Belgian HF Devils ride again – part III

After two episodes in 2006 and 2011 it was time for OT1A and ON5ZO to give it another try. This year we didn’t plan much and I did almost zero preparation except loading up the gear on my little trailer. OT1A was in charge of location, RF and IT. That translates to his huge garden, his TRX, his laptop and keying devices. I brought along a K3 just in case. My main contribution was the homebrew tilt-over construction and the aluminum tubing, guying stuff and coax / wires. We settled for OT1A’s MFJ autotuner with DC injection over the coax. My SGC antenna coupler was there as a spare. We had the luxury of having a backup generator (my classic model), while we actually used a Honda 20i with inverter technology. That one turned out to run quieter. And much to our surprise it consumed very little fuel over the whole period. Clearly a good choice if you’re in the market for such a device.

The week leading up to the field day event I made two extra aluminum sections. Thus we gained three meter in height. Last year in my ‘one man show’ I raised this tower with the dipole already attached but this year I mounted a pulley. This way I can raise the mast with the winch, and pull up the antennas after the mast is erected and guyed. All this wisdom comes from hard lessons learned in the previous editions where setting up always turned out to be problematic. Bottom line is that my welding evening course has paid for itself by now.

Friday was boiling hot and the day ended with serious thunderstorms. Over my QTH there was a fierce one with VERY strong gusts. It even shifted the yagi-dipole combination out of line once again. Slightly yet visible. This reminded me of the 2014 scenario. I’m pretty sure the tent would not have survived this one. The long thunderstorm blew away the tropical heat and lightning was seen for hours after. The forecast for the weekend was ideal for FD.

Saturday morning the forecasters turned out to be spot on. Sunny and not too warm. I hooked up the trailer and with the trunk of the car piling up with a portable station, I arrived at OT1A’s forty minutes later. The tent was already in place. To cut a long story short: all went according to the scenario and without any problem, really not a single problem. The mast and antenna were up in the air, guyed, ladder line attached and the ends suspended seven meters above the ground. The only problem not even worth mentioning was the holes in the aluminum sections. I drilled and aligned them at home so it was a perfect fit for the bolts. In the field, in a less stable and flat environment, I learned that it might be better to drill the hole half a millimeter bigger than the bolt size. But in the light of the problems we had to overcome in the previous years, this was nothing. That took us two hours at a gentle pace. No sweat, no blood. Only a light sunburn I discovered afterwards. We couldn’t believe we were done already. With so much time to spare, we drove to town for lunch.

After lunch we set up the station the tent. Again: a breeze. I set up the N1MM soft and tested the messages. The rig worked and the antenna coupler presented fifty ohms on all three bands. We entered ‘restricted’ (160+80+40). We were done almost two hours before the start. That felt weird. Usually we are ready two minutes after the start. Not so this year. Not even a drop of sweat. No stress. And no juicy goofball stories about who messed up what.

The field day itself ran along as predicted. A few hundred contacts in the first hours. Then the rate dropped. Along with the sun. Along with the temperatures. It was very cold after sunset and even colder during the night hours. Both of us were tired and we operated in shifts of roughly two hours. We tried to sleep some but it was too cold for a quality nap and the rate too slow for fun on the bands. Moreover 160 turned out to be a problem. Either the antenna is crap there or the band was in poor shape. Much noise and static, little or no signals. So I stuck to 40 and when K3ZO called in for the USA mult I asked to QSY to 80 but I got a ‘too early’ from him. Makes sense as it was about half an hour before his sunset if I remember well. Later on he called me on 80 but mult credit there goes to K1ZZ. Too bad it was useless to drag someone to 160. Not much other DX logged on either band.

FDCW

As soon as the sun came up the tent warmed up and soon it reached a pleasant temperature. With the sunrays heating me up I think I had a good nap. That caused probably more QRM than the silent generator, sorry for that! Two constants for the rest of the event: little or no rate and many, many dupes. We took half an hour off to have lunch together with the families and resumed operations. We counted down the minutes because there was not much to count up in the log. With one hour to go we were visited by UBA official ON6HI. We had a nice chat and he was so kind as to provide a helping hand with lowering the mast and disassembling it. It took us 75 minutes to clean everything up, even the tent.

