Still high on the CQ WW CW adrenalin rush I planned to hit hard in this one. Mixed mode, tower all up and use a lower second antenna to cover EU and Middle East. I had two weeks to make a simple two element yagi out of the parts I had from the three element. This antenna has been idling disassembled on the garage roof for a few years. It would be easy to mount it on the small aluminium mast with the tilt over system I made for June’s field day. I found an easy 50Ω direct fed design. I knew that the week leading up to this contest I would have quite some spare time to assemble the antenna and put it up. Finally some action for the power splitter I made a few years ago. I would squeeze every contact out of the band. It’s now or never for Cycle 24 and Ten Meter.
A rock solid plan. Except for the weather. It rained a lot after WW CW. The lawn is a giant mud pool on the dogs’ postman chasing trajectory. And the week leading up to the contest the wind speed picked up considerably. Even worse: Thursday and Friday the forecast mentioned gusts up to 90 km/hr. Some sources talked about more. Apart from the rain, which only came in periods and showers, these gales aren’t exactly the WX you want to put a yagi on a short pole to tune and match it. And then put it up a long aluminium pole on a plate anchored in the wet soil.
Thursday evening the gales showed up. Come Friday morning the wind was blowing really hard. Adapt to the situation. No second antenna then. Friday night the wind had gone completely. Strange how it can go from stormy to absolutely not even a breeze in just a few hours. But I don’t want to crank up the tower in the dark. You need to keep an eye on things. I’ll do it at dawn on Saturday then. Ten meters isn’t bound to be wide open from here right after sunrise.
Last year we had one storm after another. Somewhere end December 2013 I wrote: “Alas when checking the antennas in daylight this morning I immediately noticed the 40m rotary dipole had shifted a bit on the mast compared to the yagi.” I didn’t bother to realign it since the shift was visible but not like it was 45°. I really hate tilting over the tower and work on the antennas hovering a few meters above the lawn, while standing on a shaky ladder. I bring this up because I have the impression that Friday’s gusts have blown the 40m dipole back into its original position. My first reaction was: Good! Now I don’t have to tackle this problem anymore. But then it dawned on me: if the antenna shifts easily back and forth, it’s bound to either come totally loose or it will turn even more away from its desired position. Because the storm that caused the misalignment was a few levels worse than what we had on Friday. So if a lesser strong wind can push it back, I need to tighten it. Or modify the original mounting all together. It is not up to my own mechanical standards. I modified the yagi’s boom-to-mast system which is really strong. Anyway I put this job back on the to do list for this summer. Who knows what nature will throw at us the coming months.
Saturday morning, sunrise. I decided to forget about a massive raid on the ten meter band. I cranked up the tower just one level. This makes the yagi sit at 1.5λ on 28 MHz. Should be good for some casual fun. Back in the shack I heard CW signals. I went to SSB and that made me decide to stick to CW only. I don’t like SSB. Although the original plan was mixed mode. Just yet another change of the plan. The propagation didn’t seem fantastic but I had fun and after a few hours I logged 630 contacts. USA was well present but not many W6/7. Then the band died. Quite early but that gave me the time to play with the kids before bedtime.
Sunday morning. Signals sounded better. DX came in from the Far East. Plenty JA. Plenty means more than one. In fact I logged eighteen. A few Chinese and the usual ZL, VK, HS, VU. Not much but always fun. Even a ZB. Not DX from here but all the rarer. I don’t think I worked as many ZS in a single contest on a single band. Six to be exact and all on the back of the beam. I don’t think it was LP though.
Frequency fight! I was looking for a QRG to run. I halted on a spot for TM0R. I wanted to work him but he wasn’t there anymore. The place was silent. Two unanswered QRL? later I launched a few CQ and then TM0R returned. And claimed the frequency by suddenly CQing on top of me. It doesn’t work like that guys. I decided to sweat it out and no to fold. Soon after the QRG was mine. Or at least until I’d leave it.
By 10AM I decided to quit my run and prepare lunch. The XYL took the kids outside for some fresh air and I wanted to surprise here when they returned. After all she’s always alone with two little kids whenever I’m contesting. And since I was only in it for fun, these two hours before the hoped for opening to the USA wouldn’t make much difference.
After lunch I turned the yagi to 300°. The signals were stronger. I ran most of the time and only did a few short S&P sessions. After the two adjustments of the initial operating plan, I had lowered the estimation to 1200 QSO. Anything above 1000 contacts would not be a shame. With the counter showing about 1250 real contacts, I did more S&P since the band was really dying. An hour later than the day before but I knew it would fade away fast. When the counter showed 1300 real counting contacts and a score of 650000, I decided to shut down the shack and call it a day.
To conclude this posting I wrote a rather spicy rant about a Belgian clown that once again (!) displayed blatant abuse of self spotting on the DX cluster. I counted almost thirty occasions this weekend that I labelled ‘self spot’ from this cluster cowboy. But I deleted the paragraph because A) I have written about Belgians abusing cluster spots in the past and it always brought some less friendly mail into the inbox. “Who the hell you think you are” and stuff like that. And B) I know, I should not make a fuss of this. Probably no one else notices this, let alone has a problem with it.
