Field Day 2021 – Storms and Stations

This post is cross-posted to my general-purpose blog,

Despite sunburns, shattered plastic, and a literal tornado warning, sunburns, I had a great time at Field Day 2021 this year.

My intention had been to head out to the northern Chicago suburbs on Saturday morning for some testing of the setup. My wife and I had purchased an annual pass to the Lake County dog parks in anticipation of the Fourth of July weekend, and our plan had been to drop her (and Winnifred, a very good dog) at one of these parks, go around the corner to a quieter, non-dog-filled local park, setup and operate for an hour and change, then pick the two of them up and head home. I’d charge my battery using an inverter in the car, grab some water and lunch at home, then be back out in a closer local park Saturday afternoon for a long operating session. And maybe, if I woke up in time, I’d pop back out in the morning to the park around the corner from my place for some grayline work on Sunday morning.

A picture of me, my wife, and my dog Winniefred, a yellow lab, on a hike in the woods.
What Saturday should have looked like.

Chicago weather had other plans.

We spent pretty much the entire day on Saturday huddled indoors against a pretty fearsome storm, which including multiple tornado warnings, thunderstorm wanrings, flash flood alerts… it was a wild day. I did make it out once in the afternoon to run to the hardware store to work on an impromptu Magnetic Loop antenna project (more on that soon), but other than that, we were holed up with our poor frightened dog.

At least we have a sense of humor about these things

But like a breath of fresh air, Sunday brought cool(ish) clear skies, dry weather, and a rather perfect operating day by mid-morning. So I pulled the portable-rig back together and headed out to the originally-planned local park to catch the last few hours of Field Day.

My setup’s changed a fair bit in the last couple years (and will likely be changing again soon). Here’s what I was playing with on Field Day this year:

  • Xiegu X108-G 20W Transceiver for SSB, CW, etc.
  • Wolf River Coils “Mega Mini TIA” portable antenna, a stainless steel collapsible whip with a base-loading coil that sits on three removable tripod legs. WRC sells a wide variety of configurationsand sizes of this basic setup – mine is a 17′ whip with the larger (~14″) coil and 24″ tripod legs. It’ll tune around 80m to 10m, though of course on 80m it’s reeeeally short.
    • The antenna ships with three 10m radials, which attach to the tripod base with ring lugs. I added three 7.5m radials (1/4 wavelength on 30m) and re-used my 5m radials from the QRPGuys Tri-Band Vertical setup I had been using. Each set has a bullet connector on it, and a single ring-lug-to-three-bullet-connector squid attaches to the tripod
  • The battery for the day was a TalentCell 12V, 6A, 8300mAh battery i picked up from Amazon. We used these batteries all the time in live theatre for their size and weight, and while I doubt that I’m getting the full 8300mAh from it (especially since the X108-G draws around 6A on transmit), it lasted me through a solid afternoon’s operating.
  • I remounted my iambic paddles from their cast-iron base to a lighter plastic one
  • I picked up an Autek VA-1 antenna analyzer earlier this year, which makes a great quick tuning method for the antenna. I played around with bringing my Nano NVA H-4 out, but it’s just a little too fiddly for regular field use.
  • 25′ of RG8x from the radio to the antenna
  • A camp chair and a portable picnic table make from easy ergonomic in the field
  • Logging is pen-and-paper, for now
The setup in the park

I spent the first couple hours hunting and pouncing, mostly on 20m with a stint up to 15m. 20m was super-densely populated as usual; 15 less so, but still with some decent stations holding the band down. I made roughly 25 contacts in that time with some decent distance – Arizona, Florida, Arkansas, Pennsylvania..

At 1pm local time, Field Day hit 24 hours elapsed, which is the maximum operating time for home, mobile, and emergency operations center stations… but Class A (club) and Class B (1/2 op portable) were permitted to go to 4pm. And with the bands newly clearly of the massive home stations, I figured, why not call CQ for awhile?


I held a frequency on 20 meters for roughly 75 minutes, during which I made 90+ contacts. Being the run station was an absolute blast – I’ve done such things at Field Days before, but never as a solo operator and never with my own personal station. Knowing there’s no logger to have your bag, just you and the airwaves and the piles of people calling… a truly great time. I know I won’t set any records for speed or quantity of contacts, but I had a blast.

I’m currently looking for a day to go out and do a Parks on the Air activation to recapture some of the rush of running a station. Really, what a joy. And I’ll have a couple of new toys to play with by then…

There’s lots of Parks on the Air parks in the Chicagoland area – I hope to be activating them soon!


