Wednesday, January 31, 2018

NX6T Showcases California in CQ-160 Contest

Since installing a new fiber-optic microwave access tower @ NX6T (in Fallbrook), "NashVille" has become more reliably accessible for remote operators (such as WQ6X & N6CY). This last weekend gave us the opportunity to thoroughly test the remote access configuration. Otherwise, we ran a standard configuration of K3 radios into either an ACOM 2000a amplifier (STN-1) or an Expert
2-KL amplifier (STN-2), both into a 160 meter inverted vee with a 70' apex.

NIR-12 + 752 filters

For this contest event it was a radio swap @ STN-1 that was initially our critical issue, delaying N6KI's initial
start until 02:00z.  (Dennis quickly made up for lost time with a couple
of 70+ QSO hours.)

On my remote end of the operation, I got to play around with a JPS NIR-12 "Noise and Interference Reducer" along with a pair of MFJ-752 audio filters, all to process the laptop's
IP-sound audio.

Once properly adjusted, the 752's gave me a partial stereo-CW effect; higher pitched signals appeared in the left ear and lower pitched signals ended up on the right. The NIR-12 introduced tighter audio bandwidth for the left ear.

NX6T remotely during dinner

Friday evening, by the time I took
over the "dinner shift" (@04:00z) Dennis had put over 200 QSOs
into the 160 log.

My 1st QSO of the evening was with none other than N6GEO; someone I have run numerous multi-OP events with over the last 9 years.

I was literally putting on the headphones while sending George
the exchange for QSO #211.

While QRN was a mild annoyance for this 160 weekend, the more difficult phenomenon was quick fading; specif-ically with weak signals. Altho the contest requires we
send "599", we ONLY need to send it once. I set up
FKey-6 to ask for ONLY the QTH, yet stations

robotically send 599+QTH.

Unfortunately, with quick fading, signals often dropped out after the "599" obliterating the 2-or-3 charter abbreviation.
I remind people of this EVERY contest and yet they STILL send me unnecessary information and are perplexed why
I keep asking for a QTH repeat . The solution is simple: send ONLY the QTH (w/o 599); even with quick-fading
I will get it the first time and we can BOTH move on.

Propagation-wise, on Saturday, 160 meters opened in
San Diego at 23:00z, but only to California. At 00:50z,
the Southeast quickly flooded in followed by W8 & VE3.
By 01:40, NP2J was in the log. Openings this early to
the Left Coast are usually unheard of, making this 160
contest a delightful surprise.

As I usually do, for this weekend, most of my op-time was during the "dinner" hour (04:00z - 06:00z) and then the "wee hours" of the morning (usually after 09:00z - 10:00z). Luckily, a Christmas present of Popcornopolis caramel corn kept me fueled in the operator's chair during these sleepy hours, along with some super strength KONA coffee.

This weekend was another manifestation of my oft-repeated complaint regarding operators who score a QSO on my run frequency and then shift down barely 200hz to call "CQ Test". Has it ever occurred to them that most stations are running 500hz filters at best; even with a
250hz filter, their 200hz shift is STILL within filter skirts
and annoyingly audible.

My solution is to shift the VFO down 200hz and send "QRL QSY" several times working back up to the run frequency during the final QRL/QSY. In most cases, operators get the message and put more "distance" between themselves and "thou".

One station was so annoyed that I asked him to move
that he zero-beat my run frequency and sent patches of random dits/dahs atop of weak stations calling in, requiring numerous repeats; eventually he got bored with this and moved on.

Considering that the inverted vee at Nashville is hardly favoring Asia, I was delighted to work several JA stations both Saturday & Sunday morning. While BG7 & BG5 stations appeared in the bandmap, they unfortunately were not audible @ NX6T.

It was amazing how many DUP callers there were, indicating that nearly everyone was running out of new QSOs to make. After the contest, in looking at the 3830 Scores website I noticed that most of the top scores were all European stations. We were overjoyed to work 14 DXCC entities while they were bummed that their DX count was only 85 (just missing DXCC) - it certainly is all relative.

When it was all over we entered 834 legitimate QSOs (460 remotely) into the log for 145k contest points; not bad for an inverted VEE @ 70'. While we were at the bottom of the North American heap (E. Coast stations have a definite advantage over the Left Coast) it would seem that we did take a
1st place for W6 (California).

