Make that: had fun on the bands. My holidays are now over and I’m facing a very busy period with the start of the new school year. So back to the boring life of a civil servant trying to make a living. But that feeling is back. The last three weeks I was QRV almost daily. I renewed my pledge of allegiance to the HF bands.
To propagate or not to propagate…
That is the question. I must admit that these beloved HF bands weren’t in the best of shape. There were days that there was hardly anything to be heard between dawn and dusk. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that we’re facing a few rough years when it comes to the upper HF bands. And the lower bands are populated by vampires. They only come out at night.
The sun giveth and the sun taketh away. And with a K=5 the Big Brass Ball In The Sky took it all away. One day the RBN showed the CY9C expedition only picked up in W1+2+3 on the classic daylight bands. But we shouldn’t blame the sun for it all. Many times the RBN picked up my signal on virtually every continent at once. On 30+20+17 meters of course. Not above. Yet there was hardly anyone on the bands. One day I badly needed someone on RTTY to answer to but there wasn’t any RTTY to be heard! I plead guilty: I haven’t been active a lot either lately. For over a year and a half my activity was limited to a weekend’s contest. And even that turned out to be a lot less than I had hoped for. That said I hope to be more active again. The contests I entered made me very happy. Chasing DX and weird prefixes was fun again despite the lack of serious propagation. I hope for a storm free fall and winter so I can leave the tower up and play on the low bands. Maybe those will calm down noise wise and provide more DX?
Thirsty for Thirty
Between the summer contests, I decided I wanted to be active at sunrise and after sunset. I haven’t done a thing this year on the WARC bands. My guess was that only 30m would be somewhat open and not 17/12. So I quickly made a simple 30m dipole as an inverted V with the apex at 15m above the ground. Of course that worked and as a bonus the SWR was 2.5:1 or so on 6m. There were a lot of 50 MHz spots but I didn’t hear much on the 30m dipole. Nevertheless I worked a few new ones I think. I don’t keep track of DXCC scores. It was all local stuff. Soon I discovered that there was life on 17 after all. So I decided to trade the 30m monobander for the WARC triband inverted V. That also presents a lower SWR on 6m so the amp puts out some more power. Not that I heard more, it is by no means a good 6m antenna. In three weeks I made 330 QSO with 66 DXCC entities. And a lot of weird prefixes for the UBA prefix hunt.
In the loop
I didn’t take down the RX loop I made for WAECW. I must admit that this loop has helped me quite a lot. I wasn’t active on the low bands, which was the main purpose of this loop but I was amazed how well it worked on the other bands. Especially on 30 and 17. On several occasions I could make S7 EU signals compeltely disappear when I switched from the inverted V to the RX loop. And on several occasions I could lower the noise on 10 MHz to make a JA or a K audible. Signals that were almost impossible to copy on the dipole could be copied right away with a bunch of noise eliminated. Impressive for its simplicity and price. I like this loop a lot but it will be hard to give it a permanent place. I will do some testing later this season when the grass doesn’t grow anymore. I especially want to compare it to the not so cheap Wellbrook active loop. Which as a much smaller footprint, in its defence.
My last RTTY contact was made more than two years ago. I’m pretty sure because the MMTTY program was not installed on my new shack PC I assembled in July 2014. Not that I’m a big fan of RTTY but the OJ0DX guys were very active on that mode and loud too so I wanted to work them. Stepping outside the comfort zone. I didn’t succeed because they were gone before I got RTTY going. I had tried lots of settings and parameters. At a given point I was afraid my second K3 had a broken line out circuit. It worked on the left radio. But that radio is hooked up to the big tube amp and I only use the 500W Elecraft amp outside of contests. So I wanted to get it to work on that radio. In the end it was a matter of setting the pitch parameter on the K3 to the same value as MMTY. DUH! Apparently I wasn’t the only one because a google search combining K3, MMTTY and ‘no line out’ took me to the pitch issue. I had wasted many hours on that, trying so many things. I even made an audio cable feeding left K3 into right MMTTY input and vice versa. Since right channel MMTTY did decode left K3 audio but left MMTTY channel did not decode right K3 line out, I started to fear a broken K3. But there you go, all is fine in the end.
While looking for a solution I tried to find an RTTY signal on the bands. But there just wasn’t any. The bands aren’t great right now but it seems there isn’t a lot of activity either. As I already pointed out. I found a YB station I called but I accidentally dropped a bunch of CQ’s on him. The RTTY n00b that I am. I didn’t select the right RTTY messages under the buttons. I think that’s OK now. I once was a clown in CW too, so I more or less recall the feeling of trying that for the first time and messing it up completely. It’s safe to say that most CW aspects have no secrets anymore. Except QRQ but I see no practical use in that except the QRQ itself.
I did make 50 contacts in the SARTG contest, including some DX from the east. I had to QRT when the bands might have opened up to the west. As always it grew boring fast because there just isn’t any fun for me in clicking around on the screen. But you make contacts and occupy the bands and it’s a break from the usual.
During my active period there was CY9C. I thought it was a new DXCC on the counter but LotW tells me I have already worked this one in 2005. On 30+20+17 CW. Now I also have 40CW. I don’t have a mic attached outside of the occasional SSB contest but I couldn’t resist calling them on phone. I set up my call and fi’nye wav files and hoped I would not be asked a question. I worked them first call on 20 SSB and my call and a report were all I had to use. Two simple function keys…
The day after I had to go out early but the web-cluster showed them active on 40 SSB just after my sunrise. I quickly fired up the shack. I had to use the PC for voice keying. I could have taken the headset too but I was just too lazy. My SSD PC boots faster than I can look for the box, unpack then headset and hook it up. I think it took two or three calls, in fact it took two or three pushes on the function key, and I got them on 40 SSB too. Although Clublog currently shows my second phone contact on 80. I sent an email four days ago but I didn’t get an answer and it’s still listed on 80. I’m sure it was 40 because my 80m antenna is down. I also tried to work them in RTTY but it seemed more like a lottery than anything else so I gave up after a few tries.
A lot of very rare and semi rare DXCC entities have been activated over the last two years but CY9C is the first one I actually bothered to look for and try to work. Just for fun. I don’t give a damn about expeditions and DXCC anymore. Of course it helped that they were really close to EU. Nevertheless I will chip in a few dollars for this one.
So last weekend I lowered the tower and took down the dipole. There were some thunderstorms in the forecast but that turned out to be somewhere else. But I need to focus on my job now for a few weeks. That is also the reason I cancelled my Field Day SSB participation. OT1A accepted my request and agreed to join me but I decided not to do it in the end. It is a logistical burden and a weekend away from my computer and papers during one of the busiest moments of the school year. I have never done much operating in September.
The plan is not to get carried away too much by the job and to be active again later this month. Yes, that feeling’s back!