ON5ZO – OQ5M

I’m doing the Winter Workout thing on Top Band. With the blessing of the weather gods who let me keep the tower and low band wires up in the sky.

I don’t know what to think. Two days ago there was some hurrah on the Top Band reflector mentioning good propagation. I replied but the mail seems to have never reached the reflector. The sentiment I expressed was (nutshell):

►  Propagation good, activity poor. Not much CW signals around when I’m active yet the RBN picks me up.

►  Please don’t tell me even low band people are trading paddles for keyboards and mice?

It’s good that this message bounced because that night I worked more USA than the sum of the previous days. And so I settled in the annual get up early and go to bed late routine. I focus on 160 because everything outside of EU there is a thrill and 30m because it’s my favorite band. I avoid 80 and 40 because I hang around there already in the contests. Last night wasn’t really great either. Propagation was so-so but there wasn’t much to be worked. I tried 30m but it that band turned out disappointing too. So I was about to quit and go to bed. Nevertheless I decided to launch a few CQ CQ on Top Band before calling it a day.

Suddenly I got answered by KL7SB. KL7! Ab-so-lu-te-ly a new one on 160. Good signal, easy copy – logged. A new country worked on 160. I was euphoric. I haven’t even worked Alaska on 80m! But now the KL7 box is checked on 160.

Later on I gave it some thought. It’s a new one but why is it special? Is it special? Distance between the KL7RA station (which KL7SB was operating) and myself is 7400km, beam heading 345° or so. That’s not really far away and it’s not a true polar path. So that doesn’t make it an accomplishment. Alaska is not really rare either. There aren’t thousands of hams there (?) and there are not many of them on the air at once. But it’s not one of the Dakotas or WY is it? I guess KH6 will be harder to work on 160m.

Nevertheless I am grateful that Steve KL7SB called me and I am glad to finally have worked a new one. It’s been a while. Mostly because I’m only there in the major contests and I’ve been doing SB40/80 lately in CQWW.

This morning the bands were a bust again. The K index was 4. Ouch. It peaked at five earlier today. The sun is setting over me. I think I’ll take a raincheck this time.

Tomorrow: Stew Perry. That should bring out some potent signals on the band. Including mine  ☺

I miss the map display on the Reverse Beacon Website. The people running the RBN say the following:

What Happened to the Map?

Google changed its system and broke the website. They have also announced a big price jump on their map service, which would be prohibitive for us, so we’re working on a new approach using open-source maps. It’ll take a while, and in the meantime if you keep the map hidden, the other features will continue to work.

Bummer. And typical for big monopolists. But the RBN dudes provide a link to a worthy alternative:

                  https://dxcluster.ha8tks.hu/azimuthal_map/

Me likes. Personal preference: I dislike the color scheme. Some of the colors are very hard to see. And the thing might be bigger. But at least it’s a map. My signal’s footprint at a glance.

This year was only the second time that I did the RAEM contest from start to end (12h). I guess the E.T. Krenkel Memorial Contest has made it to my ‘must do’ list. It really fits my profile and operating preferences. I wish there were more events with distance based scoring i.s.o. multipliers.

The long and pseudo-random exchange often needs repeating so I edited the exchange string in N1MMLogger+. Wanting to be smart, I put a tilde between longitude and latitude to get a short pause between both parts: 50N~04O. The contest started with a logging software glitch. As soon as I entered the copied coordinates, I got a runtime error. Second QSO: same thing. Oh boy. Obviously no one has tested the latest version for this contest. I decided to downgrade and took the oldest version I could download. This one was from before last year’s RAEM and that one worked. But the very old version triggered another error. Actually it was the same exception error but it seemed to be caught in a cleaner way. I had to hit enter twice to close a warning messagebox and log the contact. That was manageable. Side effect: no points were calculated. Not a biggie, only useless to report scores then.

After a dozen contacts I had thought it over: the old version gave the same error as the latest version but it worked flawlessly in 2017. Could the tilde be the problem? Sure enough: I removed the tilde from the exchange and the error was gone. I quickly downloaded the latest version again and did a rescore. Problem solved, score calculated. If it ain’t broken…

Eighty meters was hot. Lots of good signals, plenty activity and more USA on 3.5 MHz than ever before. I worked twenty eight Americans. After three hours I had over 220 contacts on 80m. Not too bad.

