If you can operate as W1AW, do it!

While the W1AW/4 operation is still fast and furious on it’s fourth day here in South Carolina, I was finally struck with the enormity of the undertaking this morning, and why it’s just exciting to be a part of this endeavor. My role in the operation has been very small, but I’ve dedicated what little time I’ve had to the effort. I don’t want to come off as one of these overly-optimistic millennials (I’m too old to be of that ilk), but damn this has been quite an amazing experience!

I’ve been so fortunate in this hobby to meet the right people and perhaps be in the right place at the right time. That good fortune paid off when I was asked if I wanted to do some W1AW operating. I realize that not every amateur radio hobbyist — particularly someone who has been licensed for the short length of time as I have been — gets invited to participate in these operations. But my advice to any ham is this: If you get asked to help with or operate as W1AW, you should do it, no exceptions. Just commit to do it. Here’s why:

  • It’s an historic event celebrating 100 years of the ARRL, and to a lesser extent, the whole hobby of ham radio itself. How often do we get a chance to participate in something this significant?
  • It’s a way to give back to the hobby. Particularly if you happen to be a “rare” state. It’s a way to help those new hams get their Worked All States or even the Triple Play.
  • It’s a way to improve yourself in the hobby. If you accept the challenge, you will improve your skills, in operating, dealing with people, logging, contesting, propagation, everything!
  • It’s a way to test yourself. How many times have you heard a busy DX station and thought to yourself, “I could do that.” Or maybe you thought “how terrifying must that be to have that many stations calling.” Well, this is your chance to see if you can handle it! When it’s busy, it’s a real test of concentration, endurance and skill.
  • It’s fun, and it’s addictive. Set a goal of QSOs/per hour, or total QSOs and try to beat your own high score.
  • You get exposure to some famous hams and some locals that are at the top end of the game. How thrilling was is to work RTTY guru AA5AU? Or to learn that one of the guys on the W1AW/4 team was an EME (moonbounce) guru and lives just 50 miles away!
  • You are representing your state to the world. You are in the spotlight!
  • Your “little pistol” station becomes the rare DX. If you enjoy radiosport, or fast-paced exchanges, there is nothing better than this.
  • Realize that what you are doing is amazing. With a rig I assembled myself, and a length of wire in some trees behind my house, I’ve worked more than 400 stations not only across the US, but as far away as New Zealand and Japan in just a matter of days. That’s some ham radio voodoo my friends.

With that, I’m about to fire up the rig and get to work again.

Managing a pile-up as W1AW/4

I operated as W1AW/4 again on RTTY last night, this time on the 40 meter band, which is generally a great band for me during RTTY contests. Last night was no exception, as I managed to create an utterly evil pile-up that apparently spanned nearly 6 kHz at its widest.

I’ll let this tweet from my pal KN4QD do the talking. The “hot” areas near the center of the waterfall show the pile-up:

I started my shift at 8 p.m. and I actually had the rig ready to go this time, but with one hiccup: Since I dual-boot Windows 7 on my iMac, I use my Mac Bluetooth keyboard, which maps some of the [F]unction keys to various control such as volume, screen brightness etc. I needed to hit ALT-F10 to force the N1MM logging program to remain in “run mode” while I tuned around looking for stations. But hitting the F10 function key accessed volume controls… sigh.

With only minutes until it was time for me to start, I didn’t have time to work out the issue. Fortunately, it didn’t cause any problems, but I did have to make sure I was in run mode before responding to callers, and this probably slowed me down a tick.

I spotted myself on the cluster at dxheat.com, and within two CQs I had a wall of stations to deal with. Many, many more than I had on 20 meters the previous night. I tried to work my way through the pile-up, but I had the best success sniping off stations at the edge of the pile. The center was jammed and so loud that I couldn’t get a decode.

When I can fire off QSOs in rapid succession, RTTY is a beautiful thing. When I have to tune around for a minute or more trying to find a decode, it’s headache-inducing.

I finished my shift with more than 100 QSOs in the log, but there were so many stations still trying to contact me that I decided to work another hour. I eventually put 208 QSOs in the log and shut down the operation with many more still calling.

I’m definitely picking up some good RTTY experience. In doing some research this morning I discovered several things:

  • I should be running with the K3′s dual passband filter off. This is probably making it more difficult to tune in stations. Some folks suggest the 500 Hz or even 200 Hz filter should be employed.
  • I need to be running the 2Tone decoder. Apparently it does a lot better than MMTTY.
  • I would really like to start using call stacking. I had many opportunities to use stacking last night, but I didn’t have my macros setup properly to handle it. Some have suggested that with W1AW operations, that stacking adds too much complexity, but many of the guys I worked last night are veteran RTTY contesters and would expect stacking.
  • I should start with my RF gain rolled back a bit to cut the weaker stations, which would allow me to work the big signals first and get them out of the way. When you have a big, persistent Italian signal bearing down on you, you definitely want to work him and get him out of the way.

