Recent contacts of note: New European DX, Siberia

I didn’t get as much radio time in over the weekend as hoped. Saturday afternoon resulted in some nice QSOs, but my wife and I headed out on the town for the evening. Sunday there was nothing special going on, but I spent far too much of the day goofing around on Skyrim, a game I really enjoy on the Xbox, but had neglected since I put my station on the air.

That said, I still scored some decent DX over the weekend:

  • UA9MA: Sunday night, on 20 meters, my first Siberian contact. I was literally fist-pumping and clapping when he came back to me with a 55 signal report. I could barely hear him and the flutter was quite bad, but we had a complete QSO.
  • OP2A: A great Belgium station. I was trolling around on 12 meters looking for action Saturday afternoon and heard him calling CQ. There were apparently no immediate takers, so I threw out my callsign and we had a great contact.
  • HB0/DL2SBY: Liechtenstein, 20 meters on Saturday. Another nice one!
  • IW9GMF: Sicily Island, 20 meters on Saturday. Italian operators are the best! They always seem to be having so much fun.
  • PA0LEG: The Netherlands, 40 meters on Friday evening.

That’s four new countries in my log. Good DX for me!

Anyway, there is still much to do around the shack. My Arrow J-pole has never been given a real installation, although to be honest, I don’t really care for 2 meters these days. I can hit all the major repeaters in our area with the J-pole standing in the corner of the room. Why mess with something that works?

I also have a copper bus bar I ordered a few weeks ago with the intention of bolting it to the back of my workbench for proper grounding. I had also planning on getting a PowerPole setup going, and ordering a SignaLink.

Then there is the matter of my portable HF kit. I’m waiting on some cash from a freelance gig to arrive, and from there, I’m looking into a Buddipole system. Of course, the KX3 was ordered several weeks ago, and there is no telling when it will ship, so I’m trying to keep that out of my mind for a few more weeks.

So yes, there is plenty to keep me busy in the shack beyond DXing!

Couple quick contacts tonight; plus, working a 2m net on foot

Got home tonight in a foul mood, as personal matters of the last few weeks have really played hell on my evening radio activities. It was nearly a quarter to eight by the time I pulled into the driveway, and I was determined to go on a long walk to clear my mind.

The local Wednesday evening 2 meter net always starts at 8:30 and I didn’t want to miss it, so I put my VX-7R on my belt and headed off to walk the neighborhood. When 8:30 rolled around the net began and I immediately checked in “pedestrian mobile” and requested short time — I wanted to go ahead and get checked in while I was at the top of a nice big hill so my 5 watts would hit the repeater. In fact, I was holding the rig above my head and yapping into my speaker mic. I was heard and noted and I managed to enjoy the remainder of the net as I completed the 4.6 mile walk.

I jumped on HF briefly and one-shotted two phone contacts: 3G87IARU, a special event station out of Chile on 20 meters, and farther down the dial, TO3X, a DXpedition station operating from St. Barts. Then I popped over to 14.076 for some JT65 action, logging a QSO with N7JCO out of Utah. I haven’t glanced at the log, but I believe St. Barts is a new island for me, and I don’t believe I’ve worked Utah before.

A good ending to a lousy day!

JT65! Kuwait! HRD!

Well despite my last post, a rant about Windows 7, I’ve managed to get my new laptop set up the way I like it and everything is moving along quite well now. Windows is staying out of my way for the most part. The lion’s share of updates have all been done. Most of the annoyances have been turned off or disabled and the machine is running smoothly.

Ham radio-related programs installed include: Ham Radio Deluxe, JT65-HF, Fldigi and WSPR. For the most part, they are all working well (except WSPR, but I haven’t really dug down into that yet).

Also, I purchased a new USB-serial converter (TRENDnet TU-S9, $10, Amazon.com) and it works great. The included drivers did NOT work, but Windows was able to update it to working condition, much to my amazement.

HRD is such a large, complex suite of utilities. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it’s capable of, but the rig works fine with it and I’ve managed to import all my QSOs into the HRD logbook. I logged a handful of contacts over the weekend into HRD and there are MANY things I like about it over the Mac-based solution I’ve been using. I also signed up for HRDlog.net and I enjoy being able to display my last few QSOs here on the website using that service. It’s also nice being able to upload to LoTW with a mouse click.

