Almost Too Good To Be True
The ending days of October in Ohio come with unpredictable weather. Last weekend it was in the 30s and 40s with high winds and rain. Suddenly, the sun returned and temperatures bounced up into the 70s. Never had a Tuesday screamed for a little time out in The Big Blue Room like this one. It was impossible to resist.
There was a half-scribbled plan in my mind. Go out to West Branch State Park – K-1999, sit on the point near the water, and play radio for an hour if the timing worked out. It did!
The Elecraft AX1 was in the bag – that’s just how it’s going to be from now on – and the Chameleon whip lives in the trunk of the Jeep for the season (now that I’m not cycling to my park destinations as much). Given the conditions, the EFHW was really the best choice. The line went up and over the Magical Branch the first time! That’s rare and is a Good Omen.
The Magical Branch is so named because if I get the antenna up on that particular limb, it ends at the picnic table perfectly without having to adjust anything. It also seems to be where the best results happen. There’s probably some superstition in there along with the math, but it works.
With the antenna situated, I plugged it into my brand new, never been on the air Penntek TR-45L. That’s the Secret Squirrel thing I was talking about at my last activation post. My original plan was to try the new radio with the AX1 and let any natural chaos ensue. Toss everything I know to the wind! Maximize ALL the variables! But…the weather changed my approach and I stuck with the IC-705. It all worked out.
But hey! A new radio! Just what I needed, right?
A Little Back Story
I know that I’ve mentioned in this blog many times that when I first got into the hobby, I was looking for something that didn’t involve computers. The solar cycle in 2017, QTH, equipment, and life in general led me down the path to digital modes and hours upon hours of enjoyment. There are no complaints or regrets with how I’ve spent my time with my hobby.
I’m really tired of screens. Really, really tired. And lugging a tablet around always feels like business travel. So, my path changed. I followed a well-worn track up the mountain, so to speak. I think of it as an inevitable progression for a chunk of operators:
POTA leads to QRP leads to CW.
If QRP is your thing, you can fight it, you can run from it, but eventually, the road takes you to the neighborhood where CW lives. I’m glad I found myself there, because it’s challenging and rewarding.
Which brings us back around to the TR-45L. This radio popped onto the scene not that long ago and that gorgeous, old school amber meter on it grabbed me. It grabbed a lot of operators. To add to the aesthetic draw, the rest of it is all knobs and switches. Physical knobs and switches. No touch screens. No submenus to navigate. Everything is right there.
In thinking about what I wanted from the hobby, the tactile nature of some of the hardware was in there. When I was a very little kid, my Dad AC8NT made me what he called a “Gunkulator”. What was it? A rotary phone dial, some light-up buttons with numbers on them, a couple of oscillators, and an LED or two in a metal enclosure that probably came from Square D. When you dialed a number and pressed the button that matched it, it made a nice sound. It buzzed if you did it wrong. This was all before my brother was born so I was about 3 years old. The inevitable early 1970s parenting moment comes in with the big metal box off to the side that housed some God-Tier power supply with a fuse socket on the front. Ya know, the kind of fuse that you twist the lid and pull out? The kind of fuse that goes into a socket exactly the size of a three year old’s finger? I’ll leave the rest of the story as an exercise for the reader, but yes, I did have to change my pants. I wonder to this day how any of us survived the 70s, but here we are. Gen X: The Cockroach Generation!
This is not the blog to read if you’re looking for receiver sensitivity analysis. I’m not that ham. What I will say in praise of this radio is that it sounds wonderful and operating it is a dream. Every flip of every switch and every tweak of every dial is a pleasure. The speaker is perfectly placed and given the enclosure, it sounds wonderful and surprisingly clean.
The setup I chose includes the built-in Z-match tuner. I put my own battery in it and that seems to be doing well. I also chose the original thicker version. I love that form factor – a totally aesthetics-driven decision. I did acquire a camera bag for it because I worry about the switches if it’s loose in my backback. $20 worth of padding is pretty good insurance.
For this particular activation, I didn’t need to use the tuner since I had my EFHW antenna that’s resonant on 40/20/10 and I stuck to 20m the whole time. I will toss up the random wire soon enough and see how well the tuner performs. There are high expectations for it as it’s a simple and elegant approach that falls into the Tried and True bucket. Also, having the tuner knobs on the back of the unit is neat. No, I can’t explain why. It just is.
The transceiver maxes out at 5 watts and I ran it at about 3 or 4 while I was on the air. The performance was stunning as demonstrated by the QSO Map. Oh, I didn’t mention it above, but this rig only does CW and has five bands: 80-75, 40, 30, 20, and 17 meters. I’ll be blunt: using this rig would be incentive enough for me to learn CW from scratch. It’s THAT cool. And if you’re trying not to acquire a new rig, definitely avoid talking with Scott VE3QBZ because that operator can sell. I suppose I should thank him!
Back To The Activation
With the antenna plugged in, the radio showed a near 1:1 match on 20m just like my trusty IC-705 does. I spotted myself on POTA.app and started calling CQ. The band was hopping, so I was confident things were going to go fairly well. Sure enough, I heard back from a station in MA about two minutes after I started calling. That was followed quickly by a station in TX and then, shock of shocks, a station from Puerto Rico! I copied “PR” as the QTH, but it didn’t occur to me until later that I hadn’t mis-copied “OR” or “AR”. Nope. Puerto Rico on 3-ish watts from Ohio. Wow!
There were 15 contacts in a 30 minute period. Sadly, that was all the time I had to be on the air. The sun was dropping quickly, as it does this time of year, and I got the text that told me dinner was going to be moving along soon enough. Packing it in took no time at all. I did take a minute to enjoy the sun over the water and snap a picture or two. A beautiful day for sure!
When I got the log dumped into the QSO Map I was honestly stunned by the spread of contacts. Here’s what it looks like:
From east to west to south I was having a great day. The rig combined with the EFHW performed really well. I was also, again, pretty pleased with my CW work. My copying is improving noticeably. I even navigated a pileup which my buddy Joe KC1SRI recorded and shared with me on Mastodon! I almost sound like I know what I’m doing (at 12-14 wpm). Almost.
As for the TR-45L, well, I’m smitten. Sure, I’ve only got one activation on it, but using it is So Much Fun. I’ve overused that word, so maybe it’s delightful? Is it going to replace my IC-705? No. Let’s not be crazy. They aren’t the same thing at all – and they aren’t trying to be. There’s not a great analogy for how I would compare them, but I’d say that the IC-705 is like a well-kitted out Jeep Wrangler with a lift, a winch, and gnarly tires that can go ANYWHERE. While the TR-45L is a gorgeous vintage Cadillac with white walls that somehow takes us back to a time when we looked at things through an entirely different lens. It still drives on the same roads (and probably gets the same gas mileage) but it’s an entirely different experience. It’s incredibly enjoyable and a view into a time when interfaces to our equipment were more physical and existed in a different space aesthetically. It is a Sunday Driver of a radio.