Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Dena (Denali) Bear Still Hibernates

My maiden voyage for PBMME, Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event was somewhat of a last minute decision but I had a few days to plan my operation. This was to accomplish my first QRP outing with my Icom 703Plus and also using my Buddipole. I had recently purchased my portable keyer, the Mini Paddle by Palm Radio (photographed on top of my rig). One of the things I had noticed when it arrived was that the cable from the key to the key input on the rig was only a 1/8" plug rather than the standard 1/4" plug. I did not have the time to change out the plug but I did have one adapter (currently in use and I recently ordered a few more that have yet to arrive). With that in mind, I gathered up my equipment which consisted of my radio, keyer, battery, some jumpers and my MFJ-259B. I disassembled my Buddipole which was in my garage and packaged it up in its carrying case. Today was Denali National Park's Winterfest and my wife was going to participate. I was going to find a few places in the "front country" that would give me a good path to the lower 48 and try my first /P.

In checking the temperature it was ranging from -10F to -7F. I knew this would be a challenge with feedline but I wanted to give it a shot. I grabbed my cold weather gear and off we went. I dropped my wife off at the MSLC (Murie Science and Learning Center) and then I headed up to some high ground nearby.

I found my spot and parked my truck. I first opened up my Buddipole and started to put the tripod and mast together. I assembled the rest of the antenna but I started to experience some issues with the mast that came with the Buddipole. The mast expands to roughly 8 feet using telescoping sections that you twist to tighten or loosen. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge in the cold temperatures. This would not be a problem if the mast had an easier way to tighten each section as seen in this photo from the Buddipole website. The small handles shown to the side of each section would allow a heavily gloved hand to loosen or tighten each section and to keep moisture from hands off of the telescoping sections themselves.
The standard mast below is good but this allows moisture from a warm hand or snow (as in my case) to thaw and freeze making the expanding of the mast much more challenging. I'm sure not many operate at -10F but that will be a warm day for me during our Alaskan winters when I operate next year. I ordered a different mast from Buddipole with hopes that will work a bit better.

After getting the Buddipole set up out of the wind and as high as I could get it, I went to work getting my IC-703 set up. I removed it from the carrying case along with the A123 battery. I hooked up the rig and it came to life. I hooked up the antenna from the Buddipole to the Icom. The band sounded pretty good! I was hearing QRP signals from the lower 48 on or around 14.060. I thought to myself, this is gonna be fun! It was also very quiet where I was located with very little notice of QRN.

Next I removed my key from the box and hooked the cable up to the key. As I went to hook the key into the back of my Icom, it was then that I realized I did not have my adapter!!! The rig takes a 1/4" plug and of course, my key has the 1/8". I dug deep into my case but as I feared, I totally spaced the adapter. I did not even have a microphone (I don't operate SSB very often so I did not feel the need to take it). There I was, a quiet band and hearing CW signals so I was as helpless as a fish on shore at low tide. What was a bear to do...Grrrrrrrrrrrr

After making a few comments under my breath and speaking a language only spoken from my dark side, I admitted defeat and began to tear down my equipment. I did listen for a bit longer to see what signals I could hear. Something so small and simple left me silent and unable to communicate.

The Buddipole handled well at the low temperatures and I was really impressed how flexible the mini banana plug leads remained! They were totally flexible and if only I could say the same for the coax. I had to gently collect the coax as there was no flex to it at all. I tore all down and returned to my truck. My expedition ended before it began.

My unsuccessful excursion is a reminder to check and recheck all of your equipment prior to leaving. My house was on the other side of the mountain that I was operating from so it was not worth my time to travel there and back for the adapter. But rest assured, I will either have one or more adapters in my case or I will be changing out the plug to one that's 1/4" in size.

I ventured to my office where I put a few hours behind my desk until my wife was ready to leave for home. After picking her up, I explained my failure but in the end, I found a few good places for future operations. Rest assured, you will hearing KL8DX/p in future PBMME's but this one showed my lack of portable experience. Back to the den I went for another month.

