Monday, November 30, 2009

63 Degrees Worth of CQ World Wide CW 2009

CQ World Wide CW was this past weekend and I think it has become one of my most favorite of contests. Everyone can "work" everyone and it's 48 hours of world fun. In 2008, I made 1210 raw QSO's for a score of 219,156. From the latest certificate I received from CQ, that number dropped a bit as my official final score was 218,025. I'm sure I threw a callsign or two and it is always worth an extra few seconds to make sure you have the callsign and exchange right.

With the holiday weekend, Thursday was fun as we had friends over to our humble abode and we enjoyed several hours of company. I could not help but think of what Friday was to bring. My wife shopping for bargains and me getting ready to start the CW contest. Being this far north, the band conditions are always a concern. I kept my eye close on a few propagation websites and the outlook did not look bad.

Enter Friday! I started a straight key contact which led me right into the start of the contest. While I was finishing up with my QSO I was firing up my contest program getting ready to start calling CQ. Calling CQ when I lived in northern Ohio and calling CQ here in Alaska are two very different experiences. There are many more operators calling CQ in from Zone 04 than there are in Zone 01! With that in mind, the pile-up is much more extreme here, something that it took some getting used to (and I'm still learning). Over the years I have been surrounded by great contesters and their organizations. The same applies to here in Alaska. With their knowledge and advice in many emails, listening to them operate, and having a great resource to have my questions answered, has helped me greatly in my confidence.

I was happy to work station K8AZ right from the start (2nd contact) along with N5XZ. Being from back east, I'm always looking for club members of the North Coast Contesters and the Northern Ohio DX Association. The lower 48 opening was somewhat short lived due to the time that the contest started however, I decided to focus on Japan for the first part of the contest. This would give me 3 point QSO's which I felt would help my score. I normally work JA's off the back of my beam which at my location, is normally pointed to the lower 48. This time I pointed directly to Japan and points North East toward Asia in hopes of working as many as possible before the band closed. I operated until 0330z and threw in the towel on 20 meters. I had too much noise on 40 meters due to high winds so that help me decide to operate only 20 meters. I did not come back to the radio until 0618 hrs. This was when I started to hear Europe. I worked European stations until 0930z and then finally went to bed for the night.

I was back up at 1400z and once again started to pick off European stations. I worked into Europe until around 1640z. The signals faded and I focused my efforts on the lower 48. Once again, my desire was to find a somewhat clear frequency and call CQ! I did this for a large part of Saturday until the band gave out. A contester has to make sure they have a comfortable chair as they will spend countless hours in their premium contesting operating position. Once the band closed, I spent the rest of the evening with my wife and I went to bed a bit early in hopes of getting up early.

I got up early on Sunday morning but was I bummed to find the band dead! I was hoping to see several signals on my spectrum scope on my IC-756PRO but nada! I ended up going back to bed only I was not able to sleep. I got up and paced the floor like an expectant father waiting for the bands to open. Finally, around 1600z and with the antenna focused on Europe, I was hearing some stations. I worked a much needed EF8M, CR5X, EA8URL, and 9L5A! Europe was done by 1700z! I then repositioned my beam once again to the lower 48 and started to call CQ!

As the day progressed I knew I needed a few zones down south, not to mention country multipliers. Since I had not worked Zone 7 or 10, not to mention 9, 11, 13 and most deep south, I did not want them to slip away. I decided to wait until the propagation was "hot" from that direction and then do some S&P (Search and Pounce). I started this task at about 2100z and it paid off for me. I landed PJ2T, P40W, ZY7C, P49Y, HC8GR, 6Y1V, P40A, J39BS, TI5A, PS2T, 8P5A, HI3A, P49V, KP2M, CW5W, PZ5X, PR7AR and finally CE3DNP! Wow, did I need those! It took me just about an hour to tune the band and add those QSO's to my log. I then looked for a clear frequency which was getting to be ever increasingly hard.

I called CQ and stayed put until the end of the contest. But I had one last surprise before it ended. I was called by CE0Y/SM6CUK during the last six minutes of the contest. I have read others comments about getting some juicy multipliers during the last few minutes but damn, it actually happened to me!!

I'm no speed demon on CW but I had lots of fun working on my contesting skills. My rates were not high by contesting standards but I'm happy with the rate I was able to keep (see graph above). Again, when at the receiving end of a pile-up, you need to control it and it can also be rough to get a full callsign. When the stations calling are all the same signal strength, it's not uncommon (at least for me) to even combine callsigns. I'm glad people took the time to correct me and that is the reason I resend their callsign at the end. Macros are always a contesting conversation but having my callsign busted plenty (confused with KL7DX, as I was many times again during this contest) I want to make sure I have it right. An example of my macro in the beginning is:

W1*** 599 01

An example of my follow-up is:

W2*** TU de KL8DX

This lets them know I corrected their callsign and if not, I would hope they would call me back and correct me. I also end with my callsign so nobody has to wait on frequency to see who I am. I find nothing more frustrating than sitting on a frequency and the sending station does not send their call frequently. Many just send a few "dits" or just send "TU". You wait several minutes to find out who it was and if you needed them. Heck, maybe this is a good strategy keeping your competition parked rather than working stations up and down the band. For whatever the reason, I wish a few BIG stations would send their callsigns more often. Many have short callsigns (look at the EU ones I listed above) so it is not going to cost them any more time by sending your callsign rather than just "TU".

