Tuesday, November 26, 2019

WQ6X Works another Wiley Wonderful World-wide Contest

In recent years due to CQ W.W. running AFTER the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, NX6T has been "officially dark" for Multi-2 operation; instead, WQ6X has run these weekends as SOAB(A) during those events.  LooKing back chronologically, in this WQ6X contest blog I have reported on the following CQ W.W. Cw radiosport events:
  • [x] 2018 CQ WW Cw Contest - Only 81 QSOs remotely, but at least a presence.
  • [x] 2017 CQ WW Cw Contest - 727 QSOs & 260 multipliers - for winging it remotely.
  • [x] 2016 CQ WW Cw Contest - 194-Q's/143-Mults remotely from the SF East Bay area.
  • [x] 2015 CQ WW Cw Contest - 225-Q's/211-Mults run remotely from 2 hotels.
  • [x] 2014 CQ WW Cw Contest - Multi-OP w/N6GEO (FLEX-3000 & KPA-500).
  • [x] 2013 CQ WW Cw Contest - Joined-up w/NX6T crew for 3016-Q's & 651-Mults.

W M 6 Y  &  N 7 D A
This year, with CQ W.W. preceding the holiday period, N6KI rounded up a few long-time regulars (K4RB, N6NC, NN6X, WM6Y & WQ6X) and gave up-and-coming contester N7DA (Drew) his first exposure to Cw radiosport NX6T-style.

For WQ6X operations I chose to run another dual-OP operation from W7AYT's QTH enabling
opportunity to test-run various audio cable configurations between the Elecraft K3/0 (for NX6T
remote access), my FT-1000mp (in Concord) and laptop audio, used this weekend for streaming electronic music in the background (via Pandora) while running the radio contest. 

Eventually, the messy junction-cabling will be replaced with a custom-configured switch box. 
An advantage of combined audio is the ability to call CQ from NX6T in Fallbrook (using the K3/0) while monitoring that CQ call (on 80 & 40) using the FT-1000mp in the SF bay area.

For WQ6X CQ-WW operations the "antenna farm" @W7AYT was given a GooD workout. 
The current antenna setup includes:
  • The WQ6X Lazy 8JK Inverted Vee - recently converted from an 8JK Sloper.
  • The WQ6X JA Sloper - which seems to favor an SA (not JA) directional pipeline.
  • a Comet CHA-250 wide-band vertical - noisier but lower angle overall.
  • a Hy-Gain 3-element 10-meter "Long John" yagi - tunes FB on 15-M to work SA.
On my next visit to W7AYT I will reintroduce the WQ6X antenna phase switch box, allowing the
8JK Vee and JA Sloper to run in parallel, taking advantage of the advantages of each antenna.

At NX6T in Fallbrook (900' above sea level), tower #2 was raised to its full 72' height for maximum DX reach.

With Tower #1 a recent rotor malfunction was remedied, restoring the ability to "sweep" back and
forth while running a frequency.  Working Africa from NX6T is not an easy thing to do; however thanks to yagi-sweeping we were able to "Zoom-in" on individual countries and amazingly, break pileups on 1st/2nd call.

In Fallbrook, both afternoons presented us with propagation to JA & SA simultaneously.  When that happens I switch over to the 3-el Stepp-IR on tower 2, running it in BI-directional mode.  During those periods the log is interleaved with SA/JA & S-E (USA/Caribbean stations).  Eventually when SA stations had either faded or all been worked, the yagi was pointed 100% to JA.  Unlike years past, the JA presence near the end
of the 2019 GiG was noticeably substantial.

In years past, we've had all but a skeleton crew on Sunday afternoon in the CQ W.W. contests. 
This year we had 2 B-i-C OPs and N6KI running remotely, freeing me to work the bands as WQ6X from the bay area.  While my 52-QSO total was hardly worth mentioning, the opportunity to test various antenna configurations & combinations was what the 2019 event was all about anyway;
in that respect it was a resounding success.

