SFI > 250 or bust!

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Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

My previous post revealed that my WordPress theme was aging. It developed compatibility issues with the latest WP versions, especially on the picture gallery. I don’t use free or commercial themes. I roll my own. I have been using a commercial tool for that for many years. It’s called Artisteer btw. Because the free upgrade period for that has expired for ages too, I decided to pay for an upgrade. That decision was made in August 2015. And executed a few days ago. I don’t post many pictures so that wasn’t really an issue. But I wanted to show off my ‘wind direction indicator thingy’ and the problem became prominent.

I imported the old theme and exported it with the current version. Issues solved. And to discover the novelties in the latest release, I made up a new theme. Still very blueish, because it really is my favorite color. De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum. Period.

Now if only I could provide some ham radio content… I don’t even know what the current SFI is. 250 or bust!

Very little activity on the writing front. You may have noticed that. Also zero radio activity since ARRL DX SSB. That might be my longest period without a QSO in the log ever. Does that mean I’ve been a couch potato all this time? Not at all. On the contrary. I’ve been doing double shifts in the homebrewing department. One big ham radio project that’s still going on: my field day ‘antenna raising structure’ v2.0. And a couple of small side projects. Let’s not forget a dozen projects in the garden. Like a big swing for the kids including a fireman’s pole to slide down. Now leave me alone you rascals and go play on that giant playset!

One of the side projects is a wind vane. I like to see where the wind is coming from so I can turn the antenna for least wind load. I have always done this by watching the ropes on the tower dangling in the wind but since they can’t move freely, that might be inaccurate. A fancy weather station is too expensive and overkill. I wanted a simple old skool solution: a wind vane. And now I have one. I made it myself from scrap material.

  • The arrow is a scratched piece of square PCB I cut diagonally. So in fact I have two arrows for symmetry and balance.
  • These arrows are held by small aluminum profile I saved from an old bent parasol. The PCB triangles are fixed to the rectangular profile by two M 4 bolts with a locking nut.
  • The swivel mount is a swivel wheel with the actual wheel removed.
  • Where the wheel’s axis was, I put an M8 bolt through a piece of 22 mm tubing. And a self-tapping screw to keep it from tilting.
  • I welded a square piece of flat stock as a base, and screwed that to the highest post of the children’s climbing tower. The tube might serve as a flag pole in the future. I leave the flag sewing to the XYL. Honey if you read this…
  • Finish: glossy raspberry red with a yellow accent, on a matt black support.

I did not provide a compass indication because I know where the North is.

It works! It didn’t cost much because all parts were in the junk box for many years. Once I got the idea of using the swivel wheel, it took me half an hour to cut, drill and mount and test the concept.

I get a kick out of making something useful with old rubbish and using parts that weren’t designed for the purpose it serves in the end.

One question remains: how to park a yagi with a rotary dipole on top when the wind blows hard? With the wind direction parallel to the boom so the elements take the wind? Or the elements alongside the axis of the wind so that the boom is perpendicular to it?

I used to be a contester. And to a certain extent: a DXer. A 24/7 ham radio nutcase. And in my mind, I still am. But for some reason, it just doesn’t seem to work out anymore. I want to contest and I want to hang out on the WARC bands. And although I have less free time than a two or three years ago, it isn’t a matter of time per se. What’s up with ON5ZO?

I discovered VHF ham radio more or less by accident in 1999. I got on HF late 2000. I did my first 167 contest QSO in January 2001. From then on, I was hooked. It has been a steep upward climb in which ‘more‘ was the key word. More time in the shack, more friends, more QSO, more antennas, more DXCC, more rate, yet more antennas, more radios, more elements on the antennas, more power, more options. MORE.
And everything worked out fine. All pieces fell into place. Lots of free time and holidays. A very cooperative XYL, even when both kids were born. And the only time I can remember I had to cancel a participation due to something unforeseen was RDXC 2005 for my granddad’s funeral. That’s a long time ago.

