Barely getting any action…

I don’t know whether there just isn’t that much going on across the bands, or perhaps I’m not getting on the air at the right time of day.

I’ve been taking advantage of the warm weather and extended daylight to venture out on long walks in the evening after work, so I know I’m missing the TEP and gray line propagation I was enjoying a few weeks ago. By the time I turned the rig on tonight, portions of 20 meters and anything higher were dead zones. There is a lot of action on 40 meters, but I haven’t heard anything intriguing.

After the high of my Australian contact last Friday, I didn’t expect to make another one for quite some time. But to my surprise I had another down under QSO with VK6ANC on 20 meters via the long path on Saturday. By all accounts, it should have been a much more technically impressive contact, but darn it was just too easy! He had such a nice signal it was like talking on a local repeater. No pile-up either, and that’s always a good thing.

I made a single contact on Tuesday, Jose, CT3MD, from the Madeira Islands near Portugal on 20 meters.

Tonight I spoke with Larry, K1IED, out of Connecticut, my first contact with that state if I’m not mistaken, also on 20 meters.

On that same frequency a few moments later, the South Pole station, KC4AAA, began working and a massive pile-up ensued. The Antarctic station was weak, perhaps an S3-S4, but I could hear them clearly. I threw my callsign out, but was quickly swallowed by the bigger guns. A few moments later, I couldn’t hear KC4 at all.

While I didn’t get a QSO out of it, it was still, it was pretty damned cool knowing I was at least hearing a station on the South Pole.

Freakin’ Australia!

VK6LC's QSL card, from qrz.com.

The last few days have been rather dull on the air, but the single contact I made tonight more than made up for it.

I was tuning around a bit and ran across a strong station on 20 meters. Mal, VK6LC, from the west coast of Australia (Perth to be exact) was sending a booming signal into the southeast. Naturally there was a pile-up, but the operator was more conversational and taking time between QSOs to ragchew a bit.

At one point he asked if there were any operators who had never made a QSO with Australia. I damn near shouted my call into the mic, as if the extra volume would help my signal travel the nearly 11,500 miles across the Pacific and across the international date line and over the Australian continent. There were many voices competing with mine…

Then I heard: “The Kilo-4 station?”

Why not? Close enough to my call, so I gave my sign again: “Kilo Kilo 4 Delta Sierra Delta.”

“The Delta Sierra station?”

Again, my callsign.

“Give me your call again, you’re weak, but I can copy you.”

And just like that, I added Australia to my logbook. We exchanged pleasantries, names, locations and a signal report (I was 54, he, by that point, around 55-56), and I stammered like a giddy fool, thanking him for the QSO.

The exchange went into my log as my longest contact to-date, with a long path distance almost equal to the short path. He indicated his beam was aimed at Florida, so I’m going to assume this was a short path contact. Not too shabby for a dipole antenna hung 10 feet too low and 100 watts!

This QSO was redeeming after tuning around early this morning and clearly hearing taunts from New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Italy, and never managing to make contact with them.

As they say: Good DX!

Where is everybody?

Only managed to make a single QSO tonight, Stony, KB5IRC, out of Arkansas. I managed to catch him calling CQ on 40 meters around 11:30, and we spoke for a few minutes, even though the QSO was getting banged up by QRM and static crashes.

I heard a few intriguing stations earlier in the evening, E51M, from the Cook Islands out in the South Pacific (didn’t try to work ’em, I could barely copy his signal over the background noise), and a station out of the western portion of Africa, Guinea-Bissau (also very weak).

Last night I heard a station from Hawaii, and another little African station from Burkina Faso. Massive pile-ups on both. I’m getting quite a geography lesson from ham radio. I’d never even heard of Burkina Faso. I didn’t try working either of them though, because again, I could barely hear them.

I heard a booming signal out of Italy tonight, at least 20 dB over, I2VRN, a cool cat I’ve worked before. Man what a beautiful signal from his station tonight.

I’m still waiting for 6 meters to open. I received an e-mail alert today concerning an opening near my gridsquare. Naturally, when I got home 4 hours later, the band was dead. I haven’t heard ANYTHING on 6 but harsh, gravelly static and a whistle or two.

99… and 100!

I finally have 100 QSOs in the log!

By the time I got to the rig tonight, there weren’t many stations out on 20 meters, but I heard KB0EO calling CQ out of Minnesota. I responded, running 50 watts, and we had a nice QSO, even though his beam was pointed north.

I logged QSO #100 shortly afterwards, the Russian station, TO5K, operating from Martinique. There was a pile-up but I got in on my first shot, again just running 50 watts.

