Amateur Radio Station
First licensed as WN3PHG in DE in 1970,
now located in Amissville, VA
after 24 years in Nokesville, VA 

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                     What's the sun doing?                              Mythical and real plates.              37 years of DXing =

Kitchen Counter DXing &
Card Table Contesting  

Essentially five years after I reflected on "2011-Starting Over" further down this page, I am starting over again. This time, the location is the same, but the corner, where my gear was first placed, is now bounded by walls. My station remained as a small island in the basement, right up until the night before the general contractor arrived to begin the remodeling. For the most part, I was QRT for the first three weeks of studding out process, but as I watched some DXpeditions appearing on the bands, and on the horizon, I got itchy to be able to put a signal on the air. After all, with a little ingenuity to power external antenna switches, and the use of barrel connectors, I could still access all my antennas. So, the question became, "Where do I put the gear, and what is the minimum configuration I'll need?" I still wanted some of the support services I've come to use and enjoy, like the spotting network, and computer logging, including an interface to the rig. With dust still flying in the work zone, I didn't want to break out my K3, and risk sawdust, concrete dust, and drywall dust ingestion. That led me to wanting a setup so simple that I could move it all from the emerging shack, upstairs to the kitchen counter.

There was a period that when there was simply too much dust, noise and activity to even consider being in the basement, which pushed me to think about how to get to the antennas, via a coaxial feedline, from somewhere upstairs. Since the kitchen is on the first floor and near snacks and drinks, I decided to try the built in 75 ohm coax outlet for TV use. Our house was built before wireless streaming of TV content, so there are coaxial feeds from the basement to the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms. A few adapters later, and with the use of a small LDG external tuner, I found that my IC-706MKIIG was being heard in some pretty distant spots. I have to admit that some of the simplicity (and no access to QRO), gave me a little more of a thrill when DX returned to my calls. As the hammering, sawing, nail-gunning, and even a couple days of jackhammering for plumbing adjustments in the slab were easily heard directly below me, I enjoyed my new Field Day-style operation from the kitchen counter.

Not wanting to miss all the contests or the wintertime, lowband DXing (always a favorite time for this activity, with the quieter band conditions, and early onset of darkness), I looked for a "portable" way to leave a table in place in the new shack, which by this point had new electrical service (a new subpanel), walls (which had mudded, sanded, and primed) for access to antenna switching along with computer logging and rig control. I made a few Qs in the ARRL VHF Contest, using the new 432 antenna described below, then got RTTY going with the laptop for a couple RTTY contest outings. The 706 allows for the narrow filter (such as it is) when in SSB for AFSK, which makes it a pretty serviceable rig for this use. Finally, when it was time for some CW contest activity, I tested the weight bearing of the card table, unpacking the IC-765 (1990 vintage) but with substantially better CW performance. I used an external keyer and its memories for the ARRL CW, since the exchange doesn't include a serial number. My Super CMOS Keyer (MK I), has no facility for serial numbers, but since the rig itself has no memories, that was still a big help.

At this writing, the shack has paint on the walls, but no flooring or ceiling, but the dust has settled, and a little work in the breaker box has my Alpha 89 available again along with the K3, and my LP-Pan-based panadapter, which has been a most sorely missed accessory. The additional power helped me with three new countries on 160M, 5U5R, EK/RZ3DJ, and MJ5Z, while missing a couple also. Interestingly, I worked MJ5Z in the Russian DX Contest, giving him serial number 1, which resulted in a request for a repeat. His number at the time was 1,265 :-) 

I expect a more orderly and intentional shack layout than I've had these past five years of "temporary permanent" setup, along with this time of recent nomadic operating has turned out to be a lot of fun.The new space will not allow me to sprawl out into the basement as in the past, but the rest of the basement is being prepared for other, far more useful purposes, and boundaries are most often a real benefit.

Antenna Repair & Upgrade 

After several months of use of my tower and the antennas it supports, I suffered my first failure. A passing cold front, which sparked thunderstorms, and swirling high winds, gave the tower and antennas a real test. All but one thing passed the test pretty well. The small tribander suffered a little twisting of elements and alignment on the boom, but the casualty was a Cushcraft 719B, which suffered a snapped boom. Being the antenna at the top of the mast, on a conventional, guyed tower, it would have been the most difficult to reach and repair, requiring removing all the antennas and lowering the mast inside the tower, or steps on the mast, which are not feasible on this lightweight mast (plus, I wouldn't climb it, even if it was feasible). The foldover allowed me (with the assistance of a friend, and potential new ham) to bring the damaged antenna to ground level for removal and replacement. Once it was down, I could see why it failed; the weakening caused by the element attachment hole, coupled with the weight and "sail" effect of the plastic balun box created the leverage needed to break the boom at the perforation, near the boom to mast plate. I have yet to find the element, which blew away somewhere. It will be interesting to see if it ever surfaces. 

