CQ CQ CQ CALLING CQ World Wide WPX SSB contest

Yearly comes the CQ World Wide WPX SSB contest. It came this year, even.

As my previous posts indicate, I am in no position to contest seriously with my current antenna setup. But I decided to play along. See who could hear me, be a hit in other people’s logs as opposed to doing it to get a good score. But I did decide to keep track and give out serial numbers as IF I cared, just to see how many places I could talk to on my oddly placed random wire.

I made a whole 51 contest contacts. I thought it was 50, but I accidentally gave two people number 48 (sorry guys). That’s low, but I only sat still long enough for several bursts of 10-13. because with my setup, it takes a long time to make 10-13 contacts.

I had to fight hard for many of them. repeating things often. If it wasn’t a contest I would have been ignored in many of the scenarios. A couple people lost me. I’m sure I was frustrating for more than a few runners.

Observations:

  • Runners, that is contesters staying on one frequency for a while and working through the pileup of suitors, must need tons of patience. Some of them sound like they have none, though. I feel like I could hear who was having fun, and who was obsessing impatiently. But I’m no snitch
  • Some folks manage to be friendly even though they are impersonal exchanges.
  • I was not expecting to be heard by any DX countries, but I got South America, Europe, and Eastern Europe.
  • Hardest-fought-for: 9AØBB in Croatia, a club call. I must have had to repeat my call and his number 8 times each, easily. Kudos to the operator for his patience and persistence, where stateside operators would have said they just couldn’t hear me and to try later.
  • When my resonant antenna set-up is up in the next couple weeks, I really expect to have some fun. Finding out that I could get out enough to have fun on my way-too-low non-resonant wire was nice. Maybe next year, I won’t have to yell or repeat myself so much.
  • Since I upgraded to General last summer, I have never heard a single operator on 15 meters. Until this weekend. While it certainly didn’t get as crazy as 20 and 40 got, 12% of my contacts were on 15 meter, just scanning through the band and pouncing.
  • Hardest fought for and lost: a Hawaii station. After much ‘again again’ he finally gave up on hearing my serial for him when I faded the rest of the way out for him. ‘No contact! No contact!’. I admit I was bummed. We ALMOST got it.
  • I don’t care what anyone says, there is no good contesting logging software for Mac. Hamlog is a really nice simple logging program, with nicely integrated call lookups. But no auto dupe-detection, and no dedicated fields for sent & received serials. But I winged it, and would use it again for the same contest, in pounce mode.
    • Edit one day later: I take back what I said about software. RUMlogNG does what I wanted, but its documentation is not so great so I had to find the features just playing around.
  • If I do find better contest logging, maybe I’ll try doing some runs next year.

Anyway that’s about it. I wasn’t in it to win it, but I was in it to have fun. And I had a lot of fun in various bursts over the weekend, so that’s a win for me. Moral: Use what you got.

Four stars, would play again.

FT8 Acoustic coupling

To me, FT8 is almost a bit too robotic for my tastes. I like live interaction. But it can still be a lot of fun, especially when you can get it to work in conditions other modes can’t. It really is amazing what it can do in high-noise conditions like my backyard.

The other day, I was working on getting Rig Control working from my Macbook Air to my IC-718. To test it, I opened wsjt-x to make sure it could change the radio’s frequencies on demand.

In the process, something cool happened, which I videoed for a buddy. (PSE excuse the sloppiness and my manner of speaking- I really was originally just recording it for my pal.)

The radio was on and the FT8 noises were coming out, and getting picked up by the (highly inferior audio quality) internal mic of the laptop, and that was enough for wsjt-x to decode the signals.

So then, I tried acousticly coupling the microphone, too, to see if it would work. Everything was the same as in the video, only when wsjt-x went to transmit, I keyed up the hand mic near the laptop speaker, and unkeyed when the sound stopped. It worked with these results:

Moral: Always try stupid things.

The story so far

So after several years, I got off my butt and upgraded to general last summer so I could do the HF stuff I wanted to do all along. Plus there were some new digital modes to try there, particularly psk31, that I was interested in.

But I had a problem. I know from SWL experience that this neighborhood is noisy. For a permanent antenna, I would have to do some comparison… and get some help. I am not in a restricted neighborhood, but I do have restricted space. The best place to put an antenna around here is on the roof, which likely means vertical. But verticals can be noisy.

My first experiment was with an “End Fed Half wave” wire and an extendable/collapsable poll. The main reason for this was price and a chance to see how vertical would do. I raised the wire up the pole, spiraling up the length to hold it tight to the mast.

It was noisy, but with a tuner, tuned up on everything 40m and up without complaint. But also almost completely without QSO. I believe I managed one psk31 contact with this antenna. Otherwise I was in the mud and could only hear the strongest of stations.

So, while I knew this couldn’t be my permanent setup either, I got hold of the Sotabeams “Bandhopper” 40m/20m linked dipole. I highly recommend this thing, by the way. But understand it is meant for portable and temporary set up. I extended the pole, put this up on 20 meters, and had amazing results.

After a weekend of 20 meter fun, I raised it again the next weekend, linked up for 40 meters, and had a good weekend as well. So, I decided to leave it up all week so I could play after work.

The collapsable pole collapsed. It had been up in the wind too long. I raised it again and it collapsed after a couple of days, this time just before the lawnmower guys came through and ran over one side of of the dipole, removing a large segment of one of the elements of the Sotabeams. But it was pretty clear to me now that, in this location, resonant dipoles are king.

Then the snow hit. I tried a repair of the Sotabeams but the weather really kept me from playing outside. And it seemed very clear that I cannot count on the collapsable pole to be raised for more than the one day outings it was meant for.

So while it was freezing, I tried playing with the sotabeam inside the house. No go. In the meantime, my buddy W8AAR, who is confined to indoor or stealth antennas (thanks to his condo association), got hold of an Alpha Loop antenna and started playing with FT8. He was having so much fun, that I got an MFJ-936B loop tuner to play with for the winter. I hooked it up and made a loop appropriate for 20 meters. I got it to match up quite nicely. Unfortunately it was basically deaf. Except, it turned out, on FT8!

This was pretty cool. I was seeing stations from all around the country, and quite a few from Europe!

Not a single one of them could hear me.

I was fighting with this on the weekend after all the snow melted, got exasperated, and went outside and raised the collapsable pole again, with the end-fed-half-wave running up it.

Lo and behold, I made tons of FT8 contacts. pskreporter.info was showing me being heard all around the world, on 20, 30, & 40 meters. But no other modes seemed to get me out at all.

So I decided to work out a solution for putting up a dipole permanently.

In the meantime, I bought the desktop radio I’d wanted for a while. The simple workhorse IC-718. I had been using a Xiegu X108G. Besides being able to use more wattage when needed on the Icom, it turns out the receive on it is nicer in this neighborhood, and apparently the transmitted audio has more punch, because for the first time, people can hear me on SSB through the end-fed half-wave. Previously I only had SSB success with the dipole. And on a bizarre side-note, the collapsable pole has been up without collapsing for almost 2 weeks.

Moral: It’s always the Antenna. But sometimes, it’s the radio.

In this blog I will likely be documenting some antenna stuff though. The end-fed hasn’t fallen yet, but its days are numbered, and I believe I have worked out just how I plan to layout a more permanent dipole set-up. I’ll save that for a post in the next couple weeks.

And I have radio hacks planned I’ll be posting. Maybe.

It’s all maybe. This is a blog.