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Handle: You can call me either Rick. I sometimes use Rik on CW when there are more than one of us in a roundtable.

Profile Photo:Taken during the July 2017 Flight of the Bumblebee QRP 4-hour contest of me and my portable rig. And below is a selfie I took in March 2017 of me at my bedroom station.

My Ham Radio Interests

HF CW: QRP/QRO QRS/QRQ QSK QTX; Traffic nets; Rag chewing; QRP and straight key sprints, portable operations

My CW Hangouts: I monitor or call CQ most mornings between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m. Pacific Time around 3545, 3556, 7034, and/or 7056 kHz looking for a CW rag chew. I'll happily QRS down to 10 wpm (straight key) or 15 to 23 wpm (bug) or QRQ to up to 30 wpm (paddles/keyer). Check my skimmer spots at ReverseBeacon.net to see where to find me. On nice days I use my FT-857d running on solar/battery power on my balcony. Otherwise, I use my TS-590sg in my bedroom.

CQ FRN: Members of the North American QRP CW Club (NAQCC) and other CW enthusiasts residing in the Western States are welcome to join us on the FarnsWORD QRQ roundtable net, FRN, Sunday evenings at 5:00 p.m. on 7056 kHz and again at 8:00 p.m. on 3556 kHz. We have also been exchanging signal reports on 60 meters at 6:00 p.m. on Channel 2 at 5346 kHz.

We're working on our "head copying" skills by sending 20+ wpm with proper or exaggerated word spacing.  We sometimes QRQ to 25 wpm during the last half hour of each net (depending on the abilities of the stations who are still checked in). Check in using QRP for signal reports, if you like, but feel free to QRO if conditions warrant. Seasonal changes in propagation dictate occasional schedule and band changes (see http://naqcc.info/cw_nets.html).

SCN: Want to get your feet wet in a slow CW traffic net? SCN (Southern California Net) is affiliated with WAN (Western Area Net) and RRI (Radio Relay International). SCN meets every weeknight at 7pm Pacific Time on 3537 or 3742 kHz (if QRM) at about 13 wpm, initially, inviting new and slow check-ins. If no newcomers or slow stations are heard, we QRQ to about 20 wpm. We originate, receive, relay, and/or deliver friendly radiograms to exercise our skills for handling emergency and welfare traffic. Take a listen!

PSK31 and other digital modes: I have digital modes up and running with Fldigi on my Lenova Windows 7 laptop with a SignaLink and my IC-735. PSK31 is about the right speed for my typing skills and is my favorite HF digital mode. While I may use a few macros (canned text), I really enjoy keyboard-to-keyboard QSOs on 40 and 30, and 20 meters. I also enjoy experimenting with some of the MFSK modes on K7KY's ORCA net on 80 meters (see ORCAdigitalnet.com).

HF Propagation: Scheduling HF CW nets on the low bands (40 thru 80 meters) requires an understanding of NVIS (near-vertical-incident skywave) propagation. Generally, we enjoy NVIS with low D-layer absorption around sunset on 40m and up to a couple of hours after sunset on 80m.

VHF/UHF: I enjoy talking to friends and strangers on 2-meter and 70-cm FM simplex at home on my balcony, using my FT-857 and a vertical or a yagi that I can turn by hand. I also enjoy talking on various 2m and 70cm repeaters and simplex channels while riding one of my bicycles to and along the beaches using either my Yaesu FT-60 or my Tytera MD-380 DMR HT mounted on my handlbars, with external rear-mounted 40-inch mobile whip and a suitable single-earpiece headset with boom mic. 

General: Antenna experimentation; Solar power; Portable operation.

Principles of Good CW Practice 

As you will have noticed from my list of interests above, I love CW; it's almost an obsession. That doesn't mean that I'm a Morse code speed demon. I'm not. I can head copy and send CW pretty accurately up to 30 wpm, but most of my on-the-air activity is between 21 and 25 wpm. Also, I was a student of B. F. Skinner's studies on operant conditioning, which is all about how we acquire behavioral skills and habits through reinforced practice.

Errorless Learning

Since everything we do tends to become somewhat ingrained, even if we didn't do it intentionally, it's important to minimize mistakes and bad habits during the learning process. For example, when learning the Morse code for the first time, it's important to use a method that minimizes the chance that you will guess the wrong character being sent or that you will send the wrong character or use improper timing when sending a character. It is very difficult and time-consuming to unlearn your mistakes and break bad habits.

I'm not familiar with current code-teaching apps (I used an old fashioned Instructograph punched tape machine back in 1960), but pick one that introduces just one or two new characters at a time and provides practice on those characters at slow speeds (or with wide spacing) such that you're almost bound to copy or send them correctly before learning new characters or increasing the speed.

I'm not sure it's important to learn each character sent at a fairly high speed, such as 13 wpm or 20 wpm, from the very beginning, in order to avoid speed plateaus or to avoid counting dits and dahs. This is the Farnsworth approach. It's not how I learned the code. I had memorized the entire alphabet and numbers as combinations of dots and dashes for a Boy Scout merit badge. So I started copying at about 3 wpm and gradually increased both character and word speed over a period of two weeks to about 7 wpm. After getting my Novice license I experienced no plateaus as my speed increased to 20 wpm over the next year or so. I suspect that this gradual approach will result in most students gradually recognizing whole characters (without counting dits and dahs) and eventually recognizing whole syllables and words or even short commonly-used phrases.

The important thing is to make sure that whatever method you use, your percentage of correct copying and sending remains very high so that you're not learning errors that will plague you for a long time.

Straight Key Timing

I'm a fan of learning various methods of sending good code. I recommend that you start out learning to send using a straight key, in order to get a feel for the correct timing and spacing of characters and words. Some teachers skip teaching the straight key, especially if they're using the Farnsworth method of sending each character at 20 wpm and don't expect their students to be able to send that fast with a straight key. (Neither can I. In fact my fastest sending speed using a straight key is 14 wpm. Few people can send over 20 wpm with a straight key.)

If you set the contact spacing of a straight key such that you can hear the clicks, both when the key bottoms out and when it comes up to rest, then you can easily learn to send properly-spaced dits. Turn off (or turn down the volume of) the audio oscillator or sidetone so that all you hear is the key clicks. Sending any string of dits should sound like evenly-spaced clicks, two clicks per dit. That will almost guarantee that your dits have the same duration as the spacing between dits within a character.