Just as a personal experiment, I decided I would start dialing my power back progressively in order to get a more “QRP-like” experience. I’ll try and maintain 50 watts this week, then perhaps go down to quarter-power and lower at some point. I’m not sure my antenna is installed high enough for good QRP, but I feel like working with less is only going to make me better when I work with more.

 

Inching towards my 100th QSO

The bands were alive with contest activity this weekend, which allowed me to log a few more nice stations as I creep towards my 100th QSO.

I won’t list them all here, but I had nice contacts with stations in Romania, Canada, Slovenia, France, Italy, several islands in the Caribbean, and some states out west, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

I could have easily added more contacts this weekend, but nearly all my QSOs were with stations working the CQ-WPX contest. I’m not a contester, and to be honest, I’m not sure what the protocol is for non-contest stations during these events. As my list of QSOs stacked up, I wondered if I was expected to reciprocate and upload a contest log so the stations I worked would get credit. I’d been keeping track of the serial number exchange, errr, up to a point. I probably lost a couple of them.

So to prevent doing any further “damage” to the serious contesters, I stepped back and didn’t attempt to make any more contacts, at least until I know the proper way to handle them.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read (and also heard) in regards to ham radio is to always LISTEN first. I’m a strong believer in listening, but I would also add, use Google second! A quick search provided all the details of this past weekend’s contest, along with every QSO party I’ve thrown my callsign at. Had I looked up the CQ-WPX contest, I would have educated myself instead of blindly throwing out my callsign for the sake of adding a new DX entity to my logbook. I thought of myself first, instead of thinking of the contesters and how I might affect them.

I went back through my logs and submitted all my QSO party entries to their respective contest managers, even if I only made two QSOs for the event. Fortunately, the deadlines hadn’t passed. I didn’t bother logging the serial numbers from the ARRL DX contest a few weeks back, so I didn’t try sorting that out. I may submit a log to the CQ-WPX since I managed to mitigate the damage there somewhat.

I still find contests a nice way to test the limits of your gear, and make some exotic contacts. But I think I’ll stay away from the next contest or QSO party, unless I clearly understand the rules going into it.

Besides, there are better things to do some weekends. Our club offered community service this weekend at the Lexington Medical Center Colon Cancer Challenge, and honestly, it felt good helping out. I’ve participated in these types of events before, but as a bicyclist. It was nice being able to give back a bit. More importantly, my mother passed away in 2007 after a brief struggle against cancer, so being able to offer my services on Saturday was especially meaningful, even if it meant getting up at 5 a.m. and driving 40 minutes to the event. It was really worth it. And I enjoy hanging out with the guys from the club too.

 

Two quickies

I spent a while this evening chasing that same Namibia station from yesterday. I got on right before he started working split. I set up my rig for the split and called and called but just couldn’t get through.

There wasn’t much else going on down the dial until I ran into a station from Lithuania, LY5W, on 40 meters. I could barely copy his signal, probably a 55 at best here, but I tossed out my call and somehow he heard me on the third or fourth shot.

I had another 40-meter contact with an island station, VP5/W5CW. Easy in and out.

I didn’t have much time for anything else tonight. The whole evening was a washout — literally. I was already late getting home from work this afternoon, but I was determined to take my afternoon walk. About a mile in it started drizzling, then picked up to a soaking rain. The hike back home was a trek only fit for a frog.

Bad behavior on 20 meters tonight

Wow, 20 meters was full of sociopaths tonight.

I completed two nice QSOs, Juan, EA8YB, from the Canary Islands, and Filipe, CT1ILT, from Portugal, and was tuning down toward the lower end of 20 when I ran across what could only be described as a mosh pit on-air and in-progress. I don’t know who made who mad, but about 20 different voices were all screaming at each other. From what I gather, one OM called into question the character of another and threats were made. What followed was some of the foulest language I’ve heard on air to date.

I left that train wreck for dinner and came back 15 minutes later for the local 2 meter net. I turned the rig back on and they were STILL going at, perhaps using more creative expletives.

After the net, I tuned up to try and catch a German station operating from Namibia. At first I could only hear the pile-up, so I figured I wasn’t able to pick the station up from my location. Then it dawned on me that he might be operating split.

I tuned up the band a bit and found him. He was easily 57-58 into South Carolina. I copied him over to my second VFO and tuned back over to the pile-up and entered split mode on my rig. I was ready to make my first split contact, when something weird happened.

I switched back to listen to the pile-up and all I heard was a lone station with a loud signal uttering some insane political/religious (?) rhetoric. I clicked back to the German station, just in time for him to announce he was switching to CW. Back to the calling frequency: An operator asked the insane station about his call sign. I didn’t catch it, but the weirdo declared “I’m a real psychopath,” in what I assume was an effort to threaten the station who questioned him.

