Two all-time new ones!

I was looking back on my Logbook of the World account the other night and lamenting the fact that I’ve been stuck at 93 confirmed DXCC entities for at least a few years now. As I’ve posted here before, I’ve contacted more than 100 countries, but I really want to complete the award using LOTW confirms only.

So I thought it was time for some targeted DXing. Scour the clusters, find the obscure countries, determine if they are on LOTW, and if so, try to work them. As I am still down an antenna here, I met up with friends Saturday morning over at the Little Mountain shack to use the tri-bander.

GP0STH, Guernsey Island

Right off the bat we snagged GP0STH, Guernsey Island, on 20m phone. There were a few other interesting prospects on the dial. Vatican City was booming but working a pile 5-10 up. The operator isn’t an LOTW user, but we gave it a shot anyway to no success.

A code operator from Ghana was also operating a split pile-up but an inability to get heard, plus massive QSB made that attempt a failure as well.

Fortunately,  a DXpedition in Niger had a great pair of ears. 5U5R was operating split on 15-meter CW. I jumped in and he got me after about 5 minutes of trying. I felt like it may have been an ESP QSO, so I was encouraged when I checked his online log this morning and found a confirmation for my callsign!

So that’s a few new ones in the book and hopefully they will result in LOTW confirmations. If so, I’m five away from the wallpaper!


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!

The long dry spell is over


The beam at Dutch Fork works wonders with 5 watts!

Wow. I just realized I haven’t posted in early July. That’s quite a dry spell, and so much has changed since then:

  • I am no longer president of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club, as my year term expired, and I didn’t opt for a second.
  • I am no longer employed with the school I’d worked at for the past six years.
  • I haven’t done any meaningful ham radio in ages.

Well, one thing hasn’t changed, and that is that I STILL don’t have an antenna up here at home. When the system failed back last July, I kept putting off the installation of a new antenna and coax owing to the brutal southern heat. As we transitioned into fall and winter, there were other priorities. My rig has gone unused for quite a while.

It’s hard to say what happened. My interests tend to swing wildly. Being president of the radio club was something akin to “seeing how the sausage was made” and I found myself planning meetings, developing agendas, building programs, and a dozen other things that basically shifted my radio interest from operating to administration.

Then there were other hobbies: Astrophotography, my vintage bulletin board system, learning Python, horology, picking up the guitar again, scriptwriting, and hell, metal detecting. While I wasn’t on the radio, I took beautiful images of the night sky, my BBS grew exponentially, I started coding an adventure game in Python, I collaborated on two feature-length screenplays, expanded my watch collection and met some interesting relic hunters. It’s been a busy year!

I’m still involved in public information with the club, and I am still grinding out the monthly newsletter, but I have enjoyed being just another “bum on the bus” at recent gatherings.

But I’m ready to get back to the radio. Saturday I met with “The Steves” — KI4VGA and W4SJD, at the local Waffle House for breakfast, after which, we headed over to the Dutch Fork Amateur Radio Group’s shack in Little Mountain.

I kept it simple: Yaesu FT-817. However, I was able to plug into the 20m beam located some 70-80 feet up a tower. Even 5 watts does wonders on a beam like that. I never even considered needing more power as I operated PSK31. I was simply testing my station when I sent a CQ out and someone immediately responded off the backside of the beam. We aimed towards the EU and I called CQ, working England, several Italian stations, and a Canadian.

Just for fun we clicked over to SSB and I one-shotted the first station I heard, a gentleman who was operating for the Vermont QSO Party. All three of us worked him in succession at 5 watts SSB. Further up the dial, I located a Minnesota QSO Party station and we repeated the process.

We also logged some QSOs with Switzerland. The only thing we never managed was breaking a pile-up into Portugal. Even so, it was a great little outing and not bad at all for an hour and a half. Once I arrived home I logged the QSOs and I already have some confirmations on LOTW.

I hope to get rolling at home again soon. I’m currently investigating the possibility of putting a small Mosley beam on the roof. I even have the wife’s permission!

Small steps.

DX in the nick of time

I typically try to get on the radio by about 5:30 in the afternoon right after work, make a few contacts, and be out the door on my daily 4-mile walk by 7 p.m., at least in the summer months, when daylight is plentiful.

I was on the rig Friday and couldn’t locate any particularly interesting stations out in the aether. I heard someone on 10 meters blasting away in a foreign accent, but by the time I had them tuned in, they had disappeared and didn’t return. 12 meters was similarly dead and 15 had some action, but nothing worth chasing.

