Wednesday September 8, 1999 I took an early train to Brussels. Nervously among blaring white collar commuters. Almost anxiously looking for the offices of the Belgian telecoms regulator. I was prepared but you never know. The reason for my visit to the capital was my first ham radio licensing test. Not that I intended to become an active ham. And what is a DXer anyway? Just like contesting, I had no clue it existed let alone what it was. Passing the test was my only purpose.
I was young and stupid me felt like he had to prove something. A few of my (ex) co-workers at that time were hams. Or they just had a license and a callsign. Since I graduated in the RF branch of electronics, it seemed only natural I passed this test. Only to boast that I had passed that test. And passing I did. This test granted me a VHF license (50 MHz and above). A few weeks later I made my first local contact on VHF as ON1DRS. It was November 6,1999 at 6PM local time. I still have the Word doc I used as a logbook. I set up the TR-9130 on my parent’s veranda because I had yet to convince my dad to drill holes through the wall and run a coax inside. The contacts themselves didn’t mean much as it was local chit chat. But I do remember the feeling and the vibe. I was talking to people. Wireless. With my own means. And a homebrewed 2m GP mounted on a tripod. I was hooked.
I made eighty QSO as ON1DRS before the TR-9130 completely died in June 2000. I just waited a few months for the next Morse code exam to start using the TS-850 on HF. Passing was important because there were only two sessions each year then. Also the theoretical exam was held only twice a year. Not passing meant waiting at least another six months.
It took a while to ramp up my ham career. One year later I did my Morse code exam and got HF privileges. That boosted the radio activity. The rest is history.
I knew I had written about this before. I had to look it up but it makes sense I posted this 5 years ago: 10 years as a licensed ham: from ON1DRS to ON5ZO
Five years, fifteen years. Time flies. And it has achieved a scary speed by now!
On the side, something to file under miscellaneous. During two of my three years studying electronics, the RF classes were taught by a licensed ham radio operator. But he never told us about the hobby. Imagine that. Graduated cum laude as an RF technician not even knowing people did this for a hobby. I had to find out he’s a ham after graduating and getting into the local ham scene.
Looking back, I feel this is a missed chance. Year after year he had at least twenty and maybe more possible hams. I can’t remember how many graduated in the RF class on average. But it was popular at the time. Young men and even the odd woman, in their early twenties who had picked RF and telecommunications voluntarily as their specialization in electronics. So I guess it’s safe to assume they had at least a minor interest in RF. I know I had.
Last week my summer holidays came to an end. Summer by calendar, not by weather. July was mediocre but still FB compared to a cold and wet August. I’ve been working on a simple antenna project for three weeks now. Basically it’s just a wire (teaser for future item here). An afternoon project, maybe less if all goes to plan. But each time I gear up to take it outside, it’s either raining cats and dogs, or there’s thunder roaring. Very predictable but this week, the first week of the new school year, has been warm, dry and calm. So I thought: why not hang up the wire and see if it works on Friday afternoon? You guessed it: chance of showers and even a local thunderclap *sigh*. Two weeks ago I did three small walks with the dog on one day. Each time I left with a dry blue-ish sky and returned wet after twenty minutes.
Looking back I haven’t done much. Still I didn’t sleep or slack but I didn’t do much work. Mostly playing or walking with the kids. Sometimes voluntarily, sometimes under light pressure. I spent most if not all of my spare time from March to end of June working in the garden. I’m very happy with the result. My plan was to do nothing but ham radio in summer. And lots of BBQ. I did three grill parties in July and one the first week of August. Apart from that it was more hot tea and steaming stew weather. Ham related I only did the 80/160 antenna and three contests. Three? Two and a quarter. Both IARU and EUHFC were done in style but for WAECW I didn’t had the courage this year. When working my ass off in spring after being forced to skip many contest due to hard winds and storm, I vowed to be on the air almost daily during my holidays. To make a bunch of contacts here and there. I ended up logging ZERO contacts apart from the three contests. Culprit was of course the WX with almost constant ‘chance of lightning’ so I didn’t even bother to connect the coaxes. Why do so if you only need to unscrew or unplug everything a few hours later. Or in the middle of the night.
I also did a small construction project for a fellow ham. Per his request I won’t elaborate about it. It involved heavy metal, a winch and a hinge. And some drilling and welding. Quite satisfactory indeed.
I’d almost forget I used to actually be an active contester. To my surprise I ended quite high in the WPX SSB this year. Second place in the tribander class. Of course I am no match for stacked long boom monobanders and power splitters in three dieactions at once. But there you go: in my own little league and with no particular effort, I ended up #2. I didn’t even remember I participated in that contest. I claimed 1300 QSO and got credit for 1293. That’s 99.46% accuracy in a serial number contest.
And recently the YODX guys sent me an electronic certificate for their 2013 contest. Courtesy dictates that I’d be on this year too. With the tower nested and the tribander only at eight meters, I made 348 contacts. It always amazes me that with the tower low you can still have some fun (even with the big amp off and 500W out of the small amp). But nothing beats the antenna high up, the low band wires in place and calm WX with magnificent propagation. Let’s see what fall brings?
One of the first and probably the only ham radio related job I did this summer was to refurbish the 80/160 dual band ground plane antenna. Six weeks later and I can’t remember why on earth I replaced a working antenna. My DRAM will refresh itself as I type this.
When I had my tower installed ten years ago, I was so glad to finally hear and work things above 10MHz that I didn’t bother for the low bands. I had a decent short loaded vertical dipole antenna for 40 so I only missed the fun on 160 and 80. Fun? Who cares about those hard noisy bands? But then I wanted to take the contesting experience to the next level. So I needed to get active on the low bands. An inverted V on 80 with the apex as high as the tower was cranked up. That kinda worked. Everything works when you’re starting out on a band. For 160 I used whatever wire I could squeeze in and fed it with the SG-230 autotuner. Then came QRO and I needed a solution without the 200W max black magic box. Black magic or black box?
Early in 2006 ON4AFU offered me a 80/160 trap with RG-58. He didn’t use it anymore. I think I worked my first US on Top Band with that. Nope, I just checked and my first Whiskey on 160 was K1RX in the ARRL DX CW 2005. On 3830 for this contest I said about the low bands: ‘an inverted L with some radials fed with a SGC-230 coupler for 80/160m.’ There you go. I left the inverted V path earlier than I remembered.
The trapped vertical was a bit of an odd creation. I used my old trusty aluminium push up mast to get to a height of 10 or 11 meter. The rest was horizontal making it a trapped inverted L. I think the radials were laid out temporarily on the ground during the contest. I got away with that because there were no kids yet. Anyway that flimsy trap thing soon broke and I needed to find a solution. I was determined to go vertical on 80. One thing I learned the hard way was that I could not put up two low dipoles for 160 and 80 on the same pulley on the tower. They interacted like hell. Putting these up at right angles was out of the question because the garden is too small. As long as I was running 100W the smarttuner would turn things to 50 ohm on both 80 and 160. So making a vertical for 80 that did not need to use the tower for suspension would free that resource for a 160 dipole. But first things first. Let’s get vertical on 3.5 MHz.