True, once in a while I decide not to participate in a contest because of the weather. I don’t want to crank up the unguyed tower when they predict too strong gusts. I had that in CQ WW CW 2012 if I remember the year, and +80 km/h gusts really make the tower shake when it’s all the way up. Mind you: that night there was not a word about winds in the forecasts. Too bad that during the last two years many stormy days coincided with major contests. The list of skipped contests due to what I file under ‘wind too strong’ has become pretty long. That has taken some of the fun away. And under the influence of the ‘philosophy of more’ I decided that if I can’t go all the way, I just don’t bother anymore. It’s as much QSO as possible or zero.

But there is another phenomenon at play. Something I find hard to define, and don’t dare to speak out loud. Have I become bored with contesting? Maybe not per se bored. But the urge to enter each and every contest is gone. For now? The ‘more era’ is over. My naïve effort to make it to WRTC 2014 from here in Belgium with a small station, limited antennas and ‘only’ 1200 W made me enter much more contests seriously than I ever did before. Now that I think of it, I have skipped many major SSB contests in the past (before 2010) because I just don’t give a damn about SSB. But that WRTC selection thing just sucked me into it. More precisely: the online standings page that put me on top of my regional standings until the curtain was about to fall. Oh well that ship has sailed (and sunk) but sure enough that whole WRTC circus (before and after) altered the way I looked at contesting. Not in a bright way. And what about my 5000 QSO in WW CW 2014? I never-ever saw this possible and I’m damn proud of it. It was hard work! Especially from not-so-most-wanted Belgium with what really is a small semi-permanent station in the world of serious contesting. I can never do ‘more’ than that until there is a major peak on the next solar cycle.

What else is happening? I think I am in that phase of life where time is limited and so many things demand attention. Changing jobs last year made me leave my comfort zone and gone was the routine. But right now especially my two kids are the center of my attention. Ten years from now, as early teenagers moving into adolescence, they will probably stay clear as much as they can from the Old Man. But now they really like to do things with dad and I know that there are many firsts that I don’t want to miss. First steps standing up, first time riding up and down the street with the big bicycle, first dive into the big swimming pool, first this and first that.
There is also the fact that the house now needs to harbor four people instead of two. Two of which are continuously evolving at a rapid pace. So once in a while we need to redesign and redecorate some parts of the house. Out with the old, in with the new: painting, new furniture (bigger beds!), put up a swing in the garden, fix a broken bike, glue the broken guitar back into one piece: it takes time. Time that can’t be spent in the shack. “Daddy can you make us a workbench just like you?”. Sure daddy can. Of course daddy will. I won’t be turning on the radio this afternoon but instead saw boards and drill holes and screw that shit together. Satisfying and fun to do, but a killer for ham radio shack time.
Bottom line is that I’m still crazy and serious about the hobby. But external factors cause that I am enjoying the hobby somewhat less dedicated and on a different level. I have been doing many construction projects lately. Some of which are for the ham radio station. Some serve a general purpose. And many jobs are still on the to do lists. In fact I have done much DIY projects. For fun. But there’s not much that belongs on a page pretending to be about ham radio and contesting. Examples?

I have done some gardening. Making sure the lawn is green, fill potholes and fix molehills. And assuring that the XYL’s vegetable garden is ready for the next season. I planted some more little fruit trees. The kids love picking berries. There’s prune too now, if that tree already wants to produce.

I have made a few more bee hotels recently. Even some on demand for friends. I make from leftovers of past construction projects using wood. I just love to see those holes get filled and closed up, and seeing the bees fly out the next year. Einstein supposedly said: “If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live.” Don’t know if he really said it, but scientists are firm about the value of the bees. So if I can give them a hand just by drilling holes into pieces of wood and hang that up, why not? To attract and please them and their butterfly friends, I have provided several meters of flowerbed. That really colors the garden in summer.

Currently I am working hard to improve my field day portable mast. Now here’s a ham radio project! It’s prototype v2.5, coming from v1.0 (June 2014). It should be even stronger and more stable compared to v2.0 we used in 2015. Yet it should be easier to move and deploy. I hope to reveal it early June for IARU Region 1 CW field day.

