History of Army MARS – can you help?

Since July I have been attending the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) here at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. SAMS is a 10 month course that “educates the future leaders of our Armed Forces, our Allies, and the Interagency at the graduate level to be agile and adaptive leaders who think critically at the strategic and operational levels to solve complex ambiguous problems”. The majority of our classes are focused on the study and application of the elements of national power, international relations, and operational design. The end result is a planner who spends a year on a division or corps staff helping to draft campaign plans for operations. One of the requirements for graduation is to write a monograph (like a master’s thesis) on a topic relevant to the military. I chose as a topic to write about the history of the Army’s Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS).

I’ve enjoyed researching the subject. Army MARS was officially constituted back in 1925 as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). I go a bit further back into history and trace the introduction of radio into Army use and then what circumstances brought about the requirements for the Army to want to organize something like the AARS.

Once organized, the AARS had a difficult start and then went through a fairly significant reorganization in 1929. There were a few reasons the Army wanted to establish the AARS. One was to extend the Army’s existing War Department Radio Net beyond the radio stations on Army installations to achieve a greater reach to all corners of the country. Knowing the limitations of wire (telephone and telegraph) communications during significant weather and natural disasters, the addition of AARS stations to the War Department Radio Net would help the local and Federal government better coordinate and respond to emergencies. The other major reason for the founding of AARS was to provide a pool of civilians trained in Army protocol for radio operations in case of a major conflict. The Army had learned from WWI that there was little time available to amass and train a significant force. Radio operators required specific skills which needed longer training. If a trained pool of operators was already in existence, it would make it that much easier to mobilize in case of general war.

AARS did serve as a benefit in providing communications during natural disasters. However, after the Pearl Harbor attack and the country began to mobilize, AARS literally evaporated. It was not used as a pool to draw from to bolster the Army’s Signal Corps. The organization basically ceased to exist until it was reconstituted as MARS some time after the conclusion of WWII. That is one area where I have been unable to find any definitive information as to why the Army chose not to draw from the AARS pool when they started full mobilization for WWII. And why was AARS abandoned and then another domestic organization (WERS – War Emergency Radio Service) stood up in its place? If you can help show me where I can find these answers, I’d greatly appreciate it.

ARRL and the amateur community had its own agenda in supporting AARS. Both before and after WWI, the amateurs (represented by ARRL) and the US government clashed over who should have privileges in the RF spectrum. The Navy was adamant about preventing the amateurs from retaining any RF privileges that might interfere with naval radio traffic. When the ARRL got the opportunity to affiliate with the US Army through AARS, they hoped it was an opportunity to help cement their hold over the amateur RF allocations by virtue of the proven service amateurs were providing the country.

It is an interesting topic and I am enjoying digging through old copies of QST as well a Army journals.

I’ve started writing and have my first 10 pages complete. I’ll post it here soon for comment.

If you have any specific knowledge of either AARS or MARS operation between 1925 and 1963, please let me know (scott dot hedberg at sign gmail dot com). I would enjoy getting some real history straight from a primary source.

Ham Radio – Alive & Well In America’s Heartland

For me the past few days have been busy with amateur radio activity of one kind or another. I spent some time last weekend fine tuning my horizontal loop antenna; spreading it out the loop a bit and raising it higher. I am still impressed by the antenna’s performance and look forward to using it for the remaining year I am here in Kansas.

I delivered my presentation on the history of Army hams operating abroad (WWII to OIF) and my own experiences operating amateur radio and MARS while recently serving over in Iraq to three different Kansas City area clubs this week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). In April, I gave the presentation to three other clubs – two in Missouri and one in Kansas. Overall, what impressed me the most concerning the club meetings I visited was the diversity and vibrancy of amateur radio in the Kansas City area. It is not just a bunch of OMs or converted CBers or EMCOMM devotees.

Last night I attended a meeting at the Johnson County Amateur Radio Club in Overland Park, KS. Not only was the meeting well attended (and we are talking about a Friday night before a major holiday weekend) but their were not only a number of YLs but also four teen-aged hams… one of which was Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM, who is the ARRL’s Youth Editor and was featured prominently at last weeks Hamvention in Dayton on the ARRL weblog. Duncan had just concluded a years service to the club as its vice-president. This club also meets twice a month and has a 10M weekly net in addition to its 2M net.

