Monday, November 17, 2014

WQ6X as W6K eeks a Sweepstakes 1st place for EB section despite limited OP time

This weekend again found me in Brentwood (@N6GEO) operating another November Sweepstakes as W6K.  In the future, SS events will be run with my WQ6X call or someone else'.  This weekend found many people confused by W6K, more than in previous years and this years CW event.  Nevertheless, the callsign has accomplished it's goal for many years - Whiskey Six Kilowatt!

As a multi-OP, N6GEO and I accomplished another 1st-place/Sweep two weeks ago.  This last weekend George was not available and work commitments largely kept me off the air Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  In the end I managed to put in 8.5 hours of actual operating time; just enough to snag 115 QSOs in 54 sections - not a great score, but evidently enough to take 1st place in the Unlimited Low Power classification for the East Bay (EB) ARRL section.

For the station I simply ran George's FLEX 3000 SDR radio into an Elecraft KPA-500 amplifier juiced down to just under 150 watts.  Running low power kept me out of the high power Unlimited league where I didn't stand a chance.

QSO #1 happened at 03:26z on Saturday evening.  I ran 20 meters until it thinned and then switched to 40 meters to again encounter the S-9 noise levels of weekends past.  75 meters wasn't much better:  S-6.

The 6-BTV has a narrow bandwidth on 75, giving me a whopping 5 QSOs, but 4 multipliers for that effort, making it worth the time invested.

Eventually the 40-meter noise was such a problem that I went to bed (09:00z).  If you worked W6K on 40-meters it is because your signal was greater than S-9, making you hearable.

On Sunday evening I was able to work the last 90 minutes of the Sweepstakes amassing the final 20 QSOs and with a number of new multipliers.
While I heard many signals for sections like VY1 and KP2, the pileups were too lengthy to spend time waiting in line.

A multiplier is a multiplier, rare or not, so I went for volume, whether exotic or not; a KY multiplier is as important as VT, VY2 or NNY.  For me a big surprise was to work two ND section stations very early on in the contest.  Usually North Dakota shows up late on Sunday.  This and other "rare" section appearances suggest that more stations play in the SSB events from those areas than in the CW Sweepstakes.

On the spaceweather front this was a noisy weekend.
While the SFI was in the 160 - 175 range, the goeswith was a consistent K-Index of 4
with an A-Index fluctuating from 12 - 20.
Combining that with the RFI noise on 40 made it a difficult Sweepstakes.

Because I was a low power station with a vertical, my signal strength was marginal at best in many areas.  However difficult copy is not a legitimate reason to abort a QSO mid-way, just because the copy becomes a bit rough.
If you are a run station and the QRM is so heavy you cannot consistently complete QSOs,
then it is time to change frequency.  Being stubbornly obstinate doesn't win contests.

My FIRST Sweepstakes was in 1970.  I've participated in over 25 Sweepstakes years since then.  While the number of sections keeps expanding, overall the goal(s) and spirit of Sweepstakes has not really changed over the 81 years of running this classic contest event.

I look forward to another 25 years of SS.
What about you?
Is one of my 115 QSOs in YOUR log?

Monday, November 10, 2014

WQ6X does triple-duty to lead W6V to VICTORY!

Station #2 - The RUN station
For this weekend, I made the near-10 hr. drive to NX6T in Fallbrook with hopes of getting a couple of operating shifts and catching up on my mid-day contest sleep - WRONG!

Last minute operator cancellations found me to be the chief OP for our W6V entry into the JIDX SSB contest making 62% of the contacts thanks to 2am operations both nights and running the day shift (something I rarely do) from 1pm to 5pm Saturday afternoon.  But HEY!  I said I wanted operating time to justify my 1,000 mi drive.......
Once again I reserved W6V callsign in honer of Nash, W6HCD sk whose property NX6T has taken refuge at going on 5 years now.  Nash was a principle in the Voyager & Viking programs which sent those satellites to Mars.

For this operation we ran a trio of K3 stations; stations 2 & 3 running on the same band with Stn-2 (me) as a run station and Stn-3 (when manned) as an S&P station for that band.
A clever lockout system keeps the two radios from transmitting simultaneously.

Station #1 was manned remotely (via internet) by K6AM to pick off new multipliers on 10 & 15 meters while I ran a frequency on the other band.  We traded 10 & 15 several times.  Because I could see his bandmap, when a dozen or more spots showed up that he was not allowed to work, we would switch bands allowing me to pick off those spots and begin running a frequency on the new band, while he searched for new multipliers on the switched-to band.