The "repair" was a two-step process. Although the 719B was a reasonable antenna, for my infrequent use, my relatively poor VHF transceiver for 432, a 706MKIIG, and lack of preamp, left me wanting to improve the 432 antenna. A recently added 100W brick, thanks a family discount from my cousin Art, W4ACMl had improved transmit considerably, but I knew I needed to improve my receive capability. A mast-mounted pre-amp is really needed, even with the 7/8" hardline I use, given its length, but I decided the broken antenna was sufficient impetus to upgrade the antenna first, benefiting both receive and transmit. At my Nokesville QTH, I had used a C3I, 25 element K1FO yagi with great success. It was at 103 ft. and my view to the NE was basically unobstructed. That provided reliable Qs in contests with the big guns in New England, with my 100W and an SSB Electronics preamp. The preamp and antenna were generously provided by K4ENE, when he moved from this area. Knowing the performance of the antenna, and the fact that it had survived at that height for several years, I decided on the Directive Systems & Engineering antenna of essentially the same design. Having met and operated with Terry, W8ZN, the owner of DS&E, I was confident what I would be getting. I was right, and very satisfied. If you'd like to see the build and some details, here's a linkDSEFO432-25 Build at K4SO

The finished antenna has already shown promise, with my test path to Ed, W3EKT, improved over previous tests with the old antenna and low power. There are still geographic obstacles to the northeast, which I can't realistically overcome, but improving the antennas, radios, and related items like a receive preamp, and feedline will take me as far as possible. We're not moving to find an ideal radio QTH, and there's plenty of potential here, even with the limitations. I'll be looking for you in the upcoming fall and winter and summer VHF contests, on 432, as well as 6 and 2 meters.

160M Season (2015-2016) 

Given the limitations of my 160M antennas, it's getting harder and harder to find new, workable entities on topband each "season". Many that I need cross the hemispheres, so my "season" is NOT their season. When it's winter, and quiet here, it's summer, and noisy there. Still, there are surprises. DXpeditions add another dimension to DXing, especially on the lowbands, and topband in particular. Effective antennas are still moderately large, often fragile, and without an operator or two with a passion for low band DXing, these challenges are just too much to overcome. In the middle of all of the logistical, financial, operational, and personal demands on those who plan, go, and operate, it's understandable when the low bands (necessarily) have to take a back seat. I do my best to remember that it's their operation, and if I want to plan, finance and carry out a DXpedition (fat chance), I can prioritize things the way I see fit. Short of that, you fire up the rig, play the game, and see what happens.

So, this past winter (2015-2016), I can easily remember the DXpeditions and perennial lowband DX that I didn't work, and will not elaborate on each. Faithfully active stations not worked (yet again), HL5IVL, DU7ET, and DXpeditions missed (and well received at my QTH), 7P8C, C91B, and most recently FT4JA (three long nights of multi-hour calling, and a few recorded snippets of their signal are all I have to show for it, but that's DX!).

However, there were three high points! The first two were related. I was able to work VP8STI and VP8SGI on 160M for new band countries. The path was good, their signals were good, and with a beverage in that direction, I could hear well. I have become a true believer in QSK, since my Alpha 89's outboard circuit has given me confidence in its reliability, but I do not have dual receivers in my K3, so despite looking for the "last called" station on my panadapter, and judicious use of the REV button (which I can activate with a mouse click), it's still a little harder than having a receiver in each ear. I can use the NaP3 program as a subreceiver, but given my aging PC, it's definitely "sub." Even with essentially just one receiver, the K3's NR is extremely helpful, even on a quiet night, at sucking the weaker signals out of the noise, and up to Q5. My approach on 160M is aided by the fact that I can most often hear and see the callers though, and so I can use the panadapter to quickly asses the edge of the pileup, or an open spot in the feeding frenzy. Part of the dynamic is that when I hear the DX better (in the long, slow QSB that is characteristic on 160M), so can everybody else and the pileup grows accordingly.

Finally, the jewel of the season, because it was probably the most unexpected, was my QSO with VK0EK. It seemed that after the similarly unexpected QSOs with the VP8s, it was unlikely that I'd nab VK0EK also. Instead, for whatever combination of reasons, including good ears and dedication by K3EL on Heard Island, I put it in the log without multi-night, multi-hour effort. Seeing his call on Clublog as the op. who worked meI sent David an email while he was still on Heard Island, thanking him and the whole team and he took the time to email back! That was as unexpected as the contact itself.Their use of the DXA realtime feedback was extremely helpful too, and within moments of the QSO, I grabbed the screen capture below. I often neglect to record these QSOs and always regret it later, and this QSO was no exception to that but I do have the card and this unique real-time memento.

As we head into the nosier months in the northern hemisphere, I send a hearty thank you to the dedicated OMs who continue to operate 160M, both from their home stations, and DXpeditioners. It is a difficult, but highly satisfying place to work DX!

Tower is finally up! 
After bucketing, and hand digging out the mud, we were underway again, with forms prepared, rebar bent and built into cages Gravel was put in the bottom of the holes for drainage, and to fill in some "overage" in the guy anchor holes caused by the inevitable scraping of a 3-foot backhoe bucket digging a 3-foot square hole. The operator was quite skilled, but we sill ended up with a total of seven yards of concrete in the ground, instead of the 5 actually needed to meet spec. Still, it's a professional job, with a 1 inch fall for drainage, and guy anchor points that will not be going anywhere! A single 10-foot section was put in place, used to maintain a plumb orientation for the concrete-encased short section, and the area has been mostly graded, and the concrete is cured. The first 32 feet were added in the next couple weeks (up to the foldover hinge), and the final 26-foot top was pulled up intact, and bolted at the hinge, then winched upright after adding antennas. 

It's been a slog, but the payoff has arrived, and this should serve me until I hang up my radio spurs 25 years or so from now. The foldover should allow me to change antennas and "follow the sun," and the high-frequency bands die off for the next several years. Of course, we don't know that they'll ever return to even what we've enjoyed in Cycle 24. Still, having the ability to change the "main" yagi to something for 30 or 40 meters will be potentially beneficial and something new. The previous tower and antennas I had, at least at the top, were unchanged over 24-years. A 40 meter yagi and a tribander were sufficient, supplemented with two VHF antennas to take advantage of the tower height, and other monobanders added to the side of the tower at various heights. 

