It’s been over six months since my last post. Not much has happened on the radio front. Unfortunately.
There was a storm in February keeping me off the air in ARRL DX CW. Then the Russians started a war in Ukraine turning the world upside down, also our hobby. Exit a few contests, and my motivation down the drain.
Then I had to dismantle my station to build a new shack. The contractor was very late to the party and things have been moving slow. The roadmap I laid out in Spring 2021 turned out useless.
I don’t want to mess with temporary setups by moving the heavy and expensive things back and forth. So the only thing left to do is do my part of the work whenever the contractor has completed a phase and count down until I finally can build a new shack from the ground up – literally. Even from below the ground.
I surely miss being on the air and doing contests. I hope to be back soon but it’ll take another few weeks / months. Bummer!
Just a quick list of what happened after CQ WW CW end November. Those studying contest history in the next century, or the author writing my hagiography should have complete data don’t they?
Propagation seemed only so-so. Result: once again I didn’t even turn on the rig for the ARRL 10m contest.
December: 9ACW contest
Half the number of QSO compared to 2020. Less people active, the COVID stay-at-home effect wearing off?
December: RAEM contest
After a storm in 2020 I was back in RAEM this year. Always good fun.
I could invade the bands with the special event station callsign ON75UBA, celebrating 75 years of our national society. The problem was the wind speed picked up and I had to lower the tower. This is acceptable for anything above 10MHz but it makes my low band antennas disappear. I made about 3700 QSO, mostly CW.
End of January: UBA DX SSB
Participated as OQ5M in the 12h sub-class. Participation seemed up from recent years. But it’s SSB and I only do this one because it’s our own contest.
I also made 500 QSO in CQ WW 160 CW.
February was windy. I was looking forward to ARRL DX CW but then windy turned to stormy. Then stormy turned into a few days of consecutive heavy storms: Dudley, Eunice, Franklin. Deadly trio. I was lucky that my antennas survived. All over this part of EU people reported antenna damage. And cancelled or limited participation in ARRL DX CW. I had to sit this one out because of storm after storm after storm.
All my hopes were set on UBA DX CW the week after. The weather finally calmed down and the forecast for the weekend was very contest friendly. Then Russia decided to invade Ukrain and two days before the contest someone in the UBA thought the contest should be cancelled because of this. A few hours later an official announcement appeared that “The UBA” had decided to cancel the contest. And then questions from my fellow Belgian hams came in through in my private comms channels… They do know I am not ‘the UBA’, right? I just check the contest logs and use their special calls. That kinda made me member of the UBA HF Commission. Something that organically grew back gently after I withdrew cold turkey from official UBA business 15 years ago. And I not always agree but who am I anyway?
Asking if a contest should be cancelled yes / no and why / why not is a legitimate question to ask. I’m not saying it should nor that it should not. But the thing is: there was very little thought put into this, if any. And now it turns out that people don’t like to be put against the wall. They rather make up their own minds and take it from there. Gee, who’d have thought? And isn’t that ironic? Think about the disease and the cure. The pot and the kettle.
So now I suddenly find myself with lots of free time this weekend. Time to update this webpage here. Since a few weeks I have a few new insights and thoughts about the hobby. Some of them strongly opinionated. Others are just plans I’d like to execute. I hope to find the time and energy to do something with it.
In the meantime: let’s root for peace and common sense. If not in international politics, then at least in our hobby!
The weeks leading up to the contest I decided I wasn’t going to do SB80 or SB40 anymore like the previous years. Much to my surprise I discovered that last year I did SOAB(A) already, too! How could I forget my epic personal 5200 QSO record? Goes to show how much I care about scores and records of the past. Except ‘in the now’, for how to improve things from the past. The problem with growth and improvement is that it has to stop somewhere. When the curve flattens you just have to cope and deal with it to avoid frustration. I think I hit the ceiling with the parameters I can manipulate (or not): size of garden, budget, things you can put up and keep up in the air and the everyday common location that is Belgium. The only uncertainty comes from the sun. What will propagation be like?
