Another year, another contact! Updates at NT1K.

Yes, I am still here. Just not as active compared to 2011. Maybe it’s the solar cycle, maybe it’s complacency, maybe it’s that I have other things going on or maybe it’s a combination of the three. I wish I could blame it on the COVID-19 situation but my involvement declined well before it happened.

Many things happened since my last post so I figured I would give anyone who actually follows this blog a bit of an update. There will be separate blog posts of things that I feel I need to go into details over. Here are the updates.

New Radio!

That’s right, I sold off my K3 and purchased a new radio… 2 years ago! Even though I loved my K3, it had to go. There was some things I didn’t like about the K3 and elecraft in general. I purchased my K3 at a weird time.

Even though I was purchasing a brand new radio, I felt like I purchased something that was already outdated. Soon after my purchase they released a synth upgrade and then the K3S. Elecraft wouldn’t cut me a deal on the synth so I wasn’t really happy.

Don’t get me wrong. The elecraft K3 performs really well and is miles better than my YAESU FT-950. Biggest issue with me that the audio was just horrible. As a primary phone (voice) operator. I struggled when it came to contests.

The ergonomics is sub-par when you compare it to the latest and greatest from the “Big Three”. However, that doesn’t really matter during a contest when it’s all about RX.

Hello Flex 6400!

Since I always use the pan-adapter with the K3, I figure I would be more at home with a Software Defined Radio (SDR). At this point, Flex Radio systems is a leader in amateur radio SDR transceivers. It’s a no-brainer!

I’m torn between the 6400 and the 6600. The 6600 offers so much more but my wallet couldn’t support the purchase. The K3 basically tanked in value with the K3S and the K4 around the corner. With my lack of involvment in the hobby, I thought the 6400 was the right choice.

New 2020 station at NT1K
My new 2020/2021 setup for now

I ended up going with the plain 6400. Not the 6400M. I felt that if I wanted knobs and buttons, I could get the Maestro. It’s basically a remote head unit that you would get on some VHF/UHF mobile radios

I will be going into a 2 year detailed review in another blog post. Stay tuned!

New Tower!

That’s right folks, I got a new tower! Well… it’s not really a NEW tower and it’s not really a stationary tower. It’s technically portable in a military sense. I got my hands on AB-577. A Vietnam area “push up” tower that supports microwave horns or camouflage netting.

It’s sought after by hams as a quick way to deploy an antenna tower that can support various configurations of antennas. I could never find wind and load ratings but I’ve seen some massive antennas perched on these towers.

I’ve fell in love with this tower in the mid 1990’s when I was a teen. Back then they were somewhat plentiful. I always wanted one. However, over time they became very scarce and couldn’t really use it on my property. Whenever one became available, I passed to someone else and always regretted it.

I knew a few people that had them and I always bugged them about letting go of theirs. Either I wore one of them down or they realize they are no longer going to use it and offered it to me. Even though it was a bit out of my price range, I didn’t want to let it go.

Somewhat new AB-577
The “New” AB-577

Field Day 2020 is on!

With the newly acquired AB-577, I was desperate to use it. I cleaned it as much as possible and applied a bit of grease where needed. It was ready to go. However, my local club already uses multiple AB-577s and the COVID pandemic was in full tilt so I didn’t think I was going to make use of my new tower.

A small group of hams that I regularly hang out with still wanted to have a non-public field day and I immediately offered up my AB-577 with a tri-band beam. They were understandably hesitant because in the prior year they used wires and the AB-577 can be a pain. However, there were issues with the wire antennas and I’m insistent. It was a go!

The AB-577 checked out. There was an issue with 2 of the 8 tubes. But if you were to install them first, it wasn’t an issue. My big issue was the beam. We were using a Mosely CL-33 . I got my hands on 2 of them for field day. I figured I’ll get at least one functioning beam out of it. Like with anything else, I waited to the last second to get it ready.

broken trap
I am starting to really hate traps!

Field Day 2020 Setup

With everything packed into my small utility trailer, it was go time. On Thursday (the day before FD setup) I dropped off everything at the site so I didn’t have to scramble around in the morning. Since it was going to be a hot and rainy weekend, I just wanted it out of my way.

