Little Mountain Letdown

Setting up atop Little Mountain. My Buddistick is in the foreground (obviously!)

I ended up making the journey to Little Mountain alone on Saturday. Nestled in my rucksack were 50 feet of RG8X, the FT-817ND and antenna tuner, a notepad and the Buddipole vertical antenna. I couldn’t have asked for nicer weather — about 80 degrees, clear, with blue skies and white clouds. It almost felt like a late fall morning, as the humidity was low and the temperatures were moderate for this region.

I located the access road to the top of the mountain on Google Maps and I didn’t have any problem finding it upon arrival. “Road” might be an exaggeration, as it was barely wider than a bike path. I drove uphill a bit and the path ended at a chain-link fence surrounding a large broadcast antenna system. I managed to get the car turned around and pulled off into a clearing, where there was ample shade and level ground. I was initially struck by how peaceful the site was. I could even hear church bells ringing from down in the town below. Very idyllic.

I set about methodically deploying the Buddistick and had no issues there. I decided not to use the 8-foot shock-cord mast, simply because I didn’t have anyone there to help me guy it off. I used the small tripod that came with the kit and anchored it down with some limbs of a fallen tree. I tuned the Buddistick “by ear” as described in the instruction manual. No problems there. I pulled out the recommended length of counterpoise wire, but without an antenna analyzer I could only try to get in the ballpark in regards to the proper length.

At any rate, once everything was connected, I was copying stations on 20 meters quite well. I intended to call CQ on the QRP calling frequency of 14.285, so I tuned up with the LDG, and self-spotted my frequency on Facebook in case a few of my buddies were near their rigs and wanted to give me a holler.

I started calling CQ.

Before I proceed, I guess I should let it be known than I’ve never had a successful phone QSO that originated from calling CQ. Pathetic? Yes. If I wanted to get technical, I had many QSOs from calling CQ on winter field day at a GOTA station, but we were using the club call, W4CAE, that day, and I had elmers guiding me every step of the way.

My attempts at CQing have been negative ever since. I don’t think I have a poor-sounding CQ preamble… after all, I have a background in broadcast radio from my college days. I just don’t think people find responding to a KK4 station in the Southeast very exciting on a day when there were dozens of special event stations up and down the dial.

But I called CQ over and over again on Saturday. I tried to remain upbeat and “be the radio wave.” No, I’m not Chevy Chase from Caddyshack or anything, but I often find a confident attitude can help break pile-ups. Seriously.

I heard several tune-ups on frequency so I kept calling. No response. Then I heard someone humming or singing in a strange way, as if to mock me. This type of response has become the norm on my CQ attempts. So I stopped calling and tuned around a bit, thinking I might nab a few special event stations.

Something didn’t seem right on the receive audio. It sounded very grainy and buzzy, like electrical interference. Sure enough, I’d setup directly under high-voltage power lines. Activating the noise blanker helped a great deal, but didn’t completely solve the issue.

I fooled around for about another hour, then broke down the station to head back to Columbia to meet with a friend. As I unplugged the feedline from the antenna the PL connector on the coax separated, with the center pin getting stuck in the Buddistick. Damn! I’d never even used this cable. I prized the connector free of the antenna with a pocketknife I decided to bring on a whim. Nothing on the antenna was damaged but the cable will need a new connector.

So I didn’t log any QSOs from the mountain, but I enjoyed a nice mosquito-free day under clear blue skies, sitting in the shade with a radio and watching the clouds drift by. Can’t ask for more than that.

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