Tuesday, July 31, 2018

WQ6X SOUND PROCESSING: Maximizing the Art of Experimentation

As you may know, I love to knob-twiddle, but ONLY if pressing buttons and twiddling knobs will effect an improvement of the received signal. In the middle of the night, knob-twiddling helps alleviate operational boredom, helping to keep me awake.

A 20+ year old FT-1000mp is still contemporary
In March 2018 I published a couple of BLOG Entries detailing the many different aspects of processing RX audio from the Yaesu FT-1000mp during portable and contest operations:

Running a Yaesu FT-1000mp offers plenty of adjustable knobs useful for extracting weak signals
out of the noise. Unfortunately, most of those receive enhancement features (IF Shift/Width, NOTCH
& e-DSP) are functional ONLY with the Main-RX.  The Sub-RX is seriously lacking in interference reduction facilities, which is what makes external filter units so important.

For the 1000mp's Main-RX, I prefer to utilize outboard Autek QF-1A, JPS NIR-12 and MFJ-752 filters (in that order of usefulness). 

For the Sub-RX, because it sports no DSP auto-notch filtering, the JPS NIR-12 becomes a crucial addition.  While the bandwidth adjust controls of the NIR-12 are useful, I leave that filtering aspect to a QF-1A inserted between the XCVR and the NIR-12.

Pricewise, QF-1A's can easily be had for under $50.  JPS NIR-12's are much harder to come by and can fetch as much as $200+; altho the average price seems to be around $125.  When I bought an NIR-12 from W6SW, it had little use, which for me made it worth the $175 I paid. 
(List price was around $249.)

Based on the recommendation of Dr. Joel (W1ZR), because it is equipped with an output amplifying stage, it makes sense to put the NIR-12 AFTER the QF-1A in the FT-1000mp's Sub-RX audio line.  [CLICK HERE] to read my comments about Dr. Joel's recommendation.

This filter combination is very useful when running Multi-mode contest events such as state QSO parties, Field Day and the IARU HF championship on 40 meters.  It allows running a frequency on CW using VFO-A while using the Sub-RX to
look for SSB stations.

The Automatic Notch Filter (ANF) circuit in the NIR-12 does an excellent job of knocking out 40-meter shortwave broadcast carriers.  The bandpass filtering of the QF-1A peaks scuzzy SSB audio making it more readable.  Remember however
that being an audio-based filter, even though the carriers
are removed from the audio stream, any deleterious effects those carriers may have on the AGC circuits will still exist.

Cascading the QF-1A & NIR12 for the FT-1000mp's Sub-RX audio allows emulation of the Main-RX notch filter features.  The NIR-12 ANF is as effective as the ANF in the FT-1000mp.  The notch filter
in the QF1-A seems to be as effective as MP's manual notch filter.

Remember that the FT-1000mp Main-RX is equipped with I-F shift and width-reduction capabilities. 
While the Sub-RX is lacking in this respect, at anytime the A<-->B button allows swapping the VFO's
giving immediate access to the SHIFT/WIDTH functionality.

Technically the QF-1A is not equipped with any form of noise reduction circuitry, yet the PEAK and Bandpass filtering often result in an improved signal/noise ratio.

Although the NIR-12 IS equipped with
a Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) circuit, while it is continuously adjustable, I find the 4-position DNR switch of the Yaesu
FT-1000mp provides more effective "noise-softening" than does the NIR-12.

Additionally, altho the NIR-12 is equipped with audio bandwidth and frequency shift controls, being audio-based, their effect is not nearly as pronounced as the IF-based
SHIFT/WIDTH controls built into the Yaesu FT-1000mp's Main-RX.

In the 21st century, we have BOTH analog and digital filtering methods available for use in ALL
areas of our receiving equipment; the RF frontend, the many/various I-F stages and the front-end audio circuitry.

Surviving in contests and DX pileups require that we utilize every bit of technology available to us.  While older analog-style filters may seem primitive by today's standards, remember that they ALL utilize a primitive (originally undesirable) feature known as feedback.  Technically the DSP circuits
in today's modern radios don't utilize feedback, however the A-to-D and D-to-A conversion circuitry make extensive use of feedback.

WQ6X's FT-1000mp filter usage in May 2018
Additionally, remember that many filter techniques (such as noise-blanking and DSP noise reduction) often add their own distortion (i.e. noise) in the process.  I guess in the end, what matters is whether or not the signal I am attempting Q-5 copy on is in fact becoming more-copyable with all these filter buttons and knobs. 