Overall, it was a decent weekend for radio. Despite a busy Saturday that included a ham radio swap meet, a freelance photo job, and a visit to the office to help shoot some group shots, I nailed some nice contacts on sideband, and made my very first JT65 contacts.

QSOs of note Saturday included:

  • OE3WMA, out of Austria, on 20 meters
  • 9A209A, out of Croatia, on 20 meters
  • 9K2UU, out of Kuwait (!), on 20 meters. I’d been trying for this contact for a while and propagation was amazing to the Middle East on Saturday.
  • Several stations from the Michigan QSO Party on 40 meters
  • PY2LED, out of Brazil, on 17 meters; PR8ZX, also Brazil, on 20 meters
And on JT65, 20 meters, running about 15 watts out to the antenna, with a purely “acoustic” radio interface, I contacted:
  • WD0DMO, Nebraska
  • KF5MDZ, Texas
  • UX2SB, Ukraine (!)
Some notes about that “acoustic interface”: I have a mono audio cable running out my rig into the mic input of my laptop to process the incoming signals. My rig gets keyed via the CAT interface. I don’t have an audio interface, like a Signalink, so I don’t have a great way to get the transmit audio from my laptop back to the rig (yet). My solution was to simply place my desk mic as close to my laptop speaker as possible and hope for the best. The lash-up seems to work, as long as there’s no QRM from our barking dogs, hehe. I had a decent signal report from the Ukraine, which was my longest contact on JT65. But I do see a Signalink in my future.
The verdict is still out on JT65 for me. It’s an interesting mode for sure, albeit one that seems to lack a soul. I can’t complain though. There is something deliriously fun about communicating across the globe on such little power. I look forward to seeing what else is possible!

Christmas is coming…

The long wait begins. Yes, that’s right. I’ve ordered the Elecraft KX3. If you believe the hype, it’s the rig that Jesus himself would have run if he’d been a ham radio operator.

And I didn’t wimp out on the features either. I ordered the roofing filters and the antenna tuner too. Now, when will it ship? Your guess is as good as mine.

I’d hoped to be doing some SOTA activations by now, and I wanted to operate “from a backpack” for field day this summer. I looked for an FT-817ND a few months back, but every online retailer is out of stock on that rig. Then I started hearing about the buzz about the KX3.

Sure, I wasn’t instantly in love with the boxy chassis — only slightly more attractive than the militaristic metal-box charm of my LDG autotuner. But dayum — that display puts everything else to shame! The layout has real knobs, buttons and a big VFO dial. The SDR internals. The portability. The superiority of the receiver. I dare say this rig is probably going to give my FT-847 a fine thrashing in the reception department.

Oh and I’ve come around to the looks of it now: Unpretentious, elegantly engineered, stately. Not a bunch of molded, injected plastic crap that looks like spare parts from an H.R. Geiger alien model kit.

I’ve even re-committed myself to learning CW, just so I can lay hands on that sweet little machined paddle keyer.

Being a newbie ham and moderately liddish, I don’t deserve a KX3. But I’ve ordered one. I made the decision last week and pushed the button this morning. Now the long wait begins.

If you are one of the souls who purchased the rig back in December when they began accepting orders, you’ve waited nearly five agonizing months for your KX3. Shipments for those orders only started going out last week, and Elecraft is predicting it may take weeks for those orders to be fulfilled. From their web site, posted just the other day:

December 27th was the first day we took KX3 orders and we received many hundreds that day, so we’ll be working our way through those first day orders for the next several weeks.

Please be patient as we ramp up production. During the first several weeks we will be slowly ramping up shipping as we begin manufacturing and get everything stabilized on the production line. We will then continue to ramp up production over the following weeks to our final production.

Dang. A single day of orders is causing weeks of logjam. I don’t have patience.

My step-father, a lapsed ham himself, had a saying when we were kids and we “wanted something real bad.” Simply put, he would tell us: “Christmas is coming.” As a kid, hearing that utterance in February or April was like a crack of damnation, because Christmas was a looong time away.

