WA4DOX - Joseph T. 'Joe' Price-O'Brien  WA4DOX

Joseph T. 'Joe' Price-O'Brien
Pilot, VA

QCWA # 29464
Chapter 202

I was first licensed as a Novice in March 1973, operating as WN4DOX. As a Novice, I was limited to 75 watts input to the finals, and 50 kHz segments of 80 and 40 meters, and 100 kHz segments of 15 and 10 meters. My rig was a HeathKit HW-101 and I operated a "brass pounder" cheapie hand key which would occasionally fly apart when I would try to exceed 10 wpm. I retired my hand key when I purchased a Lafayette Radio "Bug", but when I discovered that I would never successfully master operating a "Bug", I built a "WB4VVF Accu-Keyer", modified the Bug to become a single-lever paddle, and upgraded to General Class in September 1973, operating as WA4DOX.

About six months of SSB was all I could take, and I modernized the keyer when I built the "Memory for the WB4VVF Accu-Keyer" and upgraded to Advanced Class in August 1974. I added a "Winged Emblem" Collins 30L-1 amplifier, a surplus US Navy antenna tuner, a surplus US Navy RBS-1 receiver, and I built my first homebrew equipment, a DPDT Relay QSK switch, which was used with the HW-101, the 30L-1, and the RBS-1 to operate full break-in CW to be able to participate in the Virginia CW Traffic Nets, and especially to be Net Control Station for the Virginia Slow Net.

I became an ARRL Life Member, upgraded to Extra Class, and departed for the island of Adak, Alaska in June 1975. While on Adak for four years, I worked at the US Naval Facility and at night and on weekends I operated the island Club Station KL7AIZ, which was located at the US Naval Communications Station, a few mountains and valleys to the east of the US Naval Facility.

After returning to the Lower 48 in 1979, I purchased a used Kenwood TS-820S which came with a 6-meter transverter and I continued to operate HF and a little VHF until the Fall of 1981 when I began college. Working and college classes kept me too busy to enjoy my hobby, and a fourteen year hiatus from Amateur Radio was sufficient to get me back on the air.

Having sold all of my previous equipment, I purchased a set of Heathkit "Twins" at a local HamFest, the SB-300 and SB-400, vintage 60's vacuum tube receiver and transmitter. Not having even a cheapie "brass pounder" straight key, I fabricated one from a computer rear-panel L-shaped slot blocker and a couple of pieces of wood. I discovered that after a fourteen year hiatus from having operated only eight years, I could still hold my own with CW, and the fabricated straight key could not keep up with my wanting to send 20 wpm. I visited the university library at Virginia Tech, scanned the microfilms of QST and reprinted the August 1973 "Build the WB4VVF Accu-Keyer" article. Having no custom etched circuit board as I did in 1973, I built the new Accu-Keyer on a piece of Radio Shack perfboard, laying out all of the components in the same manner as the original Accu-Keyer. After that labor of love, I had much more appreciation for custom etched circuit boards. Not having a paddle, I fabricated one from another computer rear-panel L-shaped slot blocker and a few more pieces of wood.

The old HeathKit Twins, the new Accu-Keyer, and the fabricated paddle were sufficient to convince me to return to the hobby, and within six months, I had purchased an ICOM IC-736, with built-in keyer, a Cushcraft R-7 vertical, and a Vibroplex Vibrokeyer single-lever paddle, my first ever, and coincidentally the same style paddle that I practiced on while studying for my Novice Class license in late 1972 and early 1973. The keyer that I practiced on in 1972-1973 was an EICO 717 vacuum tube electronic keyer, while stationed at CinCLantFlt HQ in Norfolk, VA.

n the 70's I became interested in QRP, and I purchased and built a HeathKit HW-7, but it never worked very well and I lost interest in QRP. I decided that if I wanted to run QRP, that I would just turn down the drive on my HW-101 to run 5 Watts or less, which was horribly inefficient, but was satisfactory to qualify for QRP operation. In the 90's Ten-Tec began advertising single-band QRP kits for $99.00, and I purchased and built the Ten-Tec Model 1340, a 40-meter QRP kit. When I finished aligning the 1340, I put it on the air and worked a station in South America. The 1340 was followed by the Model 1320, a 20-meter QRP kit which met with the same success as the 1340. At the time, Ten-Tec was having some difficulty in releasing the model 1380, an 80-meter QRP kit, but when they finally ironed the wrinkles out of the design, I purchased and built the 1380, which also met with great success.

In 1998 built a Wilderness Sierra, including frequency modules for 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. Using other radios, most recently a Yaesu FT-817ND, I have had some enjoyment with the WARC bands, especially 17 meters, and I plan to purchase modules for 30, 17, and 12 meters to give the Sierra the full complement of 9-Band HF modules.

In 2012 I built Elecraft K1 S/N 3026, covering 80, 40, 30, 20, 17, and 15meters. The K1 includes an internal automatic antenna tuner, so that will add variety to my operational capabilities by allowing me to experiment with non-resonant antennas and will give me the ability to simply change bands without having to change antennas. The project consisted of a 4-Band module which was set up for 40, 30, 20, and 15 meters, and a 2-Band module which was set up for 80 and 17 meters. A few minutes with a screwdriver, and a couple of clicks of options via the front panel menu switches is all it takes to swap band modules, even in the field.

I operate my choice of Wilderness Sierra (1W), Elecraft K1 (3W), and Yaesu FT-817 (5W) transceivers and I am now in the process of building an Elecraft K2 S/N 7523, including the optional KAT2 internal automatic antenna tuner. This one radio, as with the Yaesu FT-817, will give me full coverage of 8 HF bands from 80m through 10m including the three WARC bands, as well as extended receive coverage beyond these bands (as yet To-Be-Determined by thorough bench-testing and documenting). This most recent kit is awaiting completion as I return to the "Lower 48".

I operated QRP from 2010-2014 as KL7/WA4DOX from coastal sites in mainland Alaska, just to prove that what couldn't be accomplished with 50,000 watts in the 20th century from Alaska could be accomplished with just 5 watts in the 21st century!

Check out my logbook on qrz.com


April 26, 2015