ON5ZO – OQ5M

SFI > 250 or bust!

A few weeks ago I must have strained a muscle or suffered an inflammation or something like that. The result was a stiff neck and a sore back. The doctor ordered rest. And so I had to stay in a couple of days. The best thing I could do was sit still and straight. And where better to do that than in the shack? My tower was still up from the LZDX contest and I even had the 80m vertical installed. The only thing missing was a 30m antenna. As you know 10.1 MHz is my favorite hangout when not contesting. Actually it’s the WARC bands in general but 30m is the only one that is productive right now. Or so I thought…

Since the central pulley on the tower and the 9m aux mast in the corner of the garden were in use for the 80m wire, I could not put up the 30m dipole. So I used another pulley to haul up a dipole from the stock and aired it as an inverted V. I attached long ropes to the ends and tied them to a tree trunk at both edges of the garden. Bottom line: this doesn’t work as well as it should because the inverted V apex’s angle is way too sharp. I couldn’t really get out as well as I wanted to and I decided that this wasn’t worth its while. I spent some time trying to work the DXpeditions that were on but with no success. This feeling was backed up by the RBN. So after the LZ DX contest I took down the 80m vertical and put up the inverted V dipole instead. The end of the dipole’s legs were much higher so the antenna was approaching a flattop configuration and it worked much better.

I haven’t done much DXing in the recent years. The lack of time made me focus on the contest weekends. But now I had a whole week to spare (and to recover). Boy there sure is DX to be worked. I was lucky to have quite a bit of semi-rare DX on the air. But if you want to work much DX, you need to be around 24/7. And it seems it goes much smoother when most people are at work.

Another thing that struck me is that there still is life on 17 m and even 12. So I took down the 30m dipole and replaced it with the homemade WARC triband wire dipole. Soon after I was working the DXpeditions on 17m and even on 12m (J5T).

I’m not superstitious but it seems my DX happiness triggered some instances of Murphy’s law.

On one occasion the SWR on the 40m dipole was more than 4:1. I discovered that when trying to call a European special event station barefoot. And that with CQ WW CW coming up with a planned SB40 effort. Now what? It worked just fine a few days before. I switched on the second radio and there SWR was below 2:1 across the whole band. So it wasn’t the antenna or the feedline. What else? The bandpass filters? I bypassed the 5B4AGN filter set and that didn’t change a thing. And when switched to dummy load, the K3 indicated SWR = 1.1:1. So it’s not the rig either. Running out of options here! Don’t know why but I decided to switch the amplifier out of standby and sent a dah on the paddles. That of course tripped the amp. But it had solved the problem! SWR was back to normal. My guess is that one of the relays in the microHAM relay box got flakey and a firm shock of 400-500W RF cleaned the contacts?

Murphy likes me. A few days later I was enjoying the 17 meter band. With the KPA-500 at 500 Watts and SWR 1.3 to 1. Suddenly the amp trips and the alarm buzzer goes off. SWR 5:1. Still OK on 12m and 17m. Now what? A quick look through the window doesn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary. Feedline problems would present them also on the other two bands, no? So I went outside and lowered the antenna. At first sight, nothing wrong. Then I noticed the ends of the 17m wire were curled up and pointing up.

A little information on the side. A few years ago I decided to put up a permanent WARC antenna in the form of a trapped vertical.

A permanent WARC antenna

I used this WARC dipole as a set of elevated radials. But to make them resonant I had to cut a few centimeters off. In the end this antenna sucked to I converted the radials back into the dipole. So I had to add the removed centimeters again. I just let these ends hang loose. Gravity pulls them down anyway.

But now the dipole had been coiled up in a box for a while. And it was cold so the wire was stiff. Which in turn made the loose ends point upwards instead of bent downward. Close to where the end meets the 17m wire. What happened? The RF power had caused the 12m ends to melt into the 17m wire, making the 17m wire actually way too long. The picture shows where the 12m end (white) got welded to the 17m wire (black). It was not just the plastic insulating jacket that got fused. The copper got bonded too. I tore the wires apart and bent the end firmly down. A few layers of PVC tape covered the burning hole. I just wonder why 12m didn’t show an alarming SWR? Oh well, the problem got fixed. Another lesson learned. And still none the wiser.

A few days later my DXing time was up. There was a period with strong winds on the maps and I had to focus on other things again. So I let the tower down for a few weeks. I had good fun on the bands. Once again it’s proven: when the HF virus has bitten, you’re in for life. Only few people have escaped…

Friday

Here’s the deal: SB40(A) with the rotary dipole 23m above the ground and an almost flat wire dipole with the feedpoint about 9m high and the ends about six to seven meters. Both antennas are fed to the amp with an A/B switch, not ‘stackmatched’. I decided to leave the RX loops on the stackmatch because that’s a proven help in many marginal contacts. I should make a small signal version of the stackmatch for the RX loops.

I hoped to leave the tower up after last week’s fun session but Wednesday and yesterday were very windy so I lowered the tower and put it back up today. I used the RBN to compare the antennas. Good to have two callsigns. The lower dipole was stronger for skimmers within a 1000 km circle. It didn’t seem to differ much farther away. Maybe it’ll be something else at night when 7 MHz should really shine.