Many moons ago I acquired this old heavy duty galvanized satellite dish tripod stand. I saved it from being decommissioned and maybe worse: scrapped. I had to move it a hundred times since we came here in 2002. It held my early antenna-fishing rods and first low band verticals. But for over seven years now it was just standing in the way no matter where I put it down. I got tired of hauling it back and forth to find a new place to store it. I couldn’t come up with a purpose for it so I decided to weld plates with wheels under it and weld a plate to the top that holds a big sheet of thick aluminum. Ta-da: I present you my weatherproof workbench /M. Can be used to put the miter saw on, excellent to weld on and ideal to serve drinks and snacks on when it’s BBQ Grill season. Yet another favorite activity of mine where my fate lies in the hands of the weather gods.

I also made a LED floodlight cart. I welded a square frame that holds concrete blocks as a base. I put two wheels under that, welded a two meter high square tube to it and mounted two 20W LED spots on a bracket so I can put it down everywhere and position the lights. Now I can even grill meat after sunset, keep on DIY’ing after dark or light the garden with a PIR motion sensor when someone enters the premises. All from scrap metal, the electro-junkbox and leftover concrete blocks. I only bought the wheels and the LED lights. Fun project!

There are still two things that I really need to do ASAP. I need to dig a trench that’s forty meter long and bury a tube that contains coax, power and control cables. That way I can connect some new and experimental antennas to the shack without running cables over the ground or against the fencing. That job has been delayed for almost three years now. I hope to do it before the end of June. And then I need to mount a waterproof cabinet on the remote end to interface the buried cables with the new devices. Whatever those may be. Two LED floodlights on a cart and a low band RX loop, as a starter.

And this summer I hope to redo some of the clamps on the tower, so that the antennas don’t shift anymore. If stronger gusts start occurring more frequently, I need to prepare. I already have the parts in stock.

You see: I’m quite busy. And although my callsign doesn’t end up in your log as much as it used to do, I’m bound to show up on HF again. I used to be a contester, and I still am.

My CQ WW SSB 2015 adventure on as SB80 can be read here.

Thanks to the good folks from CQ WW the results can be seen here on the CQ WW official website.

And if you argue that there wasn’t massive participation in this category, you’re right. Then I tell you that it’s because everyone is afraid of the low bands and only daredevils have the guts to do so. In turn you might riposte that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Whatever.

Look closely: I set a new Belgian record along the way. Totally unexpected. The less I participate in contests, the more unexpected things seem to happen. Like this and that.

Honestly: if I were to do single band efforts in the near future, by which I mean until the higher bands (QRG > 10MHz) are wide open again, 40m would be my band of choice. That band offers great propagation and my antenna in all its simplicity is a killer there. But on phone (SSB), 7 MHz is most definitely a no-go zone from here. That is why I opted for SB80 and will do so again. Just like in any other category I won’t be winning plaques in major contests, but since I will most likely focus on SB efforts in the major contests, SB80 seems the most logical choice. Especially on SSB.

Of course I can’t beat the guys with ‘2 km of radials’ on the ground. And I should work on my local RX capabilities. Local as in ‘I find remote RX over the Internet quite repulsive’. I know I’m a 80m gator. And my kW amp is really nothing more than a good kW: 1200-1300W. No 2-3-4-5… kilowatters here.

Furthermore my contesting activities will certainly focus on having fun and personal achievement. And who knows I might set some Belgian records along the way…

I have never done this contest seriously. Most of the time I just don’t participate. Or occasionally a few hundred QSO for a fast ‘fresh meat’ run on Sunday. That’s because I prefer CW over SSB, and I usually had my way in the CW part. Unfortunately the WX two weeks ago was so bad I left the tower down. And made the XYL happy by helping her out on a project.

Since WX was calm and the sun didn’t stir up the ionosphere, I decided to be active in the SSB part. No goals, just fun. I decided to keep the 160m wire down. Since I was not in competition-mode I couldn’t care less about a bunch of mults on Top Band SSB. That made setting up a bit easier.

