Monday, November 24, 2014

Alpha Antenna Ez-Military and a Stairwell

It's cold out there!  I knew not having a HF antenna permanently mounted outside would limit my radio time once the temp dropped.  I purchased an Alpha Antenna Ez-Military a month ago, set it up a few times in my back yard and it yielded some good results.  I really didn't want to wait until spring to break out this antenna again to start playing around with it, so I decided to set it up in my stairwell going up to my 2nd story.  The 13' antenna is just short enough to stand upright and not touch the top of the ceiling.

I used the same stand I use for my end fed antenna with just a shorter base.  I used the claw to mount the antenna and strung my counterpoise out and wrapped it around a dinning room chair.

The top of the antenna comes about 6" from the ceiling.  

The SWR for the bands are good for this portable antenna and my KX3 can quickly tune a 1:1 ratio on almost all the bands down to 80m.  The only issues with putting an antenna in your house is you have to climb around it and all the inference it picks up.  40m is not too bad, but 20m is S9+20 on the noise level.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Elecraft K3 Case - Condor H20 Pouch

When I first got my Elecraft KX3, I wanted to get a case for it, cause I knew I was going to cart it around everywhere.  Why get a mobile radio if your not going to be mobile, right?

I had researched different options and saw some comments about getting a Nalgene water bottle holder.  I wasn't sure if this was going to work because one, I didn't know how big a Nalgene water bottle was and two, my KX3 isn't really round.  How would it fit?  Wouldn't there be a large void of space and the unit would just flop around in the holder?  Most of the rugged water bottle holders just said "hold your Nalgene water bottle".  No dimensions, nothing.  I didn't want to purchase a case that didn't fit!!!

Between the time when I couldn't make a decision on case, I purchased the Side KX cover for my rig.  I highly recommend this plastic cover to help protect the knobs when it's not in use.  After I installed the sides and put the case on, the unit became more round!  It was time to pull the trigger on a water bottle case.

After seeing Frank (K0JQZ) answer a comment of mine on one of his SOTA videos, he showed a Condor Nalgene water bottle holder for his case.  After he "endorsed" it, I grabbed one and I'm glad I did.  I love this little case.

Not only does it fit sung with the SideKX installed, but it has a front pocket good for your mic or power cables.  It also has a large zipper top which when the KX3 fits down into the case, you can place something in the top for more storage.  Power cable or fuses are good to store in the cap.  Frank also had a good idea by wrapping your rig in a ziplock bag, as if your out in the rain, you'll be able to keep it dry.  The case does have a hole in the bottom, so if any water get in, it will drain out.

Condor H2O Case on Amazon

Side view

Front pocket with KX3 mic inside

View from the top

KX3 and case

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kenwood MCP Software USB to RS-232 Serial Programming Cable - SOLVED!

Finally!!!!  It's fixed!  I can program my Kenwood TM-71A 2m/440cm rig via a serial cable from my PC!  This also works for the Kenwood TM-710A and TM-710GA.

You would think in 2014, a corporation like Kenwood would have good enough programmers to create a software package to program an amateur radio via a modern computer without a USB to serial converter, but I guess not.  And if they had to use a serial converter, the program would be compatible with some of the major manufactures of USB to serial converters!

After obtaining a Belkin USB to serial dongle, and installing the drivers, I've had no luck.  All the COM ports on the Kenwood MCP programming software would be blanked out.  Installing on multiple OS still didn't register any open COM ports on the MCP software.

After doing extensive research on the net, I found someone who had luck with a Plugable USB to serial dongle.  This dongle has a Prolific chipset, which seems to be the key.  

I received the dongle today via Amazon, loaded the drivers from the web on my XP machine, plugged in the adapter and connected my Kenwood radio.  After launching the MCP programming software, it was able to see the adapter on COM1, COM3 and COM6.  After choosing trial and error, it settled on COM6 and could read the TM-71A.  Success!

Also, don't purchase the programming cable from Kenwood for $50 bucks.  It's a generic straight through cable that uses DB9 on one side and mini-DIN on the other.  Hosa makes a cable that works perfectly for this type of application.

Here are the parts/software I used.

Kenwood MCP Software Download Page

Plugable USB to DB9 Serial Dongle (Rev D)

Hosa DBK-110 10 Foot Synthesizer Controller Cable, 8-pin Mini-DIN to DE9

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Local STL VHF Sprint - Labor Day Weekend

Last Memorial and Labor Day our local club sponsored a VHF simplex contest and it was a lot of fun.  I participated in both and learned a lot about simplex work on VHF.

