Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

Chirstmas decoration outside? Terrace lamp?

Nooooo sir – coax connections of course!

Just saw that on one of the channels I follow. Amazon DL sells these. Not really cheap but if it’s durable, why not?

I just wonder if it would work with coax cable? That’s thicker than a power cord and less forgiving when it comes to bending and squeezing.

My old headset is totally worn out. In fact its second life started in 2000 when I salvaged some professional intercom headsets from the scrap bin and combined the parts into one new working item. I was amazed to learn that the default microphone element could be replaced a Heil HC4 capsule. Same size, same connections. Since that day I had a good headset for the price of the HC4 mic element I bought as a separate item. Even though I don’t use it often and when I do it’s with care, it is worn out after 15 years. I only use it three or four times a year in a phone contest and never wear it for CW. Electrically all is fine but the ear pads are gone, inside the foam padding is starting to disintegrate etc. Time for a new one!

I never liked the classic Heil models. Too light, too flimsy, too expensive. Last year I promoted the new model but Bob Heil didn’t send me one on trial. Would have given him free promotion though. Exposure on my blog is priceless after all. This model 7 is pricey but if it’s worth it… However the eHAM review section showed quite a few negative comments about DOA and poor QC.

On the other hand Germany’s biggest reseller had a new brand on stock. The Arlan Communications products. eHAM showed almost unanimous positive comments. And it looked really heavy duty. With supposedly a lot of suppression of the noise in the shack from amp fans etc. So I bought one and ordered the extra cable to fit the microHAM MK2R+. Delivery was fast and the darn thing was one helluva headset. I liked the cable. It felt ‘siliconishly smooth’ and looked nice. Although I find 75 Euro a lot for such a cable. I put my foot down: my cable guy days are over – or at least I thought.

When I finally got around testing it on the MK2R+, initial disappointment made soon way for sheer frustration. It didn’t work. Not by far. The VOX didn’t work, monitored audio was distorted, I heard a lot of jet engine sounding noises and audio feedback. Interesting side note: the date was one week before CQ WW SSB.

I sent a mail to both microHAM support guru W4TV and to Arlan Comms. The Arlan company owner was very quick to reply (thumbs up!). He pointed out that the dynamic microphone element has a low impedance of 200 ohm and that the MK2R+ stuff probably didn’t like that. Could be as the Heil HC4 as 2k impedance if I’m not mistaken. I envisioned the classic theoretical amp model: infinite Z in, zero Z out. Would the microHAM input circuits be that low in impedance that it could not handle 200Ω?

He continued that most of his customers using microHAM stuff used the electret microphone. And that the K3 by itself didn’t have a problem with the dynamic element. I plugged the headset straight into one of my K3s and sure enough: it worked. I could order a new microphone element but that would be yet another extra 50-60 Euro and would leave me with a useless dynamic mic capsule. Needless to say, I was getting pretty P.O. It was now Monday before WW SSB…

I got a reply from a two happy users of the Arlan headset with the microHAM stuff. So it should work here too. Then W4TV of microHAM stepped in. Bottom line: all Arlan Communications said was wrong and he gave some info about mic and headphone circuits that I actually knew from my previous life as a broadcast tech. However when buying a cable that costs 75 Euro I expect that cable to work. I quit building my own cables because of lack of time and being through with soldering cables. My co-workers didn’t call me The Cable Guy for nothing fifteen years ago! Actually this is the second time I buy an expensive faulty cable that I should have made myself. At least Elecraft had the courtesy to refund the bad cable admitting there had been a few faulty ones in the past.

I sent another mail to Arlan asking for the pin out color code of the plug. Until now I have yet to receive an answer. So with less than four days to WW CW, reverse engineering was the way to go. I opened up the cable and started tracing wires and measuring resistances. Sure enough the mic return lead was soldered together with the shield of the cable and bound to the shield of the earphone speakers which was in turn soldered to GND. Once I unsoldered and cut that lead, everything suddenly started working like a charm. Oh boy, all the time wasted debugging and writing mails… I could have soldered ten of these cables back when I could still solder interface cables with my fingers in my nose. The only thing left to do was reverse left and right channel on the cable. I don’t see that as a big problem because my CW headset has the same problem. But a normal headphone can be put on the head in reversed position, a headset not. Purists will say that actually you can but then the mic would be on the back of your head.