In retrospect it is very time consuming and much work for a bunch of local HF contacts. You really have to be crazy to keep on doing this. Before the CW part I considered doing the SSB part too, now that the antennas go up so easily. But calling CQ in SSB for ten minutes on end before someone answers? Even with a DVK, there is no fun in that.

I wonder how the competitors did?

Finally some action. Last QSO logged was in RDXC more than two months ago. I told myself: no targets, no stress, just fun. I didn’t even set up the tower and low band wires on Friday and I decided to have a good night’s sleep. I did that on Saturday and the XYL noted that setting up goes fast. Yes I know the routine by now. I took off the 160m wire and reduced the dual band GP to 80m only as WPX has little or no 160 activity. Even 80m is often neglected as would be the case again in this one.

With being away from the bands for so long it shocked me to see the SFI dip below 100. That has been a long time. My guess is it’ll only go downhill from here and the best years of cycle 24 are behind us. Too bad because contesting is so much fun when 10m and 15m are hot. Oh well, nothing we can do. My guess is that I’ll be doing more single band efforts the coming years. Especially in SSB.

I operated like in my early days ten to twelve years ago. Off and on. Except I made 1900 QSO now instead of 300 back then ☺ Ten meters was a big bust throughout the weekend. And I didn’t make much contacts on 80 either. There was not much happening there, as predicted. Which was convenient because the dreaded QRM was very active again making copying almost impossible. And while listening through it trying to put the callsigns and serials together, I almost got a headache. And -touch wood!- I never have nor had headaches in my life. I REALLY need to find the source of the QRM and deal with it. I can detect it on 15 deep down but it doesn’t limit copying weak stations. But it is a pain on 20m especially on phone. That’s where I first discovered it, in CQ WW SSB 2014. It is very strong and annoying on 80, where I can only copy the S9 signals and it is killing 160 too. I seem to remember it kills 30m too but I’m shocked to see my last QSO there dates from November 8th 2014. Wow, I really need to prioritize and get back to the shack more often!

The QRM is not a problem on 40 so I tried to get some rate there. But it was not a big hit, just a moderate success. Since things slowed down and fatigue too over, I just went to bed. And overslept for sunrise. I tried 80 again just after sunrise. With the streetlights out, the QRM is gone. That’s a link I found earlier. But there was not much DX on 80 so back to 40 for some more six pointers. From then on I took longer breaks. Breakfast and lunch with the family. A nap. Etc.

In the end I reached 1900 QSO and decided to quit. I briefly said: “2000 is within reach” but that is a target and targets bring along stress and stress is no fun so I flipped the switch and called it a day. I had a few +100 hours and one clock hour of +140. Good enough. Everything from tower to shack works and I still copy callsigns and serials up to 45WPM or so. I like the WPX format a lot. Every QSO is probably a multiplier. And I did more S&P than ever before. Always nice to find an unspotted sweet DX station. I said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s the best hobby in the world. I hope to have more free time again soon to enjoy it to the max.

Up persicope – ON5ZO emerges from the deep sea.

What do you hate the most about ham radio?

Storms especially on contest weekends.

Why is that?

I can’t crank up the tower then and storms might damage the tower and antennas.

Like the WPX SSB weekend two months ago?

Exactly. I didn’t want to compete with the tower up since there was a warning for strong winds especially on Sunday and Monday. Good thing I left the tower down. Sunday noon one of the strongest gusts in years managed to move the 40m dipole so it shifted almost 45° off.

So once again the antennas got affected without real damage?

Yes although I got away pretty well. Some guys had less luck. ES5TV reported his 15m stack tower got blown over. It was a nasty storm that continued Monday.

Was that really the only reason you skipped WPX SSB?

No. I haven’t been in a ham radio mood for months. Too much going on at once and possibly a hobby burn out. I’m still heavily into ham radio but low on energy and needing to focus on a few other things.

And what about DXing?

I haven’t been into DXCC for years. Couldn’t care less. I wanted to work my friends at EP6T in January but the things I heard on the air made my ears bleed. I managed only one QSO. I couldn’t spend much time in the shack and found it a waste of time to try to listen to the mess. What are those people trying to achieve? Disgusting!

Exactly. But I assume you at least tried to log the ultra rare K1N? It won’t return on the air in over a decade, maybe two?