As the contest progressed, every time we worked a new multiplier, a tap on the EASY button would be a lift in morale; especially in the middle of the night when we are looking for exciting things to keep us awake.  Mults make the score, so I am easily excited.

As I have said in previous blog entries, at NX6T we utilize every legitimate advantage we can.  In addition to Mr. Bill and the EASY Button, starting this event we have a new protector for the ACOM amplifiers in the name of Por Que' PIG!

JA 80/75 meter band allocations

For logging we utilized WINTEST.  While I have come to prefer N1MM+, WINTEST seems to do a better job of controlling the K3's voice keyer channels.  To keep morale high in the last 3 hours of the contest, I recorded the "That was Easy..." audio from the EASY button into channel 4 (where the callsign is normally kept).
After each contact I would press F4: "That wuz Easy!".
I wonder what the JA's thought about that?

40 meters produced the most QSO's followed by 15 & 10, whereas 3 mults is all we could muster on 75-meters.  If you look at the Japanese voice allocations on 75-meters (see pic) it's not surprising they never operate SSB there.  What kind of bureaucrats came up with THIS idea? 

For 20-meters, as with recent years the band completely SUCKED, delivering a dismal 62 Q's.  During last nite's dinner hour after those 62 Q's, I turned on the voice keyer calling CQ JIDX, being told that I am LOUD just moments before.  After 55 minutes of DEAD silence between calls I hit the sack for nap number 4.  I remember when 20-meters was THE band for JA communication - probably during our last extended sunspot low.

Since my last visit to NX6T in August, they replaced the 3-el Stepp-IR on the 40-foot mast with a Force-12 C31v yagi, which outperforms the other Stepp-IR on the 70-ft tower.  I guess 12-db forward gain DOES make a difference.

Forward gain on 40-meters is nice too, however the F/B ratio on a 2-el yagi is marginal at best - as evidenced by the call from a V31 station (Belize) at 10:30z while I was working Japan.
For JIDX, we learned years ago that not enough JA's participate in their own contest running frequencies so we do it for them.  This year I only heard 2 other U.S. stations running a frequency for hours on end like we did.

While the spaceweather information declared an SFI of only 138 with K-indices of 2 & 3 this weekend, for the most part we were not affected by it.  Instead of noise, the borderline hearable stations would QSB in/out of oblivion.  However relaxing my hearing often brought them through.

On 10-meters in Japan it would seem the majority of hams run 10 - 50 watt radios, due to their license class.

I found it ironic early Saturday morning on 40-meters after Dennis & I had been on the same frequency for nearly 3 hours that a station came on frequency and complained that I was too close to his ragchew.  He would recite our call W6V and then say nothing.  When I finally said "Yes?", then he bitched at me..  Uh.... HELLO..... you came on the air later - YOU MOVE on down.  I used the DSP shift knob to knock out his sidebands, while he remained on the same frequency (out of spite it would seem) rather than drop down 2kc (which was clear), making everyone happy.
Eventually they too faded into oblivion.

What never ceases to amaze me anymore is the degree of intentional QRM on 40 meters during contest activities happening in the "wee hours".  I am used to JA's tuning up on me (esp. on 20-m) and then jumping in for the QSO - at least we get 2 points for all that trouble.  However on 40, we get all kinds of weird shit - funny noises, VFO sweeps, belches, bursts of data signals; you name it.
Data signals I expect below 7.125, but NOT above it.

This year's JIDX event was flanked by the WAE RTTY contest and accompanied by the KY QSO party.  Unfortunately, NX6T was not RTTY-ready this weekend; altho K6KAL is remedying that one as I write this on Monday morning.

For the KYQP I made a total of 2 SSB Q's on 20 and 1 Q on 15 - enough to submit a KYQP participation log for which I received a personal thank you from the contest manager.

Overall, this was our finest JIDX SSB event to date from Fallbrook.  We surpassed the 2012 event's 852 QSO's making 889 QSOs with 156 Multipliers.  We worked all prefectures on 40 & 15 except for one on each band.  Overall we worked all available 46 prefectures.  As usual those oddball islands which comprise prefectures 48, 49 & 50 were not active, so technically in SS/CQP parlance we managed a "sweep".  Not bad for 5 dinosaur OPs.
N6KI w/WQ6X at the ready
NN6X & N6EEG running 15-meters

You can view our final results and placement on the 3830 Scores Website.  And in case you're interested you can view all of WQ6X's contest activity for the last 5 years on the 3830 site as well.  Which of those events did YOU participate in?