PB 197

Monday, February 22, 2010

ARRL International DX Contest -Arctic Anticipation

This past weekend saw the annual arrival of the ARRL International CW DX Contest. As with many of the contests, it's always a good idea to skim over the rules of the contest for any changes. I always have to double check to see if Alaska is a state or DX country in many of the contests. In this contest, we were a DX Entity therefore, we only work stations in the lower 48 states. With that said, it makes my rotor happy as I keep my beam parked around 135 degrees to catch just about everyone down that way.

As I had posted earlier, this was the first time I used Win-test in a contest situation. Using N3FJP's software for years, the key assignments are a bit different as are the macro's. After spending a few evenings prior to the contest tweaking the software, I was ready to begin taking contesting to a new level. I found every aspect of this software awesome and it was well worth the investment for me. Now I'm looking forward to configuring it for RTTY. My final tweak with the macros was to get the cursor to jump past the canned "599" reports and get right to the state. I also wanted them to automatically log the contact after hitting my F3 key which was the final "TU" before calling CQ again. That one threw me off a bit as I had the $C at the end of the macro and it was not sending the other stations callsign. I moved the $C to the beginning of the macro and life was perfect.

I caught the beginning of the contest and 20 was in great shape. I only operated a few hours on Friday and spent Friday evening with my wife and daughter. I was going to be ready to hit it again early Saturday. I got up at my normal time (too early for most, especially on a day off of work) to find Europe just pounding in on 20 meters! I really could not start to work the lower 48 until propagation from Europe started to fall off. The lower 48 was still working plenty of Europe so it was my usual struggle to get their attention as most had their beams pointed toward Europe. With Europe still strong at 1830z, it was really hard to find a run frequency. Eventually Europe faded and the lower 48 stations started listening west and things picked up dramatically.

I wanted to keep an eye on 10 and 15 meters as I wanted to stray away from my single band life on 20 meters. 15 meters was outstanding both days!! Saturday and Sunday both had activity on 10 meters but a large part of that time, propagation favored South America skipping right over the lower 48. Lots of LU's and YN's heard very strong into Alaska. I was running on 20 meters but kept checking 10 meters and it came to life around 1900z for me. I quickly vacated 20 for 10 to start calling CQ. Seems 10 meters favored UT, CO, TX and AZ as I worked several stations in those states. 10 produced some much needed and unusual multipliers for me. Once 10 fell off, I would move to 15 meters.

My Ameritron AL-1500 started having issues on 15 meters during the RTTY contest last weekend and this weekend was no exception. It just did not want to load up on 15 meters and eventually just gave up on that band. During my Sunday run, I noticed the AMP had quit and I was only running about 25 watts (my normal drive power). I put the AMP into standby and cranked it up to 100 watts and ran the rest with low power. I hope to pull the AMP apart today and thanks to Rich, KL7RA I have a few hints as to what the problem may be. I had some fun working some pile-up's on 15 and I had a chance to do a quick recording of the fun. Nothing Dxpedition massive by any means but at times, challenging trying to grab a callsign from the group. Below are some of my quick snippits of 15 meters.

A typical Run on 15 meters (click Contest Recorder button below)

This next clip is my running a bit slower on sending but the frequency is starting to get a bit busier. Click on recorder button below for this recording.

This next clip is once again of my 15 meter run but the pile-up is getting a bit thicker. This is where my weekend activities will help me with management 101 someday. Click recorder below to listen.

I experienced the usual problem of someone posting me as KL7DX. I figured as much when I started to get several DUPE calls. I investigated that after the contest by searching DXSUMMIT and searching for "KL" spots. Yep, that explained the near 20 duplicates in my logbook. Was really surprised how people often times jump on a cluster spot and rely on it being 100% accurate. Hint, KL7DX was not on in this contest (not that we both have not been on in the same contest before).