I then did a quick test around 13.20 which is still broad daylight. I heard a BY but he didn’t copy me. HS0ZIA was a struggle with the EU callers, DU/SomeRussianCall and VK4DX were worked on first call. Again: still broad daylight. Let’s hope for a calm sun and good propagation. More later…

Saturday

00.00 and off to the races. The contacts flowed in at a steady pace. Not as fast as my record +200 hour on 80 (again: in marvelous 2014) but still not too bad. However the K-index had risen from 0 in the afternoon to 3 right now. Later on the K even peaked up to four and I think that’s the reason why signal strength dropped and the run became slow. So slow that I just went to bed for a while. With the intention to be back well in time for sunrise.

In the meantime it had become clear that the lower wire dipole didn’t do a thing. At least: nothing that wasn’t workable on the high dipole, even local stuff within 600 km. One time I tried to bust a pile up for one of the exotic G-flavors (forgot which: GU? GD?). I switched to the lower dipole ‘just in case’ and forgot to switch back to the high dipole. It didn’t make a noticeable difference. Maybe on the marginal paths to far away stuff like KH6 or ZL.

Nigel G3TXF had announced to be SB40 too. In his WW SSB contest report I noticed he has the same antenna at about the same height. I had two RBN monitors open, one for me and one for G3TXF. It was amazing to see that both our footprints matched. When the rate was slow I tried to compare the SNR figures for the same skimmers and that didn’t reveal much difference either. There is no point in this experiment. Just something to keep my mind going when the rate drops to sleep inducting levels.

Sunrise was nothing spectacular but it was a quite productive time to rake up multipliers. Around 10 AM utc I decided it wasn’t worth continuing. I didn’t plan to use the real time score report but I decided to do so, just for fun. I had been lurking at the SB40 scores but it’s only fair that I’d join in. There is nothing I can do with a simple dipole against multiple stacks on huge towers and power splitting between monster antennas. And who knows how many of those run a OM-4000 amp or worse? So I was just moving along with the pack for fun but couldn’t really push forward.

I was back in the shack around 14.00 utc. There was already far east DX to be worked. I had a fast hour and then kept looking for multipliers interleaved with some more running. Suddenly a shower with melting snow came along. The static was so loud I took off the headphones. The online rain radar predicted it would last about a quarter of an hour. And so it did. When the shower moved overhead it was useless to carry on. Everything was weaker than the QRN level. Later on the sun came through and the sky was blue for sunset. I could resume my RF business.

Around 6 PM local time I called for room service and the XYL brought me dinner. Around 7.30 PM utc I decided to take a break and a nap. I got back around 10 PM for another log filling round of CQ CQ CQ. I kept going, slow at times, but I wasn’t tired. Actually I was when I thought about it but I felt OK and didn’t fall asleep. I got a little bit upset by the rude behavior of the power house mult stations in the packet pile ups. After a while the band dried up. Nothing new to be worked and nothing that came back to my CQ. I knew that the slow rate would wear me out so I decided to go to bed for two hours and be fresh for a morning run. And so I did.

Sunday

Around 6 AM utc I could work some more multipliers. And I was glad to get a fair bunch of three pointers into the log. The lack of DX had brought the points per QSO down to 1.6 where it was 2.0 after the first night. I got it back to 1.8 later on. Highlight was a spotted KL2R. A semi-rare double multiplier. He (she?) wasn’t loud but certainly workable. There were some callers but no messy pile up. And along came HB9xxx to rain on our parade. He kept on calling and calling. I heard KL2R coming back to what I thought was my call but the HB9 absolutely had to ruin it for everyone. Frantically I sent my call a couple of times and managed to hear my call and report while HB9 was still at it.

After that I decided to S&P for a total of 1900 QSO and then took a shower and have lunch. It’s 12.15 utc as I type this. Let’s see what the rest of Sunday can bring.

Well, it brought me a long nap. Too long. Home alone so no one to QRM me. There was some Asian DX to be worked and also some VK/ZL. BTW I logged quite a few of those down under. Great! The rate was low and things were slow. I had tried a couple of times to break the 8P2K pile up but it was too messy. In the end I gave up and hoped that my old saying would become reality once again: if you run, the mults will come. Indeed: at 21.02 I got called by 8P2K. Yes! In the last hour ZP5WYC calls me. Again YES!

In the last few slow hours I hoped to reach the 2300 QSO mark. It looked that I wouldn’t make it while running as no one answered me. There was a QRS caller who sent ‘OQ5M OQ5M OQ5M de xxxxx xxxxx GE ES TNX FR QSO UR 599 599 16 16’. No problem with the QRS but with the end of the contest upon me and still needing a dozen QSO to get to 2300, all this superfluous information made me nervous.

So S&P for the final 17 contacts. I activated skimmer spots in the cluster window and soon the bandmaps were filled. There were some blue calls amidst all the grey spots and so I jumped at it. At 23.58 the counter showed 2300 and I quit.

After the contest

I had set no real goals for this contest apart from maximizing the fun factor. I hoped for 1500 contacts and a ‘DXCC in a weekend’. Just not to be mocked at. So the outcome of 2300 QSO and 137 DXCC makes me very happy. Of course along the way I looked up the Belgian record for SB40(A) and early Sunday it seemed far out of reach (OT4A in 2009 with 716.975 points). But in the end I wasn’t too far away from it. I think that OT4A has a three or even four element yagi.

More than ever: no cluster spot, no rate. I decided to spot some calls myself. I dumped more into the spotting network during this contest than I did in over fifteen years of assisted contesting. Although operating assisted I also tune the bands with the VFO dial and I have always thought that everyone should do the same to find the juicy undiscovered DX. There were many busted spots in the bandmaps. BTW: skimmers mistake CT9/ for CT9X. And then there were the ferocious pile ups for those ultra-rare multipliers from Africa or South-America.