With the help of W4ACM, W4GO, K3TRM, W8KRZ, KK4KM, and K1HTV, the new tower is up and the first antenna to be used, a Cushcraft 10-4CD, provided good performance for the ARRL 10M contest. VHF antennas followed, then the monobander was removed and replaced by an A3S tribander with a 30M kit, to be followed in the springtime by something with interlaced monobanders. I do have some weight limitations to permit me to fold the tower over, but there are several possibilities including Optibeams, JK antennas, and maybe Force12. As the bands wane in coming years, I will have the option to replace that with a 20M monobander, or a 17/20M duobander, 30M Moxon, or something else. The foldover design gives me a lot of options, which was a big factor in my choice.

As for the actual erecting of the tower—the first 32 feet gave us a little trouble with sections fitting (all sections were previously used), We had to remove the first section used to keep the base vertical in the concrete, and use the cantankerous section at the base, and move the previous lowest section up. The rest of the tower sections had been pre-fitted, and gave us very little trouble. My cousin, Art, W4ACM, who provided the tower in the first place, and had erected it for the previous owner, scripted the method of pulling the assembled top half of the tower into place. He manned the hinge point and with some considerable pulling and hauling, (Alex, KK4KM, doing the lion's share of the pulling at the ground level) and W4GO guiding the top end of the tower, Art directed the 200+ lb. structure into place. When he got the first bolt in, we cheered, and when the second was installed, it felt like the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the east and west sections of the transcontinental railroad met. 

The initial stack of antennas as of 12/2015, from top to bottom: Cushcraft 19 el. 432 mHz yagi (now replaced with a DSE 25 el. K1FO), 5 el. M2 6M5X, 15 el. C3I K1FO for 2M, and 4 el. Cushcraft 10-4CD for 10M. Now that the ARRL 10M contest has passed, the 10-4CD has been removed and a Cushcraft A3S with the 30M trapped dipole kit (A-734) is in place as shown below left, until springtime or later in 2016, when it may be replaced by another multi-bander, as noted above. It works as smooth as I could ask, and I thank all involved once again. Here's a link to the entire photo album, with the hope that some of the details may benefit someone else putting up a similar tower.

Another Icom rig in the shack  
After getting the bug to try HF mobile, by moving my Icom 706MKIIG to my compact pickup truck, I had a hole in my HF "arsenal" on the desktop.I had been offered the use of friend's spare rig(s), a pair of Icom IC-765s, which had served well as CW contest radios before being replaced by a TS-950SDX and K3. Later a second K3 joined the lineup, and there has been nothing to displace them so far.I had only used the 765 very briefly during their fairly long run there, impressed by the way the C-IV sensed the VFO use on either rig, and swapped focus in CT (for DOS!). Back then, SO2R was less formalized, with support by external devices, and you only needed the logging software to grab the second rig, when it was used for transmitting. The seamless way the Icoms were supported was quite efficient and basically followed your actions at the rig, rather than being controlled by the keyboard.

As it turns out, one of the 765s had a case of deafness, and the other had a tuner problem, and, as I delved further, a transmitter feedback problem on SSB. This mode was rarely used in their years of contesting service. I started with the rig with the lively receiver, only to discover the SSB problem once I'd made room on the operating desk, so I tried the second, older rig (the one with the deaf receiver) as an SSB transmitter, and found it was fine. Opening the cabinet, I decided to pull and reseat connectors, in hopes of a quick fix for the receiver. No joy, so I moved on to the next "easy" attempt to find the problem, by slightly moving potentiometers and coils in the RF signal path, in hopes that something just needed a swish to clean it up and restore the signal path. When I tried R465, I found the problem. The pot was not dirty, but turned down, reducing the receiver gain. After stumbling on this adjustment, I looked in the Service Manual, and found that it was one of a pair of pots used to set the overall receiver gain. That encouraged me that there was a logical reason that it made the difference, even though I'd found it by blind reckoning. I tweaked the associated coils and found a couple dB or additional sensitivity, then "calibrated" the gain by setting it to yield S-meter readings approximately the same as my K3.

A 1990 QST review of the rig explained a few other behaviors, such as the IF SHIFT function (the button in particular), which also removes one of the cascaded filters, which is a big help on SSB to open up the 2.2 kHz bandwidth for daily use, and let the 2.8 kHz filter take over. This rig has cascaded
 500 and 250 Hz filters, and the optional 6 kHz AM filter as well. The antenna tuner problem in its twin turned out to be a worm gear that had crawled up the shaft of the drive motor for one of variable caps, which was quickly fixed. A loud hum was actually the motor running freely, trying to find a home position for the tuner to start, but being unable to drive the gears where it needed to be.

The most obvious missing piece on this rig, compared to the 950SDX and FT-1000D that I had, of similar vintage, is a sub-receiver, but that's a DXing function more than a SO2R contesting need, and I'm very pleased to have this rig on the operating table. Hopefully, my small problems and their resolution will be of help to someone else.

When the envelope is as cool as the QSL . . .  
FT4TA QSL envelope

Not to demean the FT4FA DXpedition QSL card, but rather to commend them for this extra dimension of their QSLing process, I share this picture of the envelope which contained the QSL card. Not since the "first day issue" envelope of Radio Nederland International, on the event of opening their Bonaire relay shortwave station, have I received such a notable envelope. The RN envelope is postmarked 6 March 1969, and is also shown below. That's a lot of years in between. When my neighbor Frank, K3TRM, told me he got his card and the envelope was also a prize, I was only guessing what it would look like. Unfortunately, the card enclosed in my envelope didn't have a 160M QSO included, but the packaging helped with my disappointment at not being able to work them on topband. Thanks again Lyon DX Gang!