The QSY to 40m was a cold shower. Not so much activity, weak signals and almost no DX. Everything beyond 2000 km was weak and real long haul DX seemed absent. The rate suffered. As well as the fun level. I think it was a general issue with the propagation. I could keep my position in the top five of the online scores. Most of the time I was third there. That puts things in perspective. Later on I got a message from my contest buddy W1EBI. He established the same thing: 80 good, 40 bad. He quit while I kept on rocking and rolling.

My sunrise didn’t bring anything special on 40 or 80 so I went to 20. Signals were not too loud there either. This was the band to stay on for the rest of the remaining time. I tried fifteen but only three stations were heard and worked. All UA9. Average point / QSO: 114. If I could keep that up for a few hundred QSO… but no. I didn’t try 10m at all because fifteen already was totally dead. It wasn’t a case of no one showing up there. The skimmers didn’t hear me so I stayed on twenty meters.

Around noon I decided try 40 gain. Some UA9 worth 130-140 points. RT0C netted 183 points. JH4UYB surprised me at 1105utc: he was so loud on 40 and good for 195 points.

Just shy of 80k points and about 90 contacts more than last year. DL5YYM was pretty active from z14 so maybe this time I won’t be getting the z14 winner wood?

When you least expect it

ON5ZO is a winner

RAEM contest plaque – hooray

 

Another one of these little but most enjoyable contests organized by an IARU member society. Everyone works everyone, only 24h long and the mode is right too.

I set up on Friday during a short burst of winter. For Belgium, that means around 0°C during daylight. That’s about as cold as it seems to get here in the new climate. I was glad it didn’t rain and that there was no wind. Speaking of wind: last week it seemed that this would be a stormy weekend. At least that was on the WX maps. With that prediction turning into reality I would have kept the tower and the wires down. But now only few gusty hours were predicted for the night from Saturday to Sunday. Enough to make me feel uncomfortable but nothing that would cause damage. As long as the predictions for the wind speed are accurate and not calculated too low. The strongest winds were forecasted a few hundred kilometers to my NW. MM3AWD mentioned it in his 3830 report. Bummer!

Setting up went smooth. Just the usual wire and rope spaghetti; the result of a rushed cleanup after the last contest. And my 30m dipole that seemed a tad short. Maybe because initially I grabbed the 17m dipole out of the box? Soon after I had a working contest station with a 30m vertical dipole dangling from the tower for some casual DX on my favorite band. The plan is to keep it all up until the end of the year for the RAEM contest and hopefully, WX permitting, the Stew Perry 160m contest for a change.

I can’t lay my finger on it but I wasn’t feeling too well on Saturday. I couldn’t get warm and I was cranky. I tried some DX after sunrise and sure enough: the JA-ON pipeline on 30m was there. But I wasn’t having fun. It didn’t get better as the contest started. Signals on 20m were weak and I just didn’t care. That YB that called me made me wonder: propagation or activity? What is lacking? I ran some USA but I had to go to 40m early. I did the SO2R thing between 40 and 20 in an effort to feel like contesting.

I just wasn’t having fun and didn’t catch the vibe. Oh yeah in the meantime it started raining on a frozen ground. Slippery outside yes indeed but no one had to leave the house. The bigger problem was the QRN generated by the precipitation. Wind speed picked up too. I took a long break. This weekend I wasn’t going to write contest history.

Around local midnight I checked the 160/80 wires and radials. That’s what I was afraid of: copper wires covered with ice. In the past (here and here) this ice loading has detuned the wire antennas. But this time it didn’t. It wasn’t as bad as in previous years. I wanted to join the XYL to sleep but first I did a short run on 160. I worked two Americans on 160m (K1ZZ and a loud NA8V) and one VE (VE1ZA). One UN for Asia and the rest was EU. Too bad as the band seemed more open than activity would suggest. I worked P4/DL6RAI for DX. He wasn’t in the contest so I put him in the DX log and not in the 9ACW log. Same with OY1CT.

