Dutch Fork team wins the state for S.C. QSO Party

Results from the South Carolina QSO Party were posted yesterday and it looks like our Dutch Fork team, W4DFG, finished with a massive score, effectively winning the multi-operator, multi-transmitter category.

I don’t know how many multi-multi entries there were overall, but our score of 217,451  was still among the highest submitted in the entire contest. Only one other station cracked 200,000 and that honor went to N4CW, who finished with 894 CW QSOs to our all-mode (but heavily SSB-weighted) mix  of 625.

I’m always amazed when a station — particularly a mobile one — like N4CW can reach these high QSO counts, particularly on CW during a contest that is traditionally been very SSB-saturated. Operating from ideal conditions at the Dutch Fork shack, with Yagi antennas, longwires and loops, we weren’t struggling, but clearly we fell short of N4CW.

High digital mode QSO counts also leave me scratching my head, as digital modes just don’t seem to be as popular for this QSO party. I attempted RTTY and PSK efforts but got very few takers. Some were just casual ragchew ops that responded not even knowing we were contesting.

Regardless, I was happy to be part of the team that made the effort happen. Considering we weren’t a “bonus station” this year, we still put up a good on-air presence and made a lot of contacts through persistence and tenacious operating.

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Nice effort for the S.C. QSO Party

A group of us decided to break away from normal club plans and team up for the South Carolina QSO Party this year. We chose to operate from the shack of the Dutch Fork Amateur Radio Group and used their callsign, W4DFG.

We had two K3s (mostly used for SSB), a Kenwood 590 on CW, and a Yaesu 857 for digital modes. Owing to a work commitment, I didn’t arrive at the shack until nearly two hours after the contest started, but I planned to stay in until the end. I quickly setup my K3 and had three major problems right off the bat:

One, the bandpass filter I was handed was causing a very high SWR during anything but the shortest transmissions. I pulled that and we later discovered something inside it had burned out.

Next, the power supply I borrowed (some Radio Shack thing), couldn’t handle long transmissions, such as a RTTY CQ, and as such, my radio kept cutting off. We fixed that issue by swapping in an Astron.

Third, N1MM was freezing up and complaining about my digital setup (specifically, the port). I’d just updated the software the night before and thought I’d tested it thoroughly. Evidently I hadn’t. Anyway, after futzing with that for a couple minutes, I saw my error and I was up to full speed and calling CQ on 20 meter voice.

Sounds like a mess, but this is the typical shakedown after picking up my rig and moving to an unfamiliar location.  Anyway, I had the pleasure of using the shack’s tri-band beam, and that’s always a pleasure. We aimed it west and left it there for the duration of the day and we were able to work just about everything we heard. I didn’t do any search and pounce, and my voice paid for it, especially since I was already nursing a bit of a sore throat/head cold to begin with. I went through a half bag of cough drops and pressed on.

Oh, and I added a neat new piece of kit to my setup: The Yamaha CM500 headset. At a fraction of the price of the Heil Pro Set, the Yamaha seemed to do a fine job. I had multiple unsolicited good reports on the quality of my audio. I didn’t really alter the settings I use for the Heil PR781 (which are the Heil-suggested settings), but I did use less compression and a lot less mic gain, since the Yamaha has an electret mic.

The best part is the easy setup. The K3 has connectors on the rear for headphones and a mic, so the Yamaha plugged in without needing any special adaptors or splitters. The only thing I had to do was switch the K3’s settings to use the rear mic panel and turn on the bias. I was able to run on VOX the whole time and keep my hands free for logging.

So how did the contest go? Fine I’d say! I made 160 QSOs from my station, mostly on SSB, but I did break into some RTTY for a bit. However with the North American QSO Party RTTY contest going, it made for some confusing exchanges. I finally just started sending the NAQP exchange AND the SCQP exchange at the same time. I operated mostly on 20 meters, but dipped into 15 meters for a bit, and did quite a few QSOs on 40 meters later in the day.

The other SSB station, which started on time, managed nearly twice as many QSOs and had a revolving door of operators. We also had a few code operators, who racked up more than 130 CW contacts. Our digital guy probably had the hardest job of the day because there just aren’t many digital participants in this contest, but he did pick up a bonus station on PSK, and another dozen or so contacts, which gave him a nice score.

