Category Archives: K9ZW Operations

K9ZW Washington Island Operating Gear

The Island setup is evolving and when not in the radio room will be based on a Maestro with a Touch Screen ToughBook.

Here is a quick shot of what I am working on for the Washington Island – Wisconsin QTH’s portable operating position.

This is what I will be able to operate from (adding a headset & PTT in many cases) from anywhere I connect with my wireless system there.

Paired with the Maestro is a Touchscreen Toughbook laptop to do logging and other site-mobility chores. They will be wireless to the new Flex-6700.

Maestro and ToughBook laptop

Maestro and ToughBook laptop

ToughBooks are available refurbished under $300 with licensed operating system from Toughbook Tech.

Built strong enough to be a aircraft wheel-chock!

Ruggedized touchscreen does better with the stylus than finger jabs, which is a contrast to the Maestro touch screen sensitivity.

For activation of smaller islands the Maestro & Flex-6700 will stay behind, with the Flex-6300 then being paired with the Toughbook via SmartSDR for Windows.

For antennas I have several choices there. Typically I have been using a SteppIR CrankIR with the Flex-6300 for island activations other than the main island. I have several other portable antenna options.

Depends on what Island access I’m allowed (full setup on the activated Island or using one of the US Island Programs alternative rules when not allowed to completely disembark. I think is the URL.)

On Washington Island itself I have a proper antenna farm in the works. As I am rethinking this whole setup you’re invited to follow along as I rework plans.

Still to come is a mobilization preparation of the Flex-6300 to keep everything needed together and protect it from some level of adverse weather while out on the smaller islands.


Steve K9ZW

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Tunneling a VPN for Maestro

The present release series of SmartSDR in all favors (for Windows, for Meastro, for Server) have local area network connections implemented, but that everything on the same LAN is limiting.

I’ve long wanted to be able to run my home station from my office as often DX opportunities happen only when I need to be on site working.

FlexRadio System has announced that the LAN barrier will be broken with version 2.0, and that is a ways out.

Chris K6OZY has kindly prepared a couple YouTube Videos and notes on how to use SoftEther VPN with two Raspberry Pi units to create a VPN server and a VPN bridge unit.

There are other ways to do a suitable VPN but this has advantages worth considering.  Read the FlexRadio Systems Threads on the topic to look through those.

Amazon sourcing for the hardware:

Pair of Raspberry Pi Kits

Pair of Raspberry Pi Kits


Kits Guts

Kits Guts

With help from son Winston KC9FVR to fit the error I made, the server and the bridge were set up.  Took us two evenings mainly because I wanted to do a fair bit myself rather than letting “Mr Geek” KC9FVR do everything.

Results are fabulously fun!!

Home Radio shows in Remote Finder

Home Radio shows in Remote Finder


Connected Remote Maestro running QSOs

Connected Remote Maestro running QSOs


Maestro Remote with VPN Bridge

Maestro Remote with VPN Bridge

What more is there to say?  Ran QSOs until KC9FVR reminded me he wanted to head off to sign up for his next classes on some on-line University system,

Downing everything has not been a problem, but we will clone the SD Cards for both the Server and the Bridge next.

Catch you on the air!



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When North is not North – Deferred Maintenance has a Price

Spring at my home QTH brought some real weather extremes, including a few very high wind events.  If I know about forecasts for mega-winds in advance I will retract my tower and point the pair of Log Periodic (LPDA) Antennas into the expected direction the wind is forecast to arrive from.

But a couple times I wasn’t around or arrival of major winds wasn’t forecast, and things had to take the brunt as they are.

LPDA antennas typically have two square booms spaced apart electrically, each with half of the elements on them.  This is a fair bit of a wind-catcher compared to a typical beam where one round boom does duty.

On my heady-duty version of the Tri-Ex LM-354 tower are a Tennadyne T-8 10-20m LPDA and a T-28 6m-1.3gHz LPDA.  Book Wind Areas are 8 sqft and 3sqft, for a total if some off-center allowance is given for the chokes of approximately 12 square foot of Wind Area.   The tower in standard form is rated for 26 square feet of Wind Area using the standard design and the current heavy-duty is rated for 52 sqft, so nothing about the antenna loadings themselves being pushed hard there.



I’d retrofitted the T-8 with SlippNott high strength attachments back in 2013 –  which included an added fitment at the rotor to secure the mast.

The winds had slightly pushed the T-28 from its alignment with the T-8 and rotation is now indicating about 95 degrees further clockwise than actual.

There is a chance something electrical is messed up, as the same high winds did pull all feed lines and rotor cable from the standoffs.  Apparently the breakable restraints either died with UV, Cold and Age, or the winds were strong enough to peel the lines free.

Otherwise either the rotor has broken free or something has slipped.

Of course it is raining, the ground soggy, cold and the scaffold I usually use for service one the tower is down and tipped over just happens to be 130 miles (including six important water miles) away ay the Island QTH.

