Support for Radiosport – NCCC

By no means do I consider myself an accomplished contester if I base my success on wallpaper, one would think I have failed in the contests I have entered. But that is not the case. By far the best decision I have made since becoming licensed as an amateur (only 1995) was joining a very accomplished contest club when I moved to Northern California. Not only have I become involved in week contesting being around accomplished operators and a very active club has increased my enjoyment in amateur radio.

Depending on your interest in amateur radio some believe there is a negative connotation surrounding radio contests that take to the bands nearly every weekend. For me, this is the best aspect of the hobby thanks in part to the Northern California Contest Club.

Prior to finding the NCCC I was somewhat without direction in amateur radio. I knew I wanted to be licensed, but without an HF radio or antenna I did not know what direction I wanted to take. Thankfully I received sage advice from Glenn, K6NA about a local “big gun” in Oakley, CA where my wife and I moved. After some e-mails back and I had an eyeball with Ken, N6RO or Radio Oakley, as his station is known.

It was by far the most impressive display of radios I had seen in my short career and I was really excited about meeting him and having the (future) opportunity to operate from RO. It gets better, the group of amateurs that come together for the major contests are some of the best; K3EST, WA6O, K6AW, N6BV, N6ML and N6WM. Many of these amateurs are a wealth of knowledge of the many aspects of the hobby.

It was upon my return from this first meeting that I knew I wanted to get involved in contesting. While I grandiose plans, the reality would limit my ability to put a station on he air. Fortunately with a little bit of legwork and luck I was able to get W6ONV on the HF bands in 2008.

Since that time I have tapped Ken and some of the group for assistance, hardware, including the purchase of my Yaesu FT-1000MP, which is my primary rig and acceptance to the Northern California Contest Club in December, 2008.

While I am still not a major play nor have I really taken advantage of N6RO being so close during a contest I have been able to involve myself in numerous contests through out the year. I accepted the fact I would not always win a contest I entered, but that was not the point of getting on the air during a contest weekend.

After establishing a base line of the contests I entered I made it a point to set personal goals I wanted to achieve in a given contest. Above all I wanted to have fun because if any time this hobby is not fun, then maybe I should rethinking about being part of it.

Fortuantely the NCCC has many different calibers of contesters, from the part time operator to the hardcore, spend every minute with “BIC”. Sometimes it’s actually the participation of the little guns, like myself who could potentially make or break a club competition. So I make it a point to give the best effort possibly when a contest like ARRL Sweepstakes rolls around or the NCCC sponsored California QSO Party (CQP) takes to the air in October.

After nearly 2 years of contesting I do believe I have become a more experienced (and hopefully better) operator. One achievement has been learning Morse code and participating in many CW contests. I also added a rig interface to participate in RTTY contests, which strangely enough has taken a backseat to CW.

If I look at my accomplishments, I was the high score in the 2010 WPX RTTY running low power in California. It was somewhat unexpected to see my call sign in bold type in CQ Magazine. Then again my score of 350,000+ points was well off the pace of the top 10 score. But as I said for me it was not about winning, but participating, having fun and achieving my personal goals I set. Any personal gain (wallpaper) is secondary.

I look forward to a long relationship with the NCCC as 2011 rolls along. If I am ever in doubt, need assistance or even hardware, the first place I will turn for help is the NCCC. By far joining this club has been the best move I made. While I don’t get to attend many meetings or participate as part of a multi effort, but I relish the time I have spent as a member of the club.

Why I Like Contesting

The March 2011 issue of CQ Magazine introduces George Tranos, N2GA who will pen the ‘Contesting’ column taking over from John Dorr, K1AR. The column basically introduces himself as he writes about “A wire and a dream.” The articles centers around what draws amateurs to contesting. While I found very little “new” when it comes to contesting, I did take some time to reflect on what draws me to contesting, which I thought I would share, thanks in part to N2GA.

When I upgraded to General in 2005 I was excited to be introduced to a larger portion of the HF spectrum. Until this time I had done very little with my Technician license. I did buy a HT, as well as a dual band mobile for my vehicle while being introduced to Amateur Television (ATV, thanks John, W6DTV former KG6CZX). Unfortunately with some changes to the spectrum and military radar on 70cm, I was forced off ATV and decided not to upgrade my equipment.When I finally purchased the equipment upon my upgrade I was not sure where I wanted to start. After a year of working primarily PSK31 I turned my attention to contesting. While my set up was not optimal, it didn’t need to be I was able to work some contacts as I “got my feet wet” working DX. I had a misconception that I would work the world with 100 watts on SSB. I could not have been more wrong, especially being at solar minimum.