I must admit I was quite amazed when I saw G3TXF’s score reported on 3830. Why am I so focused on G3TXF? First of all, he’s in my part of the world. That’s important for the points per QSO. And we’re both no rare or monopolized multiplier. Second reason is the apples-oranges trap in comparisons: simple dipole versus stacked yagis or better. We have a similar antenna, maybe even the same. His is reported to be at 80 ft (24m) while mine is at 76 ft (23m). That can’t be a factor either. Throughout the contest we had a picture perfect matched footprint on the RBN. So why does he claim 250k points more than me?

From his claimed score I derive that he has a 1.674 pt/qso average. Mine is at 1.649. So that seems pretty leveled.

He has 18 multipliers more than me. That burns. I wonder what he worked that I haven’t and if it was the mult calling him or vice versa. I’d like to see his log. In due time, I will. I think I worked most multipliers that were on the spotting network. Maybe one or two that I just didn’t want to endure the cluster spot pile up.

What about location? Google maps tells me he’s 580 km more to the west. That’s 10% closer to central USA than me. But that does not explain the difference in multipliers. I’d expect a higher pt/Q average then. From his location there is nothing but salt water between him and everything to the west. Could that be of any help?

What with the ‘call sign gain’ factor? Nigel is one of the most well-known ham radio operators. There or a bunch of callsigns that can draw a crowd when spotted. Where does this fit into my equation? I think 550 QSO is a huge difference. But I think it goes too far to attribute that to a call sign.

But most likely it’s that Nigel operated 11 more hours than me (43 vs 32). In retrospect I should have operated more. But the initial plan was to have fun and not to be a zombie after the contest. Maybe something for next year?

Please note that I do not envy Nigel’s score nor think that there’s something fishy about it. NOT AT ALL. I just want to know what’s happening so I can either try to do better next time or just learn to live with the situation.

Some thoughts:

  • I worked more VK (7) and ZL (6) in this one then I seem to remember in one contest. It’s not as easy as on 20 or 15 (if SFI allows).
  • I worked six VU2 stations. I think that is more too than before.
  • 522 USA stations were logged, that’s 22.7%. I think it’s impossible to drill into to the ‘second layer’ without a yagi. On 20 and 15 with three elements I can even exploit the third layer (QRP with indoor clothe hanger antenna).
  • MANY MANY dupes: 61. In fact my log shows 2361 QSO dupes included. That’s 4.35%. WHY??? Two calls were even logged THREE times. That’s a ‘tripe’!

Final words:

It was fun.    DX is!   CW 4 EVER!   And CQ WW CW is still the greatest of them all!

Just for the archives, nothing noteworthy in this one.

Although this used to be my annual workout before CQ WW CW, it seems that I have totally missed it in 2015 and 2016. I was fifth in 2014 claiming 1789 contacts. Ah, sweet record year 2014… Fond memories.

I planned to be around this year but I knew that a major score and high rates would be out of reach. Propagation was a bit of a bummer and made for a slow start. OTOH the skimmers seemed to hear me better than the rate would imply. It was a simple one radio band hopping thing with ten meters giving hard times to work something. Then again VK4CT’s skimmer heard me on 28 MHz on Sunday morning. I begin to wonder if that’s at all possible: VK4CT always picks me up on the RBN, from 80 up to 10 (when the band is supposed to be open in some degree of course).

I watched a movie with the XYL Saturday night and played some more afterwards but I went to bed around 0.00z. I refused to set the alarm hoping that ‘80m sunrise anxiety’ would wake me up around 5 AM utc but no… I slept quite well and woke up just before sunrise. Which didn’t offer much new for the log anyway.

I was home alone for the better part of Sunday so I sweat it out and logged 900 QSO. Best hour was 120 on 40m (16 > 17 PM utc). Also the only +100 hour. Nothing spectacular but I’m glad to enjoy a bit of casual contesting, log some unexpected DX multipliers and meet all those friends we’ve never met.

For over a week now I have been wondering what to do for CQ WW CW this year. I’m not fit for a SOAB effort. I’d need sleep and would have a hell of a time recovering afterwards. The goal of this WW CW is a) to get on the air with b) as much fun and as many QSO as possible.

My initial plan was to do SB80. My antenna plays well in CW and can provide enough fun. Bonus: lots of sleep during the daytime. Not totally zombiefied afterwards.

During WW SSB I thought that there was much more life on 40. No way I’d go there on phone, but it seems to be my best band in CW when the higher bands drop off. I made more than a 1000 Q on 40 in a SOAB(A) effort, so when focusing on 7 MHz only, this could be fun too. And still room for a few naps during the daylight hours. And if SB40 is the way to go: shouldn’t I add an extra antenna for that band? Say: a low dipole?

However… There seems to be an opportunity for quite some fun on the twenty meters band. I have three elements one lambda high. Suitable for some good DX runs too. With lots of sleep during the night so the biorhythm isn’t upset.

And if SB20 is the way to go: shouldn’t I add an extra (lower) antenna fixed to Russia/Middle East? And what antenna should that be? Apart from a crappy trapped vertical, I have nothing and it should be a good antenna. I could make a wire moxon rectangle and put it up about 10m high. But then I’d need to install the field day mast and guy it. Or put the moxon up vertically? Or what about a three element vertical parasitic array (director-driver-reflector)? Could that be easily done?