Then turn up the volume of your sidetone and verify that the dits and inter-dit spacing are of equal duration and that the dits are evenly spaced. Get good at it at whatever speed you intend to use on the air.

A dah should have three times the duration a dit. Including the inter-element spacing, two dits (with following spaces) should take exactly as long to send as one dah (with following space). You can verify that you're doing it right by sending the following sequence:


The underscored ds should be exactly evenly spaced or at a constant rhythm. Get used to the sound of that so that you know how long to make the dahs relative to the dits when sending using either a straight key or bug. It would help for you to also voice the code the same way. That's why we leave off the 't' of all but the last dit in a voiced sequence or character, so that your voice timing will mimic the correct timing when using a key. When you're not at your rig or code practice oscillator, you can practice voicing code while you drive or cook or walk in the woods (when alone - otherwise, people will think you're psychotic and babbling.)

Proper Spacing

Nothing makes it more difficult to copy a person's fist than inconsistent or insufficient spacing between letters or words. Don't be tempted to crowd the inter-letter or inter-word spacing when you're in a hurry. You'll end up having to repeat yourself, or the other operator will pretend to have copied when he actually didn't. Try decoding the following badly-spaced code by correcting the character and word spacing, and see how long it takes. We don't have time to resolve scrambled text in real time during a CW QSO.


(The solution is: "otherwise u hv to decode something like this")

Errorless Practice/Warmup

Once you've become somewhat proficient at sending code, whether using a straight key, a bug or a keyer with paddles, it can be very helpful for you to always warm up errorlessly prior to actually getting on the air each day or each session. This works for typing, playing tennis, and playing the piano, as well as for sending code - and for any other motor skill. Here's how I warm up each morning or evening prior to getting on the air.

I enable the transceiver's sidetone in CW mode while disabling the transmitter. Using whatever type of key I'm planning to use on the air, I carefully send each letter of the alphabet, followed by digits 1 through 9 and 0, followed by "A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." - all at a slow enough speed and with sufficient focus to send the entire exercise without a single error. If I do make an error, I repeat the character in context a few times and then repeat the exercise until I get it perfect twice in a row. Then I repeat the exercise at higher and higher speeds (if necessary) until I can errorlessly send the warmup exercise at the speed I intend to use on the air.

After weeks or months of following these practices, I find I can usually send the entire warmup exercise error-free the first time through at the final speed. If you have acquired a bad habit - I had trouble sending the letter L using iambic B mode - you can unlearn it using the technique I used, which was to practice (daily) sending every four-letter word ending with a double-L in alphabetical order: All, ball, bell, bill, boll, bull, call, cell, cull, etc. I finally stopped sending R or F for the letter L during my QSOs after a couple weeks of this practice. But you see how much effort it took to unlearn the bad habit, which is why you must endeavor to avoid errors in the first place.

My Ham Radio Affiliations

American Radio Relay League;

ARRL Official Relay Station;

Radio Relay International;

CW Operators (CWops # 1466);

Straight Key Century Club (SKCC # 13569);

FISTS CW Club (FISTS # 17247);

North American QRP CW Club (NAQCC # 7686);

QRP Amateur Radio Club International (QRP ARCI # 15691);

Quarter Century Wireless Association (QCWA # 36912);

The Samuel F Morse Amateur Radio Club (w6sfm.com);

Pacific Amateur Radio Guild (www.pargguild.org)

The PAPA UHF analog/D-Star/DMR linked repeater system (papasys.com);

Keller Peak Repeater Association (www.kpra.net/)

Southern California Radio Network (www.scrn.net/)

Westside Amateur Radio Club (WA6RC.org).

My Equipment

HF "Bedroom" Station: 1988 vintage Icom IC-735 (80 thru 10 meters), my Kenwood TS-590SG (HF + 6 meters), the Arduino-based Ten-Tec Patriot 507 (40 & 20 meters) sitting on top of the MFJ-935 "Mobile antenna tuner", and SignaLink USB with Windows 7 Pro ThinkPad laptop running Fldigi. My big IC-761 has been decommissioned. The chrome bug to to the right of my chrome Bencher paddles is a Vibroplex Original recently won at a ham picnic auction. It's extended weight arm slows it down to 16 wpm. The blue bug to its right is the beautiful Vibroplex Blue Racer 2K I purchased new in late 2016 and set to 21 to 23 wpm. And the blue object sitting atop my Patriot at the left is the SKCC Commemorative straight key. It weighs more than the rig! I do love blue!

Solar/Battery-Powered "Balcony" Station: Ten-Tec Patriot (5 watts SSB/CW on 40 and 20 meters); Weber Tri-Bander (5 watts CW on 40, 20, and 15 meters); Yaesu FT-857D (5-100 watts all modes, all bands). Despite the overhanging roof, I don't usually leave my gear out here when it's raining. The mounting boards simplify the task of carrying each rig in or out.

The marine battery (above) is kept charged by a Harbor Freight 45-watt solar kit sitting on a card table at one end of the balcony that now gets only morning sun.

Below is a recent photo of my balcony setup, showing my VHF/UHF quads and a Hustler MO-3 "sideways vertical" mobile antenna (with 80-meter coil shown). I also have another Hustler MO-3 on the left corner of my balcony with a tri-band bracket and coils for 20, 30 and 40 meters on it. I was forced by my landlord to take down all my rooftop antennas, including the AV-680 vertical, as of July 31, 2017. Nothing sticks above the roofline anymore. The Cubex quads have dropped in frequency since I built them, and I've taken them down to be replaced by Arrow yagis (ordered, not yet received).

VHF/UHF Bicycle Rigs: Yaesu FT-60 dual band HT setup. Below is a photo of my handlebar "dash board" for the FT-60. The PTT/VOX dongle on the headset cord is clipped to the left grip with a zip tie , allowing me to operate PTT with my thumb while keeping both hands on the handlebars. Having the radio in front of me allows me to see the display and conveniently change modes and channels, etc.

I mounted the Diamond NR770HNMOB dual band whip on the rear bike carrier, as shown below.

Portable All-Band/All-Mode "Cutting Board" Rig: Yaesu FT-857D mounted on a plastic cutting board with 4-Amp-hour LiFePO4 motorcycle battery and American Morse straight key and paddle. I use this rig on my balcony with solar power and marine battery as well as for Field Day and overnight camping excursions.