On Tuesday I attended the meeting of the Heart of America Radio Club. The club conducts its operations out of the Red Cross headquarters in Kansas City. They had not only a wonderful club station on the top floor of the building with a impressive antenna farm on the roof but also operated 1 of the 12 Red Cross national communications support vehicles. The vehicle is a modified Ford Excursion with so many antennas on it I couldn’t count. It provides one stop shopping for any communication requirement from providing internet, VOIP phone, long-haul HF comms, phone patching, video, and an on-board cross-band repeater, as well as a generator that can power a medium-sized command post.

Thursday night I was out at the Jayhawk Amateur Radio Society meeting. Another vibrant club with a large turnout… in part due to the coffee and delicious cake offered up during the meeting’s intermission but also the true shared interest in amateur radio. The Jayhawkers gave me a super cool coffee mug with their logo on it at the conclusion of the meeting which will now become the official mug of my ham shack.

Bottom line (… and quickly becoming an often heard refrain), ham radio is alive and well.

Wheat State Wireless Association

In meeting my requirement to speak to a community group, school, or other organized gathering of citizens – I debuted my presentation tonight to the Wheat State Wireless Association’s April club meeting – located in Paola, KS.
The club had about a dozen members in attendance – seems like a very nice club, a good number hams who were very friendly and welcoming.
Overall, I think the presentation went well. I think I am going to add a slide that shows the specific equipment that I used while in Iraq and maybe another slide showing the WinLink path between Germany, my station in Iraq, and the one in Qatar. I think maybe a handout as well that includes some of the QST articles that talk about amateur operations in Iraq. The presentation time ran about 30 minutes or so. It seemed like the audience was interested and there were a handful of questions afterwards. One young woman approached me afterwards and told me about how her grandfather was a member of Navy MARS during the Vietnam War and operated phone patches. She said she had never really understood what that was about and that my presentation made her realize the great value her grandfather provided the military personnel and their loved ones. She also said she remembered going into his radio room that had racks of old tube radios and the distinct smell that used to produce when they were in operation.
I have my notes mostly finished and will add a link to my presentation slides here soon.

This Weekend…

Joseph Sheehan Bicycle Road Race: Today I helped support a 52.9 mile bicycle race between Leavenworth and Atchison, KS. The weather was miserable. A cold morning to begin with. Then rain… and sleet. Even snow. I was positioned at a intersection that crossed the highway which served as about the 10 mile mark and then 40 mile mark on the route back. 52 cyclist made it to the 10 mile point and not more than 20 went on to finish the race. I couldn’t believe that many of the guys hung with it. Those were some dedicated folks.
There were four of us supporting the race, positioned at key spots along the route (inside our nice, warm vehicles). I was able to have several “lessons learned” for this event. I had a distinct lack of planning and preparation.
(1) I didn’t fully check my rig prior to the event. I was at the event site trying to do a radio check with net control with no results.
(2) When it is time to troubleshoot, you have to use logic. When time is short (because of lack of preparation) and problems come up, you have to keep your head. Troubleshooting a radio system is pretty basic. Start from one end and work to the other. Finding that the antenna feedline isn’t properly connected to the rig should be an easy fix.
(3) Having an HT as backup is good. Knowing how to change the settings on it is critical. One of those Nifty manuals or smart cards does the trick.

That being said, thanks to the quick thinking of the net control I was able to initially talk to him on my HT using a repeater that didn’t require a tone (I’d forgotten how to change the tone setting on my Kenwood TH-D7A). I eventually figured out how to set the tone and was on the repeater with the other folks. Then with a bit more thought and troubleshooting, I discovered my feedline connection to the rig had come loose and with that fixed I was back in business. Part of the problem is that I have a relatively new rig in the truck, the Kenwood TM-D710A. It is a very complicated rig and I have only scratched the surface on how to operate it. I was able to interface it with the Garmin Nuvi 350 thanks to a cable from Argent Data Systems. The cable allows the D710A to pass APRS data to the Nuvi and the Nuvi plots the data as waypoints. It works pretty well.