Actually I’m not too keen on doing all that extra antenna work if in the end it would not pay off or only marginally.

You see: I’m having a hard time deciding what to do and how to do it. And I’m not even taking propagation and wind speed into the equation! Anyone with some good advice here? 

What would YOU do in CQ WW CW?

  • SB80 - the safe bet with a proven antenna. (27%, 3 Votes)
  • SB40 but use a wire dipole too and feed both antennas with the stackmatch. (27%, 3 Votes)
  • SB40 with just the dipole up 22m high. It's good as it is. (18%, 2 Votes)
  • SB20 but try to make a three element parasitic array which is much less hassle than a moxon and that field day mast. (18%, 2 Votes)
  • SB20 with just the yagi. It doesn't need extra work and you're never going to play with the big boys anyway. (9%, 1 Votes)
  • SB20 but try to make a moxon and get it up 10m high. You have the stackmatch anyway. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 11

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Contesting is my thing but the magic of radio has always been my first love. Not knowing what was going to happen. Sending some current down a cable into a wire or aluminum tube and hoping that someone far far away picks up the E/M wave to convert it back to an electrical signal. And then repeat this in reverse direction.

I had a week off after CQ WW SSB. I still have a lot of small jobs to do so I had planned to finish many of these after the contest. But I had so much fun in WW SSB and propagation was (surprise!) not too bad so I decided to leave the tower up for the week and just don’t do anything that is remotely close to ‘work’. I did lengthen the 80m wire to bring resonance back to CW and pulled up my 30m dipole as a slanted vertical dipole. After all WARC bands are my favorite go to outside of the contests.

It’s not that I spent many hours in the shack. But I went there when I felt like it. Mostly late in the evening or early in the morning when everyone in the house was already or still asleep. And mostly on CW of course. Propagation was indeed not too poor the first days. Here and there some contest-expeditions were still active and switched to CW. And I managed to work 3C1L for a new one on 40m. Too bad this 40m contact doesn’t show up in their online log. It was an easy QSO though and I clearly heard it right. One late night later in the week they were very loud on 30m. He was working around the world. Mostly JA but a reasonable bunch of EU and NA in the mix. It was after midnight and I wanted to sleep. I tried for a long time but no luck. I did hear many nice DX in the pile up. Proof that the band was wide open. But my CQ yielded next to nothing. So later on I called 3C1L some more but again: no luck. I think I spent almost one hour and a half in there calling. Ninety minutes of my life that I’ll never get back. I haven’t called a DX this long in ages. Who cares about DXCC anyway. In the end I went to bed.

Friday morning I had to leave home to run some errands. 3C1L was QRV on 20m this time. So I delayed leaving the house. But all it took was just one call. Sweet. Three elements one wavelength high and the DX only 5000 km away: what could go wrong? Luckily this QSO is listed on Clublog. It’s been a long time since I logged a new one.

But wait, there’s more. Thomas OZ1AA signs /4W. I heard him on 15m. Not too loud but given his antenna (pics online), it was amazing that I heard a signal from 12 000 km away on 21 MHz at this point in Cycle 24. YANO – yet another new one! I worked some more DX: quite a few VK9’s active and I managed to work two. Even one on 15m SSB. Yes SSB ☺.

On Wednesday November 1st I found that propagation was declining compared to the previous days. I called CQ on 30 at 11 AM utc. Nothing came back although RBN did show my signals quite beyond EU. Suddenly JF1IRW calls me. With a fair signal. Too bad no one else answered so I QRT’d.

Sunday morning I decided to make a few contacts in the Ukrainian DX Contest. The counter stood at 299 when the bell rang. I planned to lower the tower after the contest (all that work has to be done some time) but I saw a cluster spot for VK9MA. One for the road then? With the yagi still high in the sky, it was a sure shot. Not a new one, but still good DX.

That was fun. I hope for a calm wind-free end of the year so I can keep the antennas up. I really can use some RF-therapy!

For the third year in a row: SB80. Propagation not OK for SOAB (or so I assumed), operator not fit for +40 hours of SSB mayhem. And phone on 40m? Thanks but no thanks. So I adhered to a ‘strictly for fun’ policy.

The station had been inactive since WAECW mid-August. The year 2017 won’t break any records except ‘historical low in radio activity’. Since then I booted the PC a few times to let Windows do it’s update business and I also let the amp run dry a few times to blow the dust out.

Wednesday my youngest son and I put up the 30° RX loop. He has yet to become six years old but he has a solid pair of helping hands. Hauling the fishing pole, strapping it to the support, taping wires: he has it nailed. The torque of my new professional cordless drill was a bit too much for his arm size so I assisted him with the drilling of the ground screw anchors. Even my wrist got almost twisted. Boy this is a potent machine! I knew I had to get one when my own old cordless drill couldn’t loosen some big screws that I tightened using the carpenter’s heavy duty machine.

In the evening I dug up the headset. My last SSB QSO dates exactly one year back: WW SSB 2016. Wow, it’s even worse than I thought, this lack of activity. Much to my surprise the voice keying worked right away. There was a time that the PC’s operating system messed with the audio routing settings. But that seems to be a thing of the past. I made a quick barefoot QSO with the USA on 20 with the beam down. Seems OK.