This gave me the opportunity to learn CW (Morse code) as well as purchase an interface for digital modes (PSK, RTTY, Olivia, FH). While learning CW, I did participate in DX and domestic contests. I still remember my first contest, the 2008 RAC Canada Winter Contest. Not only did I work 31 QSOs from my QTH, I worked from N6RO (big gun station) locally. It was a great experience and I was hooked.

But what made contesting exciting, aside from working DX was the fact I could spend as much or as little time as I had participating in a given contest. I was not intending on competing with other hams, but I was competing with myself. It would take a year or two in order to work most of the major contests, but by 2010 I was hoping to improve on previous year’s score. Prior to each contest I would set my personal goal, usually 20% increase over last year and do the best I could.

For the most part, more “BIC” or “butt in chair” time equated to more contacts and I surpassed my expectations. By this time I was looking for a way to get more operating time. I found myself fortunate to fall within the 175 radius of the Northern California Contest Club (NCCC) whose main focus IS contesting! Add to that fact, I had N6RO just a few miles down the road in Oakley and was introduced to him by Glenn, K6NA.

Since my operating time is limited even a few hours of contesting gives the satisfaction I am after. Sure I would love to spend an entire weekend participating in contests, but priorities and family life prevent me from spending all weekend. Thankfully some contests like NAQP are only (try explaining that to my wife) 12 hours long, which is a “short” contest, unlike the ARRL DX Contest this weekend, which runs 48 hours.

I still consider myself “green” when to comes to contesting and HF in general when chasing DX. These contests provide me the time to work DX with a quick exchange and move on to another contact. Right now, I am working on initial DXCC, as well as some other basic awards (wallpaper), which I like chasing, purely for personal satisfaction. Being introduced to the NCCC has also allowed me to tap the knowledge or many like-minded contesters. Many of these individuals have years of experience, which is always great to draw upon. The likes of Ed, W0YK when it comes to RTTY, Jim, K9YC when it comes to RFI, Dean, N6BV when it comes to propagation and the “locals” like Ken, N6RO, Iain, N6ML and Chris, N6WM have really helped the past few years get to me where I am now.

By no means have I peaked as a contest operator, as learning is something you do over your entire life. But I must still work within the restrictions I have. Being HOA controlled I am limited on antenna height (currently 20′ for my hex beam) as a SteppIR BigIR (mainly for 40/80M). After every contest I write my personal “soapbox” and post it to the NCCC and 3830 Refelctor, as well as here on The 6th Floor. This serves as a reminder to me how the contest went, what problems I encountered and where I can improve next year.

While contesting might not be for every amateur radio operator, I encourage others to try it. If I had more time I would probably spend more time on the bands spinning the dial and calling “CQ” and rag chewing, but at this point in life, time is something I don’t have a lot of, so contesting is my niche. Contesting is what YOU make of it. Any contest in which I exceed my expectations I consider myself a winner. Even those that I miss my goals on, I work on seeing the positive side how to continually improve.

Visalia is Go!

While I have been licensed since 1995 it was not until 2007 I bought an HF rig, antenna and started to work DX. Sorry, but the local repeater work just does not excite me. That is because of my upbringing in San Diego, where my father had his shack and multiple yagi antenna. DX, for me is where the action is at!

One of the events I found out about last year as the International DX Convention hosted by the SCDXC (this year) in Visalia. Since I really have no desire to attention the Dayton ham convention, this convention about 3.5 hours south of me really excites me. By the time I found out about it last year it was too late.

This year I really had no intentions of attending because of work and family commitments is not quite possible…yet. Then Chris, N6WM sent out an e-mail to the NCCC Reflector about needing club members of represent at the booth the club sponsors. I figured this was a good “in” to the convention and possibly a day pass from the XYL to attend.

Thankfully the XYL has given me the okay for Saturday, now I am working to get the day off from work (Apr 17) in order to drive down and arrive at Visalia by 0600 in order to join in the festivities. I don’t have any intentions of seeing any of the presentations or attending any of the extracurricular activities.

I hope my presence at the booth will help strength the support of the club. I look forward to meeting other hams with a like interest (DX and contesting) as well as possibly meeting (hams call it an eyeball) other hams I have worked in the past. I also look forward to possibly seeing a legend in the ham community, K6NA, Glenn who is a family friend from way back.

Initial Sweepstakes Thoughts

Being the first time I participate in the ARRL Sweepstakes, it was a real eye opener early on. I was not ready, makes me wish I would of had time to spend practicing the two nights prior to the contest. Unfortunately family life and other responsibilities, as well as shack problems prevented me from any true practice rounds. Another piece of advice came from Dean, N6DE in the webinar that was presented last week, the importance of a second radio in order to call CQ on.

