Monday, January 9, 2017

WQ6X runs RTTY RU Remotely to open 2017 contest season

Station #1 w/operating aids
As ham radio contests go, RTTY GiGs are relatively new to me. 5 years ago (2012) I assisted N6GEO towards a 1st place for the East Bay (EB) secion in the RTTY Roundup (RU).  2 years later found us operating as WP2/WQ6X from the Radio Reef station (KP2M) on the island of St. Croix where we took a worldwide 1st place running 149.49 watts as a low power entry. 
While we made an impressive showing for the 2015
RTTY RU, it certainly did not compare to 2014.

Last year as I was in the process of learning the ins and outs of operating NX6T remotely I spent time running the RTTY RU to the tune of 273 QSOs; nothing great, however I proved I can do it.

For 2017, I toyed with a number of possibilities for the Roundup, including: running the FT-1000mp from W7AYT with 100 watts into a vertical, or driving to Twain Harte to join N6GEO, or driving to "NashVille" (in Fallbrook) to operate the NX6T station live, or, remote in to Fallbrook as I did last year.

Because California is in the midst of a serious (for us) rainstorm, driving was not a good idea. Instead, I chose to replicate last year's remote operation; which as it turned out was loaded with caveats.

Antennas @ NX6T

Equipment-wise I ran NX6T's Station #1 (an Elecraft K3) at reduced power into an ACOM 2000a, dialed back to just under 150 watts, qualifying as a low power entry.

For antennas I used a C-31 yagi (for the high bands) and a 2-element yagi on 40 meters, both 13mh, along with an inverted Vee for 80 meters. Using remote access gave me access to Station #2's computer allowing me to rotate both yagis as needed.

Friday evening I accessed NX6T's station #1 remotely and set up the N1MM+ software, testing all the needed remote components (Hamachi, RCForb & the VNC Viewer) on my end. While NX6T now has super-fast internet access, unfortunately, things were still being tested and would dropout briefly every 15 seconds or so. Dropouts did not interfere with the computers running the radios directly so in effect all data was buffered and ready for me when my remote access came back; nothing was lost.

On Saturday morning, a number of unrelated events delayed my contest start until the early afternoon. Because of the internet dropouts, it was not easy to tune RTTY signals remotely. Instead, whenever possible, I chose to pick frequencies and let stations come to me.

10 meters never happened on Saturday and by the time I got started I probably missed many of the 15 meter opportunities. 20-meters took up most of the afternoon.

Just as quickly as 15 meters folded up, 20 meters took a sudden dive as well, taking me to 40 meters for most of the evening, interspersed with a couple of runs on 80.

Band .vs. Hour Stats
While listening around on 40 meter SSB Friday evening South Africa was loud and clear, giving me hope that such propagation would also exist on Saturday. Unfortunately, signals levels on Saturday were not nearly that of Friday, and evidently South African stations don't do RTTY; at least not this weekend. Fortunately there was a 40 meter opening to
Japan, but none on 80.

By 09:00z I could hardly keep my eyes open and went to bed, getting up at 14:30z to work 40-meter leftovers and some QSOs on 20 before going back to bed. By 19:00z
I found a brief 10 meter opening before switching to 15.

At 20:30z an amazing thing happened - the internet latency finally disappeared. Unfortunately, in place of that, N1MM began to lockup the entire system with each occurrence taking nearly 10 minutes to resolve.
I ended the RTTY RU switching to 40 meters for a final run frequency.

By the time the Roundup was over I had amassed 266 QSOs (7 less than last year) with 55 multipliers, all in only 14 hours of OP time. Typical for contests in the last year, missing multipliers included most eastern Canadian provinces, most New England states, and of course, Nebraska.

Amazingly, Arizona stations were in short supply, with only 2 worked near the end of the contest.

As the contest ended, 40-meters went from a cacophony of RTTY stations to a dozen+
CW stations getting back to the business of casual Sunday afternoon ragchews.

Because this was a RTTY contest, there was (to my knowledge) no intentional QRM; even on 40 meters. The Russian beacons on 7.039 were either non-existent or wiped out by RTTY stations.
On 40 meters RTTY operations are shared with SSB stations in Regions 1 & 3; hearing funny sounding voices were a part of the GiG.

While there were a number of challenges to this years RTTY RU activity, I did enjoy the contest and learned a lot about making RTTY operations work under adverse conditions.

To close this blog entry I would like to make a few comments about how to make things run more smoothly for every one. Some oif these comments I have made regarding other contests but apply equally to the RU; if not, even more.

  1. When using N1MM+ I program the function keys to send SINGLE pieces of information.
    If someone asks for my section, I press F7 to send ONLY "CA CA"; there is NO NEED to send 599 again. This year because propagation was so spotty, fast fading was rather common. When I missed the section, I would press F6 to send "UR Section? Again?". Virtually every time I would receive a reply which included "599". Right after the 599 the section would get garbled, wasting the entire transmission time. If the operator has sent JUST "CA CA", it would have gotten through the first time.
  2. One station attempted to make his callsign easier to recognize by sending it as "(K4RDU)". While it was easier to spot visually, the call stacking mechanism of the N1MM+ RTTY didn't recognize it and the call was never placed on the call stack. This actually made it MORE difficult, to work the station as I had to double-click the callsign (which then included the
    "(" and ")" characters), then paste it into the call window and then delete the paren characters. Instead, it was faster to type the call manually; the very thing we are trying to avoid.
  3. Because so many stations now sport callsigns that are not representative of their call area,
    in RTTY contests (because data is easily garbled) this can be quite confusing.
    Other RTTY contests REQUIRE a "/" in the callsign; such that if WQ6X is
    operating out of Nevada (for example), I MUST sign WQ6X/7 or be disqualified. 
    People must think that sending /7 takes too much time when in fact it SAVES time
    because then I don't have them repeat their section again and again.

Did YOU work the RTTY RU?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

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