Friday, December 31, 2010

Look'n in the Rearview at ARS KL8DX

Hard to believe another year has passed us by. Even though the year still consists of 365 days, they sure seem to go much faster the older we get. This New Year's Eve got me thinking about this past year and like many do all over the globe, starting to think of 2011 and resolutions, or goals as I like to refer to them. So, in looking at 2010, I will highlight the major events that come to memory. I will also think about my plans for 2011. I have no goals for 2011, as in chasing certain awards or achieving a certain score in a major contest. I'm in this hobby for fun and to make friends worldwide. I work so many familiar callsigns, but can never mentally remember the names of each and every operator. Ham radio is about callsigns and not necessarily names, right?  It is interesting when we go to introduce ham friends to other ham friends and only use their callsign.

Statistics

 In looking back at my data for the last four operating years (been here over seven), it's obvious that 2010 was not a peak operating year for me. That is due to a few factors, but mostly I did not participate in as many contests as in previous years. I also did have a few months off when my beam was out of service. The actual QSO numbers for me were:
  • 2010 = 5,248
  • 2009 = 11,417
  • 2008 = 10,144
  • 2007 = 3,259
So in 2010, I had less than half the contacts I had in 2009. Is that a bad thing? No. It means I juggle my radio time with family and work like many of us do. What these numbers do not include are my activities as K3Y/KL7 and Field Day, when I had the privilege of operating at KL2R. I also did not add my QRP QSO's in here for 2010 from my QRP logbook. My total QSO count now since moving to Alaska is approaching 32,000.

Highlights & Lowlights

Again, there were many ham radio highlights in 2010, but I will grab the first few from the top of my head.  I will begin with the lowlights;
  1. My long time close friend, coworker, and neighbor (along with his family) left Alaska for Arizona. That would be KL1SF and KL1MF. 
  2. The aged station showing it's age, as my Icom 756PRO needed repairs when the tuner went out. Still cheaper than a new rig and well worth the repair cost.
  3. My Diamond vertical ending it's life in one of our ever frequent wind storms. It also happened at a time of year that I need to wait until spring to replace it.
  4. The damage to my 15 meter trap on my Mosley TA-34-XL, operator HUA.
  5. My APRS radio biting the dust, so my faithful digipeater runs silent.
Now, there were many smaller scale lowlights but these are right at the top of the list. Now onto the highlights;
  1. Meeting and spending a day with wG0AT in Colorado. Wow, was that a blast. Steve, Rooster, and Peanut kicked my butt hiking to the top of Mt.Herman! My wife was just as excited to meet Steve, his wife, Rooster, and Peanut. Steve did a great video of our adventure and you can find that on YouTube here. A rare glimpse of KL8DX. Also a BIG thanks to Steve for retrieving my shades!
  2. The 10 meter openings during CQ World Wide CW and the ARRL 10 Meter Contest! 10 meters is such a wild and crazy band and us Alaskans were blessed with some good propagation on 10 meters! Finally! I won't mention 6 meters as that would be listed above in lowlights.
  3. Breaking a million points in the CQ World Wide WPX RTTY Contest.
  4. Being part of KL2R's Field Day 2010.
  5. Purchasing a travel trailer and QRP'ing in style (inspired by KL1SF & KL1MF). 
2010 was a heavy QSL year for me. I had many large bureau drops (hundreds) as well as several hundred direct QSL requests with many foreign. I prefer to use LOTW, but I answer any and all direct requests that follow my QSL directions as posted on QRZ.com. I have seen discussion lately on QSL practices and some folks bashing those that require an SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) to get a QSL card. It's obvious that those people don't get hundreds of QSL requests each year. At the rate of USA postage, currently at $0.44 cents for the 1st ounce, it would make this low middle class operator go broke. Let's not mention that $0.98 cents for Airmail! 

When I get a lot of direct requests, just the SASE alone helps me keep things organized and saves me on the costs of envelopes as well. I have not sent out for a QSL card that I have wanted in well over a year, maybe two. Don't get me wrong, I like receiving QSL cards, but I'm not collecting them. Would you hitch a ride with a friend to work or use their car without offering to pay for gas? The QSL debate drives me nuts. If YOU want the card, don't bash the station you're trying to get a QSL card from just because they want additional postage or a SASE. I have spent many an hour filling out QSL cards and I could easily just say I don't QSL and spend more time on the air. My final words to those complainers, "Suck it Up!".

2011  

So what is in store for KL8DX & KL8SU in 2011? Well, a higher power knows the answer to that, but for now my agenda consists of the following;
  • Install my recently purchased and assembled KIO Technologies Hex Beam
  • Purchase a replacement for my Diamond vertical
  • Get my APRS digi back online with the radio I recently purchased. Thanks to KL1SF on his offer to fix the old one, radio is in the mail my friend!
  • More QRP operating!!!!! I want to put some QSO miles on my IC-703Plus.
  • Some feedline replacement and some much needed maintenance on most everything here. 

In Conclusion

My operating time, QSL'ing time, and QRP time takes away from family time. We try to juggle life, finances, and more to make it work. It's been a tough few years financially, but I have to say the biggest one I need to thank is my wife, KL8SU. She never has once complained about a sked, contest, weekend excursion, or the purchase of something I needed for this great hobby.  

This hobby is not cheap, and I'm still baffled that there is a market for a $10,000 radio. Yea, I dream of an Alpha Amp, or an Icom 7600 or a K3, but that will not happen anytime soon. I am content with what I have and I do get several sked requests, several that I cannot make. This is only because I don't have enough hardware. I'm a low profile station, but I'm always willing to try if I can. This hobby is all about helping others, too. Maybe that is a good New Year's Resolution? Donate a bit of money to that software developer who developed that awesome program you use each and every day that you got for free! How about helping another ham by introducing them to a different mode? Helping someone with fixing their station? Just a few more hours left in 2010 (as of this writing) so why not make a resolution (goal) that's ham radio related for 2011. Pay it forward for 2011, personally or financially.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My BPSK31 WAS Quest Continues & my JT65-HF Experience

As written earlier, I had decided on the few extra days off toward the end of 2010, that I was going to work on completing my Worked All States (WAS) on PSK31. My long time friend and CW Elmer, K8QWY, set me up with W1EVU. I needed RI, VT, ND, and ME to complete my award (I forgot to mention, with LOTW contacts only). With the help of W1EVU, I got my VT contact and by getting on the bands and being spotted by a VE station, I was also able to snag ND, WA0HPN. I was also lucky enough to QSO with N2ULF for my RI contact. So, as of this writing, I'm down to Maine and I spent a large part of this morning calling CQ ME LOTW. I was able to make a few digital operators happy today as they needed Alaska, so it all was good and I was glad to help a few fellow hams.

PE4BAS, Bas, mentioned in a comment on an earlier post about the JT65-HF software (seen above). JT65 is a mode that is very popular on the HF bands lately and this software is a bit easier to use for the beginner, like me.  That in itself has probably led a few to "take the plunge" and give it a try. My experiences have been very positive running this mode, especially with this software. I started off doing mostly S&P (Search & Pounce) so I could get used to the software but I braved the band today and called CQ. I had lots of fun and I worked several stations. Sometimes ya just gotta take the bull by the horns and dive right in. I also like the fact that this software plays nicely with HRD (Ham Radio Deluxe). Since JT65 is a mode accepted by the ARRL's LOTW, I'm looking forward to chasing states on this mode as well. If you are into digital communications like I am, you might want to give this a spin. The help file does a great job at explaining the software and exchanges. JT65, it's not just for meteor scatter or moon bounce anymore!

