Radiosport or participating in amateur radio contests are a favorite activity of mine. Unfortunately due to time constraints, my job and family responsibilities I don’t always have the opportunity to participate with a full effort, but make the most of my time allotted. With all the remodeling in 2011 I was not able to participate in as many contests as I did in 2010. Not really a big deal since there’s a contest nearly every weekend of the year, some major, some minor but a contest nonetheless.
This year has gotten off to a slow start, as I was hoping to put in a full effort in the ARRL RTTY Roundup the weekend of January 7-8. Unfortunately a friend in need was more important than listening to diddles for 24 hours. I was frustrated, as I have done well in this contest, but family and friends always take priority over radio. Thankfully a few weeks later the NAQP CW rolled around and I posted my best score ever with 281 contacts. Not great, when it comes to all the experienced CW operators who participate, but a personal best, which pleased me.
This weekend was the second leg of the winter NAQP using phone. Let me preface this by saying I enjoy working a variety of modes from RTTY, CW and PSK31 to the more obscure Feld Hell, Olivia and even trying some weak signal work. Unfortunately I seem to have lost of the lust for actually operating SSB or phone (actually talking into the microphone for those non-hams reading). When I first bought an HF radio, SSB was all I wanted to do, but due to my limitations and the lull in Solar Cycle 23 making DX voice contacts was difficult.
When I upgraded my station to a Yaesu FT-1000MP and was given an Alpha 76PA amplifier, I was on my way to putting out a bigger signal, but still limited by my antenna. Even then I was still fascinated with actually speaking with someone in an exotic destination and logging a new DXCC entity. But when it comes to contesting, my station does not fair very well.
Even with the upgrade of the antenna from the Hustler 6-BTV to a Steppir BigIR MkIII and most recently to a 5 band hex beam for the low bands, my signal has improved, but I must face reality that I am not set up very well for low power SSB operations. This was evident yesterday when I was hoping to put in 2-3 hours during the NAQP SSB contest and help my NCCC team achieve a better score. To be completely honest, I don’t think I even lasted 1 hour on the radio. I started off on 10M, moving to 15M and then to 20M, finally dropping back to 10M before calling it quits. In my limited operating period I only worked 22 contacts before getting frustrated.
Not sure if I was more frustrated that I could not hear many signals using the hex beam or the fact I believe my signal was not strong and clean. My signal I based solely on watching the ALC meter, which continually was exceeding the upper limit range. Since NAQP is limited to 100 watts, I can only assume my signal was good, but I had no definitive way to check without asking another operator for a report. This frustrated me even more when my power output was probably more along the lines of 40-50 watts.
Even running low power I began to experience RF issues again. Previously it was on 10M CW, but I had no issues on 10M or 15M yesterday, but 20M SSB was causing all sorts of problems with my USB devices. I would key up and lose connection with my keyboard, trackball, webcam and weather station. I had not experienced this level of RFI on 20M before. I will need to troubleshoot the shack again to attempt to eliminate this RFI before I make another attempt on 20M SSB.
While I won’t use SSB as my primary mode of operation, I will still put in some minor efforts when it comes to using the mode. Until I get further antenna upgrades, which I don’t see happening any time soon I will need to make do with what I have. I might be able to work out the RFI, possibly upgrade the feed line to the hex beam and figure out if the SteppIR needs to be returned for repair. These are just a few of the limiting factors I have to deal with. Thankfully I now have the ability to get the hex beam up to a minimum of 50′ as I mounted it on the roof of the garage, attached to a second story wall.
Thankfully I will stick to CW and RTTY as my main modes of operations for contesting. There will be a few exceptions, such as the CQP and ARRL Sweepstakes. If time permits and a station is available, I wouldn’t mind attempting a full effort in a SSB contest. If the problems do get worked out, I wouldn’t even mind a full effort on a single band, like 15M or 20M, which are probably my strongest bands.