Big week ahead. I mentioned before that I have some specific graduation requirements for the course I am in at Fort Leavenworth. This week I should be able to complete another of the requirements: speak to a community group, school, or other organized gathering of citizens. I have put together a presentation concerning my operations of both amateur radio and MARS station while in Iraq and will be giving the presentation to one of the local amateur radio clubs. The presentation, in addition to my operations, covers the history of the US Army and amateur radio while deployed overseas. It has been fascinating researching the operations of previous Army hams from WWII (Germany and Japan), Korea, Vietnam,

Spec/5 Dennis Vernacchia operating MARS Radio Station AB8AY, out of relocated radio station in quonset hut, puts radio-telephone calls through to the states for the troops stationed at LZ Betty and to co-ordinate “Operation Vietnam Merry Christmas”

Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. I also cover the history of amateur radio in Iraq from the early days in the 1920s through the Saddam period and then today. Once I get my slides spiffied up a bit more and add some notes, I will post a link here so those who are interested can take a look. My final requirement is: write professionally by submitting a letter to the editor, Op-Ed piece, or article for publication. My intent is to turn the presentation into an article and then send it to ARRL’s QST. Most of the article is done – I hope to get it completed this week as well.

Strategic Communications

The title of this post is a little misleading. As I mentioned before, I am attending the Army’s Command & General Staff College (CGSC) here at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (… I bet you thought I was out here in Kansas just for the nice weather). One of the new requirements we have as students at is to egage in “Strategic Communication”. Wikipedia defines strategic communications as: communicating a concept, a process, or data that satisfies a long term strategic goal of an organization by allowing facilitation of advanced planning. Our requirements as students to engage in strategic communication does not exactly line up with that definition, but I think it gives you an idea of where the Army is headed. The bottom line is the Army wants to develop officers who are familiar and comfortable in dealing with the media in order to get the Army’s “message” out. In the past the military has been traditionally media shy (understatement), either making heavy use of the “no comment” or deferring to our public relations officers. No more. The Army recognizes this is the new media age and those that get their story out first, in a clear and understandable fashion are likely to better garner public support… both domestic and international. Okay… so back to school. My requirements, as related to strategic communications, are to: (1) participate in an actual media interview (television, print, or radio), (2) speak to a community group, school, or other organized gathering of citizens, (3) write professionally by submitting a letter to the editor, Op-Ed piece, or article for publication, and (4) participate in a reputable blog about their military service.

#4 is pretty easy. I think I can figure out how to blog.

#3 not too hard. I can either repurpose one of my existing papers and send in to a newspaper or I can try to be original and maybe send something in to ARRL.

#2 is a bit harder. What I have decided to do for that is put together a presentation of amateur radio operations by military members who are deployed… kind of a DXpedition in a Combat Zone. I have a lot of information on amateur radio operations by folks in both Afghanistan and Iraq and I can use my own experience as well. Then I have to find an amateur radio club to give the talk to. Ideally I need to have all of this complete by the end of March.

…and #1. That is the hardest, in my opinion. Knowing the challenge of this particular requirement, our instructors are allowing us to get credit if we are able to call and get on a radio talk show. This interpretation makes the requirement a little less severe. Now I have to find a radio talk show to call. There are several here in the Kansas City area that I am scoping out:
KCUR: Up To Date
KMBZ: Shanin & Parks

I also found some great advise on how to be prepared before I call at both NPR and KCUR.

Wish me luck.

The Evolution of the Elecraft KX1 Transceiver

ANYWHERE, ANYTIME HF: The Evolution of the Elecraft KX1 Transceiver

By Wayne Burdick, N6KR
Special to the ARS Sojourner

If there is a place, and you can get to it, you must operate from there.
—Ade Weiss, WØRSP, Joy of QRP
Some years ago at the Dayton Hamvention I did a presentation entitled Ergonomics and Amateur Radio. It was not lost on either me or the audience that the title was an oxymoron. I spent an hour suggesting ways to improve the situation.