Above: Recently received envelope containing
QSL card from FT4TA DXpedition

Right: Envelope containing Radio Nederland
QSL card from their new station on Bonaire 

Below: The FT4TA QSL. The wraparound 
design is a real favorite of mine.


Smallest HF rig I've ever had  
After selling my trusty, venerable FT-1000 (almost a D) to a friend, I felt the loss of not having a reasonably modern backup, and second rig for "light" SO2R use. A deal for a very well-equipped TS-930S fell through, and I got thinking about the possibility of a rig for both HF and VHF and the option of trying HF mobile. My K3 is great for serious DXing and contest dabbling, and I decided to take a different tack than buying a 10- 15-year old mainline transceiver. I called a local friend who had mentioned that he had an Icom 706MKIIG that was excess to his needs, but he'd already sold it to a newly licensed local ham. I had used a 706MKIIG which was borrowed from K3TRM, during a VHF contest in 2011. I was impressed by how much functionality was squeezed into this small package. At that time, my K3 had its drivers blown for the second or third time by my ornery Alpha 89. I recalled that another local ham had mentioned that he was going to sell his 706 back in February. A quick email confirmed that he still had the rig, and was still interested in moving it along, in favor of a newer, compact HF/VHF rig. With little haggling, we came to terms, and a brief demo convinced me to take the plunge. Not knowing too much about the options for this rig, I was delighted to find that this one has the 350Hz CW filter, DSP, and high-precision crystal, in addition to a USB to CI-V cable, and a plug in module from "The Better RF Company" (now defunct, the company, not the board), which uses the antenna tuner port and provides a 10W tuning carrier for antenna tuner use. 

It fits right in on the desktop, not taking up much room and only displaced an old multi-position speaker switch and my LP-Pan for the K3. They were easily moved (just 
visible on the left in the picture above), and not in the sight line of the monitor. The receiver isn't contest grade, with its broad filter skirts evident on very strong signals, but overall it's very competent and a ball to use. Paired with an LDG Z-100Plus that I bought for quick bandswitching at low power for the K3, I've had lots of fun already working some pretty distant DX, with 100 watts on both CW and SSB. I need a mobile mount before I can install it in my pickup truck, but this rig is definitely the right format, making the K3 look large by comparison! The addition of a cable for amplifier keying, and an adapter for the RJ45 mic. connector has allowed integration with the YCCC SO2R box, which you can see on top of the K3. For the moment, it's enjoying the role of "first responder" to DX spots, and providing the fun of DXing and ragchewing, all from this small package.
    First experience with an IC-706MKIIG, in 2011

Another Collins station added 
I wasn't really looking for another Collins station, but when a comment was made about some "Collins gear that you might want to take a look at" at a hamfest about a year and a half ago, the bait was set. What I thought might be a "purchase, clean up and sell" transaction, tuned into a buy, sell, donate and keep one, series of events. I've had an interest in a KWM-2 since I got my first S/Line many years ago, and again when I got an S-1/Line about 6 years ago, and replaced it with an S-3/Line about a year ago. It's a very rudimentary rig, lacking anything but AF and RF gain (well, and emissions, and RF bandswitching controls) in the receiver, but stuffing the essence of the S/Line in a single box intrigued me. When I saw the first pair of KWM-2A and 312B-5, and got it going, it wasn't long before I asked the seller if I could "take a look" at the other two pairs he had. After some excellent information and coaching by K6XYZ on how to further improve the stock radio, I have an excellent performer, at least on SSB, and a station that's just plain fun to use. I share the 30L-1, around the corner from this staion in the picture above, between the M-2 and the S/Line. The 312B-5 is a RE, matching the 30L-1 in that regard, and although it had some serious thumb rash on the panel, and a cabinet with a few prominent scratches and flaws, a bit of touch-up paint and a cabinet overspray brought it up to very acceptable condition physically. Electrically, it was already fully functional, and a bit of cleanup resulted in bringing the innards to very nice condition

Here is the rig, as received. Note the discolored trim ring (plastic), and the aftermarket emission knob. The usual problems were present, nicotine, scratched knob inserts, and yellowed lines in the knobs. I purchased the rig without ever opening the cabinet. Imagine my delight, when I found a DX Engineering speech processor topside, and the Teflon wiring and plug-in relays below decks. I figured there was enough to work with in the transceiver, power supply, and external VFO (PTO), but when everything powered up, I was really motivated to clean things up. Once I got things spruced up, I was further motivated to find a way to keep it in the shack, at least for now. As you refurbish gear, the particulars emerge, and in this case, the yellowed trim ring (which I'd avoided previously, having always gotten painted metal ones on the other Collins gear I have), and the installation of service bulletin upgrades were part of the M-2 involvement. The construction of the M-2 is both similar, and quite different from the S/Lines I have worked on, using "turrets" to provide the component density needed to get everything into this  package. Invariably, the components you need to change or add, seem to be on the inner layer of parts that are placed on the turrets early in construction. Those who have worked on these rigs, have developed techniques to reach, remove, and replace what needs to be done. One of the hallmarks of the Collins construction, is the wrapping of leads, and generous use of solder, finished up with a dab of red inspection "paint" on each connection, indicating that it's been checked for correctness, both electrically and physically. Easy removal of these component leads later is not a consideration. I don't own a Haako desoldering station, which is almost universally celebrated as the way to go when doing this work, but after using a roll or two of Solderwick (desoldering braid) for these operations, I pulled out the old manual plunger-type solder sucker for initial solder removal, and almost by accident (at first), created intentional cold-solder joints that allowed some careful clipping, and unwrapping of leads with a dental pick. These techniques allowed the use of less heat, and original technique when installing the new components. 