I had a few hours to spare on Friday afternoon so up went the tower. I shortened the 80m wire with a good meter and folded it back. That seemed about right to bring the resonance to 3700 kHz. In the evening I had a parent’s night at school so I got home around 9 PM local time. I went to bed not to shoot all my ammo at once the first night. I got in the shack around 2 AM UTC which was 4 AM local time then. I was about to call the first station and there the first problem popped up: the audio from the voice keying was seriously infested with all kinds of crap. It was less with the amp in standby. The problem disappeared when unplugging the headset’s MIC jack. So it was definitely a case of RFI through the MIC cord on 80m. Slowly the mist in my memory cleared: didn’t I had this last year too? If so, I must have written something about it. My online memory showed a picture and in my box of ferrite clamp-on thingies, there it was. Behold the RFI cure I made last year. I added another clamp just to be sure and as soon as it was in line with the MIC cord, the problem got solved. I forgot all about that. I must have been doing too much shit and too little ham radio!

Remember this? I didn’t (at first).

Off to the races. On a crippled horse: after every QSO the keyboard froze. I can’t seem to catch a break. I have a 2.4 GHz wireless keyboard that has worked RFI-free since day one. But now what? The keyboard’s ‘batt low’ indicator wasn’t lit. So it’s not that. Nothing has changed. Or has it? With the renovation project we did last summer, I had to move some of the stuff behind the desk to remove the old big water boiler in a closet. Maybe something came loose? I walked to the other side of the desk and quickly added a ground wire from the GND bus to the PC’s case. I took the multimeter and checked for continuity between case and GND. I knew this was nonsense but at that point in time (remember: 4.15 AM local and about to start CQ WW) superstition got the best of me. It didn’t change a thing so I changed the two AA batteries. That did the trick. Maybe they were too worn out to even light the battery indicator? Good thing I bought a set of AA batteries last week. I exhausted the stock to get the kid’s toy train rolling again. I was running errands and thought: better safe than sorry. Ferrite and batteries saved the day night so off I went.

The first three hours of my contest on 80m were fun. The rate wasn’t too shabby. Fastest clock hour: 178 between 4 AM and 5 AM utc. On 80m phone? Cool! I worked plenty of Americans (111 out of 872). They weren’t really loud but I heard them well. Sunrise was disappointing and either the band died right after the sun hit the sky or everyone fled to shorter wavelengths.

Saturday afternoon I decided to try fifteen meters. The bandmap was packed and so was the band itself. With loud signals. I worked 150 DX stations in a pretty good run. Average 2.7 pts/qso. I tried 28 MHz too and worked ‘ten on ten’. Not much DX though. Fifteen was much more productive hence more fun.

I slept a bit during the day and returned to 80. Not much DX though. So at around 00.30 utc I decided to go to bed. We went from summer time (utc +2) to winter time (utc +1) and a few hours before sunrise I was QRV on 80 again. It wasn’t a real success: not much to be worked and almost exclusively one pointers. Bummer.

Sunday afternoon I decided to present myself as fresh meat on 20. Another round of fun for two hours, especially with the cluster spots. The rate really goes sky high then. Too bad it only lasts a few minutes. After evening dinner I took a nap. The plan was to work the last few hours on 80. But as expected, it wasn’t much fun. So I did a short S&P action on 40m. My ears bled! QRM, splatter, chaos. I looked for friends and people that had called me before on 80. After 25 QSO I decided I had endured enough sonic torture. I called CQ on 80 but I didn’t work much. With one hour to go I decided it didn’t matter if I was 50th or 51st in the ranking so I quit.

I know I’m repeating myself, but once again: SSB is a necessary evil while CW is a fine relaxation therapy. Still I had good fun and was glad to contribute to the scores for 1469 people. Propagation seemed better than anticipated. I got called by three Alaskans and called two Hawaiians myself. On twenty that is. Propagation on 80 (or should I say 75?) wasn’t too bad but either there was little activity from the east or I can’t hear it. Highlight there probably was being called by B9K. There was a JA spotted at the end of the contest but the pile up was just too messy to spend time there between the callers. My station isn’t up to that on phone as opposed to CW.

Speaking of hearing: those two RX loops really play well. There is a noticeable difference between both and it often helps to reduce that dreaded splatter. Another nasty side effect you don’t have in CW.

No CQ WW SSB would be complete without a German invasion by the Contest Bashers Net. Last year they launched the label Funkterroriste. Funny to hear them ranting away for minutes on end about nothing at all except how stupid the contest is and without a single callsign given. Speaking a bunch of languages pays off. This weekend my QRG was targeted by Überbasher DL6EAT (at least that’s what he told me) who clearly marked this date on the calendar to vent his opinion about the part of the hobby that we cherish. I forgot to pay my dues to join his party, as his QRZ page says “Our 80m-chat room is 3.653 KHz”. So 3653 is theirs and theirs only.

Another WTF? moment was when a 3V8 got spotted 1.5 kHz below me after I had been running for over an hour. Then some anonymous dude came to tell me I had to QSY because there was DX and I was too close to it. He had a German accent. And clearly a voice recorder and trigger-happy to fire it upon me.

One of the highlights was also a lowlight. When working K1DG on 80 he referred to our mythical Top Band QSO a few years back. That was in 2011. Here’s what I wrote then:

So back to 80 where I worked K1DG. He asked if I had a decent 160m antenna and if I wanted to QSY. I always accept QSY requests but now declined, remembering an unresponsive K3LR. I did not want to let him know what a crappy 160m antenna I have, the darn thing deserves some respect      But K1DG insisted that “we can at least try” and I agreed that he’d call me there. So I went to the agreed QRG but there was only noise. Told you so! I was just about to go back to 80 and tell him I didn’t hear him as he started calling me. Not loud but very clear. Twenty seconds later we both won a multiplier.