I noticed quite a few bad attitudes on the air, and I got the full force of one during a run on 20 meters. It went something like this:

After more than 20 minutes of operating on a remarkably clear frequency, 14.263 —

Unknown annoyed guy: “You guys need to move away, you’re interfering with the DX on 261.”

Me: “I’m sorry to hear that friend, I’ve been looking at my panadaptor and I’m clear on both sides.”

Annoyed guy: “OK have it your way, you just keep being an idiot and I’ll keep calling on top of you.”

Me: “No one’s interfering with me. I haven’t heard a thing but the stations calling me.”

Annoyed guy: “Get a better antenna.”

(By now I’m eyeing the K3 and thinking about the giant Yagi I’m using… it doesn’t get much better to be honest.)

I was pretty stunned because I’d cleared the frequency asking if it was in use no less than three times before calling CQ. I wasn’t being interfered with at all. I’m running only 100 watts, and as I mentioned to the a$$hole, the band scope showed a mostly clear portion.

I tuned up to .261 to see what the fuss was about. There was no DX there. No, he was actually at .258 (maybe he moved?), and his sidebands were splattering nearly as far out as .261. Oh, and what was this RARE entity that was worth such angst from my annoyed friend? An American operating from Costa Rica. Wow, that’s right up there with Navassa Island bro.

I had a similar incident later on 40 meters, when a guy jumped in on top of my callers and made a rant about foreigners. Then someone called him an idiot and the frequency erupted in insults. I just moved off that, waited a moment and came back to it once the troll had moved on, presumably to 7.200.

I wasn’t the only person fighting trolls, as I heard our other SSB station run off a few.

But overall, a strong finish on the day. We logged 639 QSOs and should have a top finish in our class!

Had fun in the CQ WPX RTTY contest

I operated in the CQ WPX RTTY contest this weekend over a 5-hour period that included Friday night, Saturday morning and evening, and a portion of Sunday afternoon. All in all, I logged 120+ QSOs during casual operating and, more importantly, added a few new DX entities to my log, including Luxembourg and Namibia.

The bands seemed to be in good shape, despite a relatively low SFI and reports of “poor” propagation on 10 meters, I still managed to make more contacts on that band Sunday that I ever have. I was getting into South America quite well, but also into Europe and the western US.

As usual, 40 meters proved to be money, with DX contacts in the evening much farther than I am used to on that band. Saturday was a playground on 20 meters, and while 15 meters was packed with signals, I didn’t score but a single QSO on the band because of an RFI issue that causes problems with our home theater and other devices.

I don’t recall having any issues or real problems completing a QSO, even at the longest distances. Decodes were all clean for the most part and I think I only had to resend a serial number maybe twice. I owe that more to the contest-grade antenna systems many ops were using. With the audio turned off on the rig and just using software and the panadapter, making contacts was more like text messaging over IP than actual radio. It was just that smooth. My only glitch was an oversight on my part, as I loaded the wrong contest template into N1MM. I caught the issue after two QSOs and was off and flying.

Overall, great contest to participate in, and after this weekend, I’m getting very close to being eligible for the WPX mixed award.

A transition, a sprint, and a plan

Windows 7 running on my 21-inch iMac. Lots of real-estate on the screen for all of N1MM's windows.

Windows 7 running on my 21-inch iMac. Lots of real-estate on the screen for all of N1MM’s windows.

Things are looking a little different in the ham shack these days, as I’ve fully completed the transition over to using my iMac as a shack computer.

I’ve been using a Lenovo laptop for the last few years as the main shack computer, and not that it wasn’t up to the task, but the larger, 21-inch iMac screen is vastly superior to the laptop. Consequently, I’m running a fresh install of Windows 7, dual-booting the machine with Apple’s Bootcamp, and it’s working quite well. Windows 7 runs extremely fast on here, maybe faster than OS X on the other partition, but to be fair, this is a clean install on Win7, with very few programs, just the basics to get the rig up and running.

N1MM is much nicer with the larger screen size, particularly for digital contesting when I have FLDigi or MMTTY, plus the digital interface window up. I had no issues installing the SignaLink, my USB-to-serial interface, or the Winkeyer USB. I just plugged them in and they all worked right out of the box. You can’t ask for any more than that.

