Good times…
Perfect ergonomics for winter field operating
Elecraft KX2 (top) and KX1 (bottom)
Even though the KX1 is a small radio, it was one of the first field rigs to have top-mounted controls. All of the buttons, knobs, and pots are well-spaced and easy to access. I especially love the pots used for the RF Gain, Filter, and AF Gain–raised, thin, tactile stems, essentially, that could be easily adjusted even while wearing thick winter gloves.
In fact, the KX1 is the only portable radio I’ve ever operated that didn’t require me, at some point, to remove my gloves.
Insane amount of features
In true Elecraft fashion, the KX1 packs a ton of features specifically designed around field operation. Check out the features from their quick reference sheet above.
One ham had a KX1 listed. It was nearly identical to the one I owned and even included the same Pelican case. The only difference was my KX1 sported 4 bands (80, 40, 30, and 20m)–this one only had three bands (40, 30, and 20). Not a big deal because typically when I’m hiking I do little operating on 80 meters. If I decide to add 80 meters, I may still be able to snag the appropriate kit module.
The listing had no price.
I called the seller–who turned out to be fairly local–and within an hour he came back with his offer: $300 for the entire kit plus true shipping costs. I thought that was a fair price, so I purchased it and he even shipped it same day.
Moral of the story?
Next time I make a post about radios I’ve regretted selling, trading, or giving away, I need to publish it, then slowly back away from the computer.
I’m not going to be too hard on myself this time, though: I’m truly looking forward to putting the KX1 back in rotation here at SWLing Post HQ.