I removed the rest of this already censored rant. Be the bigger man. Lead by example
What was that? Crazy things happened. My best score in this contest was in 2011. I never thought I could repeat this during Cycle 24. So I approached this contest without official expectations although not making 4000 contacts would make me unhappy especially since the days before the contest propagation seemed more than OK. I really looked forward to CQ WW CW, the MoaC – Mother of all Contests. The plan was to do what I could but most of all have fun.
I took a nap Friday night and set the alarm at 00.30AM local time, half an hour before the start. I woke up, or rather got out of bed but I felt like the contest had been running for a day already. I stood in the shack looking outside wondering why we do this to ourselves. Another feeling that usually pops up after thirty six hours. Faint heart never won fair lady so I started on 40m like I always do in CW. You can’t do sh… in a phone contest with a rotary dipole but it is a jaw breaker in CW sitting at 23m AGL. It works like gangbusters as they say.
I really can’t remember much except I was having a ball and I was utterly excited about the rates. When moving to 80 after a few hours, the rate exploded and soon my ‘max cw rates for Belgium’ will need an update because it seems I went well above 200 for a while. Too bad I couldn’t repeat that later on. With a rate near 200 and still working a bunch on radio #2? I keep on amazing myself here :o)
I got through the night into the morning. Top Band was not productive. Not much EU and almost no DX. As expected. I can’t remember much of Saturday either. I ran and ran and ran and did the occasional S&P session. I wonder why I keep being assisted because most of the time I just skip the brutal messy cluster pile ups. The nice thing is that many and really many of these rare DX mults come to work me and believe me this is a kick. 3B8, 8Q7, ZF1, E5, KL7, KH6, VK, ZL and many many other DX operations come and call me. Then their call appears in the bandmap close to my running frequency and another unruly cluster spot pile up emerges.
It’s not only the DX, it’s also the MANY MANY friends calling in. From nearby in EU to the remote W6. I won’t drop their calls here because I don’t want to forget anyone. But you all know who you are. All these friends we almost never meet in person but still work over and over again. Or exchange mails with. Or read and comment on their blogs. It takes the fun and satisfaction to a higher level. And yes I grab the paddle and throw in a short ‘hello’ and a name and a 73 CU. Because hearing their calls is good. It’s being part of the brotherhood of ham radio nutcases.
The average rate was well above 100/hr as I dove into Saturday night darkness. Around 2200 utc things slowed down. This was as expected and as experienced year after year. But I wasn’t tired. Yet I decided not to make my usual mistake. That is going on for a few slow hours, sweating it out with 1pt EU and then crash around 4AM local time. I end up on the couch then and miss sunrise and the point where things pick up again. So I cashed out and hit the couch in the living room, setting the alarm to ring three hours later around 2.30AM local time (0130utc). Three hours being a double ninety minute sleep cycle as advised by the experts. Around 2AM utc I got back into the shack and found a whopping 160. I worked many Americans. Seventy eight – 78! Who’d have thought that after the first night? I got called by two zone 3 stations and checked QRZ: actually they ARE in Cali. New WAS on Top Band! Another batch of juicy DX and probably new ones for DXCC called in. ZF1A comes to mind. I couldn’t believe it. On my silly linear loaded L wire, with the horizontal part sloping down to only eight meter above ground. That’s a ham radio experience hard to beat: high rates and getting called by DX multipliers, from central Belgium with a very modest semi-fieldday setup. The armchair copy ZL multiplier on 80 was the cherry on top. Hell yeah! I stayed on 80 until it was empty, then did the same with 40. Then I had to go higher but again: it’s all blurry.
Somewhere in between I got called by ON3DI. Contests come and go. Scores go up and down. But the fact that ON3DI is getting his feet wet in CW is an absolute milestone. I’ve witnessed his first steps in the hobby. I’ve seen him mutating into a contest addict. But I guess it’s fair to say the cat is out of the bag now. If he experiences firsthand how easy it is to work DX with simple antennas and low power compared to being CQ’ed in the face on sideband, I guess he’ll be a lost cause too. Welcome to the exciting world of CW contesting!
Thirteen years later he might end up like me. Funny observation about myself. Sometimes I was trying to pick a call from the cluttered mess on radio 2 when my CQ on radio 1 ended. There was a caller answering but I didn’t consciously copy his callsign because still focusing on the other radio. Yet I type in whatever comes into me and it turns out to be correct. Now THAT is weird. Subliminal copying. This might be trivial to some but to me it’s a sign of actually knowing CW. It doesn’t always work. Knowing hundreds of callsigns helps too. After all these years working the same guys, I have the SCP file in my head so to speak. It hasn’t always been like that. I remember my first steps in CW contesting. Total focus was required and the least distraction was fatal. On the other hand it’s only fair to admit that sometimes the opposite happens too. A total lock up of the grey matter decoder. Even the loudest caller with the simplest call does not get processed by the brain. Heck CW contesting is so much fun!
