Monday, March 28, 2016

WQ6X runs BARTG RTTY & Russian DX contests remotely

Lately, business traveling has demanded that for contest operations I largely operate NX6T remotely from the bay area.  Some of the contest gigs I've operated remotely this year include:  RTTY RU, the CQ 160 contest, ARRL DX CW and NAQP RTTY.

This past weekend left me with no client commitments.  Instead of running my usual portable operation from W7AYT's QTH in Concord Ca. (East Bay section) requiring extensive equipment and antenna setups, I decided to book a room with a view for the weekend at the Clarion Hotel near the Concord airport and run this weekend's contest events remotely from NX6T (Fallbrook); otherwise known as "Nashville".
Listed on the contest calendar were the BARTG RTTY and Russian DX contests,
along with the LA & VA state QSO parties; in that priority order.

Unlike CQP, it is typical of many state QSO parties that they last only 12 hours.
By the time 40 & 80 meters finally come alive those QSO parties are over; as happened with this year's LA QSO party.  Although the VA QSO party had a 2nd run on Sunday, while working the final portion of the BARTG contest I never heard any VA stations - so much for the weekend's QSO parties.

Running remote, CW contests are the easiest to operate.
While I largely prefer to sit on run frequencies, attracting stations to my signal, it also pays to search and pounce from time to time; either by tuning the radio "manually" or - if I am running assisted - by clicking callsigns on the bandmap.

Because tuning RTTY stations remotely is tricky (even with negligible internet latency), for contests like BARTG & the RTTY RU, I prefer to run a frequency to reduce the operating complexity.
The 5% (or so) S&P contacts made in these contests largely happen "by accident".

One of the many desirable aspects of the BARTG is the contest length (48 hours) starting @ 02:00z; just after dinner PDT time.

An order of takeout sushi set the stage for a somewhat productive Friday evening on 20 meters and later, on 40.
Hamachi (Yellow tail tuna) is one of my favorite sushi rolls.

Using LogMeIn Hamachi on the Toshiba laptop gave me access to the NX6T VPN allowing remote access to station 1's Toshiba laptop and control of the K3 radio and KPA-500 amplifier.

At NX6T, STN's #1 & #2 are now both remote capable so this weekend I got to share the Nashville antenna farm with other operators who wanted to run the BARTG gig along side the Russian DX contest, but on SSB instead.

For STN#1 my configuration was relegated to running BARTG @ 65 watts onto a 2-el yagi on 40 meters and via the KPA-500 amp (at about 360 watts) into a 3-El Stepp-IR yagi for 20 & 15 meters (both antennas 15mh high).

While I was able to turn the rotor remotely, switching between 20 & 15 meters on the Stepp-IR required the next door neighbor walk into the ham shack and manually turn the bandswitch on the WX0B SIX Pack antenna switch box.

For the Russian DX contest I ran the K3 @ 100 watts on 40 and 360 watts on the high bands.  Unfortunately I was unable to run 80 or 10 meters for those contests.

A problem I increasingly encounter when running RTTY contests  remotely is an increasing number of stations increasingly off frequency when responding to my CQ test calls.   If I were running my FT-1000mp, I would simply turn on the RIT and tune them in; rewarding poor operating procedure.  These stations either have THEIR Rit on or they found me via a DX spot entry on the internet that listed my MARK frequency incorrectly.  Rather than check to see if they could decode my data correctly BEFORE transmitting, they just blindly press F4, sending their callsign off frequency.

My solution to this was to define N1MM's F-10 key to send "UR OFF FREQUENCY - PLEASE TUNE ME IN", followed by the F9 Key ("CALLSIGN?").  After a short pause, most stations tune me in and a proper QSO is made.  Unfortunately, some stations don't get it and eventually disappear; probably cursing me for not working them.

Although the Russian DX Contest started at 12:00z (5am PDT) because the BARTG contest was my weekend priority I didn't begin until after 22:00z.

Running the DX contest on CW became my priority, with brief segments of BARTG activity in between until it was finally over at 12:00z on Sunday.

As you can see, I managed 139 QSOs on 40 & 20 meters, enough for a 6th place in the USA and 7th place for North America; although not enough to take any awards.

Nevertheless it was a LoT of fun.
I look forward to next year with a more focused effort.