Detailed view of turret
These turrets are numbered, and as you can see in the photo, there are letters indicating the particular lugs. The manual identifies the turrets, and even the lettering of the lugs, which go clockwise, with A-F on the top layer, and G-L on the bottom. This was all new to me, and while I'm glad I made the changes to the circuits, and enjoyed the process overall, I'm not looking for a steady diet of this work! To those who routinely maintain this gear, you have my respect and a tip of my hat. Thanks Dave, for your patient coaching, which resulted in a rig that sounds really excellent. I have taken a number of other photos, as is my practice, and while not an exhaustive recipe for SB8, one of the most critical, may help you if you are making these changes to your KWM-2(A). Just click on the photo of the turret to reach the entire album, with captions. The album includes details of the trim ring restoration as well.

Snow vs. the ground-mounted rotator 
The snowstorm on February 13, 2014, which dropped 14–16 inches of snow, left the rotator system for the Spiderbeam HD just barely visible. The counterweights and steering strings need space below them to operate, and so a little shoveling was needed to get things operational for the ARRL DX CW Contest the following weekend. 15 minutes later, with all control and coax lines still deeply buried under the snow, things were turning again. The antenna itself was safely above the snowline, so only the rotator and associated items needed the snow cleared away. I look forward to a no-climb tower installation in the spring of 2015, but this is still even easier to maintain. With over a foot of snow, I didn't think I could wait for natural melting in the sunny, 52F weather that followed the next day. Also, this storm started with cold temps and powdery snow, and the power stayed on for the duration. I know those south of us really suffered in this storm, with ice in NC, GA, and even snow down in AL. I also read of antenna failures due to the ice. The fact is, we're still pretty small compared to "the weather." A good reminder...

Removing snow from the small road that runs along our property, out to the "main" road, with our 1986 Ford 1710. This was my first time needing the tractor to clear us out. The forecast for the 2014-15 winter makes me think it won't be the last. A more suitable blade (rear grader) is on the tractor now for this year's snow removal tasks.

The short boom and the tip of the rotator protruding from the snow, with the Spiderbeam safely "parked" on the short mast, above the snow line.

Rotator dug out and area cleared for the rotation of the short boom and counterweights on the end of the "steering strings" which attach to the antenna's boom. Ready for DXing!

Newest “certificate” at K4SO 
This building permit was the latest wallpaper in my shack back in 2013. It is now back indoors, and the tower is not complete, as you can see from the story above. Just below it, you can see the newest certificate, a flimsy piece of paper that belies the expense, time, and labor of many that it represents, the Final Inspection receipt, with the unassuming text, "OK for use." 

I never calculated the cost of all the QSL postage, KwH of power consumed, or my hourly labor rate for working the DX to obtain my DXCC certificates, but this piece of laminated paper is probably right up there in terms of comparative cost. The tower I now have had to be re-engineered to meet current IBC 2009 commercial specifications for wind, snow, and ice, and all the mechanical considerations for weight and wind load of the antennas, since it has not been manufactured since the late 1970s. The existing Rohn documentation was not nearly sufficient for my local jurisdiction (county), so this had to be prepared by a PE licensed in VA. In the end, I employed the services of a local contractor to do the excavations, build forms and rebar cages, haul the concrete, and babysit the project during the initial inspection. Zoning was a snap, with the location required to be only 25 feet from the property line, regardless of tower height (up to 200 feet without any special waivers), and 125 feet from the centerline of the road on the "frontage" side of the property. That is defined as the shortest side, not the one that fronts the public road. Neither of those considerations make much sense to me but at least that part of the process was easy.

Thanks to Don Daso, K4ZA, I obtained the services of an excellent and very reasonably-priced (considering the work involved) PE, and the approval only took 5 days once the documents were submitted. That's the good news. What then remained was excavation for some very substantial guy anchors, and well as possible removal of a large oak tree by a tree service (later deemed unnecessary). The guy anchors are one cubic yard each, and there are four of them, plus another cubic yard at the base. The total amount is still less than some self-supporting or crank-up towers (it finally took 7 cubic yards total, with the overage by the backhoe's excavation). For comparison, my previous 100-foot tower had only 1 cubic yard at the base, and used large screw-in guy anchors. The upside with this design is that the footprint is only out 19.5 feet from the tower base. Regulations vary, but if you need a PE in the state of Virginia, drop me an email at, and I'll pass along the particulars.

My last tower was erected when I was only 33 years old. I had an intense desire for a "real" tower, coming from a 40-footer with a house bracket, drive in base (no concrete), and the "ask forgiveness, not permission approach." Although this tower will likely be my last, the challenge is that I'm less motivated, given the great results the last one produced. I've postponed this one's construction almost three years after we moved here, until fall 2015 and I''m using a new Spiderbeam hanging in a tree with surprisingly good results, using techniques learned with several "temporary" antennas as shown below on this page. Oh, and I'm not 33 anymore...

Final Inspection receipt
"ok for use" never sounded so good!
It's now "in use," thanks to the work of many,
mentioned and shown in my Picasaweb album of tower construction. Thanks to all involved! - SO

Please visit my wife’s store on Etsy  
This is the first inclusion of something decidedly not ham related on this site, but I consider it something of value and worth passing along. My wife, Diane, continues to make and sell handmade soft cases for iPads and Kindles (or similar devices with the same or slightly smaller dimensions). This was established in 2013, as a way for her to use her sewing talents to create useful products to help fund our ministry to missionaries. We are endeavoring to open our home to missionaries on furlough and to create a network of like-minded folks to share the resources they've been given. This will help spread the Gospel by supporting missionaries in this way, sharingHandmade Kindle case room and board, transportation, and meeting other needs. 

