Be it Resolved: Work More States

Though I’m very late to the ballgame in New Year’s resolutions, it being February and all, I do have one that settled on at the beginning of the year that I’m ready to commit to. 2017 is going to be the year that I get my Worked All States award.

Worked All States, or WAS, is a certificate handed out by the ARRL for those who have worked all 50 states in some form or another. I’ll be going specifically for WAS Mixed, which allows contacts of any type – phone, CW, or digital – to count, though there are individual awards for working all 50 states with each one of those modes as well.

So far, progress is promising. Given that I only got on HF last summer, I’m already within striking distance of my goal. Only 7 states have eluded me so far: Alaska and Hawaii (no surprise), Nevada and Utah (far to the West with small populations of hams), North Dakota and Nebraska (see comment about the sparsity of hams), and Indiana (my signals must be skipping right over them). I’ve actually knocked three states off the list just recently: I picked up Idaho, Delaware, and Wyoming during the two January North American QSO parties.

Beyond that, there are 10 more states I’ve contacted but don’t have official confirmation for: Wyoming, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The other 33 states are in the log and confirmed.

Here’s the current status of things, laid out in visual form (Grey is unworked, blue is worked and unconfirmed, green is confirmed):

_69wSNvu.png

Here’s to 8 more states in 10 more months. Hear you on the air!

Stop Press: Between the time I wrote this post and the time it was scheduled to be posted, I made contact with Hawaii! Specifically with KH6LC on 21.0295 MHz during the ARRL DX CW contest. We’ll see if it gets confirmed, but that means only 6 states left to find. I also received confirmation for Rhode Island in an unrelated JT65 QSO. The map has been updated with these changes.

73

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An Embarrassment of DX – ARRL DX CW 2017

After several months of being on the air, I’ve finally made contact with continental Europe! And contrary to my previous post of JT65 DXing, this one was with good old fashioned CW. At around 0204 on Sunday 2/18, I heard a CQ TEST call from EF7X on 20m , and after several back-and-forths and some resending, I had him in the log. Huzzah!

A few minutes later, I found the US Virgin Islands on the air with NP2P. Then the Madeira Islands off the coast of Morocco from CR3W. Then the Slovak Republic, of all places, via OM7M. Then, then, then….

All in all, I made a total of 55 QSO’s with 29 unique DXCC entities over the course of a few hours of operating on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Of those, 17 were All Time New One’s for me, bringing my total number of entities contacted (though not necessarily confirmed) to 34. I doubled my DXCC progress in one weekend!

The full list of new entities reached includes: Barbados, Spain, the US Virgin Islands, the Madeira Islands, the Slovak Republic, Jamaica, Portugal, Scotland, Italy, Ireland, the Balearic Islands (had to look that one up), the Bahamas, France, Hawaii (!!!), Belize, Cuba, and Cape Verde. The full map looks like this:

arrl_dx_2017

It’s no accident that this string of contacts came along during the ARRL DX CW contest, when all of the international contest stations have their beams and their amplifiers trained on the United States, and are looking for any stateside contacts. Even a relatively-dinky 100W into a random-wire and tuner is a valuable contact for DX stations in this contest. And I’m tremendously grateful to the stations that took the time to dig my signal out of the noise. One of the peculiarities of the ARRL DX contest is that non-US stations have their output power as part of their exchange. Almost everyone I worked was “K” or “KW” (1000+ watts), with a handful of 500 or 100 watt stations thrown in. Makes my 100 watts look like a pebble in a quarry.

My final claimed score is 55 QSOs & 45 mults, for 7425 points. Not too shabby! Here’s the breakdown by band and multiplier:

The ARRL DX SSB competition comes along in a couple weeks – I’ll surely have to be on the air then. Hear you there!

73

Firsts: 17m, Brazil, JT65

Earlier this week, I achieved two firsts in one QSO: my first contact on the 17m band (a  100Khz slice of spectrum starting at 18.068 Mhz), and my first contact with Brazil. Specifically, with PY6JB, JOÃO, in Salvador, Brazil, nearly 5000 miles Southeast of me. I’m not positive, but I think this marks my furthest contact on the air so far.

That I set a new personal distance record with JT65 is not surprising – the mode is designed for weak signals and long distances. It encodes up to 13 characters into a highly compact format of 72 bits. These are then run through a pair of Reed Solomon encoders, which translate the user data into a set of 126 bits for transmission with significant potential for error-correction. Reception of signals more than 20 dB below the noise floor is not uncommon with JT65.

braziljt65

As you can see in the screenshot of the popular JTDX program by UA3DY, even transmitting at around 35 Watts, my signal was still 17 dB below the noise floor by the time it got to Brazil. But that was enough to exchange callsigns and reports, and officially verify the QSO.

