Joy of QRP

Call it MoJo, call it magic, call it QRP…I came home tonight, a little weary from my first day back to work after a week long vacation that was totally perfect and wonderful, and I decided to fire up the Elecraft K2 and do a little CW.

My station is a QRP station, partly because I like the challenge of QRP and partly because I don’t really have much choice. My antenna is a 40m half wave dipole in the attic of my home. A compromise antenna at best, and it’s been up there for about vibrokeyer_deluxe16 years now.

The K2 is set up for 5 watts of output to that mystical dipole, and I am using a Vibroplex Vibrokeyer that was made the same year I was born…over 50 years ago (time flies when you’re having fun).

I started out on 40m and worked one of the W1AW/4 stations, which is participating in the ARRL Centennial celebration, spun up to 30m and worked another one, this time is was W1AW/0 in Missouri…feeling pretty smug, I tuned up 20m on the dipole, and let me tell you, it’s no easy feat getting a 40m halfwave to work on 20m at all…it takes all the knobs and doohickeys my Ten Tec antenna tuner can muster up.

I finally got it locked in at a SWR of 1.3:1 on 14020 and I could hear LZ1WR calling CQ over and over and getting no response.  NONE.  He was LOUD.  So I fired off my call sign and waited…nothing…then I shot it off again and Todor Papzov from Portugal came back to me, gave me a 599 signal report and waited on me to answer him.  I was in shock!  I sent him a well deserved 599 RST as well and we chatted for about a minute and said 73.  QRP, it has the ability to make you want to stay on the radio all night long.  When the propagation is working with you, there is no quitting!  Anyway…I enjoy QRP, and this might explain why.

73 de KB9BVN

Dayton Hamvention 2014

I had not been to the hamfest in Dayton since 2004, so it’s been ten years.  I have to admit that I was not all that excited about going, but as the time to leave grew near, I was once again looking forward to the trip and a day in the Hamvention.  This was the first time my son Andrew, N9AWM, had been to Dayton, and I was going with him.  Like I said it has been ten years since my last visit, and I was looking forward to digging in the boneyard for buried treasure.

What’s a boneyard?  THE Boneyard at Dayton is the acres and acres of flea market space in the parking lot of Hara Arena.  Used and abused, new and old, pieces and parts of everything imaginable for radio, amateur TV, communications of any kind, can be found here.  Of course there are also several hundred commercial vendors in the arena and adjoining convention halls.  Free hats, free bumper stickers, trinkets of all kinds to be had.

We left Indy at about 7:20AM and headed east on I-70…finding out the hard way that at least half of the trip was to be under construction, so the journey was slow, tedious, and somewhat dangerous.  We did arrive at the Salem Mall at about 9:30AM.  Once there we bought a $6 bus pass and rode the shuttle bus to the arena, about  5 minute ride.

Ten years ago the Salem Mall was a real live shopping mall.  In 2014 it’s a boarded up, abandoned derelict building, much like a lot of the commercial property in this part of town. That did not seem to scare off the hams though.  The buses were being run by the Dayton Rapid Transit Authority, and they did a fantastic job.  Since the arena has NO, as in NONE, public parking on the property during hamfest, the park and ride deal can not be beat.

We walked right in the arena and plopped down our $25 each for a ticket, stepped over to the Boy Scout booth and gave them $5 to laminate the ticket and mount it on a souvenir lanyard. That was $4 for the lanyard and $1 for the scouts.  Now we have a nice keepsake from the trip.  From there we went to the prize booth at the entrance of the grand hall, and entered our tickets in the gigantic barrel in hopes of winning an hourly prize, or even the grand prize to be drawn on Sunday.

Now, let me say this.  It’s very easy to run down the Dayton hamfest.  DARA puts on a great show with the Hamvention every year but let’s face facts.  The venue has seen better days, and the part of town it is in has seen better days.  I would like to see this event moved to a newer location.  That has been said every year for the last 25 years or so.

