Thursday, November 26, 2015

WQ6X wins another Sweepstakes phone GiG from East Bay Section

For Sweepstakes phone this year, at the last minute I decided to run as Single-OP Assisted. 
In retrospect, I should have run the CW Sweepstakes as assisted.  Running a low power operation with marginal antennas, I need all the assistance I can get.  Unfortunately, having assistance is no guarantee of improved success.  Knowing what frequency a needed multiplier is on does no good if propagation doesn't support that path.

As I did in the CW Sweepstakes, operation was from KK6YRL's QTH in Concord, Ca.  I used the same HF2-V and Cobra Inverted Vee used in CW Sweepstakes. 
While the A & K solar indexes were extremely low,
the atmospheric noise was very noticeable; especially
with the HF2-V.

Using the IPO feature of the 1000MP compensates for the noise increase somewhat, while running the eDSP contour control through its settings is often enough to "pop" a voice up above the noise level long enough to copy the exchange information.

Compared to the Elecraft K3, this is much easier to accomplish quickly thanks to a contour control with
detents giving me tactile feedback, even when not
looking at the radio.
Because this was a voice contest,
I had to make a decision as to which microphone will produce the best results: a classic Electro Voice 664
or a Heil HC-4 headset.  Saturday morning during testing I happened across a station who suggested that
the EV-664 had more punch.

Listening to myself using the monitor facility of the FT-1000mp, I agree.
(In the past, the 664 did poorly with the TS-450, ICOM 7000 & FT-920 radios.)

Then again, thanks to the 1000MP's transmit audio eDSP & speech processor, my signal possessed an incredible punch, considering the power and antenna configuration.

On the receive end of things the eDSP contour facility brought unintelligible signals through,
time and again.  Comparing this facility with the Elecraft K3 equivalent is a no brainer; the
1000MP wins, without question.  Compared to the Yaesu, in my opinion the K3 Shift/Width
and DSP adjustments cannot quickly bring a signal through.  Unlike the K3, the 1000MP
uses real knobs to accomplish these functions.

One of the reasons I am now using the FT-1000MP is because of its dual-receive capability. 
While calling CQ on a given frequency I used the Yaesu's sub receiver to look for multipliers. 
Quickly switching VFOs allows me to work the station immediately or store it in the band map for calling later.  Because I was running as assisted, I was able to make use of internet spots to load up the bandmap for later S&P (Search & Pounce) action.  Then again, if I wait too long, the station may well have changed frequency.

In general, conditions were way down this year. 
I know it is a slow time when my contest CQ call is
answered by KP2, KH6, KP4 , VY1 & VY2 stations. 
Unfortunately, I was unable to work obviously easy
sections such as IN & SFL - wassup with that?

This year 73 sections marked my lowest multiplier total in years.  Because I worked everything that I heard, I attribute missing those 10 sessions to not being on the right bands at the right time.

One of the most important factors towards success in Sweepstakes is to know which bands to be on at what
time and whether to run a frequency or search and pounce.
Of course this is all influenced by the SFI numbers and actual propagation conditions, which this year changed suddenly numerous times.

Band-wise, 10 meters was almost a no-show and 75 meters wasn't much better.

Because this was a domestic contest it is not surprising that 40 meters yielded the largest contact total.

This made up for the < 100 QSOs on
20 & 15 meters.

This year, voice-keying was quite a challenge.  Attempting to run the laptop sound into the microphone line resulted in a weird feedback loop in which the CAT control polling showed up as
a ticking noise in the transmit audio.  To resolve that I used a separate laptop to play the .WAV files
for transmission.  Unfortunately I then had to key that laptop separately as there is no way to link the N1MM function keys across laptops.

QRM-wise, there was the usual bevy of tuner-uppers and microphone testers. 
There was a weird "WHOOSH"ing noise on 7187.78 and a number of Fft-Fft-Fft sounds
across the band.  There was also a visit from the Woodpecker radar.  Because we often
operate Sweepstakes above 7.200, we then get to dance around the numerous broadcast carriers.  Sometimes the best place to operate is zero-beat with a broadcast carrier that has weak audio.

