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!

ARRL Field Day 2016 – With NS9RC

This year, I got to spend the 24-hour rush that is the ARRL Field Day with the North Shore Radio Club, NS9RC. I got to participate in the setup and tear down, plus a little logging and operating in the middle. I reconnected with an old friend, and met lots of new ones. What a blast!

For the past four or five years, the NSRC has been setting up in on the campus of the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Senior Center in Lake Forest, just around the corner from their usual meeting spot at the Heller Nature Center. Both are about a 45 minute drive from my QTH in Chicago, so not at all hard to get back and forth.

The club’s setup is straightforward, and apparently is the one they’ve used the past couple years running. They operate “3A,” which means that they are a club of more than 3 members (in this case, lots more) running three simultaneous transmitters. There are three separate tents, each devoted to a specific activity and with its own set of antennas and transceivers. They are:

  • The Sideband Tent: Uses a single Elecraft K3 with Panadapter, running 100W. Has dipoles for 20m, 40m, and 80m.
  • The CW Tent: Uses two K3’s with two operators, each running 100W. Has its own dipoles for 20m, 40m, and 80m.
  • The GOTA Tent: Hosts the Get On the Air station with its own K3. Antennas this year were an 80m end-fed (for 12m to 80m) and a Hustler-4B (for 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m). The tent also hosts the VHF station, which uses (I think?) an Icom 746 and a 6M Moxon pushed up on a lightweight aluminum mast.

Here’s the full site layout:

Ns9RC Field Day 2016

I arrived around 1pm on Friday afternoon to help set up for the event, to find much work already in progress. I don’t know where the club equipment lives for most of the year, but it all arrived neatly stowed in a 10′ Uhaul truck. Former club president Rob K9RST took general command of getting the campus set up, delegating teams, setting up tents, making sure antennas got in the air, that sort of thing. He’s got a boyscout background, I should think.

The 6m Moxon sitting next to the GOTA tent, with the check-in tent in the background

I helped the tent teams for the first part of the afternoon, and helped get the two GOTA antennas erected for the second half. We laid out ~30 radials around the hustler antenna, and flung a rope way up into a tree at the far end of the GOTA  field to get the end-fed in the air.

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon with these three gents setting up the GOTA vertical, especially Jeremy W9DEE in green on the left.


I didn’t quite make it back from the start of operating proper on Saturday, but I did get back up to Lake Forest by around 2:30pm CDT. All three tents were abuzz with activity, and there were probably ten or twelve other folks hanging around by the cool drinks in the hospitality tent. Among them was Casey KD9EGF, who I know from way back in the early days of my theatre career, but had no idea he was a ham! We hung out together most of the afternoon, caught up on careers, families, and the like. I’d say Casey, myself, and Jeremy W9DEE were the youngest participants at the event by a good margin, if you discount the boy scout troupe working on their Radio Merit Badges.

Casey and I split our time between hanging around in hospitality and chilling in the Sideband tent, just observing, learning, chatting some some of the club members. We learned a bit about N1MM+, the logging program of choice that I’d practiced a little bit with earlier in the week. There are tons of great contest operators in the NSRC, it turns out, and both Warren KC9IL and Don KK9H really reeled them in, maxing out at a rate of around 160 QSOs/hour. Wow!

Don, KK9H, with the 6m Moxon and mast. Boy that thing is light!

Around 8pm, as operators and loggers shifted over, I got a chance to hop on the computer in the sideband tent and log for a bit. The logger/operator relationship is a fun one – as logger, you’re also trying to pick hard-to-hear calls out of the static and assist the operator. but ultimately whatever the operator says, goes. The NSRC sets up a laptop for logging right next to the operating position, with a separate, mirrored monitor just for the operator, so that whoever’s operating can confirm that the call/section/class gets copied correctly. The operators use a foot switch to key the mic, and also log each contact on paper as a hard backup. A lot of activity at a little 6′ table.

Warren, KC9IL, pounding out comments late at night. You can see the N1MM+ monitor, the K3 with Panadapter and external audio mixer, and way in the back right the auto-switching bandpass filter. On the table is a list of section abbreviations.

Around 10pm, I got to try my hand at operating in the SSB tent for an hour or so, with Donn W9TOC logging. What fun! We racked up around 60 contacts between 10pm and 11pm – not a record-setting rate by any means, but I’m proud to have done my part. The 40m phone band was packed; we were continually hearing at least two stations above and usually a station below us, so trying to pick out responses was a challenge. But boy, what a good time. Around 11:30, I called it a night and headed back down into the city.

I returned around 12:30pm on Sunday, just before the official end of the event at 1pm local time. There was a great if weary crew to tear everything down, and we had the whole site packed up back into the Uhaul by 2:30. I followed Rob back to his garage with a couple other club members and helped unload, then dragged my butt back home. As we were heading out, I overhead someone say that the club had logged over 1000 SSB QSOs, twice that on CW, and a couple dozen RTTY contacts to boot. Not too shabby for a club running 3A!

The campus with the SSB tent in the background. The flagpole in front is just a flagpole, not an antenna.

As a bonus, I came home with a little something extra. As we were finishing up, one of the other club members mentioned he’d helped clear an old antenna out of storage from “Mike”, KG9ML, and would I like it? Like heck it would! Turns out it was right around the corner, on the friendly ham’s front lawn. It’s a PRO-AM PHF40, a loaded dipole with adjustable whips on either end for tuning. He even through in the old metal tripod that was holding it up. I’ve had it up in the back yard a couple times now – it’s a great receive antenna, although it seems that loaded dipoles have poor efficiency or narrow bandwidth. Still, for an antenna that collapses down to 4′ and I can throw in the basement, it’s a great get. Thanks Mike!

The center of a PHF40 loaded dipole.

All in all, a great field day. Plenty of sunshine, plenty of bugs, and lots of time talking about radio.

Hear you on the air!