I’ve also decided to “pull off the band-aid” and use the DXLab suite for logging. I’ve long been a fan of Ham Radio Deluxe (the free version), but the slowness of entering QSOs in the log has made it practically unusable on my laptop. Also, it has started entering the wrong dates for QSOs. I don’t know if I’m completely sold on DXLabs yet, but it’s very powerful stuff, and I just need some seat-time to understand it. It’s not as “pretty” as HRD, but being pretty doesn’t help me if it takes a minute or longer to save a QSO.

This afternoon I managed to get my certificates for LOTW installed and sent up some Qs from DXLabs. Everything seems to be FB so far. Installed WSJT-X last night also and tested the system at 10 watts via a quick QSO with a Bulgarian station.

The laptop is off the desk, and ready for travel, and I’m enjoying more desk space, and a larger screen that’s easier on the eyes.

The Firecracker Sprint

I put the new operating position to good use Saturday night, as I participated in the PODXS 070 Club’s 40m Firecracker Sprint. I stumbled across this contest by accident last year and had so much fun, that I cleared my schedule for Saturday night and took another run at it, hoping I’d be at an advantage with the K3 and a year of experience.

I think participation was perhaps, a little down this year, as my QSO count was virtually the same as last year. I cleared 60 stations, 59 of which were contest participants. I only grabbed two DX stations, Canada and Mexico. The K3 and N1MM performed well and the 40m segment of PSK31 was remarkably well-behaved, with only a few stations over-driving their audio.

I ran 50 watts the entire time and pieced together a few nice runs. I relied on FLDigi’s signal browser to keep an eye across the band, and by midnight I’d worked every station I could copy. In the end I finished with 28 states worked, Mexico, and two Canadian provinces. I worked as far west as Washington and as far north as Vermont.

I’m currently sitting in 6th place, but scores are still being uploaded. I would be happy with a top 10 finish.

Upcoming VHF contest

If plans hold up, I will be operating during the CQ WW VHF Contest with my pal KN4QD. We’re looking to put a portable operation together on some high terrain. I’m leaving most everything up to the veteran contester, and I’m along to help setup, document with photos, and perhaps operate some SSB.

We’re going to borrow a mast and an amp, and we’ll bring along my 6m moxon and a 5-element 2m beam. If nothing else it will be an adventure. It’s stuff like this that really gets me excited about ham radio.

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

100 countries in the log

I can’t claim a true DXCC because I don’t have all the QSLs to prove it, but according to my logbook, I have contacted 100 unique countries. The entity that finally put me at 100 was the Balearic Islands, more specifically, the party island of Ibiza, via a CW contact.

I decided to try and add some countries to my log this weekend with the ARRL DX contest so I operated very casually Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday evening. I only logged a paltry 52 contacts, but still had some fun and scored some decent stations. I was able to one-shot many of the contacts, but some, such as the always-elusive Alaska, and Senegal, required some persistence.

I’ve been at this HF thing for almost exactly two years now. I certainly haven’t been the speediest DXer. When I started, I virtually ignored stateside stations in favor of DX. Then last year around this time I began focusing on states. Like any other hobby, my interests come and go: DX one weekend; states the next; RTTY another weekend; and QSO parties the next.

I’m going to get off the dime for the evening and enjoy my Ibiza contact with some “Balearic ambient music” and a refreshing beverge!

A good weekend to get serious about radio again

The Worked All States Triple Play award is getting closer with every contest weekend. I made a serious effort on Saturday as soon as the clock struck 1 p.m. EST with the start of the North America QSO Party SSB contest.

I began with QSOs on 10 meters, then worked my way through 15 meters and scanned the 20 meter band several times over, mainly focusing on states I had not logged phone QSOs with. I worked for two hours, broke for a few, then returned right before dinner, grabbing a crucial Alaska QSO while he was calling for “4” stations.

Unfortunately I lost several hours (and the majority of the 40 meter band window) while I went out for a longish dinner with friends. By the time I returned it was after 10 p.m. and the only action I could find was on 80 meters, although conditions were quite good and I racked up more QSOs on 80 in a few hours Saturday than I have in the past two years of hamming. I also managed to slip into the pile-up for W1AW/3 (Delaware) on 80m phone and get him in the log for my first ARRL Centennial QSO.

I finished the period with 56 contacts. It’s a low number, but I was mostly focusing on states I hadn’t worked before, so I skipped quite a few that would have been easy grabs. Overall, it was a casual, fun weekend of radio without any pressure or unrealistic expectations.

That said, I’m sitting at 120 of 150 contacts needed to complete the Triple, so there is still much work to be done, particularly in Morse code QSOs.