All is well that ends well. Two thousand SSB contacts in WW SSB with good audio reports when asked. The headphone does not play in the feather weight category nor is it light on the head. I consider that a tradeoff between poor mechanical quality and letting ambient noise through versus this one. It seems to be strong. The brace is mostly made of metal parts and removable thus washable padding. And actual little bolts and nuts. The headphone shuts off the amp blower noise completely and I don’t hear anyone coming into the shack. Except my two little boys when they rush in and trip VOX. So except for the poor electrical design of the cable, I’m pretty happy so far. I must say that the look and feel of the cable is first class.

During WW SSB an active Belgian contester who had followed the messages on the microHAM list sent me a mail. He had been a happy user of the headset for a few years but now he ordered a new cable for a second rig and had trouble getting it to work. He asked what my solution was. Turns out his cable had the mic return / GND problem too! So people buying an Arlan Communications interface cable to go with microHAM interfaces: BEWARE and fire up the soldering iron.

Two things were at play this time. Three weeks ago the bands were completely dead. Solar flares all over the place. A and K through the roof. Forty eight hours of SOAB SSB mayhem on closed bands? Not quite appealing. Add to that that I have been busy and mentally tired lately and that I won’t have time to recover after a full time SOAB. So a SB effort was the best option. But what band to pick? The higher bands would be poor or closed. SSB on 40m? If SSB is ‘like pulling teeth’, on 40 it’s without anesthesia. That leaves only 80. Not that my setup is that great on 80. Not that 80 is an easy band. But if the result is pathetic, I can always say: “hey, it’s 80, not an easy band”. And in SSB: who cares? CW is where it’s at. Added bonus: it’s something I don’t do every day.

Of course the higher bands were quite OK. Of course I should have done SB15. That leaves plenty of sleep too, and it wouldn’t mess up the biorhythm compared to working 80 at night and sleeping during daytime. But I stuck to my plan. I had done SB80 once in 2009. That wasn’t a huge success. I made 800 QSO then and 74k points or so. I decided that 1000 QSO wouldn’t put me on the ‘wall of shame’. Silently I hoped for 1200. So a claimed result of 1500/15/82 for 190k points isn’t too bad. with a piece of wire. Three pieces actually (vertical and two elevated radials).

I had set up the Wellbrook RX loop the week before. I even routed two brand new fifty meter long cables along the garden’s perimeter for that. One coax and one three wire cable for the motor. That loop is for the KRX3 AUX input, allowing diversity RX. And I routed the 40m dipole to the transverter RX input of the K3. That way I had the ground plane and the loop and dipole for RX. I have never been so well equipped.  ☺  It’s hard to tell whether that has helped me or not. It’s not like real full size beverages.

What to say about the contest? There’s the splattering. There’s the obnoxious modulation. There are the fast runs. And the slow periods. There’s tons of fun and frustrating moments. Propagation on 80 was better than anticipated to the west. But I didn’t work anything beyond the Middle East. Zero far east. I’m sure I could have worked more if people in a 10 kHz span around me would have STFU. I always get a kick out of the exotic multipliers calling me. Big smile then. And I had the occasion for a few big smiles when such an exotic goodie called yours truly, a tiny shrimp in the HF ocean. And when the rate goes way up, that’s what makes me tick. There were a few moments like that, even on 80.

A phone contest would not be complete without a clash with the Net Naggers. I found a clear frequency and like always asked if it was in use. No reply. Let’s CQ then. A few CQ CQ CQ later, an English station comes to chase me away. Polite? Yes. Friendly? No. I ask for his call, I get a lecture. I hit F1. The lecture becomes a sermon. I hit F1 and work a few stations. Then I get threatened. He’d put me on the cluster telling everyone I was rude and causing QRM. Since bad promotion is better than no promotion, I tell the guy that it would be very kind of him. He doesn’t appreciate that, and then he’s going “to send a mail to the contest people reporting me”. That’ll teach me. As he puts it: my whole weekend to waste as I get DQ’ed. K5ZD: check your mailbox!