I adapted the trapped inverted L design. First I need to get as high as possible. The aluminium push up mast only takes me to 10m. I had salvaged a piece of the famous DK9SQ fibre glass poles. To combine these I had a Ertalon (nylon?) coupling piece made on the lathe that went into the upper aluminium tube and where the fibre glass section would slide over on the other end of the coupling piece. That took me to 16m. The rest was floating horizontally to a pole on the edge of the garden, making it effectively an inverted L. Now for the radials. The temporary ‘just throw ‘m on the ground’ configuration would most certainly result in an XYL no-no. Which is only normal. I initially sold this as experimental to get spousal approval. So for the first time I made use of elevated radials. I calculated the length of a 80m dipole, and put these two legs in the hedge that borders my garden. That is roughly two and a half meter high. Then I adjusted the L wire until resonance. I had never used such a good antenna on 80. It rocked. I really worked great. So good that my QRO made me an alligator on 80. A problem that still persists to this day.
But this behemoth was a pain to put up. Sometimes literally painful. Squeezed fingers and a sore arm. The fibre glass pole, the L wire and the seven aluminium push up sections. The combined weight! It needed to be pushed up by hand. One hand would hold the bottom section while the other hand would slide out the next section. Then the upper part needed to be held steady while the first hand tightened the collar to hold two sections together. Repeat six times. The higher it gets, the heavier it becomes. All this while standing on a small ladder because the lower tube is two meter long. Really a pain. And when it’s windy and the sections are waving in the wind, the aluminium sections would jam because they would get slightly bent. Yanking it sometimes made the upper section slide back down. Sometimes then the collar would smash my thumb of the hand that held the lower section in place. I can assure you that doing this only was worth the while because it was such a great antenna and because us contesters are just plain nuts. Anyway I used this for a couple of years and worked many real DX on it.
To complete the antenna farm, I bought a set of loading coils for 160 and converted the old 80m inverted V. SWR 2:1 bandwidth was just right to cover most of the DX action. That again was a huge improvement and once again the DXCC counter incremented every contest. I could even do SO2R on both low bands now!
But not only the contest part of the QTH improved. We did a lot of changes and in summer 2009 we would complete the biggest project so far. That is: remove all old cracked concrete the previous owners had poured and dubbed the terrace. It looked like a scale model to demonstrate plate tectonics. We removed six (!) truckloads of reinforced concrete and made a flat and levelled terrace with modern concrete tiles. That summer we also had the roof and the overhang totally redone. In a trendy colour nonetheless. Out with the old, in with the new. Quite a costly endeavour but I’m proud to say the makeover made our house look more modern and less shabby.
Without the XYL even mentioning a word about it, I decided that my new terrace and garden look would not be desecrated with a bulky galvanized support that had moss covered concrete blocks as a base, and a bunch of aluminium tubing and fiber glass fishing poles. That had to go. Yet I did not want to give up the 80m GP antenna with two elevated radials. This thing was just too good. Since the new terrace and ground levelling around it involved redoing a part of the lawn, I decided to use the best of both worlds. That is: have the inverted L with elevated radials. But use the big crank up tower as a suspension point. That would mean that when the tower is all the way up, it would be almost a vertical full size on 3.5MHz. I put a nice thick wooden pole in a corner of the lawn. It’s 10 cm in diameter and sits almost a meter deep anchored in quick cement. The pole blends in with the terrace, the hedge and the scenery. The top is about two and a half meter high, maybe three. That’s where the elevated radials connect to the feed point and the 80m wire goes up.
It was so much easier to pull up a rope to raise the antenna wire to the top of the tower where there is a pulley. No more pushing weights with the aluminium sections. No more strained muscles or smashed finger nails. Also the tower does not swing in the wind. If the wind were so hard it would made the tower swing, I wouldn’t crank it up in the first place. The fibre pole did swing even in a gentle breeze. While swinging the antenna wire would sometimes touch the conducting aluminium sections and cause the amp to trip and the wire’s insulation to melt. One Monday my neighbour asked me why he had seen sparks high up on my antennas the nights before. Later on I made an assembly to prevent that and keep the wire away from the aluminium pole but it only added extra weight to lift. But not anymore!
Somewhere along I bought the notorious MFJ-998. The plan was to use the 80m antenna, lengthen it somewhere halfway between 80 and 160 and use this QRO tuner to get the wire working on these two bands. I tried many things while running this experiment and anxiously altered many parameters in this antenna system to get it all working. I did so many things that I forgot most. What I did try was adding tons of ferrite at the feed point and much more elevated radials. So from the wooden pole there were a dozen of wires between 20m and 50m long running to all corners of the garden. High enough to walk under at all times. This was a bit of a pain as all these radials were always in the way when holding or throwing something in the air. Like a Frisbee. Or a ladder. Every year I needed to get them out of the way to trim the hedge to put them back up afterwards. And of course each and every time someone came to visit us, the same old joke got told: the XYL’s laundry must dry pretty fast with all these clotheslines. Hilarious.
I had so much faith in the electronics of the QRO tuner placed remotely in a cabinet at the feed point and really believed this would solve all my problems. But it never worked as a whole and I retired the QRO autotuner. After so many years and doing so many things, I forgot the details. In the end I seem to remember it turned out to be a water soaked coax at the feed point. Stupid me never checked that and trusted the part of the system that was used and that had been working fine before. But the extra radials stayed and I decided that resonance or at least ‘native 50 ohm’ was the way to go. I’d to the smart tuning from now on.
What if I could ‘dualize’ this proven single band 80m concept for 160 combined with 80? I could parallel a second wire for 160. I would need a second pulley for the 160 wire. I would need to find a way to shorten the 160m L because the garden is not wide enough. I put a second arm with pulley on the top of the tower. I folded the ends of the 160 L back along the wire that came from the tower, making it linear loaded. Used 50cm lengths of electric conduit as spacers. I made a plastic spacer strip to keep both wires apart at the common feed point. In the end it was a crazy system: lots of wires floating above our heads. I had a hard time trying to explain to non-ham visitors that they are not clotheslines. Apart from these there was also the two wires going up the tower, one so long that it had to be folded back. Two pulleys and also two ropes to pull up the wires. Crazy but it worked. It worked well. The only two tradeoffs were sacrificing SO2R on 80/160 as the antennas shared a common coax, and the whole circus of taking the radials out of the trees and putting them back in after the yearly round of shaving the hedge.
Along the way I had made a temporary experimental feed point assembly. But as it happens here at ON5ZO’s, temporary often becomes permanent. Another important factor here is the field day character. For each contest I need to crank up the tower and hoist the low band wires up in the air. But many contests don’t have 160. So why add another load to the tower, why risk another copper wire spaghetti when the band isn’t used in the contest I’m about to enter? I could just leave it coiled up under the wooden pole. But since the end of the wire is still connected to the feed point, this messes up the 80m operation. So I need to disconnect the 160 terminal from the feed point. Each and every contest. Standing on a ladder. First both wire terminals shared a common bolt. Removing 160 would mean the 80 terminal jumped away and needed to be put on again. Where did that washer go? Where did the nut fall? Later on I gave each wire a dedicated bolt. Using a wing nut for the 160 cable shoe so I didn’t need a wrench anymore. All very complex isn’t it? A fixed setup would be so much easier. Just flip the switch, put butt in chair and call CQ TEST. No more field day style. No more wire and rope spaghetti. But better this than no tower at all.