I heard guys in the contest calling both and sending their serial number. But they only got a 5NN back. I wonder if they logged the DX? And if so: how will the Log Checking Department deal with that? But for the contest, Top Band was a fart in a bottle as the Dutch proverb goes. At 00.00z I went to bed and set the alarm well in time for sunrise.

Those four hours of sleep were beneficial. My contest mood had returned. A slice of freshly baked bread went down for some energy and I took an XXL sized cup of hot lemon tea to the shack. Off to the races. Shack-attack on Top Band! Luckily gasses compress easily because more had to go down that bottle. Not much activity.

I heard VE6WZ though. Loud. And worked him easily. But he wasn’t in the contest so down he went in the DX log. I’m pretty sure VE6 is new on 160. Ah just looked it up. It is not new. I worked a VA6 on Top Band in 2010. And only one on 80: VE6WZ again in 2010. I just hope VE6WZ is a real VE6 as his QRZ says: “The VE6WZ station is a remote setup located 100km north of the home QTH.” I hope these 100km don’t put him in Nova Scotia! Too bad there wasn’t more DX to be worked in or out of the contest. A loud VE6 worked first call is proof of an open band with my limited 160 antenna. Just no one around to materialize the conditions.

The same goes for 80m: more open than activity would suggest. PJ2ND was a nice multiplier though. He actually did give serials. Thirteen Americans and three Canadians on 80. The rest of the gray line was ping-pong between 40 and 80 with both radios. Forty stayed open for a long time. It didn’t actually close. Not even for longer haul DX (within limits of course). It was, as they say, the money band. By now I was having fun. More table tennis. Between 40 and 20. I even did that dueling CQ thing. Then running 20 and picking up all unworked calls on 40.

During the whole contest the RBN was picking up a station from Madeira: CQ9A. On almost every band the red spot popped up: an unworked multiplier! But I could never hear it. Strange. Later on I discovered a pattern: CQ9A was always spotted next to the same two or three stations. I knew because I started writing down the calls that were actually running on the CQ9A spot frequency. Being as smart as I am, a conspiracy theory developed: these guys must spot a multiplier to draw a crowd to their common callsign. People click on a red spot, mult isn’t there, but decide to give the plain vanilla EU guy a call. As with most conspiracy theories, there is a simpler explanation but it took a while for my brain to arrive there. CQ9A: CQ – 9A. They were seeking nine alphas! I felt a bit dumb for a while. I never heard them calling CQ myself, just sending their tail-end callsign after a finished QSO. A flaw in the skimmer software? Or just sloppy fists?

I took another short break for lunch with the family and had another two hours to go after that. Against common sense I tried ten meter. ZERO. Only two Belgian skimmers in a 100km range barely heard me. I tried fifteen. Close to zero but not quite. There was more to be worked there. The RBN testified. I managed to get called by a handful of Americans on 21 MHz. Clearly using the RBN too. They were not loud but most certainly not weak: S5-S6 on the meter. Too bad not more people cared to listen there. Even one Thai skimmer picked me up! Speaking of RBN: what did Google Maps do to break the RBN map display functionality? I liked that: one glance and I’d see where my RF was being heard. I hope the RBN folks find a workaround soon.

I did have fun in the second half of the contest. Activity was OK but could have been better. Propagation was only so-so but the number of DX was the limiting factor. Thanks 9A guys for organizing this event.

For quite some time now I have been thinking to do something with 60m. I have zero contacts on that band. I don’t have an antenna for that band but I’m sure I can come up with something that gets me active on 5 MHz. It would be new: building a new antenna, new propagation, all new DXCC…

What keeps me from doing so is that I wonder if there is anything going on there in CW? I have no interest in any digital mode as I prefer CW over everything. I have been looking at the cluster and RBN but I see almost nothing but FT8 there. In the past I listened once or twice when the 80m antenna was up but I didn’t hear much. Even before the FT8 hype.

If there is no CW DX to be worked there, I have no business on the 5 MHz band. OTOH if CW people want CW, we have to be active in CW. The Catch 22 of ham radio?