That setup procedure went smooth on Saturday morning. Yes, Saturday. I skipped the first night and started on Saturday afternoon. There was no wind so I didn’t need to worry about wires and ropes getting all tangled up. I was surprised to hear fifteen meter in good shape and it was the best band. The 100 kHz extra spectrum gives a little more elbow room than on 20. Nothing more than a little though. Bandwidth on Ten Meters is huge, but as expected this band wasn’t very productive. Weak signals and limited to the usual East Coast suspects.

Saturday afternoon I struggled with a very strong source of noise on 21200. It stretched from 21180 to 21220. I’m pretty sure it was man made but what and where? I couldn’t find it anywhere else. I checked once in a while and then it was gone. I’m not too confident for the future when it comes to noise and QRM. When 20 dried up late in the evening, I watched some TV and slept three hours. Then off to 40.

Forty meters is my money band on CW. But a good kW and a dipole at half lambda don’t cut it on phone. I used split operation, but couldn’t use the voice keying to announce the QSX. That was a burden and I got tired of it soon. Maybe it’s time to get ‘recording on the fly’ working in N1MMLogger, if I decide to do more SB40 or SB80 in the future. I could be a little productive on 40, and even on 80. Contrary to my expectations, I made more QSO on 80 than on 40. The eighty meter band was noisy, and the online lightning detector showed yellow dots over the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Probably the static crashes found their origin there.

I seemed to have run out of stations to work around sunrise. SR on 80 was not spectacular. Propagation and DX wise that is. I’m not talking about the scenery. The 40m band was open as far as CA but no one came back to my CQ. So I decided to quit. And sleep. I made my way to the shack around 1230 utc. I could live with the numbers on 40 and 80. I came to terms with 10 being retired for a while. But I needed many more contacts on 20. The band was full with loud signals and I had a hard time squeezing in. Same on 15 for that matter.

During the next hours, the weather gods had a few nasty surprises in store for me. Snowy rain showers that produced terrible static. I had to use the RX loop because the yagi was rendered useless for RX. Each shower quickly went as soon as it came but there was a train of those crossing my ether at regular intervals. As the afternoon progressed, it became clear and dry. And much to my surprise, ten meters opened up. A bit reluctant at first, then the opening solidified and stretched as far as the Midwest. Finally a handful of Californians were logged.

After that the rate plunged and things became slow. Everything in the bandmap was already logged and I just couldn’t find a spot to run. Around 2000 utc I took a break. My plan was to return for another run on 20. But when I put the cans over my ears one hour later, I heard something was wrong. Signals were weak and even the louder east coasters had that typical fluttery sound to them. What gives? Did the sun burp? I checked the solar data and much to my surprise the A was at 49 and K at 5, or was it 6? Ooops. The northern Dutchmen reported clearly visible aurora borealis so I knew the last hours would be a pain. I tried running 40 but I couldn’t get a thing going. So with a little more than two hours to go, I pulled the plug and pushed the off button. If this had occurred on Friday, I wouldn’t even have cranked up the tower.

Was it fun? Not as much as in CW. With these conditions I would have made over 2200 contacts easily. Now I stranded at 1741. Best hour was 166 on 40m at 3AM Sunday. I was active once again and each and every contact was DX. Of course this is my best score in ARRL DX SSB, because I never bothered before. Long live CW!

It has now become clear that no spot means no rate. Period. People just hop from spot to spot. Many times I called CQ for a few minutes without answer. At last someone finally worked and spotted me, and then you work a few dozen stations in a few minutes until the effect wears out. Then it’s slow again until the next spot. The result is that some people can’t handle themselves and use their second callsign, or a friend’s callsign to put themselves on the cluster. Time after time, contest after contest. Poor operating if you ask me.

You know you haven’t done much contesting lately if…

  • Windows proposes you about 20 updates.
  • N1MMLogger tells you the current version is over 60 days old, please upgrade.
  • You suddenly notice the SFI < 90 and you remember it to be well over 100.

