Paul Butzi |||

Parks on the Air

I made a bunch of FT8 and FT4 QSOs recently, and they highlighted a problem I have with modes like FT8 - they’re utterly impersonal. A good example: cranking along on 20m, I was making QSO after QSO. Calling CQ, I got a very strong signal in response. The Maidenhead grid location was very close to me - it was over in Seattle, some 35 miles to my west. Without pause, the QSO went off like clockwork through the automatic exchange, and when it ended, I dutifully clicked the log’ button, and bingo! it was in my logbook.

Two days later I got a very nice QSL card from the ham at the other end of that QSO and realized I recognized the call sign from somewhere although I couldn’t quite place it. Driving home from the post office I finally made the connection - the call was K7RA, the same K7RA who does propagation forecasts that are sent to me inbox regularly by the ARRL!

If this had been a QSO in my favorite mode, PSK31, I’m confident that I would have recognized the callsign and perhaps had a brief but nice chat, rather than just an exchange of signal reports. And I didn’t much like that.

So although that burst of FT8 operating did a lot to get me back into the shack and on the radio making contacts, it felt fairly unsatisfying. So I’ve been looking for a ham radio on the air project to get me busy again as the weather turns. What I wanted was something to take me a bit out of my comfort zone and force me to learn and acquire new skills.

Not long after that in my random perusing of stuff on YouTube I blundered across Thomas Witherspoon’s wonderful more or less unedited videos of him doing Parks on the Air activations. And, to put it bluntly, I was hooked. The basic story is always the same: go to a park, set up a fairly basic radio station, make some contacts (in morse/cw). Discussions of radios. Discussions of antennas. Discussions of how wonderful parks are. As I said, hooked from the start.

So I have resolved to:

  1. study hard to be able to do cw contacts, at least at the fairly formulaic level of a POTA QSO.
  2. dust off the Elecraft KX3, which it turns out I love and also turns out to be nearly ideal for POTA
  3. acquire the bits and bobs needed to set up shop in a park and make contacts
  4. actually go to a damn park, set it all up, and do it.

Step (d) is actually quite a fair distance outside my comfort zone. My cw skills are pretty inadequate. I could do SSB activations but SSB is actually outside my comfort zone as well.

Anyway pursuant to this goal I’ve started with the CW study, and also made a bunch of POTA contacts as the hunter rather than the activator, using both SSB and FT8/FT4. My dislike of FT8/FT4 continues unabated but hunting down POTA activators has added a freshness to that that I’ve been enjoying. And I’ve made more SSB contacts in the past few weeks than I’ve made between getting licensed and deciding on this POTA goal. I don’t know that I’ll ever love SSB but at least I’m building skills.

Updates as this project advances…

(side note: the Elecraft KX3 really is just a lovely radio. What a triumph of design and engineering!)

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