This event was the 63rd running of the Dayton Hamvention, it has long historic roots in the area and it is legendary to ham radio operators ALL OVER THE WORLD.  People come to Dayton for the hamfest from all corners of the globe.  Asian, European, African, South American, North American, Australian, and any other kind of ham radio operator you can imagine can be found in Dayton.  It’s a BIG deal to the people that enjoy and love this hobby.  It should go on indefinitely…but it needs to find a new home.

The facilities at Hara Arena are decrepit.  They are dangerous. They are filthy. Sanitation problems there are legendary. It’s been getting progressively worse every year and it is plain to see that whomever owns the place and has the responsibility for the upkeep, is not interested in investing any money to keep it up.  It needs to move.  I don’t advocate the moving of the hamfest outside of Dayton, providing Dayton has a place to hold it that is not in the disgusting conditions of Hara Arena, but they need to stop holding it at Hara.

Andrew and I spent about 7 hours walking around and looking at the gear on display, bought a few small things, saw no really outstanding prices on anything, and enjoyed a world famous Dayton Hamfest Bratwurst.  We ran into a lot of friends, and the social aspect of any hamfest usually turns out to be my favorite thing anyway.  If you have never been to the Dayton Hamfest, then you owe it to yourself to see it at least one time.

I think with the advent of the internet buy/sell marketplaces, we’re able to enjoy best pricing now on a daily basis instead of having to wait on a local hamfest to score our best deals. I also think the hamfest is the best way to have face to face social interactions with each other, so I don’t think they are going to go away.  In the old west the fur traders and mountain men used to have things called “Rendezvous” – a time and place where they would all meet up to trade wares, swap stories, and interact with each other…sounds a lot like a tailgater hamfest to me.  If anything is to save or keep the hamfests alive, I think the social aspect is going to be the saving grace.

Overall I enjoyed my 2014 trip to Dayton, right now I’m pretty sure I won’t go in 2015 but you never know…every May seems to bring a renewed interest, but I do wish DARA would find a better place to have it. $25 is all I am willing to spend on a hamfest at a dump like Hara Arena…move it to a nice facility and you could double your price.

73 de KB9BVN

Field Day !!

I just got my May 2014 issue of QST, and noticed that the ARRL Field Day preparations are now underway!  Visit the ARRL website page at to get the low down on Field Day 2014.

If you have been a ham for more than a year and have never attended a Field Day operation you are missing out on one the best events of the year.  Field Day is the weekend when hams take to the field and try out new antenna idea, new transceiver configurations, and great new Field Day food concoctions.

Field Day is where a lot of lifelong friendships are formed, and memories are made that last forever.  My plans this year will be to work Field Day with my son and a couple of friends from his camping trailer. We’re not decided yet as to where in Indiana we will be setup but I can promise you we will be comfortable.

In the past I have enjoyed Field Day from my backyard, a fellow amateur’s back yard, state parks, public camping grounds, and in all kinds of weather.  Smoldering heat, smothering humidity, chiggers, ants, ticks, thunderstorms, torrential rain, and the occasional wild animal invasion…so this year the comfort of an air conditioned camper will be a welcome change.  Where will you be?

New Hams – Welcome to the Hobby!

Bear Cub Alex works a station in New York from WD9BSA

Bear Cub Alex works a station in New York from WD9BSA

For the last year or so I have been involved with the WD9BSA Scouting Amateur Radio Group. We have successfully installed a fantastic UHF/VHF/HF station at one of the local Boy Scout camps and we have been holding open houses one weekend a month to expose the boys to the fun of Amateur Radio.  In addition to the open houses, we have formed a VE testing group that is affiliated with the Laurel VEC and we now offer FREE testing four times a year at the Crossroads of America Council HQ in Indianapolis.  I am happy to report that our testing sessions have been well attended and we have seen numerous scouts and scouters earn their license.  If you get a chance to expand the awesomeness that is Amateur Radio, your local scout troop might just be the best place to start.  Good luck!