I experienced several dupes late on Sunday. At 2309z, someone posted me as KL7DX. Wow, I had several just call me that I had worked before. I had my suspicion as to why but I confirmed it after the contest when I did a search on DX Summit.

When the dust cleared and it was all said and done, 26 hours of operating (I stepped away several times and did not turn off the timer so it's a bit less) I worked a total of 1646 QSO's before log checking for a score of 355,990. I did reach my goal of beating last years score and it gives me something to beat next year, which would be easy if I operate multiband. Either way, this little station used up some bandwidth and accomplished a new personal record. I have to keep asking myself, what would that number have looked like if I had operated the entire 48 hours of the contest? Hum...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November Sweepstakes SSB Version

SSB contests have not thrilled me much since I became deeply involved with CW and Digital. I am spoiled by the filtering ability with these modes and lets face it, there are more SSB operators than there are CW. Anyone with a voice can operate SSB but CW is basically learning to speak another language. I tend to shy away from these contests (SSB) for this reason but also in most of the major contests, Alaska is well represented in SSB versions anyhow. I do like to search the bands for friends or other stations that I frequently work just to give them a point or two and maybe even a multiplier.

With that said, I decided to concentrate on something other than 20 meters. I have lived on 20 meters for several years as it is by far my strongest band. It's a great band to work but I am really looking forward to 10 and 15 meters being open day after day for several hours. Not sure we will be in Alaska for those openings, if they are more than a few years out, but I'm always watching and listening.

Just prior to the SS, I was on 10 meters and working stations on SSB. I end up doing SSB on 10 meters ONLY because there is very little CW during band openings (exception is the beacons of course). I saw some 10 meter activity was posted to the DX Cluster so I tuned around a bit and darn if I did not hear stations. So, I headed to 28.405 and after making sure the frequency was not already in use, I called CQ. The fun started from there!

I ended up working several states on 10 meters and I was chatting with stations until the start of the contest. Once the contest began, I was able to make an additional 22 QSO's, a few stations I had already worked just before the contest (thanks for stopping back). Once 10 meters gave out, I shut down the rig and went on to other duties.

I turned on the rig on Sunday and I found some activity on 15 meters. It was slow to open but when it did, wow! The band became crowded quickly but I was able to find a hole and call CQ and the rates began. As you can see from the graph, I peaked briefly at 126 Q's per hour but I was able to stick pretty steady at 104 to 112, for the most part. Due to the information that was passed (much more than your average RST - Really Shouldn't Tell, and a ZONE or State) it took a bit longer. When dealing with a pile-up, it can take a bit extra time to pass onto the next station. Being a small station myself, I'm always looking for smaller stations or somewhat weaker stations. I was surprised at how many QRP stations were in this contest. Some contesters will complain about QRP in contests as often times, it can take twice as long to pass a contact along. If I'm running a 1000 watts the QRP station is probably hearing me pretty darn good but if the QRP station is running 5 watts or less, it could take several attempts to correctly pass information between our stations. Add in the fact that the band is normally crowded and you have another high power station nearby adding "splatter", it makes for a tough time now and again.

By the time 15 meters dropped to a handful of stations, I had made 358 contacts. Not a lot but for the few hours I was on and considering the band, I was super pleased. I decided to vacate 15 meters even though it was not totally closed and head to 20 meters. It was wall to wall with splatter and was rough. 20 meters is not for the faint of heart especially during SSB contests! But I was in search of a few other multipliers that I had not picked up on 15 meters just to see how close I could get to my "sweep". Well, as luck would have it, I did not come very close but I only missed the following:

NH, NNY, DE, VI, SD, NL, MAR, QC and NT.

Not too bad for a few hours and not really hunting down multipliers. Once the dust cleared, I had around 7 hours of operating in with 402 contacts overall with 71 sections worked. Again, I'm in it to have fun but it has made me think of maybe trying to see what I can actually do if I try! I have never worked a contest from start to finish staying up the entire 48 hours. Being that I have a smaller station, winning is something I don't comprehend. But, from a "little pistol" perspective, it could be fun to see what kinda of damage I could do if I actually tried. I am more apt to work an entire contest of RTTY or CW than I would SSB I'm afraid. Maybe working at a MULTI and helping another station out is just the ticket for those contests.