Couldn’t care less! On two occasions I listened and heard the same pathetic behavior. Is this what the hobby is becoming? Oh boy! I feel sorry for the people who prepare such a DXpedition years in advance and spend thousands of Euros (EP6T) or Dollars (K1N) to find themselves facing a bunch of undisciplined and utterly unskilled pigs. I came across an active DXer a few weeks ago and he raised the issue too and said he’s losing his interest in DXing because of the situation.

I see. Your last blog entry was almost two months ago. What gives?

Same story. There have been days when there was almost a full day between shutting down and booting the laptop. I don’t want to spend much time in front of a screen and keyboard. Lack of time, not in a writing mood and what to write about on a ham radio blog when there is no radio activity? I notice the same with the SJ2W blog: Mike has been slow in adding stuff because of being busy with other things. Adding content takes time. And AE5X stone cold pulled the plug on his excellent blog.

Hasn’t there been the slightest bit of ham radio in your life lately?

Sure. I picked up the UBA DX log checking a while ago. I have been preparing and collecting parts for a summer construction project. And I have been wondering a lot about doing something new in ham radio for a change. Rather different than new. I still want to contest and nothing else but right now I feel I have done all I can do from here. How can I possibly do better? Without adding imaginary 160m multipliers to the log that is!

Lets return to the tower and antennas after that stormy Sunday. Now what?

I have been staring at the crooked setup for weeks on end. I hate tower work. Titling the tower is easy but working on the antennas is not. Especially in a one man show. Ladders on a bumpy lawn, your head bumping against yagi elements and pulleys. Leaning on a 350 kg mast that is only held by a 7mm stainless steel rope. I put two strong wooden beams under it to support it just in case. And once again I am confronted with the poor engineering of the tower company. They placed the tower raising winch on the side of the triangle that normally lies on the ground. OT1A has the same model from the same manufacturer and it’s on the side of his tower. I wonder why they screwed up. But that’s another story. I wonder how I managed to install the yagi all alone in 2007?

Anyway I wanted to realign the antennas before WPX CW. I have postponed this job long enough so a few days ago the WX was fine and I convinced myself to finally do it. After the storm I was convinced that it was the 40m rotary dipole that got shifted. The optibeam muffler clamp style fixing is too weak for such a big antenna. My own reengineered boom-to-mast clamp for the yagi is way stronger so it’s only normal this antenna doesn’t move. But the more I stared at the antennas, the more it became clear. The 40m dipole didn’t move. It was the yagi that got blown off the right bearing. Somehow my heavy duty clamp has failed after all these years.

It consists of two high pressure clamping blocks with M10 bolts. These are tightened with a split washer, a normal nut and a second locking nut. This should be pretty tight and stay tight, right? Not so. I couldn’t rotate the boom on the mast by hand but I only had to loosen the nuts just a tad before I could adjust the boom and shift the 20m driver parallel to the 40m dipole. Somehow the dual nut combination had weakened. The storm gust was strong enough to make the antenna shift. It wasn’t easy to reach the nuts because the yagi feed system and current balun was in the way. It blocked the view and the access of the wrench. That was not the case when I installed the antenna! Anyway I think and hope it’s tight enough now. And I even have stronger hope for such a storm not to return. The 20m driver and the 40m rotary dipole haven’t been aligned this nice since I installed it four years ago.

What’s the last thing you did related to ham radio?

Write this blog post of course!

And before that?

Yesterday ON3DI and I went to one of the EP6T presentations. Speaking was ON7RU. It was a nice presentation and a was glad to see some familiar faces I hadn’t spoken in a long time.

What’s next?

Dunno. Probably WPX CW but I have no clue what category. SB or All Band? What’s the propagation like? I haven’t turned my rigs on in two months. That must be a new record…   ☺

73!

I haven’t done much contesting after WW CW last year. I skipped both ARRL DX contests and only messed around in both UBA DX contests. So I was glad to have the RDXC weekend. I had a ball last year (ended up #5) and I aimed for 2000 QSO – CW only HP category.

It became clear from the start that it would be a miracle to see the QSO counter jump beyond the 2k mark. Conditions were horrible it seemed. Despite the lousy propagation I managed to keep the rate just above 100/hr for the first half of the contest. So it was possible to get to 2k contacts. But then I had to go to the low bands. Lack of propagation, more QRN than usual and the local QRM source – the three elements to rain on my parade. The noise source was louder than ever and it made copying almost impossible. A headache would develop for sure, it was a pain to listen through it. Just after the halfway mark the rate went way down. Boredom set in together with fatigue. So I decided to sleep. I was very tired already before the contest and the low rate didn’t help to stay awake. So I went downstairs to hit the couch for an hour or two. And then I changed my mind. I took a snack, a drink, brushed my teeth for a fresh feeling and I went back into the shack. I decided to sweat it out.