This year I was surprised by the low turnout for QRP station operations
and even more surprised by almost
no school stations (using the "S" precedent).  Last year there were no school stations, so any school making
1 QSO would have won a wooden plaque - WAKE UP people!

For Sweepstakes 2015 I was amazed
at the number of East Bay stations on the air; nearly twice that of the CW Sweepstakes.  Despite the activity, it looks like I am the top station in the low power assisted category; altho we will not know for sure until next year.

You can view my 3830 website submission HERE.

 I was pleased to hear over a dozen
YL operators this year; YL's add variety to the operating experience.   On CW, unless we know the operators behind the callsign there is no way to determine YL's vs. OM's.

Did you participate in this year's Sweepstakes phone contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?

WQ6X joins NX6T for another JIDX contest win

As I did last year, I decided to join the team at NX6T for another JIDX GiG from Fallbrook.
Because JIDX is a Japanese only event we simply point the yagis more-or-less Northwest and forget them.
Now that we are out of daylight savings time, in California the SSB JIDX contest begins at 11pm local time.

En route to Fallbrook I made a side-trip to Inglewatts to gas up and refuel at Randy's Donuts.

Later in the afternoon I drove up the hill to the W6HCD site in time to assist with some last minute antenna tweaks and then catch a couple of hours sleep to make my 1st 2am operating stint a little easier.

I setup the FT-1000mp in the operator apartment next door to the shack with the idea that I  can play in the OK/OM contest Saturday nite between the time period when 20 meters disappears and 40 meters opens to Asia.  As it turns out, the 160-meter dipole I was to use for JIDX (by way of the FT-1000MP's awesome tuner) had a shorted balun.

Instead, I configured Station #1 into a CW setup and turned the 2-el yagi to Europe in order to work 30 OK/OM stations on 40 meters by way of an ACOM-2000 amplifier.  You can view my 3830 contest submission HERE.  In addition to OM/HA5RT, there were some interesting WPX-style callsigns like: OM200TC & OL90IARU.

Waiting for JA's to make the scene at 11:00z
 QRM-wise, both evenings we encountered the usual plethora of intentional belches, VFO swishes and tuner-uppers, along with high-speed RTTY on 7.135 - WTF is THAT all about?

For JIDX, as always we ran a multi-single operation employing three K3 radios; STNs 2&3 sharing a band (one calling CQ and one S&P'ing) while STN-1 looks for multipliers on another band.
The secret to JIDX high scores is to snag as many "other band" multipliers concurrent with running a frequency.

Behind the scenes we employ an orderly set of cables to connect the three K3 radios, two ACOM 2000 amplifiers, a pair of WX0B 6-pack switch boxes, a pair of rotor controls and 3 laptop computers with a bevy of display monitors.

Altho it looks like a morass of cables, there is a method to the madness in this behind the scenes layout.

While we don't use them much in JIDX, it's nice to know that Mr. Bill and the EASY Button are there for us if we wish.

Antenna-wise we ran a C-31 yagi on one mast and a 3-El Stepp-IR & 2-el 40-meter yagi on a 70-foot tower.

The tower also supports 80 & 160 meter dipoles, altho 160 doesn't happen in JIDX SSB.

Thanks to a total of 7 operators we ended with 593 QSOs which is almost 300 Q's shy of last year.  However because HG7T chose to play in the OK/OM contest instead of JIDX, we have a significant opportunity for another worldwide 1st place plaque.

We managed to work all prefectures that were on the air.  As usual, there was no activity from prefectures 47, 48 & 49.
You can view our 3830 score submission HERE.

This year, we made most of the contacts on 40 & 15 meters.
Due to poor space weather conditions, 10, 20 & 80 meters gave us very little action.

Did YOU play in the JIDX contest?
How many prefectures did YOU work?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

WQ6X returns to East Bay for Sweepstakes 2015

For the 2015 CW November Sweepstakes I combined old with the new to create a unique operating experience.  For location I chose to again operate from the QTH of KK6YRL in Concord - East Bay (EBAY) section.