The next day we started working. The AB-577 went up okay. The biggest pain in the butt was the guy anchors. Since I didn’t have the pound in stakes that normally come with a AB-577, we used screw-in anchors. They are a pain to install. Tower was plumb and ready for an antenna.

The goal was to install the tower with a tri-band (10/15/20) beam and two inverted V dipoles for 40m and 80m. With a triplexor and single band pass filters, we could technically have 5 stations on at the same time. However we planned for 2A QRP using a couple elecraft KX3 radios.

The main antenna didn’t do so well. It wasn’t looking good on the analyzer and I am not sure why. I swore I double checked everything. Other than installing the driven element on top of the boom, I am not sure what else would cause issues. I also brought two 80m antennas and caught that after installation.

Field Day 2020 antenna setup
The AB-577 finally vertical. Has the CL-33 at the top and two wire antennas below. Pool noodles adds +5db

FD 2020 On The Air!

We didn’t feel like lowering the triband beam and made use of the ATUs inside the KX3 rigs. The goal was to beat last years score and with the tri-bander acting funny, I didn’t think it was going to be possible. We had one station doing CW and the other station doing FT8 and voice. However, I’m not sure if there was ANY SSB contacts.

I wanted to do the night shift, I went home shortly after FD hoping that I would catch a nap and return at 10pm to make contacts on 40/80 throughout the night. However, home life took over and didn’t make it. I felt bad for the one op that operated throughout most of the night.

NE1C Field Day On The Air
Kx1x doing FT-8 and N1FJ doing CW at Field Day

The on and off rain that we had throughout the weekend was both a blessing and a pain. It broke the 90f+ heat but getting soaked wasn’t fun either.

We ended up making 433 contacts and got 5,190 points as NE1C in WMA for the Hampden County Amateur Radio Association (HCRA) which isn’t that bad. We beat last years score and out of al the submissions from the locals, we had the most contacts and points. I consider that a success even though we could have done better with a functioning antenna on 20, 15 and 10.

Remote Exams

Due to COVID-19 situation, there are many restrictions put into place and I have been unable to host any examinations for new amateur radio licenses and upgrades. It’s a bit of a bummer because I do enjoy hosting examination. I knew the FCC allows remote exams and was hoping that Laurel VEC would allow it but it appears they had no interest. I figured I would help out in any way I could. Thankfully there were a few VECs that stepped up.

I found the Greater LA Amateur Radio Group (GLAARG). They were hosting remote exams and they seem to be doing very well. I was able to get accredited with GLAARG and help out as much as possible at first. The two/three people running the show (Norm, Naomi) were the nicest people and was proud to do exams with them. I was hoping that I could host my own remote exams so that locals could get license.

I ended up stepping back (but not away!) from it as my situation at home and work took over. As much as I love amateur radio and helping others get their license, home and work come first.

No More Free Licenses

When I found out that the FCC was implementing fees for amateur radio applications, it made me angry.

With the combination of free study resources such as “KB6NU No Non-sense Study Guide” and along with my free exams, there was absolutely no cost barrier to obtain an amateur radio license.

However due to the RAY-BAUM act, the FCC has to implement FEEs. I am bit annoyed that the ARRL didn’t see this coming and more annoyed that they didn’t do anything until AFTER the FCC suggested the rule change. At first it was $50 application fee. After many letters from hams, the FCC lowered it to $35 but they are still implementing fees.

Even though exams through laurel is still “FREE”, the candidate will have to go to the FCC’s website and pay them directly in order to obtain an amateur radio license. This also goes with any renewals and vanity applications. Admin updates such as address/name changes are free as the FCC wants a current address.

The FCC is also making it so you have to provide a valid e-mail address and you can no longer use a Social Security Number (SSN) on the NCVEC form 605. The candidate will need to create an account on the ULS and obtain an FRN prior to any exam. This can be an issue from anyone underage or for those who don’t really use the internet and/or a computer.

I Did Some Contests!

Not counting Field Day, I did some contests from the QTH. During the summer I installed a remote antenna relay and a 160m inverted L antenna but I didn’t get the vertical part as high as I wanted it. I used it to play in one of the 160m contests. I didn’t get much DX but I had lots of fun.