The rules were :
1) Only use 8 simplex frequencies (pre-determined)
2) Points are awarded per contact per zip code
3) 1 pt greater than 50W, 2 pts 11 - 49W, 3 pts under 10W of power
4) Exchange : call sign, contact numbers, zip code
5) Record : contact number, call sign, zip code, time, frequency
6) Duration : 7pm to 10pm Sat of the holiday weekend

I learned in the Memorial Day sprint, the contesters who roamed around from zip to zip really racked up the points.  The base stations with large VHF antennas on the hills were working all the roamers and also racked up the points.

At my house, I have a standard J-pole 2M/70cm antenna from KB9VBR.  If you don't have time to make a J-pole, these are great antennas.  Mike makes them by hand and ships them to you fast.  The only issue I had about being a base station is my house sits down in a valley within STL city.  There is a section of the city called "The Hill" were 90% of the Italian immigrants settled and is home to some of the best restaurants around.  If you live in The Hill, you've got about a 600 foot elevation advantage in the area.  3 of the base stations were located on the Hill who racked up the points.  Their signal was booming anywhere I roamed.

After looking at he Memorial Day results, I decided to become a base station and chase the roamers.  I wasn't going to sit at my house, but set up a station on top of the tallest parking garage within miles.  I figured this would give me the best odds at working the roamers hitting all the zip codes around STL.  This would also give me a chance to research yagi antennas and mounts.  I wanted to get a yagi for satellite work and just to have one in an emergency, so purchased an Elk Log Periodic yagi 2m/70cm antenna.  I rigged up a small PVC base with some sand bags for support and poof, I had a great antenna system.  The Elk yagis are really good antennas, well made and portable, as the elements screw on from the each side of the base.

For the rig, I decided I wasn't going to use my HT, but use my base station Kenwood TM-V71A.  It's 50W on high, 10W medium and 5W on low.  Back in the 90's I had TM-V7A and always liked the Kenwood radios, so when I decided to get back into the hobby, my first radio I purchased was a Kenwood.  I then had to build a cigarette lighter to Anderson power pole converter, as I didn't have any way to power it.  I don't have a permanent wire setup to my car battery, so I decided just to run it off the cigarette lighter hookup which was fine on low to medium power.

I setup the rig in the back of my trunk, used an aux cig lighter plug in the back seat and ran the coax out to the yagi PVC pole.  Away we went!!!

I made around 30 contacts, but it wasn't enough to even get in the top 5.  As the night went on, I was working roamers that were throwing out contact numbers 15 to 20 above me.  I knew one of the mobile units and could see his path via APRS.  I think he hit 15 or 20 zip codes within the area.  He also had a good mobile antenna setup, so every zip code he worked 6 to 8 contacts before moving on.  I was chased off the parking garage around 8:30p due to lightening and headed back to the QTH.  I made a few more contacts at home due to being in a different zip code and called it a night around 9:45pm.

You learn quite a bit during these VHF simplex sprints on how far your equipment can really reach and for me, it makes you think out of the box.  I like getting out of the house and using my equipment in an "emergency" situation and this exercise defiantly lived up to that.  Can't wait for the next VHF simplex contest.

Operating out of my trunk

The setup with chair, Elk antenna and stand

Setup with storms rolling in

Pano from the top of the parking garage

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Buddipole A123 Battery Pack

Yesterday I received my battery pack and charger that I ordered from Buddipole.  I had been researching batteries the past month and found the LiFePO4 A123 batteries the best bang for the buck.  They might be a little higher in price, but you'll get more charges and further life out of them than a regular lead acid battery.

I settled on the 4s2p battery pack.  That's 4 cells in series, by 2 cells in parallel which provides 5Ah of power at 13.8 volts.  It's a bit heavier and a little bulkier than I'd like, but I can take that trade off for the longer run time for my KX3 rig.  I think I'll get a smaller 4s1p to run my KX3 and then use the larger 4s2p to power my 100W amp in the field.  The plan is to get the amp, battery, solar array and charge controller by field day 2015.

I also decided to get a good charger too.  Figure if I'm going to spend some money on a good battery, I wanted to make sure I got a good charger.

XP10 with 4s2p from Buddipole

When the charger arrived, it was just the battery and the charger in the box with basically is what is shown above.  That's it.  I didn't want to hook up the battery and start charging as I've heard horror stories of batteries going bad from charging incorrectly, so I did some research.  I found after reading the manual there are many presets you can set as the charge controller can charge many different batteries.  What I didn't know is Buddiepole has already programmed the 10XP to presets to charge their batteries.  All I had to do was turn the unit on and select A123 balance charge!