The K3 and P3 have always been great to work with, but I am getting concerned with the P3, as it seems to completely lose all but the biggest signals at times. This is unsettling if you are trying to tune specific stations in the pile-up.

I can reboot it and that sometimes fixes the issue. However the problem seems to be with either the coaxial cable that connects it to the output from the radio, or with one of the BNC jacks on the rig or the P3 itself. When I lose reception, sometimes wiggling the cable will fix the problem. Hopefully it’s just a bad cable; there have been reports of this over on the Elecraft boards.

CQ Centennial QSO Party

I decided to try something new on Friday night and called “CQ Centennial QSO Party” on 40m phone to see if I could generate any response. And indeed it did.

I had a heck of a time finding an open section of the band, but I finally settled on 7.249 mhz, asked if the frequency was in use a few times, then proceeded to call CQ. I had nearly instant success, with W4RCJ coming back to me almost immediately.

I next worked WM9I, W4PUD, KK4COZ, KD8VMD and KK4ZDK in fairly rapid succession. I was logging using a general contest template on N1MM, and settling into a nice rhythm when hateful sounds splattered my frequency. Checking the panadapter, I noticed very strong signals exactly 1 kc down the band. I tuned over and found a local guy and a Georgia station, both booming, engaged in ragchew about dogs, food and antennas. No callsigns were being used of course.

Because they were only 1 KC down, their signal was overlapping into half of mine. There went my nice Centennial QSO Party run. Here are a couple guys who don’t believe in listening before transmitting.

When it comes to single side-band, I’m going to admit something sad and/or shameful. I don’t really like talking on the radio. Until Friday, I’d never called CQ on voice and actually had anyone respond back to me. I’m not going to count the time I called CQ at 5 watts to test the SWR of my 6-meter moxon and the guy living just outside of my neighborhood came back to me.

So yeah… After achieving Worked All States, the Triple Play, and logging more than 100 DX entities, I’ve never had QSOs originating from my own CQ calls on voice modes, until Friday.

Going Mobile

I saw a very nice install of a dual-bander in a Ford Focus posted at Reddit, and it’s inspired me once again to consider placing a mobile rig in my Focus hatchback.

The gentlemen who installed the radio used the MT-7 seat bolt mount to position the control head inside the cramped interior. I’ve often considered using this very same mount for an HF or dual-band mobile solution, as the Focus has virtually no flat surfaces or extra space for any sort of rig. It’s good to know this solution will work in the Focus. Now to figure out the hard stuff: Where to run a power line through the firewall, how to route the cables for the control head to the radio itself (and where to locate it), antenna options, etc.

I really don’t need a mobile rig for the small amount of repeater/simplex VHF/UHF I do, but it would be nice to have in there for working events and talking to some bros around town.

A couple interesting stations in the log

I managed to work W1AW/0 and /5 both on 40 meter CW Saturday night (that makes two bands for each now), but it was a contact with Panama, HO100CANAL, that really made my day. That’s not a call sign I’d like to have to send in CW very often though. It was a new country for me too.

All three QSOs were straightforward splits and easy grabs.

I saw some Macedonian stations on the cluster last night and heard Z35T booming on 20M with very few takers. I tried working him several times but either he didn’t hear me, or chose not to respond, because he merely continued calling CQ.

A short distance down the band I located Z33Z, equally strong, but with QSB, and he picked me up on the first shot. Unfortunately I muffed my own callsign and ended up sending something like KK4DIN, so after he sent me a signal report, I tried to get my call corrected. It took a few tries but we got it sorted out.

After the QSO I checked my log only to realize I’d worked Macedonia ages ago. So much for new DX — although it was nice to get that country on code. At present I have 107 DX entities in the log, with 64 confirmed on Logbook of the World. Perhaps one weekend I will figure out which countries I need to send QSL cards to in order to complete DXCC.

First JA in the log

Well that only took two years.

I was attempting to help a station in India score a digital QSO with South Carolina tonight and he suggested we hit 15 meter JT65. I tuned over and there were three Japanese stations on frequency calling CQ. I selected the one with the strongest signal, JA1KXQ, and gave him a call. He came back to me on the first shot. My signal report was a respectable -15;  his signal was booming in around -7.