While discussing field operation, I alluded to something called a “trail friendly radio” (TFR), and speculated on what form it might take. Ergonomically, it’s an interesting assignment. Suppose you have no table? No chair? No room to string up a dipole? Suppose like Ade Weiss, you wanted to operate from anywhere?

Though the need for a trail-friendly radio has been evident for years, we can thank Richard Fisher, KI6SN, for giving the genre a name. He and Russ Carpenter, AA7QU, popularized it here on the ARS web site in the form of the TFR Challenge, and many interesting designs have resulted. Cam Hartford, N6GA, and I talked about it at length at the Zuni Loop field day site one year, when Cam showed me his own beautifully-designed TFR.

I’ve always wanted to explore TFRs myself, with the goal of optimizing them for small size, ease of use and maximum integration. But the idea had to simmer and morph in my mind for about a decade before all pieces of the puzzle came together – in my case, as the KX1.

Early Attempts

The story of the KX1 really begins in the 1970s. Like many hams who grew up in the era when transistors and ICs had just become affordable, I had the great fortune to acquire a copy of Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur by Wes Hayward, W7ZOI, and Doug DeMaw, W1FB (silent key, 1997). Armed with a Radio Shack etch-resist pen and ferric chloride, I home-rolled Wes’s Mountaineer, a crystal-controlled, direct-conversion, 40-meter transceiver. From then on I was hooked on both homebrew and QRP.

But it was the small, grainy photo of Wes operating the Mountaineer with gloved hands and wool cap – while while standing – that fired my imagination. Wes listed the many difficult constraints he had to satisfy in this design. The rig had to be small and lightweight to be suitable for backpacking, which dictated the use of QRP and a small battery pack. The antenna system had to be similarly light, so he opted for a simple dipole and RG-174 miniature coax cable. It had to be usable in cold temperatures, which suggested crystal control. Finally, it had to be usable in many different operating situations, including sitting on the ground, lying in a sleeping bag, or standing beside a trail. These constraints would inspire my own explorations in the TFR design space.

In 1989, I designed something I called the Safari-4 (QEX magazine, Oct. / Nov. / Dec. 1990). While not exactly a TFR, this 5 x 7 x 3″, 4-band, 1-watt transceiver did push the envelope on integration. It included an internal 0.8 amp-hour gel-cell, manual antenna tuner, SWR bridge, and keyer, and had a stack of four transverter boards covering 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. Like the KX1, it had keyer paddle mounted on the front. Unfortunately it was actuated by skin resistance, and despite the gold-plated comb pattern on either paddle, it suffered when humidity was low. It also could not be used with gloves on.

Still, a rig like this had been my dream for many years. All you needed to set up a station was a random-length wire and a pair of headphones. I used the Safari-4 at every opportunity, and once managed to work Angola from Arizona on 15 meters with 200 milliwatts and a 16′ wire strung horizontally just 8′ off the ground. All of the credit goes to the operator in Africa, of course, and to extremely quiet band conditions.

I built my first truly back-packable, hand-held HF transceiver in 1991 while living in Massachusetts. It was 2 x 4 x 1″, operated on 15 meters only with a VXO and superhet receiver, and had a push-button CW key on the top. With two internal, paralleled 9-volt alkaline batteries, it eked out just one-half watt. This level was significant. According to Solid State Design, a half watt represented a good tradeoff between communications efficiency and battery weight. Taking this wisdom from my QRP heroes for granted, I took the little rig out on many occasions and made several interesting QSOs. The most memorable happened when I was operating mobile, driving north on I-495 outside of Boston one winter day. Using a three-foot-long whip on the roof – a Radio Shack CB antenna re-resonated at 21 MHz – I had a solid, 10-minute QSO with a station in St. Louis.

A PIC in the Pocket

Several years later, after designing a few PIC microcontroller projects at work, I decided to see what a PIC might do for the cause of further transceiver integration. The result was another hand-held, which I dubbed the Koala. This was a 2 x 4 x 1″, half-watt, 40-meter superhet that ran from a single 9-volt battery. The Koala had a keyer, dot and dash buttons on the top cover, frequency counter, battery voltage monitoring, and most significantly, audio-Morse-code frequency readout of all parameters including the VFO. This allowed operation with no display.