When it was all over NX6T ended up taking 1st place for San Diego, the 6th call
area and possibly even Zone 3; for USA & North America, we were 14th & 16th place.
Did YOU work the CQ WW Dx Cw contest?

Is NX6T and/or WQ6X in YOUR LoG?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

SS-Ssb 2019: The Radiosport GiG that Faded into Obscurity

W Q 6 X  Pondering the FT-1000mp while recording Brainwaves
Every [November] Sweepstakes contest (and in particular Sweepstakes-phone) has some memorable aspect to it.  In the 1979 SS-Phone GiG (running as WA6LKB/8), from my Cincinnati Western Hills townhouse, I developed a minor hand infection which required me to QRT the contest and QSY to St. George's hospital for that Thanksgiving week.

Fast forward to 2019 and:
  • The WA6LKB callsign became KX6H (in 1983) and then WQ6X (in 2000).
  • The SX-101a / HT-37 became an ICOM 740 (in the mid-80's) with several interim Xcvr iterations leading to the current Yaesu FT-1000mp installation @W7AYT.
  • Hand-written LoG/DuP sheets became crudely automated by simple computer logging software.  Of course today, the software not only dupe-checks and logs, it completely runs the contest and controls the station; culminating in SO2V and even SO2R, SO3R & SO4R.
  • My simple sloped (down the hill) "toaster-wire" antenna in Cincinnati has evolved into over a dozen antenna designs @ NX6T, N6GEO & W7AYT.
  • The old war surplus audio filter (a "BEAM Filter") has been transformed into various forms
    of external filtering (Autek QF1-A, MFJ-752 & JPS NIR-12) and built-in DSP processing
    to "weed out" interfering QRN & QRM.
For this weekend a major goal was to test-drive the recently-updated audio cable configuration for my portable operations @W7AYT's QTH while running the Ssb contest largely by F-Keys and .Wav files.  Saturday morning, time was spent recording, and as needed, re-recording a set of .Wav files designed to largely run the contest.  Other than saying your callsign and my QSO#, everything
else comes from a .Wav file.

S & P  (Left)  ---  R U N  (Right)
As you can see, each of the 12 F-Keys had a purpose; depending on whether the RX or Sub-RX
was in RUN mode or S&P Mode.  Experimentation was done to determine whether RUN'ning a frequency should be done from Main-RX (with DSP, Shift and NB) or the more wide-open Sub-RX,
for which - it turns out - there is no R-I-T control - bummer dewd. 

If some Yo-Yo calls me significantly off frequency, I then have to note the OP frequency, tune him
in, make the QSO and return to the OP frequency w/o anyone "waiting in line" even noticing what just happened.  Wouldn't it be easier for the Yo-Yo to properly Zero-beat the operating frequency, saving us ALL LoTs of time?  Am I missing something?

While the WQ6X signal was hardly insignificant, running frequencies yielded callers ONLY on 75-meters late Saturday evening: 3764.64 @08:00z (3 callers) and 3792.92 @09:00z (3 callers).

From the frequency list at left you can see that WQ6X made a LoT of unanswered CQ calls.  On 10-meters, the Long John yagi was swept back and forth from 0-degrees to 180-degress and all points in-between; all for naught.

Overall, for better-or-worse, the 2019 November Sweepstakes was largely an S&P affair.  Unfortunately, there was a DEARTH of hearable/workable "CQ Sweepstakes" callers.  Wassup with THAT?

A number of after-contest reports from "BiG GuN" stations indicate that the volume of participants decreased noticeably from 2018.

At LEAST I had a full weekend opportunity to test-run the installation @W7AYT thoroughly from an Ssb standpoint.  Not wanting to be "wired in" I wore wireless headphones and "mounted" the Heil HC-4 headset atop the station's Electro Voice EV-664 mic.  The 664 is more of a ragchew microphone; for radiosport the HC-4 has more syllable "punch".