I clicked through 17 and up to the usual watering holes on 20 meters and encountered HB90IARU out of Switzerland with a 59 signal. I believe I’ve worked Switzerland before, but never received a confirmation, so I tossed my call out a few times, got picked up on the second shot and went on my merry way.

Back down on 17 meters, the only station of interest was a fading station out of Kuwait, Ali, 9K2WA. I’ve worked a station in Kuwait before, but didn’t have a QSL for him, so I was keen on grabbing 9K2WA, a Logbook of the World user.

Ali’s signal grew somewhat stronger, a 57 at least, but still rather grainy. I listened for perhaps 10 minutes, waiting for an opening to toss out my callsign. He wasn’t calling QRZ between stations, and I couldn’t hear any of the guys he was talking to owing to propagation skip, so I had to assume they were tail-ending his QSOs.

I glanced down at the clock and realized it was about 6:57. I only had a few more moments to play before hitting the asphalt for the evening walk. Ali announced that conditions were fading, so he was only going to take a few more stations. I needed to make a move, so I tossed my call out once.

His response: “The station ending in sierra-delta?”

Got him. He gave me a 55 report and I sent 57. After we exchanged 73, he announced he was going off-air and the frequency fell silent.

The time was now 6:59 and I headed for the door to walk in the heat with a minute to spare!

If a tree falls on your antenna and no one notices, does it affect your ability to make QSOs?

Whelp, once again, a tree has fallen on the long leg of my dipole, and like the previous time, it didn’t have much of an effect on shack operations.

I jumped in the ARRL DX contest this weekend, mainly in an effort to snipe off some LOTW-capable stations to beef up my DXCC totals. Conditions on 20 meters Friday night were nauseating, with stations stacked on top of each other and voice keyers blazing at unintelligible speeds.

Maybe I’m turning into the stereotypical old guy, but some of these guys are talking (or using the voice keyer) at a speed that is just too fast for me. Add to that the regional accent, narrow filtering to knock out adjacent stations, compression, the hollow sound of single sideband, and whatever other setting the DX station is using to process their outgoing audio, and you’re left with a signal that is very hard to discern.

Stations moving at a slightly lower speed were infinitely more copyable (and enjoyable) to work. But I digress.

I had no issues completing QSOs from 10 meters to 80 meters Friday night and early Saturday. I happened to take a walk in the backyard Saturday afternoon and figured it would be a good time to check my dipole, since it seemed like the long leg of it was lower than it should have been. Walking back some 90 feet into the woods, I discovered a large tree had fallen and landed on the wire near the end of the dipole. It was basically on the ground. Since the tree was too large to move, I untied the dipole’s support and fed it under the tree so I could hang it back up. I discovered the weight of the tree had stretched the wire out by several feet.

Now, they didn’t pay me to say this, but Buckmaster makes a hell of a good antenna. This is the second time a tree has landed on my dipole and it hasn’t broken yet.

I don’t know how long the antenna had been in that condition, but strangely enough, I don’t think anything was affected by it. I have worked CW, RTTY and SSB within the last few months and I haven’t had any issues completing a QSO, whether locally or afar. At any rate, I’m glad to have it back in the clear.

I think I only logged 40+ QSOs in the ARRL DX contest with some very casual operating. I didn’t get any seat time on Sunday but I did manage to get out and walk in some welcome sunshine and 72-degree temperatures. Bring on the spring!

Creeping towards DXCC

The 2012 Shack: 100 watts and a wire. I made the majority of my interesting SSB QSOs on this rig.

The 2012 shack. I made the majority of my interesting SSB QSOs on this little rig.

One of my goals this year is to get back on track towards the DXCC award. When I first started a few years back, my primary goal was DXCC. Somewhere along the way, I got distracted. While I do have at least 100 unique entities in the log, I am missing confirmations for about 25 of them.

So this week, I decided to finally go through my log, identify those unconfirmed contacts, and plan a strategy to get QSL cards out. In the process, I discovered some interesting things about my DXing:

  • Many of the QSOs I need confirmed occurred within my first month of being on the air, using a radio that was theoretically not very good, with my very nascent skillset. I’m guessing that 50-60% of my DXCC was completed in those first few months. All those QSOs were phone, with the majority on 20 meters. I feel like I had some really decent success early on with contacts all over the world — the most interesting being two QSOs in a single weekend to Australia, which have remained my farthest contacts to this day.
  • I gained some Logbook of the World confirmations simply by cleaning up my log entries. I remembered a memorable QSO with a gentleman in Iraq one evening, but couldn’t find his call in my LOTW logbook online, yet he was in the logbook on the shack PC. Evidently, that QSO never made it to LOTW, so once I resent it, I had immediate confirmation. Similarly, I picked up a Bermuda confirmation by editing the callsign to a more LOTW-friendly format (X#XXX/VP9 rather than VP9/X#XXX).
  • Sadly, I LOST a few DX entities during the clean-up. DX Lab informed me I had QSOs with stations in Egypt and Bouvet. I couldn’t recall having made those contacts, and sure enough, they were actually QSOs with US stations who were using a “portable /#” suffix. For some reason the logbook read those as foreign stations.
  • I will NOT be able to confirm several stations. Sadly, my Cyprus contact is now a silent key. Another wonderful contact, Canary Islands, doesn’t use LOTW or accept paper QSLs — only, which is worthless for the purpose of the ARRL award.
  • I may not be in their log for whatever reason. I think all hams have had this happen to them, particularly on those “ESP QSOs” on CW. For instance, I logged SV5AZK, Dodecanese, on 20m PSK31 back in summer 2013. By all accounts, we should have confirmed since he’s on LOTW and HRDlog, which I use. Searching his online log, I’m not there. And I distinctly recall making this QSO because it was shortly after placing my K3 on the air.

So, it’s going to come down to the wire and I may even come up short. Fortunately, this weekend is the ARRL DX contest and I may be able to snag some new ones. In the meantime, I’ll be sending out some “green stamps” and patiently waiting for returns.

K1N in the log

k1nlogoWell I’ll be damned, I’m having some fun with ham radio again.

The Navassa DXpedition, K1N, caught my eye a few weeks back simply because the island isn’t that far away from the U.S. That meant that I might actually be able to hear it (unlike the recent EP6T), and secondly, at only about 1,100 miles away, it’s well within striking distance for my modest antenna/rig combo. What I didn’t realize was that Navassa Island is the number 1 sought-after DX on the planet.

I’d read about the hellish pile-ups for it on some blogs last week (apparently, someone has coined the term, “Navassholes” to describe lids and jammers!) and took a listen a few nights ago. Yeah… major jamming going on there. SSB was past the point of forget-about-it, and I don’t do SSB pileups anymore.

Over on 40m CW one night, the pile-up was spread nearly 10kHz deep and while the DX had a FB signal, the Navassholes operators calling on his transmit frequency made it impossible to hear with clarity. (seriously guys, working split is NOT hard. How did you get a ticket if you don’t grasp that simple concept?)

Then I read a post from W2LJ and suddenly I had hope that maybe I could grab K1N under the right circumstances, namely, very late at night/early in the morning.

It just so happened I was having a hell of a time getting to sleep Saturday night and sometime around 3:30 a.m. (Sunday), I gave up and decided to turn on the rig and see if K1N was awake.

Sure enough he was at the bottom edge of 40m, S7-ish signal with what looked like a minimal pile-up. I called for about 20 minutes, tapping out the code on my Vibrokeyer in a slightly bleary state. I wasn’t having luck. Then he worked a 4-station and I clearly saw the calling station’s response on the panadapter. I re-tuned and banged out my callsign. He picked me up. I heard at least KK4D and the rest fell into QSB. I re-sent my call, he came back with a copy and signal report. I fired back and completed the QSO.

I wasn’t confident that he had me, so I decided to mess around on 80 meters and try to get another one in the log. Using DX Heat, I located a spot for him, but heard nothing once I tuned there. I let a few minutes pass and was about to shut down the rig when armchair copy S9+ code erupted from my speakers. “CQ K1N UP.” I let him work one station, jumped in the previous station’s pocket and fired off my call. As soon as I let it fly, I knew he heard me. He came back with a 100% copy. I felt very confident I was in the K1N log at this point.

I continued listening for a bit afterwards and he was begging for QSOs. With no more takers, he went QRT around 4 a.m. and the op on 40 meters had also closed down.

Sure enough, the next morning, I found myself in the expedition’s ClubLog, caught on both bands! I may try for RTTY later!

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Time to put the microphone away

Big pile-up on 40 meters for EP6T.

I’ve only been an amateur radio guy since 2011, and only started HF operation in early 2012, so I don’t have a lot of perspective on the hobby. However, I can break up my time on HF into three distinct epochs.

2012: Hitting HF and responding to every CQ I heard, many of these contacts were DX stations on 20 meters. DX was all I really cared about. Almost 100% single sideband operation.