QRP SOTA/Portable Rig: Weber Tri-Band (40/20/15 meter) 5 watt CW rig built from a kit and mounted on a cheap clipboard with 2-Amp-hour LiFePO4 motorcycle battery and a matching pair of straight key and paddles. Probably, I'll be using my new KX2, next time.

Arduino-based Ten-Tec Patriot QRP rig: I use this rig with that huge SKCC key for various sprints in which I get bonus points for straight key operations. When I first got the key I thought it was a real "clunker" - it's much larger than I had imagined. But actually, I'm able to send faster with it than with other straight keys, due to its heavy armature and bouncy contacts and stops. And blue is my favorite color! I just hope the tenants downstairs don't complain about the "woodpecker" they hear through their ceiling!

I've not done much programming yet of the Arduino (actually, a ChipKit Uno board) - just things like changing the power-up default frequencies on each band. I'll also be changing the order in which the Select and Function button options operate. (Functions should logically be in opposite order: Band, Step, BW. And the tuning steps should also be in reverse order: 10kHz, 1kHz, 100Hz.) I haven't implemented any frequency display or automatic keyer functions. I might eventually hook this radio up to my SignaLink to use as a QRP digital HF radio with fldigi. I won't be taking it on SOTA activations.

Portable HF Antenna: 20/40 meter fan dipole (also works on 15 meters) atop 39-ft telescoping aluminum mast. The antenna and mast weigh 12.5 lbs. Note that I use hose clamps as simple stops 6-to-12 inches from the bottom of each section and so don't need to cut slits into the tops of each tube to secure them. This is the antenna I used for Field Day in 2015 and again in 2016 and for my first SOTA activation of San Gabriel Peak. I've replaced the wires with new ones that don't have splices or 15-meter capacitive hats. A better way to get it to resonate on the CW portion of 15 meters is to clip on 18 inches of wire at each end of the 40-meter dipole using alligator clips.

I added wires for 80 meters for Field Day 2017, making it a tri-band fan dipole. It worked great! I passed our radiogram traffic on the SCN 80-meter CW net for bonus points.

DF Antennas - Below is a 2-meter Tape Measure Yagi made with 1/2" PVC pipe and fittings and 1" wide steel measuring tape. Inside the aluminum box is an "offset attenuator", which is a mixer with a 4 MHz crystal oscillator so that you can tune 4 MHz up or down from the received signal and adjust an injection voltage to attenuate the signal strength as much as needed to prevent a full-scale or full-quieting signal as you approach the hidden transmitter. Having the handle above the clipboard (and map and HT) helps balance the antenna when holding it just behind the reflector. I clip my HT to the top of the clipboard. 

I used RG-316 teflon-insulated coax, winding six turns over the boom to serve as an RF choke or 1:1 current balun. The white-insulated "hairpin" creates a perfect match for 50-ohm coax. Note how the flexible steel tape measure elements can be folded and inserted into the PVC fittings for compact transport and storage. The last photo shows the inside arrangement of the offset attenuator components. The PC board was assembled from KC9ON's $10 kit.



Below is a 2-meter cubical quad I built earlier for fox hunting. It's made using wooden dowels and solid 10-gauge aluminum wire. The aluminum loop elements proved to be too flimsy, and the antenna is overly bulky to store and transport. I connected the two ends of coax directly to the PC board in the offset attenuator. The plastic box in which I mounted the offset attenuator was too small to accommodate the 9-volt battery, which is zip-tied to the outside of the box. The antenna is light and works great for direction-finding!


Current Events (most recent, first)

Latest 'temporary' rooftop dipole (Sep 24, 2017)

After my landlord asked me to remove all my rooftop antennas a couple of months ago, I do sometimes sneak up an inverted-vee dipole up there on a Sunday afternoon to use for the three CW roundtable nets I have that evening, and I usually take it down early the next morning. The telescoping aluminum mast extends to about 31 feet with the base fitting neatly into an iron sewer vent pipe. A cross bolt 12 inches from the bottom of the outer tube keeps anything from falling down the vent pipe.

This started out as a 60-meter halfwave inverted-vee following the centerline of the roof. Then I added 20-foot extensions at right angless, sloping down toward opposite corners of the roof to cover 80 meters. I attach jumpers with alligator clips across the 60-meter end insulators to switch bands. And last Sunday I added 40-meter wires at the feed point at right angles to the 60-meter wires. This also works well without any extensions on 15 meters. So now the antenna covers four CW bands. It is a combination fan-/bent-/inverted-vee dipole It takes me half an hour to erect it and half an hour to take it down.

And if I want to use it again on Monday evening for my CW traffic nets I simply collapse the mast, which takes about five minutes, which results in the wires laying flat on the roof, making everything invisible from the ground. I push it back up Tuesday evening for my nets. Then I take the whole thing down and off the roof early Tuesday morning.

As you can see, the 40-meter apex angle is about 90 degrees. It works great! I think it's pretty much omni-directional. And I was surprised to discover that it has a nearly flat SWR on the 15-meter CW band, as well, without me having to add any clip-on extensions. The 'elbow' at the upper right corner of the photo shows the jumper across one end of the 60-meter dipole for connecting the 80-meter extension. That insulator is supported by a rope tied to the elevator room landing guard rail. The far end is supported by part of the mast that used to support my dual-band VHF/UHF vertical, mounted to my balcony wall and bracketed to the far edge of the roof.

New balcony antennas and a new Elecraft KX2. Happy 72nd Birthday to me! (Aug 2017)

After playing with an Alpha Loop magnetic loop antenna for balcony operations, which worked poorly because of surrounding metal objects (galvanized steel wall cover plate, overhead aluminum perimeter gutter, stucco walls with embedded chicken wire), I followed the example of one of our FRN participants who has an 8th floor condo in Newport Beach and am now using a Hustler MO-3 mobile antenna as a horizontal balcony antenna with pretty good results. I liked it so well that I ordered and installed a second one. The metal balcony wall plate is the counterpoise for each antenna. One is leaning on the center of my 22-foot balcony wall pointing East and the other (shown below) is leaning on the the corner of the wall pointing North at right angles. I use the 60 and 80-meter coils on the first one, and a 3-coil bracket with 20, 30 and 40 meter coils on the second one. They work great! I figure they make great NVIS antennas on 80, 60 and 40 meters. The new one should work pretty well as a quarter-wave dipole (with ground counterpoise) on 30 and 20 meters, being 8 meters above ground and 15 meters above average terrain.

