QRP Remote

An article by: Scott (VA3SLJ)

I’ve been interested in amateur radio since I was in grade school. I was about 12 when I passed the Novice code test in 1968 or 69, at World Radio Labs in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Flunked the Novice test, though, and gave it up. In 1975 I passed a 3rd class radiotelephone licence exam so I could be a college DJ. Those questions looked really familiar. I’ve always had a shortwave set though, and have always dreamed of being a Ham.

Fast forward 28 years. Three kids, 1 grandkid, and a whole lot of life behind me.

Now a Canadian resident/citizen, I became VA3SLJ in 2003, code test and HF privileges and all. I’ve always been easily amused, and will never cease to be amazed that with less power than a nightlight, one can communicate around the world (or more likely, a thousand miles or more).

At home I have a Kenwood 830s, but I love the idea of working with a battery, portable radio and portable antenna.

So I’m ready to try remote/portable: October 2005, on vacation in Kansas, at the in-laws. I brought along an MFJ 9020, SWR meter, about 100′ of coax, portable 12v battery pack (the kind used for jump-starting cars), a hamstick, mirror mount, 2′ aluminium rod, and four radials cut for 20 meters. All I had to do was push the rod into the ground, fasten the mirror mount to it, connect the hamstick and the radials to the mirror mount (I had a predrilled a hole for this and connected all four radials to a common bolt), and run the coax. I did not need a tuner, because the hamstick can be tuned to 1:1 VSR across the bandspread of the 9020.

It all worked! I am a slow-coder, but was able to have a good QSO with a fellow in Long Island, New York, from rural Washington County, Kansas. Five watts—wow!

This did not count in my book as a QRP remote, however, because I was indoors, and just a little too comfy. Also, I didn’t really have time the rest of the week to make contacts. It didn’t help having nephews around (“Whazzat?? Whad’they say? Can you pick up police with that?) I’m happy to try to answer questions, but remember: “slow coder.” I need my concentration time. Other family duties croweded out radio time. From a non-ham point of view, being hunched over a radio listening to “static and beeps” does seem a little anti-social.

So I wait for the next chance. At home, I do little QRP, and just try to make contacts on my Kenwood. In 2003 my first QSO’s were all CW, because I didn’t have a mike. The solid contacts of the Kenwood, with filters, make for good code practise.

Next chance—back in Council Bluffs, at my father’s place. It is a balmy day in late February, and I’m on his back deck. I’m using the same radio, but brought the “No Counterpoise” antenna made of heavy twinlead. It requires a tuner, so I packed one and for power used a filtered wall wart. Because I was there to visit my father and not for a DXpedition, I didn’t have lots of time, but did make a great QRP contact in North Carolina! The thrill is still there. That antenna, by the way, is fantastic. It’s sold on Ebay most of the time.

This was still not a remote in my thinking. It was still indoors, and I was using AC! I’m really beginning to enjoy the idea of doing a remote QRP operation, but am having a tough time pulling it off. I’m beginning to notice a pattern: the best 20 meter openings occur at really bad times when you are supposed to be visiting people when on holidays. I need a time and place where I can have privacy to operate guilt-free.

June 1st, 2006, Stratford, Ontario. While my wife and daughter attend the play “Oliver,” I set up to operate in the park near the theatre. Stratford, Ontario, is famous for its Shakespeare festival, and is a beautiful city about 150 KM from Toronto. The park is full of old trees, with low branches just asking for an antenna deployment. I had a great view of the Thames, and the sky was almost cloudless.

So, after unloading my trusty 9020 and a Heathkit HW-8, I look for a good place for my hamstick antenna. I mentioned before that the Hamstick antenna does not need a tuner; true, but it does require coax to the radio—coax I left coiled up at the shack. So out comes my “no counterpoise” antenna, and I set it up at about 10′ off the ground. QSO with N2WN in Florida! Now I’m happy, and have more time to make contacts. But now I am beset by the worst QRM ever, and I’m not talking about the guy on SSB on the QRP calling frequency counting out numbers (if you were doing this at 00:15 Z on 2 June 2006, you should know better). No, the QRM I’m talking about is when the “M” stands for mosquito! Besides my coax, forgetting the bug spray was my worst mistake. I was only a hundred meters or so from the river, but thought that since it was running water I’d be safe. I had to beat a hasty retreat. Too bad, because I had the time, a good band, and coffee!

But I was “remote” with portable power, lawn chair, coffee, and my 7 month old Labradoodle keeping the van safe. I just can’t handle all that QRM: -.-. slaa slaa slap slaa just doesn’t do it.

Scott Jacobsen