I should also briefly mention my club project phase, which led to the NorCal 40, Sierra, and SST transceiver kits. Again, these were not TFRs, but each furthered my goal of optimizing transceivers for portable use. All three were also enhanced by the addition of microcontrollers.

The NorCal 40 was the first NorCal club project. Doug Hendricks, KI6DS, Jim Cates, WA6GER, and others helped me specify the NC40’s features, which included small size, very low current drain, “wireless” construction, and the now-ubiquitous BNC antenna jack – I liked the small size, and I couldn’t find a PCB-mount SO239 anyway. I can’t thank Doug and Jim enough for their efforts, which made this rig and other NorCal projects a success.

The KC-1 keyer / counter option was added when another NorCal member, Bob Dyer, K6KK, started Wilderness Radio to sell the NorCal 40A commercially. The KC-1 used a PIC as a keyer and audio-Morse frequency readout – features now widely found in small transceivers. But I added one other unique firmware feature: the operator could use the keyer paddle to enter a target VFO frequency in kHz, then rotate the VFO knob until they heard an acknowledgement from the KC-1.

To minimize complexity while preserving low current drain, I used plug-in band modules in the Sierra, NorCal’s second transceiver project. Having tried a band switch in the Safari-4 and modules in the Sierra, I am now a firm believer in a third solution—latching relays—which I’ve used in every multi-band rig since, including the KX1. I later designed the KC-2 keyer / counter for the Sierra – yet another PIC-based unit. By running the KC-2’s MCU at just 100 kHz, and using a non-multiplexed LCD display, I was able to keep RFI to an absolute minimum. The Sierra construction article, sans KC-2, can be found in any ARRL Handbook from 1996 through 2003.

In the case of the SST, or Simple Superhet Transceiver, I tried to cut the size, parts count – 85 or so – and current drain to absolute minimums while preserving ease of construction and decent performance. The receiver still included AGC, the transmitter put out 2 to 3 watts, and there was room inside the box for a 9-volt battery and a KC-1. The combination of these features has made the SST popular as a Spartan Sprint rig. I suppose it could even qualify as a sorta-TFR if the KC-1 controls and dot / dash buttons were installed on top.

The NC40A, Sierra, and SST are all still available from Wilderness Radio.

Five Field Days

Before I could turn my attention to a serious TFR, a most amazing thing happened: I quit my day job. I did this even though my wife and I were only a few months away from having our first child. What inspired this irrational behavior was my teaming up with Eric Swartz, WA6HHQ, to start Elecraft.

Eric and I had met quite a bit earlier, through NorCal. He was recruited as a technical advisor to the club, and helped me with some last-minute Sierra design issues. He also proved he was serious about QRP by racking up over 100 countries on his NorCal 40.

But it was doing Field Day together for five straight years that laid the foundation for Elecraft and for our transceiver designs. At FD 1995 and 1996 we used a hodge-podge of radios, batteries, antenna tuners and antenna switching schemes, often doing more QRP experimentation than operating. Finally, in 1997, we looked at that year’s pile of gear and concluded that there just had to be a better way. By early evening we had abandoned operating and were sketching out the K2 on the backs of FD log sheets.

The K2 was our notion of the ultimate Field Day rig, with all-band coverage, wide receiver dynamic range, current drain of about 200 mA, and internal accessories – battery, ATU, antenna switch, power meter, and contest keyer. But it was not really a backpacking transceiver. So in 2000 we introduced the K2’s baby brother, the K1. Now we were getting close!

The K1 is just a bit larger than a NorCal 40, draws 55 mA or so on receive, covers up to 4 bands without modules and includes an integral battery and ATU. We wanted the K1 to function like a TFR, so we designed a special tilt stand (KTS1) that would allow the rig to be aimed up, even when it was resting on the ground. The tilt stand is fully collapsible for transport, keeps the connectors up off the ground, and provides a place to mount a keyer paddle such as the Paddlette Backpacker.