As Sunday morning moved along I had a hard time keeping the rate up. It even dipped below 100. I took a short break for a quick lunch. The kids were glad to see me. Now is the time to mention the unconditional support of the XYL. Thanks for that. Running the household all alone, entertaining two toddlers and most of all: keep them away from daddy in the shack – it’s not exactly the definition of an enjoyable family weekend. At regular intervals she shoved a plate under my head with a snack or a sandwich. The kids don’t quite get it. Daddy is at home yet daddy does not want to come out and play. And daddy chases us out of his radio room? But daddy, all we want is to see the lights blink! Being the amp’s LED bars. Who knows what the future will bring regarding my kids and ham radio. I won’t push ‘m anyway.
A shout out to my n°1 fan ON3DI. He was following the online score board and once in a while he sent an encouraging text message. As Sunday noon progressed he told / typed out loud what I didn’t dare to think of. That the 5k QSO mark was within reach. But only if the current rate could be maintained until the end of the contest. A couple of really fast three point hours to the USA with the occasional double mult thrown in gave the score total a boost. I was convinced that 5k was possible with another sustained USA run on 20. The thing was: that run didn’t come. I guess the US of A guys were still enjoying the higher bands. But these closed down rapidly on my end. Even cluster spots didn’t help me out. It would bring along a dozen contacts but then it would slow down again. Too slow to reach 5000 contacts. I kept calling CQ on 20 and hop the other bands. But ten and fifteen were closed. Now what? It’s tempting to start spotting yourself but I refrain from such silly practices. Although it became common practice it seems. Even in disguise.
The last hour and a half of the contest was crucial. I was tired, I had enough, I needed to empty my bladder – urgently. Keep your eye on the prize! Five thousand QSO will bring relief in both ways. Since twenty meters was not helping me in any way to get to five thousand QSO, I had to do something. But what? Since there was plenty of life on forty meters I tried my luck there. I found a clear spot but after a few CQ CQ CQ I got jammed between to stations QRMing me. Rate almost zero. That was very frustrating. I was about to throw the keyer to a jamming lid’s head. I kept on calling CQ and clicked from spot to spot on 80 and 160. I don’t always do that – I do tune in between spots and often find unspotted sweet stuff but this time I needed to go fast and clicking spots was the only way not to waste time for a station to ID and find out he’s already in the log. At 23:38 I logged G3TXF on 160 for #5000. Booyah! For the last twenty minutes I decided to stay on 160 because it had the lowest QSO totals thus the most chance of logging new stations. I even added two multipliers on top band.
Five thousand QSO. I can’t believe it. With a simple setup and no excessive power. Of course my multiplier count is low. That is because I like to run and don’t like to waste time in packet spot pile ups. That’s where more and bigger hardware could help. When the guy on the other end is slick I often can outsmart the pack by calling slightly up or down. Wasting time is one thing, but it also frustrates me, the poor operating practices. On a few occasions I worked the DX while a EU station was still calling and calling. That’s why I just don’t bother to work big DXpeditions anymore.
CQ WW CW 2014 will be hard to beat from here. What are the odds propagation will be anyway near this year’s conditions on HF? But that’s what I thought about 2011 too…
Just a short note for the archives.
* 1777 contacts for 805k points in about 16 hours.
* I decided to sleep in the wee hours of the night and not risk being a total zombified wreck the week leading up to CQ WW CW.
* Many people giving CQ zone i.s.o. ITU zone. Even a few serials. Most of the time I tried to convince the calling station to change the exchange. Unfortunately some people don’t copy QRS CW. I slowed to down to 26-28 WPM to get my point across.
* Yes that is slow for me. I’m not a QRQ speed king but this time I stepped up from 32 WPM to 34 WPM. That seems to work with standard predictable exchanges.
* The question is what to do with these guys. ‘Log what is sent’ seems to be the most proposed solution. But what if this guy does not submit his log? Most casual DX ops don’t. If I log what is sent, the log checker will mark the contact as invalid because it has the wrong ITU zone. There’s also the option that the other guy sends out CQ zones during the contest and then before submitting changes the log to ITU zones in Cabrillo. To make sure he doesn’t look like a lid. Making all of us looking like lids. Cynical? Six years in the log checking business sir!
* I blew the dust off of my basic SO2R skills. Radio #2 @500W made 178 contacts or 10% of the total. I didn’t feel the need to overplay my hand and try duelling CQ. With an average rate of +100/hr there is no need for such risky endeavours.
* I got called by some nice DX. I had to go out and get 3B9HA (80+40+10) but it was fairly easy. Gosh it’s a new one on 80!
* What about propagation? Hard to tell. The bands were open but not wide open. I didn’t work a JA on 10 and those on 15 were not quite loud. West coast USA was there but not the masses. That’s not good with regard to next week’s WW CW. No ZL at all and only three or so VK’s. YV, ZP, XE did make it on several bands. Maybe it’s all a matter of participation?
NW QRU SK
R5GA has a nice tool available. He collects public contest logs and compiles the maximum rates. My best CW hour is 184. That means there was a sixty minute period during which I logged 184 QSO. As it turns out, this is currently the highest number for Belgium. Since R5GA started keeping track, but still.
I know what you’re thinking. 2012? Pretty easy on 28 MHz with 5 elements on two wavelengths above the ground and a beefy kilowatt. That’s exactly what I was thinking. But take a look here. I was running on 3502. Eighty meters!
The main purpose of my blogging is to remember. My CQ WW CW 2012 report clearly mentions a poor start on 40 but a kick butt run on 80. On a skewed wire with some elevated radials.