Soon after there is a case of strange noises and tuning on and around my frequency. Could it be the M3 that is out for revenge? I ignore it as it’s not too bad and it goes away after a while. Then a few moments later a loud PV8 calls me on 80m. Say what? Must be a pirate making me log false mults? It’s not even dark here, let alone over there. And this loud??? My brain has to move fast. I pretend not to have copied his complete call and meanwhile I open his QRZ page. I tell him he’s loud and ask where he is. He says very up north in Brazil. The QRZ map confirms. I ask the name of his town. He tells me what QRZ.com shows too. With an almost daylight path between him and me and his signal being so loud, I conclude that it’s fishy. And anyone can look up a call to use it… Maybe he was using a remote station in EU? What to do with this one? I’m still in doubt but why remove it from my log? After all I made a QSO with a station giving me the Brazilian call and zone 11. My hope was to work another PY later on but it wasn’t to be.

Sunday evening, late in the contest. I get annoyed because things get ssslllooooowww. I had found a clear frequency and then it slightly improved. But don’t listen for longer than a second because people steal your spot. S57AL tried. He did ask if the frequency was in use. And he moved away. By a mere kHz. That smeared a S9+40dB layer of slime over my RX. I go tell him that moving is good but moving a symbolic kilohertz is not enough. I get the advice “to adjust the DSP filters on my radio, that can help a bit” – end quote. I tried sweating it out but S9+++ QRM so close just made my ears bleed. S57AL, you win. I wonder what this guy works with such a loud signal. At least: loud in EU. The rate is virtually zero so I can afford the waiting. I can hear everyone that calls him and copy right away, but he seems to be a bit deaf. Either his ears or his RX. He doesn’t hear the weaker callers or needs plenty repeats. I suppress the urge to tell him to adjust the DSP filters on his radio, that can help a bit. Power House Cowboys from Eastern EU, gotta love ‘m. Other than that, no real problems encountered. Just an unreal number of dupes. More than 50! Two stations even called me three times!

A few minutes before the end of the contest I log valid QSO #1500. I throw the switch and call it a day. I’m surprised to have made 1500 contacts on eighty meters. Too bad it’s mostly EU. A handful of VE and a fair dose of USA and Caribbean DX. Poor performance towards UA9 and beyond. Nothing African except the ususal EA8/CN/3V8. Propagation or my antenna? Who cares, I know it works in CW because I can work well into those areas in CW.

Saturday afternoon I had a moment to spare and couldn’t resist calling CQ on ten meters. I like fast runs with USA stations. I had one fast hour, making almost 150 contacts. I did the same on 15m on Sunday. That band seemed to work better and it is my best band. The yagi is at 1.5 lambda there. I had two very fast hours netting 300 contacts. Then I tried the same again on 28 MHz but it didn’t work as well. I quit when the QSO counter showed 200 contacts. So apart from the 1500 contacts on 80 I made another 500 on 10/15 mostly USA and Caribbean multis. Note to self: ARRL DX SSB from a big Caribbean station. Only W/VE. Be loud there. Only endless fast runs. Start saving money.  Oh wait, bubble busted: I can’t take off from work whenever I want. Drat.

Now what with WW CW? SOAB or SB40? We’ll see…

A few years back (2010?) I stumbled across an unusual amount of Whiskey Sixers. CQP they called this event. Propagation was fine and I was hooked. I marked the event on the calendar for the years to come and with the FB propagation it was a real party. After all, East Coast is easy from here but West Coast is REAL DX. I love the sound of polar flutter in the morning! Or evening for that matter. Last year already was far less productive with the decline of the solar cycle and I more or less had given up for this year.

Then I read the announcement that to celebrate the fiftieth edition of CQP, there would be a commemorative coin. Just work those 1×1 calls, take the letter of the suffix and spell GOLDRUSH. That means only eight contacts would do. Just find and work the right calls et voilà. It was only Saturday I read the fine print. I would need to make 150 QSO in total apart from the goldrush issue. One hundred fifty? That wasn’t in the initial announcement on CQ-Contest! I knew this would be hard and when I took a look at solarham.net the K index was too high to be good and the Bz had gone negative. For a change. Against all odds I started looking for Californians Saturday afternoon.