So the plan for this summer was:
- See if there is a way to return to two sets of resonant radials.
- Make a more beefy feed point assembly. Although my quick ‘n dirty temporary fix was already OK.
- Provide extra choking with off the shelf QRO balun.
- Make adding/removing the 160 wire easier.
- Do something about the pigeons and especially their excrements; pole = no go zone for birds.
- Test extensively in the three major contests (IARU, EUHFC and WAECW).
Plan executed as in the picture. The radials for 160 need to be bent.
I put a temporary dipole centre piece on the pole. Cut two lengths of wire to form a dipole for 3535 resonance. Theory says these will need to be shorter if they’re close to the ground. Shiver me timbers! I had to cut them way shorter for the antenna analyser to show resonance on the desired frequency. But I achieved resonance. Then add the next set for 160. Again I had to cut a big deal off. I didn’t take notes and seven weeks is too long ago but I think it was 70% of the normal theoretical length or even shorter. Radials are between two and three meters high. For 160 I achieved a dip around 1835 but not really a low SWR. And the second set of radials (160) did not affect the first pair’s (80) resonance.
I did a quick test with the tower raised. The WX was superb. Of course, no where near a contest. The length of the old wire for 80 was still spot on and the antenna analyser showed a perfect dip around the desired frequency. The SWR graph and X and Z values were about the same across the CW portion as in the old setup so it should work.
For 160 the wire was too short now. My initial plan was to lengthen the linear loading at the end of the L. But then I needed to alter the loading assembly I made. Why not just cut the vertical wire and add some extra there? I think I added a good two meter of wire. I used one of the handy dandy gimmicks found plenty @ON5ZO: a piece of plexi (acrylic) strip, 4 cm by 20 cm or so with four holes sized the diameter of the antenna wire. I use these as end insulators, parallel dipole spreaders and now also as cable splices. The cable goes through one hole over the other side back into the other hole and makes a strain relief that doesn’t let loose and doesn’t harm the insulation. The strip itself never breaks, never bends and is weather resistant. Just don’t cut it with an angle grinder with a thin cutting disk. The stuff melts into a blob. The hacksaw is the way to go. Better is the sheet metal cutting press if you have access.
To join the wires I used some electric cable splice connectors. The manufacturer did a demo at work a few months ago and I got a few free samples. I bet the sales rep will never think of this application for his product. Unless he is a ham. The splice itself and the connecting block is covered with quite a few layers of electrical tape around the plexi strip.
I had now achieved resonance on both 80 and 160. The SWR curve was what was to be expected. Less broad on 160 than before so I assume this means less losses? I just maintain a simple blog and don’t write low band antenna books so I’m not an expert. Fact is that this is the best I can do for Top Band and it is what it is. If it’s as good as the previous version, I’m happy. If better then I’m happier. If worse then I can always go back to the ‘many radials of random length’ setup.
Feed point assembly
I decided to add extra choking. There is already a huge amount of ferrite cores over the coax at the feed point terminal. A few years ago, when I had problems getting the system to work, I had Peter of DX-wire.de make me a ridiculously long custom Teflon coax choke with tons of ferrites. But I wanted more. Since spare time is scarce I have to make choices. So no homebrew balun. A few years ago I traded my dollar bills for a BalunDesigns.com choke. Great stuff but this time I didn’t want to spend more on shipping and custom duties than what the actual balun costs. So I decided to buy a ON7FU balun. If ON4HIL / OT2A is happy with ON7FU stuff, I probably will be too.
The balun is one thing, but I wanted the wires not to connect directly to the balun case for mechanical stability. And I needed to observe the 160-quick-disconnect rule. So I connected the radials to a 5 mm thick aluminum angle stock. And the 80/160 wires to another. Both were joined with a piece of kitchen cutting board plastic. The hot and cold terminals so to speak were connected to both aluminum angle profiles by means of 20 mm wide aluminum strips. I could have used a wire but this looked nicer. I don’t know if low inductance connections matter at these low frequencies? But this will probably be low inductance. All nuts and bolts are stainless and on each connection the proverbial liberal amount of Penetrox is used.
I used two bolts, one for 80 and one for 160. If I want to disconnect the 160 wire, I only have to loosen one nut. I used a second counter nut on the 80 terminal as this one is not supposed to get disconnected. For strain relied as the wire is pulled up towards the top of the mast, I simply turn the wires two times through the cutout hole that is the top of the cutting board. This way the 160 wire comes off in a breeze too. I had to perform this action between EUHFC which includes 160 and WAE which is without Top Band. I just need the ladder and a wrench size 10. It takes only a few minutes. With the recent garden makeover the ground there is levelled and compacted so the ladder doesn’t sink in the soil anymore. Added bonus for the field day style antenna czar.
Stop that pigeon! Yankee Doodle Pigeon likes my big wooden pole. Result: a layer of excrements on the antenna feed point and on the ground. Trees enough. Even overhead electrical lines. Go sh!t there pigeons! So I added a little extra and since then I haven’t seen a single pigeon landing on my pole.
The last part of the plan has proven a bit problematic. So far I used the antenna in the IARU and EUHFC contests. I can’t tell if the antenna worked, and what’s more if it outperformed my old setup. Or not? Low band conditions were poor. QRN, static and noise were omnipresent in full force. And it’s not the time of the year for low band operations. Using it in WAE could have told me something more. That’s a DX only contest and I’ve come to know what (not) to expect in this contest during August summer doldrums. But as you might know my participation in this one was limited to 100 Q on twenty and fifteen meters. So I’ll have to wait until the contests in October for less summer QRN. Maybe that’ll tell me something more.
While I was at it, I made a solution for a problem. I hope a picture really tells more than a thousand words.
Picture above. Now the thousand words.
So on top of the tower there is an arm with a pulley. That pulley is used to hoist another pulley (small auxiliary pulley) with a rope. Why the aux pulley and not just pull of the L wire itself? Because ON5ZO is not a ‘set and forget’ station. Each contest means putting the whole shebang back up. No matter how you attach that wire to the rope on a crank up tower, it’s always going to get stuck somewhere and jam. Maybe the vertical part of the L is too long and slack wire needs to be pulled to the horizontal side? Or vice versa. But with the second pulley to guide the antenna wire, it can just slide along in all directions you want to pull it. That works just fine.
But cranking the tower up and down means the lifting rope gets twisted around its own axis as you coil the rope up to keep it nicely waiting for the next contest. And when I pull the auxiliary pulley up, the rope untwists itself again by turning the other way round. This means that the aux pulley also twists around its own axis. And this movement in turn tangles up the blue L wire. When it’s tangled up around the pulley, it can no longer slide freely in either direction. That means I need to lower the pulley, straighten the antenna wire and repeat until it works. The first time the auxiliary pulley jammed and I didn’t know why. You can’t see the wire coiling up twenty one meters high. Maybe I should hop on the drone bandwagon and film my stuff in the air? After a dozen times I more or less know how to handle it to minimize the effect. But it would be nice to have a way to just lift the pulley by pulling the rope and not having to worry about the wire tangling up.
