Gadgets & Gear

I’m planning to “Go Live” from as many National Parks as I can in 2016

Besides photography, the Internet, all things tech and my love of RVing, my favorite hobby for more than half a century has been amateur radio. And as this year winds down, I’ve got a new bunch of bucket list plans for my 2016 RV travels that combines that hobby with our small motorhome lifestyle and our love of America’s National Park Service.

In 2016, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary and to commerate it, and draw attention to the 433 official NPS administrative units across the country, including the 59 National Parks that draws RVers like candy attracts kids, I plan to visit as many NPS places as I can participating in something called NPOTA.

It stands for National Parks On The Air and it’s a year long event endorsed by the NPS and sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, the advocacy, educational, technology and public service group that represents over 161,000 amateur radio operators.

My all-band, all-mode KX3 amateur radio transceiver fits in a backpack
My all-band, all-mode KX3 amateur radio transceiver fits in a backpack

I’ve been an amateur radio operator for since I was a teenager (K8ZRH) and the first thing I did when I got our RV almost five years ago was install a ham radio transceiver.

But for this event celebrating the Centennial anniversary of the National Parks Service, I’ll be taking that hobby to a new level, first assembling a rugged, reliable and very portable system that I can backpack in to remote areas and then setting it up to make contact with as many other hams across the world as I can during short operating stints of a few hours or so.

Sometimes, I’ll just set it up in our Roadtrek Type B CS Adventurous RV. Sometimes, I’ll operate from the picnic table outside as we boondock or stay in a National Parks Service caampground. But as often as possible, I want to hike into remote areas. In those radio contacts, I’ll share information about the area and point out the wonders of the place.

My Buddipole Deluxe portable antenna system collapses and telescopes and fits into a small bag
My Buddipole Deluxe portable antenna system collapses and telescopes and fits into a small bag

No way, of course, will I visit all of those NPS units. But each year, we usually visit a bunch of them anyway. So in 2016, I have a little more incentive to get out there and a challenge to join other amateur operators in seeing who can activate their stations from the most areas and rack up the most number of contacts.

My main radio for this special year-long event will be the Elecraft KX3 all-band, all-mode transceiver. I’ll use battery and solar power and transmit 10 watts to make contactsvia single sideband voice and CW, which stands for Continuous Wave but is best known as Morse Code (dots and dashes).

For an antenna system, I have a gizmo called the Buddipole, which consisists of a small tripod, a collapsible bungee-cord-like telescoping mast that extends to almost nine feet in height, some coils and screw-on whip antennas that can be adjusted for both high (HF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) bands.

Here;s what the Buddipole looks like fully extended and deployed
Here’s what the Buddipole looks like fully extended and deployed

It all fits in a backpack that still leaves room for my camera and a couple of lenses. Photography, as I’ve written about before, is the hobby our RV travels has allowed me to enjoy the most. I’m excited now with the fun I’ll be able to have with my amateur radio interests this year.

I just got all the portable gear and plan to do a couple of dry runs between now and the first of the year.

Amateur Radio is the hobby that sparked my avid interest in technology. I started as a teenager and have stayed active in the hobby ever since. In these days of the Internet and cellular communications via smartphones and tablets, I like to think of amateur radio as the world’s backup communications system, the one system that a small army of dedicated experimenters will have up and running long before commercial systems would be restored in an emergency.

Even in our RV, having my amateur setup gives me peace of mind. We often camp so far off the grid that, in a pinch, the only way I could call for help would be my my amateur station.

But it is also a very social hobby. I have met a lot of great people from all over the world via the hobby. Many are fellow RVers.

I’m not sure what will be the first NPOTA I will activate but I hope to do so for the first time in January. I’ll post on Twitter and Facebook when I’m up and running and be sure to share a lot of photos. Now to talk to me out there, you need to have an amateur radio license. Go to to find out how easy that is these days with some study and very affordable gear. You can, of course, listen in if you have a short wave radio and a short wire antenna.

Its a terrific hobby that is a perfect match for RVers.

Mike is a veteran journalist whose video "PC Mike" reports have been distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations since 1994, making him one of the most experienced tech reporters in the country. His tech stories and videos have appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, the Today Show, The New York Times, USA Today and in numerous national newspapers and magazines. In addition to the PC Mike tech blog, he also publishes the RV Travel Blog in which he travels North America in an RV reporting about interesting people and places.