Six years already? How time flies. The highlight: that he still remembers it. The lowlight: kinda letting him down. Incentive for next year: put up 160m wire too and work Doug.

How on earth did I manage to do this contest-thing +40 hours on all bands a few years ago? I clearly lost my mojo. Anyone know where I left it?

I’m a big fan of Jimmy Diresta. He’s like a 21st century King Midas: he turns everything into gold. I noticed that almost everything in his shop, from tools over furniture to walls and floors, carries his spray-painted name tag. That inspired me to do a little graffiti experiment.

When I was half my current age, I encountered a lot of flight cases. Those are usually labeled with a typical font. One of the local hardware stores has a set of typical flight case letter templates. These are metal plates with the letter stamped out. But they’re not cheap, I’d even say expensive and since I don’t run a flight case business, I was looking for an alternative.

I do have a laminating machine to put a plastic jacket around A4 size sheets of paper. And thanks to the internet, I found a free TrueType font that looks like the typical flight case letters.

My callsign in the typical font

My callsign in the typical font

I printed my callsign, laminated the sheet of paper and then cut out the inside of the letters with a sharp knife.

I haven’t tagged anything officially but I did some trials:

After a more than five month hiatus on the bands (read it here) I made my reappearance last week in EUHFC. Of course I could not let WAE CW fly by without logging some QTC. The annual CW contester’s delight. I knew daylight propagation would be limited to 20m and that it would be a case of making the most of the nighttime 40/80 activity. This means a nightshift in the shack after a dayshift working in the house. Normally I would be asleep and charge the batteries for a few hours before the start of the contest (2 AM local time).

Not so this time. My in law’s invited us for an evening dinner on Friday and I didn’t want to be a party pooper again like so many contest weekends before. So I accepted the invitation and we got home around 11 PM. In itself it shouldn’t have been a real problem: I was home before the start of the contest and after sunrise I could easily sleep a few hours. That was the plan. But once again there were external factors. I picked up my oldest son at the airport Thursday night. Actually Friday morning. He spent a week abroad with his uncle and nephew and his plane landed at 1 AM. That means I got home on Friday around 3AM. I had to get up early since the cabinet maker would deliver the cupboards and drawers for the new kitchen. And I still had to move stuff to make room for this delivery. Then the carpenter announced that he would come and install part of the kitchen on Saturday at 8 AM. That kitchen project should have been finished a week ago so this contester is a victim of his delay! To make things worse: 8 AM was the time I planned to land in bed after a night of WAE. I had told him he didn’t need to bring a helper since I could easily give him a hand myself. As this means I had to help the first night would simply pass by without a single QSO. I had to be fit on Saturday and get up around 7 AM.

On Friday I also had to raise the tower again and put up he 80m wire and an extra RX loop towards JA/ZL. All that with almost no sleep the night before. And knowing it would again be late that night when dining at my XYL’s parents. Preparing the antennas Friday noon went smoothly, as usual. Putting up the RX loop I took down five months ago did not present a problem. Only it turned out to be deaf. I opened up the 9:1 transformer box and a soldered wire had come loose. The permanent 270° RX loop worked fine. I decided to abandon the second RX loop. I ran short of time since I needed to take a shower and get on the road for the family dinner. After that excursion I slept throughout the night and on Saturday I worked on the new kitchen until about 3 PM when the carpenter called it a day. Finally I could start the contest.

But I wasn’t in a hurry. The cluster showed only activity on 14 MHz. I wasn’t really thrilled. Instead of starting the contest I decided to replace the 9:1 transformer hoping I could pull more nightly far east DX out of the noise. I put my spare unit in place but that one turned out to be dead too. Same story: a solder joint that came apart. It’s not that I can’t solder. Actually I’m quite handy with the soldering iron. It’s that for almost every project I quickly throw together a conceptual prototype. If it works, I will then finalize an operational field unit. Many times this proof of concept is a success. But then the flimsy and sloppy prototype never gets the finish it deserves and is put to use in its uncompleted state. In this case the problem was the lack of mechanical fixation of the binocular core inside the box and the absence of a decent strain relief on the thin wire of the core’s windings to the terminals. Manipulating the box and shacking it made the soldering come loose. I recently bought a new hot glue gun and I applied liberal blobs of glue inside and outside and everything is mechanically stable now. The dielectric properties of the glue might be catastrophically on UHV and microwave but for the low bands, it shouldn’t be a problem.

During all this troubleshooting it was raining cats and dogs. My rain barrel (400 liter) connected to the garage’s gutter was already flowing over. Before reinstalling the fixed 9:1 transformer I saved about 150 liters of fresh rain water from overflowing into the sewer. I filled two masonry tubs that I could use later to water the tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkins. After this I was soaking wet so I traded the cold outside shower for a warm inside shower and a new dry outfit. Hail to the new bathroom! After that I mounted the ‘beefified‘ 9:1 transformer and a quick check on the shack’s end of the line confirmed that all was fine now. Maybe it was time to actually start logging contacts?

