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!