In working stations who have several people calling, there is always a trick or two that may help your signal be heard amongst the masses. Sometimes calling a bit off frequency could help distinguish your callsign from another. As in this clip below, you will be able to hear an example of this with N0IJ.

Often times, simple timing can be the difference. One persons lag could be another persons success as heard below with VA1MM. Needed him on 15 so it worked out perfectly!

With my comment being "DX" in this contest, I had a few DX stations try to call. One refused to give up until I worked him and that being an XE2 station. I have a macro set up for just that scenario but the message was not received. Better to work him than listen to the QRM while I'm trying to work stations.

Turned out Sunday I got a late start again due to a family obligation but the contest sure went out with a bang. With my AMP on the fritz on 15 meters, I ran full break in and it's much easier to manage several calling. I don't have QSK capability set up on my amp so often times I miss the first letter or two of a callsign, should the sending station be sending at over 30 wpm or send too quickly. After running SEMI break in for years, this took a bit of getting used to hearing what was going on while I was transmitting. A QSK example is below on the sound clip and you can hear me changing from SEMI to FULL during the first part of the recording.

I do a bit on Twitter and I follow several other ham radio operators. One of them happens to be Bud, AA3B. Bud does an outstanding job in contests with his station and operating skill. It just so happened in my few short clips of the contest, Bud showed up on one of em. See if you can hear Bud in this recording below.

All in all, this was another great weekend! Lots of great contacts and even though I did not operate a large part of the weekend and did not get a sweep on any band, I had lots of fun. I am always out to improve my CW skills and getting into the thick of it has sure helped. I find myself less nervous but I have a long way to go to be "contesting material". Figured I might have this down by 2019?

Thanks for the contacts and God willing, I will return next year and hopefully the bands will be the same if not better. I would love nothing more than to work 10 meters all day long! Sunspots, gotta love em!

Final result as posted to 3830. Lots will be uploaded shortly to LOTW and E-QSL. Good DX'n from the little DX station in the 49th!

ARRL DX Contest, CW

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

Class: SOAB HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 17.5

Band QSOs Mults
20: 802....... 58
15: 283........ 48
10: 43.......... 16
Total: 1128... 122...Total Score = 412,116

Club: North Coast Contesters

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Disregard, this is only a test..Win-Test that is!

I was looking for a new and improved contest program and I fell for Win-test. I have used ACLog for years and it is good, but very basic. I was ready to step into the arena of contesting with something a bit more powerful. Several of the big contest stations up here use Win-test and they have had great results.

This is the age of getting software for free however, this program is not free. But as I pursue my interest in contesting, I needed something that would help me visually, and contestingly (yep, new word). Getting familiar at home with this program would also help me when I venture north or south with my desires to operate at a few of the other contest stations here in Alaska.

I am cramming with the functions and setting this up as my goal is to use Win-test this weekend in the ARRL CW contest. I hope there are a few patient souls out there as it will be a few QSO's before I get into the groove of new keyboard sequences but there is no better time to learn and play. If the contest itself was not challenging enough, now I'm stepping it up a notch.

I will report on my successes and failures (hopefully none) but either way, I'm looking forward to testing something new. 2010 has been a new software year for me. First I changed my log over to HRD (Ham Radio Deluxe) and now this change for contesting. Two major contests back to back. I'm not sure I can take it but something tells me the software will do just fine!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Made a Million Over The Weekend

This last weekend saw the annual CQ World Wide WPX RTTY Contest and it was one for the record books (at least here at ARS KL8DX). I was a bit concerned with how the weekend would play out with all the solar activity but I was hopeful that with a SFI (Solar Flux Index) in the Mid 90's, the upper bands would play well. I was hoping that an increase in solar wind would not blow propagation into another part of the world as it normally can at 63 Degrees North. I kept a very close eye on HAARP and not to mention Solar Cycle 24 dot com. It can also make my propagation path over the North Pole challenging, assuming it does not knock it out all together due to absorption. As it turned out, it was amazingly exciting but it took some planning once I got a feel for the bands at the start of the contest.