Below is a photo of one of my two MO-3 "sideways vertical" mobile whips, with the tri-band coils pointing north, underneath which are the segmented parts of my Hy-Gain AV-680 and Comet GP-95 antennas for storage that I had to take down.

In the meantime for portable operations I tried using my Weber Tri-bander with the Alpha Loop at a picnic table in a nearby park for the July  30 Flight of the Bumblebee 4-hour sprint (see my new profile photo). The Weber Tri-bander 5W CW transceiver (covering 15, 20 and 40 meters) wasn't a good match for the relatively inefficient mag loop. Aside from not being heard by up to half the stations I called, I had a hard time hearing each band's background noise well enough to peak it up using the mag loop's tuning capacitor, which is the only way (without using an external SWR bridge) to tune the loop.

So ... I caved in and ordered me an Elecraft KX2 (without internal ATU or batteries) to use with the Alpha Loop for portable situations. It puts out 10 watts and has a great receiver! And it's much lighter than the FT-857 I used two years ago with a 13-lb fan dipole/telescoping mast - 8 pounds vs 25 pounds. And it covers 80 thru 10 meters, including 60 meters. My first real test will be during a 4-day "ham camp" expedition with members of the PAPA Repeater System on Santa Cruz Island, August 10 thru 13.

Landlord reneged on permission for rooftop antennas and solar panels (July 2017)

Three siblings jointly own my apartment building, and the brother who gave me permission to put antennas and the solar panels on the roof 2-1/2 years ago has relinquished control over the building to his sister, who is not nearly so ham-friendly. My antennas and solar panels caused zero complaints and zero harm to the building in the two and a half years they've been up there. Plus I have $300,000 of liability insurance covering any damage or harm the antennas might cause. Plus I've been a model tenant. 

All the above notwithstanding, in their attempt to get me to move out (so they can rent my rent-controlled apartment to a transient student who would pay higher rent), the owners demanded that I remove all my antennas and solar panels from the roof before agreeing to renew my lease beginning August 1, 2017. There are few options here in SoCal for hams on retirement income to rent or own a place that would permit outside or rooftop antennas, so I have agreed to the new terms and renewed my lease (much to the owners' chagrin, I'm sure).

Bandpass filters for Field Day (Updated July, 2017)

During both the 2014 and 2015 club Field Day exercises we found that our two HF stations interfered with each other, even when operating on different (but adjacent) bands. I was operating CW with my FT-857, and the other station used a TS-570 operating SSB. I did some research and now believe that the problem was mostly something called "phase noise" whereby modern synthesized VFOs generate some 'jitter' that results in phase-modulated white noise sidebands that can be heard across several bands by closely-spaced stations. The solution is to insert T/R bandpass filters between the rig and antenna (or amplifier) that reduce adjacent-band noise by at least 30 dB. The additional advantage of the filter being in the receiver's RF path is that it can eliminate desense, intermod, and other kinds of problems caused by very strong out-of-band input signals from the other station.

I ordered the parts and built three bandpass filters using the pi-section design (three or five tuned circuits). The 15- and 20-meter filters use five tuned circuits and the 40-meter filter uses three. I used powdered iron toroids (type 6) wound with 20-gauge wire and 500v dipped silvered mica capacitors for the tuned circuits. These will handle up to 100 watts. I also built one of the HecKit dip meters to use for tuning the filters.

This one is typical of the three filters in design and construction. I used a piece of cardboard and some epoxy cement to mount and mechanically stabilize the toroids.

These filters worked great, this year! There was virtually no intra-station QRM between my FT-857 (20 watt CW) and the club's TS-820 (100 watt SSB) on adjacent bands. We used commercial band-pass filters on the club station.

Experimental 60-meter Dipole (updated July, 2017)

I was hoping the landlord would let me permanently install this 84-foot long 60-meter dipole on the roof. Here is a photo of its temporary installation. I can put it up or take it down in less than 30 minutes. The base fits snugly inside of an iron sewer vent pipe, and the wires and rope guys take any stress off the pipe. The 31-foot tall mast consists of 7 telescoping sections of aluminum tubing purchased from Texas Towers. 

Eventually, I had hoped to add two pairs of coaxial traps (using RG-316) so that it would also cover 80- and 160-meters, as well. The wires would bend at the first set of traps and slope downward to the opposite corners of the roof for a total length of about 136 feet. Up till now it has worked great on 60 meters, where I check into a Sunday evening CW net run by JB NR5NN.

Update: Not only did the landlord never quite get around to approving the permanent installation, but after July 31, 2017, I'll be restricted from having any permanent antennas on the roof.

My new Vibroplex Blue Racer 2K bug (Updated July, 2017)

Just before Christmas, 2016, I purchased a new Vibroplex Blue Racer. Then in late June I purchased a mint Vibroplex Original Deluxe at a PAPA picnic auction (from a Silent Key estate). So the two bugs are shown below between the chrome Bencher paddles and the Nye Bros straight key.

Blue is my favorite color. You might even say I'm obsessed with blue. So now I have both the blue SKCC straight key (not shown) and a Vibropex Blue Racer 2K bug, each with bright blue base. I'm not a big fan of bugs, but after 57 years of CW I figured I should own one and learn how to use it. And, besides, some of my best friends are bug users. I can use the two bugs along with a straight key for QRS and QRQ contacts during SKCC sprints. I can only send 14 wpm with a straight key; the Original is set to 16 wpm (using a weight extender on the pendulum) and the Blue Racer is set to 21 wpm.

My new TS-590SG (November, 2016)

I fell in love with the latest version of Kenwood's TS-590 transceiver, the SG model. It has smooth, fast, quiet QSK. The tunable variable bandwidth filter is a marvel, with minimal ringing on noise. It really does improve the signal-to-noise ratio on CW signals to reduce the bandwidth down to as low as 50 Hz!! And the DSP noise reduction filters (there are two different ones) work pretty well, so long as the CW signal isn't deep into the noise, in which case both signal and noise disappear.

The Kenwood (above) replaces my Icom IC-761 in my shack, and my mint condition IC-735 (below) is doing digital modes. 