SmartSDR 160m contest
160 meter contest. Lots of signals. Mostly regional/local.

Also played around in the ARRL 10M contest. I was more focused on recording the contest than trying to make contacts. I use N1MM for contest logging and QSOrder is a popular plugin. Thankfully it supports multiple inputs. However, I am having trouble recording my end of CW contacts as flex doesn’t really import the CW Sidetone as there is a delay.

Other Personal Projects.

After field day that was it. I haven’t really done much involving amateur radio. I gave some presentations to local clubs over zoom about my experiences with the flex radio and obtained the material I needed to make some current chokes, rid some local RFI.

Type 31 Toroids
Some of the iron donuts I got for chokes and RFI suppression.

I plan on make a new set of bandpass filters for the field day crew to replace the ones that I am not sure about.

Band Pass Filters
Filters I made for Field Day. These will be remade and better cases will be fabricated

Since the lockdown and restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 situation. I haven’t been able to host any free radio examinations and haven’t really turned on the radio at my QTH. There is just no interest on my end.

The Future Of NT1K

I haven’t and I don’t think I’ll ever give up with the hobby. It’s been a part of me ever since I got my hands on a Radio Shack catalog. I’m not giving it up that easily. My 2021 goals is to hopefully get my 160M antenna higher and also get antennas up for 80m and 40m. I’m hoping to get 5 band DXCC using LoTW.

As for this blog, I still attract visitors and I still get e-mails from people showing off things they built from prints that I made or projects that I went into detail about. It puts a smile on my face and hope to update a lot of articles.

I let the domain associated with my old callsign lapse thinking it would just go away. Well, I guess it was popular enough to where someone purchased it and then tried offering it back to me at an exaggerated price. Since I had no interest, it now forwards to a very graphic adult site. So if you ended up there by mistake, my apologies.

That’s it for now. Please stay tuned!

New Beam In The Air and I’m Swinging It Like I Just Don’t Care.

Since I got my first HF station up at my house, I’ve only used the G5RV (Both Jr. and fullsize) and the 10M dipole in my attic which is surrounded by aluminum siding. With these antennas I’ve been able to make thousands of contacts. I’ve manged to get  basic DXCC and WAS awards. Even though a lot of people harp on the G5RV, it provided me countless hours of contacts and I think  it was well worth putting up. I would still suggest the G5RV or its variants to others.

However I think I pushed the G5RV as far as it could go. The antenna has since stretched. More ladderline is laying on the ground. New entities are getting harder and harder and there are bands I haven’t really explored. 10 Meters on my G5RV hasn’t been really good to me and the dipole wasn’t going to cut it since it was basically surrounded by aluminum. I was also starting to get bored. I would only hop on to see if I can work a DX expedition or random JT-65 contacts. I needed an upgrade.

My first solution was to get a multiband vertical. In 2011 I purchased a used Butternut HF9V at a local hamfest. In 2013 I finally buried some coax and installed the antenna with a bunch of radials.


Upon getting it on the air, I found that it wasn’t really a performer. In a lot of cases, the G5RV was much better. The HF9V didn’t really give me the “WOW” factor I was looking for. But it work so it stays in my backyard. I needed something better. I needed a beam.

What Beam Should I Get?

That was one of the many questions I was asking myself. I didn’t want anything massive or anything that would require a large tower or rotor. I kept focusing on a Hex Beam type antenna, log periodic or a 3el tri-band antenna like the Mosley TA-33jr or Cushcraft A3S. I ended up going back and forth between the K4KIO type hex beam or TA-33.

The Hex Beam offers more coverage. It’s possible to get 20 through 6 meter coverage which includes the WARC bands. That’s 6 bands. In simple terms, it’s basically a 2 element beam with the elements folded in such a way that it still works. There is a claim 5dbi  (or 2.95 dbd) gain. The claimed F/B (Front to Back) varies from approx 25db to 30db depending on the band.  So in theory with perfect conditions and zero loss, if the antenna was fed with 100W, it would radiate around 192 watts. The hex beam would also attenuate signals from the back of the beam by 27db.  This allows you to hear signals better in the direction it’s pointed in.

