ON18FWC: bringing football madness to HF

That’s soccer madness for the US readers.

A few months ago the UBA got invited to participate in an international award program to commemorate the 2018 Football World Cup. A series of special event stations would get on the air using **18FWC or **18FIFA calls. You can see the result of that here.

The UBA’s HF committee, of which I happen to be a collaborator, applied for ON18FWC. The Belgian telecom regulator kindly issued ON18FWC and we could activate it for one month until yesterday. Needless to say this is ‘bacon for my mouth’. I couldn’t care less about the actual sports event, but anything that gets me a shot of high rate logging on HF gets my undivided attention. Truth be told: I have watched a few of the games this time. I even watched online streamed games while in the shack.

I already had a great time in May with the OT70-activity. That offered some highly desired action on our precious HF bands. But this world wide event took it a few levels higher. Anecdotal evidence? To cover my 30m needs, I made a simple ground plane antenna (read here) that needed baptizing. It was just after sunset, and I couldn’t get on the air with the FWC call because a fellow UBA-collaborator was on the air as such. I called CQ to test the antenna. The response was slow yet I got answers from PY, USA, JA and a VK. The RBN backed up the thesis that this antenna was working. But I logged only a handful of contacts. Who needs a simple ON not part of a bigger incentive? Come to think of it: is there a bigger incentive than to get into my log? Soon it was my turn to fire up ON18FWC. Same setup, same propagation, same time of day. One hour later:  108 QSO in the log.

Day after day the pile ups were pretty good for something that actually isn’t really special. Many times I had to go split to keep my signal in the clear. Real split, not just the usual RIT to catch the smarter operators calling off beat. I even learned a new function in N1MMLogger: alt+F11. Glad I found that one. Awkward situation diverted!

I had many +100 hours, the best clock hour being 177 on 20m phone. The better bands right now obviously are 40, 30 and 20. There is little fun to be had on a QRN-infested 80m band. 160 you say? No thanks – wrong season. About the other bands above 14 MHz: I tried and tried and I think I made the most of it. As always in this phase of the solar cycle: propagation is absent but the lack of interest is the bigger problem. There is DX on these dead bands – granted: not much and not loud – but people just don’t care. Many times the RBN shows various skimmer receivers hearing me all over the globe (W, PJ2, PY, ET, VU, HS, VK…) but no one is there. Or –again– is not interested in plain flavor Belgians.

In the end I made 9276 contacts: 6908 CW and 2368 SSB. SSB can be fun when the rate is high, but ‘CW 4 EVER’. I’m not into tattoos, but if I were this could be something to consider. The roster shows I was active about 100 hours over the last four weeks. Total operating time will be somewhat less because one cell in the spreadsheet equals one full hour but some cells only count for half an hour or less on the air. That means the average rate is around 100/hr. Many fast hours on 40+30+20 but also many slow hours on the other bands. I tried 17+15+10 SSB for a handful of contacts but you only log ten in half an hour or so.

This gave me the opportunity to enjoy the magic of HF radio with the classic old skool modes: it’s just the best thing there is in the hobby. Not having to wonder if you’re using the right soFT8ware. Actually being in charge of what is sent and when… I had fun and this really got me in the shack as much as was possible. Staying up late, getting up early, postponing many chores just to be on the air. This is an addiction and it never gets boring. My ‘shot of high rate logging on HF’ sometimes was flirting with a genuine OD!

For the record: all of this was with the 500W-amp and the top of the tower only at 15m high.

Something I observed with my early-series K3: at times when the pile ups were the biggest, I’d have a hard time copying CW. Both my K3 are pre-2010 and haven’t had any synthesizer updates or whatever. I seem to remember this was a problem reported a decade back or so by the VP6DX Ducie expedition in 2008? That is something that never surfaced in contesting from Belgium. But it did now.

Of course, keeping in line with my Grumpy Old Man attitude, I really need to ventilate the negative too.

As always: no spot equals no rate. As soon as you get a classic cluster spot, it’s on. No matter how many skimmers throwing you on the RBN: classic DX cluster spots are still the ignition spark for the rate to crank up. And crank up good!

On the other hand: a busted spot is deadly. Two or three times someone well-meaning spotted me as ON18FIFA. What’s that? FIFA? A new call for the award! Let’s all land on his frequency and start calling. No need to ID dear Belgian operator. We know who you are – it’s on the cluster. The result is a well-oiled pile up down the drain. The drain then clogged by dozens of dupes that don’t seem to know FWC from FIFA.