In all my contest experience, while I've had mixed results with various external interference
reduction units, overall, the time, money and effort have been well worth it.  There are contest
certs in the WQ6X contest certificate binder that would certainly not be there had I not made use
of external audio shaping and filtering.

What about you?
What kind of external filtering equipment is used at YOUR QTH?

Friday, July 20, 2018

WQ6X Dual-OPs 2018 IARU Contest - Part 2 of 3: Making it all happen

In Part 1 of this BLOG series I described the every-4-year tradition of the IARU HF contest that, like the Olympics, pits the best of best operators from around the world to win the coveted Gold, Silver and Bronze medals; known as the WRTC championship competition. Around the world, contest participants endeavor to work the WRTC stations.

In 2014, the WRTC Championship was held in New England.  This allowed U.S. stations easier access to those operations.  (For the 2018 GiG, European stations will have a similar access advantage to the WRTC stations operating from Germany.)

Operating multi-OP as WQ6X from N6GEO's Brentwood QTH, we managed to work nearly
half (21) of the WRTC stations; at least according to the surprise box of QSLs received via the W6 QSL BURO.

I wrote about our multi-OP participation in that WRTC event for the July 2014 IARU WQ6X contest BLOG entry.  [CLICK HERE] to read my 2014 IARU HF Championship contest reflections.

Checking coax lines @ W7AYT
For the 2018 WRTC/IARU competition I was strongly considering hopping Amtrak to Oceanside joining up with the NX6T crew live.  Eventually however July being
a busy month kept me in the bay area, allowing me to work with clients on
Friday (before QSY'ing to W7AYT's QTH
in Concord) and afterwards on Sunday
in Alameda.

As I mentioned in Part 1, an audio problem on my laptop prevented me from running SSB audio remotely from NX6T. 

On the WQ6X end of things, while the Electro Voice 664 produced superb SSB contest audio, there was a dearth of SSB stations heard working the IARU contest from the W7AYT QTH. 

Luckily, to make up for no SSB, WQ6X put over 350 Cw QSOs into NX6T's log.  Remember: Cw Q's are worth 3 points, while Ssb Q's are worth only 2.

After my 15:00z relief at NX6T I managed to put 20-meter QSOs in WQ6X's log for a 1/2 hour before being summoned remotely back to NX6T.  Then, while running a frequency on 20-meters for 45 minutes, the day crew took over @ NX6T, allowing me to put more QSOs into WQ6X's log before snatching 3 hours of sleep.

While I spent the afternoon putting QSOs into WQ6X's log, a webcam look into NX6T's operations found the Fallbrook operators running in a coordinated fashion.

In a multi-single transmitter operation, only one radio
may transmit at a time.   Additionally, switching
bands and modes require
that operations in/on that band/mode continue
for at least 10 minutes.

QF-1A filters & other GooDies
Typical of my involvement with NX6T operations, I run Station #1 during the 8pm
to 10:30 period (local time) allowing the other operators
to replenish their energy for one more GO of it.

When they come back I either work WQ6X QSOs and/or get some sleep until the 1:30 am wakeup call.

This year was similar but different.  While the live OPs were off having dinner, Station #2 was run remotely by other OPs allowing WQ6X more opportunities to pump up the score.  At 04:30 (9:30 PDT) I took over on Station #1, turning it over to N6KI in the chair at 06:30z giving WQ6X
another run on 40 meters and some QSOs on 80.

Tower #2: 2-el 40, Stepp-IR & Inv. VEE's

I finally got to sleep at 12:15 when less than 20 minutes later I was given the wakeup call; for some reason an hour early.  Oh well, IARU only happens once a year.

Starting off running a frequency (3531.31) put enough QSOs in the log to keep NX6T busy until the sudden 09:00z JA opening.

During that period, a BONUS came in the form of ZL3TE & VK2GR on the side - it doesn't get much better than that; add to that CM8NMN (off the back of the beam) followed by HS3ANP & 9M2PUL.

Because my WQ6X operation was listed as ASSISTED I am allowed to use
the FT-1000mp (both Main/Sub RX) to gauge propagation paths, including the path from Fallbrook to Concord.  While (I believe) the contest rules forbid WQ6X from WORKing NX6T, there is no restriction on my LISTENING to NX6T's signals to spot openings from the Southwest.

Being that I was focused more on keeping Station #1 going as much as possible, I didn't really have much time to put QSOs in WQ6X's log.  That is ok.  What time I DiD spend was
a lot of fun augmented by a GIGANTIC can
of Peanut Butter Stout.