I found a decent video of a earlier version of the 10XP (10S) on charging the Buddipole A123 batteries and made sure I followed this video and took good notes.

While I was researching batteries, I found some good articles on Buddiepole batteries and A123 batteries in general.

Here is the 10XP manual.

If you want some good information about batteries and solar, check out KF7IJZ's webpage.  He's got a good dose of videos on anything power that you should check out.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Current Indoor QRP Rig Setup

I've wanted to document my current indoor QRP setup for a while now, so here it is!  I usually setup in my living room and use the KX3 on my coffee table.  Because my setup is very simple and can be setup/torn down in less than 10 mins, I feel like it can clutter the living room for a small amount of time and be put up quickly and easily when people come over or band conditions change for the worse.

Here are the components : 

Antenna : End fed antenna with a 30' 12 gauge wire.  The wire has a small round ring terminals to connect to the balun on one end and a small paracord loop on the other.  The paracord is attached to the end by shrink wrap.  I used around 4 pieces of shrink wrap, over wrapping each other to help secure the weight of the wire.  I purchased this end fed antenna from the Hawaii Emergency Amateur Radio Group, and I could of made one myself, but was easier to purchase at the time.  The EARCHI shipped it quickly and within a few days to St. Louis, as I remember receiving it in less than a week.  When received, I was happy with the build quality.  The antenna comes with 40' of 18 gauge wire, which I use for my portable setup.  When I'm going to be operating outside my house, I throw the balun in my bag and it goes everywhere with me.  Notice in the picture below, I've zipped tied a loop through one of the holes.  Doing this makes it so much easier to hoist to get the antenna up off the ground. 

End Fed Antenna Balun

Support Pole : Jackite 31' black fiberglass pole.  I removed the top two sections as they were about 75% in length as the rest of the sections and didn't really serve the purpose as they bend very easily and I wanted a more rigid end.  In order to stow the 30' of 12 gauge wire, I purchased a couple of larger dual fingered coat hooks from Home Depot and zip tied them opposite of each other for the cable wrap.  I use velcro to secure the end of the antenna wire to keep it from un-raveling while in transportation.  

End fed antenna wire stowed away

Securing The Antenna and Wire : I setup my Jackite pole outside my front door and on my porch, as it's basically the best and easiest place to setup and be able to keep an eye on it.  I secured the far end of the end fed antenna wire with a loop of paracord and around 4 layers of heat shrink.  I then placed a hose clamp on the top of the fiberglass pole.  The excess hose clamp makes for a good place to hook the paracord loop to raise the antenna up into the air when extending the pole.  I secure pole to my porch railing with small bungy cords and just let the balun end dangle.  I run the coax inside my screen door and then into my living room.

End of end fed antenna with paracord loop and shrink wrap

Hose clamp on top of pole

End of antenna with paracord looped around hose clamp

Secured to the porch railing with bungy cords

End fed antenna dangling from the hose clamp

Front porch with end fed hanging and coax coming into my screen door

Coax : 25' of RG-8/U with PL259 ends.  One of the ends has a SO238 to BNC converter for the KX3.  I've had this coax for close to 20 years, as it's the first coax cables I ever bought and still works great!  I would really like to replace this cable with a shorter length and better quality (less loss).

Power Supply : Radio Shack 13.8 volt power supply.  2.5A output.  The output is really closer to 15 volts, as I'm not sure it's strayed over time or it was originally like that when I purchased it 20 years ago.  I recently found out it was closer to 15V when I purchased a Powerwerx inline watt meter and hooked it up.  I never looked at my KX3 input volts and assumed it was good.  Because I use a long wire and some 5A fuses in-between the power supply and radio, it drops the voltage down to 14.6.  The KX3 accepts anything from 12 to 15V input, so I'm within the limits.  I'm going to be looking to find another power supply soon that has more of a true 13.8V output.  Probably a Aston switching PS to keep the weight down.

Radio Shack Power Supply

Fuses & Power Monitoring : Not sure what they are called, as I picked them up at a local ham fest, but they accept ATC car fuses in a waterproof housing.  I use fuses on both the negative and positive leads as I know some people who only use them on the positive, but I like to know my ground is fused also.  When I use the KX3, I use 5A fuses and they seem to work fine.  I've never blew that low of fuse while using the KX3 when using full wattage (12W).  I think the KX3 pulls around 3 amps when transmitting at 12W.  For power monitoring, I picked up a Powerwerx inline watt meter, which really comes in handy to help check battery drainage and also just give you a satisfaction that your power is clean and and where it should be.