Did YOU work the CQ 160 meter CW contest?

Is NX6T in YOUR log?


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

WQ6X Parties with North America during January NAQP Contests

WQ6X Remotely - w/ MFJ-752c and NIR-12 audio filters
After the RTTY RU contest is over, to open the new year, the CW & SSB NAQP GiGs are the first contest events of each new year (the NAQP RTTY contest doesn't happen until late in February).
The NAQP contest is unique amongst contests of its type in that there is no high power category
(only LP and QRP); run over 100 watts and your entry becomes classified as a "check log".

NX6T STN-1 & STN-2 Night-Remote
Additionally, unlike so many contests, there is no 59/599 report, nor is there a serial # in the exchange, just name
and QTH; which tends
to makes things a bit more personal, even tho we make up names like "Dude" and "Loco" (often heard from XE2MX).

A unique aspect to NAQP is that each of the 3 contest events (Cw, Ssb & Rtty) are run TWICE every year (in
the winter and again in August) offering a 2nd opportunity to improve on our original scores from earlier that year.

Antenna Towers @ NX6T

Because of the low power restriction there is a greater reliance on antenna directionality and gain
as well as operator skill. While there is no Multi-multi category in NAQP, there ARE Multi-single and Multi-2 classifications. Additionally, because much of the NX6T operations are run remotely, installing a new microwave dish to the fiber-optic internet connection across the hill has made all the difference towards reduced internet latency.

N6KI Running 20-m CW
In years past I have often run single-OP from NX6T in Fallbrook (either from the shack in "Nashville" or remotely) when N6KI operates from elsewhere. For 2018, NX6T ran as a Multi-2 operation in both events; cw (run completely remotely) and ssb run with operators in the chair as well as remotely (thanks to Ron WQ6X and Rick N6CY).

For the CW event, I opened on 15 meters (making occasional CQ calls on 10 meters) while K6AM & N6KI put 20-meters on the air.

For the Ssb event I opened on 15 meters (again 10 meters never materialized) while KK6NON ran
a continuous pile up on 20 meters. For both events, 15 shutdown by around 22:00z, relegating me
to take early refuge on 40 meters.

KK6NON on 20 meters
One of the few advantages of being in the depths of the solar cycle 24 is that 40, then 80 and 160 meters open up considerably earlier in the afternoon than during the upper reaches of the solar cycle. For the Cw event I was receiving calls from Western Europe
by 01:30z - UNHEARD of normally.

Another "advantage" of NAQP GiGs over other contests is that they are over by 06:00z. On 40-meters, the so-called intentional-QRM (that occurs in most contests) does not usually occur until well after 07:30z.

During the 2018 NAQP SSB I encountered intentional RTTY QRM on 7232.32 at 23:56z.
Usually there are foreign broadcasts carriers on 7.230.  This year, instead of broadcast QRM I get RTTY.  Luckily, the K3's auto-notch filter can take out most RTTY signals and carriers. Unfortunately, in Cw contests, the auto-notch filter also takes out the code, so we take what we get at those times.

Another indication of incredible low band propagation was hearing the M - D - K Russian military beacons on 7.039 @ 06:15z - shortly after the NAQP was over. Unfortunately, propagation to Japan (Zone 25) doesn't occur on 40 meters before the NAQP is over with - by 08:00z their signals approach S-9.

Score-wise, while we made more QSOs for the NAQP SSB event than for CW, WQ6X logging
an additional 49 multipliers made a difference of 58k points. This is why multipliers are often considerably more important than "raw" QSOs. It is for that reason that I go to the
trouble of working 80 & 160 meters - those are what I call "Free" multipliers.

NX6T NAQP CW Results


Did you play in the January NAQP contests?

Is NX6T in YOUR Log?


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

WQ6X runs RTTY RU Routinely but Remotely

T'was the night BE-4 RTTY
Ever since taking 1st place worldwide as WP2/WQ6X in 2014 and Pacific Division in 2015
(both with N6GEO), WQ6X's RTTY RU operations have been more-or-less ho-hum affairs.
The GiGs in 2016 and 2017 run remotely from NX6T in Fallbrook BOTH produced paltry
14k point scores.   With some advance preparation in December, my goal was to at least
submit a 1st place log from the San Diego (SDG) section.

