Wednesday, October 18, 2017

WQ6X sets CQP county record for Contra Costa

 Operating as K6T (Kilowatt Six Tango), 2017 marked my 17th California QSO Party (CQP) radiosport contest (in this lifetime anyway). In 2014, operating as K6U with N6GEO, our original
trip to Tuolumne county was postponed until CQP-50 in 2015;
instead, we engaged in a makeshift operation from his QTH in Brentwood and inadvertently set a county record for
Contra Costa county.
([CLICK HERE] to read about that event.)

Last year, operating solo from N6GEO's Twain Harte cabin (George was on vacation with the XYL) again, W6K inadvertently set a county record for Tuolumne county.
([CLICK HERE] to read about that event.)

For 2017 I was presented with a quandary: cart the FT-1000mp
and its myriad of external accoutrements to Twain Harte to run
multi-OP with George N6GEO, or take the easy route and run
another portable operation from W7AYT's Concord QTH - this
time as K6T - "hoping" I could surpass the current 34K point
record for Contra county.

If you want to skip ahead to the results, you can look at the 3830Scores website or CQP section of the WQ6X-Info website

Pursuing a multi-OP county record for Tuolumne is tricky at best.
While George & I make a great 2-operator team, unfortunately there
is no Multi-2 classification in the CQP contest; maybe its about time there is. So we either compete as a multi-single (no fun for operators who like to operate) or as a multi-multi (no fair).

I believe my operating choice for 2017 was the correct one. K6T's 59k score should set a new county record, while N6GEO & WQ6X ended up as competitors in the in-state single-OP operation classification.

In addition to pursuing county records, I set out to make a number of minor equipment configuration changes.

For openers, I discovered a way to jumper the switch lugs inside the WQ6X coaxial switch box,
allowing the selection of W7AYT's CHA-250 vertical, the WQ6X
8JK Cobra Sloper-V, or the two antennas "in parallel"; which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

On Thursday & Friday before CQP, a not-insignificant amount of
time was spent running the FT-1000mp in a CW CQ-Loop (particularly
on 10 & 15 meters) checking in with DXMaps.Com and the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) to see where the K6T callsign was being spotted. In particular, this allowed rotating the 10-meter yagi, noting the changes (if any) in where the K6T signal was being heard.

On the audio end of things I have been experimenting with cascading a number of external audio filters, taking advantage
of the Yaesu FT-1000mp split audio features. For CQP, this experimentation included: a 20 year old JPS NIR-12, to process RCVR-A's audio (for the left ear) and a classic Autek QF-1A filter to process audio for RCVR-B (to the right ear). Because the FT-1000mp uses a clever separation algorithm for split audio, it turns out that the NIR-12 can be set/forget (until I switch modes) while using the QF-1a to effectively "shift" the audio around between the ears.

While running a frequency , a clever trick I discovered is to use the
QF-1A to PEAK the sidetone while calling CQ. (If it's too loud I turn down the Moni gain.) Then, using the R.I.T. knob I can tune each individual signal looking for that pitch; at which time it JUMPS into the audio passband - way better than any $1,000 DSP circuit could ever accomplish.

With all the equipment under control I was ready for the CQP practice event at 02:15z (7:15pm) on 20 meters. At 02:30z the practice event was moved down to 40 meters. At 2:45z we moved down one more time to 80/75 meters. As it turns out, I made ONE Cw contact on each band during the practice GiG; SSB signals were not heard. Shortly after 03:00z I slipped down to 160 meters looking for indications the CHA-250 vertical might add a couple of 160 Q's to the log; the following evening, 3 160-CW QSOs DiD make it to the log.

With the equipment intact, I got some preciously deserved sleep. At precisely 1600z I fired up CQP with a brief run on 40 CW to snag some local California and Northwest stations before alternating time between 20 & 15 meters for several hours until the one and only 10 meter opening occurred for K6T at 20:45. Installation of the 10-meter yagi two weekends before paid off with 27 CW and 4 SSB QSOs; including HI8 & PY2.

An interesting aside is that I accidently discovered that the FT-1000mp can tune the 10-meter yagi on 15 meters (with a 1.25 SWR) and actually make QSOs.