These items are very well made (of course I would say that, but they really are), and help protect the rather substantial investment in these electronic items. They're made from "upcycled" fabrics and they are matched in design for both an iPad and Kindle, but do not need to be purchased as a set. The picture shows a case for a Kindle as an example. Each is a one-of-a-kind item, with a pocket and closure.

My iPad's internal microphone failed after repeated drops from standing vertically on a table, falling backwards, so I know that while they're robust in general, they can be damaged. Since portability is an important feature of these devices, protecting them when not in use and they're being transported is a great way to further their useful lifespan.

Click the link below to Harvest Home Studios' pages on Etsy, and take a look at what's available. She can also take custom orders.

Collins 32S-3
The updating of the Collins station is now complete, with a 32S-3 replacing my venerable 32S-1 which gave five years of excellent performance. I previously replaced the 75S-1 with a 75S-3 (see below), and knew I wanted the 32S-3 for three reasons: 1.) It generates CW in a manner which will not cause multiple signals on the band, due to a lack of carrier and sideband suppression, 2.) it has a CW CAL control to allow quick and accurate spotting of the transmitted signal, when using the transmitter PTO, and 3.) it uses an air variable neutralizing capacitor, which allows for use of later generation 6146s, including As, Bs, and Ws. This could be retrofitted to the 32S-1, but I decided to leave it stock in that regard.

After missing some ebay offerings, and inquiring about breaking up full S/Lines to purchase just the transmitter and being declined, I purchased one that had already been substantially cleaned up and already recapped (failure-prone capacitors replaced). It was much further along as a starting point than the ebay-purchase 75S-3, but still required some detailed cleaning to "make it mine." The dials were discolored by smoke, but happily it doesn't smell like smoke otherwise and the chassis and controls were all very clean, likely due to the work of the most recent owner. It's a 1966 model, so it's 7 years newer than its predecessor on my operating desk, but despite its cleanup, will never be as "original clean" as the S-1. Still, I'm glad to have the 3/Line now and have made good use of it on both SSB and especially CW. The cabinet needed some minor paint repairs, so I just kept the one from my 32S-1, but I couldn't wait for a shakedown cruise, as shown in the picture.

Closeup of 75S-3
Collins 75S-3 REPLACES MY 75S-1 
Five years of enjoyable operation with a 1958/59
S-1/Line convinced me that I would be keeping a Collins station in the stable, if possible, from now on. The one-owner S/Line (W4HYB) was operationally very good, but the S-1/Line has some limitations for daily use, which were addressed in the S-3/Line. Since keeping both was not a viable option, I decided to upgrade the receiver first to gain three useful features, then the transmitter. The 75S-3 features an adjustable BFO, two AGC time constants (a feature I had added to the S-1), and rejection tuning (a notch filter, which I had available on the 75S-1 by connecting an external Heathkit QF-1). The BFO allows easy zero beating for transceive, and changing the tone of SSB by shifting  the signal in the mechanical filter, as well as changing the pitch of the CW signal in the stock 200-cycle crystal filter. It can also act as RIT when transceiving, without having to go split. Of lesser importance, the additional controls add two additional knobs with alumin
um inserts, which brighten the front panel and create a more balanced look. The 75S-1 has an open area under the meter that is occupied by the BFO control on the 75S-3.

This receiver was an eBay purchase, at a good price, but was a bit of a diamond in the rough, dirty and neglected for many years. From what I could see in the pictures, it appeared not to be damaged in any way with scratches, dents or extra holes, and when I received it, my assessment proved largely correct. It was operational out of the box and cleaned up very nicely. The receiver included a weighted VFO knob, a bonus usually costing in excess of $100 by itself, when you can find one for sale.
70K-2 PTO ready for repair

There was a "gotcha" though. The permeability tuned oscillator (PTO), which I consider the heart of the receiver, had a serious mechanical flaw. It would spring backwards when turned in the clockwise direction. There was also slipping in the dial drive, as a result of the high resistance when tuning in that direction. It seemed to improve with use, but it soon became clear that I would have to remove and service the 70K-2 PTO. Many avoid this procedure, and not without cause, but with the coaching and encouragement of several on the CCA email reflector list, I decided to service it. Although sophisticated in its engineering, with reasonable care and documenting the order of assembly (digital photos are a great tool for this), I successfully disassembled, cleaned. lubricated, reassembled, and calibrated it. The final result is very satisfying. It's perfectly smooth, light, and should outlast me!

I have documented the process, not as an absolute recipe or step-by-step guide, but hopefully enough detail to encourage others to not shy away from this procedure. The link below places you within the larger album on this receiver, and as you advance forward, includes detailed close-ups and written descriptions.

Don't be surprised if you find me using this gear especially on 17M, since I obtained crystals for that band a couple months back. I have also added crystals for 30M and 12M as well, so the pair is WARC-capable.


Yes, AI stands for Amsterdam Island, but might as well be Antipode Island. As tough as Yemen was to work (see below), this station was easy to copy, in terms of signal strength, but perhaps even more sought after. The T vertical and beverages once again earned their keep, The QSO was right at peak grayline time, 23:56Z, but still a surprise to me that I got through. I never heard them as well again on 160M. I worked them on 18 band/mode slots, but the Q on topband is the prize. Thanks to all involved in this very well planned and executed operation.

9U4U - Burundi
Clearly the wraparound design is a popular format. This card arrived after a request on the OQRS system. This one also included a 160M QSO, much appreciated.