I normally don't get started on Friday's until late due to my work schedule but I got going right away in this contest. I began on 15 meters due to propagation there and knowing 20 is always my strongest band, I wanted to play a bit on the less open bands for me (15 & 10 meters). I made just over 80 contacts on 15 before the band finally fell out and I then moved onto 20 meters on Friday afternoon.

I worked 20 meters until the path to the lower 48 fell out. I always enjoy working the tail end of 20 as the propagation window fades west. I am always looking for contacts into Japan to China and then listening for our neighbors in the South Pacific from New Zealand and Australia. I have to admit, I have a very large mountain in my path to ZL and VK land called Denali (Mt.McKinley) all of which is 20,320 foot tall. Working the South Pacific is not as easy for me as working the North Pacific, but it's do-able. With that said, I have to thank those hams in Australia and New Zealand for shouting up my way and getting my attention while I was working into Asia. It takes some tweaking of my beam to get ZL's and VK's in but with patience, I can normally find em.

I ended up finishing up Friday evening working Asian contacts and I waited for Europe which normally begins to show up as early as 0630z. By 0700z signals were starting to show promise and I tried to work several in Europe but I was not having any luck! The signals were strong coming over the North Pole but I could just get my signal to be heard even with close to 1500 watts. I have experienced this before so I threw in the towel until around 1300z.

I got up early Saturday morning and my prediction was correct, I had a better path and I was being heard much easier into Europe. I worked Europe until that path gave way to propagation into the lower 48. Once again, 15 meters did produce some activity in the afternoon but 20 meters was my strong band. I did start listening and playing around on 40 meters especially when I saw those 6 point contacts outside of North America! Now, 40 is not a strong band for me but this is where our friends in Japan and China come in. I don't have anything between them and me but open ocean so I can normally be heard that way. As luck would have it, I snagged a few good points on 40 meters. My main focus was 20 meters to get my numbers up but also taking advantage of 15 meters. 15 opened into Central and South American nicely as it did to the lower 48. Saturday night played out like Friday night exactly, and I once again decided an early rise would yield more logged QSO's for me.

Sunday morning's opening into Europe turned out to be even better than Saturday. I found lots of great contacts and several multipliers. As with most of the weekend, polar flutter was present and made it a bit tougher with the weaker signals but all in all, the path was very good. I made contacts into Europe pretty late Sunday morning before it fell to the wayside and the lower 48 came bouncing back in (but not that well until the very end of the contest actually).
The hard to time make contacts is that time between Europe and the lower 48 when the lower 48 guys and gals are still working Europe and having their antennas pointed from 90 to 30 degrees. Often times, I just can't get their attention. I normally have to VFO onward in hopes of catching them later. On a side not, you can sure tell the guys who have fixed beams or SteppIR antenna's as they will hit that switch and go from 519 to well over 599! Eventually propagation moves west and everyone's antenna follows and it becomes much easier to work the East Coast lower 48 crowd. I found 15 extremely challenging on Sunday due to very heavy QSB! Signals would start out very strong and by the time they were half way through their macro, it would fade to nothing. Crazy fun!

As the weekend was coming to a close, I saw my score creep closer to the million mark. As the clock ticked and the contacts rolled in, I thought that for once, I may be able to score more than a million points in this contest! Those last 100,000 were rough bouncing back and forth between 20, 15 and 40 but contact number 887 of 902 was the one that put me over the 1 million point mark thanks to VE2XAA! That was a 2 point QSO AND a multiplier! I opted to spend the last 20 minutes or so of the contest doing Search & Pounce looking for any last minute multipliers. That paid off for a few more multipliers and I wrapped up CQ WPX RTTY 2010 with my last contact logging VA3TTU at 23:59z.

