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.

SO2R Ability

It comes as no surprise the real way to increase your contest scores quickly is to run two transceivers simultaneously in what is terms SO2R or “single operator two radios.” While my skills are nowhere up to par to run this setup when in a CW contest, I thought it would be rather easy to accomplish in a RTTY contest, since you do not have to decode what is coming over the air. It was with that and the upcoming RTTY contests I decided to look into the possibility.

I posted to the NCCC Reflector and received some great information from many experienced and winning RTTY operators, Ed, W0YK (P49X) and Iain, N6ML come to mind. While I have the equipment to run SO2R, there were some issues that I never thought of. There are two main problems I currently face. The first is the size of my lot and the fact I have two antennas (hex beam and vertical) in close proximity to each other (30? apart). The next is providing isolation between the two transceivers, which would require bandpass filters and notching stubs.

With contesting season in full swing I have decided this is something to explore further come summer. I don’t want to compromise my current setup, when I have all the necessary parts in good, working order. Once I get my FT-1000MP back from being repaired, I will look at hooking both radios up, but won’t enter any contests as SO2R until next year. Hopefully I can work out the issues that were brought up on the reflector.

My reason for doing this is to increase my score in the limited time I usually get to operate. It would be great to work both 15M and 20M or 40M and 80M simultaneously. This would definitely boost my score. While I would still not look at winning any awards I would achieve my personal goals I set on a contest basis, something that is very important to me. It would also increase my scores, which would contribute to the club score, as it is always nice to see the NCCC on top of whatever category we are entered in.

RTTY RU – 2010

The 2010 version of the ARRL’s RTTY Round Up will take place this weekend beginning at 1800z on January 2 and ending on 2400z, January 3. You can work a total of 24 hours during the contest. This was one of the contests I had dual participation in. I spent some time at N6RO, using the the call sign, N6ML working with Iain. He actually won a certificate from the ARRL for the top score in our section.

I looked over my personal score from last year and in 25 minutes I made 89 QSOs for 3,204 points. I will be looking to improve on those numbers. With any luck I should start the contest on time and run 15 and 20M before the sun goes down, maybe getting into JA for an hour after sunset at grey line or just after.

I am really not expecting much on 40/80 from the BigIR. I wish I had more faith in this vertical, but the fact is I don’t. Since raising the 5-band hex beam I have spent a majority of my time using this on 10/15/20M. I will give 40M a chance, as I will 80M. Who knows maybe stars will align and sunspots will bless us for the first major contest of 2010. Yeah, doubtful I know, but we can always hope, right?

I would enjoy to put in a “real” effort and be on the air for the full 24 hours you can work, in both a running and search and pounce format. Not sure what I would expect QSO wise, but I would think I could easily exceed 500 contacts. That would average out to 20/hr. Not great, but achievable for myself and station. Regardless I look forward to the weekend and the RTTY Round Up.

Fix’er Up

I spent some more time over at N6RO with Ken, N6WM and N6ML, replacing the 20M rotor. As we got to talking, I decided to voice some of my problems, since I am still a bit lost when it comes to troubleshooting some of the ongoing problems I have in the shack. The first and most important was the RFI that bit me a few weeks back at about 500w. While I have added some ferrite toroids to the NID that AT&T has their equipment in, this has not solved the problem of about 500w of power reflected when I have the Alpha 76PA on.

One of the first adjustments I made was to move the hex beam (again!). Thanks to N6WM, I now have it mounted close to 20′ when I am operating, but it is closer to the shack. Actually it is mounted on the exterior wall off the shack. I need to upgrade the stock RG-8 coax and solder on some good silver PL-259 connectors, as K3LR does at his station. I also need to added some tinned copper braids as grounds from the amp, rig and power supply to the copper grounding bar.

I finally measured the SWR of the hex beam and the measurements were relatively flat across each band, only starting to climb above 1.5 near the edges on a few bands. I know I am loosing quite a bit with the bad cable, but I am not able to use the LMR400 I have on the SteppIR, since it is buried in conduit. I figure 35-40′ should work.

All this work and adding more 33′ long radials to the BigIR are on the list of things to accomplish before SS SSB in about 2 weeks. I am hoping to get the coax on Saturday and add the PL-259 connectors to it and test it. The ground straps won’t arrive until next week from DXE. If I am still having reflected power issues, then I will have to call in “the experts” to stop over and see what else is incorrect in my shack set up.

If there is anytime I need the amp to perform it is in a SSB contest. Sure I could go < 150w, but I want to push legal limit. I am still reviewing my performance during the CW portion of SS and wanting to implement some changes. While I am still going to set my personal goal high, there are a few things I want to accomplish. One of those things on the list knocking off the states I need for 20 and maybe 40M WAS. I would like to really push for the “clean sweep” since I missed out on it for CW. I was 10 sections short and outside of 2 of them, I probably could have worked the other 8.

Speaking of fix’er up, I have finally updated the Contesting page. While my claimed scores are nothing worth of recognition, I have listed all the contests (outside of a few) I have participated in. I am hoping to use these as a baseline and work on improving these scores. Some of the scores…well many of them are not worth even mentioning, but a contesters has to start somewhere. Since I don’t have weekends off and time to dedicate to 24-30 hours of straight contesting, I will take whatever I can get, whenever.