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.

January 2012 North American QSO Party

Contest:North American QSO Party
Date: January 14-16, 2012
Mode: SSB
Period: Starts 1800 UTC Saturday; ends 0600 UTC Sunday

20 / 2 / 2
15 / 9 / 9
10 / 11 / 9
SCORE: 440 (TIME ON: 43 Mn)

How I wish I could guest operate at a station that has a set up that is conducive to SSB. I enjoy working the mode, but know at 100 watts with a hex beam at 40′ I am going to be very limited in what I can do. Sure, this is a North American contest and 100 watts should be enough power. Yet I struggled for all 43 minutes I logged in the NAQP.

I am beginning to think I have more problems in the shack again. In fact I know I have an RFI issue on 20M, since I was disconnecting all my USB connections when I transmitted. Also I continued face frustrated when I would look at the ALC meter and I am past the limit. This tells me my signal was problem over driven or distorted, but I don’t know. I need to work this out with a NCCC club member. Thankfully I wasn’t using the Alpha 76PA for this contest.

The last issue I could have is a feed line problem. I  need to break out my testing equipment and see if I might need to make repairs or add a new feed line to the hex beam from the shack.

As for the contest itself, I had hoped for 2-3 hours, which is what I committed to when I was placed on NCCC #3 Team. Unfortunately after 43 minutes of spinning the dial I could no longer deal the frustration I was facing and turn off the shack to spend time with my family.

In the limited time I was on, 10M was my best band though out the US. Unfortunately when I came back to the band about 35 minutes later it seemed to have died down and did not result in much. By contrast, 20M for me was terrible. A total of 2 contacts, lots of noise and signals in the muck that try as I might I could not dig out. I did hear a few minor pile ups, but with my limited operating time I was not going to waste it continually calling in hopes I would be heard.

I will continue to participate in this contest and if I get organized, get the time off and the blessing from my wife, I would like to give this a full effort from W6JZH, just down the road. John has a wonderful set up for a single operate (possible SO2R) to use.

2011 ARRL Sweepstakes – SSB

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 19-21, 2011
Mode: SSB
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

20 / 106 / 39
10 / 51 / 16
TOTAL: 157 QSO / 55 SECT
SCORE: 17,270 (TIME ON: 6 H  Mn 22)

SOAPBOX: Dreadful, disappointing and discouraging is the only way I can sum up my (lack of) performance in the ARRL Sweepstakes SSB Contest. I went into the contest handicapped since I lost 15M on my Yaesu FT-1000MP to a Local Unit problem. Although it worked

during SS CW, it failed to work for phone this past weekend. The second problem
I noted about 90 minutes before the start of SS was a noise coming from the
SteppIR BigIR when I turned it on. It didn’t sound as if the sprockets were moving the tape. I decided to open the EHU and lo and behold, the Copper-Beryllium tape has come off the spindle. Now I know why during SS CW when no one could hear me on the low bands. So before the contest even begins I am down to two bands; 10M and 20M. Of course most of the action seemed to be on 10M and 15M.

The first 4 hours were the best of the contest for me, but without the low
bands I didn’t keep the BIC past sundown. No low bands meant time with the
family and thoughts of getting up at sunrise on the east coast for some 20M
activity. Of course I get “railroaded” into take my in-laws to the train
station, only to find out their train was cancelled. I ended up losing most all
of the morning and when I did get on the air, I was done. I logged maybe 2.5
hours and couldn’t do it any longer. I was not having fun on 20M and running as
an ‘A’ I could not be heard by many stations. I finally called it quits at 2053
and tried to fulfill the rest of the afternoon with other thoughts.

I didn’t come close to meeting any goals I set, how could I with no 15M, which
probably hurt me more than 40/80M did. I did try to salvage 40M by quickly
raising a wire to about 20′, but it was really not worth the effort I tried
calling from the local stations after sundown and could still not be heard. But
there is always next year, which I will look forward to. Just need to make sure
the ham gear is in WORKING condition during the summer so I don’t run into
complications during the contest. On a positive note, I did work DE on phone,
which was my last outstanding state for my ARRL Triple Play Award. Now to wait
for the LOTW uploads.

2011 Sweepstakes Goals – SSB

Two weeks ago I participated in the CW portion of the ARRL Sweepstakes, which resulted in a mixed bag. I increased my score over last year, but found some glaring problems with my station that prevented me from achieving my goals. This weekend it’s the SSB potion of the contest, one in which I usually struggle given my antenna situation. Last year it was rain noise that caused problem. Unfortunately rain is also forecast for this weekend beginning Friday with a possible lull on Saturday, only to return on Sunday.

My problem with 15M still seems to exist on my FT-1000MP, it comes and goes. I will consider myself lucky 2 weeks ago the band worked on the radio. This past week I have not had use of 15M. Due to family and other commitments I have not had time to pull down the SteppIR BigIR and look into the reason why I was not getting a CW signal out, which was the main reason behind not meeting my goal 2 weeks ago. If that is any indication, I probably won’t have use of 40/80M this weekend, which is going to be very tough.

Looking back at last year I operated as a precedence ‘U’ in the contest. This year I might bypass running assisted and operate as an ‘A’ (low power), as I did in the CW portion or ‘B’ (high power) in order to get a signal out to be heard. Last year’s goal was to make up the balance of the 1000 total QSOs I was hoping to achieve and get a clean sweep.” Neither happened, partly due to the rain noise and the fact I missed the first hour of the contest.

I am still hoping for 1000 total QSOs between the two contests. After scoring 411 in the CW contest that leaves me with 589 remaining. That might be difficult if 40/80M isn’t working and 15M, due to the radio does play nice. I would much rather have 15M over 40/80M, but that is completely out of my control. I will pull down the SteppIR today and give it a quick look to see if there is anything I can  spot.

Last year I scored 94 contacts on the low bands, which is what I would like to see this year. Most of those 40M contacts were due to the NCCC Rally we heard during the contest that netted me more than 50 contacts in about a 30 minute period.

This year the hex beam is higher. I might extend the mast 10′ to nearly 50′ for this contest, but that still won’t resolve the other issues I have to contend with. Regardless of what happens I will have a have fun and try to keep my “BIC” as long as possible to maximize my score. With any luck 10M will possibly pick up the slack for 40/80M for me. The key band still is 15M, I need to make sure I have that band working or else it will be nothing more than a low power effort on my part working only the daylight hours.

2011 CQP

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

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!