Homebrewing…it’s all good fun!

This past weekend was the Ft. Wayne hamfest.  Ft. Wayne is almost three hours from my home in Central Indiana.  So my son Andrew N9AWM, and I, decided we’d drive up and check out the HF gear for sale since he just upgraded to Extra and is in the process of putting an HF station in his home.  Saturday came, and at OH DARK THIRTY we decided that instead of spending six hours driving up and back, we’d have more fun building something.  Andrew had recently moved his UHF/VHF radio gear into his home office and was in need of a good dual band antenna for it.  We decided to build the Open Stub Dual Band J-Pole design made popular by Arrow.

We Googled the subject for about an hour and decided on a couple different methods, there is no use in reinventing the wheel, right?  What we ended up with was a very nice dual band antenna made of stainless steel parts…weighing a ton, but with SWR 1:1 every place we needed to use it.  I think he had about $18 in parts and we crafted it the confines of my garage full of stuff using odds and ends of tools and methods made famous by cavemen.

If you need a good dual band UHF/VHF antenna, we recommend this design.  It’s simple to build, you get to use real nuts and bolts, and sometimes you even get to fire up Mr. Blowtorch…my favorite tool.

Listen for N9AWM on several IRLP nets and the local Indy repeaters.  This weekend I am making one of these for my use!

73 de KB9BVN

New Extra in the Family!

This past Saturday was the local WD9BSA VE Team testing session, of which I am a proud member and Team Leader.  My son Andrew had been studying for the last several weeks to take his Extra Class Amateur Radio exam, and decided to come on down and take the test.  Since he is my son, I naturally excused myself from the test session and our other able bodied VEs took over and ran it.  Many thanks to Randy KA7BSA for being the Team Leader, Dave N9EZW, Stephen AF9SE, Jeff N9IZ, and Rick N9VDX for assisting with the test session.  All in all we tested four hams this weekend and I am proud to say they all passed their exams.  We had one upgrade from General Class to Extra Class, two made it from Technician Class to General Class, and one of our Boy Scouts came in and passed his first exam to become a Technician Class Amateur Radio Operator!  What a great weekend!



The WD9BSA VE Team is part of the WD9BSA Ham Radio Group located at beautiful Camp Belzer Boy Scout Reservation on the east side of Indianapolis.  We are affiliated with the Laurel Volunteer Examination Coordinators and abide by their rules and the rules set forth by the Federal Communications Commission.

The WD9BSA radio station is opened one weekend a month for all scouts, scouters, and the public to enjoy.  See the website at WD9BSA for full details.

73 de KB9BVN


80 Years of Sweepstakes!

How did it get to be November already?  Here we are on the morning of the 80th ARRL CW Sweepstakes, again, and you can feel the HF bands slowly charging for the onslaught of CW operators from virtually all over the world, all striving to complete the “Clean Sweep” and rack up as many contacts as they possibly can in the 24 hours of permitted operating time.  The ARRL sweeps are an annual ritual for thousands of hams.

SS80 (1)I personally have never participated in the ARRL CW Sweepstakes, for some reason or another I always seem to be involved in other activities on this weekend.  This weekend is no different but all week I have been talking with my friend Ivin Flint W9ILF about running the Sweeps in QRP mode.  Ivin has been an avid QRP contester for at least the last ten years or so, maybe longer.  I can’t remember.  He has successfully won numerous state QRP contests, QRP sprints, and done very well in the national and international competitions from time to time.


This weekend he will be mounted in front of his Elecraft K2, Idiom Press Keyer, and favorite logging software to make another effort in challenging the ARRL CW Sweepstakes with his CW prowess.  His category will be  QRP – Single Operator and he will not be using spotting clusters, or CW skimmers to assist his QSO hunting. His power will be limited to 5 watts and he will be using wire antennas to make his assault on the HF bands later this afternoon.