Oh, and before I forget, after writing this, a very quiet 20 meters yielded the following QSO's. I love this weak signal stuff!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Little RAC, Rookie, JT65A, and QRP's 1000 Miles Per Watt Experience

In looking at the activity this past weekend, there were a few contest type activities that I was interested in operating. But before I get into that, I decided to pull the JT65A software up again since it is a good weak signal mode and the bands don't seem to be open very long these days. Like every good ham radio operator, I read and re-read the directions but found one website to be a bit more informative. My biggest hang up was trying to figure out the software and learned a bit about right click and left clicking callsigns. Once I figured that out, things started to fall into place but not until after I made a contact with KF7CQ, or at least I think I did :0) Anyway, I plan to do a bit more with this mode in the coming weeks.

As far as the contests went, on the top of my list to participate in were the RAC Winter Contest which I participated in last year. This is a fun contest but I normally get skunked when it comes to getting all the Canadian Provinces. I have several VE stations I work on a very regular basis in the major contests so I like to try to send a point or two their way in their RAC. I ended up only making 82 contacts and catching 8 multipliers. I spent the last part of the contest chatting with my long time friend and old neighbor, KL1SF, on 20 meter SSB. I had to take advantage of the good band conditions and we closed 20 meters that evening of the 18th. We ended up chatting for 3 hours, which is the longest I have talked on SSB, ever!

After the RAC contest I also wanted to participate in the ARRL Rookie Roundup and the ARCI's Holiday Spirits Homebrew Sprint. I ended up working only a handful or stations calling "RR" in the Rookie Roundup and all were on CW (very cool). I then tuned up to the QRP section of 20 meters and started looking for QRP contacts. I switched rigs and fired up my Icom 703Plus and set the power at 5 watts. Now mind you, 100 watts can be ever so challenging from Alaska, so 5 watts might be a bit stressful for this operator. Either way, I have wanted to get into QRP operating so I'm reading "Patience 101 For QRP Operators" and I will let you know how it works. Inspired of course by wG0AT!

I set up my camera and shot a bit of video as I have thought about doing another Youtube video. I have one in the works and will hopefully work on it throughout the holidays. But anyhow, I found a few very strong signals operating the QRP contest and the very first was N4BP who just smokes into Alaska. I actually worked N4BP on 15 meters as well. The second strongest QRP signal went to K7TQ. I had a few others that were very close to 599 but these guys were rocking into AK that afternoon. But I have to say the highlight of this contest was my last QSO, HP1AC, who answered my CQ. As 20 meters faded, my  thought went out to one of the possible awards that ARCI offers, known as the KMPW Award. I wondered if the last contact with HP1AC would qualify me for that award. Thankfully, ARCI has an easy way to figure this out on their website. I keyed in the information for my contact with HP1AC. What'cha know, I squeaked by with 10 miles to spare! But hey, I'll take it! Needless to say, immediately after the contest I completed the award form and had it ready for the mornings mail run. Cool! I think I might like this QRP stuff after all. Making the 1000 Miles Per Watt Award kinda made my weekend. My next goal is to obviously make it much farther.  And speaking of QRP, I did chase a few Polar Bears around the bands this weekend! Highlight was working Ron, WB3AAL while he was portable and QRP from way on the other side of the US! I also worked John, N0EVH, Bear Den to Bear Den. But the coolest contact went to working Mike, KD9KC, who was portable atop the "Rough and Ready Hills" in New Mexico. I made a SSB contact with him on 15 meters.

So, even though I did not make hundreds of contacts, this weekend was productive and fun! With the short band openings these days, I will take all the propagation I can get! I think this wraps up my planned 2010 activity other than working a bit of PSK31 to complete my LOTW WAS as I'm down to only needing three more states.  I have a sked for one of those so I will probably be more active on that mode.

I want to take this time to wish any of my small number of readers a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! I'm looking forward to Straight Key Night and then I will take part in the SKCC's K3Y Anniversary event. I really enjoy my Navy Flameproof keys and as long as my tired wrists can hack it, sending CW the old fashioned way is one of my favorites. I enjoy not only participating in the K3Y event as an operator but also as one chasing the call districts. I hope to do it QRP this year as well, so I have my work cut out for me. Look for me as K3Y/KL7 along with a few of my Alaskan SKCC neighbors who volunteer their operating time as well in the month of January. It's a month long event and sure to get you hooked on completing contacts with K3Y stations in all districts. Remember, CW is the Key to DX success! Just ask me, I'll tell ya.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reverse Beacon Network

I enjoy tuning around looking for beacons, especially on 10 meters but another great way to see if you have propagation is the Reverse Beacon Network where you can enter your callsign and see if any of the monitoring stations hear your signal when calling CQ. With Skimmers (a multi-channel CW decoder and analyzer) being the next step to DX Clusters, there are "ears" on pretty much all bands. From time to time, I call CQ and see if I am being heard by any of these. I won't get into the debate of Skim or not to Skim, but I find it a neat propagation tool. Here I took a look at where my signal was being heard on 10 meters. It lists what station was hearing me, my transmit frequency, the date and time, signal to noise ratio, and the speed I was sending CW. This is a band that is not open on a regular basis so it's often fun to listen for beacons and just give out a CQ. Just because a band is quiet does not mean that it's not open. I normally find more SSB activity on 10 meters than I do CW. Let's hope with the peak of this solar cycle that will someday change. But for now, major contests are a great time to score some extra QSO's on what to me is also another "magic band."

Monday, December 13, 2010

VP8NO on 10 Meters? YES!!!!

So, I was pounding away calling CQ on 10 meters and a good signal was heard sending their call. I copied it as VP8NO. I entered it into my contest program and of course, any VP8 would get my attention as it would most people! I'm thinking to myself, could this REALLY be VP8NO on Falkland Islands? As with any questionable contact, you work it and worry about it later. I mean, a VP8 calling me and on 10 meters to boot? 

After the contest, several things went through my mind. I checked the VP8NO callsign looking it up on DX SummitI see one spot for him and it was by a Russian station. My excitement started to fade as the callsign may have been a pirate. Imagine my excitement tonight when I popped into my LOTW account and seeing the contact confirmed when I specifically looked it up! This is by far at the top of the "cool" contact list during the 10 meter contest. We are talking over 9,300 miles between his station and mine. Now in my opinion, that's worth bragging (blogging) about!  Man I love this hobby and CW rocks!

From Hell to SKCC And Let's Talk About 10, Shall We?

This past weekend saw the coldest temperatures at our location since this winter began. The thermometer dropped to -22F and everything was coated with Hoarfrost. This makes for a beautiful landscape and it also adds a interesting touch to our antenna's. I don't mind winters in Alaska, especially since I have a hobby that keeps me mentally enlightened during the short days. This would be the ham radio contest season. 

