Thursday, June 1, 2017

2017 Weird Prefix Contest is weirder than ever

DL3YM & N6KI @ 23:55z be-4 WPX
In the last year, contest-wise, work commitments have largely kept me in the SF bay area.
However during the last 7 years I have made the drive (or hopped on Amtrak to Oceanside) to play live in a Multi-2 approach to WPX CW contest @ NX6T ("NashVille") in Fallbrook, north of San Diego.
(For the SSB WPX contest in March I ran single-OP as WQ6X but remotely from the NX6T station.)

For the Memorial day weekend, instead of another 10+ hour drive to "NashVille" I enjoyed another leisurely Amtrak ride allowing me to finish writing recent contest BLOG entry material along with internet research in preparation for the WPX contest event.

This year we were blessed with another top-notch CW operator - DL3YM, joining us before
heading onto a business conference in downtown Los Angeles. It was W6JBR who picked me up
at the Oceanside Amtrak station Friday afternoon and DL3YM who delivered me back there Sunday evening before taking I-5 to L.A. Thank you both.

This year we again ran as a Multi-2 station using three Elecraft K3 radios.  Stations 2 & 3 are interlocked, allowing only one station to transmit at a time.  When the OP at STN-3 finds a new station to work, a hand gesture to the STN-2 OP instructs him to standby
while STN-3 makes the QSO.

With 3 radios in action, the 2017 WPX CW contest was hardly a disappoint-ment; unless you factor in the NASTY space weather.  (More on that later).

With the proliferation of more and more unique callsign prefixes, it seems that the CQ WPX
(aka Weird Prefix) contest gets weirder with each event.  The WPX contest seem to bring out the WEIRDEST callsigns, which is why we call it the Weird Prefix Contest.

I believe the WEIRDEST callsign of ALL-TIME was present in this contest; namely: VC3C2C. 
Some of my favorites from this GiG include: AG1RL & JA2GAL, DF0WRTC, 8J1ITU, XE2X, WA0WWW & WI0WA, OE8TED, DS2FAG, 9A/E77DX, TI8/AA8HH, 7K1MAG/2, E51DWC,

Being physically present in Fallbrook,
as always we used my WQ6X callsign, making us the only WQ6 station in the entire contest and more sought after.

The San Diego contest club station was its usual organized clutter, except that one of the ACOM 2000 amplifiers was replace by an EXPERT 2kL linear amplifier.
This amp uses a set of 4 fans that are actually noisier than the ACOM units.

NX6T's Highly organized connect cabling setup
While the EXPERT amp performed reasonably well, RFI in the shack occasionally impacted the remote interface to the amplifier. 

Maybe the RFI had something to do
with the precise [sic] cabling behind the scenes (some changes were made
in the past week); but I'm getting
ahead of myself.

We were also PLAGUED with horrible space weather throughout the weekend. How come solar storms never hit mid-week, and "only" during contest weekends?

WQ6X waiting for 10-meters to open
Again, I'm getting ahead of things in this BLOG entry.
Being a 48 hour marathon, the WPX contest offers
multiple opportunities for operations on each band.

Because of RFI issues clobbering the internet router,
we were unable to run 160 meters.  Considering the
noise levels it makes me wonder if we missed out.  Checking the 383Scores log submissions, it would
seem that North American stations had little success
on 160; whereas the exact opposite was the case
for Europe.

Due to the continual decline of Solar Cycle 24, 10 meters becomes less of a factor, while 40 & 80 meters bring us increasing contest activity; probably to the dismay of
non-contest CW ragchew operators.

Surprisingly I was able to use the crowbar method and
put several dozen 10-meters QSOs in the log; and again,
I am getting ahead of myself.

Virtually every CW contest I engage in brings out new sources of intentional QRM. Most of my fellow Fallbrook operators don't notice it because the QRM happens usually on 40-meters after 08:00z - 09:00z while they are sound asleep. We nightshift people are the ones who get bombarded by careless and antagonistic radio operations. This contest was no different.

NX6T in the "wee hours"
Saturday morning around 09:55z while running a frequency on 7012.12 all of a sudden some very funky sounding CW showed up on the run frequency.

In the past, this weird CW has been attributed to E. Russia altho I haven't heard this CW style in a couple of years.

Being that the antenna was pointed more-or-less @345-degrees, UA9/UA0 is a possibility. I moved to 7013.13
to get away from the weirdness. 

YC9SWQ from QRZ.Com
Everything was fine until malicious SSB QRM showed up around 10:20z, prompting me to move back to 7012.12,
which was now quiet.

Stations were dutifully lining up to put WQ6X in their log until 10:47 when a Loud HOWLING noise appeared followed by
an Ssb-audio CW calling "CQ WPX de YC9SWQ.