I didn’t bother to listen to 15. I didn’t even plan to listen on 10. I called CQ on 20 and you know what? The rotator controller started going bananas when I keyed the rig (and amp). I can’t seem to get a break here! I knew I had encountered this before but I didn’t remember when or how it got fixed. Luckily I do these write-ups and queried google for ‘on5zo rotator rattling sound’. The result told me this problem occurred in WAE CW 2016, exactly one year ago. Back then I solved it by breaking up and reconnecting the male/female plug for the rotator control cable in the garage. So that’s what I did again this time. I cleaned the male pins with steel wool and sprayed a dose of ‘electrical contact cleaner’ on it. I’m not too keen on using this spray as it makes dust and dirt stick on potentiometers and the likes but there were no exposed or moving parts here so I figured ‘why not?’. I never had the problem again during the rest of the weekend. The plug had been exposed to humid air and dust from sawing and grinding in my workshop/garage/storage room for over five months. So in the future I should remember to brush up the pins after they have been unused for a while.

Now how ‘bout some actual contesting? He timestamp for the first contact says 17.13 utc. I wasn’t in a hurry. I stayed on 20, where else? I think the only thing I managed to work on 15 was a 4X. For low A and K index values, propagation was really a stinker. Things improved slightly later that evening. By 23.30 (1.30 AM local) I got tired. Too little sleep and too much work the days before. So be it. I programmed the alarm for 40/80 on Sunday morning. At 03.30 utc I was QRV on 80. I must admit that the signals that called me on 80 were quite good. Mostly USA and Canada. That VP9 was sweet. Only there weren’t many people around on 3.5 MHz. The usual suspects, some even loud enough to swiftly copy some QTC. Once again VK4CT’s skimmer heard me on 80. Why don’t I log more VK?

Things got better, louder and faster on 40. But it slowed down there too with not much life on 20 yet. So I took a long break. Completely in line with the laid back spirit of how I decided to approach this WAE CW. Back in the shack I was amazed to hear a loud JA on 20. If there’s DX in the cue, you must call CQ. And soon I decided a CQ on 15 couldn’t hurt. RBN didn’t show global openings but one never knows what the bands can bring. In this case: middle east and nearby Asian multipliers. An HS and a YB. Nice for the mult, too weak for QTC. Then another break and in the afternoon I actually ran USA on 15. It wasn’t a hoot and it didn’t last long so I ended up on the inevitable 20m band again. The later it got, the better the band got. I was working USA, PY and JA at the same time. I tried 40 to the East well before my sunset which brought me the same YB mult as on 15 in the morning. Thank you YC1ME. I ran some more 20 and logged mults and QTC. Glad to see I could still rake up QTC without doing any CW for over five months. Apart from EUHFC the week before.

Then the following sequence of events happened: Log a just-out-of-EU mult on 80 (TA7), work four South-American mults in a row on 15, log a bunch of mults on 40, run 20 again to the west for more mults and QTC. By 22.12 utc it was time to settle on 40. More USA, more QTC, more mults there. The last twenty minutes of the contest were spent on 80. Two more mults: PY and EA8.

Result: 472 QSO and 643 QTC. VFO not even dialed to 28 MHz this weekend. Not my best result by far but given the propagation and the situation of the work in the house and the family obligations I didn’t even bother. I enjoyed the time I was on the air and I’m glad to see I have got this QTC thing mastered. Many years I have wanted to do WAE SSB for once. I think it won’t be in 2017 either.

I haven’t done any operating since late February. I just didn’t have the time, the courage, the energy, the will. But I did plan to be active in EUHFC which is a kickass contest. The tower and all my antennas have been down for over five months. I did let the amp run idle two times for a few hours and did a quick check of antenna SWR after a gusty period. But that too has been a few months ago.

I delayed the setting up. Thursday it was raining and the wind blew hard. Friday it was hardly raining but not dry and there was some wind. In fact I was just looking for excuses not to  start cranking up the tower. Oh how I long for a station that has access to ten bands with good antennas that just needs a flip of the switch to get it going. The forecast didn’t mention rain for Saturday so I might as well do it then.

Come Saturday, it was raining when I woke up. Bloody forecasters and their lousy forecasts. Take breakfast. Read mails. Fill in the paper’s crossword puzzle. Watch a YouTube movie. Procrastination is what they call this with a fancy word. Half past nine I decided to give it a go. If I didn’t participate in this contest either, I might as well quit the hobby altogether.

First thing to do: hook up all cables and coaxes in the garage. I discovered a new coax that I had installed with the XYL but I can’t even remember when we did that. I did remember why it was there. Some future RX antenna project. Won’t be now. Then crank up the tower. But first untangle all the ropes and remove spiders and crusty bird poop. A lot of dirt accumulates over five months. My youngest son, now five and a half year old, decided to come help me. I let him handle the remote control of the winch. He can manage to keep a push button activated while I look for possible troubles. The tower went up without a problem. Together with my kid I pulled up the 80m wire and then the 160m wire. A quick check in the shack revealed that everything was just like it was and supposed to be. No skeletons dropping out of the closet.

I had no expectations nor targets except to see if I still could copy CW and have some fun. It sure would be glad to maintain my goal of 100 QSO/hr averaged over the contest but I had absolutely no clue what to expect after a five month hiatus on the bands. It seems that five months without CW is not detrimental to my skills to copy calls and numbers up to about 40 WPM. Enough for contesting. I was off to the races.

I started on 20 meters. I knew that 10 would be dead: that dreaded A-index stood at 3 which is fatal to an already lame band. Contrary to what I usually do, I didn’t even try 15 at first. Signals on twenty meters were good and the rate was nice too. Then I remembered the real time online score board and opened it in a browser window. I decided to join the fun. It enhances the game of contesting. It really does. Even with my non-competitive approach I tried to keep my position in the ranking.