Here’s what remains:

Digital:

  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • North Dakota
  • Wyoming

Phone:

  • Alaska (contact made, unconfirmed on LOTW)
  • Indiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota

CW:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia (QSLed via card, unfortunately, paper QSLs are not allowed for the Triple Play)
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

I don’t see any reason to go into panic mode yet trying to hunt down the last 30. I would describe my operating style as very casual, and even so, I’ve made some decent progress towards this award. It just takes some well-timed operating, some luck and the realization that it’s not going to happen in a weekend — at least not from my modest station.

Playing around on the ARRL 10M Contest

My antenna isn’t producing a flat SWR on 10 meters these days, but with a solar flux of 160 during the contest this past weekend, the bands sounded too damned good not to try and make contacts. I dialed my power back by about 50 percent and tried to grab some SSB action, particularly on a few of those western states I rarely hear, such as the Dakotas.

I only operated for about 45 minutes, but grabbed a few new ones for the Worked All States Triple Play. I was able to work all but one of the stations I tried, and he was managing a pile-up. I even got a few nice comments on my signal, which was surprising with the high SWR and lower power. Anyway, I shifted down to the CW portion to try and capture a few more, letting the Winkey and N1MM do the talking. I had successful QSOs with every station I called on CW, and I’ve already had LOTW confirmations for them.

So the WAS Triple Play totals are looking like this (There are a few additional confirmations via QSL cards that are not represented here):

was_triple_dec2013

I lost quite a bit of momentum over this busy fall semester, so there’s lots of work left.  More depressing are my DXCC stats: Out of about 80 unique entities worked, only 52 countries are confirmed on LOTW. Ugly!

 

The SC QSO Party was a success!

20130926-121210.jpg
The SC QSO Party has come and gone and I had an exceptional time. This year was my first participating and I operated as a rover/mobile station with my friend Dwayne, N4LDL.

We operated with his callsign since it was a little shorter than mine — and we used his mobile rig, a Kenwood 480 at 200 watts into a Tarheel antenna. Dwayne did the driving while I did the calling and logging. He did some radio work as well once we parked. We logged with N1MM on my laptop, which we powered with a small inverter.

All in all, we operated from five counties — Aiken, Edgefield, Saluda, Greenwood and Lexington — for a total of 77 QSOs using SSB and CW (straight key mobile FTW!). 15 meters never opened up for us, but 40 stayed lively throughout the day and we saw some decent action on 20 meters. Farthest contact was Slovak Republic and we worked OM2VL on both voice and code. We also worked my good friend (and QSO party organizer) Todd, KN4QD on both modes.

20130926-121313.jpg

We managed to work a handful of other SC counties, including some rare ones thanks to the mobile work of my good friend Ronnie, W4RWL (my mobile partner’s twin brother). Ronnie and his wife N4TAL, roved the western portion of the state, and slightly beat us on the QSO count.

We probably could have scored more contacts but we broke off the pursuit around 7 p.m. and headed home. Overall I was very happy with the effort and both Dwayne and I had a great time. I look forward to working this party again next year!

(My apologies for the stunted, brief nature of this post. I’m composing it on my phone as my wife and I are traveling in Florida this week.)

My South Carolina QSO Party plans

ImageMy plan for Saturday’s S.C. QSO Party is to operate mobile on the western side of the state and work back into the midlands.

Dwayne, N4LDL and I are teaming up. We’ll be operating with his Kenwood mobile rig. I’ll be handling logging and some radio duties also. Not sure which call we will use, but it will likely be mine.

We don’t have a firm schedule of times and places, but the best way to get a handle on where we are will be via my twitter account, @kk4dsd. I will use the #scqso hashtag. EDIT: The rules mention self-spotting isn’t allowed, so I consulted with the contest manager who advised Twitter still counts as a self-spot. He did suggest that we tweet location, band and mode, so look for us around the suggested frequencies mentioned in the rulebook.

We could potentially hit the following counties: Richland, Lexington, Aiken, Edgefield, McCormick, Greenwood, Saluda, Newberry and Fairfield. That’s a lot of counties — but we’ll give it our best shot. We will start at 1400z regardless of where we are.

Depending on how much time is left, I could possibly operate RTTY from my home shack when we return. Expect LOTW uploads the next day.

For complete rules check out scqso.com/rules/

Good luck!