The log shows a few short periods of inactivity. I dozed off twice for a few minutes and around 3AM local time I decided to close my eyes and slept for half an hour. That’s the flu and two hectic and stressful months acting up. Normally 24 hour contests are not a problem and even last year’s CQ WW CW went without sleep. But not now. I woke up with a sore neck but the power nap did its job.

RDXC2015

It was a struggle to get a run going and keep the rate above 60/hr. Once in a while a real DX called in and the occasional UA0 rare oblast. Then around 1000 utc the ten meter band opened up. Opened up this weekend meant: work in a 5000km range. Anything beyond was scarce and weak. I was glad to be called by a JA there for the mult.

The real time scoreboard added some fun yet I had to let the top 3 go after a while. After the slow and interrupted night, I dropped a few places. Given the propagation and the noise on 80/160 I think I did quite well. I really need to find the source of the noise. And then hopefully fix it. My first guess -a street light in the wide neighborhood- seems less likely than before. That leaves either my house or one of the neighbors…

CQP2014certificate

#1 Belgium? Wow did I really beat all those other ON participants?   :o)

A short report for the sake of history.

There is not much happening in ON5ZO Radioland right now. Because there is too much happening in the real evil world. I caught a flu early February and it was a nasty one. I needed more time than anticipated to recover from that one. It was followed by a severe cold. Just my luck. And I couldn’t stay home ill to recover because in late January I decided to quit my job (don’t ask) and start over somewhere else mid February. As expected, that professional move isn’t easy to digest. And the immediate result is a temporary (I hope so!) increase in workload and stress. I have a hard time dealing with changes. And so I decided to skip ARRL DX CW. Too much work and running low on fuel. I was exhausted. And my first day at the new job right after this contest? Didn’t seem a good idea.

Last weekend was ARRL DX SSB. I feel much better by now but once more I decided not to participate. It was the first dry, warm and sunny weekend in a loooooong time. After months of rain and grey weather, it was time to let the sun do its magic. Not the ionospherical magic but the make-me-happy magic. The whole family enjoyed a weekend in the open. Work as well as play. Fifteen degrees or more so I went out in style: wearing shorts, my favorite garment. By popular request we closed the weekend with a modest improvised BBQ. The warmth and the sunlight and all the work done gave the moral a boost. Probably more than a SSB contest could have done.

In between these weekends was the UBA DX CW contest. Still tired and with a lot on my mind, it was more a moral duty than a pleasure. With heavy winds predicted Saturday night and Sunday morning until  right after the contest, I decided not to crank up the tower and change the 24h plan to just 12h. I had to go somewhere Sunday afternoon which meant no time to put the tower down after the contest. Furthermore I knew I would be home late so I planned a few hours of sleep in advance instead of pulling an all-nighter. I didn’t even turn on the big amp. That would only be RFI-hell with the antennas so low to the ground and right above the shack.  I ran the contest with the 500W amp. And on 80 I used a ridiculously low dipole with the feed point only 8m high. I took the SSB dipole and added the right amount of wire to shift resonance down to CW.  I tried moving two Americans from 40 to 80 but it didn’t work out. No W mult there. Propagation was so-so and the dipole too low I guess. Nevertheless  I’m pretty happy with the result considering the low position of the aerials. Almost 1000 contacts in under twelve hours with the tower down. I didn’t even operate the full period. Before the contest I briefly contemplated trying QRP for a change but I chickened out.

I hope to be back 100% in RDXC. I finished 5th World last year. And QST shows me on #8 World in the IARU Contest 2014.

Granted: if it weren’t for the UBA I wouldn’t be in this SSB contest. But as a Belgian contest lover  I feel the moral duty to fire up ye olde shack. And any contest beats no contest (except IOTA). I cranked up the tower but did not deploy the 80/160 GP. Instead I used an old dipole cut for 75m (a/k/a 80m phone). In a normal year this specific weekend also has the CQ 160 CW contest. So I usually use the low band wires to have some Top Band fun as well on top of the UBA SSB test. This odd year the 160m test was held a week earlier and I didn’t feel like disconnecting the 160m wire nor have it up in the air unused. Furthermore the cables are tangled into a real spaghetti. Don’t ask. It involves a rampaging puppy.