I can be short about that. There weren’t many. That is: there weren’t many to be heard overhere. And only on 20. The RBN showed huge amounts of the coveted 6 area callsigns but skimmers only as far as PJ2 and KP3 picked them up. Later on there were a few light signals on 15. I wouldn’t call it an opening. Rather a small crack in the reinforced concrete wall that stood between me and that Golden State. Even on 20 the loudest signals didn’t reach S9. I listened to some SSB signals or rather ‘modulated noise’ but I didn’t even try to call. All this in strong contrast with the previous years where I could work plenty of them in both modes. Even on ten meters. My hope was for a better Sunday and maybe a few on 40 in the morning.

Here’s what I wrote in 2010 about CQP and 40m:

On 40m there were some SSB spots for the CQP. Huh? I could hear them, well past my sunrise. I worked 3 and K6IDX said I was loud (S9). He was S9+20 at my place. The thrill of it! K6IDX was the loudest of them all on all bands. The signals! N6O runner up.

N6GQ even sent me a note regarding this 40m magical contact. ‘Loudest EU at that time‘. I was using a low inverted V on 80/40 for that occasion. We all have a dozen contacts we’ll never forget. This is one of mine. Enough flash back, now return to the harsh reality of 2015. I asked my friend K7GK what would be the best time and he queried his 2014 log. Around 06.30z, which translates to 8.30AM. No alarm needed then. But once I got into the shack: NO DX heard there. Only a ZL2 in the Oceania DX SSB but I didn’t bother to call him. Even EU was weak. But not a single W6. And the rest of Sunday was even worse. In the evening I didn’t hear a single W6 on 20 either. So Sunday was even worse than Saturday. I called it a day with 36 CW contacts and GOLDR. Never even heard one of the USHers.

If we extrapolate this kind of propagation to CQ WW in three weeks… Oh boy.

In fact, I did not expect this one at all! Despite the year 2015 being a very calm year when it comes to ham radio, I can check two things off the bucket list. First was ‘win a plaque for Field Day CW’ after a flawless victory last June and now ‘Win a plaque for a real DX contest’.

Today the postwoman’s van stopped and the doorbell rang. I needed to sign off the ticket for a parcel. It was wrapped in a plastic bag covered with exotic stamps. Russia? I have no parcel in the pipeline, nothing ordered… It felt like a wooden plaque. Yeah right, in what Russian contest would I even win a plaque?


RAEM 2014! I did not know there was a plaque for best Benelux score but I seem to have won it anyhow. Booyaa! Thanks to the RAEM people and R4IT for sponsoring it. I really should do this one full time with all gear up. Planned for 2015.

PS selfie NOT intended  ☺

After a major QSL campaign about three years ago, it was finally time to wrestle through yet another  major batch of incoming QSL cards. In total 1964 QSO got confirmed and replied to, good for yet another 1100 QSL cards. Everybody’s got to make a living. So do QSL printers. The good thing is that I am now fully up to date when it comes to OQ5M incoming ‘buro’ cards. Why did I get so behind? First of all, I hate spending time to process the QSL cards. And then I don’t go to every club meeting so when I finally make it there, there are a few stacks or even a box of cards for me. And if you postpone replying, the pile just grows.

Apart from the major PITA of letting the stack grow, there is a benefit in waiting two or three years. Often people send me a card for a 15m QSO in 2012, a 40m QSO in 2013 and a 10m QSO in 2014. If I reply to all cards the moment they get in, it costs me three cards. When I wait three years, I can confirm the three contacts on a single card. QSL card printers are entitled to a living,  but there are limits.

There were many JA’s in the boxes. To be precise: 277 JA contacts, that’s over 25% of my cards going out. Two for 80m contacts and yet another for 160m. I remember one evening many years ago (2009?) when I worked a dozen Japanese stations in a row on Top Band. One must look for good things in the bad situation of a sleeping sun. One JA wrote a note on his card to me: “you have gd ears like a elephant”, he notes using 100W and a vertical on 15 CW. I don’t know if ears like an elephant is a compliment? 100W and a vertical? I don’t need big ears for that. I worked K3WWP numerous times and he’s QRP with mostly indoor antennas. I even remember guys sending they’re at mW levels.

There were a total of thirteen of my own cards returning from the DARC QSL bureau, stamped ‘SK’. So these OM must have passed away (-RIP-) between them sending their card to me and my reply card getting there. That is another drawback of the slacking QSLer that I am.