The propagation in CQ WW SSB a month earlier was promising, especially on the Ten Meter band. That Son of a Band has been playing dead for years now. Eternal hibernating, it feels. But in the SSB part we were surprised with the best conditions there in years. Cycle 25 ramping up! We climb out of the valley! Yay! Optimism galore. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a one off event and the band has reverted to a coma. The occasional spasms aside.
I now also remember why I did All Band last year. The COVID imposed work scheme (50% at home, 50% in school) was very favorable for a CQ WW CW participant. At home on Friday, at home on Monday coinciding with the contest weekend. Rest and calm. Not so this year. A full bore work schedule, more stress than ever before (various reasons, not just a virus thing) so I felt very tired leading up to the contest. But this COVID thing saved the (Fri)day. My son’s class was put in confinement for a whole week and my wife and I split the days of social leave to be at home with the kiddo. He can’t stay at home alone for whole days already at his age. And grandparents shouldn’t be addressed when there is a risk of COVID. Note that my son was not affected, it’s just that his class had too many positives so as a protective measure the complete group was put at home. I ‘volunteered’ to stay home on Friday. I still had some school related work to do but at least I was home and not performing my show in front of those possible probable germ spreaders for a whole day.
Friday went by. I didn’t really sleep and I had hoped for more rest, but I felt OK. Around 1800 local time, 1700utc, I did a walk with the dog. To give him a workout, and to get myself a workout in the hope to fall asleep for at least a few hours. Friday had been windy, rainy and cold.
Upon returning I put up a second RX antenna, just 30m copper of unterminated wire on the ground with a stock 9:1 balun. It was facing JA. Report: it kinda works, just like anything works but some things just work better than other. It was more to satisfy the urge to put up something magical that would make all the difference in the world. Some of you will understand. Of course it doesn’t change a thing in reality.
After that I went to bed for about three hours of sleep. I woke up before the alarm rang. Subconscious stress. Good for the XYL who hates being woken up in the night. I took a bite to eat, something to drink, slipped into comfy clothes and off to the races. 23:59:55…56…57…58…59…
00:00:00 OQ5M OQ5M TEST on 3503.50. Proven strategy for me: start on 80 low in the band. My 80m antenna (copper wire hoisted up the tower and 2 elevated radials) is a fantastic performer for its simplicity.
The first minutes went very slow. This was worrisome. Actually it was not too bad but nowhere near new records. Which is one of my unspoken ambitions; to better my best QSO/hr time. I already own seven out of ten of the fastest hours from Belgium in this contest, but this is one figure that can be improved I guess.
After a few minutes it became clear that this was not one of my fastest hours since I found myself grabbing the VFO dial of radio #2 and interleave 40m QSOs with the 80m run. During the first six hours I was mostly on 80 and a good run on 40 netting almost 1000 QSO. It’s tempting to extrapolate this to the entire contest multiplying the number by eight (8 x 6hrs = 48 hrs) but I know that I can’t maintain this from Belgium with my setup. I wonder if it’s the Belgium or the setup? It’s not me because I thrive in adrenaline soaked fast runs. I get exhausted and tired from low rate. That’s when I get tempted to leave the shack or sleep.
Later on I dabbled a bit on 160m but that was a waste of time. Double mults of course on the fresh band but the rate got killed. The 9th clock hour with 97 QSO was the first below 100. Mainly because I milked out 40m for 3pt USA and ended up late on 20m. There was a lot of action already on 15m too so I headed up there with an 185 hour. Yay! That may seem a lot but once you’re used to it, anything less feels like a drag. I need to score that runner’s high baby!
I don’t really know what to tell about the next part of the contest. A few bullets:
It was fun.
Rate varied between 105 and 170.
It was more fun.
I was amused by the number of DX that was in the mix and that called me. From all over the globe.
Marc OR3A was also in the SOAB(A) game. The first few hours we were neck to neck, he often overtaking me especially in number of multipliers. After a few hours he had way more mults than me but I took a bigger and bigger leap in QSO totals. I was sure that I would catch up on mults as long as I could keep running. Remember the motto:
Keep running and the mults will come!