Unfortunately, the MFJ-1026 noise canceller was nothing more than a "paper weight" during the 2018 IARU contest.

Luckily, most of the RX noise experienced
by WQ6X was mostly handled by the FT-1000mp's eDSP controls and/or the QF-1A filters; which in addition to peaking signals above the noise, also keep much of the low-level noise outside the filter skirts.

When it came time to submit the WQ6X IARU contest log, making the 6 QSOs on 20 meter SSB relegated the log to the MIXED mode category.  As it turns out, my score standing (as reported by the 3830 Scores Website) is slightly higher than had the submission been for CW alone.

There is lots more to say about the 2018 IARU contest.
For openers, aren't you just a BIT curious about who took the trophies
for WRTC 2018?  Stay tuned for Part 3.

Did YOU work the 2018 IARU HF Championship?
Is WQ6X and/or NX6T in YOUR LoG?


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

WQ6X Dual-OPs 2018 IARU Contest - Part 1: Another 4 years

[Note: The majority of the text for this BLOG Entry was written
while riding the train to Concord Friday evening, July 13th

While July's IARU HF Championship is an annual event, the WRTC (Olympic-style) finalists only compete every 4 years.  In 2014, the WRTC was held in New England bringing us a slew of unique K1x, W1x & N1x 1x1 callsigns.

The book Contact Sport by J.K. George was written about the 2014 championship event. 
I made a mention of this book in the 2017 BLOG write-up about last year's IARU GiG. 
[CLICK HERE] to read this BLOG entry.

For the 2018 WRTC event from Germany a series of unique "Yxx" callsigns were created, one for each of the two person teams.  They put together a special WRTC page on Facebook. [CLICK HERE] to see the WRTC Facebook page.  From NX6T in Fallbrook, we will be looking for an opening to Europe on 20 meters as soon as the contest begins; 40 [meters] will be fading away as 20 fades
in to the Northeast and then the North Northeast.

Unique to the ITU HF Championship is the sending of our ITU Zone number instead of the usual CQ Zone.  According to the CQ model, California is in Zone 3; under the ITU model, California is in Zone 6.  Luckily, on Cw the computer sends the exchange; on SSB we still have to "think it and speak it".

For WQ6X, the 2018 goal is to operate NX6T during the usual night-time and dinner-time operating time slots.  During the "in between" periods I endeavor to put WQ6X on the air from W7AYT's QTH.  With an incrementally-increasing SFI, I hope to give W7AYT's 10-meter yagi a workout; especially towards South America.

An operating goal on-the-side is  continuing experiments with different audio filter combinations; including a
pair of Autek QF-1a's, a JPS NIR-12
for the FT-1000mp's Sub-RX audio (complementing the eDSP's DNR & DNF features built-in to the Main-RX) and the beefed-up MFJ 752-B (with
it's newly added CW-1 filter).

While the QF-1A's worked superbly, the MFJ filter made almost no difference. 
Because there were so many audio cabling situations to contend with during the 24-hour contest period, I never got around to including the NIR-12 in the Sub-RX's audio line; next time I operate
from W7AYT the NIR-12 will be worked in appropriately.

Because the IARU GiG starts at 12:00z (5am) it will be up to WQ6X and N6CY to put Stations #1 & #2 (respectively) on the air.  Unfortunately, due to microphone audio problems on the laptop being used for remote access of NX6T, it looks like WQ6X will be running ONLY Cw during remote access.  Luckily there are a number of experienced SSB operators on the schedule for live operating from Fallbrook.

Hellllloooooo Radio

On the UPSIDE of things, the SFI
was a little higher as of late and the geomagnetosphere was actually
rather quiet. 

While there was noise experienced at BOTH the NX6T and W7AYT QTH's, amazingly, the DSP-based NB circuits on both the K3 and the 1000mp were able to knock most it out, creating a noticeable improvement in signal-to-noise ratio.

Running the FT-1000mp's stereo audio into a pair of Autek QF-1A filters never ceases to amaze my ears.  While the QF-1A frequency controls can be a bit "touchy" (almost too sharp), when set exactly, signals literally JUMP OUT of nothing into about Q-4 copy.  Most DSP filters can't make
anywhere NEAR that claim.

Propagation-wise, around 04:00z I turned on the FT-1000mp @ W7AYT's QTH and (using just the Lazy 8JK Sloper) was able to copy WWV signals on EVERY operating frequency: 2.5, 5, 10, 15, 20 & 25 MHZ.  While the 20 & 25 mhz signals were not S-9, the WX forecasts were quite readable.