Overall, I believe the signal was MUCH stronger to those areas using the WQ6X sloper. It wasn't long before 10 & 15 were gone; from which I took refuge on 40-meter SSB to work as many California stations as possible. While California stations derive no multiplier benefit from working other California stations, QSO points accrue for all communications; California or otherwise.

After a brief stint on 20 meters, I was back on 40 at 00:15z; now on CW. Because we are in a sunspot cycle low period, the move to 80/75 meters occurred early in the evening (02:00z). With some begging and pleading K6T even managed 3 CW QSOs on 160 (at 03:30z, 05:30z and 06:59z with N6GEO).

For every CQP contest, I devise an evolving webpage for that year. ([CLICK HERE] to see the CQP 2017 page.) One of the reasons I do this in advance is so that out-of-staters can get an idea of what bands to look for K6T on at any given time of day. Because I am a consistent contest creature, this plan rarely varies; nevertheless, I publish it anyway - each year begins anew.

QRM-wise, this CQP event was mostly QRM-free; shocking when I compare this operation to other contests and other years. Ending the contest on 40 SSB I was annoyed by a VFO-swisher - I guess some people just get bored and can't wait for the 3pm ending of CQP.
As soon as CQP was over, so was the VFO-swishing.

The evening before CQP I was solicited to join the MLDXCC (Mother Lode DX Contest Club) in order that they can include my score as part of their CQP Club submission. One of these days I will send them $15 to enjoy all the perks and benefits of being a PAID member.

Overall, for CQP 2017 I accomplished everything I set out to do. The before-CQP antenna farm revamp @ W7AYT turned out to be time well spent.

While K6T was HARDLY the loudest low power California signal, stations throughout the U.S. and Canada reported the signal levels from Contra Costa county to be quite good.

Being able to switch between the Vertical & Sloper array on the low bands made all the difference. Additionally, despite poor band condx on 10-meters, the 3-el yagi (with its alleged 8.5 db gain) made the time spent on 10 meters fun and worthwhile. LooK for WQ6X in December's ARRL 10-meter contest.

Now that CQP 2017 is behind us and the logs submitted, it would seem to be a good idea that George (N6GEO) and I operated solo separately. K6T's 59K score has clearly set a record for Contra Costa county - just as I had planned - and N6GEO most likely took 1st place for Tuolumne. Then, depending on what the Log Checking Robots whittles our scores down to, N6GEO may eventually slip ahead of
K6T - this is why accurate logging is so important.

As you can see from the ending screen, the K6T GiG was indeed
an SO2-V operation. Throughout 2017 I have posted contest BLOG entries describing my use of SO2-V with the Yaesu FT-1000mp. Overall I am getting the hang of it; however as I have said before,
if I get too confused running split audio, I immediately shutdown VFO-B and focus only on the run frequency.

I missed a sweep due to lack of hearing: ND, NE, RI, MS, AK,
AB & MR. County-wise, 42 counties ended up in the K6T log.
Numerous stations made the log on multiple band-modes - CooL!
Where were the ladies on the air this weekend?
I only worked 2 of them.

Did YOU play in the California QSO Party?

Is K6T (or N6GEO) in YOUR Log?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

WQ6X rallies in RTTYand raises antennas

For many amateurs, the CQ World Wide DX contest marks the beginning of the fall contest season; unless of course you happen to live in California; in which case, CQP would be the REAL beginning.

However if you are a RTTY contester, the absolute REAL beginning of the contest season happens
in late September by way of the CQ W.W. RTTY event; so in a way, CQ W.W. DOES mark the beginning of fall contest season.

For 2017 I decided to do things a little different. During two weekends in September I assisted W7AYT in doing a complete antenna revamp. The CHA-250 vertical was moved from the front to the front-side of the house. In its place we installed a 40 foot Rohn mast in order to put up a 3-el 10-meter yagi. 10-meters? Isn't 10 dead? Well, maybe yes, but not for long as solar cycle 24 slowly transforms into cycle 25. The yagi was "free" (not including the coax, rotor cable, guy ropes and the Rohn mast itself) so who could resist?

Additionally, we strapped a pulley just under the yagi allowing me to hoist the tenuous horizontal Cobra Vee antenna and convert it into a real sloping VEE. Initial tests suggest this Sloper possesses greater signal gain than when it ran horizontally.