On his final, he sent “5W 3ELY” which caused my brain to explode. A -7 signal running just 5 watts from Japan, nearly 7,000 miles away? Just amazing. The other JAs had signals more like what I would have expected, -18 or so.

Sadly, I never managed to make the contact with my friend in India. Maybe we’ll give it a shot tomorrow.

Three down, one state left

Despite my rambling post of only a few hours ago, things are looking hopeful. I managed to get three big ones in the log this evening.

My efforts in e-mailing hams paid off for Delaware and Wyoming, and the K3UK board finally yielded a North Dakota digital QSO to land me a true Worked All States – Digital endorsement. I’m still waiting for a few confirmations on LOTW, but with tonight’s acquisitions, I’m left still hunting for Nebraska.

As I mentioned in my previous diatribe, I had to eat some humble pie and start e-mailing some guys in these rare states and ask for help. I located Karl, N8NA, in Delaware via the ARRL’s website because he was the W1AW portable operator for Delaware a few months back. Gee, it sure would have been great if I’d just caught Delaware while that was going on. I must have been reading the new Harley Quinn comics … or something.

Anyway, I e-mailed him and he wrote back within an hour and agreed to meet up with me around 10 p.m. We exchanged cell phone numbers and when 10 p.m. hit, we arranged the QSO and frequency via text message. The irony of this fact is not lost on me. We made the contact on 80 meters, then moved to 30 meters because he needed SC on that band. I was happy to oblige, although conditions were rotten. I could still make out his call, so it went into the log.

Around that same time, Alan, KO7X, out of Wyoming, e-mailed me and said he was game for a QSO. I immediately replied and he responded with a QRG. We completed the QSO on 20 meters with some QSB, but decent reports both ways.

I then noticed Griz, KD4POJ, out of North Dakota, on the Sked Page. He was setting up his rig for RTTY and sent me a frequency on 20 meters to attempt the contact. He was a genuine 599 with a booming signal and we had a conversational but short QSO.

I closed the evening with a quickie QSO with Mark, K4ED, out of Virginia, just to get that state in the log again for insurance, since all my VA contacts thus far have not confirmed for unknown reasons.

The weirdest moment of the night? When my wife walked in while I was in QSO with KO7X to inform me that my keying was dimming the lights in the house. Now that’s some powerful code!

Chipping away…

One of the most helpless feelings in radio is knowing that stations are out there, on the air, that you’d like to contact, but you aren’t in front of a radio. That’s the sinking feeling I get when I’m at work, 20 minutes away from home, and I check the Sked Page and see rare states like North Dakota or Wyoming handing out signal reports.

That’s precisely what happened today. Wyoming hung in there for several hours but I just missed him as it was nearly 7 p.m. when I finally arrived home. I messaged both he and the gentleman from North Dakota and we’ve hopefully setup a scheduled contact for later this week.

Anyway, I managed to clear two more stations tonight: Arkansas on CW, and South Dakota on SSB.

W5JAY was managing a “pile-up” of DX stations who wanted him on the JT modes. I waited a time with patience and he got around to me and we had a textbook CW QSO on 17 meters.

While I was waiting, W0VD wanted to attempt a code QSO with me on 15M and 80M. It was a rough contact in both cases owing to QSB and strange propagation. We completed the 15M contact and while I could hear his 1000 watts of power on 80M, he couldn’t hear my meager 100.

I worked IK2WZM once again, this time on RTTY, then broke for dinner.

Coming back into the shack, I noticed K0JV was still on and he graciously agreed to give 20 meters a shot with me. I’ve tried QSOs with him several times over the past few days with no luck. Conditions weren’t much better tonight, but he copied me and we exchanged 33 signal reports. His signal seemed to come up to 35, while mine apparently went down. At any rate, it was enough to get in his log and we’ve already QSLed. That was a contact two years in the making!

I noticed W8LMG (West Virginia) and KG3BOZ (Maryland) on 40 meters and both were booming. I mentioned it on the K3UK board and they invited me into the QSO. We all logged each other and I called it a night.

With any luck I will be able to pick up Wyoming on CW and North Dakota on digital this week. That leaves some easy grabs on CW and one phone contact to complete the triple play. Delaware! Nebraska! Where are y’all hiding?

A productive weekend

A weekend of camping out on the K3UK Sked Page paid off with a handful of needed contacts, including a few unusual ones: Alaska on phone and Australia on CW, both on 10 meters. I found myself rapidly transitioning from band to band, mode to mode in an effort to answer QSO requests, and to pursue my own.