Which they did in the end. Mostly by sticking to my running strategy and a few fast S&P excursions. I almost never spend too much time in a cluster triggered spot mess. Often a short while later the multiplier gets enough of the mess and starts S&P while looking for a clear spot to call CQ again. It then comes across OQ5M et voilà: mult logged by yours truly.
Just to say that I dig the online scoreboard and that my main concern was keep a lead over OR3A. Sorry Marc, nothing personal, I just have to have a target that is more or less realistic. I gave up on you in WW SSB so… This time I could not play the “I don’t like SSB” card.
The beat goes on. I sucked up QSO as much as I can.
I always get a motivational dip in the middle of the contest. I get tired, things slow down. Then I start to wonder and think. So once again I decided to take three hours of sleep during a timeslot that would still return the day after, towards the end of the contest. I wasn’t really exhausted like previous editions. But I wanted to avoid that to happen later on when there was more fruitful propagation. I attribute my freshness to two factors:
I adopted the rule that about every four to five hours I would stop no matter what for a short break. Get up, get down, take a wiz, stretch legs, move around, open the door, get on the floor, walk that dinosaur. Ten minutes tops. This helped to stay fresh.
Losing a good 35kg and being much fitter than 18 months ago. Not that I became a gold medal athlete (bronze baby yeah), but I’m just much fitter now. It shows in a lot of aspects in life, and also in contesting. Franki the Radio Sports Athlete…
Things were not too spectacular the second half of Sunday. Rates were low, ten meters was a total bust, fifteen closed early, twenty closed soon after and there was only the low bands left from here.
With about two hours to go and trying to draw the attention of USA on 40m (which worked!), I suddenly noticed the amp put out 700W or less instead of the desired 1200W. This was weird. I adjusted the tube amp’s settings for 1200W but the tuning knobs’ values were way off. I put the amp in standby and checked SWR. It had risen to 2:4:1 where it should be 1.7:1. PANIC! ALARMS GOING OFF! What is wrong here? Quick check from the shack: SWR was bad on both rigs but OK on dummy load. Not the rig, not the amp, not the bandpass filters. Must be the antenna then. Ferrite core sleeve balun overheated and beads saturated? It’s rated 2kW+ and homemade so pretty much bullet proof… Water ingress somewhere after the rain? Seems unlikely.
All THESE ARE HORROR SCENARIOS because I hate tower works. I was very exhausted by now and my hand-eye coordination was messy. Thinking straight was a problem too. I decided to go outside and into the garage where shack and antennas are interconnected. I checked some connections and I decided to take out the coax stub that shorts out the 20m signal when TX on the other radio. Once back upstairs into the shack: everything reverted to normal. It’s now five days later and I have checked the 40m antenna every day: it has been stable. So there must be something wrong with the stub. I will check this later on, when I’m recovered from the contest and taken care of the fallout.
All this lasted a good twenty minutes but this was enough the drain the batteries a good deal, from whatever what was still left after 45-46 hours into CQ WW. I sat out the rest of the time running one band without much success but intensively hopping around and scoop up anything audible with radio #2.
The bell rang and right away the counter started for 2022.
Not my best QSO total, not my best total score, but somewhere in between.
10,3% QSO with radio #2 (500W amp).
Almost 32% QSO with USA!
Best hour: 186 QSO 0100-0200utc: 176 on 80 run + 10 on 40m with radio #2.
It was fun and this truly is the biggest of the biggest.
Lots of people worked, many DXpeditions on the air.
Many familiar calls in the log. Too many to mention but much appreciated.
Many DX from the Far East and Latin America.
Some rude big gun morons on too. But a very very small minority. Often the usual suspects doing the usual stupid things (QRMing DX, calling without end, calling but not answering etc).
128 different countries worked overall.
Like last year I want to say thanks to my wife for supporting this crazy hobby and putting up with my quirks. And shout out to my kids who cater me and keep a close look on the scoreboard. They often boohoo all who’s above me in the ranking. Be warned!
Thanks for reading this. I’m not as much into blogging anymore as before. It’s also a matter of not seeing the audience. But occasionally people tell me they actually drop by to read this so here we/you are.