Since then I have added a 2nd Cobra Vee, slightly ahead and in phase with
the original. Signals seem even stronger. The CQP (California
QSO Party) contest will give all
this a thorough test-drive.

For the world wide RTTY contest it was clear that the modest antenna setup @ W7AYT would not even begin to do the job in a worldwide event. Additionally, the new AFSK cabling system being worked on was certainly not ready for extensive contest use. As an interesting compromise I chose
to run WQ6X remotely from NX6T's station #1 in Fallbrook pushing the ACOM 2000a amplifier
to a CooL 500+ watts into a C-31 yagi, 2-elements on 40 and a droopy inverted VEE for 80 meters.

While it was hardly quiet, atmospheric noise was not much of a problem. Any real difficulty encountered in making QSOs was due to IDIOT operators, more than an atmospheric problem.

10 & 15 meters have been largely absent in Fallbrook during recent
contest dabbling's.

After a LoT of CQ'ing and S&P'ing,
a whole 8 QSOs ended up with a frequency on 28 MHz; and MOST of them with South America - go figure.

What this tells me is that 10 meters isn't as DEAD as we think it is,
In the end those CQ calls netted 5 countries on 10-meters.

When a 15 meter opening occurred on Sunday afternoon, I switched antennas to make use of a 3-element Stepp-IR running Bi-directional to Asia and South America enjoying QSOs from both continents while calling CQ on 21.095.95. Switching towers allowed the "wrecking crew" to
come in and dismantle the unit for transport to a secret, unnamed CQP location.

Even though I didn't use it for local contest operation, having a larger screen available for this GiG actually encouraged me to Search & Pounce more; something I am often reluctant to do when running RTTY remotely. The "Goal Posts" on MMTY's decoder screen made it relatively easy for RCForb's radio emulation to nudge the VFO frequency up/down, lining up the Mark/Space signals.

As a result, approx. 7% of the 512 claimed QSOs came from Searching & Pouncing (when running remotely, it is usually < 1%). This contest operation was purposely run as ASSISTED in order that I could click on stations and the "quickly" tune them in; unfortunately, nearly 50% of the spots had the offset WAY OFF.

In both endeavors (RTTY and Antenna Raising) the watchwords were: Flexibility, Workability, Ingenuity & Sustainability. I could probably write an entire BLOG entry on these four concepts.
Keep your eyes open for that possibility.

A frustrating bummer during the RTTY weekend is that while I finally worked out the audio filters for RTTY on the FT-1000mp, because those filters are on the REMOTE side of the radio transmission, they are too late for the decoding on the Fallbrook end. Theoretically, I could run a standalone copy
of MMTY (without N1MM+) on my end and decode the audio filtered by the NIR-12 and the Autek
QF-1A. Stay tuned for that experiment.

Considering the storm devastation in Puerto Rico, it was no surprise to hear no activity from WP3M or any other P.R. station. However I WAS surprised to hear many XE stations and 8 Cuban stations on RTTY. 

This RTTY GiG enabled a LoT of good frequency runs; especially on 15 meters.

At 23:15z the Elecraft K3 radio was moved down to 20 meters one last time to run the remaining 45 minutes of the contest.

Band propagation held up reasonably well, allowing me to settle in a run yet another frequency.
Then, at 23:45z (with 15 minutes to go) the internet connection in Fallbrook COMPLETELY DIED - No Response. That was the end of CQ WW RTTY for 2017. (The culprit who PURPOSEFULLY shutoff the microwave link has been thoroughly FLOGGed.)

Unique to the RTTY flavor of CQ W.W. DX contests, is that QSOs with your own country are worth 1 point (0 points on SSB & CW). Continent-wise, I would have liked to have HEARD more stations in Africa. The bandmap spots were certainly there, however if you can't hear'em you can't work'em.

After all the crazed pandemonium had died down, it was time to take a closer look at QSO counts for the individual bands. 40 meters (followed by 15 meters) was top band so I submitted
the log as: SO(A)SB40HP.  

According to the 3830Scores website, WQ6X takes 1st. place for USA, 2nd place for NA and 4th place world wide.

Did you play in the CQ W.W. RTTY contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?