W9ILF2009After much discussion this week, Ivin has related to me that he feels like the one biggest factor in doing well or extremely well in a contest like the ARRL CW Sweepstakes, is QSO rate.  Last year his rate was in the low 20’s per hour, meaning he made 20 some contacts per hour for the entire time he worked the event.   The other thing that Ivin pointed out was this event is global in scope and will have thousands of operators taking part, if you want to win or at least place very high in the standings you are going to need to keep your operating position, well, operating.  The ARRL rules say the Sweeps run for 30 hours, and of that 30 hour time frame you are permitted to work 24 of them.  Anytime you log out of the contest  you have to stay logged out for at least 30 minutes. This will require certain strategy to be employed if you want to make the best of your efforts.


Telegraph Key

Last year W9ILF had a QRP QSO rate of just a shade over 22 per hour, the winner of the category QRP Single Operator, had a QSO rate of just over 28 per hour.  Ivin was able to participate for 14 of the allowed 24 hours, the winner worked all 24 hours.  It’s a numbers game kids, and it is about survival and being able to sit there for hours, logging contact after contact after contact.

Although I won’t be able to play in this event this weekend, I wish W9ILF all the luck and all the sections he’ll need to make a great showing in the 80th Annual ARRL CW Sweepstakes.  Go Ivin Go!  If you are new to the ARRL CW Sweepstakes, you need to read the article called “An Enticement for Contesting Newbies” located on the eHam site, it is an invaluable tool for the new and inexperienced contester.  Operating Guides and full rules can be found here on the ARRL website.

 73 de KB9BVN

SWEEPSTAKES UPDATE!!!  (21:15 UTC, 3 NOV 2013)

I just spoke with Ivin on the telephone, and he just put his FINAL SECTION in the logbook for his very first ever CLEAN SWEEP!!!  That’s incredible!!  Ivin is still operating until the contest ends tonight at 10PM local, his efforts have been 100% QRP (5 watts) and his homemade antennas.  I now owe him a $4.00 lunch from Steak n Shake, as wagered with him last week.  Great job Ivin!!   A Clean Sweep means Ivin made contact with all 83  ARRL sections in the US and Canada during the contest period.  This is no small feat as it takes a lot of hams literally YEARS to accumulate that many different sections in the logbook. Nice job!

Small Wonder Labs – Closing the Doors on a QRP Staple

Dave Benson K1SWL

Dave Benson K1SWL

Yesterday I found out that QRP Hall of Famer, Dave Benson K1SWL (formerly NN1G), was closing shop at Small Wonder Labs. I got the QRP bug in 1998 and the SWL+ 40 rig was one of the first few kits I had ever built.  Dave was always very helpful in answering my newbie questions in email, and he always treated me and those that I recommended to him like guys that actually knew what they were doing, when in fact we were just learning how to solder (HI HI).  The SWL+ actually had its roots back in November 1994.  Dave had written an article “A Single-Board Superhet QRP Transceiver for 40 or 30 Meters” that appeared in QST that month.  That little radio soon evolved into the now wildly popular SWL+ QRP Radio kit.  The SWL+ was available as a monobander 2w rig for most of the Amateur Radio HF bands.  One of the more remarkable things about this little kit was the price.  For a mere $50, the builder got a professionally designed and crafted circuit board, a bag of parts, and a very comprehensive and well written instruction manual. The kit did not come with knobs, or an enclosure….each builder could use his imagination to come up with those parts and have a ton of fun with it.

The first SWL+ rig that I ever used was actually built by my friend Rick WB6JBM, and installed in an old Folger’s coffee can.  I remember Rick using that rig and making tons of contacts with it during Field Day in 2001.  Years later that little rig ended up in the hands of my friend Dan N8IE, and he repackaged it into a more typical enclosure and added a few more goodies. You can read all about the rebuild of the SWL+ on Dan’s blog. It was pretty common to find these rigs mounted in everything from fine handcrafted wooden enclosures, to cookie tins, to homemade PVC enclosures, to just being screwed down to the top of a cutting board.  This kind of kit project lent itself to great amounts of experimentation.

