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.

2010 CQ Worldwide DX Goals

This afternoon begins the 2010 CQ Worldwide DX Contest (SSB) at 0000z, 30 October and runs though 2400z, 31 October. While SSB is not my strongest mode, I will put in some type of effort this weekend. Last year during this contest I only participated for 4 hours, 47 minutes making  103 QSOs on 15, 20 and 40M. I expect a bit more of an effort this year. I will most likely start off this afternoon as the clock strikes 0000z.

The hex beam is still at 20′, so while my signal seems to get out very well, as I operated mainly 20M during the recent ‘K6B’ operation, I expect my signal to be lost in “splatter alley.” Not a big deal really. I will search and pounce whatever I can find. My goals in this contest are to exceed last year’s numbers by 25%, which equates to an additional 26 QSOs. Time is something I won’t have this weekend, as I need to prep the house for new carpet to be installed starting Monday. Saturday night is a Halloween party, that my wife and son will be attending with friends and Sunday, pending any rain I play soccer.

I had hoped to get over to N6RO and operate with Dean Straw, N6BV. He has made the offer a number of times to listen in as he works (15M usually) during these contests. His experience as an operator is second to none and I know I could learn a considerable amount from him. But as I said, time is something I don’t have much of. Thankfully the station is in good working order. I still have not investigated the 6Hz (wide) SSB signal I was putting out, as reported by N6RO minutes prior to the start of the CQP.

My second goal during CQ WW is to add some new countries and zones to the logbook. I was hoping to WAZ (Worked All Zones) by the end of the year, but I am still short never having worked many zones in the Middle East and Africa. I also hope to finally work my initial DXCC (confirmed). I have worked well over 100 DXCC, but 13 countries short of confirming the award. Regardless of what happens this weekend the operating will be enjoyable.

CQP Failure

It was with consideration anticipation and excitement as we approached 1600 UTC, Saturday morning and the start of CQP. Unfortunately Mr. Murphy decided to pay a visit no more than 4 minutes before I started calling CQ on 20M. Ken, N6RO happened to catch me calling CQ and said my signal was wide (6 khz). Great I thought, I have been working SSB nearly 2 weeks and I am just finding out about this now. I made some quick changes, but never did get confirmation I cleaned the signal up.

As I started calling CQ as K6B, I was thrilled to have a constant string of hams answering my CQ and QRZ calls. I feel the weeks leading up to the CQP help prepare me for the contest in trying to manage a pile up. Of course still having he hex beam at 20′ I am not able to hear many calls in, or just above the noise level.

My time on Saturday was going to be limited, as my parents were en-route to our house for a weekend visit. I had planned to put 4 hours in to start the contest and a target of 400 QSOs. I came within 5 minutes of my 4 hours, unfortunately I only logged about 188 QSOs. Why? Read on.

The first two hours were strong. I say strong because rarely do I get to work at a 76/rate to start ANY contest. I got lucky, grabbed a frequency and had many contacts. Hour two slowed a bit, but was still over a 60/rate. It was just after the second hour I started getting intermittent power off problems from the Yaesu FT-1000MP. First thought was a wire that was loose and the second thought was a heat issue. Since the rig sits right next to the amp and I was running that at 1200 watts. But the rig was not hot, that I could tell.

When it first happened I powered off the rig and power supply, waited a moment and powered it back up, but the rig did not turn on. I gave it a little “love tap” and it came to life, I was back in business. Unfortunately my success was short lived, as the radio cut out a second and then a third time before I got through 3 hours.

By this time my rate had fallen, I was having trouble finding stations calling CQ that I am not already worked. As for CW, it was terrible. I am not sure why I had so much difficulty making a QSO. It could have been the fact that I was trying to answer California stations on 20M instead of running at the bottom of the hour. I did not feel comfortable enough in my skills to run, so what S&P I found I took, but it didn’t equate to much more than 4 QSOs.

I had planned on an evening operation into the early morning, but with the continued problems of the rig powering off I decided to stop operating for fear I would make the problem worse. So my first CQP was nothing spectacular. I did plan for a much better showing and a minimum of 16 hours, but I did not even come close. So I left the shack very frustrated with the equipment and more so with myself.

To be honest I have not even powered the rig on since Saturday, so am not even sure what my final numbers were. I will get that checked and the information updated. I was surprised at the number of DX station participating in the CQP. I worked 8 EU stations, which was quite exciting for me.

IOTA Challenge

So I took Saturday off from work, initially it was for the second monthly NCCC meeting out in Stockton with the MLDXCC. Unfortunately, the 2007 Ford Ranger I bought last September seems to be having some starter/solenoid problems. I had planned on changing the parts, but found out both are covered under my warranty. So I will be taking the truck in on Thursday. Instead I decided to participate in the RSGB IOTA Contest.

While I was not going to active any island, it was still an enjoyable contest to participate in. I figured I participated about 10 total hours and made 65 QSOs. I was not making anything resembling a serious effort. It was a change to work some DX and log some new IOTA. I did record 23 DXCC entities on CW and SSB.

Conditions were not ideal, obviously. I found quite a bit of noise on 20M when I started working that band from 40M at the start of the contest at 1200z. I think this contest coupled with the NAQP a few weeks back just reinforced what I already know. I need to get the hex higher. Still it was a good time, working to make a contact. Some of the stations in the Pacific I worked were a definite challenge. Oddly enough I did not work one KH6 station on 15/20/40M. I did see a spot for K6NA on 15M, but when I got there the frequency was quiet, then again 15M was not great.

Next up, NAQP CW on August 7! Followed two weeks later by the SSB edition of the contest, which I might need to pass on or work at N6RO because I will be finishing (hopefully) up our kitchen remodel.