 7O6T - Yemen 
This fold-open panorama card from 7O6T is a prize. I worked this excellent DXpedition on quite a few bands, including 160M, which was the jewel for me. Reading K1ZM's description of what they had to do to operate on topband, I feel especially fortunate and appreciative. The card for additional contacts that didn't fit in this card, used a simple design with the national flag, which was also a nice touch. Thanks to the crew for their dedication and operating skill, and the management of QSL and LoTW confirmations!
After learning that Hartzell was no longer refinishing Drake cabinets, I decided to repaint the one on the T-4XB. There was substantial variation in the finishes of the gear over the years, and since the MS-4 and the R-4B cabinets were in somewhat poor condition when I received them, I sprung for the refinish job by Hartzell. By comparison, the T-4XB was mostly unscratched, but had an almost matte finish, and a much smoother surface. I decided to cover the scratches, and try and minimize the gloss differential, by repainting the cabinet with Rustoleum Satin Black, my go-to paint for most anything black that I want to restore.The result was very good, and highly cost effective. The R-4B cabinet refinish from Hartzell was $90, the MS-4 $45 (per piece pricing, not surface area), and the T-4XB was $4.97, plus my time ($0). Once painted, it seemed like the station should be deployed and with the wide open shack in the basement, it was easy enough. With much of my daytime operating using 17 meters, I added two crystals for that band and they
 also include crystals for 30M and 160M.There are still plenty of Drake radios being sold, and they're a good value and great fun to use.

LoTW comes through with 100 countries
 on 30M!
I have always considered the WARC bands to be "for fun" (I know, aren't they all?), and haven't sought QSLs or confirmations with the same agressiveness as I have on the other bands. I did work 104 countries on 30M with my Drake B-Line, just for the fun of it, and have been trying to work what's spotted on 30M for the last couple years. My antennas have been simple dipoles for cut 30M, or other bands and used with an external antenna tuner. When checking 6M DXCC counties, I noticed that I had 100 on 30M, so I applied for the award. The turnaround was just a week or so. Thanks for the Qs, and thanks ARRL for the quck turn. (49 more have arrived as of 12-31-2012) 

LoTW also provided 100 countries confirmed for 12M
I was on 12 meters the day it opened, with a 4 element monobander and a separate tap on the B&W850A in my multi-band homebrew 4-1000 amplifier (built by Jeff, WA8SAJ). I worked a bunch, but like 30M, didn't chase the cards. They trickled in, and when the band opened up again this year (2013), I started looking for LoTW users to work and finish up DXCC confirmations. Most of what was added was via wire antennas and CW is a great help, when the antennas are not terribly effective.

LoTW-based Digital DXCC 
I have operated RTTY since very early on in the hobby, and never considered chasing DXCC until LoTW and the use of computer decoders. MMTTY, and now 2Tone provide lots of fun for contesting with RTTY, and I use MMTTY for day-to-day DXing. With many major DXpeditions including RTTY, I have a somewhat high percentage of exotic countries on this mode, and should spend some time chasing the easier ones, I guess. These days, I let Spotcollector alert me to new RTTY countries, and if the station is an LoTW user, I am doubly motivated. Like the other DXCCs, just working 100 on RTTY doesn't represent anything terribly difficult, but another fun award to chase and track. Modern tools for all these things makes it very enjoyable. Give it a try!

Amplification Corner
2011 = S
After 24 years in our former home, with family grown and gone, it was time to make a move to a home more suited to our age and purposes. For me, that meant starting over in the ham shack too. At the moment, I'm on the air with wires and rotatable antennas in the trees as shown elsewhre on this page, having fun in a somewhat simpler way than when I had a 100-foot tower and a bunch of yagis. I do have much of the same gear, having shed the largest amplifiers and some peripherals. Being somewhat temporary, the shack's in the corner of the basement, and nearly everything is on one "level" so I can reach all the connections and reconfigure when needed. I also have room to walk behind the operating position. While shelves and a position flush to the wall are attractive, this arrangement allows flexibility, since I'm not sure how things will be changed.

The new start also means a new website, having retired the old one when I had to change ISPs. I'm trying to retain some of the fun links and background that was there, but emphasize what's new here, rather than chronicle the past as my homepage. has a briefer overall history. One of the things that has been a useful addition to the free web tools from Google, has been Picasaweb, and its utility as an efficient way to create online photo albums. I've taken many (sometimes, too many) pictures of projects as I've gone through them, and if the project's name piques your curiosity, take a look. Some are more step-by-step, and some have been found and used by others to assist them in related projects, if only as encouragement that "if this guy did it, I can dive in too."

K4SO QTH and antennas - Winter 2016  A tower and yagis were erected in the fall of 2015 in the position shown (see description above). The antennas on the tower do not include a SteppIR, but never say never. A Cushcraft A3S with the A-734 kit for 30M, and a stack of VHF antennas above it, including a C3I 15 el. 2M K1FO yagi, an M2 6M5X 5 el. yagi for 6m, and a Cushcraft 19 el. wideband yagi for 432. Beverages (orange) run NE and NW. Antennas (turquoise) are open wire-fed dipole (125 ft. long) at 80 feet, and open wire-fed inverted vee (255 ft. long) at 85 feet. The site for my tree branch suspended antennas is at the tree line, just to the north of the house is shown by the yellow yagi, and supports a 6M, 10M, or 17M Moxon, as shown in pictures above. The 160M T vertical with folded counterpoise (FCP), as designed by K2AV, had been an outstanding performer for me. The line indicates the approximate direction and length of the top loading horizontal wire. The FCP is located in nearly the same orientation as this wire, and 10 feet above ground. The horizontal portion of the antenna is 71 feet high, with the resulting vertical portion of 61 feet. More pictures of its initial configuration, testing, and FCP isolation transformer are at:

Since I don't operate much 160M in the summer months, the supports for the T were used to test a 40M dipole at 71 feet, broadside E/W, since the 80M dipole, also used on 40M, is broadside to EU. Based on good results, the area in front of the house now includes a 40M dipole, spaced about 60 feet east of the T. I haven't noticed any degradation of the 160M T performance. A 40M dipole for high angle use is in the same tree as the 160M inverted vee, but 50 feet lower (33 feet). Between the three, I have good performance on the band, but sure miss my 2 element 40M yagi at 110 feet at my former QTH. 