Indeed: my last QSO was made December 31 of last year. The calendar says it’s the last weekend of February and I’m about to make my first QSO of 2016. Main culprit is of course the WX. I left the tower down in UBA SSB because of strong winds. I left the tower down last week for ARRL CW because of strong wind gusts. That hurt a little more. And I’m through with messing about: it’s either all the way or not. So it’s either the tower up with the low band wires up, or do something else. But this weekend it seems that finally the WX is slightly more cooperative.

This morning I cranked up the tower and pulled up the 80m vertical. I disconnected the 160m wire. I’m not eager to do SSB on Top Band. Too bad I missed the CQ WW 160 CW as a side dish to the UBA DX SSB contest last month. I’m wondering when I should realign the dipole and the yagi after the November wind gusts. And how far I should go: just realign it and be done in an hour, or change the clamps too and start an unpleasant adventure?

It’s a bit chilly outside and of course the average wind speed has more than doubled over the last three hours. As an atheist it’s hard to admit but I’m starting to belief there is a higher force that follows the contest calendar closely and I must have done something to upset that force because it’s always turning up the wind machine more than a few notches on important contest weekends. Take last weekend: absolutely no wind and dry weather. Comes Friday afternoon: 12°C and strong gales, that disappear Monday morning.

But I was glad to spend a few hours outside. Apart from cranking up the tower I cleaned up here and there and tinkered about some upcoming projects or the finishing of some jobs started last year. With an hour and a half to go before the contest and a filled stomach, it seems I’m all set to go. I hope to have some rate and work some DX. I’ll be looking out for you guys!   ☺

Another item on the ‘you know you haven’t been active’ list: need to synch PC clock! The shack PC hadn’t been turned on in a while and the clock was lagging about four minutes. How do I know? I was all set to go and wanted to see how the RBN would pick up my signal on 15m. So I launched a little CQ, with five minutes to go. Or so I thought. I didn’t expect an answer, or maybe just one guy. Suddenly there were about four or five callers. That rang a bell. Yes, the starting bell rang. I checked the radio controlled clock on my desk: 1400 local = 1300 utc. The contest just started, hence the frenzy. I quickly changed from DX to Contest log. Luckily I had already set up a new contest instance before! A few seconds later I was good to go. I quickly had the clock synch to an NTP server. I had to adjust the time of the first two contacts afterwards. I was under the assumption that my clock synched itself every hour or when the PC booted (registry parameter), but somehow it wasn’t…

About the contest…

I usually do this one in the 12h category. Yes we Belgians have the choice: 6/12/24 hours but no Single Band categories for ON. I have done 24h and decided to do so again. I didn’t feel like planning on/off times. Even with some sleep in the wee hours I have won this in the past. Things came to a halt just after my local midnight. With 21 QSO or so during the last hour, I decided it was time to sleep. I planned to be back around 6AM local time (0500 UTC). So I still had over eight hours to go.

It’s now official: we’ve lost Ten Meters. I tried a few times but no one came back. Skimmers in VU2 and ET were hearing me, and two Belgian skimmers. Nothing else. I moved a willing K3WW from 15 to 10 but I didn’t hear a thing. Bummer. Sunday I worked a OH, which was hard because he was in the QSB infested noise. A UA3 happily CQ’ed in my face for over five minutes. Not even that for a supposedly easy multiplier. Another weak caller from DL. With propagation like this, people will abandon 28 MHz so even a modest opening might be gone before being detected. The thing is that I remember this scenario from a few years back – on 15! So it needs to get a lot worse before it’ll get somewhat better again.

Participation was more than OK. Not from Belgian stations. Not too much Belgian hams. Belgians are not very active. Belgians are not really contesters. Belgian CW operators are a minority. So if you combine this, you know why. I managed to keep an average of about 100/hr for the first few hours. But inevitably it slows down and comes to a halt. I was glad to see I made it to VK4-land on 80m at night. Unfortunately being heard by the RBN does not mean someone will actually call you from there.

