WPX SSB Goals

It’s interesting to look back and see when I started on HF a number of years ago, all I wanted to do was make contacts using SSB (voice). Now, this seems to be my least favorite mode, partially due to my station. Thankfully I can power on the Alpha 76PA amplifier and put out close to 1000 watts, but that usually results in some adverse effects around the house to the Internet router, phones, television or other electronics.

WPX SSB hasn’t been one of those contests I pay too much attention to. I have participated in the contest since 2009, improving my numbers every year. Last year I spent just under 4.5 hours on 10/15/20 making 143 QSOs. As for band selection and power this year, it will depend on if I make a single band or all band effort. I might try 15M or 20M running low power or high power. I will continue to watch solar conditions to see what we can expect for this weekend.

This year I might spend some with sitting (working?) with Dean, N6BV. He has made this offer a few times and due to my scheduling I have not been able to take him up on it. Nothing like spending a few hours with the experience someone like Dean has. He will be working at N6RO this weekend, where I assume they will sign NR6O.

The only goals for this contest would be to improve on my 2011 numbers. 200 contacts seems to be a nice, round number to shoot for. Not sure how much time I will spend Saturday in my shack, as opposed to sitting at RO. If I could put in 6-8 hours at my home on Saturday, 200 should be a number I go right past.

Winner!

Very surprised to see a manila envelope from the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) today in the mailbox. I figured it was my ARRL Triple Play Award I had finally achieved. When I opened it I was surprised to find I had taken first place in the 2011 ARRL International DX Phone Contest. That means I just might have to taken to March 3 off to participate in at least half the contest.

Phone Frustration

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.

2011 CQP

Contest: California QSO Party
Date: October 1-2, 2010
Mode: SSB/CW
Period: Starts 1600 UTC Saturday, ends 2200 UTC Sunday

BAND/QSO/STATES/DX
20 / 214 / 38 / 5
15 / 113 / 33 / 7
10 / 62 / 20 /0
TOTAL: 389 QSO / 51 Mults
SCORE: 41,973 (TIME ON: 8 H 25 Mn)

Soapbox: After participating last year and having my log submitted as a comma delineated I was excited with anticipation at the start of the California QSO Party this year. My original plans were grandiose in scale, but in the end it was nothing more than me in the shack with my hex beam at 20′. Unfortunately Mr. Murphy decided to pay me a visit on Saturday afternoon that left me a dumbfounded and lacking a solution.

Solar conditions were calming down after a week of flares and CMEs had the A index in double digits. By the start of the contest on Saturday it had come down to a reasonable level, as the SSN was 89. Conditions seemed to be good as the contest started. I had set my goals at a “reasonable” level and took into consideration my family responsibilities and weekend duties, even though I had taken the weekend off. I had hoped to make the most of the low bands. Wasn’t I in for a surprise.

As with some contests I enter, being a “lil pistol” I have to pick and choose my spots. I figured I would give 10M a shot before moving to 20M, which is arguably my best band. No surprise I start the contest with N6O, just a few miles down the road, but 10M wasn’t all the fruitful and I quickly vacated and moved to 15M, where I picked up my first multiplier in TX and 6Y6U as my first DX. And again, there was N6O.

Guess I wasn’t surprised when I moved to 20M and N6O gives me my 3 contact with them inside my first 6 contacts. I would go on to work them on CW as well, 10-20M. I would pick things up about about 1712z when I started running on 15M and keep a modest rate for about 45 minutes. This first run would bump me over 100 QSO at 1754. Again not great when compared to other stations, but then I am comparing my score to last year, so this was an improvement over what I achieved last year running as K6B.

Just after 1809z I decided to give 10M a second shot and it paid off for about 10 minutes, putting together a short run, adding some new multipliers for my score. It was also my intention to use 10M to potentially work all 58 CA counties and each time I moved to 10M I was picking up a new country here and there. Unfortunately it would not be enough in the end.