Like with every contest season, I have those major contests that I hate to miss. I try to operate in most of the major CW and digital contests. From time to time, when I'm feeling brave, you may hear me on SSB. But either way, when most people are dreading winter, I look forward to it as the contest season is a chance to break up a cold and dark winter weekend and achieve hundreds (or thousands) of contacts that always help toward my award endeavours. 

The ARRL 10 Meter Contest is one that I did not have high hopes for but with being able to work over 100 stations during the CQ World Wide CW contest on 10 meters, I had a glimmer of hope. Now mind you, I have a small station but I have known since moving here that my path to the lower 48 and Europe is pretty good. I also know that my Central and South America path is very reliable as well. My only challenge is the South Pacific and I think it has something to do with that large 20,320 foot mountain in my way. As I had mentioned in my earlier blog, early beacon reports made it appear the weekend was not going to be a bust but the spaceweather did not look promising.

I prepared the station on Friday about and hour before the start of the contest. I got Win-Test set up and I was ready to go. When the contest started, I tuned the band and not a station was heard. I kept tuning and it was obvious that Friday night was going to be a bust. I figured I would wake up early on Saturday and wait for the band to open. Thankfully, I had the Feld Hell Sprint and also the SKCC Weekend Sprint to fall back on if the 10 meter band never opened. I worked a handful of stations in the Feld Hell Sprint and then finally moved to 10 meters in the hopes of catching any opening immediately. So much easier to see band activity with modern equipment. My first rig, an Icom IC-735, never had a spectrum scope so the days of tuning up and down the band are long gone. Now it's more of a visual exercise.

On Saturday, 10 meters began to open for me around 1925z. I made my first contact at 1937z with W0YK followed by PU5AAD in Brazil. It was not long before the contacts began to roll into my log! Propagation favored the West Coast but as the day progressed, the propagation path worked eastward. I started hearing 4's, 5's, and it was apparent the pipeline to South America was hot! Argentina and Brazilian stations were booming in! My last contact for Saturday was at 2305z with K6LRN. I finished my day with a bit of SKCC CW and threw in the towel.


On Sunday, I was hearing VE8EV on 10 meters and I finally was able to catch up with him at 1718z. This was more of a short local skip experience as he was pretty consistent into my location. The actual band opening began at 1831z on Sunday with my first contact being at 1842z with NK7U. My paths on Sunday were similar to Saturday but I was hearing a bit better to the east. I was also hearing deeper into the SE and there was a point I had a strong path to Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. I also decided since I had several requests for SSB contacts, to run a bit on SSB. That yielded my best run rates oddly enough and also helped since multipliers counted again on SSB. I thought this was a good strategy for a higher score even though those QSO's were worth only 2 points as opposed to the 4 point QSO's on CW. It was all about the multipliers! There seemed to be lots of QSB on Sunday but requested repeats helped fill in the blanks.

In the end, my activities on CW showed I worked the following multipliers (see Win-test shot below)
.

Everything you see in blue was worked. The breakout is at the top showing 35 out of the 100 possible multipliers worked.

On the SSB side of things, you will find that I worked the following multipliers (see Win-test shot below)


Once again, everything highlighted in blue I was able to work. Much fewer but I did not spend that amount of time on SSB as I did CW. My rates on CW were nothing to write home about as my peak rate was 60. Oddly enough, even though I worked fewer multipliers on SSB, my best rate was 101! My main SSB activity window was from 2001z to 2115z on Sunday.

In the end, this contest turned out to be much more than expected. It did not hurt that the expected solar wind did not hit the earth and that predictions reduced geomagnetic activity to less than 25%. That was good news as absorption was not going to be a factor. It was a wild ride while it lasted and it brings expected excitement for future contests on what 10 meters could provide. My 3830 submission is listed below. Thanks to those I worked for all the QSO's and to those I did not work, let's hope propagation will be in our favor during future contests.I would really like to complete my 10 Meter WAS (Worked All States) award before we decided to relocate to a warmer Harley environment in the years ahead.

ARRL 10-Meter Contest

Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX

Class: SO Mixed HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 8

Summary:
Band  QSOs  Mults
-------------------
  CW:  311    35
  SSB:  124    19
-------------------
Total:  435    54  Total Score = 102,948

Club: North Coast Contesters

Comments:

What a ride!!! Now that's the way to end 2010!

I tuned into 10 meters at the start of the contest but as expected,
not a peep heard. The contest did not start for me until 1925z on
Saturday. The first few signals were noticed on the spectrum scope
on my IC-756PRO at that time. It was not long before the band sprung
to life.

On Sunday, ten meters opened a bit earlier, 1831Z for me. Sunday not
only opened earlier but I think the band was stronger. The CQ WW CW
contest started the 10 meter activity as I was able to work over 100
stations. This weekend blew that weekend off the map!

10 meters never produced any propagation for me into the NE but the
SE was booming in. It seemed we had a pipeline to South America as
well.

Several stations asked for SSB contacts so I ended up doing a mixed
entry. I normally stick to CW and avoid the SSB contests anymore but
my best rate was actually on SSB. 10 meters is, and will always be,
the exception to my SSB avoidance rule.

The QSB got a bit tough at times and that was the main reason for many
of the repeat requests. It was also challenging to break through the
back of the lower 48 antennas as many were pointed to Central & South
America.

I filled in my weekend operating fix by participating in both the Feld
Hell Sprint and SKCC's Weekend Sprint when 10 meters had no activity.
Our temperatures dipped to -22, so it was a perfect weekend to stay
indoors and play radio.

The highlight for me was the entire contest! With only 6 meter contacts
being rarer than 10 meters, any contact on 10 is a highlight. To me, the
entire weekend was priceless! I just can't wait to see what the next few
years bring for 10 meters. WAS for me? Only time will tell...

Thanks for the QSO's and I hope each and every one of you has a safe
and happy holiday season.

73,
Phil KL8DX
Denali National Park, Alaska
Icom 756PRO
Ameritron AL-1500
Mosley TA-34-XL @ 43 feet
Win-test 4.7.0
Website: http://www.livingindenali.net
Blog: http://kl8dx.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

10 & 15 WSPR on December 08, 2010

In taking Larry's lead (N1TX) where he was operating WSPR mode for three days at KL2R prior to the 10 meter contest, I decided to do the same but for only one day. I started out on 10 meters today but I was not seeing any activity (other than KL2R and myself, hearing each other). I decided to pop down to 15 meters and after I set the station up on WSPR, I waited to see what the propagation looked like. It was not long before I started to see traces of other stations showing up and before long, stations were booming in. I was running 10 watts to my 4 element Mosley at 43 feet. Above is a snapshot of the propagation path I had today on 15 meters. Needless to say, I think it was very good as my arctic rain of DX RF was falling to the lower 48 and beyond.

I went back to 10 meters a few times and eventually started to listen for beacons. The reason being, there were not that many stations on WSPR in the lower 48 on 10 meters. I tuned around and heard a handful of beacons from various locations. When I hear a beacon on 10 meters, I normally post it to the cluster. Reason being, to let everyone know there is a path into Alaska and to turn their antenna's northward (if possible). Some of the 10 meter beacons I copied today are listed at the bottom. It made me realize that there is hope that I will be able to work more stations on 10 meters during the contest this weekend! Could it be? Maybe a bunch of stations heard and worked on 10, again? Is it possible I could get more states for my WAS on 10 meters?