In the morning I took another rather long break. I played upstairs with the kids while the XYL was mopping downstairs. Then I had another three hours to go. I was glad to have the second radio to keep me busy or at least give me the feeling of being somewhat busy. The addition of the small amp on radio2 is a great investment. When the contest was over, I was glad to finally have played radio a bit and made the first 1300 contacts of 2016. A few years back I made 1500 contacts in this contest. That’s what you get with one band less (-10m). I think I will do SBxx in major contests the coming years. SB80 seems fine. Plenty of sleep during the day, plenty bandwidth, even on phone and propagation there should improve.

Oh yeah, I put on my DXer hat twice for 3XY1T: 40 + 80 CW.

WOW – drastic measures taken here @G3TXF.

The same feeling grabs ahold of me as many many years ago (2008? 2009?). W4PA, who was still very actively blogging about his contesting adventures, told us that he had thrown away his gigantic complete QSL card collection. Just like that, out of the blue, stone cold, good riddance.

Not that I don’t understand. But it still feels awkward. I see these thousands of cards as a burden. A burden to send (prepare, sort, pay), and a burden to receive (process & reply to). Then a burden to stock them somewhere.

Yet paper QSL cards are (have been?) a substantial part of our hobby. A hobby that has seen so much change since I discovered it in 1999. I don’t care for DXCC and awards. I use LotW and Clublog to see when it comes to statistics.

QSL cards are nice for those who just start in the hobby. Everything is new and exotic. After a decade of contesting and LotW, it’s something else. The old timers warned me about that when I was a rookie…

So why does it feel weird to me that people toss their collection into the recycling bin?

 

In one word? NOTHING

Then why a post? For the archives. My memoires.

I was looking forward to this weekend. Not so much for the SSB contest, which I mostly do because I’m loyal to the UBA (and yes almost any contest beats no contest) but also for the CQ 160 CW contest. The UBA contest comes to a halt at night, the 160m contest thrives at night.

But for the third year in a row the strong winds made me keep the tower down. Friday there were some pretty strong gales. And overnight and at sunrise, the wind was blowing even more fiercely out here. So I was glad I didn’t crank the tower up.

The wind was predicted to settle around Saturday noon, which it eventually did. And for a moment I contemplated to crank up the tower one level and drop my 160m plans and focus on the UBA DX SSB. But then it started raining. Then pouring. Cats and dogs. Which in turn tempered my enthusiasm to go outside. Once again: no contesting. Thanks lousy WX. Weird to say but I start to get used to it by now.

I think the 40m dipole and the yagi have drifted apart yet a few more degrees by the wind. Coming Sunday another round of strong gusts is announced (+90km/hr). So why even bother? The new climate does not favor crank up towers and field day style operations. The new climate sucks.

This is something old that I kept on editing when things progressed. I just put it here for the records and hopefully not for future reference.

That dreaded QRM that popped up in last year’s WW SSB (note: that’s the 2014 edition) seems to be gone for now. At least in its nastiest form. Knock on wood. There might be a general increase in noise since I first put up a wire here in 2003. I think. I haven’t got actual measurements to prove that. Since the fierce QRM came suddenly a year ago I have been very focused on noise. I may hear high noise levels now that might not even be there in reality. I don’t know what is acceptable by nature.

It’s hard to find the source of a problem if it isn’t always there. It only occurred when it was dark outside so I concluded it was most likely related to either a street light or a neon sign. But I live in a rural village with little commercial activity and the closest neon sign is 1.3 km away. Another thing I noticed was that it didn’t start together with the street lights. Nevertheless it went away at or about the same time the lights went out in the morning. Last fall, about a year ago (fall 2014), I went up to the shack evening after evening for a while to listen but it never showed up. So I gave up. But in a contest after sunset, it sometimes started wiping out 80 completely, rendering 20 useless. It affected 160 and 40 but those bands were still manageable. It was hard to listen through it in CW and it killed my ears in SSB. I never heard it when listening (RX only)  at random times. Yet it was almost always there during nighttime in a contest. So I started to think I triggered the QRM source by emitting 1 kW of RF power.