So, another new country in the log, and my first ever contact on the 17m band. Not a band way to spend a Monday afternoon.

Hear you on the air!

73

*UPDATE: The same afternoon I posted this, I made another contact with Brazil, but this time on CW – PV8ADI! Woohoo!

CQWW WPX RTTY 2017

This past weekend, I made my first RTTY contacts ever, in the CQ Worldwide Prefix RTTY Contest.

RTTY , or radio teletype(usually pronounced “Ritty”) is a holdover from older days of digial communication, and is based on the interactions of old teletype machines, which would generate the necessary tones to communicate letters and symbols over the air. While the original machines used specialized typewriters and punched paper tapes, today all the encoding and decoding is done via a connection to a computer’s soundcard.

The WPX series of contests is unique in that, rather than earning point multipliers based on geography (say, by individual countries or states), multipliers are earned for each unique prefix of the stations you work. A prefix is the first few letters and numbers of your station callsign – in my case, KK9. This makes it easier for a smaller station like mine to garner interest and be valuable to others as a contact – you don’t need to make yourself heard over any particular distance, so long as your prefix is new to the person on the other end.

My best DX for this contest was 4M1K (Venezuela, ~2560mi) and P49X (Aruba, ~2300 mi), both all-time new ones for me! For brief moments on 20m on Sunday afternoon, I heard both Italy (IQ9UI) and France (F6CXJ) for the first time, but sadly couldn’t make contact with either of them. All in all, I made 18 contacts with 17 prefixes.

Here’s to more countries on more modes. Hear you on the air!

73

Catching Up: CQ World Wide CW, 2016

Having started a new job in October that’s keeping me quite busy, I’ve resolved to care less about the timeliness and length of posts, and to prioritize getting them down.

To that end, here’s a brief recollection on the CQWW CW Competition that I participated in back in November. One of the largest international contests of the year, this was certainly a hopping time on the air. I participated using my repaired ATS-4, at around 3W, and there were a good many stations I could hear but not contact. Nevertheless, I ended up with 17 contacts over 11 countries and 7 CQ Zones. My best DX was ED8X in the Canary Islands – a little over 4000 miles away, for better than 1300 miles/Watt. What a day

I wracked up a host of ATNO’s (All Time New Ones, or new countries in the log), including: Curacao, Dominica, Bermuda, the Canary Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bonaire, French Guiana, Turks and Caicos, and Peru.

cqwwcw-map

I’ll be back on the air for CQWW 2017. Hear you on the air!

73

BITX40 Module & ARRL SSB Sweepstakes 2016

A few weeks ago, I participated in the ARRL Fall Sweepstakes SSB Contest, and succeeded in making my first voice contacts from home. It’s incredible what you can do with 5 Watts and a simple antenna!

Over the course of about an hour on Saturday night and another hour after work on Sunday, I made fourteen total contacts all across the US, including Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Manitoba Canada, Maryland/DC, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Ontario Canada, Texas, and Virginia. Several stations clearly had to reach way down into the muck to pull me out of the noise, which was very much appreciated.

Part of the exchange for the SSB Sweepstakes is a “precedence,” which is based on your power level, among other things. I was handing out “Q’s,” which denotes a QRP power level of 5W or less. A couple stations, after a minute or more of trying to pull me out of the noise and finally getting it, “OH, QRP, that explains it…”

I worked the entirety of  my contest activity through a new rig in my shack, one of the new BIX40 modules out of India. Afshar Farhan, originator of the BITX Transceiver, has recently rallied together some resources to start producing a “kit” version of that radio for the 40m band. I say kit only lightly, since the main board (which is mostly SMD components) comes fully assembled and tested, and you merely need to solder on the provided external controls (tuning and volume pots, speaker/headphone connectors, etc.) It only took about 20 minutes from unboxing the package to having everything installed. But there was an issue lurking on the horizon…


I’ll save that story for another post though. Hear you on the air!

QSLing, Physically and Digitally

With my first foray’s into HF in the past few months, I’ve been diligently trying to track all of my contacts, and confirm the ones that are special to me. To that end, I’ve been pursuing the age-old art of sending QSL cards and the new-age art of electronic QSLing.