The TA-33jr can only really be used on 20, 15 and 10 meters. The antenna could be adapted for other bands with the addition of the WARC kit. The TA-33jr has anywhere from 5.8 to 8.0 dbd  or claimed gain (or  7.95 to 10.15 dbi gain) and has a claimed front to back ratio of 20db. So once again, in theory with perfect conditions and zero loss, if the antenna was fed with 100W it would radiate anywhere from around 380w (on 20M) to around 631w (on 10M) and would also attenuate signals from the back of the beam by 20db

These comparisons are based from figures provided by manufacturers. That doesn’t mean that is how the antenna will perform in real world conditions. Things like height about ground, the type of ground, coupling to nearby antennas or other thanks and losses from coax and connectors play a major role in the performance and efficiency of the antenna.

On paper, the TA-33jr offers more gain on 10, 15 and 20 and looks easier to assemble but the multi band hex type beam has a better front to back (F/B) and offers more gain on the WARC bands. The TA-33 types of antennas have been in use much longer than the Hex type. If you were purchasing a beam on a small budget, the TA-33 type of beam would be much cheaper on the used market because they have been in use for decades (at least 50 years). I’ve seen TA-33 in decent shape for as low as $100.

How am I going to Mount The Beam?

No matter what I decide, I would need to mount the antenna to something. My first option was to obtain a tower and have it bracketed to my house at about 70′ in height. However that did not meet XYL approval because of possible guy wires in the yard and I want to keep my neighbors happy. Since a bracketed tower is out of the question, my next best bet was a roof mounted tower. My house at the peak is approx 40 feet above the ground level. With a 9ft roof tower and decent mast, I could get my beam 50 feet above the ground.  So a roof tower it was.

Going Shopping

I priced out a new Hex Beam from K4KIO, 9.5′ Tower from Glenn Martin, A new Rotor and Rotor Controller (Yaesu G-450), Mast, thrust bearing and cables. The price tag totaled almost $2,000. That is something I can not afford. However I was able to find a used TA-33, 5ft tower and rotor for much cheaper locally. I ended up purchasing the TA-33 package over the hexbeam. I am losing out on the WARC bands but the price made up for the loss.

A Pile Of Aluminum


Upon receiving the antenna, I noticed right away it’s not a TA-33 that I thought I was getting. The Boom is 2 inches in diameter and longer than the TA-33jr. After a little bit of investigation, I found that the antenna is a CL-33 or a TA-33 Classic. The CL-33 is 6ft longer and provides slightly more gain and slightly higher F/B ratio compared to the TA-33jr. I was trying to go as small as possible but since I already have the beam, it will have to do.

The tower and thrust bearing was in great shape but the rotor appears to seen better days. The terminals were rusty and the rotor would “struggle” in certain areas when turning it without an antenna attached. I need to restore the rotor.

20131231_093936 20140102_161827

I stripped the rotor down and found a group of really rusty ball bearings. I soda blasted and powder coated the case, ordered new ball bearings, new brake parts and a new style connector. After some cleaning and re-wiring, the rotor is good as new.

The antenna was taken apart and traps were checked for debris and broken parts


For the most part the traps were clean but some of the coils had cracks and even chunks of plastic missing. I ended up filling the cracks and voids with epoxy. Worst case is that I would have to get replacement traps. Being such a well-known antenna, it’s little easier to find parts.

After repairs I cleaned all the aluminum with scouring pads and applied an Anti Oxidation grease that will prevent the sections of elements from sticking to each other. I also applied anti-seize lubricant on clamps and other things.


I did a test fit to make sure everything is working and bolting correctly to the tower. You will notice a different rotor.


I have went with a Yaesu G-450 rotor because it was almost new and got it for much less. You will see WRTC spray painted on the rotor. It was used during the World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) here in New England. It’s not as heavy-duty compared to the Ham IV but I feel more safe using it.

There was only one concern I had with the tower and that was protecting the thrust bearing. I didn’t want rain, snow and ice to build up around the TB so I designed and fabricated a cone to slip over the TB shedding away anything from above.