My excitement was short lived when I read spaceweather dot com. Yep, the effects of a solar wind is due to reach earth on or about the 10th of December. What does that mean for the contest weekend? Well, we shall have to see but one things for sure, I will make sure my battery in my iTouch is fully charged as I may be watching music videos rather than callsigns falling into my log this weekend.

28296.1 KA7BGR/B     CN82 > BP53                        2246 08 Dec   
28300.0 K6FRC/B      CM97 > BP53                        2233 08 Dec 
28245.7 N7JS/B       DN41 > BP53                        2202 08 Dec 
28196.2 LU4JJ/B      GF08 > BP53                        2133 08 Dec 
28193.0 VE4ARM/B     Light into BP53                    2125 08 Dec  

Monday, November 29, 2010

CQ World Wide CW 2010

The last weekend in November is an exciting time for the contesting and DX'ing communities. The CQ World Wide CW Contest is one of the most popular contests on the calendar. Stations get on the air from all over the world and in 48 hours, they attempt to contact as many other stations as possible, searching for new Zones and Entities. Contests normally fill up the bands and at times, draw complaints from those not participating. I won't get started on that debate but no matter if it's a RTTY, SSB, CW, or any other contest, if the bands cooperate, these weekends can be lots of fun (not to mention you could work lots of new states, countries, zones, etc). Here is my final breakout from this past weekend. 

Contest         : CQ World Wide DX Contest
Callsign        : KL8DX
Mode            : CW
Category        : Single Operator (SO)
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : All bands (AB)
Class           : High Power (HP)
Zone/State/...  : 1
Locator         : BP53LU
Operating time  : 15h43
 BAND   QSO  CQ DXC DUP  POINTS   AVG
--------------------------------------
  160       0       0     0     0       0            0.00
   80       2        2    2      0       2           1.00
   40      20       5    4      0      52          2.60
   20     698     17   48    8    1525         2.18
   15     103     10   10    0     227          2.20
   10     128      9   11    2     276           2.16
--------------------------------------
TOTAL   951    43  75  10    2082          2.19
======================================
        TOTAL SCORE : 245 676


I got a late start as I was just getting my station back together from realizing my repairs to my beam were in fact, successful. My beam was nested just above the roof so it took some time to get the feedlines, wire antennas, guys, all back in place. I did not finish completing this task until after the contest but I got enough done in the beginning to get me on the air. 

It had been several months since I last fired up Win-test and took it for a drive down contesting lane. Since I don't operate much during the summer time, I had to retrain my brain to remember the finer details of this program, not to mention getting my macros all set up. Once that was done, I was ready on Saturday morning to jump in with both feet. My CW was rusty from playing this summer so my speed comprehension was not the best. This always changes by the end of the contest, after copying high speed code all weekend! 

I started out by making a few contacts on Friday night on 40 and 80, but those were mainly helping me get the software playing the way I needed. My goal was to wake up the next morning (Saturday) and start fresh with a run. I prefer to find a somewhat clear frequency and call CQ in the hopes that I will get spotted and the masses will come to me. Normally that works, especially when you are in a state that counts as a multiplier, sometimes double, depending on the contest of course.  You can't be shy when operating from Alaska, as once you are found, oftentimes a pile-up you will find. 


The Win-test screen shot on the right shows my final log tally and underneath the grayline map, you will find a snap shot of my operating times and rates. Again, nothing to write home about but what that does not show you is the excitement I had on 10 meters (28 MHz). At the very top of this blog, you will see a Google Earth depiction of some of the contacts I made on 10 meters (for those I could find grid squares for). I was overly excited to make 128 contacts on 10!  In Alaska, this is something I never expected to see in my log. K3LR was looking for Alaska on 10 meters and I went to 10 in hopes of catching them. I could not hear a peep out of K3LR but I did notice some other activity on the band when doing a quick glance at my spectrum scope on my Icom 756PRO. I found the band open to South America! Since I was not really competing in this contest, I decided to scan around on 10 meters and see what I could work. Some of the calls I worked right out of the starting gate were, HD2M, CE1/K7CA, LP2D, CE3FZ, CW3D, LW2HBF, LW4HBR, LU7HZ, just to name a few. I started to hear the lower 48 and I began hearing and working stations from the East Coast to the West Coast. Yep, I was in propagational heaven! Most of the stations I worked on 10 where from that run on 10. 

My 10 meter opening lasted from 2053Z on the 27th, thru 2322Z. I picked up a station or two here and there afterward and even managed a few contacts on 10 the following day but this was by far the best opening I have experienced up here. I normally watch the beacon spots and tune 10 meters from time to time but this contest, I got lucky. You have to understand, 10 meters to an Interior of Alaska DX station, is like getting snow in Texas. It does not happen very often but when it does, it's lots of fun! I'm also hoping this is an indication of what is yet to come for 10 meters, now that the sun is beginning to be a bit more active.

And in speaking about the sun, a solar event kicked up absorption here in Alaska and on Sunday, the bands fell apart for a large part of the morning. They bounced back but nothing like Friday through Saturday night. All in all, this was a great weekend and I only wished I had more time to operate as this would have been the weekend for me to beat my personal high score in this contest. 

One of the highlights for me was ZL8X calling ME on two bands! I had not chased their DXpedition as I was waiting for the beginning madness to fade off. And again, the biggest "falling off my chair" moment was when they called ME on 10 meters!!!  

Alaska was once again well represented and it's always a pleasure to participate from this great state. It's hard to believe we just passed our 7th anniversary of living here in Alaska and working at Denali National Park. Not only does this hobby allow me to chat with people from all over the world, I have had several hams contact me and I have been able to meet them personally when they are on vacation here in Alaska, visiting Denali. I promote this park worldwide through my hobby and come to find, many I have talked with have visited here. The only thing bigger than an exciting weekend of DX'ing is Mount McKinley (Denali) at 20,320 feet, the tallest mountain in North America and it's right here in our backyard.

I appreciate all that called and gave me contacts and as always, I'm sure there are those I missed. It's great to be back in the saddle again and I'm looking forward to the rest of the contest season. It's dark and cold in Alaska, so it's very easy to spend a weekend on the radio making hundreds of contacts. In the summer time, I like to post a note on the shack door, "Closed For The Season". 
 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let's Contest Shall We? The Mosley is Back!

I have been tearing into my shack and working on doing some much needed maintenance. I was playing around with Win-test and noticed when I was doing antenna comparisons, that my HF beam was currently on position 2 of my remote antenna switch and NOT position 1, as I had previously thought. I don't have the five slots named (marked). With a bit of old age and my ongoing memory (or lack of) issue, I discovered that the repairs I made to my beam put it back in the game. If I had used my MFJ antenna analyzer, this would of been apparent to me when I first checked it but I accepted defeat when in fact, I had won.  I cranked up my antenna to its normal operational height and the signals sounded like I remembered them. I have a bit more work on my guys to get them back to normal but that won't take long, I just ran out of daylight.