But the K1 still doesn’t meet all of the design constraints for a TFR. It’s too heavy for many backpacking expeditions, and can’t be used conveniently in difficult operating situations, such as when sitting in a camp chair, lying in a sleeping bag, or standing up. So for two years the idea continued to simmer. And then, finally, something bubbled over.

Inspiration, Perspiration

One morning in March, 2003, I woke up suddenly with the design for a plug-in, physically-reversible keyer paddle in mind. This was the all-important missing link. The trick was to mount the paddle at a 45-degree angle for ease of use. I could thread a metal-bushing eighth-inch stereo plug into the custom mounting bracket and use a captive thumb screw to hold the paddle firmly to the panel. I quickly sketched out a TFR-style radio around this paddle: controls facing up, paddle facing forward, and batteries accessible via a removable bottom cover.

A few days later Eric and I fleshed out a set of performance and feature requirements. Like usual, Eric pushed performance and features, while I aimed for low current drain and ease of construction. Then, at the expense of other projects that I had been pursuing, I spent the next month doing the design.

This is where, for me, all of the constraints and possibilities of the CW TFR finally converged. I now felt that it was possible to satisfy all of the requirements Wes Hayward had laid out for us in the Mountaineer, while providing much better performance, enhanced usability, multiple bands and more operating features.

The most important design decision was to use a DDS VFO. This would eliminate a number of parts, including the transmit mixer and its crystal oscillator. While it wouldn’t provide the high spurious-free dynamic range of an L-C VFO, it would be very stable over a wide temperature range, and also frequency-agile, allowing full coverage of 40, 30, and 20 meters as well as nearby SWL bands. Other designers had used DDS VFOs in QRP rigs with success, notably Dave Benson (NN1G) in his DSW series. But I’d been holding out for a DDS chip with much lower current drain. Luckily, one appeared: the Analog Devices AD9834, which draws just 5 to 8 mA.

Another critical question was whether to use an LCD or LED for the 3-digit display. An LCD would have required a backlight, complicating packaging given the small area available for the display. It would also have required a separate display driver, since the KX1 had to get by with only a 28-pin MCU. So we opted for a rugged, incredibly efficient red / orange LED. The unit we selected can be driven directly by the MCU (multiplexed), and requires less than 100 microamps average per segment in typical room lighting. For outdoor use, the current requirement increases to as high as 0.8 mA per segment, meaning the LED contributes up to about 10 mA average (12 segments lit) at its brightest setting. However, we included two refinements to make this a non-issue: a programmable display-off timer, and a 100 percent audio Morse-code interface, even including menu text.

The Morse-audio feature allows the KX1 to be used without looking at the display, which is great for bicycle mobile operators, too-sleepy-to-keep-your-eyes-open Field Day operation, and operation in extremely bright sunlight. But we’ve also discovered that blind hams appreciate the KX1’s Morse-audio interface, and that alone was worth its inclusion.

Revisiting the Power-to-Weight Issue

In order to allow room for the automatic antenna tuner option (KXAT1), we decided to use just six AA cells for the rig’s internal battery pack. We discovered we had to use two 3-cell sockets with a gap in the middle to accommodate the keyer paddle jack and the I.F. and BFO crystals.

Six 1.5-volt lithium cells work very well in this application, providing around 1.5 to 2 watts output. And they last forever, it seems, with a rating of nearly three amp-hours and a very long shelf life. I did six KX1 field-test outings from May through September on a single set of these batteries.

So let’s return to the issue of how much power output is required for a backpacking rig. As you recall, Wes Hayward suggested one-half watt to attain a good power / weight tradeoff. But he didn’t have access to lithium 1.5-volt AA cells, which were invented in 1992. Alkalines have a similar milliampere-hour rating, yet their voltage rapidly drops as they discharge, and the mA-hr rating is based on an end-of-charge voltage of 0.9 volts. In contrast, lithium cells have a nearly flat discharge curve, remaining at about 1.4 volts for some 90 percent of their charge life. They also weigh just over half as much as alkalines – a six-cell pack weighs just 3 ounces.

So the equation really has changed. Given lighter batteries with better performance, I think the optimal power level for backpacking rigs is around 1.5 to 2 watts. This will produce more QSOs and more reliable emergency communications.

