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.


 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 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!".


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

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

Club: North Coast Contesters


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

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

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.

Phil KL8DX
Denali National Park, Alaska
Icom 756PRO
Ameritron AL-1500
Mosley TA-34-XL @ 43 feet
Win-test 4.7.0

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