MI UP Trip and HF Radio

Part 2

If you missed part 1, I talked about our handhelds and the day to day use of them in the dunes. It is an interesting read, though I feel the results are pretty self explanatory from the introduction. The results are important in driving home a point that I emphasize quite a bit. You get what you pay for.

Background

Leading up to the trip, there was a question that I asked myself. What radio do I take with me? Do I take my FT-991A? It has 100 W, a built-in tuner, and few compromises, except one. I needed to take along power. Do I take my IC-705? It has power, a built-in sound card, a tuner (the AH-705), and few compromises, except one. It is 5 W. In an effort to simplify my setup, I took the IC-705.

For me, I prefer a clean setup. I don’t like clutter. I see setups where there are multiple radios and tuners with amps plugged in. Monitors grace the desk and walls. Computers sit around, even if non-functional. There is too much happening. I prefer everything to be clean. I’ve been stalling on getting an external antenna tuner, because it is another piece of clutter on the desk.

IC-705

The IC-705 was the simplest setup for me. It has a built-in battery supplying power. It can charge over USB, granted it is the older micro standard and not USB-C. The only external device is the tuner, which is a necessary evil in this instance as the IC-705 has no built-in tuner. The FT-991A tuner isn’t great, but it does alright. This is better than not having one. The external tuner isn’t really large. It runs off AA batteries, which is disappointing that it doesn’t contain a rechargeable battery. It begs the question as to why it wasn’t just included. The main complaint that everyone seems to voice is the lack of an internal tuner, which can be solved with a resonant antenna. Either way, I prefer having one, even with a resonant antenna. It just gives more options.

Another drawback, at least for me, is the 5 W power limit. I’m not a skilled enough operator for 5 W. Not only that, but in a field deployment, I typically use an antenna with a compromised height. This means that I would like a little more than 5 W. The IC-705 does to 10 W with external power, but I see it as a small setup that I can throw in a bag, not a full sized setup that needs “support” behind it. If I need to bring external power, I would just bring my FT-991A and turn the power down. The FT-991A does take up more space, but it has a built-in tuner.

The IC-705 also does VHF/UHF out of the box, unlike the Elecraft’s add-on modules. A roll-up j-pole antenna could be thrown into a tree and give VHF/UHF capabilities. This was used once on the trip, where my wife used Echolink to patch into the local repeater, and we were able to talk. I had little to no cell service, and the Wi-Fi was a joke (2 mb/s on a good day). Having VHF/UHF out of the box just expands options. In order to fit everything into a small form factor, there is only one antenna port, meaning only one antenna can be used at a time. On a trip, it would be more convenient to take a handheld for VHF/UHF rather than relying on the IC-705 to fill that role.

Raspberry Pi

I never understood the obsession some hams have with the Raspberry Pi. They shun Windows computers like hipsters shunning non-craft beers. It is almost like a cult personality. There are so many add-ons and workaround needed to get it working. Compare that to a Windows PC where all of the programs I need exist. I haven’t found a program that I use for the RPi that doesn’t exist on Windows. That being said, I like the simplicity. I purchased one… two… three RPi. I have one that I use as my radio computer, one runs Volumio for my audio, and one is my Pi-Star hotspot.

On the radio Pi, I downloaded WSJT-X, fldigi, JS8Call, and hamrs. This is completely my fault, but I should have checked functionality before I left. JS8Call doesn’t work natively with the IC-705 without a workaround. This is true for the Windows version also. Also, hamrs failed to boot. The Wi-Fi, as mentioned before, was too slow to download an update. This left me with WSJT-X. It worked. As far as fldigi, I don’t use it but have it installed. I will use it one day… but that day isn’t today… or tomorrow.

One saving grace was that hamrs released an Android version, which is really good. I has all the functionality of the Windows version but on your phone. It does cost $5, but it is $5. For the amount of work the developer is doing and what it brings, I am glad to support the developer with $5. It is my go-to logging software. It doesn’t offer as much functionality as N1MM, but it is much easier to use. It doesn’t take a double PhD in computer science and electrical engineering to work. Everything is set out in a straight forward manner. When I first installed it, the functionality was extremely simplistic. A paper log was more advanced. Fast forward a month and it is hardly noticable from the original version.

WSJT-X

I love digital modes. I haven’t told my story about my first HF contact, but it does give some backstory as to my mentality in amateur radio. I got my General a month after my Technician. A month after that, I purchased my FT-991A. I strung an antenna between two trees in my backyard, getting my EFHW and impressive 7 ft off the ground. I spun the dial on 40 m and heard a gentleman asshole calling CQ. I responded. It was the ARRL sweepstakes weekend. I didn’t know the report to give him. He tore into me and told me how I didn’t deserve to be on the air, etc. This set, in my mind, what it was like on HF and with contesters. Granted, there are good (read as nice) contesters out there. But this set in my head what they were like. Why would I want to talk to anyone on HF if this was the experience? So I do digital. You don’t need to talk to anyone.

WSJT-X relies on timing. The RPi gets the time from the internet, as most things do. We have limited Wi-Fi, meaning no way to get the time. My solution was a GPS dongle. I did what most recommend and purchased a GPS dongle from Amazon. Yes, that GPS dongle. The wide white one made by *insert Chinese company here.* It worked okay at my house. It didn’t work in Michigan. I figured that it need to run for a bit. I left it on all day. I thought maybe it was because I was in a tent. I sat outside with it all day. Nothing. Not a single satellite. The other person with me had the same setup. He had the same experience. To set the time, I had to go into the terminal and set it manually based off my watch. I used a G-Shock that set the time using radio at night. This worked but wasn’t ideal. I was able to make contacts.

Voice

There were a lot of people on since it was the weekend of the IARU HF World Championship. The UP is pretty isolated. As a result, the noise floor was low. This drives home another point. Just because you can hear them, doesn’t mean they can hear you. I tried contacting people that had no pile-up with no results. I did make a few contacts. Voice was pretty hard. The best part was hearing everything that happens on HF. I live in the city, meaning my noise floor is pretty high. I could hear DX nets. I could hear DX stations. It was awesome. I couldn’t contact any due to power and antenna limitations.

One thing to take into account when doing a camping trip with your radio. RVs give off a lot of RF noise. Many of the components on RVs are low quality to save money. Not only that but RVs cater to a specific group of people. They typically don’t really care about their RF noise level. This didn’t make HF unusable but did block out some parts of the band. As a reference, I like to use the Georgia beacon for 10 m. Don’t know what the Georgia beacon is? Head to 28.425 MHz and listen. DON’T RESPOND. He has turned 28.425 MHz into his version of 7.200 MHz. He has done something positive for the community. He has established an informal 10 m beacon. Listening in, 10 m was open. The problem is that some days, the RF noise from RVs blocked this frequency. This died down during the week when many of the campers left. Just be aware that RF noise will be a thing at busy campgrounds that allow RVs.

Wrap-Up

Overall, the trip was alright from an HF stance. Having limited power and low quality equipment did limit what I was able to do. Be aware that you may need some workarounds if you take this equipment. Don’t expect everything to run smoothly.

My plan moving forward is to try a new GPS dongle by GlobalSat. This has been recommended by hams in the club that do fox hunting. If it doesn’t work, I’ll need to research another fox for time. I will need to find a better antenna for portable that can be deployed and is less compromised. I need to also find a way to get 10 W out of the IC-705 without taking along a large external power supply or battery. Once I accomplish all of these, I will try a POTA activation and see how everything goes.

Thank you for reading. Leave any questions in the comments below.

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