And that’s how I feel now, because it looks like it might be December before my KX3 gets here. Heheh.

In other news, I made a few decent QSOs this weekend:

Friday night I logged my first contact with a station in Montana, NB7V.

Saturday morning I met up with the local club and we worked a local charity bike ride. I was feeling a bit squirrelly afterwards and arrived back home in time to make about a dozen rapid-fire QSOs, mostly from a pair of state QSO parties happening: Georgia and New Mexico.

I also had a neat contact with the  Brunswick Shores Amateur Radio Club, N4GM, who were activating the “Old Baldy” Lighthouse (USA 039) in North Carolina.

I also managed to bust pile-ups on two Titanic-related stations, both in Maryland: The Titanic Wireless Association, K3MGY, and special event station W3R. I finished the afternoon with a Mexico station, 6H6IARU, celebrating the 87th Anniversary of the founding of the International Amateur Radio Union, IARU.

I made a single contact with an Argentina station Sunday, LU2HOD, and had no luck at all Monday evening.

Montserrat * 2 / working split (FT-847) = success!

Parrots on the dipole? These Monserrat boys know how to have a good time! (image from their QRZ page)

I managed to contact two members of the “Buddies in the Caribbean” mini-DXpedition group tonight on two separate bands, operating from the island paradise of Montserrat: Larry, VP2MLR on 17 meters; and Chris, VP2MYZ down on 20 meters.

Both gentlemen were working the pile-ups split, meaning they were transmitting on one frequency and listening to the pile-up on the other.

Now my rig does split just fine, but I always get nervous when working split because I fear I’ll be transmitting from the wrong VFO and get yelled at by an OM who sounds gruff, tired and hungry. I’d attempted split ops before on some rare DX stations, but had negative success.

The 847 doesn’t let me listen to both sides of the split; it’s my understanding more modern rigs allow you to listen to both frequencies. The basic procedure is to put the transmit VFO on the pile-up frequency and monitor the operator on the receive frequency. When he calls QRZ or CQ, jump in like it’s any other QSO. If you are heard, you’ll get called. In some respects, it’s more peaceful than a normal pile-up because I can’t hear all the big guns blowing me away.

Tonight I was in luck because I got through to VP2MLR on my first try. The band basically shut down not long after, and I was barely copying his signal to begin with, even with DSP, the pre-amp and a notch filter on. I don’t know how he heard me but he did!

I didn’t have as much luck with the other gentleman, as he had a rowdier crowd trying to contact him. I called about a dozen times, left and scanned 80 meters, 40 meters and finally back to 20 meters some minutes later. His signal was actually better when I returned — the interference from adjacent channels had subsided considerably — so I tossed my call out there a few times. He eventually responded with “November 4 Delta Sierra Delta” … I figured there probably weren’t any other “4DSD” stations on frequency, so I uttered my call in full again. Contact! 59 signal reports were exchanged and I found myself longing for a tall, rum-based alcoholic beverage (with a slice of pineapple and a tiny umbrella), some tacos and a good cigar.

Looking over my log tonight I realized I’d be halfway towards completing a mixed mode DXCC award, assuming I’d sent out QSL cards and received the returns. I do need to start using the ARRL QSL bureau, but I just like Logbook of the World so much better. Sure, when I got into this hobby, I really wanted to plaster my walls with colorful QSL cards, but with the cost of QSLing and postage, I’m fine with just using an electronic exchange like LoTW. I wish everyone used it, although I know some people are put off by the sign-up procedures and the extra effort required to sign and upload the logs.

Stations I attempted but didn’t successfully work tonight included a nice loud Saudi Arabian station, and an event station, W1MGY, honoring the 100 year anniversary sinking of the Titanic (The Titanic’s radio callsign was MGY. One of my best friends, a Titanic scholar, mentioned that to me tonight on the drive home).

Otherwise, a nice evening of DX!

Nice propagation tonight; crazy QSL cards

I heard a lot of great stations tonight and worked a few on sideband as well:

  • 9A201CTL out of Croatia had a big signal on 20 meters early this evening
  • TI2CC out of Costa Rica was easily worked on 40 meters
  • WA3T, Bill, from Pennsylvania, and I had a really nice QSO (although I had to break it off a bit early because I was running late for my normal club net on 2 meters — Sorry Bill!)