Leads : 12 gauge leads with Anderson power pole ends.  Anderson power pole every single DC power adapter you can get your hands on! Anderson also makes security clips for both attaching power poles permanently to another power pole (see below) and also since power poles come apart (positive/negative) they make clips to help keep the + and - together too.

Two power poles together with security clip

Radio : KX3.  Enough said.  Up to 12 watts.  Filters.  Auto tuner.  All modes on 160m thru 6m.  My portable, my base, my go to radio.  I hook it up to my Android tablet.  I hook it up to my computer.  I remote control it from where ever I am.  This radio is amazing.  I help protect the front with the KX Sides.  Spend the extra dollars and install them.  You'll be glad you did.  Also, if you order this radio, put it together.  Don't order it already assembled.  I learned how this radio works, the different components and if this radio broke, I'd have a good idea on where to start to troubleshoot.  If I can put this radio together, you can too!


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Welcome to the N0KTK Blog!

Welcome to the N0KTK blog and my first post!!!  I decided to start this blog to share my amateur radio experiences as I get back into the hobby.  

My first experience with propagation was back in high school where all of my buddies had CB's in their cars or trucks.  Most summer nights around dusk you could tune towards the bottom of the CB band to hear all sorts of weird chatter on USB but never could understand what they were talking about, as it sounded like the Peanuts teacher.  I first discovered dipoles when I purchased an old CB from a garage sale and didn't have enough money for a base antenna for the house.  Heading over to the library to research antennas, I found you could make a dipole antenna for little to no money, so off I went.  The dipole antenna was a 1/2 wave length and I remember I had to put orange tape all around the guy wires so when my dad mowed the lawn he didn't ruin my masterpiece.  I'd use the CB to talk to my high school buddies that were out on the town and looking for something to do.

After I went to college I started getting into ham radio and noticed the FCC just dropped the 5 WPM morse code requirement, so I was off to the library to pick up the latest study book.  I was first licensed in 1995 as a non-code tech and did some work on 2m around the area, but never really got too involved because of the cost of the radios.  There wasn't a club around my area when I was home from college, so my only exposure was listening to the local skywarn nets during thunderstorm season or hearing a bunch of people complain.  Around 1997 I lost interest and sold my gear.  I picked up amateur radio again around 4 months ago and decided to start studying for my general.  After passing and picking up my first HF transceiver, I've caught the HF bug.  Especially the QRP bug.  After some intense research on the web I bought a KX3 rig and here we are!

Back on Sept 19th 2014, I put my FCC ULS application in for a vanity call (N0KTK) from my original FCC provided call from 1995, KB0RPM.  I was pretty lucky that I got KB0RPM as the next call in line.  RPM is easy for the geeks to remember as it stands for revolutions per minute.  Today, 18 days later from the original vanity request, (12 business days), I checked the website, and it was granted!  I had read from other bloggers who have gained vanity calls, 18 days was about the norm.

The process was very easy, as the hardest part was actually trying to figure out what vanity call I wanted to try and grab.  After looking at what type of calls I could try and obtain (2x3, 1x3, etc..), I settled on a new 1x3.  I looked at words I could spell out and be clever like WG0AT or K7AGE's calls, but nothing really stood out.  Another requirement was it had to be less weight in CW as my previous call, which that wasn't really hard.  KB0RPM in CW weight is 80, which is on the top of the scale for American calls.  I settled on N0KTK.  Not only is the suffix my initials, but it's also very light in CW weight, around 60.

I plan on blogging about my mini-expeditions around the STL area, QRP, antenna making and SOTA work in this blog.  I was inspired by K0JQZ's YouTube videos as I like how he presents and shows his SOTA activations.  Also follow his blog at  One of these weekends I'll get down to the foothills of Missouri to activate some of the ~150 SOTA eligible peaks.  Searching on SOTA or QPR will yield great results and there are lots of great blogs, videos and information out there to help get you started.

I live within the city and do not have a persistent antenna setup as my yard 30' by 150' so there really isn't a place to erect a large dipole or tower.  I use a end fed antenna attached to a 36' kite pole outside my front door using bungy cords to secure it to my railing.  I use a small power supply with my Elecraft KX3 on 40m to 6m (blog post to follow about my setup).  I usually setup on my living room coffee table and after the band conditions go south or I'm done for the night, I pull everything inside and pack up the KX3.  The whole setup take around 5 to 10 mins to deploy.