Sunday, June 3, 2018

Beacon Tracking saves WQ6X from drowning in 2018 SEA NET

Radiosport-wise, the 1st weekend in June is usually very quiet. Thinking I may have missed something,
I took a gander thru WA7BNM's Contest Calendar for June.

All I came across was
the SEA net contest.
([CLICK HERE] to read the rules for this contest GiG.)

Altho the event started at 12:00z, there was NO WAY I was ready to get up THAT early; in fact, the WQ6X starting time was more like 23:00z (mid afternoon PDT).

Altho the contest was not a part of WQ6X's N1MM installation,
I downloaded the SEAnet.UDC (User Defined Contest) file and imported it into the N1MM+ software on the WQ6X laptop, as well
as Station #1 @ NX6T. It lists itself as the SEAnet RTTY contest
and yet sets the operating modes as CW+SSB - GO Figure.

To make a BORing long story short, bottom line: the 2018 SEAnet contest was - from the WQ6X perspective - a NO SHOW. Devising custom CQ macros for this contest, I auto-CQ'd from the NX6T station for what seemed like hours. The only comebacks were stateside idiots who sent me 5NN and their state CODE (ex: AL & NM), to which I pressed the F3 key (TU QRZ?) and then used Ctrl-W to WIPE the QSO rather than log it.

What is frustrating about this weekend is that there were JA's & VK's (amongst others) who QUALIFIED to be in the contest but in fact were not. HuH?! This is the beef I have with stateside contests - operators don't play in their own contests. Somehow I thought this weekend would be different; and, it wasn't.

Now I coulda moped around about how I got screwed, however instead, I used this weekend to learn a LoT MoRe about the radio beacons which populate the amateur bands; some you may know about, and some you may have never heard of before.

To open this discussion, I invite you to consider a set of beacon stations that have been around (in one form or other) since the
1930's; none other than WWV, WWVH & CHU Canada.

When I purchase a transceiver (such as
my Yaesu FT-1000mp
or its FT-920 & FT-900 predecessors) or a shortwave receiver

(such as the current Tecsun PL-600), one of the immediate things
I do is to load up the 1st 10 frequency memories with the WWV/WWVH/CHU frequencies (leaving #10 available). 

A couple of weeks ago at W7AYT's QTH during a non solar storm weekend, in the evening I was able to copy ALL of the WWV/WWVH frequencies: 2.5, 5.0, 10.0, 15.0, 20.0 & 25.0 Mhz., as well as CHU
on 7.850. Scrolling thru the time stations gives me a sense of what
the LUF & MUF frequencies are at that time of day.

As a backup reference, several more memory allocations allow listening to various commercial RTTY stations in the 7.5 and 8.5 Mhz frequency ranges as well as the Pirate Radio Spectrum (6.500 - 7.000 Mhz) giving an indication of the propagation on those frequency segments.

Manually scrolling or invoking a channel scan gives me a good overview of the shortwave spectrum. At W7AYT I use the CH-250 vertical to check band openings, BECAUSE it is a vertical, and because the FT-1000mp has a dozen+ auto tuner memories
set to match the vertical.  Within 5 minutes I can get a quick look
at overall propagation.   In addition to 100+ frequency memories,
the thing I like most about the 1000mp is it's antenna tuner and dual receive capability.

Russian "Letter" Beacons
I often bitch about military incursions into our amateur frequencies
(such as the Chinese military M8JF calling the Russian RIS9 on 3772.84 @13:00z).

Then again, an upside to their activities is that they give us inadvertent propagation information from North and North-Central Asia.

I often hear the 40-meter letter beacons (7.039 Mhz) nearly every
day after around 07:00z. Depending on where I am listening from (NX6T, W7AYT or N6GEO) one or more beacons will drift through.
This weekend, only the "M" beacon (Magadan) was heard at NX6T.

I've covered the lower frequency beacon offerings first because they are not well known to amateurs and shortwave listeners. More familiar are the 18 NCDXC beacons stationed strategically around the globe.

I devised the WQ6X Beacon Tracker to help determine which beacon
I am hearing at any given moment. While this is not necessarily a new idea, combining it with a Space WX sub-window and the ability to capture screen pictures IS unique.

3-EL Stepp-IR + 2-el Shorty-40
One of the useful functions of the NCDXF beacons is that they can give us an indication of whether or not a band
is actually open and to where.

Throughout this weekend
I set the Stepp-IR yagi
(atop Tower #2) to BI-Directional, pointing it in various directions to listen for several 3 minute periods as each beacon went through its 20 meter transmissions.

Considering that this weekend seemed to have a dearth of Oceania/Asia stations, I was surprised to hear the W6WX, KH6RS, VK6RBP, JA2IGY & VR2B beacons, altho ZL6B never made it to Fallbrook. While it didn't count for the SEAnet contest, signals from YV5B (Venezuela) were heard throughout the night and even on 15 meters Sunday afternoon along with LU4AA in Argentina (altho the rest of the band seemed dead).

It is BECAUSE I could copy KH6RS, VK6RBP & JA2IGY that I
spent as much time calling "CQ SEA Test" as I did. While it effectively accomplished nothing, it DiD get me into listen and evaluation mode; something I sometimes don't do enough of.

Do YOU ever make use of the various propagation beacons on the shortwave bands?

How many beacons have YOU heard?

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