(Published in the Gray Line, June, 2011)


One and One-half Milk Carton Crates


Rick Borken KōXB


One and one-half milk carton crates. Thatís all the space I need to pack my portable station and bring it with me in our car to California every winter. Well, to be fair, Iím not counting the extra bag I need to carry the antenna, but thatís not very big. And, I can cram that into our car wherever thereís extra room.


My wife and I moved ďup northĒ to our lake home on Lake Vermilion a little more than ten years ago. Itís a beautiful place, but weíre not crazy. The winters are severe. A few years ago, the thermometer hit -40F, and I took a picture. I took another picture when it hit -47F. Thatís cold.


Coronado Island, California sits in the middle of San Diego harbor. Itís not really an island any more, because they built a land bridge to the mainland many years ago. But it was an island, it feels like an island, and everyone still calls it an island.


The temperature is 65 degrees. People who have lived on Coronado for a long time, or in San Diego for that matter, get used to 65 degrees. A friend who moved here from Minnesota many years ago told me that, and I believe it. If it gets much above 70, they think itís too hot, and they think itís cold when it gets into the 50s. Itís a great place and a very nice place to be during the winter. I am pleased to say Coronado is the winter QTH for KōXB/6.


I know this doesnít have anything to do with ham radio, but you should also know Coronado is where Naval Air Station North Island is located. (North Island used to be a separate island from Coronado, but they filled that in too.) Itís where US Naval Aviation began, itís where the very first US Navy aircraft carrier was based, and it is currently the headquarters for US Naval Aviation. Iíve seen as many as three carriers in port at one time.


When the carriers head out to sea and when they return, the air wing flies either to the ship or back home. Itís pretty impressive to hear and see an entire air wing of F/A-18s taking off or landing.




February, 2011 was the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation. For that celebration, North Island hosted a large air show. The Blue Angels kicked the show off, followed by a two and one-half hour flyby of vintage and current aircraft.




Anyway, back to ham radio.


Iíve been an avid DX-er for as long as Iíve been licensed, and thatís a long time. We rent a small house on Coronado, so I canít install anything permanent, and I certainly canít put up a tower and beam or anything like that. So, my challenge was how to continue my DX-ing with these restrictions. In the rest of this article, I will tell you what I have done and how well itís worked.


The real key to any ham station is of course the antenna. I have always felt a vertical was the best DX antenna, other than a tower and beam, so I use a vertical configuration. My antenna is based on a High Sierra Sidekick, which is a motorized mobile antenna. I mount the motorized coil on a lightweight tripod in the back yard, and I throw out eight 25 ft. radials on the ground. There is only room for four of the radials to be fully extended, but I figure something is better than nothing, so I use all eight. In place of the short whip which comes with the Sidekick, I use a 12 ft. telescoping whip sold by MFJ. The screw threads match perfectly, so itís an easy modification.


With the whip fully extended, it is resonant at 20 meters. Adjusting the motorized coil with a rocker switch in the shack allows me to easily tune down to 80 meters. And shortening some of the telescoping sections allows me to tune it up to 10 meters.


I expected this to work pretty well on 20 through 10 meters, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how well this works on 40 and 30 meters. When there has been a DXpedition somewhere in the Pacific Rim, I have almost always been able to catch them on 40 and/or 30.


Itís not very effective on 80 meters, as you would expect. But I have worked eleven countries, including the Austral Islands, Wallis & Futuna, and Ducie Island on 80.


For the radials, I bought a 100 ft roll of light gauge flexible speaker wire from Radio Shack. I cut that into four 25 ft sections and soldered small clip leads to the ends. Leaving the ends connected to the four clips, I separated the two speaker conductors, which gave me eight radials. The limp, flexible wire is particularly easy to extend and retract without tangles.



Itís certainly not a tower and beam, but itís not a bad antenna at all. The High Sierra Sidekick motorized coil is mounted on a tripod, with eight 25 ft. radials on the ground. The whip is a 12 ft. telescoping unit sold by MFJ.


For my transceiver, I use an Icom IC-7000. That is a wonderful rig, with 100W output and an amazing amount of features contained in a very small package. In addition to that, I use a K-5 keyer and a Bencher paddle, a small Diamond SWR/Power meter, a conventional power supply, and a small dummy load.




I use four milk carton crates as the base for my portable station, with a spare wooden shelf spread across the top. We use the crates to pack our household stuff.


I tried to calculate how many dB difference there was between this setup and my tower, beam and amplifier at home. But I gave up. Itís a lot of dBs!


I expected to be most effective on CW, RTTY and PSK. Thatís certainly true, but I have also had plenty of success on SSB.


With this simple setup, I have worked more than 100 countries in the three month time period weíre in California, for each of the last three years. In total, I have worked all states on Mixed mode and RTTY/PSK, and Iíve worked 184 countries and 38 zones so far.


Currently, my overall totals for SSB, CW and RTTY/PSK are 78, 172 and 118 countries respectively. Iíve worked 139 countries on 20 meters and 113 each on 17 and 15 meters.


Compared to operating in Minnesota, the pacific rim is much easier to work from California, and Europe is harder. Almost 20% of my QSOs are with Japan from KōXB/6.


Compared to operating with a tower, beam and amplifier, you learn to pay much more attention to band openings of course. If the bands are poor, I do something else. But if the bands are hot, I can even break a pileup.


I am back in Minnesota now, but give me a call if you hear KōXB/6 next winter.