Despite my yucky feelings towards SSB in small contests, things were rather fun from the start. Only to become more fun as the afternoon went by. It seems there was more participation than the previous editions. Great. I decided to stick to the twelve hour category battling it out with OS8A who is a regular in this category. Usually he beats me as he has better antennas on 80 and 40 and maybe he likes phone where I can’t push myself. Long live CW.

Normal strategy: have a few fast hours at the start. Take a break. Do some 40. Take break. Do some 80. Watch TV with XYL. Go to sleep with six hours of operating time left to experience a tremendous sunrise run on 80 and 40. To find that there is no one around when the sun comes up. So you just use the remaining hours to wear out the CQ-button. No one stays up late or gets up early for the UBA SSB contest. Let alone pull an all-nighter.

So NOT this year. I did some extra hours Saturday night, making the most of 40 and 80. The tricky part was to work the K and VE mults on 40 and 80. I couldn’t stay too long or I would run low on operating time Sunday morning. On 40 I bagged them NA mults pretty easy. They get through half an hour before their sunset which is not too late Belgian time. I was just doing a last S&P before throwing the switch when I heard a competitor being called by my friend W1EBI. So he’s working 80 right now? I quickly found a spot and settled for a last short run. Hoping he would go down the band and find me there. BINGO: W1EBI brings me the USA multiplier on 80. Soon after I worked some more and a VE to boot. I could go to bed happily.

Sunday morning I did a quick scan. Eighty was dead as always. Maybe it wasn’t dead but is was at least empty as predicted. I stopped to listen to OS8A on 40. He was slightly ahead in numbers but not much. Then he got called by a J7. WTF! There is a J7 on the bands handing out a rare multiplier! I decided to call CQ there and keep my  fingers crossed. Easy on phone, harder in CW. I worked some DX,  some EU, some multipliers and when that J7 finally called in, I could trade 40 for 20 which was still low on QSO and mults.

Long story cut short:  4.5 hours left on Sunday is more than enough. The rates are much lower than on Saturday but you need the morning propagation to the east. That brought me a lot of VERY nice DX multipliers on the higher bands. It was a really fun edition. Plenty of contacts (+1000 in 12 hours), plenty of DX. And maybe another plaque on the wall? Let’s see how OS8A did.

The title of this post gives it away. Against all odds and way over my estimated ballpark figure. 29865 – I never made more QSO in one year than in 2014. The glass-half-empty guy that I am says: One hundred thirty five contacts more and I would have crossed the psychological barrier of 30k. Oh well, shoulda coulda woulda.

2014perband

I know this images clogs the items on the right. I should redo the layout once again. But it won’t be today. Nor this week. Probably not even this month…

CW remains the mode of choice. SSB is a necessary evil to bridge gaps between CW contacts. And I have no idea when and where I made 80 RTTY contacts? Ah there you go, the log says CQ WPX RTTY 2014.

2014permode

I was only active for 67 days of the year. A day means either one QSO or 2k. Gone are the days when the bed is in the shack and I was working in shifts like 2001.

2014daysQRV

It took somewhat longer to compile the statistics. The old VB6 program I wrote in 2007 didn’t run on the new Win8.1 machine. After setting the compatibility mode to Vista SP2, it ran like a charm. Thank you Google and thank you people posting real usable solutions. And to think I considered myself deVistafied by now. I’ve learned so much more programming techniques since then that I could make this program better. Or at least better looking. It would be fun to do and all things considered not take too long but I just lack the time. It’s these things that disturb the fragile balance of devoting enough time to all parameters in the equation called life, and not favor one aspect too much for too long.