Maybe by now you understand a little better that ‘setting up for the contest’ for me really is a matter of keeping an eye on many things each and every contest weekend. Long live the ARRL 10m contest! No low band wires needed.
The solution of course is to make sure that the aux pulley does not rotate when the rope that hoists it rotates. I did this (see picture) with two eye bolts and a scrap piece of Ertalon. I didn’t even care to debur it. The picture shows the auxiliary pulley which carries the 160m L wire. The new drill press I recently bought made it easy to drill a hole straight through. The bolt with the hook is tightened against the white block. The other eyebolt can turn freely in the plastic block. This gets attached to the hoisting rope. When this rope (un)twists, the bolt turns idle in the plastic block but the bolt holding the pulley for the wire doesn’t rotate. So the wire doesn’t get coiled up anymore. Used three times already (test + IARU + EUHFC) and it really is a perfect solution to a problem that has bothered me quite a lot.
Note: I know that there are small pulleys with an eye that rotates 360° relative to the pulley’s wheel. You can just buy these. Heck I have one or two of these in use somewhere on the auxiliary poles and towers that hold the ends of the low band wires. But I just wanted to use the pulley I had in stock.
Congratulations if you made it to the end of this text and read it all. Even if diagonally. 73!
I bought a new computer. That could suffice for a posting. But you know me. Never shy of things to tell. For the archives.
When we moved here in spring 2003 I decided to do justice to the new shack with a new PC. I left the old vintage 1998 Win98 machine at my parent’s place. It was a Big Tower case and I wanted something compact to put on the operating table. On top of the table you say? Yes but it soon took a plunge below the desk. It’s a long time ago so I don’t really remember the details but I did a performance comparison between the then current Intel and AMD CPUs. For equal specs the AMD was way cheaper. We just bought a house and I needed to build a station so I bought the cheap AMD. The vendor said the AMD CPU was just fine. I used Win XP for the first time too. My employer at that time still had NT Workstations. Soon I had problems with the PC freezing. The vendor said AMD was notorious for heat problems so he advised me to buy a supplemental fan and put it in the case. That indeed solved the problem. Why did he tell me the thing would run fine when he comes up with the heat issue and the fan solution right away? It made my PC noisier than a vacuum cleaner. Hence I put it below the desk. And lost faith in the vendor.
A few years later the computer started freezing again. Not really the problem you want to run into during a contest. Google told me that many main boards made in a specific era developed bad electrolytic capacitors over time. Poor quality components, Made in YouKnowWhere. Sure enough the caps on my PCB suffered the symptoms described. The top looked like a dull cracked dome in stead of a flat shiny surface. I bought a set of replacement caps. These did not come cheap I remember. I replaced the bad caps. Soldering a complex PCB like a PC main board didn’t quite appeal to me. But I had accumulated a lot of soldering experience in my previous life as an electronics service techie. Even on multilayer boards from fancy RF T&M equipment I could settle the loan for the house with. Or at least half of it. So I reckoned there was nothing lost except the caps if the experiment didn’t succeed. The soldering job was only partially a success. The PC still worked but it also froze sometimes so I ended up doing an upgrade: new MB, CPU and RAM and put that in the same case. And moved from XP Home to Pro.
But even this one grew old and slow. XP SP3 and new software became more demanding. By then the XYL had retired her old PC and settled for a laptop. It was a low end AMD. I must say that the heat problem got solved for the AMD products. It was a relatively beefy system for its price. I ran a piece of diagnostics software on both my Intel Dual Core and the AMD and it turned out the AMD system had a better chance of running Win7. Or at least all drivers were available for this system to run the old hardware with the new software. If I combined the RAM of both machines to 6MB it was even worth to migrate to 64 bit. And so I did. I put in a DVD writer/reader since most install disks are DVD nowadays and not the old CD-ROM. I also mounted a solid state HDD in it to see what the buzz was all about. I think the MB was too old to really make the most of the new fast SATA interface. Later on I bought a dedicated graphics adapter so I could hook up two screens. This system has worked fine in my shack for almost three years. But this system is vintage 2007 so in some cases it had a rough time and I don’t want to run out of resources in a contest.
This old system had also developed a nasty problem. The CMOS battery needed a replacement. At first I didn’t notice but the computer started acting strange. Like Chrome reporting invalid certificates for sites I visited the day before. Google revealed that it could be caused by invalid dates. Sure enough, my clock showed the wrong date and time. Luckily I wasn’t doing a contest. Since the clock didn’t synch right away on booting, I absolutely had to do that before logging real contacts. On a few occasions when testing some things, I realized I kept forgetting to synch the clock. It would synch itself over NTP when the PC was running but that took a while. So I put an ASCII file on the desktop “don’t forget to adjust clock” and put a shortcut to that in the Startup folder. That way I would see my note to self each time the PC booted up. Soon after it got worse. The computer wouldn’t boot anymore because the date was invalid. Each time I had to dig into the BIOS and adjust the date and time. Cumbersome.
So I bought a new computer. My first plan was to do an upgrade again. Motherboard, CPU and RAM. But as the PC really does a nice job for simple light work, I wanted to give it a second life somewhere. The MB/CPU/RAM combo alone would just be accumulating dust for a few years to end up in the recycle bin. So I bought everything but hard disk and graphics card. These two parts I would move from the old PC. That one would return to on board VGA and some old SATA HDD I have here. I was looking for an i5 CPU but settled on an AMD 8 core CPU and 8 MB of fast RAM. Since I only run N1MMLogger and peripheral stuff plus a browser in the shack, I figured this would be enough for a while. One reviewer who bought the processor mentioned it comes with a noisy CPU cooler. For a moment I was browsing the online seller’s CPU cooler section looking for the quietest model available. But then it hit me: two amps and two switched mode power supplies have forced me to buy the most isolated and sealed headphones on the market. What harm can a little noisy CPU cooler do?
When the box got here I was in for a surprise: new cases have the power supply placed at the bottom. I had never seen this. Won’t this suck all particles and dust from the floor straight into the PSU? Also the new modern power supplies look a lot different than the ones I remember from twenty (twenty five?) years ago. On the other hand documentation both in print supplied with the parts and online is so much better nowadays. I started putting the components together and soon I concluded that I had bought a cheap low budget case. Actually that was not the conclusion, that was a fact right from the start. The real conclusion was that once again you get what you pay for. Soon the system was ready but since there was no on board VGA, I could not test it. I needed to remove the graphics card from the shack PC that was about to be retired.
That was a bit of a problem. Recuperating parts and especially formatting the SSD would mean there is no way back. What if it didn’t work? That was the week leading up to the EUHFC contest. Can’t risk ending up without a PC the day before a nice contest. So I decided to wait till after the WAECW contest ten days later. But as summer 2014 has offered us a lot of rainy days, I made the best of such a drowned day and went for it. The PC was now ready. I hooked it up to the two screens and hit the start button. Nothing happened. Really nothing. Not a LED blinking, not a fan moving. Even no sparks nor smoke.