This is my co-operator, Tawny, overseeing my balcony station. He was holding my place in my logbook while listening to some CW. He never shares his head copy with me, though.

WA6RC Field Day June 2016

Once again I operated CW with the Westside ARC on VA grounds using my "cutting board" rig, the FT-857, with the solar-charged marine deep cycle battery and my reburbished fan dipole. I supported the base of the 39-foot telescoping aluminum mast with the two-wheel dolly weighted down with the marine battery. That's a homebrew 2-meter vertical yagi 2/3 the way up made from a discarded TV antenna by my FD partner Steve K6WSJ. We used it to pass a dozen radiograms to Pasadena from West LA on 2-meter CW for bonus points.


Santa Cruz Island PAPA "Radio Camp" August 2015

On August 6, 2015, I boarded a boat in Ventura Harbor with several other PAPA members, and we sailed 20 miles across the channel to Santa Cruz Island for a 4-day "radio camp". The island has no AC power or cellphone coverage. And no stores for purchasing forgotten supplies. 

In preparation I built another version of a fan dipole using lamp cord. I remembered reading an article decades ago about a multi-band dipole made from a single length of 4-conductor flat rotor control cable, with each conductor cut for a different band. The conductors were not separated and must have been about 1/16 of an inch apart. So I figured I could use "zip line" (fancy word for lamp cord) to combine two bands on each of two dipoles at right angles to each other, thus doubling the number of bands without requiring additional end supports. I decided to combine 40 and 20 meters in one direction and 30 and 17 meters in the other (at right angles).

Long story short, it didn't work at all during my rooftop testing. I got no SWR dip at either 20 or 17 meters. So then I pulled the two conductors apart all the way back to the center insulator and tied the ends of the shorter conductors to the end insulators of the longer conductors (using twine), and made sure that one conductor sagged a few inches below the other all the way from center to end. And, guess what? It worked like a charm! I got dips (using my antenna analyzer) on all four bands, plus dips at the top ends of 15 and 10 meters, as well (where the 40 and 30 meter wires acted as 3/2-wave dipoles). So this little fan dipole covers 4 CW bands and 2 phone bands without any need for a tuner - and with an SWR less than 1.2:1 at resonance in the 40, 30, 20, and 17 meter CW bands, once I had adjusted the lengths.

Below are two photos I took of the new fan dipole on my rooftop test site showing how the four insulated wires were oriented. I used only the top 4 sections of tubing for this test. You can also see my HF vertical in the background so don't get it confused with the fan dipole.


I zipped the entire antenna and telescoping aluminum mast (and a folding chair and some other stuff) into my old sleeping bag which I then enclosed in a surfboard case (totalling about 30 lbs), which the ferry would allow on the boat as luggage. Plus I had my 50-lb ice chest (with two giant slabs of dry ice) and my 40-lb duffel bag and my 15-lb backpack holding what I now refer to as my "Cutting Board rig" (FT-857 with LiFePO4 battery and keys and mic) and my brand new and untested 4-panel folding solar collector and charge controller, and my logbook. Naturally, I had to carry all that stuff from the dock onto the boat and again from the boat to the anchorage at the island. Fortunately, others in our party had smuggled two-wheel "deer carts" onto the boat to help transport our stuff (in several trips) from the anchorage to the campsite half a mile away.

The antenna went up nicely, but one end of the 30/17 meter dipole had to go through some tree branches (above my head in the photo), bending around them quite a bit. But the insulated wires seemed unaffected by contact with leaves and branches, and the antenna loaded perfectly on all bands. The mast was the same seven 6-foot sections of telescoping aluminum tubing that I had used on my San Gabriel Peak SOTA activation and during Field day. I extended it to its full 38 feet height. The photo below shows only the bottom 12 feet of the mast. The soil was so rocky that I could only drive one of the three tent stakes into the ground for the lower guy ropes. Do you like my workaround for the other two?

Long story short, I had a great time on the island camping for the first time in about 30 years. I did lots of hiking and sea kayaking/cave exploring, but very little operating. The background noise was so low that it didn't even register on my S-meter, compared with an average S-7 noise level at home using my rooftop vertical. But conditions were not very good that weekend, and signals were few and weak on all bands. I got on for less than an hour each day, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings (around sunset) and Saturday morning (around sunrise), but I only worked a total of 8 stations, 3 of which were working the SKCC weekend "cootie" sprint.

San Gabriel Peak Summit Activation July 2015

On Sunday, July 19, I "activated" San Gabriel Peak for SOTA chasers. I drove about 45 miles to a parking area most of the way up the San Gabriel mountains between Mt. Wilson and Mt. Disappointment, from which I hiked along a fire road for about a mile and then up a steep trail for another mile up to San Gabriel Peak, which is designated on SOTAWatch.com as W6/CT-019. The vertical rise above the parking area was about 1000 feet, with the peak listed as 6161 feet above sea level. I can see this peak on any clear day from my balcony (see earlier photo of my AV-680 vertical. It's the highest peak visible in the background.)

Below is a photo taken by a passerby of me toward the beginning of my hike with San Gabriel Peak in the background. It might not look like it but it was a grueling 1.7 mile, 1000 ft ascent to the top from there. 

I am carrying the fan dipole and mast, which weighs 12.5 lbs with all seven 6-foot sections of aluminum tubing, about 100 feet of 7 x 22 gauge copper-clad steel antenna wire, and 50 feet of RG-58u coax attached to a center insulator that is U-bolted to the top of the top section.

In addition, my "breadboard rig" was tucked neatly into my backpack with room to spare, with my Coleman folding seat riding over the outside of the backpack, weighing a total of about 12 lbs. The cooler bag contains two Atkins shakes along with some of those freezer paks to keep then cold. So my total load, in addition to my body weight of 162 lbs, added up to about 25 lbs. Most SOTA activators would be shocked - SHOCKED - at the weight of my rig and antenna, not to mention the fact that I didn't take any water up with me. (I drank lots of water at the car and figured it would hold me for the duration until I got back to the car, thus saving two or three pounds of load. Big mistake!!)

That's my summit setup shown below. The bench was a heavy length of iron U-beam, perfect for my VHF/UHF mag mount!