Because the RTTY Roundup (RU) contest begins
at 18:00z (10am Pacific time), this gave me the opportunity to setup N1MM+ and MMTTY macros
for NX6T Station #1 on Friday evening and get more-or-less 8 hours of sleep before the event started. 
I rarely start a contest right at the 18:00z beginning,
so this year was a unique exception.

Shack heat was a concern during the contest weekend, so the K3 was run into an ACOM 2000a amplifier dialed back to about 550 watts; more than enough to do the job as a high power entry.

Having access to the usual bevvy of antennas at "NashVille" added a few extra DB gain to the 550

Making QSO 600 near the end of the contest
While overall I like the MMTTY demodulator, I have been tempted to run TWO demodulators: MMTTY+FLDIGI or MMTTY+TinyFSK; doing so allowing each program to be configured for the demodulation algorithm it utilizes most effectively. Then again, running remotely I have enough variables to contend with. For now, I will postpone running two demod programs until the next portable operation @ W7AYT. 

Something that recently occurred to me is that a clever trick when running remote would be to configure a 2nd copy of MMTTY (with different demod settings). or run FLDIGI, on the laptop
end of the connection, routing the IP-Sound audio to the locally-run demodulator as a backup
for deciphering callsigns and QSO #'s.

Unfortunately, software-wise N1MM+ was somewhat of a disappointment this year, resulting in probably 50 CRASH messages throughout the weekend when callsign changes were made before logging a contact. Overall, N1MM+ has been very stable in the last year, so these crash messages were quite surprising.

Propagation-wise, while there were no solar disturbances, with the SFI down to 69, 10 meters never materialized, despite a number of CQ calls while rotating the yagis looking desperately for any 10-meter action. The Reverse Beacon Network reported my callsign on 10 meters but it does no good if everyone is convinced (in advance) that the band is dead so they don't go there.

15 meters produced very little log activity on Saturday, however on Sunday 131 stations were coaxed into the log. 20 meters produced 164 contacts altho I felt more should have been possible. Unfortunately at the bottom of the sunspot cycle, when
20 dies, it dies QUICKLY.

Fortunately, 40 meters came alive
both days "early" in the afternoon. I
was overjoyed to receive calls from EU stations on 40 by 01:00z. On the "Left" coast, we get excited about things like this. Even 80 meters produced a handful of DXCC entries, including SN7 & EA1. Lack of OC and AF continent countries was disappointingly noticeable.

Because there is a maximum of 24 hours OP time allowed out of the 30 contest hours, I managed to fit two sleep periods in (09:00z-12:45z & 14:50z-19:00z), qualifying as OFF time; then again, my total OP time was only 19 hours, leaving me to wonder what I was doing that squandered 5 precious OP hours. In between naps, I managed to add QSOs to the 40 meter log section.

The BiG surprise was NO intentional QRM on 40 meters (which happens nearly every contest). Instead, I encountered what I will call a "BEEPER" on 21090.90 @ 21:08z on Sunday. This
annoying idiot moved around my run frequency +/- making it difficult to put a notch filter on him.
The upside of the 15 meter run was the "pipeline" I experienced to the VE6 world, making up for
the lack of VE6 in most of the 2017 RTTY contests.

The 2018 RTTY RU contest seemed to be lacking in adequate DX activity; not
to mention the RARE states like NE, ME, RI, VT & DC, and of course all the "exotic" eastern Canadian provinces.

Even the 2014 RTTY RU had more DX activity; then again being a DX station myself at that time I guess I shouldn't
be surprised.

When it was all over, a 49k point score was not all that great, but unless I have miscalculated, it is enough to take a 1st place for the San Diego (SDG) section.

Did YOU work the 2018 RTTY RU contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

WQ6X Radiosport for 2017: What I've Learned

It was just over a year ago when I made up my mind to participate
in more radiosport events than ever before; not an easy target considering the 40 events I participated in during 2016. I wrote up
the 2016 contest season around this time last year. ([CLICK] Here
to read that write up)

For the most part, in 2017 WQ6X participated in the "bigger" events such as the major DX contests, WPX, Field Day and Sweepstakes. However what propelled WQ6X over the 40+ mark were the numerous state QSO parties and oddball DX contests and unique RTTY events. 