Since absolutely nothing happened and you have to start troubleshooting somewhere, I took a look at the header on the main board where the power and reset buttons from the front panel connect to. I couldn’t see those anymore because they’re clogged by the graphics card. That’s what you get with a cheap case. Everything crammed together in a tight space. So out with the video adapter. I took my magnetic LED torch for some ‘enlightenment’ and found at least some metal in the case. I removed all wires and reconnected them. It’s not easy, these little things that should slide over a small pin, in the dark. My big hands blocked the light and my fat fingers had troubles connecting things in the right place. When I thought I was good, I plugged the video card back in and hooked it all up for another test.
This time the fan started buzzing right away. So I might have pulled a wire loose when installing the graphics adapter. When I crawled from underneath the desk I already saw things appear on the screen. Everything from there went as planned. Downloading all drivers, updates, patches and necessary software was good for 2.8 GB that day alone. My daily average is 500MB.
So I bought a new computer. Its maiden trip was my brief excursion in WAECW last weekend. That worked. CW always works. Strangely enough SSB voice keying seems to work too right away. I disabled all on board sound devices. I never listen to music or watch movies in the shack. I exclusively use the MK2R+ USB sound devices for SSB and digital modes. Now I still need to spend countless frustrating hours to get RTTY to work. Some people refer to that as RTTY Stress.
Rather: NO WAE CW 2014.
I was going to start with the expression ‘You can’t win ‘m all‘. Which is inappropriate because I haven’t won any DX contest. Apart from the UBA DX contest. But no DX-DX contest. Sometimes you have to let it slide. No matter how bad you want something. There are these days or contest weekends when the stars are not aligned.
The week leading up to WAE CW this year was incredibly hectic. And without going into detail: emotionally loaded. Both in a good way and in a bad way. And of course the forecast was not helping by using phrases like ‘warnings for parts of Benelux mainly for tornadoes, large hail severe wind gusts and excessive precipitation’, or ‘parts of Benelux and Germany mainly for severe wind gusts’. That was for Friday night to Saturday. One might argue that forecasts are what they are but I must say that the sources I usually consult have been pretty darn spot on over the last eight months. I have always lived by the adage that it’s better to be safe than to be sorry. So I decided to keep the tower where it was: cranked up one level. And sleep the first night to let the bad WX move on. A good night sleep is well spent off time.
Saturday morning I took my time to get into contesting mode but it was only the ‘light’ version thereof. I finally made it into the shack by 6AM UTC. Forty was empty but I had some pretty good US signals on the 20m band. KU7T, one of the N1MMLogger dev team was my first QSO and good for 9 QTC right away. Woohoo still got this QTC thing mastered with no training. Regular contester and WAE specialist N3RS was next with ten QTC.
I played for about two hours but then the fun was gone. Why? Well: what to think of the following lingo for Sunday? ‘Tornados may be produced from embedded mesocyclones in a linear system or from discrete supercells ahead of the line. An isolated strong tornado may occur’. Don’t ask me what an embedded mesocyclone is. But I do know a tornado. The simpler yet official WX pages (not some panic spreading bozo) talked about bad weather and strong winds and possibly thunderstorms. They had it right for Friday evening. There were two local events with lots of damage caused by extreme and sudden wind phenomena. Tornado or not, it was predicted and it did occur. Granted it was hundred kilometre away but still. The warning was general. So the forecast for Sunday combined with the mood I was in, made me decide to quit. I went outside to work on a construction project. That helped me to unwind just a little bit. Later in the afternoon I played for two more hours on a very disappointing 15m band. Last QSO was K7RL at 1658 UTC and good for another batch of ten QTC. But the band was miserable. At least I got the impression.
By this time I had established four things:
- The latest update for the new N1MMLogger soon to be published made for a working QTC interface. I owed it to N2AMG to test it after all the hard work he successfully did.
- The sun offered us what seemed to me a sneak preview of what’s to come. Forget 10 and be glad to work at least something on 15.
- My brand new shack PC seems to work.
- I was not in the mood for contesting.
- Maybe a fifth thing but that’s off the record: It might be time to have my eyes checked and wear glasses to look at computer screens. OFF THE RECORD. Totally.
Before sunset I took the tower down and disconnected all coax and other cables. It was a calm night (of course!) and rather a nice morning (of course!). But as Sunday morning turned into noon the weather quickly deteriorated. The wind picked up speed and gained in force and in the late afternoon it was so windy I was glad the tower was down. Not that it would have suffered damage but I wouldn’t have been comfortable with it. Apart from the strong wind at my QTH, there were severe thunderstorms over the country again. And Sunday evening another outbreak of what the media call a tornado but what weather experts describe as something else. Tomato – tomato.
Even as I type this two days later thunder is roaring over my head. For the second time today. I just heard on the radio that a huge festival tent blew away 100 km east from me during a sudden gusty storm burst. I think I’ll have to migrate this into a WX blog.
I want to make an entry for the records but I don’t have much time and quite frankly my mind is not really into typing stories. And hardly into ham radio. Too much going on with two kids and summer holidays. I’ve become the victim of my own success as a dad. These two rascals just want to be with me and do things with me. And on list of chores is piling up: too much to do or at least that should be done. And no enthusiasm to do many of these things. Thou shalt procrastinate! Roger that. Now about the contest.
As usual the nice weather of the days leading up to a contest weekend has to come to a violent end on Friday before this contest. And thus predicted the forecasts: violent thunderstorms on Friday night and possibly on Saturday. Misery loves company: the predicted thunderstorms were said to be accompanied by strong gales. Just what I need.
BTW typing these two first paragraphs took me 90 minutes. Two minutes typing, 88 minutes of looking up things and replying to emails. Actually just one email. Summer laziness. Short attention span. Plenty of ideas and plans each needing background information or research. Where was I? Oh yes, thunderstorms.
Usually I setup on Friday. Even better: usually the setup is already half done since I play DX during weekdays. Some WARC. Some nightly or sunrise fun on 10.1 MHz. Unfortunately not this summer. Quite frankly I’m a bit bored with it all. Have you seen the solar values drop dramatically? Besides there is tons of other stuff to do. Or just do nothing at all for a change. I’m learning how to do that. And with the continuous threat of lightning over the past six weeks, and the occasional thunderstorm effectively breaking out, all my wires and cables are disconnected. So besides the IARU contest I haven’t made a single QSO. Where was I? Oh yes, thunderstorms.
So I decided not to set up on Friday and wait until the latest forecast on Saturday. If some event forces you off the air in this twelve hour fast contest, it’s over. So I figured all or nothing. In stead of the usual field day activities outside, I went shopping for parts so I could work on a useful ham project while skipping the contest. I called the company and their answering machine said ‘warehouse open until half past four’. I hooked up the trailer and off I went. Once there they had put a paper on the gate: ‘annual leave until Monday the 3rd’. Why don’t they put that on their answering machine! Over one hour and 40km round trip wasted. And I hate driving. Especially with the trailer.
Friday midnight: Why can’t it always be like this? Perfect WX. No wind. No clouds. Lots of stars. Warm. Calm. All I heard was the monotonous roaring of the harvesters and the occasional tractor passing by while bringing a few tons of wheat to the mill. Heavenly scenes of the countryside at night.