I started using Win-test a few years ago but as with any software, if you don't use it all the time, you need to remember some of the finer settings (like macros). I spent an hour getting it configured and becoming reacquainted with the program with hopes of having some fun in the CQ World Wide CW Contest this weekend. My CW is a bit rusty but banging out several hundred contacts should do the trick.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Hex Build

I recently received my Hex Beam from KIO Technolgy and was finally excited to retrieve it from the boxes it arrived in. It was carefully packaged and here pictured, are the parts laid out on two sawhorses. I used the sawhorses as the foundation by which to construct the antenna. This antenna is large enough that it's an outdoor project however, it can be easily deconstructed for the move to the tower as I built it in my garage.

The instructions are easy to follow and if you take your time reading, this is only a two hour project, three hour at the very most. If you have built one of these before, you can easily throw this together in an hour. I found that you really need to be most mindful of attaching the fiberglass spreaders to the base plate. Since these are not reinforced, you have to be careful when tightening them into place. Everything is well marked and the only issue that I had with mine was, one of the stop clamps were missing from a spreader. I had a few on hand so it was an easy fix.

I'm excited to add this antenna to my operational stock as it will give me another antenna for 20 meters but I'm even more excited to have a beam on 17 and 12 meters! I would imagine, once my Mosley is fully functional again, this beam will be used mostly on 17 and 12.  I only saw the need for a 3 band antenna as I have 10 and 15 meters available on my Mosley and I have 6 meter antennas. I'm also looking forward to testing this out in our extreme weather conditions. As seen from an earlier post, the fiberglass on my 2 meter / 440 vertical finally failed. With our high winds, extreme cold temperatures, this arctic environment is sure the place to test such things.

The beam is built and once I get everything off of the tower it will reside on, I will partially disassemble it and move it outdoors putting it all back together permanently. It is light and it should not be too much of a problem getting onto the mast. It will need to be raised with the bottom of the base plate against the tower and then lifted over top and placed on the mast. Due to the light but hearty construction, I don't expect much of a problem accomplishing this feat. It's wide enough that it could be a challenge if I had guys to contend with but that won't be an issue on my small tower. I'm sure I will need the assistance of my wife and as always, she is more than happy to be my ground crew manager.

All in all, my first impressions from the purchase and build of this antenna would rate it a 9.8 on a scale from one to ten.  I think having a reinforced section of the 1" thick fiberglass spreader where it attaches to the base plate would be a plus as it's obvious that even slightly over tightening these will cause the fiberglass to crack. I was also missing the one stop clamp on a 3/4 inch spreader but again, I had a similar one on hand.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this company for their customer service, prompt and safe shipment, and ease of an antenna build. I like the fact that everything is pre-measured and well marked. Once I get this antenna in operation, I will post an overview of the performance. This antenna will only sit at about the 30 foot level so it won't be high but from other reviews, I'm hopeful that this will put many contacts in my logbook for 17 and 12 meters and also act as a back-up to my Mosley for 20 meters. I chose this company mainly from the reviews on e-ham dot net and also from some information I found on YouTube. I have no investment in this company other than telling it like it is. Stay tuned for part two of the Hex Build. Now I just need some free time and for the weather to cooperate. Something tells me that won't go as easily as the build did.

Monday, November 15, 2010

As Luck Would Have It...

I braved the weather and a large amount of snow on our metal roof to replace the repaired driven element on my Mosley HF antenna. I took my time as this is not the place to be this time of year but thankfully with the help of my wife, all went well. I told her I was going to see about getting on the roof and I phoned her when I made it up there. Needless to say, she was not real happy with me but due to her marital obligation, she helped this bravely, stupid ham. My jacket pockets were filled with tools but I forgot the screwdriver but it all worked out in the end.

After hooking the antenna back up and safely getting my butt off the roof, I was excited to see the results. I have wondered what my chances were of only having the one trap meltdown on my beam. When I got into the shack, I found a very high SWR on all bands so apparently, I have more issues that I probably won't have a chance to troubleshoot until spring. I was looking forward to seeing it back to normal and putting out my usual moderate signal from Alaska. Seems that won't be the case as it will remain nested for the rest of the winter.

On a positive note, I did get my Hexbeam in the mail last weekend so I will begin to put that together. With any luck, I can temporarily set that up and who knows, maybe even get it parked on the small tower which is on the left side of the photo above. That will be the final resting place for the Hexbeam once I get it constructed. 

This is probably a sign from someone my wife is connected to. She knows that if I am not playing radio on the weekends, I will want to finish our home improvement projects, mainly the master bath and the arctic entry. Something tells me she will be getting her wish. I will be on with my vertical and I will possibly put up a wire for 20 meters that will get me through the winter months. But one things for sure, once the spring thaw arrives and the temperatures warm up, I will begin my much needed upgrade of the station. I plan on replacing feedlines, continue my fix of the 4 element, and install another 6 meter antenna along with adding my replacement UHF/VHF vertical. I can buy a few pieces and parts as the winter goes along so I will have my stock ready to go before the skeeters arrive. 

I continue to work on my APRS project which should be completed by next weekend. I will hopefully get a wire antenna up here soon for 20, so maybe the winter won't look so bad after all. However, I'm still obligated to get the home improvement projects done. I'm bound by contract, that same marital contract that is...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

APRS & Hexagonal Beam Addition

ARS KL8DX has been rather quiet over the last few months. Reason in part due to my HF energy overload sent along to my TA-34-XL. I have the director back together after receiving my replacement part quickly from Mosley. The weather however has kept me from putting my 4 element back in service. It has been hard to miss a few of the major contests that have taken place over the last several weekends but with any luck, it won't be long until I get my signal broadcasting outside this great state of Alaska. With the fact I have not been able to really get on HF like I would want, I have been concentrating my time on APRS. This summer I purchased two Kenwood TM-D700A's from a ham in southern Alaska. My plans are to run one mobile and the 2nd will be used in the shack. I also plan on putting a DIGI here that will rebroadcast any APRS activity northward. I needed some pieces parts to complete this project and now that they all arrived, I'm about to do the mobile install.

Living where we do, I enjoy ham radio as there are many places that we have no cellular service but we have 2 meter or 440 coverage. Of course there are many places in our area that don't have either but this is just another form of communication that helps fill that void. 

I found the Kenwood a bit complicated but once I got used to the menu system (pretty much an Icom person myself) things started to make sense. It took a bit of reading and I also had my long time friend and old neighbor Sean, KL1SF, on echolink. He helped me with a few of the settings and today, I put it all together and everything worked as it should. I downloaded the free Kenwood software from their website so I just need to copy the settings so I can upload them to the 2nd rig when I put it in service (with a few tweaks of course).

Losing my ability to use my 4 element HF beam over the last few months has made me look at other antennas. I wanted something that was small, that had good reviews, that could be used as a back-up or in addition to my Mosley. After doing research, I opted for the Hexagonal Beam by K4KIOI had this configured for 20, 17, and 12 meters. My goal is to use this for Asia during the winter contest season on 20 meters when I don't want to crank my beam 180 degrees from the lower 48. It will also give me two bands that I want to be a bit more active on. That beam should arrive this next week and I will construct it as time allows in the ol garage. It does not look like it will take too long to put together but the weather will probably keep me from getting it on the tower for a few months. But hey, I may be able to set it up temporarily and give it a spin.