On the receive audio end of things, the pair of Autek QF-1's and the JPS NIR-12 were largely run
at the "other end" of the hearable audio spectrum.  The Main-RX DSP-Contour control sometimes peaked a voice into intelligibility; necessary as so many of the signals this weekend were so weak.

By 03:00z (7pm PST), it was all over.  10 and 15 meters never materialized.  20-meters "folded up" early both Saturday and Sunday, sending us down to 40-meters, which was not quite ready for some sustained action that early in the afternoon.  I guess it's a GooD thing that 30 meters does not allow contest activity.

A couple of annoying anomalies this weekend were the 100's of stations who said "PLEASE COPY..." before EVERY QSO.  Not only is it a waste of time, it becomes an annoying bunch of gibberish.  Make it short and succinct.  Because of the severe fading, saying "Please Copy" wasted enough
time that the signal would then fade right as the Check & Section were spoken, requiring one-or-more repeats.  Remember: every repeat DOUBLES the Qso-time.

Despite all of my bitching, I enjoyed the 2019 SS-Ssb GiG as I've enjoyed ALL the Sweepstakes events over the years.  According to the 3830 Scores website, it would seem that WQ6X took a
1st-place for East Bay (EB) section, 2nd-place for the Pacific Division and 37th-place overall.

Where were YOU during the 2019 November Sweepstakes Phone contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR LoG?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

WQ6X Wrangles a Weird WAE RTTY Contest

As I sit here pondering the log, 3830 Scores entry and dozen screenshots taken during the 2019 WAE RTTY contest, I discovered I was [initially] at a loss for words.  It's rare that I am at a loss for words.  When that happens, the only thing to do is scribble bullet-items down on blank paper and shuffle them together, making something comprehensible out of the myriad of disconnected items.  While this is a challenging event, reading the contest rules, demystifies virtually everything.

For starters, last week I wrote up a sort-of "Blast from the Past" BLOG entry regarding my participation in past WAE GiGs.  Rereading this reminded me of the challenges that running
WAE - Worked All Europe - contests (RTTY in particular) present.

Unlike the CW/Ssb WAE contests where non-EU stations make contact ONLY with European stations, in the WAE RTTY GiG, like most RTTY GiGs, everyone can work everyone.  Sending
QTC messages is not limited to JUST EU stations (in THIS event) but can occur with ANY station capable of receiving such messages, as long as they are located on a DIFFERENT continent than
our own.

For the WQ6X RTTY operation, I didn't have remote contest access to NX6T's Stn-1 until 04:30z when preparations were completed for the JIDX Ssb contest which began @07:00z
(11pm PST).  My goal was to work the WAE GiG, turning the station over to N6KI at ~06:30z
to get some sleep while he runs JA's on 40-meters.  In reviewing the WAE LoG, I divided the
operating periods in to 5 groups: A ==> E, with JIDX in between.

After a solid report from CM8NMN, I decided to be lazy and run frequencies, with stations call me.  Occasionally, I would pick up
a couple of S&P QSOs in between lull-points.  You may have worked me on: 7052.52, 7056.56, 3585.85 or 7058.58 before
my official QRT @06:35z.

Around 10:00z I took over station #1 to S&P the CQ'ing JA stations that could not be worked earlier by running a static frequency. 
The SHOCKER is that VERY FEW Japanese stations call CQ in their own JIDX contest - HuH?  We W6 stations should not be calling CQ JA, we should be lining up to work the 50+ JA stations calling CQ JIDX.  After 3 hours of operation, only ONE S&P JA QSO made it to the NX6T LoG, so I went back into sleep mode
until 17:00 when it was time to return to WAE on 20 meters.