My Elmer (my dad) - Charles F. (Fred) Killmon, N3ADT

Charles F. Killmon, N3ADT
Fifi album from Manassas visit in 2013

Click on the shot of FIFI for an album of other still shots.

The fully operational radio position in FIFI. Click for a link to the details of the restoration project. As the son of a B-29 radio operator, I sincerely thank those who did this work, giving me a 
chance to both work it and see it!

FEW HAMS ARE WITHOUT AN ELMER, and in my case, I'd identify my Elmer as my dad, Charles F. (Fred) Killmon.
He didn't give me
 my novice test, and I'm indebted to the ham, 
(Joe Schorah, WA3KZX), 
that took me and a friend under his wing to instruct us
and give us the test. But my dad really gave me "the radio bug."
The first photo above is my dad taken in 1945
 with a B-29 flight crew, where he served as the radio operator. He was stationed on both Tinian and Saipan. When he returned stateside after the war, he studied electronics and worked at an appliance store (they sold TVs and radios in those days), and later took courses at the University of Delaware, eventually taking a position at DuPont as an electronic technician.

Among many things, my dad got me interested in electronics and radio by obtaining a BC-348Q which was being discarded at his workplace, and giving it to me. That was
 my first shortwave receiver and I was about 11-years old. You couldn't see the tubes through the solid cover, but I knew they were in there. It got warm, it smelled warm, the pilot lights lit the small dial and with a 60 foot long piece of wire attached to a tree in the back yard, I cranked the dial and heard stations from all over the world in my bedroom. It was magic.

Fast forward 48 years—I get the chance to see how he got his start in radio...

After email and telephone correspondence with KC0TEG, Paul, last summer, I learned of the efforts by the Collins Radio club to refurbish the radio operator's position in FIFI, the Commemorative Air Force B-29, and only flyable B-29 left in the world. He had stumbled upon the details about my dad, which I had shared on, and here on the website. I was intensely interested in the project, but was unable to attend the commemoration of the station at the CAF base in Texas. Later, I had the thrill of working FIFI, and received a special QSL for the contact with N9A/B29. I heard them on 40M in some of the initial, in-flight tests, and could clearly hear the engines over the air! Paul later sent me the documents distributed at the commemoration of the station, which I greatly enjoyed seeing. After reports of a B-29 in the airspace around Warrenton, VA (the largest town near our home in Amissville), on June 1, 2013, a little Internet research revealed that FIFI was at the Manassas Airport nearby. We jumped in the truck and went over for a cockpit tour and took some pictures, as shown above, and in the related Picasaweb album. The guys did a fantastic job, including a paint job on the BC-348, and a meticulous job of cleaning and wiring, as you can see in the pictures in the album. My wife asked about the wire, running from the top of the fuselage to the tail, which I identified as the antenna, and she pointed out that my model of the B-29 did not have that detail. I'll be adding a thread to the model. After all, the model had been built for my dad, and spent many years in his radio shack, without an antenna!

A few years prior, on 9-10-2010, I took the opportunity to take a flight in
 EAA's "Aluminum Overcast," a flying museum that tours the country. Knowing my dad
trained in B-17s, and not sure I'd ever get the chance to fly in FIFI,
I took a half-hour flight out of the Leesburg Executive Airport
. On the flight was another guy
whose dad was a radio operator, so he sat at the operating table for takeoff, and we switched for landing. 

The BC-348 on Aluminum Overcast. It's real, but non-operational. It was still a thrill to sit at the radio position and think about my dad's training in 1943 or so in B-17s in the same seat.

He was first licensed
WB3AFQ and later, N3ADT getting his license a few years after me.
He already knew the code from
his Army Air Force days, and eventually worked for DuPont as an Instrument Technician Supervisor (which took care of the electronics
theory), so getting a license was pretty easy for him. The picture of him and my mother below was taken at one of the DuPont Christmas parties in the 1970s.

My first modern commercial rig, a Drake B-line, was left home while I was at college
 at R.I.T. 
for 3 years, so he made use of it, recently licensed himself. He bought me a 1967 Triumph Spitfire and I gave him my radio gear in payment.
When I got out of school, I kept the car and he gave the rig back to me. That's typical of how he did things.

He was a hunter and fisherman, smoked cigars for many years and was a terrific card player. He especially enjoyed poker, 
which he played weekly for many years. He and his friends played for small stakes, but by year's end each year, he usually
won enough to buy something for the shack. He used to say they "paid him for a poker lesson" each week.
We shared ham radio as a hobby for over twenty years, although he was much more casual about it than I was, mostly
running low power and tinkering with VHF and HF packet for a number of years. When he and my mother moved from
their house into independent and later assisted living, he gave me all his radio gear, some of which went to others to get them started and some
 of which 
is still in use at K4SO.

He became a SK on June 23, 2004.

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