Did you play in the BARTG and Russian DX contests?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

WQ6X & N6KI team up as NX6T for 1st S-A 10-meter Contest.

Over the years, team NX6T has put together operations for an array of different radiosport events.

This year for the 1st time we decided to participate in the South American 10 meter (SA10) contest.  Considering that Sunspot Cycle 24 is well on its way out, the more 10 meter GiGs we can operate the better.  Next year may clearly find us in the SFI basement; we're already getting close to that point as it is. 

For a 24 hour (only) contest it was not cost/time effective to make a drive to the NX6T site in Fallbrook.  Instead, we perfected the remote access to NX6T.  Overall the internet latency was hardly noticeable.  Because the contest started at 12:00z 10-meters was not yet open in Southern California.
I started CQ'ing for the contest at 15:15z, making my 1st QSO at 15:44z.

As it turns out only WQ6X and N6KI were available to run this gig.  While Dennis slept I fired up the contest on CW running NX6T remotely from a "secret location" in the bay area, with the objective to run mostly CW with a little SSB.  Without full SSB control remotely I had to limit voice operation to searching and pouncing, allowing me to "talk" using pre-programmed N1MM  macro keys to play .WAV files.
As it turns out, the SSB to CW ratio was exactly equal; 39 QSOs in each mode.

Like the ARRL 10-meter contest, the SA-10 contest is a multi-mode affair (CW & SSB).

Essentially, stations worldwide can work each other, however we make MORE points working South American stations.

Equipment-wise we ran the usual Elecraft K3 radio into an ACOM 2000 amplifier.  The antenna was a 3-element Stepp-IR running BI-directional, allowing us to work Japan as well as South America.

As contests go, this gig was a bit of a ho hummer.
Additionally because this is a 24 hour contest, for us left coasters we get one shot at 10 meters - when its gone, it's GONE; there is no redo on this one.

Being a single band contest, ten meters is either open or it isn't.  At the Fallbrook location once the band was open  and stable (around 15:30z) it remained intact up to the time
I turned it over to N6KI to finish the event - 22:15z.

Despite Dennis' best efforts he could only manage
5 more QSOs for the contest; evidently I worked all
there was to work otherwise - go figure.
By 00:30z the band was gone and so was the contest for us.

Our 78 QSOs netted over 20k points, which while a pittance (by other contest standards) may be just enough for NX6T to take 1st place worldwide (outside of South America).

As you can see from the 3830 Scores website (CLICK HERE), our closest competitor (W3HAC from the PVRC) made only 29 QSOs for 3,300 points.  Theoretically, we should get a 1st place certificate as compensation for all the effort we expended operating this South American GiG.

Did YOU work the SA-10 contest?
Is NX6T in YOUR Log?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

WQ6X runs NAQP RTTY Remotely from Laughlin

For the third weekend in a row I have run remote contest operations from NX6T in Fallbrook (aka "Nashville").  This last weekend found me going all out in the NAQP RTTY contest; a 12 hour event
(10am to 10pm PST) during which the rules allowed me to operate only 10 hours of the contest period.
Because the contest exchange is Name and QTH, the event has more of a personal feel to it.
Contact w/NE6I put me on one of the Southern California Contest Club (SCCC) contest teams
(Team #1).

In the past (the 2016 RTTY RU contest) to run full low power we set up STN#1
to run into a KPA500 amplifier allowing 100 or 150 watts full duty for RTTY.  Recently the KPA500 has been tripping out under marginal SWR issues.

After a call to Elecraft, N6KI and W6JBR devised a solution to this problem by running the K3 at near-full power (92 watts) with a huge cooling fan pointing head-on at the transceiver.

Operating from Harrah's hotel in Laughlin, I encountered virtually no latency problems during this contest.  Nevertheless, because tuning  RTTY signals remotely is tricky at best I chose to run frequencies 95% of the time.

The use of macros in N1MM make operations run smoothly.  Using Ctrl-K from time to time is the equivalent of sending manually with a key paddle in CW contests.

As I experience consistently in RTTY contests stations call me way off frequency.
While I can hear them, FLDIGI cannot decode their data.  If I was sitting in front of my FT-1000mp,
I would simply turn on the RIT and tune the signal in; something virtually impossible (in a timely fashion) when running RTTY remotely.  Instead, I would press Ctrl-K and type "You're off frequency - please tune me in", then send "QRZ?".  Most of the time they would shift frequency and we would establish contact.