Having a small station, many of my successful contacts often rely on the other stations ability to hear my weak signal. Hats off to those stations, wow! Some were very weak but I opted to give it a shot and several times they came back with my callsign and we easily exchanged the necessary information. I adjusted my macros as needed depending on the band. If I started to get repeats for my QSO number, I increased my macro sending it three times rather than two. That seemed to work well. There is always lots of conversations about macros and I saw a bit over everything this weekend but in the end, I don't care as I would like to have a QSO even if you have to hand type the exchange slow. Macros can get you into trouble as it did for me near the end of the contest. I sent two wrong macros at once to KI6VC but thankfully he was understanding, laughed it off after I sent the proper exchange knowing full well it was late in the contest and we all by that time or experiencing RTTY burnout!

Many highlights include catching several of my Alaskan neighbors on the bands. Caught many old friends and new ones it's always a pleasure to add them once again to the KL8DX contest log! Now mind you, I would much rather be operating with W8AV down at PJ2T, but Alaska ain't half bad even during the winter time. I have always been able to take the cold much better than the heat.

Again, thanks for all those that called in and helped me reach this new point in my CQ WW WPX RTTY operating career. Log has been submitted and of course will be reviewed and once log checking is done, approximately one year from now, I should know how well I did. Alaska appeared well represented in this contest and it's an honor to be part of the Alaska DX & Contesting group up here! See ya next year, God willing!


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

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

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

Saturday, February 6, 2010

MN QSO Party

Minnesota QSO Party

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

Class: Single Op HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 6

Band CW-RTTY Qs Ph Qs
20: 57.......................3
Total: 57.................. 3 Mults = 35 Total Score = 4,095



I had my sights set at working a few bands and beating my last
year score however the bands failed to cooperate. Very rough
band conditions on 20 meters, the only band open to MN for me.

Lots of mobiles worked and what a fantastic job they did! Thanks
for listening
hard to pull my signal out of the static. I wanted
to provide the AK multiplier to as many MN stations as possible.

I'm hoping that next year will yield better band conditions as I
will once again be looking to better my previous score and pass
out AK to as many as possible. 73! Phil

Friday, February 5, 2010

QSL? Yes I do!

For years I have enjoyed sending and receiving QSL cards. When I lived and operated in Northern Ohio, I did more sending than receiving. That dramatically changed when I become active from Alaska. Our post office box at Denali National Park would get crammed full on a weekly basis with direct QSL requests. Since the Post Office at Denali is very small and is only open a few hours daily during the winter months, we looked at a Post Office box in Healy. At the time, our daughter was attending high school in Healy and the Post Office was just around the corner. We were able to secure a much larger box to accommodate the mass mail I receive and my daughter just picked up our mail on her way home from school everyday. Our main box is still here at Denali National Park but the 2nd box in Healy has helped greatly. Problem is, our daughter has long graduated so we only get to our Post Office box in Healy about once a week. I'm still glad we have that box as the direct requests continue to poor in. It also accommodates my very large bureau envelopes from the 8th and KL7 bureau's.

Being active also has a downside (for some) but since I'm not a stranger to a computer or administrative duties, I don't mind doing the "paperwork" associated with being on the air. I enjoy the notes, QSL cards, and especially enjoy the foreign stamps. As I have mentioned before, I have every QSL card I have ever received in my ham radio career. The batch that I received today is about average for me, from 10-30 direct requests a week. I respond immediately to QSL requests and I even go an extra step for foreign QSL requests by putting an Alaskan stamp on the airmail envelope (they get their monies worth since the send a "Greenstamp" or IRC). This is why I list my QSL instructions on and also our website and ask that those who want to QSL follow my instructions. I recently had a station in Europe tell me that he never received my QSL card after sending a direct request. I checked my log and sure thing, I did get his card and I sent mine back but it either got eaten by a postal machine or 5 fingers assumed there was something in it that wasn't. Either way, I sent another immediately and I was glad to get an e-mail about a week later telling me that my card arrived.

QSL managers don't get enough credit as I know how much time I spend doing QSL cards the old fashioned way. Yes, I could use other services to streamline my returns but I like a personal touch to my QSL card. I fill out my card manually and I don't use a computer generated label. Personal preference.

