Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Technology assists NX6T in 2017 All Asian CW Contest

NX6T's web cam view of Station #1 & #2
Last year, for the All Asian CW contest I made use of the Amtrak Surfliner arriving in Oceanside
with W6JBR taking on the UBER role giving me a lift to the NX6T contest site (aka "NashVille")
atop the hill in Fallbrook (north of San Diego @900' above sea level). While we won no awards,
the operation was a LoT of fun. We learned a lot as a result of integrating some remote operations
with a handful of top-notch CW operators.

This year found me bound to various events in the SF bay area, so *I* was one of the remote operators (in addition to Rick, N6CY) for the 2017 All Asian CW contest.  Being that this year's operation was another Multi-Single affair, we always had one station (STN-1 or STN-2) running a frequency (Calling "CQ Asia"). When operators were available a second station would work another band looking for MULT stations. Carefully orchestrated, running two radios in this fashion properly comes under the heading of a Multi-Single operation.

Because the Field Day event occurs the following All Asian weekend, I used this remote operation to test-drive running an "ancient" Autek Research QF-1A "audio shaper" between the laptop headphone jack and the Heil headset; more on that later.

Despite nearing the bottom of Solar Cycle 24, this contest event began
with horrible Space WX (A-Index=24 & K-Index=5) after being quiet for nearly 10 days preceding the All Asian contest weekend.

Why is it that solar storms happen "ONLY" during contest weekends? While things improved slowly, we were cheated out of a decent 15 meter opening to begin the contest, a poor showing on 80-meters and no openings on 10-meters anywhere (much less
Asia or even the Pacific).

To navigate us through the poor band condx., I made extensive use of DXMaps to spot band openings and with the assistance of the WQ6X Beacon tracker, listened on 14.100 & 21.150 for
the various NCDXF beacon stations positioned around the globe. I was amazed to hear ZL2B all
the way down to 0.1 watt of power and yet, no Asian stations could be heard during that period.

Using the NeuroLogik Solutions
"Snap-Shot!" software I am able to capture remote screens at a moments notice and store them as .JPG files
on the local data drive.

More than just Alt-Prtsc, with Snap-Shot I am able to capture, timestamp and organize the unique screen images that you see throughout the WQ6X Contest BLOG entries.
[CLICK HERE] to buy your own copy
of Snap-Shot! for only $19.95.

Originally, the CQ contest call was "CQ A A N6XT NX6T". Many stateside stations had no clue what A A was and would call us looking for a QSO.

For me, the solution to that was to change the CQ call to "CQ ASIA Test NX6T NX6T". For those people who still didn't get it I would send "ASIA ONLY" 2 - 3 times and they would reluctantly 

move on.

Realize that they were hearing the NX6T kilowatt+ signal off the BACK of the yagi's.
At 1.3kw, a 20-30 db. reduction in signal strength can nevertheless be a significant signal.

Equipment-wise we ran the usual assortment of Elecraft K3 radios into a pair of multi-band yagi's, 2-elements on 40 and a cheesy inverted V for 80 meters.

In recent contests we have been experiencing some cross-band interference between STN-1 & STN-2 - I consistently heard a background buzz noise when STN-2 was calling CQ on 20 meters.

Sometimes the QF-1A filter could help with this.

Unfortunately, nothing seemed to help with the atmospheric noise. Sometimes the K3's DSP circuits help, however for me, most of the time they do nothing; except add artifact to the receive audio.

Station #1 (which I ran remotely) was equipped with an ACOM-2000 amplifier putting out a consistent 1300+ watts on all bands. By way of an HTML-based application I was able to monitor the ACOM amplifier power levels. If there was an operator present in the shack they could keep an eye on the actual control panel for the amplifier. At one point an amplifier failure set in so I ran about 95 watts while N6KI resolved the problem and brought the amp back on the air Needless to say, running a 1/10 power level was noticeable to many people as they attempted to move in on the run frequency.