And finally a mystery has been solved. For years there has been a post-it on my shack table. I wrote the info on it for two contacts with HS0ZJF/8, using my ON5ZO callsign. HS0ZJF is my expat friend ON4AFU. The mystery lies in the fact that after all the time that passed I did not remember in what year I made these contacts. And I didn’t bother to ask AFU. So I couldn’t enter them in DX4WIN. What I should have done right away, I give you that. So now there was a card in the box confirming these two contacts. As it turns out, the post-it has been sticking in my eyesight for over five years. I think it must have been a case of ON4AFU texting me from HS0 that he was on the air, me running upstairs to make a contact without booting the shack PC and just scribble something on a piece of paper. No need to write down 2010, the day and month will do, I’ll put this in DX4WIN right away. Not so! This scenario must have happened twice because both QSO were on different dates.

But now I am up to date. For OQ5M. There is another shoe box for OQ5ZO/OO5ZO/ON5ZO and ON5ZO/P. OQ5ZO, that’s 2001. OO5ZO, that’s 2005. Oh my, more than a decade. A few times I thought: this paper QSL practice really is an archaic remainder of the past. But in the same thought it dawned on me that ham radio and CW really is an archaic remainder of the past as well.

Surely I remember my first cards coming in. Every card was a treasure. And when the first order of 1000 of my own cards came in, I already had a backlog of 800 or so contacts waiting to be QSL’ed. It took me quite a while because I wrote them all by hand. Eight hundred cards at once, handwritten. Oh boy what a dedicated fool I was. As soon as I started contesting and still wanted to send out cards for all contacts (hey, everything was new in one way or another), the high volume of outgoing cards forced me to print labels. And then rubberstamp the label with red ink, just like the pros. I made 18000+ CW contacts as OO5ZO in 2005, and I got smarter. I only sent out cards myself to non-EU stations. Replies to those cards are still coming in, so waiting three years to reply seems reasonable, no?

And what do I do with all these cards? Well, check this out. A third identical container is now already half full. Imagine I need to pull out a card for a 80m QSO with Texas made in 2004… Viva LotW and eQSL.

As it turns out I didn’t do as much ham radio as I planned to do. The weather was only a minor limiting factor this summer. Space weather and its impact on ionospheric propagation was more of a problem. Or rather the lack thereof. That makes DXing a bit of a drag.

My biggest concern was finishing the log checking for this year’s UBA DX contests (SUCCESS!). Furthermore I worked on a few construction projects (see the sneak preview post), finished some jobs that got started already last year. I tried to relax a bit (FAIL!) and read a few page-turners by McNab. We also held quite a few BBQ Grill Parties with lots of friends. I think this summer was a record year for BBQ’ing since we moved in here in 2003. Hail to the grill baby! To paraphrase my friend Duke.

As a family of four we did our share of daytrips to visit some of the landmarks in our own region. Maybe I don’t get to be as active on the air as before, I can assure you that ham radio is on my mind more than ever!

Look at this beauty:


It’s a thirty meter high watchtower just 30 km from here. I learned about this construction by accident on someone’s website. Public access, local government property. So I just had to go there and climb the beast. Race you to the top! Well, it was a slow race because my kids needed some supervision on the stairs.

There was a little garden at the base and the municipality provided a picnic table so we headed for a local store to run errands and had lunch al fresco while my head started spinning. Not from vertigo but from wild plans. FIELDDAY! A publicly accessible structure, 30m high, with room for dipole legs in all directions and a nice flat lawn to put a tent on. And no neighbors to hear the generator roar. Honestly I was so excited it took me thirty hours (!!!) to realize… that you cannot use existing structures like this for field day antenna supports. DUH! The love for this tower soon cooled down. With the platform being at 133 meter ASL, this would be a kickass VHF location. Just keep it in mind.

On yet another sunny hot day we decided to visit the open air museum of Bokrijk.


I swear I did not add the flags – the quad loop was there when I got there.

Some people might say: “hey look, what a nice medieval windmill they managed to preserve and put on display here”. Guess what my first thought was? Geez, a full size single loop quad antenna for 80! Let me count the steps between the blades to see if 160 is possible too? I can’t help it. This antenna business has been messing with my mind for too long.