For my everyday logging, I’ve mostly been using the DXLab suite of software, which includes a fairly full featured logger, as well as rig control capability, DX cluster access, licensee address lookup, PSK modem, and many other features. And its free! For the couple of contests I’ve taken part in (the CA QSO Party, and the AZ and PA QSO Parties), I’ve used N1MM+, which makes entering contest exchanges snappy and straightforward. Also free! Once the contests are done, I’ve been exporting the contest contacts as an ADIF (amateur data interchange format) file and importing them into DXLabs.

n1mm
The N1mm+ interface – simple, clean, and easy to step through without taking your hands off the keyboard.

DXLabs also makes uploading contacts directly to both ARRL’s Logbook of the World and eQSL.cc, two of the most popular digital QSLing services. While the LOTW setup is a little onerous, now that I’ve gone through the process of getting the TQSL verification software setup and confirmed on my computer, uploading logs and confirmations to LOTW is as simple as clicking one button. And for the number of confirmations I’ve received through both services, the setup effort has been totally worth it.

dxkeeper1
The top three buttons on DXKeeper’s LoTW QSL window take care of all of my Logbook of the World needs.

That said, not everyone is interested in being a part of the digital QSLing services. It seems many more hams on HF still pursue the older style of confirming confirmations with QSL cards. I too am diving in the the world of physical QSL cards, and I must say, there’s something delightful about having a physical bit of ephemora to hang on the way, to prove that my handful of watts of RF reached out across the country.

On the sending end of the equation, I designed a basic QSL card from scratch in Illustrator. It includes all the basic information to confirm a contact (callsigns, date, UTC time, band, mode and RST), as well as some fun supplementary information (my rig, antenna, and power for each QSO). It’s not fancy, just to-the-point and designed to be printed on my greyscale printer at home. I purchased a small pack of nice cardstock to print these off as necessary, four to a page.

qslcard

To date, I’ve sent out about a dozen physical QSL cards. Some went to folks in states I’d like to confirm who aren’t on LOTW. Some went to my first contacts on the various HF Bands, or my first CW contact ever, and so on. Some just went to interesting people who I had nice conversations with. Out of those dozen or so cards that have gone out (with self-addressed stamped envelopes enclosed), I’ve gotten five back. And they’re all great!

Now I’m looking for a way to display these cards, and hopefully more that I’ll acquire in the future.

Hear you on the air!

73


For more information on QSLing, past and present, some resources I recommend are:

First 30m Contact, and a Stateside Update

This past weekend, late in the evening, as I was fiddling around with the ATS-4 seeing how the bands were doing, I ran across a particularly strong CW signal on 10.116 MHz, near the bottom of the 30m band. It turned out to be the end of a QSO between KA7OGK and W5IP, the latter of whom was coming in 5-by-8 here in Chicago. When they wrapped up their conversation, I through out a quick call to W5IP, and she came back! I could tell that Carroll (whose name I’d gleaned from the earlier conversation) was heading out, as our exchange was much more perfunctory than conversational. But it allowed me to put my first 30m contact (as well as my first Texas station, as it turns out).

And with that, I’ve now made a contact on every band I currently have access to – 80m, 40m, 30m, 20m, and 15m! So far 40m and 20m have proved to be my workhorse bands, but some late-night exploration makes me think I should be paying more attention to 80m later in the evening.


With the new 30m Texas contact, and one with a nice Louisiana ham this morning (WB5WDC, retired petroleum engineer who used to work not far from Chicago in Crystal Lake), my total number of states worked is up to 10: Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia:

WAS Map 10-26.png

Until I can put a longer or more-vertical Antenna in the air, I don’t think I’ll be chasing foreign counties for a little while, but Worked-All-States seems like an achievable short-term goal. Of course, of the 10 states I’ve worked, I only have confirmation from California and Pennsylvania, so there’s a way to go yet. But I’m having a great time acquiring my own “All Time New One” states.

Hear you on the air!

73

California QSO Party 2016 and First 15m and 20m Contacts

Having put up a basic wire antenna last week, I thought I might as well give it a spin over the weekend to see how well it might receive on the various bands I have access to. This being the weekend of the California QSO party, I figured there would be lots of big signals on the air to try to hear.

Much like when I first put the QST-49er on the air, I had much higher expectations for  reception that for anybody else hearing me, but I was to be proved wrong. Using the ATS-4, my power output is about 3W on 80m, 40m, 30m, and 20m, and about 2W on 15m. I figured I would find the strongest calling stations that I could and use them as a gauge of where I was receive in signals from.

Much to my delight, the CW portions of both the 20m and 15m bands seemed to be filled with California stations calling “CQ CQP” (California QSO Party). Some of them S7, a couple over S9 even with my simple antenna. With no AGC, some signals were strong enough as to require me taking the earbuds partially out of my ears. With propagation and the antenna seeming to cooperate, I quickly looked up with CQP exchange (serial number and state) and responded to some of the CQs.