The SOTA activation was a great success, and a great learning experience. I know a few things not to do or to do differently. I'm resistant to taking other people's advise, once I have a plan. Live and learn! First, let me offer my justification for carrying such a heavy rig and antenna:

I wanted a good signal from the summit and decided to buy the full-powered (100W) Yaesu FT-857 instead of the QRP (5W) FT-817, the most popular SOTA rig of all time. (The Elecraft KX3 is even more popular among those who can afford one; it's the Cadillac or Collins of portable transceivers.) My "breadboard rig" also makes a great rig for a radio camp, for Field Day, and to use with solar power on my balcony. 

I also have a much lighter Ten-Tec Patriot (5 watts on 40 and 20 meters) that I could have taken, instead, and with the great antenna, 5 watts might have been enough for most of the stations I worked to have heard me. A QRO rig requires a bigger battery, and the LiFePO4 motorcycle battery weighs only 1.5 lbs and is rated at 4 Amp-hours. However, the FT-857 does not have a built-in automatic antenna tuner (and neither does the Patriot), which influenced my antenna choice. Having to use an external tuner with some kind of end-fed or shortened antenna adds weight and complications and isn't as good at radiating a signal.

I had used fan dipoles back in the 60s when I was a teenager. They work great! Feed full half-wave dipoles on two or three different bands, all attached at the same center insulator and fed with a single coax feedline (no balun needed), and you have all the advantages of full-sized separate dipoles but with a single feedline: broad bandwidth (no need for baluns or tuners), high efficiency, and (mostly) horizontal polarization. But for 20 meters and above, you need to get the center of the inverted-vee dipole up to about half a wavelength, which is 33 feet on 20 meters. That's just a little bit more than most fiberglass fishing poles and kite poles can go and still support the weight of the wires and feed line without buckling. So I found where to buy telescoping 6-foot sections of aluminum tubing - Texas Towers - and got me some. I ended up ordering 8 sections, going from 3/4 inches to 1-5/8 inches in 1/8-inch increments. I've never used the largest section, which I don't really need.

When extending the sections and overlapping each section 12 inches, seven sections can achieve a height of 36 feet, and that's what I was carrying in the photo below. But I ended up only extending the pole to 30 feet, for various reasons. Next time I'll take only the top five or six sections and overlap them only 6 inches, for a maximum height of 28 or 33.5 feet, respectively - perfect! That will save one or two pounds of weight. I'll use seven - or maybe all eight - sections on longer camping trips and future Field Days.

I could reduce the weight by another pound by substituting thinner, lighter antenna wire and using coat buttons instead of those heavy ceramic end insulators. (You don't really need insulators per se when using synthetic cord to tie each end of the wire to a tree or bush.) But all-in-all, I'm in love with this setup, and I'm not interested in switching to a 3-ounce end-fed wire with 9:1 balun and 5-lb fishing pole or some kind of loop or coil-loaded vertical.

Guying the bottom section of mast using poly cord and thin steel tent stakes was a good idea, but I needed a better way to store the wires and poly extension cords without having to worry about premeasuring them or cutting each one to length. It took a good 30 minutes to erect the antenna and another 30 minutes to take it down and coil everything neatly, but I think I can cut that in half.

Long story short (oops, too late) I ran 20 watts and worked 16 CW stations on 20m and 8 on 40m, as well as another dozen on 2 meter FM, all within about an hour of operation, at the end of which my LiFePO4 motorcycle battery was only half depleted. I could have gone another hour, but I ran out of SOTA chasers to work. I'll be doing this again

WA6RC Field Day June 2015

I tested my portable "cutting board" station during my local club's Field Day on July 25, 2015 (see photo below and at top of bio). Both the rig and fan dipole supported by the telescoping aluminum mast worked splendidly.

My Ham Bio

I got my Extra reinstated with a newly issued call (AI6FR) on Nov. 21, 2014, after being off the air since 1993 and letting my former license (N9EX) expire in 1997. I got my current vanity call (N6IET) on Mar. 14, 2014. I now go by the handle Rik on the air. Details below:

KN5FMF - I grew up in Carlsbad, NM, and got interested in ham radio at age 14. I remembered that my former Cub Scout den mother's husband had some kind of a radio shack behind their house. He was Lee Almy, W5WBD (SK). He had a 10/15 meter cubical quad w/"armstrong" rotor next to his shack. He used a National HRO-50 receiver with a Heathkit DX-100 "plate modulated" transmitter. He lent me an Instructograph Morse code practice machine (w/vacuum tube oscillator and spring-wound punched tape mechanism) to send practice 5-letter code cyphers. I had learned Morse code for a Boy Scout merit badge. It took me two weeks to get my code speed to 7 wpm and pass the Novice exam.

I got my ticket in the mail about 6 weeks later (after my 15th birthday in August, 1960). My first station was a Philmore general coverage receiver kit and a borrowed Heathkit AT-1 CW transmitter (about 20 watts output) into to an end fed longwire antenna (using a Heathkit tuner) routed along the eves of our roof. My first contact on 7153 kHz was with Fred, KN5EIE in El Paso, Texas. Everything I touched in the shack gave me RF burns. :-)

K5FMF - With the help of another Elmer, Dick Bikkers, K5EHB (SK), I earned my Conditional ticket a month later (issued in September). I built a Heathkit DX-60 and used it with a Navy surplus regenerative receiver, mostly on 40 meter CW. I also checked into a 40 meter phone net regularly called "The New Mexico Breakfast Club". (A bunch of old fogies. Now I'm an old fogy!)

About a year later I built a Heathkit HG-10 VFO and a Knight-kit R-100 receiver. Here's what I and my station looked like at age 16. At left I was inserting parts on one of the two R-100 PC boards.


About this time I put up a 40-meter dipole between two 15-foot 3-inch diameter iron water pipes I found in a vacant lot. It worked on 15 meters, as well. (With tube finals and pi-net final tuning, we didn't worry too much about SWRs below 5:1.) Within a year or two I started checking into 40-meter CW traffic nets.

As my speed exceeded my ability to send using a straight key, I borrowed somebody's bug and found I could send up to 20 wpm of properly spaced code. Above that I couldn't properly space my dahs, so I built a Heathkit electronic keyer (with microswitches as contacts), and my Morse speed climbed to 25 wpm. I've not used a bug ever since.

Around 1962 I built a QRP 1-watt (input) CW transmitter for 40 meters (using a pair of 2N696 finals) and a matching receiver using a 7-transister AM pocket radio as the IF. Ultimately, I worked 30 states with that rig on 7053 kHz. 