Because I love operating well after midnight, during most contests I run with NX6T, I usually
run station #1 during the local dinner hour (8:00 - 10:30pm) allowing the operators to head down
the hill to one of several restaurants.

When I am onsite (like last year) they always bring me back Shrimp Fu-yung or Italian meatballs; depending on their restaurant of choice.
(When I run remotely I usually order a double

order of takeout sushi before settling in for the 
8pm GiG.)

Once they are back from dinner I get some shuteye until about 2am when N6KI rousts
me from sound sleep to put Station #1 on
40 and/or 80 meters.

I can usually stay awake until sunrise and sometimes beyond when the low bands finally fade into oblivion. After a check for random QSOs on 20-meters, I go back to sleep. The "day shift" usually starts up around 12:30 local time.

While I love running the nighttime
 hours, it is always at this time when
the 40-meter QRM is at its worst.
This contest was no exception.
Both evenings I heard the "M" and "D" Russian military beacons on 7.039. Sunday morning I even heard the
"F" beacon sneak through.

Luckily, I rarely work CW contests that high in frequency. Saturday evening the OTH radar (now coming from Asia) made numerous appearances on 7.006, so I avoided working below 7.007 whenever possible. Unfortunately, around 10:20z, while running a frequency (7021.21) I was
plagued by what I call a "data cranker' sound followed by an SSB "howling" sound followed
by more data-cranking.

Numerous times during both late nigh operations I would find a CLEAR frequency only to have a station move 200hz below me and call CQ contest within minutes. HuH? On Saturday evening this happened 4 times in the timeframe of 30 minutes. At one point while calling CQ some guy would
send "545" or "454" after ever unsuccessful CQ call. Later on I was plagued by someone making
a space warbling sound on the run frequency.

Once on 20 meters while putting in a call to BY4AA (who was hearing nobody) some idiot would send "wats the point?" after every call I made on 14.038. The he sent "Z Z Z Z Z". When I still wouldn't give up, he started sending "JUNK" CW and then decided to tune his radio for nearly 5 minutes.
The band faded so he "succeeded" in my QSY'ing to 40-meters.

Sometime ago I purchased an "ancient" Autek Research QF-1A "audio shaper" unit for $7 - I didn't even know if it really worked. This weekend, it occurred to
me that because the QF-1A is simply processing analog audio, it should work equally well on the internet audio coming in by way of the IP-Sound facility.

The QF-1A did an AMAZING job during CW pileups when I was running a frequency.
In all honesty the QF-1A does a HORRIBLE job with SSB signals (when the bandwidth is <500hz); when SSB QRM showed up on the run frequency I had to either bypass the Autek unit or change frequency. 

In the 21st century we give praises to DSP audio circuits, when in fact, not only is analog processing just as effective, it often does so with less introduction of artifact. It was from tuning the QF-1A circuits that I was able to hear the Russian "F" & "D" beacons on 7.039 behind the dominant "M" beacon in Magadan. I have once again become a "believer"!

Typical to the All Asian contest, the last 8 hours present very little activity to the West Coast. European stations seem to have the best opportunity.  In the last of the contest hours, it would seem that most Asian stations are either sleeping or on their way to the workforce.

Nevertheless, at NX6T we don't give up. N6KI took over on 15 meters at 21:30z and managed a WHOPPing 19 QSOs
in the log; that's how few Asian stations were available during those last hours.

Propagation paths between Asia and West Coast were WIDE OPEN - there were simply no Asian stations on the air for us to work. Then again, Dennis adding P3X to the log made it all worthwhile,
I guess. I took a look on 40-meters at 23:30z in the dim and distant hope of an over-the-pole shot
to the middle east. Unfortunately, all the hoping in the world does not overcome non-existent propagation paths.

Per the 3830Scores Website, it would seem that NX6T took 2nd place worldwide; outside of Asia we took 1st place. We also took 1st place for North America. When you consider what we were up against, it is amazing we did as well as we did.

Did YOU play around in the All Asian DX Contest?

How many Asian prefixes and countries made it to YOUR log?

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