Little or not, contesting is always fun and a quick way to rack up contacts that count for numerous awards. It's easy to work DXCC or WAS in a weekend if you apply yourself and just get on and operate. I have never referred to my station as a "contest station" but more of a DX station looking for new countries and chasing various awards. My goal is to give out Alaska as much as possible while we live in such a beautiful but propagationally challenged place. It makes me feel good when I'm told I helped someone complete their sweep in a contest or have given someone a new state or DXCC country. That's what I enjoy most about making contacts and with my log containing over 24 thousand contacts to date, I have enjoyed each and every one of em. My log has been submitted and it also has been uploaded to LOTW and e-QSL. You don't have to be a contester to enjoy a contest and almost every contact is worth at least a point. If it were not for us "little stations", the contests would end well before the 48 hour clocked stopped ticking.

Monday, November 16, 2009


This past weekend saw the WAE RTTY Contest otherwise known as Worked All Europe Contest. This contest is a bit unique as stations in different continents can send and receive QTC's, or traffic. I currently use an older version of N1MM Logger for RTTY contests and N1MM makes it simple to send and receive these QTC reports. For the last few years, I never took the plunge to send and receive QTC reports but I finally decided to give it a shot this year. It could not be easier.

N1MM has it's own help file but simply, Ctrl-Z gets you the QTC receive screen and hitting Ctrl-Z the second time gets you to the QTC transmit screen. Just click on the information that is being sent to fill in the blanks or click to send your information to the other station. Pretty easy.

This contest was lots of fun but once again hampered by the solar conditions on day two. The aurora levels peaked and absorption was once again my enemy when attempting contacts over the North Pole. But on the first day, 15 meters opened and I worked 110 stations, which was down right fun. I managed another 349 contacts on 20 meters and 7 more on 40 meters. I operated a bit over 16.8 hours during the 48 hour event but I had fun for the short time I was able to dedicate to operating. Work and band conditions took care of the rest.

There is also a CW and SSB version of this contest that I have yet to participate in but I'm sure those versions are almost as fun. RTTY has really become a popular mode now that it does not take an expensive TNC to get on using that mode. These days, as long as your computer has a sound card you can build an interface or purchase one. This connects your computer to your radio and you're in business (after downloading many versions of free software from the internet). I operate FSK to take advantage of the internal filtering in my HF radio which helps greatly during crowded contest band conditions. Great to see such an old mode of communication so popular in today's modern world. Takes texting to a new level!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

November SS

There was a time that I did not operate in the CW Sweep Stakes and have only taken an interest in it over the last few years. I like this contest as it pushes your CW skills to the limit. This contest requires much more information exchanged than your typical weekend contest. I have yet to do more than hunt multipliers and call CQ a few times in this contest but it becomes addicting. I use it more for a warm up of my CW skills for the CQ and ARRL contests in the coming months. After having a summer off and doing more digital, it goes not take long for my CW speed to slide back to slow. It would be great to get a clean sweep in this contest but it takes skill, timing, and cooperative propagation. The 2009 CW SS has been fun so far and the band conditions have been pretty darn good especially for this northern station. There are still several sections that are white on my map above but hopefully I can fill in a few more before the end of this contest. If you have not tried it, give it a shot. If your CW is slow by your standards, I worked several slower stations toward the upper part of the CW sections on 20 and 40 meters, one even calling CQ SS QRS! Soon you will find yourself looking for that broom!
I could not operate but a small part of the contest but I did manage to work all but 9 Sections. I missed out on the following; EMA, ME, RI, WTX, NE, ND, NL, QC, and MB. If I could have devoted more time to the contest, I'm sure I could have made this list smaller. I entered unassisted so it's much harder to earn that sweep! Hats off to the fast CW guys & gals that can run high rates in this contest. My CW will never be that good but I will sure be participating when I have propagation and my schedule allows.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Twitter to 20

Recently, I became Twitter friends with a certain ham radio operator. She mentioned she was going to be attempting an upgrade of her license to General Class. I was excited to read that she recently passed her test and upgraded to the world of HF on ALL of the bands. We talked about having a QSO and that took place on 10/31/2009 on 20 meter SSB.

I'm talking about Kami, KF4UFY. It was obvious when she described her station that we would be able to work easily if there was propagation. She picked a frequency and I was happy to hear her voice. The bands were not quite open to the east coast but I had a good copy on Kami.

In this day of modern technology consisting of Twitter™, Facebook™, MySpace™, it's great to see a young person interested in ham radio! We need to do all we can to promote our hobby and show our younger generation that our hobby may be old but it has several modern elements as well. Just work a contest where an operator sends their age as part of the exchange. It will open your eyes to the average age of ham radio operators world wide. We need some young talent and interest in our hobby so that it maintains a bright future. I'm always reading about SK's (Silent Key's) in QST and in forums and we should also be announcing newcomers to our hobby as well.

Congratulations Kami on your upgrade and here's to wishing you the very best of experiences in ham radio! Keep getting on HF and making contacts! You sounded great and it was a pleasure to contact you. May DX fill your logbook and propagation be your friend in your many years to come in this great hobby.