Finishing Touches

There are a number of other subtleties in the KX1 design that contribute to its small size and moderate parts-count. For example, the transmit low-pass filter is a careful compromise, covering three bands yet using just one relay. Only three crystals are used in the varactor-tuned IF filter, rather than four (K1) or seven (K2). T-R switching of the receiver’s bandpass filter is handled using a series-tuned circuit and an NPN transistor clamp rather than PIN diodes. The BFO is fixed-frequency, optimized for a 600 Hz sidetone / TX offset. A contacting rather than optical encoder is used, the former being much smaller and still having a long predicted lifespan of more than 100,000 rotations. Four sidetone levels are provided by simply using two outputs on the MCU and two resistors (i.e., a 2-bit DAC). And finally, a simple AGC circuit is used in combination with limiting at the AF amp. The LM386 runs from just 6 volts, so it clamps leading-edge thumps pretty effectively.

Two other features provided the icing on the cake: the log lamp and SWL coverage.

The integrated white LED log lamp elicits a lot of smiles when we demonstrate the KX1. It’s really handy for nighttime operation, allowing you to shut off your larger lantern or flashlight, which might disturb someone sleeping nearby. The LED only requires about 6 mA when operated from internal batteries, and since it has its own on-off switch, it doubles as a book lamp, flashlight, or a visible signaling device. During field test someone suggested that we use a red rather than white LED, since white light attracts flying insects. You can easily swap LEDs if this is a concern.

The KX1’s SWL coverage allows you to get news, time beacons (including WWV at 5, 10, and 15 MHz), weather information, and a variety of perspectives on world events. This seemed like a useful addition to a backpacking rig, since it may be the only radio you carry, and it has proven popular with early builders. The crystal filter can be widened out to about 2 kHz to listen to AM and SSB stations. For flexibility, we also added 5 kHz tuning steps, three frequency memories per band, and USB / LSB capability.

The KX1 could be made much smaller if we had used surface-mount components and AAA batteries, left out the ATU, and had been willing to pack the controls together more tightly. While this might help someone win in the “skinny” division of the Sprint, it would also make the rig less rugged and a lot harder to build and use. Instead, we designed the rig from the ground up to be a reliable, easy to build, easy to use, fully-integrated station. Our chosen 3″H x 5″W front panel size allows quite a bit of room for controls and display, and the 1.2″ height allows for AA batteries and an automatic antenna tuner.

K-zero (Not!)

Initially we didn’t know what to call the rig. We tried and rejected K.5, KR5, K-zero, and other names that would complete the dubious mathematical series { K2, K1, … }. We also rejected “Elecraft Elf,” although we may use that for something else . . . someday. “KX1” won in the end. “K” would keep the KX1 firmly planted in our line of transceivers. “X” was a reference to “eXtreme” operating conditions or “eXtremely small.” And “1” seemed a reasonable choice, since the rig is just too small to be a “2”.

When I first envisioned the KX1, what came to mind right away was the Adventure Radio Society. Russ and I had had a meeting about his ARS proposal a few months before the launch, and it was clear that he really did have adventurous and innovative plans for the organization. Given the many serious backpacking trips taken by Russ and other ARS members, the KX1 just seemed to be a good fit. I’m hoping we’ll get a lot more feedback on the design as the rigs find their way into the field.

But I also had a more esoteric goal for the KX1: I wanted it to be the ultimate radio for couch potatoes. Imagine lying on the couch, working CW DX with a paperback-novel-sized lap-top transceiver. It’s an entirely new way to experience CW – anywhere, anytime!
* * * * * * * * * * *
Wayne Burdick, N6KR, a founder of the Adventure Radio Society with membership No. 2, is one of amateur radio’s leading designer / innovators and co-owner of Elecraft, manufacturer of the KX1 trail-friendly transceiver.

The Wayback Machine

I’ve really been enjoying Bill Continelli’s, W2XOY, web posting on the history of amateur radio entitled the Wayback Machine. Well written and very engaging.

I received a package from home containing the last two issues of CQ and the last issue of QST so I spent a good portion of last night reading through those. Also got a copy of the latest issue of DX Magazine – I always enjoy reading the articles about hams on exotic DXpeditions.