And do you know what? Not one, not two, but twenty-four different stations came back to my little QRP signal. Twenty Four! In the span of a Saturday afternoon (and one more Sunday morning) I increased my lifetime QSO count by almost %500, including my first 15m contact (K6LRN), my first 20m contact, and my first CA contact (both N6CK in Poway, CA). Here’s a map of as many contacts as I could grab Lat/Long data for, all up and down California:

caqsoparty2016map

One of Eric Guth’s guests on the QSO Today podcast (and I can’t for the life of me find who) expressed that the joy of radio sport for him was that he got a little spark of joy every time he made a new contact, and that contesting gave him that feeling hundreds of times in a row. While I didn’t hit hundreds of times, I certainly felt the rush of making contest contacts, fighting to be heard with other stations, the victorious feeling of finally being heard, the reward of persistence…. I could get into this radio sport thing.

If that’s going to be an area of interest, I’ll need to practice a little more on my reception speed, especially when it comes to numbers. For this contest, I would often listen to the California station go through two or three other contacts to try to pick out the serial number he was on and his county before I’d make a call myself. My receive speed just isn’t high enough to go into a contact from scratch. But I’m grateful to all the ops who were willing to slow down and repeat themselves when asked. It made me feel very welcome as a new op.

In any case, my claimed score for this one was 1224 points, distributed like so:

ca-qso-party-2016-score

I suspect my actual score will be much less than that. I know I botched a couple numbers early on, and even gave out the wrong number once (oh the shame). But even if I only get one point in the log, that’s good enough for a first time out.

Hear you in the air, and in the contest!

73

A New Random-Wire Antenna and First 80m Contact

Sometimes the simplest of radio work pay the biggest dividends. Last week, after a few weeks of hemming and hawing about it, I finally committed to putting up a longer wire antenna that allowed the possibility of using multiple bands. The 40m dipole I put up at the end of August has proved to be fine as a receiving antenna, but it suffers two key limitations. First, it’s obviously a single-band antenna (though I may try it on 15m as well). And second, situated as it is between two apartment buildings, I think I’m wasting most of my energy heating up the bricks rather than propogating energy out into the world. It’s also only ~10′ off the ground.

The new antenna helps with all of these issues. It’s simply a ~58′ piece of 22-gauge speaker wire strung from the office window out to a tree that sits in the apartment’s back yard.at its highest, the wire is maybe 20 feet up. While it’s a little visible in the alley if you’re looking for it, it blends in with the surrounding tan brick enough that I don’t think it’ll be noticed. I dropped a ~16′ piece of the same wire out the window to act as a counterpoise.


No, I swear, there’s an antenna running right through the center of this picture.

Like any random-wire, this one needs a tuner to be useful. I first tried using the ZM-2 tuner I got last Christmas. I sadly think I have a short in one of the variable caps in that tuner, which makes it non-functional for now. The MFJ-949e tuner did the trick though – I attached the long wire directly to the “WIRE” banana jack on the back, and the counterpoise to the grounding lug. The antenna tunes up better than 1.2:1 on 80m, 40m, 30m, 20m, and 15m. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an efficient antenna, just that it won’t unduly stress my transmitters.

When I tuned the antenna the first time, I made myself a cheat sheet of the capacitor and inductor settings that gave me the lowest SWR on each band. I then taped this cheat sheet to the top of the tuner. This gives me a place to start when I need to retune for a particular band.


The same evening that I put the antenna up, I did a tune-through of the CW portions of 15m, 20m, 30m, and 80m. It’s really the first time I’ve been able to hear anything on a band beside 40m, so I figured a little exploration was due. I came across an S7 signal at 3.545 MHz calling CQ, and just for grins, I gave him a call. And he came back to me! Arthur, N8ART in Columbus Ohio, running an older rig into a dipole, if my copy was right. 

Columbus is a little under 300m from my QTH in Chicago, so this was probably a single-hop contact, or really NVIS. But it represents my first contact outside of 40m, which is terribly exiting! The new antenna is already proving its worth.

This was also my first contact with a new transceiver, an ATS-4 which I snagged as a “tech-special” (i.e. broken) from qth.com and repaired. That process deserves its own write-up. I’m also using a second-hand Ham Key I picked up at Radio Expo 2016 in Belvidiere, an event that also deserves its own post. But really, I’m just too excited about the contact on a new band to try to keep these posts strictly sequential.


Hear you on the air, maybe on 80m!

73