I have a freshly rebuilt Ham-IV rotor which would be an easy swap if it is a rotor issue, or this might be the time to put in the AlfaSpid RAK Rotor I’d bought at Dayton-2014 but hadn’t yet installed.  Being a bit lazy about replacing things that are working okay, I’d changed my mind and I’d intended the AlfaSpid to go to the Island QTH.  So if I use it I will need to buy another.

Usually every Autumn the Tower gets lowered and tipped over, and a full PM (Preventive Maintenance) completed.  Because of the acquisition of the Island QTH and a heavy work load this PM got skipped in 2014 and 2015.  My bad, to say the least.

So now I get to pull the PM with an extra Troubleshooting Task.  Want to bet I made something worse by skipping the PM?



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Island QTH Flex-6300 Station – New Pc

Portable 6300 – Computer: HP EliteDesk 705-G1 Mini Desktop

As I put together the core components for a ruggedized Flex-6300 I wanted to select a computer to use when the radio was not out with a laptop.

Just brought in a HP EliteDesk 705-G1 Mini Desktop, AMD A8-7600B 2.2GHz Quad-Core, 8GB DDR3, 256GB Solid State Drive, 802.11n, Win7Pro 64-Bit.

One of my sons, Winston KC9FVR helped with a comprehensive updating and upgrading process to Win10Pro and pre-installed my usual suit of software. I needed a DisplayPort++ to HDMI adapter, which I let him scroung for me, and all is good.

Swapped it for the PC-on-a-stick/NUC I’d been using with the 6300 and a few minutes to configure and do final updates was all that was needed before being QSO-ready!

Slick if slightly heavy 7-1/4 x 7-1/4 inch footprint is very desk friendly. As I had a waterproof keyboard I was happy with, along with a mouse and a 22 inch dual use screen (TV/Monitor) I left the rest in place.



The no-fan design is appreciated and operating from such an RF quiet island I was working DX barefoot via the SteppIR CrankIR which was set up to “eyeball tuning standards” as I’d moved so much other gear up and down that I didn’t fancy too many adjusting trips.

Nice little PC that seems to do the job!



Upgraded Amp Installed – Alpha-9500

Finally, i mean FINALLY, got around to putting the Alpha-9500 Amp I bought during one of their specials summer of 2014 online.

The amp and transformer boxes had sat unopened for 15 months.  Seems every time I thought to put the Amp online I was more interested in just getting on the air.

I’ve wanted to pull the Expert 1KW amp out to move it to my Northern QTH on Washington Island, and the “blah” band conditions tonight seemed to offer a perfect opportunity to get the Alpha unboxed and in operation.

Putting the amp together was easy, and the quality of the build shows well.  Both in case any troubleshooting and because of the Amp’s size, for now it is on my main operating bench.

I’m spoken with a friend who builds furniture about doing a shelf unit once I decide what goes where.

Adjusting DDUTIL to control the Alpha was easy and it works slick.  Biggest deal I had was I had asked for the wrong 240v plug type, and had to change it out.

Everything ran well from the get-go, and I banged out a couple QSOs with great reports.  Really like the way it tracks bands and does nudge-tuning to adjust as one QSYs.

One thing I did lose in the change, is the Expert being solid state is an “instant on” amp, where the Alpha has a countdown as it warms up the tube.

And the best part of all is despite the reticence to miss out on-the-air time that led to the Alpha being left in the box while I kept operating, the downtime was trivial.  Should have done it months ago!



Adding a BIG Microphone – Shure SM5-B in the Shack

One the issues I face as an a phone operator is I have a naturally deep bass voice that doesn’t play all that well on the radio for DX or Contesting.  So I’ve been working to help that Broadcaster’s/Ragchewer’s voice into something that works better in the pile-up.

Through Bob K5JIL I was able to obtain the “Unobtanium” – an exceptional Shure SM5-B microphone.  These out of production microphones are prized by professionals and are often priced out of the ham radio operator’s budget, if they come up second hand at all.

Following Bob K5JIL’s very helpful instructions I picked a NOS Behringer Mixer/Amp to interface the Shure SM5-B to my Flex-6700.  My son Winston KC9FVR was super helpful digging out patch cables to get this all working.

The results have been exceptional!   During the mid-November ARRL SSB Sweepstakes I had numerous stations break from the pattern of exchanging reports to comment on the excellent audio.  A session working George W9EVT in fairly lousy band conditions helped tweak a DX configuration that seems to be doing the trick!

I know that it isn’t in every ham’s budget to do a microphone & mixer like this, and I am truly grateful to have the privilege of good gear to help in my efforts in the amateur radio hobby.

Winston KC9FVR also helped figure out the cables needed to put the Wohler AMP1A-LP speaker on line, which is really nice.  I typically wear a boomset, but with the quality speaker as an option it is a lot more “sociable” in the shack when anyone else is in the shack (a small room originally intended as a wine cellar.)

I have figured out the expensive part of the better microphone and speaker though, I already want to duplicate the setup at the Northern QTH on Washington Island!

Hope to hear you on the air!