WA4NEM - My family moved to Lakeland, FL, in 1963 - during the middle of my senior year of high school. I put up a 40-meter inverted vee on a 40-foot telescoping ("push-up") mast. I built an Eico 753 tri-band (80-20m) transceiver kit (with a solid state VFO and a pair of 6148 tube finals). I called it the "seven drifty three", because its VFO drifted so badly.

In the fall of 1963 I started attending NMSU in Las Cruces, where I operated the club station, W5GB, occasionally, for the next 12 months. I was majoring in EE.

In 1965 I transferred to Polk Junior College (in Bartow, Fla, at the time) for a couple years and operated from my bedroom at home. My 40-foot push-up mast got struck by lightning, which melted my RG-58/U feedline and toasted the rectifier diodes in my Seven Drifty Three. (The antenna was unplugged; the damage came via a six-inch spark from my disconnected antenna feedline to my Heathkit keyer cable shield and then through the transceiver to ground thru the power outlet.)

In 1965 I drove to Tampa and took and passed the Extra Class exam. I had trouble sending 20 wpm with a straight key, but receiving at that speed was no problem. I seem to remember having to actually draw a schematic of a Colpitts Oscillator. I also took and passed my Radiotelegraph Second Class License exam while I was at it.

In 1967 I started my junior year as a Psychology major at UF in Gainesville. When I came home on weekends I continued to operate HF CW and SSB with my Eico 753 and also enjoyed rag-chewing with local friends on 6-meter AM using a Heathkit Sixer "lunchbox" I'd bought used.

In early 1970 I quit graduate school (at UF) and joined a "Walden Two" commune called Twin Oaks in central Virginia. I never got on the air, there; I must have sold my Seven Drifty Three. What was I thinking? Ham radio from a rural commune would have been a great idea! (Twin Oaks Commune thrives to this day.)

In early 1971 I left the commune and joined the residential staff of Green Valley School (for emotionally disturbed adolescents) in Orange City, Fla., and helped 6 teenage boys earn their Novice tickets. We used my homebrew QRPp rig and a 40-meter dipole as our station. 

WA3SQQ - About 9 months later I moved to Silver Spring, MD, to live with with my brother and some other people. I didn't get back on the air until after getting a teaching job near Croom, MD, (25 miles SE of DC) in 1972. There I rented the basement apartment of an old farmhouse and erected a Hustler 4BTV vertical (with 8 buried ground radials) and built a Heathkit HW-101 transceiver. I had fun running the MDD CW traffic net on 40 meters, mostly.

W3HMT - The FCC changed the rules and allowed current holders of 1 x 3 calls to get another 1 x 3 call in their new call district. So I applied for a secondary station license based in my New Mexico home town and got my former K5FMF call back. Then I finessed the 1 x 3 station license to get W3HMT in exchange for WA3SQQ.

In 1973 I talked the landlady into letting me put the 4BTV vertical on the chimney at the peak of her all-metal roof, using the roof as the ground plane. That worked OK, but the SWR was a bit high because of the low impedance (25-30 Ohms) at the feed point.

W9NJG - In April, 1974, I secured a technician job with Motorola in Schaumburg, Illinois, while visiting my parents in Lincolnshire (near Deerfield), and I moved back in with them for a year or so. I built my own gin pole from a thick-walled aluminum conduit and erected a 55-foot Universal steel tower bracketed to the roof just outside my 2nd-story bedroom. No guywires were needed. I put a Moseley TA-33 triband beam on top, and strung 40- and 80-meter inverted-vees just underneath. It was a great setup. I had the power company fix half a dozen sources of powerline noise during that year, which I had sniffed out in the neighborhood using a portable SW radio.

A year later (1975) I bought my first home, a cheap old one-bedroom cottage near Lake Zurich. I moved the tower and added sections to take it up to 70 feet, guyed at three levels. I put egg insulators on the top set of guys, making them into 40-meter reflectors for three 40-meter sloper dipoles in between the guy wires. I was almost always able to get a 6dB advantage of one sloper over the others during a contact, so they worked well. I also put up an 80-meter inverted vee, which fit corner-to-corner on my 120 x 135-foot lot. My hamshack was located in a small furnace room at the rear of the house right next to the base of my tower. I built a nice custom desk/table for it from plywood and 2 x 4s.

About that time I met some hams who hung out on a 2-meter repeater (147.72/.12) in Crystal Lake. I built two 8-element quagis (quad driven- and reflector elements with 6 yagi director elements - all fashioned from 10-gauge aluminum "clothesline wire" - on wooden booms) and mounted them about 10 feet apart, vertically polarized, and installed the assembly ten feet above my HF tribander. The main lobe was quite sharp!! I could work mobiles simplex from Milwaukee to Kankakee!

I also got into 2-meter fox hunting. I built a cubical quad using wooden dowels and that same 10-gauge stiff aluminum clothesline wire, and the antenna had no tendency to windmill when driving 60 mph. I could unscrew one wing nut to detach the boom from the mast when we reached the point of having to proceed on foot and used it with a home-made voltage controlled audio oscillator whose pitch was controlled by the voltage output of a diode detector. It worked like a charm just aim for the highest pitch!

N9EX - In about 1977 the FCC allowed Extras to get a 1 x 2 call of their choosing. The 'N' prefix had just been made available. I considered what might sound short and rhythmic on CW and not require phonetics on phone; I picked N9EX and got it!

I bought a used Drake R-4C receiver to use (for QSK CW) with my HW-101 and built a Heathkit SB-200 (500-watts output) amp. I had a great setup!

I also bought an Icom IC-2AT 2-meter HT "brick" and operated bicycle mobile with a quarter-wave ground plane mounted behind and above my head on the rear bike carrier.

I built a Heathkit HW-8 QRP rig. For one Field Day I took it and a double-size (12v) lantern battery and a 40-meter dipole (in a briefcase "Go To" box) on my bike to Big Foot Beach State Park near Lake Geneva, Wisc, 50 miles away. I strung up the dipole in a tree. That was a memorable weekend! (Ask me about it if you ever work me.)

In June of 1982 I wrote code to implement a matching/dating service called ComQuest on my Apple II, and I simultaneously met a guy who became my domestic partner for 21 years. 