Saturday morning – still undecided. There was a breeze with the occasional stronger puff but nothing bad. There were clouds but not of the dangerous looking type. There were showers to the left and the right according to the online radars but my place was dry. I played outside with the kids observing the skies. The morning forecasts talked about lighting and gales during showers but when and where? I decided to wait. OT1A texted me that he was ready to roll the contest. I replied I had put things on hold. Then he told me forecasts like this were BS. He didn’t actually use the word BS but his arguments made sense. Fair enough. I decided to go for it. It was two hours before the contest. I first did the ground work like laying out ropes and low band wires. Then it was time for lunch. The XYL did a great job preparing a cauliflower dish straight out of our own garden. Not the dish, but the vegetable. Then I raced out to crank up the tower and raise the two wires. Then connect all coax and control cables. When all goes to plan and when I can follow the script it all goes pretty fast by now. Then go upstairs and fire up the shack PC. A quick test: all antennas fine, SWR as expected. Forty minutes to go. Shower! Empty all internal human waste containers; a twelve hour span is doable without these kind of breaks. Take a bottle of water with me. Note to self: don’t drink it all or you will need a break after all. Land in the chair. Two minutes to go. Close browser windows. Set amp to 15. Bring the beta of the new N1MMLogger to the front. WHERE IS THAT F*ING SECOND ENTRY WINDOW? Seriously, where is it? Hey it’s contest time!!! Move some windows. It’s not there. Try opening it with the menu. Nope, no second entry window. Stop program. Restart. Nope, no second entry window. Hey it’s contest time!!! Try alt+tab? Nope. Hide / show program by clicking on its task bar item? Hey there I saw a glimpse of the window I need. It’s in the upper left corner under bandmap A. It should be in the lower right corner! I drag the window to fill the gap it left, adjusted the size accordingly and… GO! CQ Contest!
I knew propagation was only so-so and that the lighting across EU would rear its ugly QRN head. But it was even worse. I didn’t even try ten and had a slow start on fifteen. Signals were weak. My goal was 1200 Q. That has become more or less my standard: keep the rate over 100/hr. Crazy enough I seemed to manage just fine. As the hours passed I averaged 100/hr. One hour less but the next would make up for that. I looked up how I did last year. This will be hard to beat. Knowing that the low bands are problematic in this contest each year, it might be even worse with the QRN and the propagation. And this in turn might scare some people so participation would suffer. Nevertheless I kept moving on and the rate showed 100/hr.
There were thunderstorms all the time but just not in my area. ON6NL was right in it, and so he reported on 3830. Later on there was another front coming in from over France but it took the North Sea route. So once again, just like in IARU, I dodged the thunderstorms. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t affect me indirectly. QRN! Oh boy. It was doable on 40. It was a problem on 80. It killed me on 160. All those crashes. And just like in IARU I still have no way of telling whether the redesigned 80/160 antenna works better or worse. Very atypical low band situation.
Contradicting my expectations I managed to work 300 multipliers. And 1214 QSO. I didn’t think I would make it given the propagation. I actually thought I made a good appearance. I believe I was #6 in 2013. But two days later I have already been kicked out of the top ten on 3830. I looked up some of the big scorers and most have higher towers and bigger antennas. Maybe this isn’t a great location to shine in EUHFC? Who knows, who cares. It was fun!
Closing note: apart from the window issue, the brand new N1MMLogger performed GREAT. Just like in IARU. Many people have done many things to make this work and I’m glad and even honoured to be a small part in the big machine.
That has made me think (while learning to do nothing, can’t switch of the thinking yet): shouldn’t every active ham do at least one voluntarily thing for the ham radio community? To give something back. What do you do?
This project will breathe new life into the sport, it is a clear promotion for our beautiful sport to the big. audience.
Pigeon racingham radio contesting is gaining a new dimension.
Added bonus: cheaters will now be extra motivated and effectively have something to gain.
Wow, how long has it been that I could do a contest during the whole period with the full setup and put down a good result? It seems like ages. But it’s probably only since RDXC in March. Just to say that I really needed a success experience.
I’m not going to bring up the storms last autumn and winter again, and not talk about June’s field day tropical heat followed by thunderstorm drama. But it seemed I couldn’t catch a break for this one too. The forecast for this weekend mentioned thunderstorms. I closely monitored the forecasts. Friday through Sunday: thunderstorms. Wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t a contest weekend. As the week progressed it seemed my region would dodge the thunderstorms. Or at least the worst and most intense ones.
Last Monday was a nice day so I finished the new version of the 80/160 antenna. More on that in a next episode. Then it started raining. Everything between drizzle and intense showers for days on end. Not a single ray of sunlight seen. It was in the news today: a total of zero minutes of sunshine over a five day stretch. A record according to the national weather institute. So I decided to put my plans on hold until the very last minute. That’s Saturday 8 UTC, four hours before the contest starts. Updated forecasts mentioned isolated lightning during showers, no real storms and mostly over the eastern part. I live south to central. No strong winds.
Could it be that I am too afraid of this? I always hesitate to crank up the tower when they predict lightning. But what about those with fixed towers? Even higher than mine. Maybe I should think this over and assess the real threat. Chance of lightning is not the same as certainty of 80-100 km/hr winds. And an unguyed crank up tower is not the same as a free standing or guyed fixed tower when it comes to wind.
Anyway screw the WX and cross fingers. I want to contest! So I went outside to crank up the tower and put up the 80/160 wires. It was gray, misty and it was very damp. No real rain but still I got a bit wet. It felt and looked like a warmer version of WW SSB season. Or even WW CW. I remember WW SSB weekends when I was preparing in shorts and T-shirt under a blue sky. Just to say that summer on the calendar is not always summer outside. Setting up is a breeze after having done this so many times a year for a decade already.
The contest started and I began on 15. Ten meters was dead. I kept looking and trying but the sun decided to take out the highest frequency. I could keep the rates sustained over 100/hr with 15 and 20 alone. Twenty was still great when the sun set but I decided to put it on hold. I turned the antennas away from USA to Japan and hoped to work some Asian multipliers on their sunrise. That worked but soon the rate dropped and I wasn’t working five pointers but EU. Antenna back to 300° and run like crazy. For three hours. Twenty was open ‘fo sho’.
Then I decided it was time for the lower bands. Forty was OK but eighty? Oh boy. QRN and noise, static crashes. Maybe I should not use this contest to evaluate the new 80/160 antenna. I could not get a run going on 80 and had troubles copying. Most QRO Americans were quite hard to copy but the few WRTC callers were a pain. Sorry guys. I assume you were hearing my kW into GP but I had a problem hearing your 100W into low dipole through the QRN and noise. QRN and static crashes, I wonder where those comes from? Let me tell you.