Initial indications are that W6V took the 1st place spot worldwide for non-JA.

Did you play JIDX this weekend?
How many JA's did you put in your log?

Monday, November 3, 2014

WQ6X & N6GEO leverage W6K to another Sweepstakes C.W. 1st-place

For 2014's 81st Cw Sweepstakes I again teamed up w/ George, N6GEO to repeat our 1st place multi-OP entry for East Bay section from last year's Sweepstakes events.  As it turns out, this week prior to the 2014 contest, I received two envelopes at my P. O. Box with 1st place certificates for East Bay section from our Brentwood operations in last year's Cw & SSB Sweepstakes events.


While we ran as a low power entry both years using a FLEX-1000 we were limited to 100 watts.  For 2014 we used a FLEX-3000 with its PowerSDR software, increasing it's 100 watt power to the contest upper limit (149 watts) for the Low Power (LP) category by routing the output thru an Elecraft KPA-500 amplifier that has recently made its way to the N6GEO shack.

While quite expensive for only 500 watts, I must say, the KPA-500 is one of CooLest running amps I have ever used.  By sensing power fed to it, the KPA-500 switches bands automatically with a tap of the CW key.

For  the higher bands we utilized N6GEO's recently acquired 2-el Stepp-IR yagi mounted on a surplus military mast.  Altho only 8mh, we consistently put out a potent signal for our 150 watts.  Of course the key advantage of the Stepp-IR is the ability to reverse antenna direction with a push of a button.  While working New England, a KH6 would show up.  Pressing the 180 button allows me to work the KH6 and then immediately continue looking for northeast sections; Vermont in particular.

To make band switching easier, George wired up a special cable to connect the Stepp-IR control box to the Intel Xeon-based super computer.  Now when the radio changes bands (or frequency within a band), the 2-el Stepp-IR tracks with the operator.

For 80 & 40 we used a 6-BTV vertical so no special considerations were needed there.

To give us an edge, George printed a set of K6TU propagation charts based on the Brentwood location.  What is important to remember is that those charts are PREDICTIONS of how we CAN expect the bands to be like during actual on the air conditions.  Typically, the chart predictions for this area present a bleak picture of 10-meter possibilities.  The band was actually quite active, altho somehow we leveraged the 10-meter advantage poorly with only 16 QSOs on the band.  Oh well - you can't think of everything.

As we did in the previous weekend's CQ WW Dx contest, George and I split up the operating schedule.  I largely ran the station on Saturday giving George time to rewire the bandpass filters we managed to "tweak" during the CQ WW Rtty contest, as well as other station-related chores.  During that time, I managed to work approx 70+ multipliers by a combination of frequency running interspersed with search-and-pounce techniques.  Work commitments kept me off the air  after 9:30 Sunday morning wherein N6GEO  took over after lunch.  I left George with near-impossible task of working  the last 5 multipliers (NNY, VI, PR, NL & NT) - which he of course accomplished!
In my mind, those 5 contacts were worth 100 QSOs.

Our time scheduling worked perfectly giving us 22 out of the 24 hours we were allowed to work in the 30 hour contest.  Initially I had forgotten about the 24 hour rule.  If I hadn't been so tired, I might have continued on past 09:00z consuming just enough time to put us over the 24 hour limit.

There is no penalty for exceeding 24 hours except that the QSOs made after that limit don't count toward the score; which includes points and multiplier credit.  Luckily George gave us a clean sweep at 00:38z - nearly 2.5 hours before the end of the contest, so either way our clean sweep is secure.

Score wise, we made 522 QSOs compared to last year's 531.  Initially, our score is 1500 points less than the 2013 event however once the Log Checking Robots (LCR's) got a hold of last year's log, our score was dinged down by 10k points due to logging errors.  I am confident that we made way fewer mistakes for 2014, leaving us with an overall higher score for this year.  We shall know in 9 months.  Amazingly, it takes 9 months to bring a baby into the world and 9 months to find out the official results of most major radiosport contests - Go Figure!

According to the 3830 Scores website we achieved a 1st-place for East Bay section and a 4th place overall for the low power multi-single category.
This weekend the solar flux had dropped to 121 with a 2->3 K-Index.

Here in Brentwood solar disturbances were not a problem except actually on Sunday evening as I wrapped up the contest running a frequency on 80 meters - QSB made difficult copy on the numbers.