ARRL Field Day 2017 – QRP Portable

In contrast to my field day adventures last year, in which I hung out with the folks from the North Shore Radio Club and ran 100W on a K3S, this year I opted for a decided more small-scale approach. Using my ATS-4 receiver, I ran 3.5W CW on 15m, 20m, and 40m for about four hours Saturday afternoon in the lakefront park here in Chicago.

My antenna was a single 40-some-odd-foot wire hung from a tree, fed by my ZM-2 antenna tuner. I think when I built the ZM-2 last year, I goofed something up in the SWR circuitry – the built-in LED should go out at minimum SWR, but mine seems to be brightest at low SWR. To compensate for this, I brought along the MFJ-207 Antenna Analyzer I got at the SMCC Hamfest last year and used that to adjust the antenna tuner.

With the big analog, multi-octave dial on the front of the 207, I found it useful to first tuner the ATS to the desired frequency (say, 14.030) while attached to the antenna and adjust the analyzer until I heard the “WHOOP” of its signal generator in my headphones. With the frequency of the analyzer and receiver close to matching, I’d move the coax back from the tuner to the analyzer and adjust the ATU until the 207 showed lowest SWR. Reconnect the ATS, and away we go!

The MFJ-207 Antenna Analyzer covers up to an octave with a half-turn of the variable cap. Listening for its signal on a receiver made it much easier to find a specific frequency.

I used a new battery setup for this outing – a 12V, 6000mAh TalentCell lithium-ion pack that I borrowed from work. I love this pack – a little less than a pound, charges from a wall-wart, and has a built-in barrel connector and on-off switch. There are also models with a built-in 5V USB charging port, for topping off cell phones and other devices on the go. While the ATS is designed to run at 12V MAX (not 13.8V), I found that the 12.2V the pack was putting out proved to be fine – it seems the limitation is in the heat dissapation from the BS170 finals, and running relatively low duty-cycle search and pounce that wasn’t an issue. I’ll be ordering one for my own use soon. (Or perhaps the even more compact 3000mAh version – the size of a deck of cards!)

The rest of the pack list included:

  • A HamKey brand iambic paddle
  • A golfball and a kite-string winder for getting the antenna wire into a tree
  • A pair of Koss UR-20 headphones
  • A small battery-powered speaker with 1/8″ aux input
  • Variable DC and Coax jumpers
  • A notebook and pen
  • A folding camp chair.

All of the above fit into a small laptop bag, along with a few other tools and bits I didn’t end up needing.

The full field day setup, minus the antenna.

I managed 69 contacts, all QRP CW hunt-and-pounce, during my operating time – no tremendous DX, but I did hit a couple of rocky-mountain states and a plethora of sections up and down the East Coast. Final score was just over 1000 pts – that QRP multiplier really stacks up!

I also couldn’t have asked for better weather on the day – 72 degrees and slightly cloudy with a pleasant breeze. Simply stupendous.


Hear you on the air!


ARRL Field Day 2016 – With NS9RC

This year, I got to spend the 24-hour rush that is the ARRL Field Day with the North Shore Radio Club, NS9RC. I got to participate in the setup and tear down, plus a little logging and operating in the middle. I reconnected with an old friend, and met lots of new ones. What a blast!

For the past four or five years, the NSRC has been setting up in on the campus of the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Senior Center in Lake Forest, just around the corner from their usual meeting spot at the Heller Nature Center. Both are about a 45 minute drive from my QTH in Chicago, so not at all hard to get back and forth.

The club’s setup is straightforward, and apparently is the one they’ve used the past couple years running. They operate “3A,” which means that they are a club of more than 3 members (in this case, lots more) running three simultaneous transmitters. There are three separate tents, each devoted to a specific activity and with its own set of antennas and transceivers. They are:

  • The Sideband Tent: Uses a single Elecraft K3 with Panadapter, running 100W. Has dipoles for 20m, 40m, and 80m.
  • The CW Tent: Uses two K3’s with two operators, each running 100W. Has its own dipoles for 20m, 40m, and 80m.
  • The GOTA Tent: Hosts the Get On the Air station with its own K3. Antennas this year were an 80m end-fed (for 12m to 80m) and a Hustler-4B (for 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m). The tent also hosts the VHF station, which uses (I think?) an Icom 746 and a 6M Moxon pushed up on a lightweight aluminum mast.