More news from the time lacking department. For years I’ve been refusing to pay for an upgrade of DX4WIN. I have been a user since 2000, my very first HF QSO got logged with it. The last paid upgrade was in 2003 I believe. More precise: the last upgrade I paid for. Since then I stuck to v6.04 which had all I need. I did not integrate LotW nor eQSL into my DX-logkeeping. Because v6.04 does not offer that. I haven’t logged a QSO with DX4WIN in over a decade since I exclusively use N1MMLogger to write contacts to a database. Afterwards I use the ADIF export / import functions of both programs. My plan was to make my own basic tailor made DX tracking / QSL bookkeeping software with LotW and eQSL integration. And even Clublog. I wrote some initial code somewhere in 2008 / 2009 but then I volunteered to do the UBA DX contest log checking. That took me three years to get where I am now. I wrote a program. I completely rewrote it from scratch the year after, based on what I had learned the first time. Then I ironed out the wrinkles another year later. I still have to work on the program each year to fine tune it and to find solutions for problems introduced by others. These others being sloppy participants and software authors liberally implementing Cabrillo standards. Ideally I should do it again from scratch once more and provide an intuitive GUI and manual so that someone else can do the checking. The program is absolutely NOT user friendly as it is right now. Furthermore I have never used a compiled version of the code and always run it from the debugger.

By now it’s clear that this homebrew software project won’t see the light soon. If one day at all. I’d love to do it because programming is as rewarding as any other form of homebrewing but I need to be realistic. I have to admit that right now there is no time for something that will suck me up as deep as a software project. A project that is only a side project of what is ‘only’ a hobby in the first place. I really have to remind me of that. Because I tend to favor all aspects of ham radio. And so I gave in and just paid 34 Euro for an upgrade. I am now running the latest DX4WIN. The latest yet already four years old already. Yikes!

Oh yeah, just for the heck of it I can now be reach via oq5m.be too.

I really like this contest – RAEM. It’s CW only and you actually have to copy something that is not predictable and longer than 123. Not predictable if you don’t use a call history lookup file, which I never use. And not predicable for the first QSO as most of the info (QTH lon/lat coordinates) is prefilled when you work someone a second time on another band. But apart from that the exchange is pretty unpredictable and long. Think ‘1023 53N102O’ at 36WPM and no 5NN to synch the grey matter decoder. Love it! CQ WW might be high rate and full of DX, on the copying level it means nothing.

Added bonus is the distance based scoring. You know you hit the jackpot when a fluttery UA0 calls in. There are no multipliers and points per QSO are calculated from the exchange. This would be a fun format for a 24 hour contest with massive participation.

Since I discovered this contest I have only played part time in it. It runs for twelve hours so that shouldn’t be a problem. But it’s the end of the year and there has been a lot of contesting going on already. For a few years now I’ve been saying I will participate the full twelve hour period next year. Well, maybe next year. This year too I only played a few hours and logged 250 contacts. Non-Russian participation seemed down. I usually work more USA. Hmm, maybe because I skipped night time and started too late? But not even a VK or ZL this year. Hence the jackpot is limited to far east Russians. I did work RAEM the station on 10+15+20. Note to self: remove these contacts from the LotW and eQSL upload. They don’t handle the callsign RAEM well. Not at all in fact.

I interrupted the leisurly contest for a walk with the dog and kids (and XYL) in the snow. It started snowing on Saturday afternoon. But it was wet snow that turned into ice overnight. The quality was poor which was a huge disappointment for my oldest who wanted to make a snow man after we saw this movie last week. If you have kids, now is the time to watch it if you’re in the northern hemisphere! Anyway the snow was worthless for construction work. By now, Monday evening, the snow and ice are almost completely gone. We’ve had our winter now. It lasted forty eight hours.

The initial plan was to crank up the tower for the weekend and play in the Stew Perry Top Band Distance Challenge or whatever that thing is called. Mostly to try to work DX on 160 and test the beverage. But I wasn’t really in the mood. Good thing as it turns out. Most comments on 3830 are in unison: lousy propagation and hardly DX. If those with big antennas for 160 can’t work DX, how should I? I did try to SWL on the beverage but no DX was heard. I spent a few (two or three tops) minutes listening to OT6M who seems to be well equipped for Top Band. But during this time span I only heard him CQ’ing and not work a single station. Go figure.

I guess – no I’m sure this was all for 2014 for on the air activities. CU all in 2015.

My previous ‘Can you hear me?’ post showed that even a low antenna gets your signals heard all over the globe. I considered the small 500W amp to be medium power. Which to today’s contesting standards seems an exaggerated description. Then in turn John AE5X decided to redefine the QRP-low-high power levels.