In the mean time the online lighting detector I was keeping my eye on showed dots coming ashore from the north sea. Members of a WX group I follow (as a lurker) were reporting heavy thunder and lighting and intense showers in coastal villages. While the shower loaded with lightning still hovered over the North Sea I hoped it would stay there but it travelled inland. This was cramping my style! I had a hard time to focus as I wanted to keep a close eye on the track of dots representing strikes in order to shut down and unplug things when it reached my QTH. I was alone at home so I couldn’t ask the XYL to take a look outside. All thunderstorms arrive from the side of the shack where I don’t have a window. The following two to three hours the front moved inland to the east but stayed well north of me. I guess about 40-50 kilometres minimum. I was relieved and decided to celebrate by stirring the mult-casserole on 160. Shocker! Apart from static and a handful of HQ stations: no one there. Ouch. Then the lightning detector started painting dots on the map about 15 kilometres from here, leaving a short trail on a collision course with me. Gimme a break will ya! I was going strong and might improve my personal best so would a sudden lightning storm knock me out again? Twenty minutes later the dots disappeared. My excursion on Top Band had to end here too. With sunrise around the corner I decided to take a short break. I had made it through the night with good rates, I was having fun and I wasn’t tired. Wow! It seems I’m getting into shape again.
I hadn’t eaten a thing since the evening before. I was hungry. I didn’t even take a snack during the night. I only drank some H²O so right now I could eat a horse. I went downstairs and let out cat #2. Cat #1 is exiled from inside during the nights anyway because she always wakes me up. And while awake during a contest, she comes to annoy me. Like bumping into the Morse paddles. I ate a few slices of bread with cheese. Not much and nothing heavy. Yet I would soon regret this. About twenty minutes later my energy dipped and I felt very tired. I was good half an hour earlier, but hungry. Now I was fed but tired. Must be a blood sugar level thing? Not my area of expertise. The dip in energy is reflected in a dip in the rate. See 0300 utc in the graph.
Sunrise. A short run on 160 was a waste of time. No one there. Then 80. Useless. So I started running 40 and S&P 20 with the second radio. That small 500W amp for the other radio really does what I bought I for. Things were slow and this combined with being tired is a show stopper. See the 0500 hour bar. I even had a twelve minute black out in the operating chair. I stretched my legs, got rid of some body fluids, took a deep breath and attacked twenty meters while looking for goodies on forty. With only a dozen contacts on ten, I was glad to hear the band… well not open but less closed. The rate took a leap but it the burst was short lived. A good run followed on 15 with a slow hour where I didn’t know where to go as no one answered my CQ and I worked everything that was CQing. I was listening on radio 2 on ten meters and heard a W3 calling a EU HQ. HUH? That W3 was loud with my antenna pointing to central Russia. I knew what to do. Turn antenna to USA and hope that my signals are picked up there. See the last bar in the graph. It worked. A lot of WRTC stations started scanning ten meters too as I worked a few dozen in the last period.
Here’s a primer: I made over 2400 contacts in 24 hour. I always wanted to do this in either IARU or RDXC but always came short year after year. Today I pulled it off. Imagine if ten were open and the low bands would allow for reception?
Funny thing. I was running and looking for stuff to work on the other radio. I came across K7GM in my right ear but I noted I already worked him on that band. At the same time K7GM called me in my left ear.
What’s up with guys sending the weirdest numbers for their ITU zones? And insisting on doing so. Not even their CQ zone, just some number. Maybe a serial?
Numbers! 255 QSO on radio #2, that’s only 10%. Usually it’s 15-18%. Maybe because the runs on 15/20 were good and 80/160 were empty?
I made 128 contacts with WRTC stations. Worked 55 of the 59 teams at least once. I wonder who’s behind the 1×1 calls.
A couple of years ago, OT1A introduced me to the Pareto principle. Since then I have often applied this to the many obscure things I encounter while processing and checking the UBA DX contest logs. I think the ratio is even more skewed. 95% of my time is needed to fix 5% of the tampered logs or write extra code to handle these exceptions. I have ranted about this before.
I came across a LZ1 who had a NIL for a QSO with a RK9. In order to perform a cross check, my log checking software showed me a part of the RK9 log centred around the time the contact supposedly took place.
The RK9 log in my database showed:
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2225 RK9### 599 004 SP*** 599 221 QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2227 RK9### 599 006 SF*** 599 396
Where is QSO #5 with LZ1? So I opened the submitted Cabrillo file and behold:
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2225 RK9### 599 004 SP*** 599 221 QSO: 3500 CW 2014-O2-22 2226 RK9### 599 005 LZ1** 599 513 QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2227 RK9### 599 006 SF*** 599 396
What’s wrong with the line of QSO #5 in the Cabrillo file? I know. Do you see it? And more importantly: how on earth can this happen as long as you don’t mess with your log file? The RK9 log was made with TR4W. I can hardly imagine this logger randomly mutilates Cabrillo files?
I have made my code check the dates, and if it isn’t a valid date / time within the contest period, the contact is ditched and marked as ‘outside of the contest period’. I said it before and I’ll say it again: a few years ago there was actually a February 31 as the QSO date!!! However I seem to have assumed that dates would be numerical so my checking is actually too strict. Hence the code skipped the QSO.
I had already put in some code to handle serial numbers like ‘TNA’ for 091 which actually occur in the Cabrillo log files. Question is: is it my job to trap and fix messed up files, so in the end the guy who doesn’t even submit standard Cabrillo gets credit? Or does a corrupt log or a part thereof lead to decreased score? By all means a messed up log should not lead to loss of points in the other guy’s log.
I wonder how much of these things occur in all the logs combined. Not much, if any since I would have noticed this earlier. Most of the time, so except for this QSO, an automatically generated NIL is either a traceble busted call that gets flagged by the human checker (me) after the ‘robot’ checked the contacts that can be verified, or a true NIL. It just isn’t there.
Or it can be a cross band contact because one of both parties logged the contact on the wrong band. Yes that still happens in 2014. Then I need to compare both logs around the time the contact took place and see who is right and who is wrong. A human intervention is needed (me again). In most cases, by comparing the contacts, it’s clear who is right and who is wrong. Except when the contact is the running guy’s last contact before QSYing to another band that happens to be the band the S&P guy logged the contact on. Again the rule is: if a contact is not 100% proven bad, it counts. But this really is a 99.99% – 0.01% Pareto situation.
My field day antenna tinkering made me realize I have something with antenna tuners. ATU. Antenna couplers. Or remote automatic matching systems. Potato – potato. Tomato – tomato. That doesn’t work when you type it. But you know about what devices I’m talking. It’s the deus ex machina for people with antenna problems. It magically deals with weird impedances, one size fits all antennas, non-resonance – everything that does not present 50Ω to the transmitter or amplifier.
My first HF rig, the notorious TS-850, had an ATU on board. I’m surprised the tune button didn’t get worn out. I had an inverted V dipole cut for twenty meters. That’s the general advice offered to the newbie on HF: twenty is the place to be. Running barefoot with a 25-30 meter stretch of RG-58, and then hit ‘tune’ to get me some contacts on the other bands. Cycle 23 peaked and it worked above 10 MHz. It made the finals happy on 40 but it didn’t bring me much joy. The ATU even found a match on 80 but even a little RF power there turned on the hifi stereo and made the cassette deck play. Cassettes, go figure! That was a scary surprise the first time it happened. On Top Band the ATU didn’t find a match. But the rig’s ATU made the DXCC counter tick on the higher bands.