Time for the annual pre-WWCW Smack Down that is the LZ DX Contest. I usually have a good result in that contest but in 2020 I had an unusually good score. I got second ‘world’ after RT9A.
I have more QSO (I always do well in QSO numbers) and even more multipliers (which is where I usually underachieve ) than RT9A. So his average point/QSO ratio is higher. He has of course much better access to those ten point LZ stations than I have. It’s not easy to work LZ from here on 10-15m, even on 20m it’s not easy.
I was a bit disappointed though that there is no distinction between UA9 and ON and that there is only one plaque to be won. I understand it from the LZ logistical / financial side but a plaque is a plaque. And no plaque is a plague. So there is a little voice in my head that says “Why bother to squeeze out every drop?”. Which is of course a total motivation killer.
Nevertheless: I was ready for this year too because a CW contest is a CW contest and rate is rate and yada yada: CW contesting – it’s what I do.
It seems this year more than ever I have a busy and stressful job. It attenuated my energy and motivation by a dozen dB for CQ WW SSB. But SSB, not my thing so who cares. Apart from the weather (storms), there could be a second potential show stopper in 2021. I felt tired, I had a cold and as a teacher I am exposed to the COVID threat every day. But I dodged the virus’ bullets and I managed to stay healthy. Or at least not become ill. The perspective of a good CW contest is of course as good a reason as any to encourage oneself.
As always the first hours went fast and I accumulated a lot of QSO. Then it inevitably slows down around local midnight (2300utc). With the previous paragraph in mind, I decided not to overdo. A plaque will not be won, Country Winner Belgium is a fact. OK: only 99% sure. Maybe there is an obscure Belgian out there whose signals I have not come across and who is outnumbering my QSO total. Furthermore I need to survive another week before WW CW. So let’s not totally drain the operator’s batteries. A long way to say: I took some sleep. I got up in the morning and carried on but as always the hours of high rate are gone. Apart from that last hour.
Everything went well. It seems the station is ready for the BIG ONE next week. Another LZDX Contest, another satisfying event. Thanks for hosting, see you in 2022 if all goes well.
My first plan for obvious reasons: SB80. Lots of room, not too much spatter and QRM, sleep during the day. But what do I have to proof? I set a few Belgian records for SB entries. I’ve done it before. So why not just go for maximum fun and see what happens? There seems to be life on Ten these days!
KL9A and/or N6MJ started the hashtag #roadtocqww. My road leading there was full of potholes, traffic jams, detours… Lots of work, an unusual amount of work related stress, meetings, projects, deadlines. I was mentally empty and physically exhausted by the end of the week before this contest.
On Thursday my bowels went through the same thing as the sun right before the contest. The gastric equivalent of a CME. Add a snotty nose and I was beginning to fear illness – or worse: the dreaded C-word.
Added twist #1: the weather was bad and was predicted to be worse during the weekend. Strong winds on Friday, a calm Saturday but a nasty Sunday with possible gusts exceeding 70-80 km/h and lightning. Two things I hate and drive me nuts when there is a contest.
Added twist #2: A CME on the sun could/should/would hit Planet Earth during the weekend and cause a radio blackout. Why does this always happen during contest weekends? My wife would answer: “Every weekend is a contest weekend for you guys!”. Fact.
Long story cut short: come Friday I was dead tired and I had nothing prepared. Tower not cranked up. No low band wires. Where is that headset? I’m a CW guy so my microphone is in a box, somewhere… That forced me into a non-competitive mode and I had settled for a ‘just for fun’ approach. First thing: get quality sleep.
I more or less felt ok when I woke up on Saturday. With the tower down, so the yagi at only 8m high, I could work some stuff on 10m. With the small amp, no use to pump out 1.2kW RF with a low antenna. LIFE ON TEN – that’s to be filed under ‘Breaking News’. I scrutinized the outcome of several weather forecast models: Saturday rain and a tad of wind, a calm night but on Sunday a cold front would move over with very strong gusts – just like they predicted the previous days.