Around 17:30z 20-meters was found to be quite BUSY - YaaY!
After 15 minutes of S&P WQ6X settled in on 14097.47 @ 17:37z, shifting to 14094.94 @18:09z
and then to 14085.85 @18:29z.  Eventually there were no more stations lined-up to work WQ6X, necessitating a 19:10z move to 15 meters (21093.93) after an unsuccessful CQ call on 10-meters (28088.88).  At 19:59 the QRM levels "encouraged" a switch to 21089.89.  After draining 15 meters
of all hearable QSOs it was time (20:39z) to make one last run on 14097.97 after another fruitless CQ call on 28088.88.  Client commitments necessitated I QRT for the afternoon at 21:00z, making way for K6JO to get set up for a B-I-C (Butt-in-Chair) SO2R run of the NA Sprint Ssb contest @00:00z.

By 05:00z WQ6X was back at it running frequencies (with an occasional S&P in between):
7067.67, 3583.83, 7067.67, 7068.68, 7065.65 & 7063.63 before shutting things down at 09:35z.  Russian beacon-wise, only the "M" beacon (Magadan - north of JA) could be heard; which might
explain the dearth of JA stations in the JIDX GiG.

By 17:00z, WQ6X was B-I-R-C (back in the remote chair) S&P'ing until running 14104.04 @ 17:28z and 14105.05 @ 17:46.  At 18:45z running out of stations to work, it was S&P time for any 20-meter "leftovers", followed by another fruitless call on 28088.88.

At 19:20z realizing that I had made ~300 QSOs but sent no QTC messages yet I began looking for non-NA stations to receive my traffic; this came in the form of KH6ZM (in Oceania).  After thorough S&P on 15 meters, ZX2V (in SA) was the next QTC recipient.

With a brief lunch break behind me it was back to 14114.14, all but begging stations to take my
QTC traffic; YV5AX and PY2NY to the rescue.  Then it occurred to me, that switching antennas to
the Stepp-IR in Bidirectional mode, I can work JA & SA simultaneously offering more opportunities
for QTC traffic passing.  The next QTC opportunities came from LU1KCQ & PY4XX in between working JA stations.

At 22:37z a move was made to 14116.16 and finally to 14095.95 @23:15z.  While running JA,
S-E USA and SA, JH4UYB & CE7VPQ relieved WQ6X of more QTC traffic, leaving over 300+
QTC messages unsent - Bummer Dewd.  At 23:47, QRM forced a frequency change to 14093.93,
using the last 13 minutes to make QSOs while pleading (with no response) to send more QTC traffic.

In hindsight, it is clear that QTC message passing should have been solicited as early as Friday evening.  The further along the contest gets, fewer QTC opportunities are available, putting stations into what I call "frantic mode".  Oh well, as I always say "maybe next year". 

Nevertheless the 2019 135k score is the largest WAE RTTY accomplishment ever for WQ6X. 
Based on scores reported to the 3830 Scores website, it would seem that WQ6X took an HP
1st-place for W6, Southwestern ARRL Division and Zone 3 overall - GO Figure.

SO, while this weekend's weird WAE RTTY contest wandered all over the place, a lot was learned about how to maximize a set of resources, in the most effective way possible, at any given moment.

Did YOU play in the 2019 WAE RTTY contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR LoG?

P.S.  BTW, for you N1MM+ users in confusion on how to make QTC messages work in
         the WAE RTTY contest, [CLICK Here] to read an excellent write up on the subject.

Friday, November 8, 2019

WQ6X Wanders & Wonders about WAE

(a Composite Photo + Screen shot)
In the overall scheme of my radiosport activities, the Worked All Europe (WAE) contest is relatively new to me.  As of 2019, WAE has moved onto my Top-10 list of my favorite radiosport events.

I have often said that next to the lengthy November Sweepstakes (SS) exchange, sending QTC packets in WAE is one of the trickiest exchanges in radiosport.  Then again, some radiosport operators (mostly European) would argue that compared to successfully sending a "book" of
10 QTC messages, sending an SS exchange is a no-brainer.