As the French say: C’est bon pour le morale.
Don’t ask me why but the term ‘weekend warrior’ has been on my mind lately. I think it was the name of a monthly column in some skateboarding magazine I read in the late eighties / early nineties. There you go, a little secret about yours truly. I guess I picked up many things reading American English subculture magazines as an early teenager. And then came underground metal music in my late teens. More exposure to Shakespeare’s language. Or at least the more obscure vocabulary thereof. I digress.
At first you’d think that a weekend warrior is someone who goes to war during the weekend. But when you scratch the surface (hey yet another idiom!) by consulting The Urban Dictionary, you find out that a weekend warrior is in fact “a person who has a boring rat race job, and compensates by being irresponsible during the weekend”. Do we consider contesting irresponsible? On the other hand it is exclusively a weekend activity. Another definition there is “a person who regularily parties on weekends”. My spelling checker suggests it’s ‘regularly’? Contests are as much fun as an enjoyable party. I keep on digressing.
Since the regular bands are my usual hideout during the contests, and since I make more than 20k contest contacts every year, I never hang out on these regular bands when there is no contest. I like the WARC bands for my casual shot of CW DX. I used to have a great antenna there, until it decided to blow (link). Great relative to its size and price. Then I made a triband WARC inverted V. Works fine but not great, and it needs to be on the tower. Which means I have to remove it before a contest and put it back up after a contest. Which is pretty often in my case. In my quest to make a permanent not tower-bound WARC antenna I reused the remaining half of the trapped dipole and installed it as a vertical. Any antenna beats no antenna but this one, although resonating and working into other continents, was close to no antenna. Too close to nothing when benchmarked against my previous WARC antennas. So I needed something better. During spring high band conditions took a plunge and I had given up on Cycle 24. Recent weeks have proven me wrong and in this case I love being wrong. However a few months ago the future didn’t look bright for 10/12m. In fact chances are that this is the last convulsion before the cycle going down for real. You know me as a glass half empty guy by now.
So around Easter I decided to trade the WARC vertical for something better. Preferably monoband 30m as this is my favourite band. It always brings DX regardless of the season and the point in the solar cycle. All this thinking was done while dreaming of a dynamic yagi covering 40 > 6m. This would solve all my problems. At least all my antenna problems. And such an antenna would also break the bank.
I always wanted to make a delta loop and see how it plays so why not for 30? I decided to order a stretch of RG-59 coax for the matching quarter wave transformer, as illustrated in many books and online items. I decided to stick to the medium power amp (500W) for casual DXing. This turns out to be enough power outside of the contests. Some online table showed me that this length of 75 ohm RG-59 could take almost a kW at 10MHz so it should work.
I hear you coming. The plan hatched around Easter you say? And only just now the simple delta loop is finished? More than half a year to join 30m copper wire, a dipole centre assembly and seven meters of small coax? Uhm, yeah – it was an on and off project *blush*.
But last week I had enough of all the non-ham radio stuff that seems to take over my life and I decided to make the best of the current propagation. Get in the chair, call CQ, work some DX. The Weekday Warrior that I am!
About the actual 30m delta loop antenna I can be short. In three words? Classic-textbook-design. One wavelength of copper wire. Fed one quarter wave from the apex for vertical polarization. Fed with one quarter wave 75 ohm coax to match to 50 ohms. Take into account velocity factor 0.66% for this length of transmission line. Trim this transformer to exact length with the antenna analyzer by means of the property of a quarter wave length or half wave length transmission line transformer. All those hours of playing with Smith charts at school really pay off!
Once it was on the tower and up in the air, I had to trim the circumference of the loop by half a meter to get resonance in the band. Although the transmission line was cut very precise, the analyzer did not show an impedance of 50 ohm. I forgot the actual values for impedance and reactance but SWR is below 1.5:1 over the whole band as seen in the shack by the amp. My first delta loop! I was eager to try it out after dusk. I launched a few CQ CQ CQ and watched the RBN values appear in the web browser. I was especially looking to the reports coming back to me from the USA. Those looked promising. It’s not a three element yagi twenty meters high but at least it has better RBN figures than the vertical. In a few nights and a few early mornings, I collected some nice DX: USA coast to coast, VK6, JA, YB, HL, CO, 5R, PJ7. When doing real time A/B RX comparisons between the delta loop and the trapped GP, the loop always wins. Both ‘by ear’ as well as measured by the S-meter.
The initial plan was to keep using the vertical for 12/17. But last weekend I had to admit it: this antenna sucks. No more kidding myself. Hardly any skimmer picks me up on 12m. Only three or four and almost never outside of EU. There were plenty of DX cluster spots on 24.9MHz. I heard many but never very loud. And I hardly got heard by the DX. So I decided to kill my darlings. The vertical is gone now. I took it down. Its set of resonating elevated radials, which in turn was my old triband inverted V, got stripped of the 30m wires and was put up as a sloping dipole for 12/17.
Signals on 12m now were louder and some even easier to work too. So this might be the new WARC setup for now. I guess I’ll have to live with the take down / deploy routine before and after a contest. No pain, no gain. *ping* Gain – there pops up the vision of the expensive all band yagi again. Gain on WARC!
