Ever since I first got on the air with my K2, I've operated almost exclusively digital modes (except for a couple of early phone QSOs). Elecraft recommends that you limit yourself to 5w on digital modes with the K2, because their high duty cycles can be hard on the finals. So for the last year I've made almost every QSO using 5w, except for the occasional 10w for a rare DX station (if they couldn't hear me with 5).
And so it follows that most of the ham radio blogs I read are focused on either kit building or operating QRP, or both. That's how I learned about Steve Weber (KD1JV) and his wide array of cool ham radio kits. In early December his new ATS-4b kit was brought to my attention, and I began to drool. The ATS-4b is a 5 band, 4-5 watt, CW only rig that is about the size of two packs of playing cards (from what I can tell). It uses SMT parts, and costs just $240 – a steal compared to, for example, the Elecraft KX1 at $299 for only 2 bands.
Unfortunately, after hemming and hawwing for awhile, when I finally posted to the ATS mailing list to see about ordering one, Steve said he had just sold the last one that morning and probably would not be producing more. Doh! However, rescue came in the form of another member of the list, who had purchased two ATS-4bs and was willing to sell me one (brand new and unbuilt) for the price he paid. Yay! He even offered to put it on lay-away for me, since I had mentioned that Catherine might make me wait until my birthday in June to get one. In the end she said I should just get it now and build it when I can, so I did! Doug (K9DLP) put the kit in the mail today, so I should have it next week sometime.
I'm definitely going to need some help from Nick and Rob to get going on this kit, since it involves a lot of SMT parts, but it looks like they're mostly the larger sizes so hopefully it won't be too bad. When I showed the design to Nick he said something like, "Hey look at that – it's a modern rig!" Through-hole is for sissies I guess. Combined with my ZM-2 manual tuner and a 12v brick power supply, I should have a really nice portable QRP station to take camping or on other trips. My next visit to Australia will be in May, so hopefully I can bring it then. I just, uh, need to learn Morse code… (I practiced for awhile tonight!)
I'll close with a question for anyone (hello?) who may actually be reading. I get to choose the band configuration when I build the kit. My choices are: 80, 40, 30, 20, and 17 OR 15; OR 40, 30, 20, 17 AND 15. The ATS-4b build instructions mention that option 2 is probably a better choice if you're always going to operate portable, because putting up an 80m wire in those circumstances is a bit of a pain. But I've almost never used 80m at home due to local QRM; I hear it's actually a pretty good rag-chew band. And I'll have a tuner, which should give me a little extra flexibility. Which combination would you choose?