This went on intermittently yet continuously.
The QRM got so loud that I moved to 7.027.27 to escape
the cacophony. Then at 12:53z YC9SWQ was now at it
again on 7.027 with that HOWL seeming LOUDer than ever. This station never worked anybody so it was clearly nothing more than harassment; or the guy was under the influence
of one of the witch doctor's concoctions.

After the contest, I looked up his callsign on QRZ.Com and found this WEIRD picture. Which one was the operator?
The guy on the right or the witch doctor on the left?

When I figured out that this was harassment, it was time to make the move to 7.025.25. Unfortunately, by 13:18z the illegal Indonesian SSB stations moved in on me.

Sometimes it seems that you can't win, you can't lose and you can't even QUIT the game.

Because we rely heavily on the JA prefixes to up the multiplier count I usually turn the 2-el 40-meter yagi Northwest, at the risk of encountering the illegal Indonesian SSB crap, or one of the Russian military beacons stations on 7.039.57.

While I normally hear 2 or 3 beacons every CW contest, this weekend, only the "M" beacon could
be heard; probably because the others were below the threshold of the nearly-S9 QRN levels on
40 meters produced by the weekend's solar storm.

K4RB fresh @ 8am (15:00z)
While I managed to operate straight-thru from 2am to noon (local time) on Saturday, doing that two days in
a row was not possible.

Luckily my relief came as it often does @ 8am Sunday morning when K4RB takes over for 4 - 6 hours, just in time for the "day shift" operators to take over until around 00:00z when sleeping OPs (like me) finally wander back into the shack.

I took the opportunity to make a brief YouTube video Saturday afternoon, only to discover that despite holding the cellphone "correctly", there was enough tilt that the GPS-circuit thought I was holding the phone sideways.

A Toastmaster's compatriot has offered up some video-editing help to turn everything 90-degrees, for eventually putting the video online. Stay Tuned.

Weekend Space WX Data
The BiG story regarding the 2017 WPX CW contest is the MAJOR solar storm that hit around 06:00z on Sunday morning (approx. 10pm local time).

This produced near S9 noise levels on both 40 & 80 meters, while 20 meters seemed relatively free of that atmospheric noise.

Altho no one else seems to have reported it, I noticed high noise levels nearly 24 hours before the reported storms. Unfortunately, the K3's noise blanker accomplished virtually nothing to take the
tops off the noise and the DSP noise reduction circuits altered signal readability more than it
actually removed any noise. 

In retrospect I should have brought my MFJ 1026 noise canceling signal enhancer or scrounged the JPS ANC-4 unit languishing in a box somewhere in
the NX6T shack.

Those units can often phase null noise sources. Under the right conditions, units like the MFJ-1026 and the ANC-4 can make a DRAMATIC difference in signal readability without the side
effects of DSP circuit artifact.

When it comes time to submit logs, 3830 Scores and BLOG entries, it's easy to say, "don't worry, I'll get around to it".  This weekend I found a round TUIT in the shack, so there was no excuse for us not to take care of business quickly after the contest.

We can thank N6KI for that. Results-wise, according to the 38330Scores website, the WQ6X WPX operation took 17th place worldwide, 5th place for North America and 1st place for W6; not bad for a motley crew of 6 aging OPs.

WQ6X (foreground) & DL3YM

Because we had several operators drop out just before the contest, having Andy (DL3YM) join us probably added 25% to our QSO total. Andy and I dual-OP'd the dinner hour on Friday evening and then he joined me again Saturday morning which helped keep me awake until noon, when Dennis (N6KI) rolled out of bed so I could roll INTO bed.

During recent contest weekends 10 meters has been a no-show with 15-meters not being much better. Nevertheless, if everyone is listening and no one is calling CQ, an open 10-meters can
often sound DEAD.  Even under seemingly poor CONDX., there is often a 10-meter opening
to South America.

For this weekend I made 59 QSOs on 10 meters and we put over 500 QSOs in the log on 15 meters. 20 meters was,
as they say, the "money band" with over 1700 QSOs.

40 meters gave us nearly 800 QSOs and 80 meters over 150; all despite the S-9 noise levels.

Imagine what we could have done had there
been no solar storm
this weekend.

Statistics-wise it is very clear that while we had a STRONG rate at the beginning of the contest, however (probably due
to the oncoming solar storms) that rate steadily declined all the way to the end of the contest.

Friday evening before the dinner hour
I sat in as a 3rd operator to work multipliers on 20 meters while N6KI
ran a frequency.

Otherwise, most of the time we lacked a 3rd operator. In exchange we had the benefit of N6CY running station #2 remotely Friday evening while I ran station #1. Saturday evening K6AM
remoted in during the dinner hour and beyond, adding some nice mults to the log.