Maybe I should just forget about all this ham radio nerdiness. A day to the north sea shore will do me good. Now you should know that ever since I read the stuff K2KW wrote about Team Vertical (“we’re just using some verticals on the beach mon“), I can’t just look at the sea. I don’t even see the sea. I see a giant reflecting plane that turns a simple vertical into a DX magnet working better than a yagi on a high tower. I can’t help it. Salt water… low take off… ON5ZO QRZ dididah didahdahdit. What is that you say honey?


Salt water… SALT WATER!

And then once we got off the little commuting boat that took us across the harbor channel (for free nonetheless!), seeing this doesn’t help either. Light house weekend anyone? It’s got a ILHW reference.

Lighthouse Lange Nelle - Oostende

Lighthouse Lange Nelle – Oostende

It was a good summer holiday. Only way too short. And again with some unfinished jobs waiting for next year…

I stay clear of those (so called) social media but I do take a peek once in a while at some of the ham radio accounts that are open for non-members. Today I noticed that Frank ON9CC / OT6M had a nice graph from his Clublog account, titled ‘QSO by year’. I generated the same image for my account.


What do I see?

First off: it seems I failed to upload some contacts to Clublog because my own count is higher. And ARRL LotW shows a DXCC count of 285. What gives?

And I dind’t know I have been doing so much phone ? That’s only the major SSB contests. I do UBA SSB (moral duty), WPX and CQ WW SSB and if time and WX permits I crank up the tower for the ARRL DX SSB part.

I got on HF by the end of 2000. I had no knowledge of operating practice and had only a short and low inverted V and the TS-850’s autotuner. Somehow I still managed to work 70 countries in just under two months. Among those SY2A, one of the two or three DXCC entities that I snatched on SSB but not on CW. I wonder what the others are.

I discovered contesting in 2001 and 2002. There was plenty of activity on 28 MHz, a band for which I had a 3 el yagi at about 9m high.

In 2003 I had a lot of work to do in our new house and had no real antennas here. Low horizontal wires and automatic antenna couplers were used on the scarce free time. The dust settled in 2004 and with limited antennas but with considerable free time, I doubled the QSO count.

The difference between 2004 and 2005? A crank up tower to hold up better and higher low band wires, a big 10-15-20 yagi and a WARC dipole. That’s going from 8k to 18k. Oh wait, this is another major factor: 2005 was the year that the OO pfx was released for the first time and I made 17600 CW QSO as OO5ZO. Anyway the difference between crappy antennas and a tower to support real antennas is dramatic. Adding a 10 dB amp is NOT (January 2006).

I think 2008 and 2009 were two years that I had more to do for my job so I didn’t have so much time off. And early 2010 marked the birth of our first son. But then there was just no stopping me as the propagation peaked and the rates in the contests were mad. At least for a small station in Belgium. There was a small dip in 2013 because I missed two major contests due to storms and not wanting to crank up the tower.

Last year (2014) was the best so far. With my 5000 claimed QSO in CQ WW CW. I don’t think any single op has done this from Belgium in a contest? Yes I am damn proud of that   ☺

I already know now that 2015 won’t show spectacular QSO totals. I also know the reason why but still I’m surprised to see I made 10k contest contacts already even with missing much of the major contests earlier this year.

High QSO numbers result in thousands of QSL cards coming in. But that’s something I will moan about very soon, when those boxes of incoming QSL are processed (what a waste of time!) and my wallet is a few hundred euro lighter.


Sneak preview of a new small tilt over mast. The mast itself needs another section (or two?). Just testing the concept. Still VERY MUCH under construction. It’s a ‘just for fun’ project; for the heck of it and to get better welding skills.

I need more holidays, early retirement and a few extra lives. Maybe then projects like this will progress faster.

Filmed with old classic cell phone, vintage 2010. Shabby image quality, no HD.

My online Purveyor to the Royal Shack of PC hardware just put one of these on display.



With a name like DXRacer, this might be a useful addition to the shack. For those long weekends when we race the DX for 48 hours straight.

I like the mouse tray option, not for the mouse but for the paddles of course  ☺

Not cheap though. Anyone uses this in the shack? Would this really offer more comfort than a normal chair? I had a pretty sore butt last weekend.  :o(

You can also apply for sponsorship. Now wouldn’t that be something? ON5ZO’s buttocks proudly sponsored by… And when the mult bell rings, a word from our sponsor.