As it turns out, our biggest noise source seems to be something local.  Spending enough evenings here at N6GEO I have observed that EVERY evening around 8:20 pm something in the area turns on and FLOODs the 40 meter band with near-S9 noise.
This is how horrible it looked Sunday evening after the contest was over. 

Spending some time frequency snooping with a portable shortwave radio (using the whip antenna as a direction finder) George determined the base frequency to be around 6.725 mhz and coming from one of two neighbors.  (We of course have nothing to bitch about because in a CC&R restricted neighborhood we should not have our "antenna farm" active at all.)  Unlike the CQ WW GiG the noise did not last all evening.
Switching to 80 meters resolved the problem somewhat, but even there a 1/2-harmonic on the noise gave us a near-S6 noise-level to consistently deal with there.
Eventually both went away later allowing me to work 67 Q's each on 80 & 40 meters.

To repeat last year's success I again reserved the W6K callsign.  The N1MM Call.History files evidently have W6K listed for this contest, so why not.  Of course, 1x1 callsigns can sometimes confuse people - although more are getting used to it.  During S&P when I would send W6K and hear a "pregnant pause" or receive a W6?, I would immediately press F4 and fire the callsign once or twice with a pause in between.  Most operators got the message and accepted the callsign.

From what I can tell we used the only 1x1 callsign in this year's November Sweepstakes.   Those who know me well, know that W6K is a WQ6X & N6GEO operation in Brentwood.  To keep QSL duties in order, I have been using the W6K call for Sweepstakes since 2007.  Months from now when QSL cards to W6K make their way to my P.O. Box, I know they are for Sweepstakes.

Now regarding Sweepstakes itself, let us remember that the event originated in the 1930's as  a traffic handling practice event.  In case you haven't noticed, what we are sending during a sweepstakes exchange is the equivalent of the header information that is sent at the beginning of every radiogram.

Data in the header is in a SPECIFIC order and an EXACT format:
Your Callsign, QSO NR, Precedence,
My Callsign, Check & Section.

For example, if W6K works WQ6X, our message to Ron would look like this:  WQ6X NR 523 M 69 EB - meaning that WQ6X is our 523rd contact, we are a Multi-OP station, first licensed in 1969, operating from the East Bay section.

Please do NOT feel free to arrange the data in some other order as K0TQ did; his exchange of "W6K 285 B 64 K0TQ IN" is not only out of touch with the spirit of message header format, it induces operators (such as myself) to ask for a repeat - in my case 3 times - because something about it doesn't "sound" right; even though technically, all the information is there.

While I'm at it, allow me to make some other pertinent comments regarding operating ethics and skill:

When calling CQ on a run frequency please wait MORE than just 1 second before calling again.  Once I hear you, it takes more than one second for me to properly tune you into the passband and press the F4 key.  Several operators were using 1-second on the CQ repeats, so just as I am about to press F4 they are calling CQ again.  If the CQ is 5 seconds or more, you have wasted my time as well as yours.

Contesting is about proper listening FIRST.  If you had waited 2 more seconds I would have slipped my call in and you would have worked me without wasting time on another CQ; or if we are REALLY out of synch 2 or 3 more CQ's.  When I run a frequency I use a delay of 3.3 seconds.

When you work a station who is running a frequency respect the fact the s/he was there first.  After securing the contact, don't do what KU8Q did when he slid down 0.3kc after working me and start calling CQ - wassup with THAT?!   POOR operating ethics violates the spirit of radiosport in general and Sweepstakes in particular.

Something that I don't hear in CW contests but is not infrequent in phone events (altho more commonly during Field Day) is a station running a frequency who when you call him says "go ahead"; meaning you send your exchange first - WRONG!  When I run a frequency and you call me, I give you my information first and then hope for your info in exchange (that's why it called an exchange).  If you don't give me the information I need, then your callsign does not end up in our log - simple as that.  If you are not in our log, the LCR robot will ding the QSO with a not-in-log (NIL), error costing you those points and any penalty points the LCR may also assess.

That's it for SS-CW 2014.  We had an AWEsome time.  It was great working friends during this year's Sweepstakes.


I celebrated the finish with a tall flute of Mimosa (Cran-Raspberry & champagne) concocted by George's XYL - something she makes very well. in addition to being a great cook.

Did you work the November Sweepstakes
this weekend?

If so, is W6K in YOUR log?