 Unlike previous years, for SS-2015 I brought a new radio into play; namely a Yaesu FT-1000MP.  The MP did an outstanding job.  It coupled nicely with a 4 year old Toshiba laptop running N1MM+.  For CW keying I used the RigBlaster Plug-n-Play unit; in the past it worked beautifully with the ICOM 7000, and now also with the 1000 MP.

I erected the HF2-V vertical using an umbrella stand as I have done in years past.  However this year I hoisted one of my Cobra dipoles up about 25 feet into a  tree making a shallow inverted Vee fashion to work on the high bands and offer an additional access to 80 & 40.
Considering the limited resources I had to work with these antennas worked amazingly well.

The coils on the HF2-V were not designed with the kind of portable operations I do on a fairly routine basis.  Over the years they have been "squished" out of perfect circular shape.  The MFJ 259 antenna analyzer allows me to "squeeze" the coils into proper shape for both 80 & 40.
The 1000MP supports 2 antenna inputs and an excellent auto-tuner allowing use of both antennas on any band; altho HF2-V performance was rather horrible on 15 & 10 meters.  While the HF2-V lowered the radiation angle & increased receiver gain, being a vertical the noise level went up also.  Using the IPO button helps somewhat.  Next in line, the eDSP contour control made all the difference.

Space weather wise the atmospheric noise was only a problem on the high bands.  Because Sweepstakes is a domestic contest, signal fading is not nearly the problem as experienced the weekend before when I single-OP'd the CQ WW contest from Fallbrook.
Then again, as the weekend progressed, the noise levels quietly crept up, looking theoretically rather horrible by contest end.

For this year's Sweepstakes I was elated over how "easy" it was to work sections like NH, VT, SC & MAR, and perplexed by the virtual lack of Nebraska (NE) as well as the NL and NT Canadian sections.  WV was back on the endangered list.
While 80 sections is rather good, in my opinion, it don't
count unless I make a clean sweep with all 83 sections.
Oh well, maybe next year for that one.

QRM-wise, on 40-meters the usual intentional belches
VFO sweeps and RTTY stations were not present . 
Because we don't normally run much below 7.025 the
South American SSB stations were not a problem this year.

WQ6X's Operating Hours by Band

My biggest complaint this year were high power stations that moved within 1 kc of my running a frequency to call CQ (after snagging a QSO from me first of course).  The entire weekend I heard less than a handful of stations ask QRZ? before jumping in on a frequency.

I have the F1 Search-Pounce key in N1MM+ programmed to automatically make that query.
I believe the REAL reason stations don't ask QRZ? is because operators like me
will reply QRL - QSY.

The bottom line is, if the area of the band you are looking
to run a frequency from is already crowded out, adding your kilowatt signal to that mess is actually a violation
of contest ethics.

Evidently, nobody seems to care about proper operating ethics and as a result just muscle their way through.
This brash attitude is one
of the reasons non-contest operators hate us so much.

Let us remember that sweepstakes is above all a traffic handling exercise - getting the message through w/o QRMing others in the process.  In the overall scheme of everyone getting the message through, it accomplishes little if I get the message through while QRMing you so that your message either can't be gotten through, or is erroneous.

Remember - QSOs don't count if the wrong information is put into the log.
Luckily for me, the 1000MP's roofing filters and eDSP reduced the QRM effects considerably;
however, never enough.

WQ6X in action w/assistance of Negra Modelo

While I didn't get the message through to all ARRL sections I did incredibly well for the ad hoc station I lashed together.  In years past using the TS-450, ICOM 7000 or an FT-920, I would pile on a bunch of filters in the audio line to process the sound towards being more QRM free; altho sometimes those DSPs would make the signals sound "weird" - relatively noise free, but weird.

Although I brought along the NIR-12 outboard DSP unit, thanks to the 1000MP's eDSP I never needed it.  I have a hunch that will be true for the Sweepstakes Phone GiG as well.

During my Sweepstakes preparation, my friend Dennis was in Oakland taking
(and passing) his Technician license exam.
He is now KK6YRL. 
Congratulations OM. 
Dennis is also the cameraman behind these blog photos.

Did YOU play in the 2015 CW SS contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?