As it turns out, every WAE contest operation I've ever run was documented here in the WQ6X
contest Blog:
  • [x] August 2016 WAE Cw contest
  • [x] August 2017 WAE Cw contest
  • [x] November 2017 WAE RTTY contest
  • [x] August 2018 WAE Cw contest
  • [x] November 2018 WAE RTTY contest
  • [x] August 2019 WAE Cw contest
With a look at the above contest BLOG Entries, I guess this makes it another
"Blast from the Past" BLOG entry.

C - 3 1 (Left) and S T E P - I R + SHORTY-40 (Right)
The difficulty I've experienced w/WAE is NoT the contest itself, but the weak signal-levels to Europe from my portable setup in the SF East Bay section.  Running WAE from NX6T's so-Cal location actually hears 10x MORE European stations thanks to C-31 & Stepp-IR yagi's and a Shorty-40
all 40' above ground on a hill 900' above sea level.

Now, it doesn't hurt that for WAE I run 880 watts full-duty RTTY (as opposed to running the Elecraft K3 barefoot @50-watts).  Hearing a bunch of European stations does absolutely no good if they can't hear me back.  QTC messages are sent ONLY to stations outside of one's continent, so my signal better be HEARABLE.

I operate from a core philosophy that says: "If what you're doing is working, then KEEP doing it. 
If what you're doing stops working, then STOP doing it - pull back, revaluate and then move forward again".  From what I can determine, running this year's WAE RTTY GiG should run rather smoothly, including the ability to send QTC packets.

Are YOU going to play in this weekend's WAE RTTY contest?

LooK for WQ6X on 80 - 15 meters (and 10, if the band actually opens).

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

WQ6X Wings another Cw Sweepstakes GiG

It's no secret that the November Sweepstakes is my favorite domestic contest GiG; the Cw variation in particular.  2019 marks my 17th consecutive SS operation; the 5th straight year from W7AYT's QTH in Concord.

In the pre-contest BLOG entry, I overviewed the fact that the former WQ6X Lazy 8JK was partially modified to become the WQ6X Lazy 8JK Inverted Vee.  Throughout the contest weekend the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) stats were consulted, comparing monitored signal levels between the Lazy-V and the CHA-250 vertical. 
Thus far, no reliable conclusions have
been concluded.

Originally I was scheduled as a b/u operator for NX6T's high power multi-OP event.  Being a backup operator in radiosport is not unlike having the role of relief pitcher in baseball - if you're not needed, then the time can be utilized for other endeavors. 
In Fallbrook they needed more B-I-C (butt in chair) time, not remote operators, leaving WQ6X to
work the contest any hours that was needed/wanted.

Space WX was relatively quiet the entire contest weekend; unfortunately, so were the signal levels.  Signal-fading is problem enough; coupling that with weak signal levels made this SS Cw weekend quite a challenge.

I have often complained about poor turnout in most state QSO parties (CQP excepted). 
This weekend felt very much like that.  I was disappointed by the lack of obvious multipliers
making it to the East Bay QTH.

Not sure what to make of this situation, I turned to the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) stats to figure out what the REAL problem is.  Scrolling backwards through the SNR (Signal-to-Noise) data, all of a sudden the realization came to me:
"A MAJOR reason we make fewer QSOs than we would like is NoT because our signals are NoT hearable, but because there is no one on "the other end" actually hearing those signals."
No amount of power increases or antenna changes can encourage operators to get out of bed,
fire up the coffee, turn on the radio and go tuning for my signal.  This brings us full-circle back to
the problem of lack-of-participation. 

There is an old saying "you can't work'em if you can't hear'em".  What is ALSO true is:
"you can't hear'em if they ain't transmitting".  Therefore, we should stop blaming ourselves
for things we can't control. 

It is actually at times like this when we SHOULD be calling CQ, if for no other reason than to let the rest of the contest whirrrrl'd know that the band(s) are indeed open.  Even if stations have already worked you, hearing your CQ call may encourage them to do the same. 

With a non-insignificant number of CQ Contest calls on the band, don't be surprised to discover
that many stations show up; either by happenstance or from seeing a population increase in the bandmap.  Either way, a "dead band" can become very active, simply by calling CQ. 