N6KI Tuning-UP on 160
It looks like things are ready to roll for the start
of the IARU GiG starting at 12:00z starting-time.

In part 2 of this series,
I will detail how it all turned out.



Thursday, July 12, 2018

WQ6X Dabbles in Marconi Memorial & DL-DX RTTY Contest

In between the Canada Day (the RAC contest) and the IARU HF Championship is a pair of international contests; one Cw (the Marconi Memorial Contest) and one RTTY (the DL-DX RTTY GiG).  In years past, the Marconi GiG has shown a not-insignificant amount of activity, while the
DL-DX GiG was relatively quiet.

For 2018, exactly the reverse was true.  During the Marconi Cw GiG, I needed to get out an electron microscope to see station spot entries on the N1MM+ bandmap.  Not knowing that in advance, I went to great lengths Friday evening to configure the software and the hardware interfaces in preparation for a 11:00z DL-DX starting time.

Friday evening the contest weekend opened allegedly with the Venezuelan Independence Day contest; I say allegedly because I never once heard any YV (or equivalent) callsigns on during
the 24 hours of that event.

WQ6X's Marconi Memorial contest involvement began @ 21:24 w/90 minutes on 20 meters.

When the band became noticeably quiet, the switch was made to 40 meters @ 03:15z.  After only 2 QSOs and nearly 90 mins of CQ's and S&P's, another switch was made, this time
to 80 meters. 

Amazingly, NO ONE was heard playing MMC on 80.  At 06:15z two more QSOs hit the log. 
Out of frustration I got some sleep.  A 40 meter band sweep at 10:00z followed by numerous
CQ MMC calls yielded no new QSOs.  Message received - time to put the Marconi Memorial
contest to bed followed by WQ6X the operator, in that same bed.

During off periods of
the MMC contest,  the K3 radio was switched to AFSK to run the DX-DL RTTY contest.

Contest time began at 23:17z with S&P'ing around 20 meters.

Eventually, settling in on 14096.96 WQ6X ran stations for over 90 minutes. 
At 01:30z, when the QSOs thinned out, I made it down to 40 meters, eventually setting up operations on 7058.58.  Periodically, looking on 80 meters yielded no RTTY signals.  Then at 03:00z the first3 80-meter QSOs made it to the log.  The rest of the evening was spent frantically calling CQ on 80 & 40, with an occasional station worked via a bandmap spot.

While I would have preferred more stations participating in the DL-DX RTTY GiG, the even BIGGER disappointment was that I NEVER worked a SINGLE DF/DJ/DK/DM or DL station; the stations which were actually WORTH something.

Did YOU work any German RTTY stations?

What about stations in the Marconi Memorial Contest?
How many QSOs are in YOUR Log?

Newsflash (09-03-2018) WQ6X took 5th place for USA

Sunday, July 8, 2018

WQ6X Says: Happy Birthday Canada!

In 2017 I participated in my first RAC Canada Day event, taking 1st place for California. I also participated in the RAC Winter contest for the first time, although we don't yet know the outcome
of that event. Having resolved station #1's audio problems, I was open to running the RAC GiG

on Cw this time around hoping to at least double last year's score.

For 2018, to make things easier, the amplifier was set to 1350 watts and the antennas pointed more-or-less North to North-east; altho doing a "periodic sweep" from Northwest to Northeast brought many weak Canadian signals into the C-31 yagi.

I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the actual number of VE8, VE9, VY1 & VO stations on
the air this weekend. Where are these stations during Sweepstakes and the IARU GiGs?

 Station #1 @ NX6T (an Elecraft K3 into an
ACOM 2000a was run at about 1350 watts).
Available antennas included a C-31 Yagi and
2-el Shorty 40, plus inverted Vees for 80 and 160.  All antennas 13mh.

While NX6T's antenna tower #2 was useful for the low bands (2-el 40 and 80/160 inv. V's), it was by way of "relentless searching" using the C-31 yagi that stations as far away as VE8, VE9, VY1 and VO2 could be worked.
At 13mh, it possesses all the characteristics of the Stepp-IR
yagi @ 27mh on tower 2.

Rotating an antenna remotely involves some guesswork, but overall allows picking out weak signals and/or at odd reflection angles that might not be heard otherwise. 

Running 1350 watts I KNEW WQ6X would be heard "everywhere" in Canada, whether or not I could hear callers from each of those areas in return. 

Additionally, tuning around on 160
& 10 meters for QSOs that others missed took the QSO count above
400; not bad considering last year's QSO total was only 159.