Listened to the Voice of Russia for a little while but couldn’t find any solid shortwave stations to listen to last night.

FISTS, the organization of the International Morse Preservation Society, has a great beginners guide to a CW QSO on their website.

Cleveland, OH to St. Louis, MO

Another long day and lots of rain. I left the hotel in Cleveland around 8:15am and found a place to park near the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and put my antennas back on. I put on the 40M Hustler to see if it would make a difference with the problem I was having with the Icom AT-180 tuner. I rolled out and tested the radio with the Hustler antenna but encountered the same problem as before.

I headed over to the AES store in Cleveland. The store was well stocked – equivalent to what I’ve encountered in an HRO store, although I think AES had more magazines and books. I purchased an Icom AH-4 longwire tuner and a LDG 4:1 balun.

Back in the parking lot I disconnected all the cables on the AT-180 and then reconnected them. That seemed to have fixed the problem…. because 40M started working without issue. I had a nice QSO with Stan, W??JMV, who was operating from his attic radio room on the Jersey shore. I then checked into the ECARS net, the NCS had a nice solid signal. I then worked 20M talking to England, Serbia, Czech Republic, and Italy.

When I was about 5 miles east of St Louis a tremendous rain started coming down – I had to pull over on the side of the highway. It was the worst downpour I’ve ever seen. Tomorrow should be an easier drive.

Iraqi Amateur Radio Shutdown Continues

NEWINGTON, CT, Mar 30, 2007 — Iraq Amateur Radio Society (IARS) President Diya Sayah, YI1DZ, says a ham radio blackout in his country remains in effect, with no end in sight. As part of the new security plan in Baghdad, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense earlier this month requested that radio amateurs remain off the air until security improves.

Because of a miscommunication, however, word failed to reach the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission, which still is issuing licenses.

Sayah chalks up the open-ended ham radio blackout to a misunderstanding of Amateur Radio on the part of the defense minister. Working through the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research, the IARS has attempted — so far without success — to explain Amateur Radio to the Ministry of Defense.

“Because it’s between ministries, this will take time also,” Sayah said this week, adding that he was not optimistic about meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki anytime soon.

“Now anyone on the air is a pirate, as everyone is obliged not to use their radios at the present time,” he added. He said IARS members continue making contacts using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) modes such as IRLP, EchoLink and others.

The Ministry of Defense also had asked the IARS to store all licensees’ ham radio equipment during the shutdown, but Sayah says that’s not happening because of the dangerous situation that persists within the capital.

The ham radio shutdown affects non-Iraqi licensees, including members of the military and contractors holding YI9-prefix call signs. It does not apply to Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) operations, which use military frequencies.


I’ve been recovering from a cold, so I have been on as much as I’d like. I had a couple notable QSOs today:

W7DK/90: The Radio Club of Tacoma’s 90th Anniversary special event station. An ARRL-affiliated Special Service Club since 1920, the Radio Club of Tacoma will mark the occasion with a homecoming dinner October 21 and a week-long operating event with certificates. Special event station W7DK/90 will be on the air October 16-22, and for part of the event will put its “old oak rig” — a circa 1930 breadboard-style AM transmitter — on the air. “We have done some historical research, and it’s been very interesting,” says the club’s Peter Baker, AD7EU. One item that turned up was a W7DK QSL card from 1938.

JOTA: Jamboree On The Aira nearly 50-year-old tradition — provides an opportunity to showcase Amateur Radio for Boy and Girl Scouts and Guides, Cub Scouts and Brownies around the world, some of whom will be part of the next generation of radio amateurs. I had a nice QSO with two Scouts up in Wisconsin. One Scout was a 2nd Class and the other Life.

CW QSOs: the first few on 20M and 30M had the op at the other end blazing away a little to fast for me. I then went down to the good ol’ Novice sub-band on 40M and had a nice QSO with Fred, KC2IOD. His callsign looked familiar and sure enough – I worked him when I activated the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse (USA-567) back in February.

FISTS: I received the latest issue of the FISTS periodical. Lots of good reading.