I was in no way cut out to work two radios in this, my first Sweepstakes. It took 5-10 minutes to actually make my first contact. That was frustrating. I knew the exchange, which is one of the more complicated exchanges in all contesting. It also depends that you pay close attention to what is being sent so you do not find yourself continually asking for a repeat of a piece of information. There were QSOs in which I missed something, but what might have taken my twice as long was to catch the exchange prior to mine and fill in the information before answering a CQ.

I spent 2100-0200 working the contest, about 6 straight hours, with some minor distractions. 20M was hot to start the contest and this is where I spent all daylight. I had thoughts of moving to 15M, but there were enough people running 20M that I did not bother changing bands. it might have benefited me, but I won’t know. Guess we will see what happens when the SS SSB rolls around.

While I thought I was prepared, outside of not practicing, I forgot some key pieces of my macros, this required me to ALT-K and enter a repeat via keyboard or with the Vibroplex. This too more time away from calling or answering a CQ. Once things got rolling there was a flow to the exchanges.

I set my personal goal high, 400 QSOs, about 40/hour. Since many stations run 100/hour the first few hours, I thought 40 would be a good benchmark. I came in much lower than my anticipated rate. During the first three hours my rates were 22/hour, 25/hour and 27/hour, rates got worse after that.

More issues I need to deal with is my station. 40M and 80M are terrible on the SteppIR BigIR Mk III. I point toward the radial system for 40M. I had planned on adding some 33′ radials prior to the contest, but time being what it was I ran out of it prior to the start of Sweepstakes. I did double check the SWR on 40M and it looked respectable on the antenna analyzer, but the forward power never even averaged 1000w on CW.

There was a special moment for me personally last night on 40M. While trying to secure some needed sections I went looking for a friend of my father’s, Glen Rattmann, K6NA. Using DXWatch I found him on 7.046.8, I listened for a few minutes before I answered his CQ call. It’s special because he was one of though young hams I knew in my youth, as he, N6RJ and my father would spend countless hours in the shack during contest time. At the end of our exchange I received a “Wow 73” it truly was something special.

As for today, I am hoping to run out the final 4 hours of the contest, most of which will be on 20M and hopefully some on 15M before the sun sets and I move to 40M. With any luck I am hoping for a minimum of 100 QSOs (25/hour), anything over that will be considered nice.

With one SS nearly behind me, I look forward to the SSB version of this same contest, two weeks from now. Of course signals will be wider and there will be more operators working the bands. All in all I had a great learning experience during the time I participated in SS, hopefully my points help the NCCC in winning the gavel from PVRC.

A Visit to N6RO…Again!

Known though out as a “big gun” station, N6RO) or “Radio Oakley” is a very impressive station. I had been there once before after becoming a General and knew very little about HF or contesting. It was suggested by a friend, K6NA in San Diego to go say hi to the owner, Ken Keeler (N6RO). Ken was a great guy, gave me a tour of the towers/antennas and then the setup in the shack.

Last night I returned, nearly 2 years later with a mind full of new information and knowledge I have gained, but I am still far from being an expert on anything. I was invited by N6ML, who lives locally, as he and N6WM were going to take a practice run using Win-Test in the upcoming RTTY Roundup Contest in January. Just looking at my schedule, I won’t be able to transmit from N6RO), but will play RTTY from my shack when I get home from work.

The contest software was something new to me, I had not heard of Win-Test, but it surely had some great features for RTTY, CW and SSB, all of which was operated while I was there for some two hours. Like most PC based software nearly everything is keyboard generated, from macros to entering call signs and signal reports, but this would be the first time for using Wintest in a RTTY contest.

The station was a bit different than I remember it, gone were the Yaesu FT1000MPs, replaced with the newer Elecraft K3 rigs, which seemed to be doing an outstanding job. Not sure what will become of the old Yaesus, which were piled three high. Wonder if he has any use for these….guess I could ask, wouldn’t hurt, right? The K3 was an incredible rig from what I saw demonstrated, the ‘diversity’ mode was interesting as it allowed you to listen to two antenna’s simultaneously, one in each ear in order to receive the better signal.

As I said, while I was there, the RAC Winter Contest was in full swing, mainly on 80m and 160m, both of which (as well as 40m) were worked on SSB and CW. N6RO, operating as N6ML was doing well in the contest, which was to continue this morning as the sun was rising in the west.

I would like to think that some time soon I will have a good grasp on operating to participate in a multi/multi contest. I do believe the RTTY contest would be a simple contest to participate in from a station like N6RO, more so than CW or SSB, but that’s just my opinion.