The QSO counts on 40 & 20 were not really surprising.   The amazing thing was experiencing a dual-opening to Canada on 15 meters.

While 80 meters yielded only 32 QSOs, when you consider the antenna was nothing more than a coaxial-dipole formed into an inverted V, the signal was amazingly strong.  Unfortunately, because the antenna broadsided Northeast (and not Northwest), a lot of the weak signals (mentioned earlier) could not be heard on 80.

As the contest progressed, poor air conditioning required I run the last 3 hours at about 550 watts.
For the most part I don't think anyone really noticed the 5db difference.

When it was all over WQ6X amassed nearly 75K points.  Last year's 1st place for California was made with only 13K points.  Thus far, (according to the 3830 Scores website), WQ6X will EASILY take yet another 1st place for California (3rd place for USA).

Did YOU play in the RAC Canada Day contest?
How many Canadian QSOs ended up in YOUR log?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

WQ6X 2018 FIELD DAY - a dual-OP Solution

WQ6X @ W6SW STN-2 in 2013 (660 20-m CW QSOs)
Field Day is a unique event for U.S.
and Canadian radio amateurs.
A not-insignificant number of licensed amateurs credit Field Day as being their first real exposure to amateur radio.
A not-insignificant number of those people found their way into electronic engineering for their career, as a result of exposure to/through the radio hobby.

Amateur radio has always been a hobby for me, not a career. Nevertheless, this hobby shares a tight relationship with my work as a Bio/Neuro feedback therapist and software developer.

While I've run a few solo Field Day events, since 1985 I've nearly always run with the San Andreas Fault Line Survivors (W6SW) or occasionally with N6GEO; altho for 2017 I ran solo as WQ6X from W7AYT's QTH in the East Bay (EB) ARRL Section. For 2018, three Field Day ideas (running with W6SW or N6GEO and working from W7AYT's QTH) all failed to materialize.

Wanting to be a part of something available to the public, I joined up with the Amateur Radio Club of Alameda (ARCA) from 8am until they shutdown at 5pm (00:00z) using their K6QLF callsign. Because Field Day is all about participation, this year again found me assisting with antenna raising as well
as problem troubleshooting when a bad coax barrel connector nearly sidelined Station #2 (a Yaesu FT-897), which I eventually used to put 21 SSB QSOs in the 20 meter log.

South end of G5RV support

Prior to that, running an FT-817 (5 watts) at Station #1, I managed to make a pre-FD ragchew QSO on 40 meters using (horror of horrors) a hand key. (In all honesty, my "fist" was sore for several days afterward.) Luckily by the time Field Day started they had put in an electronic keyer.
Sending manually with the keyer, I put 14 CW QSOs in the 40 meter log.

A third station put K6QLF on the air with digital modes demonstrating the different modes we use in ham radio for visitors. Outside the center a VHF setup allowed me to work an FD station halfway down state on 2-meters - it THRILLED the kids on the other end.


While we had our share of equipment problems, we also had some fortunate events. 
A visit from the new Section Communications Manager (SCM) for East Bay (EB) section was a pleasant surprise (as well as worth 100 FD points).  The last time that happened for me was the visit from the N6VI, the then Southwest Division vice director in 2014 atop Mt. Abel during W6SW's usual FD setup.  It is visits like this which encourage more publically-viewable activities such as Field Day. 
I ran a November Sweepstakes from Carpinteria state beach one year; the only thing missing
being a visit from the Santa Barbara section manager.

After spending the day with the ARCA group, I hooked up to a secure high-speed internet connection, hoping
to run WQ6X remotely from NX6T.  Unfortunately, another audio problem with station #1 kept me off the air

all evening. 

Sunday morning just after 9am

(16:00z) because I was still connected
to Fallbrook, suddenly I heard receive audio waft in from the RCForb software.
I was in business for 96 minutes.

To make sure I was heard everywhere, I ran the station at 1350 watts, suffering the 1.0 power multiplier. Nevertheless, that was an intensely FUN 96 minutes.

The amazing thing was being able to work 20 meters, then 15 meters, then back to 20 meters.
The final 20 minutes put 15 QSOs in the log for 40 meters. While WQ6X will take no awards,
it was certainly a successful exercise in catching a brief 15-meter MUF before it disappeared.
Asking for a 10-meter opening was too much too early. Next year, an increasing SFI should
help resolve that problem.

Did you work Radio Amateur's Field Day?

What tales do YOU have to tell?