With the holidays fast approaching, other priorities will take the front seat to this great hobby. Sometimes, life leaves no time for ham radio but that's the beauty of it, it's always waiting for you when time allows. Twenty-two years later, I enjoy this hobby as much as I did when I first took my Novice test back in December of 1987. It won't be long now before I will be eligible from AARP and QCWA! Where has the time gone?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Penetrox & Smoked

If you have been following my blog, I have mentioned that I began experiencing some problems with high SWR after a RTTY contest last year. I looked at some supporting documentation available from Mosley that helped me narrow down the issue to 15 meters. Each trap consists of two coils, with the inner trap catching 10 meters (band is still flat across the board), the second coil traps 15 (SWR off the scale) and 20 as it turns out, is a summation of the element (about 4.0 to 1 SWR in the SSB portion). Keeping that in mind, I knew I had to drop my beam and start pulling traps off of my elements to see which was producing my problem. Alaska has been seeing some pretty warm weather here due to a SE wind pattern so I took advantage to drop my driven element off of the boom to dive into the traps. I accomplished this yesterday and today I pulled the element apart.

If you have never used Penetrox, I would highly suggest it. One of my long time friends and one of the hams that helped me get my start into this hobby  suggested Penetrox. I have been using it ever since. When placed on connecting parts, it helps prevent oxidation without effecting the electrical characteristics of your antenna. I have had my beam up for several years now and when I pulled a piece of the driven element out of the trap, I found it to be in the same shape as it had been when I put it together a few years ago (see photo above). I will not build an antenna without this stuff!



I proceeded to pull the traps off of the driven element and I found that the Penetrox did an outstanding job there as well. In the photo above, I just wiped off the excess (bottom trap in the photo) and it shines like the day I assembled this beam.  Now, keep in mind, I used this beam for several years when I lived in Ohio. It operated there, made the trip to Alaska, and has taken a beating with extreme weather we experience here. I'm happy to say, with continued preventative maintenance, this beam will probably outlast me.

As I tore into the one of the traps on the driven element, I could detect an odor that pretty much confirmed my suspicions. I also had a bit of difficulty getting the trap apart on one end. As I was finally able to muscle the inner workings of the trap from the housing, I found the following damage showing

what happened during the RTTY contest I had been operating. I happened to make my best score yet in a RTTY contest but success came at a cost.

 When I pulled both traps apart, I found only one had this extensive damage. I wonder what my chances are of having the problem in only one trap? I won't be able to tell until I either inspect each trap individually or repair this one and put it back on checking the SWR curve with my beam to see. The other issue is, the insulator is riveted onto the tube (as seen in the photo above). So, it seems I will be touching base with Mosely looking for parts. If I wanted to get replacement traps from Mosely, they quoted me a price of $478.60 for this beam. Thankfully, replacement coils only run $39.50 each!  Living on a tight winter budget, you can sure guess which parts I will be ordering!

I would purchase another Mosley antenna in a heartbeat! It has done well but even the best antenna's have their breaking points. This beam has survived extreme cold, high wind gusts over 70 mph, ice, and more. In the end, it was RTTY at high power that did it in. You need to know the limits of your equipment. From the Mosley website, the following graphic below describes the limitations of the Mosley TA-34-XL antenna which I should have paid a bit more attention to prior to banging out a RTTY contest on legal limit high power all weekend long. I am proud to say, the beam did not fail until many hours of high power RTTY operating (actually, the last few hours). I can't see myself owning any other manufactured antenna during my ham career.

 
So, I can only hope that I can repair this trap and get it back in operation before the extreme cold and snow arrives. If not, I can always print this photo and keep it close as a grim reminder of what happens when you ask more from your equipment than it can take. My Ameritron AL-1500 might be enjoying the rest but I'm sure not enjoying the lack of activity. If I don't get this beam fixed, I may have to take up a new hobby for the winter as my 5BTV just ain't the same even though it's a good antenna.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fun Summer, Rough Winter

I live in a pretty windy area and it's common to receive 50-60 mph wind gusts here. Any issues with guying or antenna's that are not well constructed will show themselves in a matter of time. Just yesterday, one of my antenna's "bit the dust" and will no longer see action. This would be my Diamond 2m/70cm dual band antenna. While I was working in our kitchen, I heard a loud bang of something striking our metal roof. I have my HF beam lowered for troubleshooting and thought it may be on of my wire antennas that happen to be hanging low. Upon close inspection, I found that the 54 mph wind gusts took it's toll on my X500HNA.Snapped the fiberglass underneath the bottom element which sent the top part flying. After striking my roof, I found it laying on the ground near the back of our house. 

The Diamond antenna site states this antenna will withstand 90 mph wind with no ice. Well, apparently a common winter wind of 50-60 mph must equal 90 mph as my antenna failed this winter. Sadly, I don't have a spare on hand and this won't see a replacement until next summer. On the positive side, my long time friend and neighbors, KL1SF & KL1MF, have relocated to Arizona, so I would not be doing much chatting anyhow. But, with that said, I had plans of operating as a digi for APRS and now that will have to wait as well. I do have a Cushcraft 124WB that I may try to place in service but not sure I can beat the weather.

Continuing with my antenna saga, my HF beam appears to have a trap issue. Close inspection of the beam shows no problem and even though it has taken a much worse beating that my dual band vertical, it has held up wonderfully. Last year during a RTTY contest, I was running high power and my gut feeling tells me a trap received a bit more than it could take. Mosley's website has a trouble shooting guide and from what I have reviewed, my 15 meter trap(s) have failed. So, I have a note into Mosley to find out about replacements. Yes, I could take them off and fix them but I would like to have a spare set anyhow. I have a flat match on 10 meters but 15 and 20 are poor with 15 being a super high SWR. So, there is no doubt in my mind a trap failed due to an over active AL-1500 in one of my RTTY contest pursuits.

What does this all mean for my station?  I will be much quieter than normal this winter operating from my ground mounted vertical and a few wires if I can't beat the weather with getting my HF beam fixed. Possibly not a bad thing as I have lots of remodeling work to do around our house. I may have to find another hobby or actually, I was thinking of gutting my shack and remodeling it. A few other locations in our house have a higher priority but with the looming dark and cold season, I could get plenty accomplished if I gave up my normal contest weekends for remodeling. I will be on, but my signal won't be as strong and you probably won't find me on as often if my antenna repairs fail to beat the arrival of our normally harsh weather. 

In conclusion, I'm extremely happy with my Mosley TA-34-XL and it has withstood the extreme weather conditions we experience here in our part of Alaska. The Diamond however did not, and it will eventually be replaced. In the mean time, as you can see from the photo above, I won't need a wind sock as I will always be able to tell which way the wind is blowing as the guts to my Diamond will be flapping in the wind.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No PB&J (Peanut Butter or Jack)!

This past weekend, my wife and I headed out for our last weekend of camping on the Denali Highway. The weather the last few weeks here in our part of Alaska has been awesome! We were hoping to squeeze in one last trip with our new travel trailer before we winterized it. It was also the last weekend for the Polar Bear Club to have their last summer event. I thought this was a great opportunity to enjoy some of the great Alaskan outdoors and also do a bit of QRP portable operating. We headed out Saturday and planned on returning home on Sunday.