Additionally, since my Honda automobile was stolen a year ago, only
2 physical trips to NX6T in Fallbrook were actually made in 2017.
Most WQ6X operations from NX6T were accomplished remotely (via the internet) using VNC Viewer and the RCForb rig control software. Having access to the fabulous ACOM 2000-a amplifier feeding into Stepp-IR, C-31 and 2-el 40-meter yagis make it easier for my signals to be heard.

While NX6T is equipped only with a pair of inverted VEE's for 80
& 160, they gave incredible performance. Having a station location (Fallbrook) over 900' above sea-level certainly helps bounce
strong signals off the F-Layer.

Numerous times in 2017 I was informed that my signal was heard
in EU or OC (often off the back of the antenna) yet there was no reciprocal return path; frustrating for me because I hear no one calling back; frustrating for them because I'm not responding to their calls. This problem is a reminder that no matter how well we do, there are always additional ways to improve a contest score.

In recent years WQ6X has set high score records for various California counties during the California QSO party (CQP) and several ARRL sections in contests like Sweepstakes, the 10 meter contest and the RTTY Roundup (RU) contest. In upcoming radiosport events, I look forward to beating my original records.

As I write this on You Near's eve day, it would seem that the ending contest event count stands at 82. A fitting end to the 2017 contest season is the Canadian RAC contest the last weekend of December. Because I ran remotely, running CW only made the most sense and probably earned a 1st place finish for W6 (California).

While each of the 82 radiosport events are unique amongst themselves, they often share a number of frustrating situations:

  1. In every CW contest there are always idiots who muscle their way thru a pileup on my run frequency and then IMMEDIATELY move down 200 hz to call CQ - HuH? WTF is THAT all about?
    In a recent contest, XE2S didn't even bother to move;
    he made the QSO with me and then w/o changing frequency IMMEDIATELY called CQ on my run frequency (I had been there for nearly an hour).
    For 18 minutes I alternated between function key F-1 ("CQ Test") and F-11 ("QRL QSY"). He SO didn't get it that I modified F-11 to "QRL QSY LID".  Finally, after making only 2 QSOs while I made 15, XE2S found an actual clear frequency 1.5kc below me - the band was hardly crowded - and finally moved.
    HuH? Am I MISSING something?
  2. Intentional QRM has become an increasingly frustrating problem. While I don't like it, I am used to illegal SSB operations in the lower segment of 40 meters (below 7.025) and the "data cranker" RTTY stations.
    However, during the JIDX SSB contest in November we encountered one of the 3.840 (garbage dump frequency) idiots playing a recording shouting "F - U!", over and over again, along with another 3.840 IDIOT sending "T-E-S-T" (on CW) after every CQ call.
    Amazingly, the station never jammed us while actually making the QSOs, only after each CQ call. I guess some people get REALLY BORED @ 3:30 am - ever heard of SLEEP? (Can you say "time to go to sleep"? - I KNEW ya' could.)
  3. SO2-R stations who (in violation of radiosport ethics) call CQ on
    2 frequencies or get so caught up with S&P'ing they end up ABANDONING callers on their run frequency. Remember this:
    if I answer your CQ 3 times and you don't come back to me or anyone else, then I will send "QRL?" 3 times. If there is STILL
    no response, then the frequency is NOW MINE and I start calling CQ. If you now start calling CQ (w/o 1st asking "QRL?") then you are NOW QRM'ing me.
    Bottom-line: if you can't keep two frequencies going FLAWLESSLY, then you have no business running SO2-R".
  4. I don't mind if you RUDELY tune up for 5 minutes on my run frequency as long as you have the courtesy to give me a QSO before moving on afterwards. I am used to JA stations tuning up on me and then immediately calling me - at LEAST they end up
    in my log. Luckily. the FT-1000mp and K3 radios are equipped with a DSP auto notch which immediately obliterates their tune-up carrier. Then after I log the QSO I can choose to turnoff the DSP auto-notch if I so desire,
While the above issues are indeed frustrating, overall in 2017
I learned a number of useful things that I would like to pass on:

  1. Find an excuse to "play" in every contest event you can. Experience gained in one contest event can improve operations
    in other contests. Experiment with different station configurations to improve operating efficiency. During the latter portion of 2017
    I used a number of different external audio filters. While the MFJ-752 Autek QF-1a and JPS NIR-12 filter work well with my Yaesu FT-1000mp, they ALSO do a reasonable job of cleaning up the laptop receive audio when I run remotely using RCForb and IP-Sound PC software.
  2. Always submit a  LOG. Sometimes log entries get disqualified for
    all number of reasons, or, sometimes people forget to submit a log for that contest. Case in point: a 24-point log submission
    score earned WQ6X a 1st place for North America in the
    Russian [CQ-M] Contest.