Another setback: our new 50kg heavy 8 month old puppy (yes, 50kg at 8 months) charged its way through the RX loop I set up a few days earlier. Luckily a zip tie snapped which released the stress on all other parts. Quick and easy fix but this is a sign of things to come…
I went out around 10AM local time It was cold, raining and a bit windy. It’s been a long time since I was out in this weather doing antenna work. I decided to crank up the tower, play on 10/15/20 and do the low band wire shuffle in the afternoon when it was supposed to be dry. I had two layers of clothing and I got soaked but the yagi was now at 21m high and I could go for it.
Ten was hot. I worked deep into the Far East and Oceania, including 2 VK and 5 JA. On 28 MHz. In SSB. Go figure. This is what I mean with ‘maximizing the fun factor’.
There was an opening to USA on 10m but it was not spectacular. On the other hand, any opening on that band is spectacular today. This band has been closed for ages! Time to head out into the garden to set up the low band wires. It was not too windy so ‘wire management cursing’ was within reason. I have marked the points on the 80m wire where I need to fold it back to make it resonant on 75m. Spot on. I installed the coax stub on the 40m feed line. The dual band dipole exhibits high SWR in the SSB part and since I operate >95% CW, this is the fastest way. I use a T-barrel to put in a parallel coax stub to lower the SWR between 7100 kHz and 7200 kHz. Quick ‘n dirty fix, works FB and makes the amp happy on 7 MHz SSB.
The reason why I don’t like CQ WW SSB is 40m. That band is a total madhouse here. There are hundreds of stations in a small slice of bandwidth, most seeming to use the newest +3kW amps. Impossible to get through with my setup. Last year I worked 3000+ QSO SB40 in WW CW, so my setup is ok for CW. It is not suitable for SSB. Which is fine because SSB is no fun. Here’s my motto:
I work SSB contests, I play CW contests
I tried calling CQ during the night. There is a bit of room below 7125 kHz because USA can’t go there. 7125-7200 kHz is jam packed for the reverse logic. Only thing left to do: call CQ below 7100 and use the second RX in the K3 to listen above 7200. Technically that is easy and is a perfect solution. But it seems no one tunes the bands anymore and your faith lies in the hands of the Cluster Spot Gods. It took a while but finally:
This caused a short lived surge in the rate. Oh well, this just confirms my feeling about the band-mode combo. Off to 80m 75m for better times.
By the end of the night I developed a minor headache. SSB is brutal and makes my ears bleed. CW operators will understand this. The sun came up and I managed to work a few Americans and Canadians on Top Band. Those who called me were easy, but there weren’t many. Their loss.
As predicted the weather went south and the wind speed increased so I called the Big Gun phase a day. I reeled in the low band wires and lowered the tower. I still scanned 20/15/10 once in a while and switched to the 500W amp.
In the afternoon there was a decent opening on 28 MHz and I had a good run, including a +100 hour of USA. With the yagi at only 8m high and only 500W. With this run, a few stations achieved ‘six band status’ in my log.
It was a good thing I lowered the tower because the wind speeds increased and when the real cold front passed over, there was a shower with very strong gusts. I am very protective towards my setup when it comes to wind. I’d rather avoid damage and problems to the key element in my semi-field day setup. Soon after this the higher bands died and I occasionally went into the shack to work whatever I could with the tower down.
Here are the ‘USA in log’ statistics (679/1750 = 38.8%), my benchmark for any DX contest:
Prefix 1,8 3,5 7 14 21 28 Total
K 8 37 93 218 196 124 676
I worked Dima RT5T who was making 20m a better place.
And here’s Instagram phenomenon Marija YU3AWA.
Max ON5UR was living the DX contest dream from A73A and called me on 80m for a double multiplier. Thanks Max!
And many more friends across the planet. Ya’ll non-hams can do whatever you want but Ham Radio is the only Greatest Hobby In The World!
My sons came in to listen on the speakers I installed. My oldest even told me he wanted to this contest thing too. I told him he first has to get his license and pass the tests. I think the minimum age is 12. He replied: I turn 12 in a few months…