Monday, September 26, 2016

WQ6X Survives the 2016 CQ WW RTTY Contest

WQ6X looking bewildered.

While enthusiasm is usually a good thing, sometimes the real world shows up and challenges that enthusiasm.

In amateur radio Radiosport, sometimes it seems as if solar disturbances and weird equipment anomalies go hand in hand.

Then again it could be that I am just a bit overly paranoid.

CH-250 Vertical @ W7AYT

For the 2016 CQ WW RTTY contest I made arrangements to operate solo from W7AYT's QTH in Concord California (Zone 3 in the ARRL East Bay section), bringing in a Yaesu FT-1000mp and an 8mh Cobra sloper to augment the Comet CH-250 vertical already installed at the location.
The FT-1000mp sports a robust antenna switching facility allowing me to select the best of the two antennas for a given signal; altho I could not get the Cobra sloper to tune on 40 meters.

My plan was to attempt SO2V using the West Mountain Radio Plug-N-Play device I modified to work with the FT-1000mp.  Unfortunately the modified unit did not work as planned starting a series of frustrations.

Throughout Friday stations could copy me nicely but My end of the equation was having difficulty properly decoding stations calling me; evidently from the decoder circuitry being overloaded and therefore unable to decipher.

Auxiliary Screen

Because there is a 33" monitor next to the operating position I configured the laptop to run split screen with the RTTY engine, Greyline display and contest stats on the auxiliary laptop screen, relegating the main logging functions to the larger TV monitor.

40 meters on Friday evening was quite a disappointment with very poor signals from Asia.

While the A/K indexes were numerically quite low, space WX reports labelled the band conditions as poor.  The truth was somewhere in the middle.  Band-wise, 15 meters was a huge disappointment, while 10 meters netted only K3EST (20 miles from me) via groundwave.

At 5am Saturday (12 hours into the contest) with great difficulty I had managed a WHOPPing 15 QSOs in the RTTY log.
After some sleep I gave a call to W6JBR for some encouragement
and ideas toward solving the RTTY performance problem.

Numerous cable configurations were tried altho in the end it seemed as if I was back where I started from.  The final solution came from rebooting the laptop a second time, after which things seemed to settle in.

Accompanying the CQ WW contest were the Texas (TXQP) and Maine (MEQP) QSO parties.  En route to solving the RTTY problem I took time off to make 19 QSOs in the log for TXQP, adding 6 more Sunday morning.

For MEQP I managed to work W1WMU on SSB and then CW;
enough to submit a 2 QSO log.  In some respects working the QSO parties allowed me to accomplish something while mulling over the digital audio problems.

TXQP Summary Stats

By the time I had RTTY under control on Saturday 15 meters was gone and 20 meters was winding down.

Saturday evening found me band-bouncing between 80 & 40 meters,
S & P'ing and running frequencies.

40 meters was PACKED all the way down to 7.033.  Amusingly, I heard a number of CW ragchews in between strong RTTY stations, progressing just fine as if the RTTY wasn't even there; proof non-contest activities can survive, even in a crowded band segment.

Fortunately, the usual intentional QRM on 40 meters Sat./Sun. mornings never materialized.  I guess intentional QRM idiots haven't figured out how to QRM Rtty effectively; so they don't even start.

Ironically, during CW contests I often encounter intentional QRM with the QRM'ers using, none other than, RTTY
to do the job.

It is amazing how close RTTY stations can be interspersed/squeezed together.  Using a combination of the 1000mp's eDSP contour control and  the shift/width controls I was able to tailor the receive passband more precisely using the 2.4 khz filter setting than using the 500 hz filter alone.

Altho I brought along an outboard MFJ 752-C audio filter, I never found time to configure it in the audio line.  The Yaesu's eDSP contour & DNR options turned out to be more than enough.

To maximize QSOs I continuously switched between the vertical & the Cobra sloper looking for the best signal and/or noise characteristics.  Much of the time the sloper produced more man-made noise than the vertical, whereas the vertical often produced more background atmospheric noise than the sloper - GO figure.  Amazingly,
EA9LZ (Zone 33) was worked using the sloper, not the low-angle vertical.

For me, this year's CQ WW DX RTTY contest was more like an NAQP contest than a DX contest; even though I did manage to Work All Continents (WAC).

N1MM Main Screen
The final irony for my participation in this RTTY contest is that by the time it was over the entire RTTY interface (the West Mountain Plug-N-Play unit) had been bypassed.  The receive audio was brought in directly from the 1000mp's AF out jack.

The XMIT audio was directly routed to the mic input, by way of the TV monitor's headphone jack; which also provided ground-loop isolation between the laptop and the radio itself.

Power-wise, throughout the RTTY contest I ran the radio at near full power (approx. 95 watts).  Because of heat considerations most radios (including the hallowed Elecraft K3) must run RTTY at about 50% - 60% of the radio's rated power output.  Because of the excellent ventilation designed into the Yaesu FT-1000mp, by putting the radio above the table with an exposed underside, the radio never once got warm. 

Most people sell their Yaesu's to purchase Elecraft K3's; as did the previous owner of my radio. 
With minor exceptions, I rate the 1000mp WAY OVER the K3; and I have used a dozen different K3's.  To me, K3's are all alike.  I have yet to see two FT-1000mp's that looked/felt exactly alike. 
The MP's have more character.

All last minute ad-HOC radio operations  I am part of present unique challenges; this weekend's difficulties being RTTY based.  Because I was not engaged in "serious" competition this weekend I insured 6 - 8 hours of sleep both nights, altho I got up at 5am both mornings to catch "early birds".

Look for me @ NX6T for this year's CQ WW SSB,
followed by WQ6X solo from W7AYT's QTH for the CW GiG.

Did YOU work the 2016 CQ WW RTTY contest?

How many countries/zones are in YOUR Log?

Is WQ6X one of them?

1 comment:

  1. Today I received an certificate in the mail awarding me a 1st place for California in the MEQP contest. I worked ONE station (W1WMU) on CW & SSB (2 QSOs) in order to win that award. This is again proof why we should ALWAYS submit a log; even one with only 2 QSOs.