I did a bit of the Feld Hell Club's Hiram Sprint and while I was making trips around getting the trailer ready, I was calling CQ now and then. Before the contest ended, it was time for us to depart. We had an uneventful trip out to where we were going to camp for the night. I got the trailer set up and it was not long before I heard signals on the air, most being those operating the Washington State Salmon Run contest (CW of course). It sounded pretty good but my operating would be short lived.

After getting my station set up, I found I had an extremely high SWR on my portable antenna.  I had never before experienced this issue with my Buddipole so I began to try different configurations and troubleshoot my problem. I was not making much headway before being interrupted by a passing motorist who had an apparent flat tire (pretty much shredded). It was a young gal who was traveling by herself and after stopping her car not far from our trailer, she came walking back to my location asking for assistance.

The Denali Highway is mostly non-paved and is very well known for damaging many hundreds of tires each summer. I don't feel comfortable driving on the highway with only one spare, let alone none! And this was the case of this gal from California. She was driving a small Datsun 280Z, 1980's vintage, and she had no spare tire, or jack for that matter!

To make a long story short, I spent quite awhile getting to the point where I could get her car jacked up and her tire removed. She was able to flag down a passing motorist and catch a ride to Cantwell. A few hours later, she returned with a new tire on her rim. I assisted her with putting the tire back on her vehicle and getting her on the way.

After watching this very nice gal from California drive off, it was only a matter of minutes when I saw a truck pull off of the roadway behind where we had been camped. Turns out, it was a co-worker of mine!  He was out enjoying the nice weather and was looking for photo opportunities. I chatted with him as we watched the sunset and after he left, I spent the rest of the evening with my wonderful wife and our family beagle.

The next morning, I enjoyed the sunrise and once everyone was up and had breakfast, we decided to head on our way. I opted not to operate as we had a schedule to keep due to a busy week ahead. Things did not work out as planned for me, but my plans worked out for someone else. I was able to help someone in need on the Denali Highway. We made it home without any tire events but I hope to do some operating as Polar Bear 197 in the coming winter months. We have winterized our travel trailer but after I get my antenna issue resolved, I will hopefully be back on the air as /P with my QRP signal from some place in or around Denali. You may wonder why I mentioned Peanut Butter in my title and that was going to be my sandwich of choice while I was operating. That was replaced with a warm, sit down supper with my wife and our dog (who you see in the photo above). I may not have PB&J on my next adventure but I will for sure have my radio!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Raining CQ Wallpaper

In checking our mailbox this weekend, I once again found a large white envelope addressed to my station. It was for my operational effort in the 2009 CQ World-Wide DX Contest - CW of course. Since my strongest band is 20 meters, I often enter the Single Operator, Single Band, 20 meter category. There are several categories but this one by far allows me to take full advantage of my strongest band, assuming propagation allows it. In looking back at my 3830 submission I see I wrote the following after the contest;

  CQ Worldwide DX Contest, CW

Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX

Class: SOSB/20 HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 26

Summary:
Band  QSOs  Zones  Countries
------------------------------
  160:                   
  80:                   
  40:                   
  20: 1646    27      70
  15:                   
  10:                   
------------------------------
Total: 1646    27      70  Total Score = 355,990

Club: North Coast Contesters

Comments:

This contest has it all, from excitement to frustration. My original
goal was to work an all band entry but that changed on Friday. Seems
our constant weather pattern as of late has been low pressure after
low pressure from the Gulf of Alaska. As it works its way into the
Interior, along comes the strong winds that accompany it. That kept
me off the low bands on Friday and I opted to start then as a 20 meter
single band. As the weekend progressed, the winds died down but I
decided to keep my pace on 20 and only QSY'ing for those that requested.
And as I write this, we are just now feeling the effects of yet another
storm forecasted to bring 75+ mph wind gusts over the next 48 hours.

Many great highlights and lots of on air friends encountered. I'm
still a greenhorn at pile-up management but had fun so I appreciate
the patience of everyone. Add in northern latitude conditions, some
interesting echo effects from signals, it can make for some really
tough times picking out a callsign, or even parts of a callsign.

Band conditions were pretty good into Europe this first night but even
with high power, it took some calling. The second night, the path over
the North Pole was far from good and it seemed like the only good
propagation from Alaska was into Zone 33. I was excited to snag 35
though which was surprising! Nothing heard toward Europe on 15 meters
from my station. As for anything toward Asia, I normally work them
off the back of my beam so a few more repeats are sent their way.

I kept checking 10 meters and I did not hear a peep on that band all
weekend. Tried one QSY to 10 but that yielded nothing. I also tried a
few QSY attempts on 15 but I got skunked there as well. On Sunday, I
kept getting several dupes so I confirmed my suspicions after the
contest and found a station posted me as KL7DX and not by my actual
callsign. It happens frequently.

I will update my blog with more contest details but in summary, this
turned out to be my best effort ever in a contest. Not much by contesting
station standards but from my small station, I'm excited to once again
reach another goal and milestone in my casual contesting career. I have
received lots of great information from the Alaska DX - Contest group
for which I am deeply appreciative.

Thanks again for the QSO's and may the holiday season bring you joy, good
health, happiness, and of course, plenty of DX.

73,
Phil KL8DX
Denali National Park, Alaska
Radio: Icom 756PRO
Antenna: Mosley TA-34-XL @ 43 feet
Amp: Ameritron AL-1500

I obviously busted a few callsigns but that is sure easy to do when my CW is not the very best at higher speeds. But, contesting is a great way to better your operating skill.  As we well know, the bands aren't always 599 all the time. I like the challenge as it helps me become more familiar with propagation, filters in my Icom, and just dealing with multiple stations calling me at once, which tests my mental filtering ability. I prefer to park and call CQ and manage stations rather than search and pounce but if my run totals fall low, I'm turning the VFO! The Alaska contest group here have been very helpful in providing me with operating tips which is crucial in this propagationally challenged part of the world.

With the help of contests, I have been able to achieve my WAS (Worked All States) on the 3 major modes (SSB, RTTY, and CW) not to mention my DXCC, which I will be submitting for here in the coming weeks with my LOTW contacts. My hopes are to continue my quest at operating the major contests this coming winter as there is not much more to do when it's 30 below outside and dark. I would love to have a "golden log" which I have yet to achieve. But, with goals and hard work, I'm sure it's possible. Gives me something to work for but either way, I'm proud to hang another CQ certificate on my wall of the shack.  QRZ?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Worth A Million Plus

My certificate just arrived in the mailbox from my operating in the 2010 CQ World Wide RTTY WPX Contest.   I knew one was coming as I read the results in the July issue of CQ Magazine. I am always curious how I did. Alaska, in comparison, does not have as many contesters as most states but the few are the ambitious type who are very competitive.  Below is my 3830 submission shortly after the contest. As you can see, I had a few removed in the scoring process but I'm still excited about my result.