I would end up working my best 10 minutes of the contest running on 20M between 1859z and 1909z and would log 25 QSOs. I had hoped to work more CW and attempted to call and answer CQ on each band “at the half hour” as based on the CQP rules. It really wasn’t as lucrative as I thought it would be. There were also two rally times, 0300z and 0700z on 40/80M, somehow I missed both of them during the contest. It also helps if you are actually on the air come 0300z. I wasn’t.

After my 20M run it was back to 15M and that is when Murphy struck. I was about 12 minutes into a run when after a QSO with VE2SHF 15M on my Yaesu FT-1000MP seemed to die. The station that had called me, asked for a repeat, but his signal got very weak and soon all I heard was static on 15M. I figured it might be RF, so I bypassed the amp and turned the RF power on the rig up to 100 w. No luck. I tried changing antennas from the hex beam to the vertical. No help. The rig was keying, but no power was being transmitted with and without the amp in line. After about 12 minutes of fiddling with it, I said “screw it!” and moved back to 20M at 2035z.

It would be a steady dose of contacts, but 15M is where the action was. About every hour I would move to 10M and swing through the CW and SSB portion of the band and then go back to 20M. I was frustrated at this point with no 15M and was trying to make the best of the situation. I would close out Saturday strong on 20M with my final contact at 1351z. This left me with 377 QSOs after about 8 hours of work.

With my wife and son leaving for Disneyland I played “Dad” for the rest of the night and saw no action on 40/80M. It might have been a blessing in disguise, because I got up very early the next morning to try 40/80M and I had no luck. Even N6O about 3 miles down the road could not hear me on the SteppIR BigIR.

Most of the morning up until about 1530z was a waste of time for me. The radio was on, the contest was going, but I wasn’t with it. I was still frustrated with the loss of 15M on the rig and 20M wasn’t happening. 10M was noise and conditions were worse than the previous day. All I could make were 3 more QSOs 2 on 20M CW and 1 on 10M CW and I called it a contest. At 1551z I was done.

Comparing this to the 2010 CQP results I saw a 49% increase in QSOs, but I worked more QSOs in 3:48 as K6B last year, than I did this year as W6ONV. The only number down from last year was the number of DX stations worked, 11 compared to 3 this year, CA counties, US states and Canadian provinces were all up over 2010. All in all it was a successful contest. Maybe next year I will look at putting in an every bigger effort. Who knows I might even get the mobile plans kicked into high gear. See you in 2012!

CQP Weekend!

This weekend I might actually forgo watching NFL football and European football and participate in the CQP or California QSO Party. For those new to The 6th Floor, this is a year radio contest sponsored by the Northern California Contest Club (of which I belong to). The object for stations inside California is to work as many stations outside the state as possible as well as work all 58 counties.

Last year I had intentions to work much longer than 3:55, but my parents arrived in town and I never got back on the in air. In that time, operating at K6B (a special 1×1 call sign) I made 196 contacts that included 11 DXCC, 8 CA counties and 35 states/6 provinces. It was my intention this year to pull a 35 county mobile operation, but with planning that started early this year ended about 3 months ago when I lost the driver and interest in putting together the operation. It is still a goal of mine and the route is plotted.

Unfortunately the N3FJP software I used last year spit out a bad Cabrillo form and my log was not accepted. I don’t believe it was even used as a check log. Ah well, guess I learned the hard way. I like Scott’s software too. I might take a second look at it and see if there is a way to convert the log file before I give up on it. Right now I am considering TR4W,w which is what I was using for the CWT mini contests.

No idea what I will shoot for as a goal. My son and wife are leaving for Disneyland on Sunday morning, so I should have much of the afternoon, if I don’t’ commit to playing soccer that morning. If I do, then I can write off the afternoon playing radio. Depending on commitment, I would like to get all 58 counties and work all 50 states and about 500 contacts on both CW and SSB. The CW might be a bit slow, please put up with it. I enjoy the mode and love use it, but not the best at running a frequency. See you this weekend in the CQP!