I was home alone: kids were out, XYL was out. The dog was in. The cats were outside. Nothing could distract me and I had a great time and I could keep the rate slightly above 100/hr. I took a few five minute breaks to get some relief and take a snack. Twenty was the place to be and I had limited success on fifteen too. On ten meters I tried to  get all I could but the signals were weak and rapidly varying between S5 and inaudible during an exchange. I hopped back and forth between the bands and then it was time to drop to 40. Just as I started it started raining. An intense shower caused strong QRN so I decided to move to 20 again. A few more showers came and went. The online lightning map showed some dots around me but not many and far enough not to worry too much. There seemed to be strong thunderstorms to the east and west of me (North Sea, northern Holland, Austria) which caused some noise on the lower bands.

I chuckled when watching the RBN after my first CQ on 80. It got picked up by VK4CT’s skimmer. Poor propagation, summer in Europe, still daylight in Belgium and yet my 3.5 MHz signal makes it to Australia.

I had fun and came short only a dozen contacts to reach 1200 QSO for that 100/hr average. But close enough given I only used one radio and didn’t make the most of the allowed band changes. I consciously avoided looking up previous results so as not to spoil the fun factor. But towards the end curiosity got the best of me and I looked at last year’s 3830 report. That was ‘my best score ever in this contest’. What a difference a year makes! Same guy, same antennas, different propagation.

I had a good time in this enjoyable contest. The real time score board was a bonus once again. It felt good to back on the air after a few months.

Hey I already did a post with this title seven years ago.

What’s wrong with amateur radio?

When I was almost three decades younger and as many decakilograms lighter I was subscribed to a skateboarding magazine which featured a readers input page titled ‘What’s wrong with skateboarding?’. This struck me as a magazine dedicated to something offered its readers a page to vent their issues. By the way this taught me more English than the schoolbooks and three hours of English class every week. Now what has this to do with ham radio?

My last post here was three and a half months ago. My last QSO was more than five months ago. I didn’t emit a mW of RF in over five months. That is, to say the least, a very extraordinary situation for ON5ZO. I just couldn’t be bothered. Why? I don’t know. Actually I think I know.

It’s a combination of various things. A very shitty period at work, as a starter. That affected everything. The poor propagation wasn’t inviting either. Furthermore I have this ‘been there, done that’ feeling about the hobby. Combined with the steep decline of the solar cycle, there was little incentive to lure me into the shack. Once in a while I peeked at solarham.com to see A/K values that probably turned the ionosphere into a dummy load. Occasionally I looked at the online DX cluster and saw some whopping activity on 50 MHz. But I don’t have an antenna for that band.

Another important  factor in this huge dip in radioactivity is a major renovation project. In April I took down thirty six square meters of old and discolored wood and plastic ceiling. Then we had these ceilings redone with plaster board. I had to sand down the joints and paint these ceilings with two coats of primer. Right now I’m painting the finishing layers.

In July we started round two of the project. I tore down the bathroom, toilets and kitchen to bare walls and floors. Then we removed 36 m² of floor down to the concrete base plate of the house’s foundation. We took out every inch of galvanized pipe and replaced it with modern insulated plastic plumbing and new brass distribution taps. About time as these steel pipes had accumulated a lot of dirt and rust inside after forty three years. And the galvanic coating was gone over almost the entire length. A major leakage in progress.

I also did a substantial upgrade of the electric wiring with a new distribution panel and circuit breakers. A must if your better half doesn’t settle for less than a furnace that dissipates 18 kW (!!!) ‘pot down’. The kitchen now has dedicated circuits for each appliance. The old plumbing and electrical wiring had been a thorn in my eye since we bought the house but this was the only way to get it right: strip down to the concrete and remove everything. And after fifteen years we finally had the guts and cash to do it.

This project took a lot of my time and energy to prepare. Calculate, plan, draw plans, find contactor and suppliers, get price quotes, study (plumbing isn’t my thing). Pick taps, sinks and shower from the catalogue. Shop around for a new kitchen and appliances. What color will the new floor be? Tough negotiating when your wife has a completely different taste. We hired a contractor to do the heavy work and supply the equipment but I helped out a lot and did all the electric work. Actually I took only one day off in five weeks before this weekend. Summer holidays my a##. But it’s a once in a lifetime project so I needed to get it right.

And now we have new floors everywhere except or the living room which we’ll tackle next year. We have new toilets and a big shower with modern tiles on the wall. The coming week the cabinet maker will install the new kitchen. The steam hood and the Madam’s Mega Furnace are up and running already. Glad to eat a freshly cooked warm meal again. And what a luxury to actually have a toilet and a shower again. I had to make the best of life without these things for two weeks. No comment.

So this is why there was zero activity coming from ON5ZO’s radio shack. I did some ham radio related stuff though. For the eight year already I checked the logs for the UBA DX contests (SSB + CW). Most things are automated and I even added a small improvement to the code to make the manual work easier. The code can track most bad QSO but there is a small fraction of contacts that needs to be checked by a human. It’s about 1000 QSO for SSB and 2000 for CW. That is less than one percent of the total contacts.  

I was also contacted by two people who claim they have a shoe box of QSL for me. One from my previous club and one from my current club. The first box got discovered by accident and must be standing there for a few years already. Add to that the huge backlog of QSO cards that I have here and I’m facing a boring and obsolete job.

And there is a stack of four unopened QST magazines waiting to be read too. I really drifted far away from the hobby.

What’s wrong with ham radio? Nothing, but sometimes you need to step away from it to see it.

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