Small Wonder Labs offered several incredibly popular rigs over the years, including the PSK 31 Warblers, the DSW-II series of transceivers, the Freqmite, and the ever popular Rockmite rigs.  Untold numbers of hams have discovered the Joy of QRP thanks to Dave Benson K1SWL, and for that I would like to thank him.   Small Wonder Labs will be missed, but Dave certainly deserves to enjoy his retirement.

The Rockmite line will be available from the Maine QRP Club (QRPme) and Rex Harper W1REX.

73 de KB9BVN

Visit To Ten Tec


N9AWM and KB9BVN at Ten Tec

Last week the whole family traveled down to the Smoky Mountains for a few days of vacation and fun.  While we were there, my sons Andrew N9AWM, Jason and I stopped by the Ten Tec factory and showroom to look over the current models and pick up a few odds and ends.  Here we are at the front door of the Ten Tec plant in Sevierville Tennessee.  Ten Tec is not far from the main drag in Pigeon Forge and was really easy for us to find, especially with the help of a GPS.  It was a cloudy overcast day with some drizzle so this was a great time to go visit.  The first thing we noticed were all the antennas in the front lot of the property.  Numerous dipoles, loops, and a single tower loaded down with several different antennas awaited us.  I had called ahead and spoke with Stan Brock WD0BGS and was surprised to find out the Ten Tec shack was opened to the public M-F 8A to 5P every week.

Once there we asked to see the radio room and Stan obliged us immediately.  He quickly showed us how to tune the radio, choose the antenna, and where the key was located.  I took the first turn at the Argonaut 6 and the new amplifier. The Argo was putting out about 80 watts on 20m and I worked N3VXK up in Cassadaga NY, and N8BB over in Concord Michigan.  The paddles were the Vibroplex Iambic Paddle.  I use the Vibroplex Vibrokeyer at home and I really liked the feel of the Iambic Paddle…I may have to acquire one of those!

Andrew N9AWM at the operating position.

Andrew N9AWM at the operating position.

Andrew picked up the mic for a bit and we spun the dial around on 20m but did not find anyone to talk to.  By this time the troops that were waiting in the vehicles outside were getting a bit antsy to hit the trail and explore some other sights in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg,…apparently they didn’t ride for seven hours to watch grandpa play radio…hahah.  In this room, they also had a VERY complete display of Ten Tec rigs from the past.  I can’t say for sure but to me it looked liked they had about one of everything they ever sold to Amateurs.  Take a look yourself and tell me if you see something missing!


They also had  a pretty nice assortment of QSL cards on the wall.  I was really impressed with a Vatican City card from the mid 1960’s.


Anyway, if you ever find yourself in eastern Tennesee with some time on your hands, stop by Ten Tec and say hello to Stan and the gang, and jump on the air for a few QSO’s and a nice test run of all the radios.   We were not rushed or hurried out in any way, and Stan offered to hookup anything we wanted to try out.  The current line up was the Rebel, Argonaut 6, Eagle, and the Omni VII….we only played with the Argo and the new Amp.  That amp is small, quiet, and cool.  very nice.   My only complaint with the Argo is it does seem to be a little heavy on the current pull, but as Stan pointed out, it is running full DSP, it is not designed for portable operation, and I would have to say the receiver in it was top notch all the way.  I still like my K2 better…but I would love to have a Argo on the desk here at home as well.

73 de KB9BVN

CW Weekend

fistkey1The annual FISTS Fall Sprint is this weekend, starting this Saturday OCT 12. Beginning at  17:00 UTC and running until 21:00 UTC on all FISTS frequencies. Visit the FISTS website for full details!

arciThe always popular Fall QSO Party, hosted by the QRP Amateur Radio Club International will be held this weekend.  Beginning on Saturday Oct 12 at 12:00 UTC and running until Sunday Oct 13 23:59Z.  Check the website for full details!