That brings us to my next grumping CW-specific item. Many people don’t listen. They just don’t listen. Other people clearly don’t copy CW. Their own callsign at best an preferably sent slow. But not simple stuff like ‘PSE DX’, ‘NO EU’, ‘EU QRX’. And then there are those who, even if they might copy and understand, just don’t care. I ask for UA9 I get a YO2. My ‘JA7 JA7?’ results in IK2 IK2. ‘PSE PY2 PY2?’ gets me ‘HA7**’ WTF????

Many times I wanted to go split but not too much. Call it ‘split light’. So I sent ‘UP 500HZ UP 500HZ’. Result: almost no one calls half a kilohertz up. Am I doing something illegal by keeping the spectrum abuse to a minimum? Is QSX 1 kHz the unofficial minimum? Did I miss a gentlemen’s agreement here? Listening 500 Hz up yielded little to no response but I could hear the roaring another 500 Hz up. Strange. Every weak S2-signal station gets logged right away when sending 500 Hz up, as no one seems to do it. Sending ‘UP’ does just that: make everyone transmit exactly 1000 Hz up. Again: I don’t get that. The use of QSX is to spread out, not to move the whole problem by a given amount of Hertz. Preaching to the choir here?

You know what drives me crazy? People answering by sending my call twice and then theirs three times. I know, it’s their good right, it’s all just casual fun, not everyone can be a sharp 40 WPM telegraphist (not that I am, just saying). And if my wife hears me yelling at my computer screen in the middle of the night, it’s probably because some dude sends his call twice but in two possible ways. F or IN? K4VN or KV4N? And some Croatians fake a Belgian callsign.

Another observation: many times the first dit of a callsign is not sent because the PTT is too slow. I guess? What else? Many W’s turn out to be EW’s.

me: ON18FWC QRZ?


me: W1AA 5NN

     W1AA EW1AA  (→  leading E is sent when PTT already is active)

me: EW1AA 5NN

    W1AA EW1AA CFM 73 TU  (→  consistency is key!)

EW1AA is just as a random example – don’t even know if the call is in use (turns out it is). Same goes for R3** that start out as N3**. After a while you figure this out. An American S9+ on 80 two hours after summer sunrise? Highly unlikely.

Let’s talk language and phone operations. Dear fellow ham radio lovers: My native tongue is Dutch. Dutch. Like in Holland – not everyone is perfect. I know: the second language here is French and the third official is German. I’m quite fluent in French and I understand it for 90% if spoken correctly. I can mumble a few words German too. But NOT EVERYONE HERE SPEAKS FRENCH by default. I can understand that French or North African stations prefer talking French, because not everyone is comfortable with English. But why just assume that I speak French because I’m from Belgium? Furthermore it’s not easy as a native Dutch speaker with an English language set preloaded in the brain to switch to French all of a sudden. That takes me back to my first job. I am a native Dutch speaker in an otherwise exclusively French speaking team, several of them originating from the south of France nonetheless. Le midi – that’s French with a non-schoolbook twist. We were sent abroad for technical training to the UK. I happen to think in Dutch, I hear English all day but need to translate to and interact in French. Very tiresome to keep things separated and not mix words.

Apart from French: sorry dear Russians, but I do not understand the Russian equivalent of the NATO spelling alphabet. Sorry Spanish speakers, but cucaracha, caramba and serveza en botella  is as far as my talent for Spanish reaches. All this is not an issue in CW.

Let’s end with a positive note. I learned a lot from these modest pile ups. Almost nineteen years after my first QSO I am now a well-trained CW contester and I can do sustained high rate running accurately up to 38-40WPM. But I have zero real DX pile up experience.

Three callers at a time in CQ WW for hours on end pushing the rate to 180-200 is one thing. Having a dozen callers (Two dozen? Three dozen? Who’s counting?) spread out over 1500 Hz was something new for me.

However controlling a pile up from a top 5 most wanted DX location is yet something else. I could probably train that with one of those computer simulation gimmicks but it’s RF or bust for me. I won’t go as far to say that right now I have achieved the status ‘pile up boss’ but I am confident that I would adapt to the situation and not panic. Not that this is a situation I’ll find myself in soon. I’m broke and always prefer a staycation over travelling.

Another ham radio adventure added to ON5ZO’s memoires. Do stamp collectors and scarf knitters know what they’re missing? Does anyone still collect stamps? Does anyone still use stamps?

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