In 1987 my partner talked me into buying a larger house in Palatine, IL. I hated having to move that danged tower! But the new house was on a one-acre lot. I erected the tower next to my bedroom at the dead center of the lot, which gave me room for a full half-wave 160 meter inverted vee dipole corner-to-corner. I fed that with 450-ohm window line through an antenna tuner. I sold the tribander and put up a Moseley Pro-57, which covered the new WARC bands. Three ham buddies helped me erect all 80 lbs of it on top of that tower, above which I stuck a 5/8 wave 2 meter vertical/lightning rod. No more 40-meter slopers or quagis (whose wooden booms had warped badly).

In about 1990 I purchased a barely used Icom IC-761 transceiver from a ham friend. What a beautiful rig, with full-break-in CW! I had the perfect station! That same friend sold me a Heathkit SB-220 linear. I traded him the Drake R-4C and the SB-200.

In 1992 my partner moved to LA to earn his PhD at UCLA. I got into packet radio about that time and set up my own packet BBS on 220 MHz. Lightning struck my tower and blew up a DOS laptop I was using for packet and AMTOR. (The laptop wasn't plugged into anything, but my desk was only a few feet from the base of the tower, and the EMF damaged it, I guess.) I don't remember having to replace the 2-meter vertical or any of the feedlines.

In 1993 I shut down ComQuest and moved to LA to rejoin my partner, who was attending UCLA. I packed all my radio gear and put it into storage (along with most of our furniture), and we moved into an apartment with our two cats. The newly emerging Internet dominated my attention, and I never got on the air again during the next 21 years. My license expired in 1997, and somebody else eventually got my perfect call sign! :-(

We moved to Atlanta in late 1996, and I started working for the IT department of a large hotel chain. Then I opened my own personal strength training studio in 2001, RealExercise, LLC.

After my mother died in 2004, I shut down my not-very-successful personal training business and purchased and moved into her beautiful lakeside home on a 1.2-acre lot in Oconee County, SC. I decided to retire at age 59. I considered getting back into ham radio, but I knew I'd be fighting the local association to put up a tower. I enjoyed bicycling on country roads and kayaking on Lake Keowee, in the meantime.

In 2008 I realized I couldn't afford to keep the house AND retire, so I sold the house and moved back to LA into an apartment in Westwood (two blocks west of UCLA) again. I enjoyed playing the piano and trumpet for pleasure. I rode my bicycle to and along the beaches 90 - 100 miles per week. I worked out weekly at a gym. My cat Tawny was my domestic partner. But by late 2014 I started getting the itch to get back on the air. 

AI6FR - So in November, 2014, I took and passed Element 3 for the Technician license and was grandfathered back to Extra Class. I got my new ticket on Nov. 21!

My apartment building is on top of a ridge and my top floor balcony overlooks the UCLA campus, with Mt. Lukens, Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Wilson, and Mt. Baldy/San Antonio as a scenic backdrop.

Hoping my landlord would let me put some kind of vertical on the roof, I got my old equipment out of storage but was wary of plugging it in out of fear that the electrolytic caps would pop like firecrackers after 21 years of being mothballed. I discovered that, in addition to the IC-761, I still had an Icom IC-735 portable transceiver that I had purchased barely used from that same ham friend in 1993.

This is when I discovered that the rest of my ham equipment - all my VHF equipment (two mobiles and two HTs), my antenna tuner, and a Bird wattmeter - a large box worth - had mysteriously disappeared - probably stolen from the partially loaded, unlocked moving truck prior to my departure from Illinois. (I have my suspicions of who the psychopathic culprit was.)

Both rigs passed the smoke test, but the IC-761 didn't work reliably on the lower HF bands. I've since had the four VCO trimmer caps and CPU battery replaced, thanks to John Klewer, N6AX, and it works like new!  

In the meantime my current landlord said YES to the antenna, and I purchased and installed a Hy-Gain AV-640 multi-band vertical on the roof of my apartment building. 

While I was waiting for the backordered AV-640 I purchased a dual band quad from Cubex and assembled and mounted it to the edge of the roof that overhangs my balcony wall. I turn it by hand.

I bought a used Realistic HTX-404 handheld "brick" from a friend and listened for a week trying to decide if there's anybody I'd like to hang out with on 440 MHz. I decided to join the PAPA System, which consists of 13 linked analog repeaters (and several linked D-STAR and DMR repeaters) covering most of Southern California. I've also joined the Westside ARC here in West LA. The quad comes in handy when I want to work simplex or get into a distant repeater.

N6SEX - I got this vanity call on Feb. 3, 2015. I chose this call because it met all three of my criteria for a good call: (1) It's easy to understand on voice without phonetics; (2) it sounds rhythmic and short on CW; and (3) it's easy to remember (for obvious reasons). A 4th advantage is that it ends with the same two letters as my former 1 x 2 call, N9EX, which I had chosen for similar reasons back in 1977 when I lived in Illinois. 

On that same day I installed a modification to my AV-640 HF multi-band vertical to add 80-meter coverage to it. Hy-Gain had agreed to send me a new matching unit, resonator section, and 80-meter top hat radials for the $100 difference in price between the AV-640 and the AV-680. They had never tried this before and don't offer this as an upgrade.

The modification was successful, and now I have the equivalent of an AV-680 on the roof of my apartment building. My 2:1 SWR bandwidth was reduced from 150 kHz to 95 kHz on 40 meters. The bandwidth on 80 meters is only 40 kHz, but that's fine. It covers the various CW nets I'm now active in.

I purchased an MFJ-945E antenna tuner to use with the AV-680 and my IC-735 (on 80 meters, mainly). After fixing 7 intermittant shorts (all in the open air coil taps) it works great. My IC-761 has a built-in ATU that also works great!

N6IET - On Pi Day, 2015, I received yet another vanity call sign, N6IET. N6SEX was too controversial and caused certain people (including myself) a bit of embarrassment in certain situations. Other than that it was the perfect call for me. I really hated giving it up. 

I can now operate HF from my balcony (from a battery and solar panels) using a 40-foot LMR-240 feed line extension to my HF vertical connected to a 4-way coaxial switch in my bedroom. The extension goes through two walls and along the baseboard to get from my bedroom through my kitchen and dining room to the balcony. I sometimes use the Ten-Tec Patriot and/or my Weber Tri-Bander out there for QRP sprints, but I use my FT-857D "cutting board" rig out there daily.

72/73 de Rik, N6IET


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