I went into the shack around 11 p.m. to try and “catch some Russian DX” on 20 meters and I found a “European Russia” station, RA6YDX, almost immediately. Never managed to log a QSO though (which is a shame because I think he’s on LoTW).

A bit further down the dial I stumbled upon a gentleman from Finland, OH9RJ, with a nice clear signal. Again, I couldn’t seem to get acknowledged in the pile.

I thought I’d have better luck with 9K2UU, a station in Kuwait. He was moving quickly through QSOs and I thought I’d have a shot since he was aiming a massive beam at North America and coming in a genuine 59+. I was excited to grab my first middle eastern QSO, and I called out my sign until I was nearly hoarse. No luck. Huge pile-up with big guns…

In other news, I’ve sent off my materials to the ARRL and I hope to be an accredited VE within the next few weeks. Our club is doing a VE session this weekend, and I suppose if I’d been quicker, I could have had my paperwork done and participated in the testing. At any rate, I’ll be hanging with the club a bit on Saturday anyway since we are providing comm for another cycling event.

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Some surprises, but mostly dead air

I’m starting to sound like a broken record on these updates: No time for radio, nothing out there, bad bands, etc. Well, some of that is true and some of that is my own lame technique and poor pile-up busting skills.

Anyway, I made some decent contacts on Friday, as I had the day off. On 40 meters I spoke with CO6LE out of Cuba, and failing to hear any action ANYWHERE else (the bands were awfully noisy, as a storm had just swept through the Carolinas), I decided to investigate 15 meters a bit. Now, my dipole isn’t resonant on 15, so I’d avoided it, but the LDG had no problem achieving less than 2:1 SWR on the band after I dialed my power back to about 75 watts or so. Great, because the band was alive.

I had a quick QSO with Luis, XE1GZU out of Mexico, then tuned around a bit and worked Rafael, XE1RK out of Mexico City.  Rafael had a big signal and apparently I did too, because he recorded a portion of my audio and played it back for me over the air. I have to admit, I sounded pretty good: Mellow, but punchy without being tinny.

It’s always nice getting compliments on audio and signal quality considering my minimal setup, especially on a band my antenna wasn’t really made for, with the power dialed back a bit.

Remaining on that band and lower power level, I managed a brief contact with OM2VL, a station from the Slovak Republic, before I turned off the rig for the morning.

Late Friday evening I heard a Siberian station coming in easily 57 and his signal exhibited that cool-sounding polar flutter, presumably from going over the globe. He was a loquacious ragchewer, so I didn’t get many calls out to him.

I only managed to log two stations on Saturday. Around mid-afternoon I received an alert from DX Sherlock concerning a possible TEP opening on 6 meters, so I turned on the rig and tuned up to the national calling frequency and CQed for several minutes. Negative contact.

I dropped over to 20 meters and spoke with 8R1AK, out of Guyana, and also had a brief QSO with PP5JA out of Brazil on 10 meters.

In other news Saturday, I listened out for Jerry, KD0BIK, who was activating Genessee Mountain in Colorado for Summits on the Air (SOTA). No signal heard at my QTH, but I’ll be looking forward to hearing about the adventure in an upcoming episode of his excellent podcast, The Practical Amateur Radio Podcast.

And on the topic of SOTA, I’ve made some baby steps to getting my own mountain-topping kit together. I picked up a great military backpack yesterday from U.S. Patriot, which should hold everything I need to get on the air anywhere.

I’d had my eye on the Yaesu FT-817 for a while, but as more videos and information on the Elecraft KX3 emerges, I see so many more advantages to that rig over the FT-817, and the price point isn’t much higher (Can you even get an 817? They are out of stock everywhere.)

I also looking into getting a small, cheap laptop for my kit. I feel so dirty even considering a Windows machine over my beloved Apples, but the fact remains, most of the major ham software is Windows-based (Ham Radio Deluxe, JT65HF, etc). I could install Windows on my iMac i5, but I’d rather have a portable machine for field day, travel, etc. Might as well just get a cheap one and be done with it.

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.