Saturday all was cool with this antenna. On Sunday the wind picked up speed and the amp tripped more often than not. I didn’t even need to look outside. I suspected both wires for either band were touching each other when the wind blew. Thus completely ruining resonance in the band. Anecdotical evidence: a few years ago, in my pre-blogging years, I even vulcanized two PVC isolated wires on a homebrew dual band antenna while trying to tune the ACOM amp. Each time I got closer to a match, I got further away from a match. Flabbergasted I quit and took down the experimental antenna to find the two parallel wires glued together where the insulation had molten. They got twisted in the wind during the time I went from outside into the shack. The wires got tangled into each other. Hence no more resonance and no more match. Lesson learned.
Back to the future. I lowered the rope on the pulley and used electrical tape to put some isolating spacers on the wires. This way, constant separation was ensured. Although the wind was pretty strong, the amplifier remained happy after this fix. The WX was sunny and dry and not too chilly. But the forecast predicted a dramatic change. More wind and rain. Towards the end of Sunday some lighting strikes were detected to the west. So before going to bed, I decided to once again unplug the coaxes and lower the 12/17m antenna. Good thing I did because after two hours of sleep, I got awakened by some thunderclaps and saw lightning over the QTH. This sudden thunderstorm even took a nearby town completely off the grid for a quarter of an hour.
Anyone in for a Fritzel trapped vertical for the WARC bands?
What will this year bring? Fantastic high band openings like 2011? Or a genuine storm like 2013 forcing my telescopic tower to stay down? Tuesday before the contest the latter option seemed the most viable.
Hurricane Gonzalo made a U turn and its remainders headed for western EU. The wind was strong but with the tower down it was well within safety and mental peace limits. Tuesday evening we left to the supermarket three miles away from here. When we arrived there the sky turned pitch black. The forecast warned for serious thunderstorms with possible damaging gusts. When we headed home an hour later everything seemed to have moved to the east. Then our oldest son said that a small tree next to the house had been blown over. The XYL applauded his sense of humour. But he persisted: look mom, the tree has fallen. The XYL called me and told me the tree had fallen. Indeed, the small tree next to the house had been blown over. Must have been a heavy wind gust during the thunderstorm when we were away. I ran outside to check the antennas. They were still there. The kids’ slide had been blown away and landed fifteen meters away. Apart from the tree and the slide, everything seemed OK. Wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of irony: great weather during the contest but everything destroyed a few days before. I wouldn’t be the first!
The toppled tree solves a dilemma: to cut or not to cut. It’s been half dead for two seasons. I wanted to do away with it, the XYL wanted to keep it. It’s mostly dead and the wood has dried rendering it stiff and brittle. A lively tree with juices flowing would probably have bent. But the dry wood just tore apart.
After that the wind calmed down and the forecast gave green light for semi-field day setups to go up in the air.
I got home from work early in the afternoon. Very tired, which is negative for the contest. I had to pick up the kids from school at 3.30PM. Two possible things to do: either crank up the tower and put up the 80/160 wire, or take a nap. Tower works can be done with the kids at home. Some couch time is harder, and a nap next to impossible with those two rascals. So I watched some Discovery (or was it National Geographic?) and dozed off. A few minutes later one of the cats decided she wanted out and jumped on my legs. A power nap was the most I squeezed out.
Later on before dinner I cranked up the tower, hoisted the low band wires, readjusted the 80m wire to 75m and it seemed I was done and ready for the contest. I was hoping for a 2011 repeat where 10 and 15 were just heavenly. That hurt activity on 160 but who cares when you’re having a ball on Ten! Then I remembered my QSY with K1DG from 80 to 160. I was sceptical to grant him the QSY but he argued that we could at least try and then BINGO – it worked! These are the things you remember and make it all worth the while.
After dinner I checked the antennas with the amplifier and made a few contacts. All seemed ok. Now let’s hope for some propagation.
Annual tradition (except for F’ing 2013): have some pre-contest SSB fun on the bands. With the antenna to USA and Ten seemingly open I worked some DX. Mostly USA, quite some VE. Only East Coast but maybe it’s too early for the west. A bunch of LU and PY too and much to my surprise a ZS1. Quite some contesters around to. NQ4I, WA1Z, K1ZR, K3OO who asked what I will be doing this weekend. Maybe my sarcasm was inappropriate but I replied I would be knitting a sweater. ‘In between QSO then?’ he clarified. Sure Rick, SOAB (A) HP as usual. Then K1DG called in and he brought up the 160 QSO too. Apparently he remembered that his persuasion paid off.
Later in the afternoon (1500 to 1600 UTC) I worked some more DX on 28MHz. There were a bunch of Californians in there that were loud enough to have some expectations for the higher bands. Once again there was a ZS in the pack too and a few LU and PY. Now it’s time for some rest and time with the XYL. Fingers crossed for the weekend!
Well, it’s Monday now… I’m not going to repeat myself here writing yet another contest write up. Just some random thoughts.
First off special report to ON5MF: WX here was great. I’d settle for this all year round. There was a bit of everything but not too much of anything.
BTW I totally understand YO9IRF.