The real question is: Can I hear YOU? Ever since trading wavelength-wise low dipoles on the low bands for verticals with elevated radials and apply 1kW, I have felt like an alligator on 80m. All mouth, no ears. I hear people coming back but I just can’t copy them. This is even worse in summer contests like WAE CW with the ether full of static.

The low band TX antenna is pretty decent on 160. It doesn’t make me feel loud but I always work into USA whenever the band supports DX propagation. I was even stunned to work a bunch of JA one night in 2009 (#). So it works on Top Band but I will never feel like a big gun there.

The obvious solution to hear better is to use special RX antennas to improve S/N. Unfortunately my lot is simply too small to fit full size textbook example beverages – plural. Years ago ON4UN paid me a visit and he immediately saw the opportunities for a low band RX system. Crossing roads and intruding other people’s property didn’t seem a problem in his vision. But it is to me. So the installation of multiple beverages each multiple wavelengths long is absolutely out of the question. And truth be told that’s not my ambition.

In summer 2008 I acquired the hardware for a K9AY RX loop (#). I put it up too close to the tower and the TX antennas. Too close but there was no alternative. As an SWL antenna it would have been nice but it was just too close to the QRO TX stuff to keep the coupling and RF pickup manageable. Then came CQ WW CW 2008. I tried a beverage on ground (BOG) (#). A length of enamelled copper wire put on the ground along the fencing of several surrounding lots. In fact it wasn’t on my property for even a centimetre. But it was not crossing properties since I ran it parallel to the fence and barb wire.

This BOG wasn’t a real success. I would find out why later on. And so will you if you keep reading. After that I once used a single triangle RX loop fixed to USA. A K9AY-light if you will. I forgot in which contest. That sort of worked although I have no idea how well anymore. Probably not spectacular since I don’t remember it. It was also the first time I used the K3’s second RX in diversity mode. That actually opened my eyes, or rather my ears so I knew I had to find an RX solution that was practically and financially feasible. Phased RX short vertical arrays are not what I call financially feasible.

And so I bought a small rotatable RX loop two years ago (#). I put it as far away from the TX antennas as possible. I still find it expensive for what it is but it worked. No miracles, but better than nothing. I have played two winters with it. When I first put it up, it didn’t work. It was totally deaf. There was nothing to be heard. Either the performance was a myth lie or I was overlooking something. This antenna needs DC power at its base and while troubleshooting I discovered the DC was not making it to the antenna outside. As it turns out, the coax had a faulty N-style barrel connector where the part coming from the shack was joining the coax coming from the garden. Replacing this barrel connector solved the problem and then it hit me. This broken part is the reason why that BOG in 2009 didn’t work. It just wasn’t connected to the receiver as the broken part made for an open circuit. I was listening on a length of indoor coax! D’oh!

For practical reasons I decided not to put up the loop this fall / winter. After redesigning a prominent part of the garden last summer, there is no easy way to get a coax from the garage to the other side of the garden. Actually there is an easy way out, namely to run the coax on the lawn like I did last year. There would be no objection from the XYL since we don’t need to mow the lawn during winter. The real problem is our puppy guard dog who would definitely grab the cables and play with it. Garden hoses are fun to drag along. So why not coax cable? Or a flashy orange rotator control cable? Yes the loop is motorized because it needs turning for nulls and directivity. Worst case scenario would be that he’d just chew the coax in half. The plan is to run a cable conduit under the lawn. Let’s hope he doesn’t dig it up then. The digging and shoveling is pretty high on the to do list for the coming months. So what to do for this winter? I anticipated on Cycle 24 to be kind enough to make the higher bands shine. This would keep people away from the low bands. But what if…

What if I try the BOG again? I can run almost 100m of wire on the ground, in the weeds against the mesh wire where no sheep are grazing and no tractor is ploughing. Maybe a BOG outperforms the loop, now that the coax cable actually connects the antenna to the transceiver. As always crunching a few kilobytes of Googled HTML and PDF gave me some insights. A short beverage is better than no beverage. Signals get louder as the wire gets higher. Etc. Anyway I needed to wait until the corn gets harvested to access the terrain. Once that’s done the terrain is a wasteland until spring so I can almost do what I want.