  3. ALWAYS Fill-in Soapbox Comments. Doing this gives you
    "free" public exposure when your comments are quoted in
    the magazine(s) by the contest sponsors.
  4. BTW, when you post your score to the 3830Scores website,
    ALWAYS fill-in the comments section on the reporting form.
    I often use the 3830 comments in the SOAPBOX section of
    the log I am submitting - saving a LoT of time.
  5. Don't Give Up! In radio sport contests operators give up way
    too easily. For example:

    -A- Often when I run a frequency I will have 5 stations calling
    me.  I pick one of the callsigns and make the 10-second QSO.
    Then when I send QRZ? no other stations come back to me. HuH? Where did all you GO? You mean you can't wait 10-SECONDS to be my 2nd contact and 20-seconds to be my
    3rd contact, etc.?  I promise you will spend WAY MORE than
    10 - 30 seconds tuning the band looking for someone else.
    The most effective thing to do is to invest up to 30 seconds
    to make the contact with me first before spending upwards
    of a minute or more to find someone else.

    -B- Sometimes for whatever reason, when I work a station I am not able to get the information so I keep asking for a repeat until
    I am confident I can press the [ENTER] key to log the contact. Frequently after 2 or 3 requests for a repeat, the other station
    just DISSAPPEARS. Understand that when you do that I DO
    NOT log the contact.  I am either confident the information is correct and LOG the contact or use CTRL-W (WIPE QSO)
    and continue calling CQ. Therefore, if I ask for a repeat

    -C- Often one of the reasons I am unable to copy a station's exchange is that they send me unnecessary information (such
    as 59/599 in the NAQP contests). If QRN/QRM/QSB is present, by the time they finally get around to sending the required information (Name and QTH in the NAQP contests) their
    signal either fades out or gets tromped by the QRM/QRN.
    When I ask you to repeat ONLY your name, I do NOT want
    you to send me a signal report and I do NOT want to know
    your QTH; I ONLY want your name.
    For CW & RTTY contests, I have function keys pre-programmed to send ONLY a specific piece of information. When I use N1MM+ in NAQP, I define the F7-key to send ONLY my name and the
    F9-key to send ONLY my state. When asked to repeat a specific piece of information I use one of those keys. 
    If asked for the ENTIRE exchange then I just press the F2-key.
  6. Before EVERY contest I take a look at what entry classifications are available to me; such as: Single-OP, Single-OP Assisted, Single-OP CW/SSB/Mixed, or even Single-OP Single-Band. Additionally, whenever possible, I view the contest result statistics for the last 3 years to determine which operating category I stand a chance at winning. Case in point: For the 2017 CQP contest I noticed that the county high score for Contra Costa county was easily within my reach, so I setup a special operation from W7AYT's QTH in Concord. I was not disappointed.

Virtually every weekend of the year there are radio sport contests
to be had; from CW & SSB to RTTY, 10 & 160 meter contests, VHF contests, State QSO parties and all manner of DX contests, to special GiGs like last year's SEQP event during the 2017 solar eclipse.

While Radiosport is LoTs of fun, it is not JUST for "kicks". Contest operation makes it possible to learn and improve my operating skills, paving the way for emergency preparedness should earthquakes and hurricanes appear out of nowhere; as happened in the Carribbean during the latter part of 2017. In Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands, local ham radio operators (in conjunction wit a LoT of amateur radio assistance from the mainland) made the difference in bringing those islands "back online". Many of those mainland operators were seasoned contesters, such as Valerie NV9L.

Do YOU engage in radiosport events?

If not, WHY NOT?

If so, is WQ6X in one of YOUR contest logs?