This morning I took down the tower and wire antennas in shorts and T-shirt. Last days of October! Anyway unless you’re on the driveway, it’s almost impossible to see there was a contest station here last weekend. The pop-up craze now infiltrates contesting.
No targets set, no goals, no stress, no SO2R, just for fun. I’ve tried to be competitive before but it doesn’t make me more happy compared to how I approached it this time. My setup and my location can’t win a real DX contest plaque. It didn’t even take me to WRTC 2014. I hate to bring that up again but that’s the way it is. So why go all the way for a few extra points? After all, I’m only competing against myself and the stack of ‘country winner’ papers is already growing thick. And no one is waiting to see how I did. No fan base, no sponsors.
Here’s a shocker: NOISE!
Saturday early evening when moving down from 15 to 20, I discovered that the 20m band was infested with an annoying noise. I could hear most stations, it wasn’t that the bands were wiped out. Bands – plural! It was far less on 40m. Maybe the thick mush of running stations was stronger? I have never encountered this. Last operation was three weeks ago, and then two days ago. But that was in daylight on a week day. It was also present on 80 and less on 160. It was next to impossible to work with this annoying buzz. Now what? What has changed? Nothing in here that I know of. Maybe it’s the street lights that switched on a while ago? When they switch on, I have some QRN for a few seconds. Merely seconds, just when the lights are ignited. I heard that on 15m while I saw the lights come on through the window. But the noise itself wasn’t present on 15. I never heard something like this. Show stopper! I can’t do something on 40 because of the nature of SSB on 40 (QRM & splatter). And on 80 this noise is also really bad. Furthermore I squeezed the most out of 80 yesterday already because I avoided 40 the first night. But I really need to run USA on 20m now.
Technical time out. I switched off most things in the shack. Against common sense but you never know. I even asked the XYL to switch off the TV set. I interrupted the dish washer’s run. I even cut the circuit to the water heater next to the shack. All to no avail. It would be convenient to find the problem in my own house. The noise is as bad on the yagi 360° around as it is on the vertical aux antenna. It’s not loud, it’s constant and it doesn’t sound like what I’d expect from TVI/RFI/EMC QRM. Actually I don’t even know what to expect when it comes to sounds of interference.
There are a few options:
- It could be in my house but I just ruled that out for 90%. Furthermore there is no new device that wasn’t here before. For the record: RF-wise I scrutinize most devices that need to function in my house. I even searched for a baby monitor that was not 27MHz. It’s on 800MHz or so. Same with wireless keyboard and mouse: expensive 2.4GHz technology compared to cheap CB band stuff.
- Something is wrong with the street lights or some utility device on the poles outside. I can track that down and get the company to fix it. Should be easy.
- One of the neighbours has put a satanic device into service. Who knows what El Cheapo electronic devices are out there. Hunting it down might be easy. Getting the problem actually solved is something else. Not on a technical level. Everything from ferrite to a sledge hammer is available in my toolbox. But on the level of a human interaction. Dear neighbour, your brand new TV has go to go – NOW!
- Wild guess: could this noise be caused by recent and on going solar events? Both 15m and 10m went downhill pretty fast this afternoon hence my planned QSY to 20. But I am by no means an expert on propagation and solar induced noise. I only know what band is open to where at what time. Flares, CME, black outs, magnetometer – stuff unknown to me.
Looking for a possible QRM source including a pathetic short excursion to check some utility poles took a bite out of my operating time. Even worse: prime time for 20! I bit the bullet and worked some audible stations on a closing 15m band and even on 20. But the noise there drove me crazy. Ran some 80/160. Then I decided to sleep for three hours hoping the noise would disappear by itself.
During WW SSB I always sleep when the clock moves from summer to winter time. The reason is superstition about problems with the PC clock that adjusts itself and the impact of the QSO’s timestamp in the log. When I got back in the shack I discovered the noise was still there. Especially on 14 MHz and 3.5 MHz like before. I monitored the street lights and when they switched off after sunrise, it was my impression that the noise was gone. But later on I thought it returned in broad daylight. Or not? Bottom line is that when the street lights switched on again on Sunday evening, the noise stayed away. I need to keep an eye and ear on this. I already consulted some web sites that have sounds of QRM to link a sound to a particular source.
In the past I did many SB efforts in the SSB parts of the major contests. I started doing all band operations in WW SSB to make the most of the WRTC qualification process. I hate to bring that up again but that’s the way it is. We all know how that ended. Turns out that in the end my submitted scores were all for CW contests. CW is the only real mode (especially for smaller stations)! I might get flamed again just like six years ago.
SSB… My best band in CQ WW CW is probably 40. But in WW SSB it’s hell. HELL! I remember my first days in the contesting business when we had to do it between 7040 and 7100. Even with the extra 100kHz now it’s impossible to find a running QRG. The band is open but the DX is sandwiched between two layers of EU.
To me that is the real technical advantage CW has (apart from being more fun): you can filter out almost all crap. Something to consider in the age of durability: you can squeeze a few CW stations in the SSB spectrum. And in LZ9W’s case, you can fit 20 CW stations in the bandwidth: 20 * 0.6 kHz = 12 kHz = about the spectrum from left to right that stations uses. Funny thing: I googled ‘lz9w modulation’ and even my postings showed up in the results. I seem to remember that callsign is dropped once in a while after a phone contest.