The corn got harvested right after WW SSB. It was nice playing outside on Saturday November 1st. Warm and sunny. So why not put up the compromise beverage experiment? Compromise as in a) not terminated for simplicity. Terminating means one way directivity and to make it work for the USA short path, I would have to run almost 140m of coax along the beverage. Because it would terminate on my end of the wire, and need to be fed at the remote end. Compromise as in b) not following a straight line and not a fixed height because I’m using an existing zigzag line of concrete poles. Compromise as in c) the wire will be running above a steel wire mesh fence. Not ideal but any beverage beats no beverage. Compromise as in d) not exactly matched to 50Ω. I would wind my own transformer but I don’t know the impedance of this beverage-ish antenna. A ‘beverish’ so to speak. My antenna analyzer is falling apart (#) and it only works near an AC outlet to feed it with an AC/DC adapter. I didn’t feel like running an extension cord all over the front yard. So I just used a quick ‘n dirty 9:1 that I made a couple of years ago for the single K9AY loop.

I unwound the salvaged stator coil of a three phase motor along the borders of three lots behind my garden. I decided to run it on top of the skewed concrete poles that hold the crooked mesh wire fence. That way it is visible but firmly in place and it doesn’t make a practical obstacle. My biggest fear is that some agricultural machine would grab the wire. That could damage the machine or, more likely, the machine would just carry on and take everything attached to the beverage wire with it. With the copper wire meandering along the crooked concrete poles, this can only happen if a tractor runs down the whole fence. The autumn sun made me philosophize about how long these concrete poles have been in there. By the weather-beaten looks and how far out of plumb they are, probably for many decades.

On the feed point end of the unterminated beverage, I hammered a copper clad ground rod into the front lawn. I put the 9:1 transformer into a simple electrical junction box. The transformer has a 3:1 winding ratio and the core type is MN8CX. It was a gift from low band enthusiast and overall nice guy ON4ATW. Years ago this core was an hot item. Theo apparently ordered quite a few of these and he kindly sent me one. A few years ago I ran two wires through the core (for the single RX loop) and attached a 450Ω non-inductive terminating resistor, also part of the low band RX kit sent to me. The analyser made the resistor look like 50Ω so that was that. I did this test over before installing it on the beverage just to be sure. The American (if I’m not mistaken) guy selling the MN8CX kits apparently is out of business and Google doesn’t know much about the core anymore. It came with a brass fuse holder the same size of the core. I seem to remember the description said that grounding the fuse holder when holding the core would make the transformer work better for some reason I totally forgot. Must be a shielding thing.

Now I only needed to run a coax from the front yard into the garage. I ran the RG-213 as close to the concrete tiles as possible. Almost two months and hectolitres of rain later, you can’t see the cable anymore. It sunk into the wet grass.

I was lucky to have done this job that particular Saturday. I thought that just like most years after the corn had been harvested, the lot would be untouched by the farmer until spring. As it turns out two tractors came the day after on Sunday evening and started working on the land to sow winter wheat. With the seeds into the soil and the terrain levelled, I don’t like to tread it anymore. When needed I can access the wire from the other lot but that involves nettles and rusty barb wire. Good thing my tetanus shots are good for years to come.

Of course the question burning in our collective minds is: how does it work? The answer is: I don’t know. I know that it does not not work. I hear everything the TX antennas hear. With better S/N. So that’s good. Does it show directivity? Hard to tell but I have the feeling that it does. Some EU stations coming from the side are weaker than some US stations coming in from the desired direction. They’re also weaker on the beverage than on the TX vertical. Wet finger stuff and no scientific evidence I know. I should put up the rotatable receiving hula-hoop to compare. Or run a similar beverish 90° off of this one. I considered that but then I come across the coax-might-be-bitten-and-chewed problem again. So these A/B test will be done later when either the dog has outgrown typical puppy behaviour or the conduit is finally buried under the lawn. It’s an almost fourty meter stretch!

I did run two contests with this RX setup for 80 and 160. I used it in LZ DX and CQ WW CW. With the K3 in diversity receive mode, you get that nice sound and the signals really seem easier to copy. The nice thing about this antenna, apart from costing virtually nothing, is that is does not take any real estate and that it does not need a single extra dedicated support. It’s almost invisible and not susceptible to the weather. If I find the time (highly unlikely) and if WX cooperates (it’s finally snowing right now) I really would like to do a real time A/B comparison between this beverish and the small hula-hoop costing almost 300 Euro.

But ON5ZO does have a beverage for low band reception now. Neener-neener.