When I get tired of filling out QSL cards, I have a manager in mind and I will ask him to take over my duties. But until that time, receiving several QSL cards is like walking downstairs on Christmas morning and seeing tons of presents under the Christmas tree.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SKCC's K3Y 4th Anniversary Event

Scanning through my blog, you will find several references to the SKCC club (Straight Key Century Club). I have been a member of this club for a few years now and I hold membership number 3800T. What drew me to this club was the fact that it was free and the other was the desire to hang out with a bunch of members who shared my passion for CW (Morse Code) and using a mechanical keying device. It was here that I was introduced to the Navy Flameproof key that I so much enjoy today. I have started to collect the different keys that were manufactured and I'm always watching eBay or private posting of ones for sale (ya got a rare one to sell, please let me know). I do own one other type of straight key, a J37 given to me by my friend Larry, N1TX. I have used this key on a few occasions, too.

SKCC was celebrating their 4th anniversary during the month of January, 2010. This involved operators from all US call districts and there also happened to be a European stations operating as well. This was a month long celebration with volunteer operators signing up to operate as K3Y. With operators from all US call districts, SKCC tracked those stations who obtained their ten region "sweep", working K3Y stations in all ten US districts. Possible endorsements for Hawaii and Alaska were available making it possible to get a twelve region sweep.
Alaska only had three operators volunteer for K3Y shifts, with my station being one of them. I enjoy chasing K3Y districts but being a member, I wanted to give as many people a chance to add the Alaska endorsement to their certificate. With a full time job, my operating was confined to my days off assuming I did not have prior commitments. It was nothing but pure straight key fun with some of the small pile-ups I could generate when I called "CQ". A straight key pile-up is a bit different than your normal pile-up. A normal pile-up many of the stations sound the same with the exception of those who are slightly off frequency. With a straight key pile-up, each operator has their own "signature" way of sending Morse code which made a bit easier at times to pull one station of out the many. I would also listen for the QRP stations on a regular basis.

In a short time, I was able to work all US call districts including Alaska and Hawaii. I just started to put my QRP station together about half way through the month so I decided to attempt a twelve district sweep running 5 watts or less. My late start caused me to finish off the month without getting my QRP sweep missing the following districts; 1, 4, 5 and KH6. The band conditions toward the end of the month were far from helpful.

I very much enjoyed giving out K3Y/KL7 to those that needed it and I'm always tickled to hear and read the excitement of those getting their Alaskan endorsement. This was a huge event to coordinate and many people were behind the scenes to make it the success that it was. Due to the fun I had in the event, I was quick to donate some money to help with the K3Y event. I want to extend a BIG public thanks to all those SKCC members that made this event a huge success. A special thanks to Paul, NG7Z for handling our calendaring duties. Paul was extremely accommodating and understanding especially with my often short notices of available time slots.

I hope you had a chance to work K3Y during the month of January. All good things must come to and end and K3Y once again retires until next year. I only wish I had a bit more time to operate but I enjoyed the time that I did. I was responsible for adding 342 QSO's to the K3Y/KL7 logbook out of a total of 630 or so worked. I was joined by Alaskan operators Bob, WL7WH and Jim, AA6CW.

In closing, I gotta mention the QSL card design by Drew, AF2Z. I have to admit, I think this is one of the neatest designs I have seen in a long time! Drew did such an outstanding job designing this and it was by far my most favorite. I have yet to send off for the QSL card but I do have the coffee cup thanks mostly to Pete, W1PNS. In true ham radio spirit, Pete helped me work around a shipping issue.

If you are a ham radio operator and enjoy CW using a BUG, Cootie or Straight Key, I would encourage you to become a member. If you want to learn CW and maybe need a helping hand and some guidance, this is the club to join! SKCC has plenty of events on the calendar to participate in. I belong to several other organizations that I will feature in the near future but January was all about SKCC for me. It begins with Straight Key Night and continues until 2359z on the 31st of January. Thirty-one days of manual, key click'n fun!