Now it’s time to test the boom mounted to the mast


So far so good. The only concern I had was that the cone now provides a great home for hornets. I guess we’ll see.
The tower and antenna are now ready to be mounted on the roof.

Hurry Up And Wait… Now Hurry Up!


Now we have to get the tower mounted to my roof. I decided the best course of action is to mount the tower towards the rear of my house. That will allow the beam to clear a near-by tree and it makes it less visible from the street. Two trees in the front of my house hides the tower and beam quite well. I might provide some signal problems but we’ll see. I planned on using 10″ carriage bolts going through the roof into my attic and brace it using 2×4’s and a metal channel spanning over multiple rafters. I designed everything in CAD and put it through stress analysis. According to the results, it looks good.

Here is the problem. I don’t like going up on my roof. When I installed my X510, I almost fell off the roof and sort of been scared since. I don’t have the proper equipment to go up on my roof safely. the 10:12 pitch takes a toll on me. I am also stubborn and have a “do it yourself” attitude so I put the project off. It was planned to be put up in April before the New England QSO Party, but it’s now November and I still don’t have a tower on the roof.

I needed some roof work done before it got real cold outside. I had to hire a roofer to install venting and asked if he could install the tower at the same time.


Thankfully he agreed and there is now a tower on the roof. Ignore my leaning diamond X510. It could have been prevented from leaning if I used a couple of self tapping screws. Due to the weather and hourly cost of the roofer, I decided not to install the antenna on the same day. Let the neighbors sort of get used to the tower on top.


From inside my attic, I braced the antenna using 2X4’s and a large metal U channel covering 5 rafters. Very sturdy.

I Wanted To Get It On The Air

There is an upcoming 10M contest in December that my local club is involved in. I wanted to participate and I know my G5RV, HF9V or my 10M dipole wasn’t going to perform. I finally folded and contacted members from my local club to come help me install the antenna. A lot of people responded and on cold windy Sunday in December, a bunch of people came to my house to help install the beam.


A Major thanks to Ed, KB1NWH for staying up on my roof for hours.

We removed the Diamond X510 as it would be in the way and decided to assemble the beam on the roof since the tower isn’t tall.  We then installed the boom, each element and then the Diamond X3200. I didn’t want the X510 on the mast as it’s a much larger antenna.


Finally. I now have a beam! There is still cable work to be done but everyone was able to leave in just a few hours. I was on the air just after noon.

I would like to thank Ed (KB1NWH), Jim (KK1W), Steve (N1SR), Frandy (N1FJ) and Dave (AA1YW) for taking time out of their life to help me get an antenna on the air.


What’s the difference?

I never had a beam before and I have no clue how one would perform at my house. I hooked my radio up to a A/B switch so I can switch between the G5RV and the Beam. The bands were not great when I finally got on the air but I was able to hear a lot of West Coast stations on 20M. I had a real hard time getting my signal out west and was amazed to see the difference. Stations that were S2 on the G5RV were coming in S8-9 on the beam. The front to back ratio was okay. I was pointed to EU and hearing a Texas station at the same time. When pointed to EU the Texas station was S7 and when I turned the beam toward the Texas station, he became a S9+. I will have to do more comparisons.

Here is a quick and dirty A/B video I did for a Fellow redditor. I should have found a week station but that will be for another video. I just wanted to show the obvious difference in antennas.

Contest Time

Having the beam on the air for the ARRL 10M contest was great. I have never participated in it and felt the beam proved to work quite well. 10 meters was open to Europe both Saturday and Sunday morning. I did about 100,000 points which is not bad considering I operated only 10 hours using low power (Around 100W) and was not using spotting assistance. I knew I would not win SOHP so the amp stayed off.

Overall Feelings

I should have done a beam much sooner. Or maybe I shouldn’t. Starting off on wires provided a challenge. With the wires I was able to make contact with a lot of operators and even won some awards and contests. Now that I have a beam, hopefully it opens up the door to even more contacts with those ham radio operators around the world. My signal will now be a little bit stronger and I will be able to hear farther away. Getting the beam on the air has renewed my interest in actually getting on the air.

Thank for reading,
Jeffrey Bail (NT1K)