Here’s the full site layout:

Ns9RC Field Day 2016

I arrived around 1pm on Friday afternoon to help set up for the event, to find much work already in progress. I don’t know where the club equipment lives for most of the year, but it all arrived neatly stowed in a 10′ Uhaul truck. Former club president Rob K9RST took general command of getting the campus set up, delegating teams, setting up tents, making sure antennas got in the air, that sort of thing. He’s got a boyscout background, I should think.

The 6m Moxon sitting next to the GOTA tent, with the check-in tent in the background

I helped the tent teams for the first part of the afternoon, and helped get the two GOTA antennas erected for the second half. We laid out ~30 radials around the hustler antenna, and flung a rope way up into a tree at the far end of the GOTA  field to get the end-fed in the air.

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon with these three gents setting up the GOTA vertical, especially Jeremy W9DEE in green on the left.


I didn’t quite make it back from the start of operating proper on Saturday, but I did get back up to Lake Forest by around 2:30pm CDT. All three tents were abuzz with activity, and there were probably ten or twelve other folks hanging around by the cool drinks in the hospitality tent. Among them was Casey KD9EGF, who I know from way back in the early days of my theatre career, but had no idea he was a ham! We hung out together most of the afternoon, caught up on careers, families, and the like. I’d say Casey, myself, and Jeremy W9DEE were the youngest participants at the event by a good margin, if you discount the boy scout troupe working on their Radio Merit Badges.

Casey and I split our time between hanging around in hospitality and chilling in the Sideband tent, just observing, learning, chatting some some of the club members. We learned a bit about N1MM+, the logging program of choice that I’d practiced a little bit with earlier in the week. There are tons of great contest operators in the NSRC, it turns out, and both Warren KC9IL and Don KK9H really reeled them in, maxing out at a rate of around 160 QSOs/hour. Wow!

Don, KK9H, with the 6m Moxon and mast. Boy that thing is light!

Around 8pm, as operators and loggers shifted over, I got a chance to hop on the computer in the sideband tent and log for a bit. The logger/operator relationship is a fun one – as logger, you’re also trying to pick hard-to-hear calls out of the static and assist the operator. but ultimately whatever the operator says, goes. The NSRC sets up a laptop for logging right next to the operating position, with a separate, mirrored monitor just for the operator, so that whoever’s operating can confirm that the call/section/class gets copied correctly. The operators use a foot switch to key the mic, and also log each contact on paper as a hard backup. A lot of activity at a little 6′ table.

Warren, KC9IL, pounding out comments late at night. You can see the N1MM+ monitor, the K3 with Panadapter and external audio mixer, and way in the back right the auto-switching bandpass filter. On the table is a list of section abbreviations.

Around 10pm, I got to try my hand at operating in the SSB tent for an hour or so, with Donn W9TOC logging. What fun! We racked up around 60 contacts between 10pm and 11pm – not a record-setting rate by any means, but I’m proud to have done my part. The 40m phone band was packed; we were continually hearing at least two stations above and usually a station below us, so trying to pick out responses was a challenge. But boy, what a good time. Around 11:30, I called it a night and headed back down into the city.

I returned around 12:30pm on Sunday, just before the official end of the event at 1pm local time. There was a great if weary crew to tear everything down, and we had the whole site packed up back into the Uhaul by 2:30. I followed Rob back to his garage with a couple other club members and helped unload, then dragged my butt back home. As we were heading out, I overhead someone say that the club had logged over 1000 SSB QSOs, twice that on CW, and a couple dozen RTTY contacts to boot. Not too shabby for a club running 3A!

The campus with the SSB tent in the background. The flagpole in front is just a flagpole, not an antenna.

As a bonus, I came home with a little something extra. As we were finishing up, one of the other club members mentioned he’d helped clear an old antenna out of storage from “Mike”, KG9ML, and would I like it? Like heck it would! Turns out it was right around the corner, on the friendly ham’s front lawn. It’s a PRO-AM PHF40, a loaded dipole with adjustable whips on either end for tuning. He even through in the old metal tripod that was holding it up. I’ve had it up in the back yard a couple times now – it’s a great receive antenna, although it seems that loaded dipoles have poor efficiency or narrow bandwidth. Still, for an antenna that collapses down to 4′ and I can throw in the basement, it’s a great get. Thanks Mike!

The center of a PHF40 loaded dipole.

All in all, a great field day. Plenty of sunshine, plenty of bugs, and lots of time talking about radio.

Hear you on the air!