Observation: in a fierce packet pile up, LZ9W was calling with a pristine signal. I had to wait my turn and that’s enough time for me to develop a theory. Two in fact. The first is: LZ9W calls the DX with a high antenna that shoots over EU i.s.o. the stack they use for running. Hence the signal is weaker here than the running stack. But then again: the difference is not only the spectrum issue, it sounds cleaner better too. That leads to my theory #2: the running station has an ‘elbow room’ function enabled. Could anyone be so devious? Yet another issue CW takes care of.
Don’t you just love this? Green stuff that turns grey! It happened a few times.
I said it before and I say it again: keep running and the mults will come. There were a couple of times I quit a pile up because I couldn’t stand the mess and a while later the DX comes to work ME. That is the best thing in contesting for me. And of course a few fast rate hours.
Packet pile ups
Especially later in the contest when the M/x mult hunters are looking for action to beat boredom. It becomes a shootout where they seemingly want to establish who’s got the biggest. They call and call and when they stop it’s another one that starts calling. What to do when common sense and highbrow operating fail?
The dotnetified N1MM Plus logger did a great job. Together with the new PC I guess we’re good for another decade. In the age of SDR, I’d just like the option that when you remove a spot from the bandmap, that the station would actually disappear from the air too. I’d be forced offline and off the grid as a self defence measure, but boy those QRM’ers would fly!
It was a fun contest. Conditions were almost too good. Finding no spot to run on the bands hurt my score. Or rather it took away some of the running fun, since score was not important this time. On ten meters there seemed two contests going on. One between 28200 and 28800 and one between 28800 and 29150. There were MANY stations active. People from below seemed never to make it to the top and vice versa. I like to go high in the band and stay clear. We have more than a megahertz of contesting real estate there. Compare that to the 200 kHz we have on 20 (14150-14350). And 150 kHz on 40 which explains the mayhem there. Spectrum is never a problem in CW.
Although I had no expectations, I secretly aimed for 3000 contacts. I almost made 3600 which is my second best in this contest. But the score is a few hundred k points lower than 2011 because of lesser mults and possibly less three point stations.
It was fun to work many friends all over the globe. Some in disguise of a M/x operation. It’s always encouraging to get a heads up from a familiar callsign. And K1DG provided me the USA mult on 160 with yet another ‘six bander’. Fingers crossed for the CW part!
Dear Santa or his deputy closer to home.
I have been a good boy this year. I have been talking into a headset that I saved from the trash bin fourteen years ago (although I retrofitted it with a Heil HC4 mic capsule). It almost falls apart now. My socks may not be big enough but I’m sure my mom will knit a giant sock to fit this gizmo.
I have always refrained from buying a new headset because I think they cost too much and look too flimsy. Furthermore I need a pair of headphones that keep the shack noise out. This new model really seems to fit the bill. It looks firm and meaty and as the manufacturer says ‘ideal for use in high ambient noise environments’.
So dear Santa or his deputy closer to home, please think of me when you start filling socks. You can just leave the box under the tree if you’re allergic to wool. I just hope you’re not allergic to pine trees too.
Almost four weeks since my last attempt to write something. A lot has happened. Too much I daresay. But hardly anything worth mentioning in a ham radio blog. A day is over in the blink of an eye. Monday morning Friday seems far away yet before you know it, it’s weekend. And it’s almost half October already.
A few weeks ago I did some SAC CW. Just some random hours off and on. It’s a fun contest and I like Scandinavia so why not?
The weekend after that I visited Belgium’s biggest ham fair and once again I wondered why upon returning home. We all buy our stuff online and I have enough junk already I could hold my own flea market. I’ve been visiting ham radio fairs since 2000 and I always see the same old junk return. Just take it to the recycling park and get it over with! I bought two spools of quality electric tape. The kind that doesn’t dissolve when exposed to rain and UV. And some long and wide cable ties. Of course I met a few familiar faces but less than other years. Met a few readers of my writings here. So we need to keep the crowd coming back for more HI.
Then there was CQP. I like working USA, especially the West coast flavour. Nothing wrong with the others but W6 is real DX regardless the band. Should I participate this year? These days I find that cranking up the tower is such a hassle. But it’s a prerequisite for making the most of a W6 party. It’s also Oceania DX CW contest that weekend. So my plan was to crank up the tower and suspend the 80m GP that still needs a real DX workout. W6 and VK/ZL – should be good. Makes it worth cranking the tower up.
But then I learned that I was wrong. It’s not the CW part but the SSB leg first of the Oceania DX contest. That attenuates the fun to hassle ratio quite a few dB. Furthermore that weekend seems to be the last with very nice WX. I’d better use the time to mow the lawn pretty short as it might be the last dry day in a long while. So I wasn’t too keen on cranking up the tower and play radio. I could have done the lawn on Friday but I was lazy and decided not to. Anyway WX was nice for both lawn mowing as well as cranking up telescopic towers. No wind, no lightning. The weather forecast talked about rain Saturday late in the afternoon or during the night. On Saturday morning I delayed the tower works and ran some errands. Then we did the lawn after all. We mowed it pretty short. If the weather turns dry again in a few weeks it won’t be too long. And if it doesn’t it’s short enough to hibernate.