CQ WW RTTY WPX Contest

Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX

Class: SOAB HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 28.62

Summary:
Band  QSOs  Pts
-----------------
  80:         
  40:  55  256
  20:  695  1659
  15:  148  338
  10:         
-----------------
Total:  898  2253  Prefixes = 457  Total Score = 1,029,621

Club: North Coast Contesters

This mode is one of my favorites but it can be extremely rough on the equipment. I'm not sure my AL-1500 has been right since this contest. As you can see, my operating time was 28.62 hours according to N1MM Logger. I was allowed to operate 30 hours as a single operator and wish I had put the entire 30 hours in. 40 meters is by far not a strong band for me but I was happy with what I was able to work.

My "hind sight is 20/20" moment after contests are normally if I spent too much time calling CQ and not enough time looking for multipliers. Depending on the contest, this can be crucial, especially to a small station like mine. You won't see any records broke by ARS KL8DX. I'm in it for fun but it's always nice to receive the culminating wallpaper for ones effort. With not very many KL8's roaming the streets during contest rush hour, I normally have people looking for me in prefix related contests. Sometimes I can be a double multiplier (depending on the contest) and once I'm spotted, I can't work stations fast enough. But again, I'm a DX'er by trade and a very amateur contester. My CW is far from fast and I'm still perfecting my digital macros. I hate SSB contests the most, probably due to the many very wide stations that I have problems tuning out when I'm next door to one. At least with RTTY, running FSK, I can narrow filter down and have some chance of hearing a weak station calling me, or coming back to me. The same applies to CW contests. For that very reason, you will find me in very few SSB contests.

I strive to learn from each and every contest with hopes of becoming better. I have never operated a full 48 hours in any contest and I guess the reason is, I'm there to have fun. So many factors weigh in which will determine how much time I will spend in any given contest. The main is the band conditions. I refuse to spend an entire weekend in my shack to yield a small amount of contacts. I can make better use of my time. Propagation is a huge factor living this far north and it always seems the solar wind kicks up over a contest weekend. Why is that?

With that said, I attempt to compete against myself from year to year. I will always try to beat my previous years score. This is the first time I have ever scored more than one million points in any major contest. Not a big accomplishment to many but I'm tickled with it. I think my 40 meter run was extremely beneficial to crossing this milestone. Again, strategy is a huge key determined by many "at that moment" factors. 

In the end, I scored a grand total of 891 QSO's with 451 multipliers for a total score of 1,003,475. Had I busted a few more callsigns, I would have not made the million point club (not that there is one).  I can honestly say, as far as contests go, this was almost the best my small station could do in the time I operated. I believe my strategy played out well and luck was on my side. In the end, it was all those who called me and hung in there that made this score possible. My station is small so the signal is normally not very strong so thanks to those who go the extra mile to pull my weak signal from the atmosphere. My million plus certificate is now hanging proudly on my shack wall which seems to be filling up with certificates. No, it's not that I have received that many, it's because my shack is pretty darn small.   

Monday, August 23, 2010

KL1SF & KL1MF via APRS, The Final Alaskan Chapter

I spent a large part of today watching as Sean (KL1SF) and Mindy (KL1MF) made their final rounds in Fairbanks. Sean has been heavily involved in APRS for several years and ironically, it's APRS that really made me realize that they were not returning (lump in throat moment). Yes, we have talked about their new jobs and them relocating for the past few months but today, it really hit home. Watching them leave Fairbanks for the last time (as noted in the APRS map screen shot) really drove it home for me that they were on their way to beginning their new life in the lower 48.

Good friends can be hard to come by but Sean and Mindy have been just that. Extremely sad to see them go but we totally understand why. Sean and I met back in the early to mid 90's at the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office in Northern Ohio. I worked there as a Deputy Sheriff and ironically, Mindy's father was my boss. It seemed that Sean and I were destined to be friends from the beginning.

The story we enjoy telling about the beginning of our friendship all stems from ham radio and Skywarn.  I belonged to Skywarn in Ottawa County and I had a new alpha pager I carried with me. For those that remember, when pagers first made it big, they were a small unit that displayed only numbers. Then, with modern technology, pagers became alphanumeric. I could receive text messages on my pager as well as weather information. Since we were known to have several severe storms throughout any given summer, I really enjoyed this new device. Being involved with Skywarn at the time even gave me a few bucks off the monthly bill! It also fit right in my with law enforcement and fire / EMS duties. 

Anyhow, Sean saw that I carried this "cool" pager and we started to talk about radios and electronics. Sean was not involved with ham radio as yet but it was obvious to me he sure would make a great ham! The friendship we have enjoyed all these years began way back which was instigated by a small paging device.

Sean became involved with ham radio and he actually lived at the opposite end of the county that I lived in (Ottawa). We worked the same shift (midnights) so if we were not talking on the radio at work, we were talking on the radio while at home. I went on to work for other agencies but the Sheriff's Office happened to dispatch for all that I worked for (Sean was a dispatcher). Sean and I would work UHF/VHF contests together and he would leave me in the dust most of the time. Sean had the 222 advantage. I only operated 2 and 432 but I never did mind losing to "the homey".

At the time, my sister and her family lived in Iceland. I had been to visit my sister before but asked Sean if he wanted to accompany me on my next trip. Sean and I got licenses from Iceland with the help of KE4HTS, who was stationed there working with my brother-in-law at the time. It just so happened that Sean accompanied me on my next two trips! We had lots of fun and Sean drug his portable station with him so we could operate from Keflavik. Other than now being in Alaska, that was my only other experience at being "DX".

Sean and Mindy left for Alaska back in 2000 and I remember being extremely bummed that my close friend was going to live so far away. I was excited to communicate with Sean on 17 meters for most of their trip across the lower 48 as they headed to Washington where they were catching the ferry in Bellingham. The bands did not favor any further communications until Sean got his station going after they had arrived in Alaska. After hearing of their adventures and keeping in close touch with Sean and Mindy (not to mention their photos) we decided to head up to Alaska and visit them during the summer of 2002.

When my wife, youngest daughter and I headed for Alaska, we flew into Anchorage and I remember how taken back I was with the landscape as we left the airport to start out trek north.  The drive was just breathtaking and we arrived at Denali very late. Sean was working the afternoon / late shift in the dispatch center so the timing could not have been more perfect. We followed Sean home and the next several days we spent with them seeing all the sights in and around Denali, not to mention Seward! We had hoped to see Mount McKinley (Denali) but the weather just did not cooperate. On the day that we left Alaska, Denali showed itself in all its glory! The south side of the mountain was visible all the way to Anchorage. My daughter made the comment, "I think it's a sign we should stay". Well, she knew something, as it was about a year and a few months later we arrived to Alaska.

We have had many fun adventures in Alaska with Sean and Mindy and we have watched their family grow. They have two boys and we are so glad we had the last 7 years with them. So many great memories and lots of fun times in the Alaskan backcountry. We know that we will see them again at some point as our lives will hopefully take us on similar adventures. Our paths will cross as fate will be in our favor, unlike the propagation in Alaska.

So, to the Fielding's, thanks for the wonderful memories, best of luck at your new jobs and keep in touch. Ham radio has been the apex of this great adventure and I have the photos and QSL cards to prove it.

The Bus at Cody Pass, 2010