Sunday saw me working phone, RTTY, JT9 and CW all within a span of about an hour, from 10 meters to 40 meters. Here’s what I have left to track down to score the Triple Play:

Digital:

  • North Dakota

Phone:

  • Nebraska
  • South Dakota

CW: 

  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Louisiana
  • Nebraska
  • Wyoming

I’ve been working with K0JV in South Dakota for the past 3-4 days trying to complete a QSO. We’ve come very close; I was able to hear him just fine one evening, but he couldn’t get a solid lock on me. The propagation just hasn’t been there, even during grayline hours.

Nebraska has me a little worried. It was one of the last states I needed for Worked All States (Basic) around this time last year. I don’t know why, but I just never hear Nebraska. It’s the only state I need two QSOs from to complete the challenge.

LOTW angst

As much as I enjoy advocating the Logbook of the World, I’m not going to deny it has some serious issues. Getting logs into the system has been a real pain the last few days, and I couldn’t even get logged in to check my totals for most of Sunday. I can see why so many new users get turned off by it.

Am I in the log?

W1AW/7 (Idaho) was on several bands tonight and I need ID on CW, so I decided to try working him on 40 meters. Everyone else was there too, and there was quite a pile-up, with /7 operating split to accommodate the action.

Having never worked a CW station in split mode, I figured it was time to go ahead and pull off the band-aid. Using the P3, I managed to find what I believed to be the exact spot where he was listening and narrowed my focus there. I sent my call nearly 40 times over a 20-minute period, when he finally came back with what sounded like “4DSD” along with a signal report. I sent my call again, then my signal report, but before my final characters, he sent TU and started CQing again.

Somehow I doubt I’m in his log, but we’ll see. At any rate, I shall attempt to work as many /7 stations as I can this week just to be sure.

The previous night I was on the sked page and noticed N4HID, a Kentucky station. I asked him if we could try a quick CW QSO, since I needed his state. He told we’d give it a shot in 30 minutes. True to his word, he came back to me in a half hour and we completed the QSO.

Then, via the sked page, I noticed W1AW/4 was on 40 meters. I quickly tuned over and got in before the pile-up started. Turns out the /4 operator was the guy I had just had the CW QSO with. He recognized my call and explained to me his /4 shift had just started. We chatted briefly and after I 73ed, what sounded like 1,000 stations started calling for him, and one of the most chaotic pile-ups I’ve ever heard ensued. I have to hand it to these W1AW operators, they are operating in god mode to deal with these pile-ups!

A personal best, but still a mediocre effort

The North America QSO Party RTTY contest is done and I managed to log 227 QSOs over roughly 7.5 hours of operating. This is a personal best for me in any contest which I have participated in, but I know I lost at least 50 (if not 100) Qs when I had to leave the action for another commitment for several hours.

I did try to schedule the break in the late afternoon, so I could scour 10, 15 and 20, take the break, come back and hit 40 meters with a vengeance.  That band resulted in the majority of my QSOs and I was still able to contact stations on the west coast even as midnight approached.

Most of the action had retired to the 80 meter band after 10 p.m. or so, so I tried operating there with limited success, owing to RFI and loud background noise. I many cases, I was hearing stations just fine. They just couldn’t hear me. 80 meters is just a stank band for me on digital modes, and the only time I’ve ever had any success on it was the last ARRL DX CW contest. I think I could improve my situation if I had my wire higher.

During the contest, I was on the lookout for three states I need to wrap up the digital portion of the triple play: Wyoming, North Dakota, and Mississippi. I found WY within the first hour, and ND was my very last QSO, right around midnight. Never saw MS, and it turned out my ND guy doesn’t use LOTW, so I will still be on the hunt for those final two.

Once again, the K3 was just phenomenal. I ran nearly full power the whole night and the thing barely got warm enough to run the fans. The only issue I ran into was the RF issue on 80 meters, which was intermittent depending on what portion of the band I was operating.

I felt reasonably good about my performance, but checking out some of the scores on 3830 Scores, I realized I have a long way to go before I can hang with the real contesters out there. Still, there was marginal improvement. During my last NAQP RTTY, I hauled in a meager 140 Qs with a full 10-hour operating time. I was still using the Yaesu 847 then, and lacking a panadapter — something I can’t do without nowadays!

Final results were something like this:

Band   QSOs   Pts   Sec
 3.5   9      9     7 
 7     108    108   38 
 14    64     64    32 
 21    39     39    17 
 28    7      7     6 
Total  227    227   100 

Score: 23,154