When it was all over, this is what the final WINTEST screen looked like.

Before wrapping this BLOG entry allow me to make a few specific comments about contest
operating WPX in general.

  1. Be patient and DON'T GIVE UP SO EASILY!
    Because I run frequencies a lot I frequently encounter situations where several
    stations are calling me at the same time; often making it difficult to pick out a callsign. 
    I finally work one of those stations and call "QRZ?" only to find that ALL of the other callers have DISSAPEARED?  Huh?  Where are you going?  All you had to do was wait around 10 seconds and you would be next up.  Were you able to find another station and secure a QSO in 10 seconds?  I don't think so!
  2. I program the F6 WINTEST key to send JUST the QSO number w/o the 5NN.  When I ask NR?, do NOT waste time by sending 5NN + NR.  With horrible space WX like this weekend, the QSB-fading is often so fast that by the time you have sent me the unnecessary additional 5NN your signal has faded into the noise and I have to send "NR?" again.  Numerous times 3 or more repeats were necessary, all of which could have been avoided by the station sending JUST the number when asked.
  3. Stations who work CW at greater than 30 Wpm WASTE EVERYBODY's TIME! 
    We are NoT impressed by you sending CW @35wpm which nobody can understand.  Because the prefixes are often unique in WPX, it is important that you SLOW DOWN
    when you send your Callsign AND when you send the QSO #.  If I mis-read your callsign
    and enter it in the log incorrectly then YOU will get DINGED by the Log Checking Robot
    (LCR) because YOUR callsign does not show up in my log.
    In many cases I had to manually send "QRS".  If I can't understand you then I will
    NoT log you.  Likewise, when a station calls me at 20wpm or less, do you know
    what I do? - I SLOW DOWN to match the caller's speed.  Doing so is a show
    of respect and a guarantee that we make the QSO.
    Typically I run at 24 - 25 wpm.
    WINTEST allows me to set up the CW macros to speed up and slow down
    during the transmission such as:
    F1: CQ +++TEST--- WQ6X WQ6X +++TEST---
    F2: W6XYZ +++5NN--- 1234
    F3: ++TU-- WQ6X
  4. Before you start CQ'ing on a frequency or even asking "QRL?", LISTEN FIRST. 
    If you start transmitting while I am attempting to copy a weak signal, if I don't respond
    to your needless "QRL?" message, because you are not listening first, you will
    assume the frequency is now yours.  If I DO take the time so send to you "QRL!" then
    I have to follow that up with asking the calling station to repeat their exchange - a
  5. When I am attempting to pick out a callsign and I send something like "JA2?" if your
    callsign is something like "IK6xxx" I DO NOT want to hear from you.  I often work the
    1st station I start to hear, NoT the station who is the loudest.  So if you are LOUDer
    than the station I am attempting to work, you COVER UP that station requiring me
    to send "JA2?" again and again until YOU SHUT UP and let the JA2 station complete
    their QSO with me.  If you violate this enough times I will simply IGNORE you and
    you will NEVER end up in the WQ6X log.
  6. If you are a station running SO2R, then do it responsibly.  Calling CQ with a 1-second
    gap between calls is simply your way of HOGGING a frequency, not of actually working anyone.  With a 1 second gap, there is not enough time for me or anyone else to press
    F4 sending the callsign.  If you are S-9 and I know I am too... when I call you, if there is
    no one else on that frequency to give you a QSO then WORK ME.  If the reason you
    don't come back to me is because you are busy on another frequency - that is UNACCEPTABLE.  If I call you THREE TIMES and you do not respond to me or anyone
    else, I will then send "QRL?" 3 times.  If I still hear nothing then the frequency is MINE
    and I will call CQ.  If you now come back and immediately start calling CQ (without
    listening first) then you are QRM'ing a busy frequency which is a VIOLATION of FCC
    rules.  If you can't keep two frequencies going w/o delay then SO2R is NoT for you - so
    turn off VFO-B or the other radio.
    In a recent QSO party, a station would make a CW QSO and then solicit that station
    to QSO on SSB, often leaving the rest of us stranded for 20+ seconds - NoT ACCEPTABLE. 
    I reported this station to the contest organizer as a violation of contest ethics.
What is all the above saying?  It is reminding us that more important than ANYTHING in
radiosport is that we should operate with kindness, courtesy, respect and efficiency. 
When stations consistently violate proper contest decorum, after the contest is over
I send an e-mail to the contest host naming callsigns of the violators.
Have you ever been disqualified (DQ'd) from a contest? 
Maybe that's why.

Did YOU play in the 2017 WPX CW contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

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