My question is: how can you tune me in well enough to copy my "CQ NAQP" call and yet be OFF frequency when it comes time to transmit?  Most likely these stations found me through a spotting network with an incorrect frequency cited in the spot entry.  Rather than blindly call a station found
in a spot, LISTEN FIRST to make sure you have an ACTUAL copy on their data transmission.

In all NAQP contests single operators are allowed to operate 10 hours max out of the 12 hour contest period.  The gamble is, which 2 hours do I sacrifice?  If I run the 1st 10 hours consecutively then end of contest is 04:00z (8pm local time) missing out on 80/40 meter opportunities ending the contest. 
If I wait until noon to start, I miss out on any 10/15 meter exclusive morning openings.  Then, if I get called away from the radio at any time during the remaining 10 hours I will have wasted part of that obligatory off time.

For this event my  choice was to begin on time, take an hour
off mid day and end the contest at the start of the last hour.  Because off times must be 30+ minutes I took 40 minutes for lunch, requiring that I cease operations at 04:40z (8:40 local time); more or less in line with my original strategy.

My only regret for this NAQP GiG was that I did not give
10 meters any attention Saturday morning; instead I ran frequencies on 15 meters for 2+ hours.  By the time I took a look 10 meters was already gone.  I ended the contest moving from 40 down to 80 to wrap things up.  I was amazed to find a nice 80 meter opening across the U.S. to the Eastern seaboard.

True to infamous 40 meter contest fame, this year's NAQP RTTY experienced the typical 40 meter intentional QRM I have come to expect during contests.  Only this time while running a frequency (7.070.70) at 02:10z I was barraged with howling and rumbling noises, followed by what sounded
like the whine of a dropping bomb, again and again.  Go Figure.  At least the bomb drop noises showed some originality.  As with ALL intentional QRMers they soon get bored and either give
up entirely or find someone else to bother.  An hour later I am STILL on that same frequency
with another 40 QSOs in the log.

As it is, because 7.070 is in the middle of the international phone band (for Regions 1 & 3), QRM
from ssb stations allowed to share the spectrum is to be expected.  Then again, at 02:30z 7.070 became the National Tuneup Frequency as many stations began testing (saying "helllllllooooo  helllllllooooo").   If they ended up near my frequency I could understand that. 
However when they are EXACTLY zero beat with me, that is NO accident.

Now, to voice one of my main RTTY contest beefs: NCDXF beacon QRM on 14.100.
What?  You didn't know there is a propagation beacon on 14.100 24/7?  They been there for over 20 years.  (Co-relatively, are you aware of the beacon segment occupying the ENTIRE 28.200 to 28.300 segment of 10 meters?)  NCDXF beacons provide 24 hour propagation assistance for free; the least we can do is give them "room" to operate.  It's one thing to be on a nearby frequency and splatter onto 14.100; it's another thing entirely to have your center frequency EXACTLY at 14.100.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the NCDXF beacons and the service that these beacons provide.
There is no reason why we can't operate a RTTY contest and avoid the 14.097 to 14.103 corridor.
In fact, I did just that running a frequency for over an hour on 14.107 and later on 14.092.

Because I have been on the road for business the last 10 days, playing in the NAQP this last weekend was relaxing and fun, even tho I was inside all day on a sunny Saturday.
I had a nice view of the desert hills from my window while typing away.  In common with CW contests, running RTTY saves my voice (I had been teaching advanced therapy techniques all week).

Like last week's DX contest, I had no rotor control on the yagi's at NX6T, so essentially, the C-31 and 40-meter yagis were pointed 45-degrees (N-W), limiting who could hear me.  This becomes evident as I did not work a single
KH6 station and virtually none in S. America; altho
I was called by an AH2/W6 station - go figure.
As a result I was only able to work 47 out of the 58 multipliers, missing many of the Northwest states
and most of the crucial VE/VY sections.

Overall, I worked the high bands moving to
the lower bands as the contest progressed.
Mid afternoon, jumping between 15 & 20 meters allowed me fresh QSOs when I had worked all
a run frequency could provide.

Then, coming back to a band on a different frequency allowed other stations to encounter me "newly".

Did you play in the NAQP RTTY contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?