The more I got into basic DXing (I had yet to get introduced to contesting), the more I learned. I think I read every related website available back then, so to speak. I learned that manual external tuners not only have a matching network but more than often they also have a 1-to-3 switch on board. Since I managed to convince my dad to run another length of RG-58 through the house and between the roof tiles, that would be a nice solution for me: dipole, the 30m vertical I also managed to desecrate the parental lawn with and the homebrew dummy load.
A local ham offered such a tuner. The Kenwood AT-230. I bought it. I used it. It served me well when I was living at my parents. I already wrote a story about this tuner two years ago. It was a nice thing but I sold it a few years ago. At the same price I bought it! I didn’t need a manual tuner here anymore and it was just sitting on a shelf.
I didn’t need a manual tuner anymore because I bought an SGC SG-230. Somewhere in 2002 I guess, from a UK supplier. Again after much online reading. That thing was and still is pretty expensive so I doubted a long time. But I worked for a living and was still living with my parents then so spending money didn’t really hurt. That thing worked great too (eHam review to testify) and I still have fond memories of WAE CW 2002. Yes I got bitten by the contesting bug by then. I made a temporary 40m delta loop fed with this antenna coupler. Sunrise brought me ZL6QH there, totally impossible before from my parental peanut station. And a bunch of Californians. Those few real DX stations answering my 100W CQ on such a hard band as 40m (little did I know how easy 40 really is) with a simple wire, it was amazing. I still remember the feeling. But contesting is like a drug addiction: you always need to crank up the dose for the kick to remain as intense. A dozen years later, if I don’t work a 120 QSO/hr west coast pile up at sunrise, I’m not happy. So to speak.
Then I moved to here. My own personal contesting ranch. I built my station around a tower and swore by resonant antennas. The SGC coupler was still used to work my first DXCC on 160. Even USA. Again: getting out of EU on 1.8 MHz was a milestone. I even recall a brief experiment with an 80m delta loop here in WAE CW 2005. Fed with the ladder line I now use for field day. But that thing was too big for my taste. And I didn’t get to give it a real test. Now that I looked it up and read it (3830 report), I remember that T-storm. You see, I have always been plagued by the weather.
But then I changed my contesting style to QRO and the SG-230 was useless. We used it in 2006 for the OT1A/P field day activity. It sat in a box for years until I decided to sell it a few years ago. I effectively sold both the AT-230 and the SG-230. Both have served me very well and are really good devices. But they weren’t used anymore. I had always said that a SGC coupler that would take full QRO with the same ease would be a commercial hit. I’d buy one right away if it wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. In other words: unlike the system that was already available (link).
Then we did some work in the garden and on the terrace and I changed my 80/160m setup. It was time for a big performance jump to increase my contesting fun. Junky needs a bigger shot. I had come up with the plan to make myself such a QRO tuning device that would make a ground plane look like 50Ω on the two lowest bands. To make it easy, I started looking for a manual QRO tuner. High power rolling inductors and high voltage vacuum capacitors are expensive so why not just buy a tuner and motorize the dials? Then a Palstar 1500W tuner presented itself. I didn’t waste any time and bought it. It was a beauty. But:
“Of course soon after the purchase, when sobering up from the rush of having made the deal of the century, it dawned on me. I make many plans yet execute few. I envisioned the tuner packed in the box for a few years and then I’d finally decide to sell it. So I put it for sale online right away.”
I believe this is its new home since then. My gosh, 2008? Tempus fugit indeed!
I’m not sure about the dates anymore but in Autumn 2009 I gave it another go for the low bands and bought an MFJ-998. Yet another tuner! It handles 1500W according to the specs. It wasn’t cheap but not too expensive either. If this black box handled my low band matching needs, the investment was justified. There was no ‘remote outdoor’ unit available like they have now. So I hacked my way through the tuner and ‘remoted’ the tune button. That way the tuner was only inline with the 80/160 GP antenna, out of the shack and close to the feed point in a weatherproof cabinet. Still I could switch it on or off from the shack and had remote access to the tune button. Straight out of the box, I drilled a hole through the enclosure to bring my remote cable inside. Warranty void if buyer drills holes? I had mixed feelings about this one. It can find a match near resonance but it can’t handle really tough stuff. It was nice to use my CW tuned 80m antenna in the SSB part without fiddling with the wires. But it couldn’t get this thing to work on 160. So in the end this one too got an early retirement. I decided that the best match was resonance so I redesigned the antenna with two resonant wires, the 160 part being linear loaded. Once again I was able to find a buyer and cut the losses. But yet another tuner that cost me some money.
Since then everything was quiet on the tuner front. I settled for matched antennas. But one day someone offered an AT-230 for sale. Like the one I bought. Like the one I sold. The ad said ‘like new’. Do I need one? No. But I had some regrets about having sold it. It was purely a case of nostalgia. The price was the same as the one I bought a decade ago and as much as I sold mine for. So buying this one would financially restore the balance to the 2001 situation and would put one AT-230 back on the shelf. It has been there for almost two years, only to sense some RF last week in my attempted field day.
For this field day experiment I decided I needed a ‘smart tuner’. I evaluated all other options yet settled for an automatic antenna coupler. Yes I had one like this, maybe the best in its class. Yes I sold it because I didn’t use it anymore and thought that resonant antennas would be the way to go on field day. The SG-230 is still available but it costs a lot. But there is its brother that comes without weatherproof enclosure. The SG-239. It’s said to be the naked ‘230. You probably won’t believe it, but once I bought TWO of these at once. It must have been 2005 or 2006. My guess is 2005 because in January 2006 I bought an amp and took the QRO route in contesting. So why still buy 200W thingies then? I know because it’s the only two years I visited the notorious Friedrichshafen ham fair: 2005 and 2006. A major German dealer offered them at a bargain price. I think it was 230 Euro or so. Maybe less because I seem to remember I asked for a discount if I bought two. Back home I managed to sell one right away. No profit taken, as a close ham friend bought it. I bought a plastic food container with rubber seal to put the other one in. I remember I drilled the holes and put bolts with wingnuts through them as the wire terminals. I vaguely remember someone picking it up in the plastic container. So I must have sold it before the enclosure got finished. Geez, I really start a lot of projects and finish only few. And I have this buy-sell thing with tuners!
Anyway, field day. Smart tuner. Price difference between SG-230 and SG-239 is about 200 Euro. For a piece of plastic? I had a fitting enclosure in my huge stock of parts. Something I bought a long time ago for who remembers what project. Possibly a K9AY RX loop. It had some holes but I put aluminum blank panels inside, fixed with pop rivets. I sealed these from the outside with silicone. Make sure you have ‘neutral’ silicone because the rancid smelling vinegar based silicone is very aggressive to metals. Don’t ask me how I know. It makes brass turn green overnight.
So with the regained AT-230 and the new SG-239, I once again have two tuners. A classic manual tuned device and a remote automatic antenna coupler. Of the latter I still say: too bad SGC doesn’t make a real QRO model. The SG-230 and SG-239 are great tuners, and I trust them more than the MFJ-998 that I have used myself with mixed success. The reviews of the MFJ-998RT outdoor model aren’t unanimously positive either. All the rest is just very expensive. Quite frankly right now I don’t have the need for such a device either.
Me thinks I should leave tuners alone for now.