From DX with Love – RDXC 2017

In a further example of the benefits of DX contests for those looking to rack up new countries, this weekend’s Russia DX Contest served up another bounty of new DXCC entities on CW.

All in all, I landed 11 new DXCC entities. Since part of the fun of contesting is imagining the operator at the other end of the ionosphere – doing the same thing you’re doing, furiously decoding CW in front of a radio, thousands of miles away – I’ve included the names of the ops below where I could find them:

  • Switzerland (HB9ON – Radiogroup in Piancamara 7, a profilic DXpedition team)
  • England (M2G – not a special event station, just a contest call of John in the UK)
  • Croatia (9A7V – Eugen)
  • Poland (SN8B – Bobowsi)
  • Germany (DA0AA – A radio club in Germany. “Emergency Radio Station Frank Cut Switzerland”, says Google Translate…. so that’s something)
  • European Russia (RU1A, a contest station out of St. Petersburg)
  • Northern Ireland (MI5I – Colin)
  • Serbia (YT3X – Miki)
  • Sweden (SH1DX – could not find)
  • Argentina (L6HKA – could not find)
  • Slovenia (S51J – Janez)
VmB+vAB5.png
A bevy of new European countries worked during RDXC 2017. Argentina can come too.

I also connected with a second Alaska station, my first AK contact on 20m, which should help to cement that state for my WAS goal this year. (To be sure, KL7/VE7ACN has been tearing up the bands this week, since I heard him a week ago. But more contacts in the log never hurt.) As icing on the cake, I heard, but couldn’t contact, Arthur 4X2M in Israel . Still searching for that first elusive contact in Asia.

Unlike the ARRL DX contest, where contacts within the same country don’t count for anything, the Russia DX contest does award a (small) number of points for contacts in the same country. So I picked up a few stateside contacts on 40m later in the evening, just to add to the contact count and continue drilling my CW.

There’s a joke in radio circles about “contest propagation”, which is the notion that even when “the bands are dead,” they somehow “magically open up” when there’s a contest going on. Certainly, during major contests, when everyone who has one brings out their big amplifiers and aims their beams most precisely, contacts are more frequent.

But this weekend, I suspect that the ol’ ionosphere was actually on our side for a change – in the late afternoon, after I’d worked what there was to work on 20m CW and before 40m opened up, I dipped over onto 20M JT65. . After noodling around for about 20 minutes, I had landed both PD7RF (Frits in the Netherlands) and MC0CSO in Wales.

Two more DXCC in the log. That brings me up to 49 DXCC entities reached, with 30 confirmed.

And as a final sign of Sol’s grace upon the upper atmosphere, the following afternoon I heard (but could not reach) both Asiatic Russia (RA0CGY) and Japan (JM7OLW, JH1HRJ, JA1PSS, and 7K4GUR) on JT65.All are over 6000 miles away. They were way below the noise floor at -20 to -24 dB, about the limits of what JTDX will decode. But things look promising as the summer months move closer.

stationsheard_20m_JT65_2
Stations heard on 20m JT65, afternoon of 3/19/17. What a spread!
Image by PSKreporter.com

Hear you on the air, all over the world!

73

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Heading in the Right Direction

I put a new DXCC entity in the log last week: Hungary

I ran across HG5F calling CQ TEST on morse code on 14.086 MHz on February 25th. This was smack in the middle of the UBA DX CW contest, which is actually a Belgian contest, but thankfully that awards points to non-Belgian countries making contacts with other non-Belgian countries. Admittedly, I wasn’t worth many points.

So, why did a Hungarian station come in at a solid 579 during the local afternoon on 20m, when he wanted to be talking to Belgium? There are two parts to unfolding that mystery. The first is John, HG5F’s, antenna; his QRZ page shows a large beam antenna (tribander?) in the foreground, on top of maybe a 30′-40′ tower. That would certainly have helped. (There’s also a small beam in the background of the picture, perhaps for 40m.)

hg5f_tower
HG5F’s antennas, from QRZ.com

The second and more interesting reason that HG5F was so audible has to do with geography. HG5F’s QRZ page lists his QTH (home station) as Jakabszállás, Hungary, a little Southwest of Budapest. If John was pointing his beam toward Belgium, (say toward Brussels in the center of the country,) his beam would have been pointed at roughly 300° ENE. If instead John had wanted to point his beam directly at me, he would have been aiming at ~310°. Put another way – by aiming his beam toward Belgium, John was also aiming toward the midwest United States.

These coincident transmission angles become clear when one looks at them with the proper map projection. Something like an azimuthal-equidistant map, which displays all points as proportionally equidistant from a center point, is perfect for this task. Check out the following AE map centered on Budapest:

hungary_ae_map

Notice that, from John’s perspective in Hungary, Belgium and the US Midwest line on almost the same Northeasterly line. Here’s the same illustration in a more familiar equirectangular map projection:

hungary_rect_map.PNG

So, I was quite a bit of an overshot for John, but I’m always happy to make a transatlantic contact – and on CW no less! That makes 35 countries in the log so far, and with the ARRL SSB DX contest this weekend, I’m hoping to hear and work several more.

Hear you on the air!

73

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

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!

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