2013: Still on HF, but losing interest in SSB and to a lesser extent, DX. Spent more time on digital modes and working on WAS. Began operating in CW.

2014: Mostly all digital/CW, focused on completing the WAS Triple Play. Barely any DX, only occasional SSB, mostly stateside and locally.

So now, 2015. I’m trying to get back into DX so I can officially get the DXCC wallpaper. Digital modes don’t thrill me any more; my CW is awful right now. For some reason I’m in the mood for SSB. But sometime between 2012 and now, DXing on SSB has taken a turn. I haven’t been able to make a single SSB QSO outside of the US as of late. Sure, it could be my antenna or another issue, but CW seems to still work just fine.

It’s the pile-ups. Basically, I don’t have the patience for them anymore. If I can’t get my QSO completed in 30 minutes, then I move on to something else. If it were just a matter of waiting for my turn, or rugged tenacity, it would be one thing, but honestly, the SSB DX/pile-up experience is just so unpleasant now. Jammers, rude behavior, people who don’t understand split, people who repeatedly toss their call out over and over and over (these guys drive me insane, especially when they start turning around the pile-up with their voice keyer on repeat), whistlers, yodelers, screamers, people who start sending CW over callers, and the list goes on.

This is nothing new, but it just seems so much worse than I remember it.

Jeff, KE9V, explains it much more eloquently than I can. I’ve been listening with amusement at some of the piles for EP6T the last few nights, and I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to sound like I’m hemming and hawing because I’m bitter over not getting Iran in the log. I’m not — in fact, I can’t even hear EP6T. I’m just saying, that it’s not fun for ME anymore. Fortunately, the hobby offers other avenues for making contacts, hence I’ll be brushing up on my CW and pulling out the digital interface again.

A couple new countries

I worked PSK31 again this evening and managed to contact some new DXCC entities on 20 meters:

  • EW8CM, Belarus
  • YO9FTN, Romania
  • OK1EP, Czech Republic
  • E74DO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (Not a new one for me, but not a country I see very often either)

I also snagged another Oregon QSO, Bob, K7QXG. We had a decent chat and hopefully we can confirm on Logbook of the World.

14.070 was full of signals tonight and some were very strong and over-driven, causing issues while I was trying to copy some of these weaker stations. I’ve had decent luck with a little FT-847 trick that lets me place my 400 hz CW filter in-line to cut the adjacent noise:

  1. Tune to where the desired signal is; press A>B to copy the frequency to VFO B
  2. Switch VFO A from USB  to CW mode and engage the DSP CW filter
  3. Press the SPLIT key, allowing me to listen to the band through the CW filter and transmit on the upper sideband.

It’s a bit of a dance and if I re-tune I have to repeat the process, but it only takes seconds and the results are worth it. For more detail, check out this tutorial.

Israel on PSK31

tiberia-city_landscape_copyMy enthusiasm for PSK31 comes and goes. Right now I’m really enjoying it again, and I’ve been racking up QSOs with it for the last few nights. Until Field Day last month, it had been more than a year since I’d had a PSK QSO. I’d become hooked on JT9 for its low-power long-distance capability, but sometimes I’m not in the mood to wait for minutes to elapse to complete the exchange.

One of my turn-offs concerning the mode is the potential for rag-chew. I recall some of the first PSK contacts I made last year involved a lot more chat about the weather, gardening and health conditions that I was in the mood for.  Nowadays, I don’t mind the rag-chew as much, as long as I can think of something to talk about. When the well runs dry, I just hit the “73” macro and I’m out.

Excluding the poor band conditions Saturday, there’s been some decent DX on the waterfall the last few nights. I’ve worked into South America a few times (Argentina, Uruguay), a mobile British station in Hawaii, a handful of Canadians, the Ukraine, Italy, and some Caribbean stations.

I saw Moldova with a strong signal last night, but he never returned my call. I was about to shut down after midnight this morning when I saw a new call trickle down, 4Z1IG, Alen, out of Israel. I tossed my call out and he responded on the first shot, albeit with a slightly mangled version of my call sign. We exchanged names, locations and reports, and he requested my call again. I sent my call 3-4 more times, although I still wasn’t certain he picked it up thanks to a strong Slovakian station who tried to tail-end our QSO.

I was relieved when Alen came back to me for the final 73 with my correct call sign. Israel was a new DXCC entity for me, bringing my total of unique countries worked to 80.

The Worked All States (Basic) effort is nearing the end. I have Alaska confirmed on Logbook of the World and I’m waiting on confirmations from Michigan (I know right?), Oklahoma and Oregon.