During the IARU HF Championship 2015 the QRM was there when I was running USA late in the evening. There is a street light on a pole about twenty meters from the tower. I can see it through the window from the corner of my eye when looking at the PC monitors. Suddenly that light went out and then the QRM level dropped significantly. The light came on a few seconds later and along came the noise. It happened a second time somewhat later. This more or less confirmed my theory that I activated the QRM by putting out RF myself. Don’t ask me if or how it’s possible.

I was glad I finally had something to blame. But I was (and still am) not really sure that was the real culprit. Both neighbors to the left and right have those aquarium lights in their fish tanks. And what if someone around here has grow lights for some purpose? What about some new TV sets? Those devilish power line adapters the ISP’s put everywhere? People watch TV at night. But probably not as late as the time of the QRM. It had to be something related to darkness as it wasn’t there in broad daylight.

But that particular streetlight wasn’t really broken and it’s hard to report ‘a street light that might possibly cause QRM on the HF bands and sometimes goes out just to come on again by itself’. The utility company’s technician might think I’m pulling his leg. I briefly considered a slingshot to shorten the lifetime of the bulb. But that’s not my style. A double barrel rifle? I’m one of the few around here without a gun so that would require an accomplice with aiming skills. And deaf neighbors.

July 31st. By coincidence there was another flickering light on the other side of the garden. Also about thirty to forty meters from the tower. I completed an online form to report broken streetlights. I do that often when I see a flickering light in a wide radius around the QTH. The power company usually fixes these lights within a few days. So one summer evening just after dusk the utility technician came with his truck-mounted cherry picker. He parked and blocked the street. That’s why they come at night. Not to hinder traffic. I saw the guy climbing in his elevator basket and up he went. I rushed down the street to tell him about the light and my specific problem. I couldn’t care less that my street is a dark hole and that the lamp is totally broken. But it mustn’t flicker. Try explaining ham radio and short wave reception and QRM to a stranger in a few words. The kind technician was very cooperative. He agreed to wait up high on the pole while I went in to check for noise after he replaced the light bulb. Which is a problem because the noise wasn’t always there and popped up at random times only. After replacing the lamp and visually inspecting it he told me that it was a very old model showing its age, making it prone to flickering and arcing. Let’s hope he and my hunch are right.

Later that summer I got hold of ON3DI’s spare FT-817. Thanks for that OM. I walked around on a couple occasions, with the TRX on a strap over my shoulder and holding a piece of wire in the air. Since it was dark I put on a fluorescent safety jacket. People passing by slowed down and looked at me from their cars as if they had seen an alien. I went up and down and around the block but I didn’t really capture that specific QRM. Not then and not on the transceiver ever since that one particular light bulb got replaced. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

A few weeks ago there was another bulb flickering. Just across the street, about ten meters from the living room. And another one three hundred meters from here. And another one almost one kilometer away. They have all been replaced by now. I guess the guy processing the online street light trouble tickets knows who I am by now.

There is one problem that has been there for years that I might track down one day. It’s audible on 20/15/10, loudest on 15 meter and it becomes very loud when I turn the beam from the Caribbean to PY. So when at 300° (USA) it is weakly there but it doesn’t block signals. It gets louder at 270° to become very loud at 230°. It’s not really a show stopper, more a nuisance. Signals sip through. And the yagi is not often pointed beyond 300°. I also noticed this noise when walking around with the FT-817. It’s loud at my front door. And that’s at 270°. That’s also where the coax for broadband and digital TV is. And at 270° there is a coax tap on the pole across the street. By the way: The Panasonic TV makes a lot of noise around 21 MHz. I followed the coax wire in the house to the TV, that’s how I found out. The TV noise itself goes away completely on the FT-817 when I pull the 230V power plug out of the socket. That’s when I’m standing next to it. I should listen in the shack on the yagi and then detach the AC power. But the TV noise is not the other noise I pick up. That noise has been there for ages, even in the dark ages of the vacuum tube TV, long before the LED TV.

Somewhere someone recently said that antenna restrictions won’t kill ham radio but switching electronics will. Well, it doesn’t have to if the design and construction is done right. By accident I came across this item by ON7EQ. Scroll down and look at the last picture. EMC? What EMC? Damn you spectrum polluters!