Just like that, the rare Namibia station was gone, apparently in response to the bad behavior. What the hell guys?

Afternoon DX

I allowed myself about a half-hour today on the radio after I arrived home from work and managed to score a few quick contacts.

I worked XQ7UP out of southern Chile, 5,500 miles away on 10 meters, then located a special station, FM/RC0F, a Russian station on the island of Martinique. There was a significant pile-up, but I had no trouble getting acknowledged.

I also managed a quick QSO with V21ZG from Antigua and Barbuda. I’ve managed to work a lot of stations on that little chain of islands — Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Kitts, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia. There are a few more to go, but I can’t believe my luck so far.

I’ve made some changes to my microphone setup and I’m wondering if it’s made a difference at all in working DX. I’ve tweaked the USB and LSB range slightly on the FT-847 (+10 shift on the USB and -10 on the LSB), and rather than use the “high emphasis” filter on the MD-100 mic, I’m now using the “low cut 1” setting. I think this works better with my voice, which tends to come across as a bit low on the air. I’d had reports that the high emphasis filter reduced my volume somewhat, so perhaps it was over-filtering, and not quite right for my voice.

It seems to be working quite well, and I can even hear a bit of difference when I monitor my output with headphones.

I had one QSO tonight that fell out. I heard a Texas station, W5GW, calling CQ on 40 meters. He had a strong 59 signal into South Carolina, but when I attempted contact, he had trouble copying my sign, apparently due to static crashes and QRM. I also had negative success working XE3MAYA on 20 meters, a special event station for the Mayan equinox. The signal was weak and I never attempted a call. Maybe I’ll have better luck tomorrow.

Enjoying ham while walking

The days seem endless now that Daylight Saving Time is in effect, and with the 80+ degree temperatures, it’s time to start walking again in the afternoons.

I always associate my afternoon walks with ham radio, because last summer I studied for my Technician and General exams using the Ham Radio Podclass. Podcasters John and Mike often accompanied me on my evening explorations of the neighborhood. Sadly, they have decided to discontinue the podclass, which is too bad, because their training is excellent. (I also suggest Dan, KB6NU’s, “no-nonsense” study guides!)

Last week when I hit the streets I realized I didn’t have any good ham radio-related podcasts on my iPhone. I’m mostly caught up on TWiT’s Ham Nation, so I was on the lookout for something new. I’m happy to say I found it!

I’m now listening to The Practical Amateur Radio Podcast (PARP), by Jerry, KDØBIK. These are great! The length is perfect. They are informative (today, from episode 52, I learned how to use the QSL bureau, something I’d been wondering about for a while), and they are well-produced with great audio.

After listening to episode 51 I’ve been inspired to try and make a QSO every day. So when I returned home from this afternoon’s walk, I turned on the rig with that intention in mind, and made a nice contact on 20 meters with John, V47JA, on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.

I only had a single contact on Sunday, Andy, 9Y4LAS, from Trinidad, on 40 meters.

Just after midnight Tuesday morning I had a brief QSO with Julio, HI8JQE, of the Dominican Republic. I’ve tried working him before with no luck, but tonight I easily made contact on 40 meters.

So that’s at least one QSO a day for the last three days!

Good DX on Saturday

There is a contest this weekend, and while it’s not great for ragchewing, it’s good for making quick contacts just to see how far the signal carries.

I didn’t contact a lot of stations on Saturday, but I got a few nice ones. I spoke with John, YS1/NO7B, operating from El Salvador, on 20 meters, and farther down the dial, made a quick contact with LS1D, a club station in Argentina.

A few moments later, I worked Peter, HA8RM, out of Hungary on 20 meters, which was one of the most challenging QSOs of the afternoon. He had a pile-up going, and I managed to get through, but the always annoying “DSD” portion of my call once again proved difficult to copy. There was massive interference on the frequency, causing issues for both of us, but the operator was patient and we logged a successful contact.

I made an easy contact with YU1BFG (big freakin’ gun? hehe), a Serbian club station with a big signal into North America.

After dinner I had two contacts into North Dakota on 20 meters, where a QSO party was taking place: Nancy, K9DIG, with a booming signal, and a few turns of the VFO down, William, ND0B.

I switched up to 40 meters and managed to break through and easily contact Jim, CN2R, operating from Morocco.

The only real missed opportunity of the night was a South African station that never heard me. He was way down in the white noise on 40 meters, and while I could copy him 100 percent, he had a pile of stations calling him. I didn’t have a chance.