So I found myself in a dubious state of mind I have been much in lately. Wanting to contest, not wanting to crank up the tower. A result of the autumn/winter/spring storms of late 2013 and early 2014. And the thunderstorms of spring and summer. The XYL says it’s because I have been there and done that and that the formula might get worn out after a decade of doing each and every contest. And that in turn might make playing with the kids more fun than some silly contest. That’s true. There’s always a silly contest but there’s only one ‘baby’s first step’ or one ‘look dad I can ride my bike all alone’.
So after the lawn was done I told the XYL: “WX is dry and calm, I’m going to crank up the tower”. And she replied: “sure, why not, they didn’t forecast any lightning, just some rain tonight”. The sky was blue, it was well above 20°C and there wasn’t even a gentle breeze. The worst of the last five weeks had been better than the best of August.
I swear that what comes is 100% the truth and not exaggerated. As soon as I powered up the winch and prepared the ropes for the pulleys, the wind started blowing. Not hard but enough for me to need to look out for tangling ropes. The XYL who was enjoying the sun, established that ‘they’ must do this intentionally. Some of you may think that I have this obsession with what to me is bad weather. But all too often the WX is good to do something but it turns south as soon as I prepare. Need to paint something? No wind and blue sky. Open up the can of paint, prepare the parts to paint and there you go: a drizzle. Another classic example? We came here in spring 2003. We had planned one and only one grill party as a house warming party. It was a record breaking long hot dry summer. What more can you ask for? It only rained one Saturday that summer and of course it was when we held our BBQ. If ‘they’ like to torment me with something silly as some painting or a BBQ, what would you expect when I’m working on the antennas the day before a contest? Come to think of it: when we installed the tower and the yagi ten years ago, the four of us got soaking wet and cold in the afternoon where it was a sunny dry morning.
Anyway the tower was up and I folded back a length of the 80m wire to resonate it on 75m. Might as well try that antenna in the OC DX SSB. Shocker: WW SSB is only three weeks away so I really needed to see if all was OK. It had been more than two months since I did something with the tower. EUHFC I think it was. I needed to tweak the wire still a bit to get it to 3700. Might as well answer ON4BHQ’s call for mass participation in a local 80 SSB contest Sunday morning. When all was done it was time for a shower and evening dinner. It was 6PM local time. I gave in to the urge to take a peek at the weather reports. WTF? LIGHTNING 50km away from here! They didn’t mention lightning, only rain. ‘They’ really want to promote stamp collecting. The showers with lightning moved NE. I hoped they move more N then E! People in the coastal areas reported really heavy wind gusts when the showers moved over. Weather 1 – Forecast 0. I put my chips on the wrong bet.
CQP. I heard and worked quite a few Californians. Not on ten meters. The ones I heard cq’ed in my face. On 15 and 20, the signals were down. Granted it was too early for them to go to 20 but I think this was a good showing of the downward trend Cycle 24 takes compared to the magnificent 2011. Then the wind picked up speed. I needed to close the shack window. My notes and amp tuning cheat sheets were flying off the desk. I don’t have an FT-5000 paperweight like ON5MF ☺. Then it started raining so I took a break. I couldn’t hear a thing with the rain static. Then the rain became a shower. Luckily the lightning detection only showed strikes enough to the west. I decided to take a break and watch some TV with the XYL. I didn’t hear much of the Oceanians either.
Later on I worked some more W6 before going to bed. Even on ten meters. But only two and after much trying and repeating. Off to bed and up again for my sunrise. I had hoped for some action from VK/ZL at my sunrise. After all I really badly want to work some DX on the new 80m antenna as a proof it works. Nada. Not even on 40. I worked four W6 on 40 CW though. But not loud and nothing heard on SSB. I have worked them easily there with a lesser antenna. So propagation wasn’t like it was then. Second time I made that note to myself. Question is: was it exceptionally well that year, was it exceptionally poor this year, or is it just Cycle 24 that slowly fades away? There were plenty of spots on 20 for VK/ZL but they were not too loud and of course the EU madhouse was calling or rather shouting and yelling so I decided to completely forget about OC DX. CW 4 EVER ☺
I participated in the local SSB contest on 80 (75m). Just to boost the club’s score. It ain’t fun. I S&P a few times for 30-40 QSO. The counter showed 91 contacts in CQP. Since I wasn’t enjoying myself and I would be another seven hours or more before the W6 would come through again, I decided to lower the tower and quit. With so much on the agenda and to do list, it’s hard to justify wasting a Sunday for a few QSO.
Technically I am ready for WW SSB. But what will propagation bring us? I don’t like SSB. It was fun in 2011 with the extreme good conditions on the higher bands. And the stupid idea that I might get qualified for WRTC 2014 made me do a serious all band effort. 2011 was GREAT for both CQ WW that year. I might do one more all band effort for fun with no targets set. But then it’ll be SB something again. But not SB40. And with everyone on 20 as it’s the only band that’s more or less open?
I hope to report more radio activity soon. I really want to fill my log and work some DX. But I guess I’m stuck in that phase of life where it just doesn’t work out to play radio.
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.