A few months ago, I wrote a BLOG entry about this very phenomenon.
I also wrote a BLOG entry explaining why we should call CQ.
For this last weekend, hoping to force a 10 meter opening I called CQ while rotating the yagi
to various directions around North America.  Often when I do this, out of nowhere a station or
two hears me and calls in.  Unfortunately, for this contest, that didn't happen.

When it was all over there was a whopping 188 QSOs and 59 sections in the WQ6X Cw Sweepstakes LoG.  Looking up the reported scores on the 3830 Scores website, it would seem that WQ6X has taken 1st-place for the East Bay section; as for the Pacific Division, that remains to be seen.

DiD YOU work the 2019 November Sweepstakes?

Is WQ6X in YOUR LoG?

Monday, November 4, 2019

For CW Sweepstakes WQ6X LooKs back to Move Forward

As I've said before, of all radiosport contests, the November Sweepstakes is my FAVorite GiG;
the Cw event being the most fun.  One of the first Blast from the Past BLOGs written was about the Cw Sweepstakes in November 2017 ([CLICK Here]).  As demonstrated in that BLOG, WQ6X has operated many different "flavors" of Sweepstakes, using a variety of different callsigns, adding uniqueness to each operation; alleviating the boredom potential of repeating event locations.

For 2018, I ran a dual-OP operation as WQ6X from EB (East Bay) section and remoted-in to
NX6T to help the team take a 1st-place for San Diego and 2nd-place for the Southwest division.  We even accomplished a section sweep; not easy these days as many sections are poorly represented.

Remember, Sweepstakes is essentially a traffic-handling exercise.  We don't give signal reports and the operator's name is irrelevant.  What IS relevant is sending the correct information, in the correct order, at the correct time.  Unlike most contest events, during Sweepstakes each station is contacted only once, period; not once per-band.  It is important to get the information correct, as there is no repeat.  A mistake in copying the exchange can cost you a multiplier as well as the QSO points.

There are three main strategies for working stations in Sweepstakes.  Some operators prefer to search & pounce (S&P) for multipliers only; others S&P for any new station they can find, while
others prefer to run a frequency, hoping the mult-stations will find them. 

A fourth strategy is to either S&P or run a frequency until that approach runs out of stations to work; then, switch to the opposite method when the QSO-rate slows down considerably.  My preference
is the 4th method.  Should the QSO-rate drop considerably, it may be time for a 1/2 hour break. 
Break times must be a minimum of 30 minutes, so choose the break-time carefully.

Last weekend, I joined NX6T in the CQ WW Ssb contest, partly to give the equipment a thorough checkout for this weekend's Sweepstakes GiG.  After the contest was over, the MFJ-259 antenna analyzer indicated the JA sloper to be non-resonant  on all amateur bands - Ooops.  Although the MFJ 949-E antenna tuner was able to create a nearly 1.2:1 swr to make the radio happy, non-resonance is still non-resonance.  Most Saturday mornings before each Sweepstakes GiG finds
me making last-minute antenna changes.  Does it make a difference?  I'm not so sure, however
I doit anyway.

Having settled on a workable combination of external audio filters for the FT-1000mp,
this weekend I look forward to making it all work better than the confusing 2018 GiG.
On Saturday morning, I surveyed the wire placement of the WQ6X Lazy 8JK Sloper and
concluded that it would work better if I turned it (at least on the Left side) into a Lazy 8JK Inverted Vee; unfortunately w/o the termination resistors for that end (that comes during my next visit).
While the antenna tuned nicely on all bands, the 40-meter RFI problem has yet to disappear;
leaving the CHA-250 Vertical to work most of the 40-meter QSOs.

Every Sweepstakes has its high-points and not-so high-points.
How did WQ6X Do?  Stay-tuned for the next BLOG to find out.

DiD YOU work the 2019 November Sweepstakes Cw contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR LoG?