Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My QRP Adventure Begins

I scored well on a recent eBay auction and purchased a new to me Icom 703 Plus. It's great to receive a radio used that looks like brand new. I have not purchased too many used pieces of equipment over the years but I would have to say, this is the best "used" piece of equipment I have ever purchased.

With summer still several months away, I have plenty of time to dwell on accessories and antenna's that I can use with my Icom. My list is bigger than my budget but I'm excited, as this was the first major step to my QRP / portable operating. We have so much great country around here and with my ATV, I can get to most of the places, outside of Denali National Park of course (inside the Park on foot).

Operating up north at 63 degrees is a challenge for 100 watts let alone 10 watts. I chose the Icom due to the internal tuner and extra 5 watts over the Yaesu QRP rig. I have always had Icom HF equipment so the decision was not hard. So I need to make sure my antenna's will be as good as possible as I will need all the help I can get if the bands are not in very good shape.

My operating will be (most likely) 99% CW and digital (PSK31). Again, my mind wonders on the possibilities and of course, I'm limited due to being in the field. I am already looking at solar as my main source of power (I mean, we have so much daylight in the summer time, why not?).

I had my very first contact with the 703 with my close friend Sean, KL1SF. I also experienced 60 meters for the very first time! Granted, it was with Sean who lives only a few miles to the north of me in Healy, but it was still great. The joy of a new toy!!

Now, if only summer would hurry up and get here!!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

RAC Winter Contest

RAC Winter Contest

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

Class: SOSB/20 HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 6

Band CW Qs Ph Qs CW Mults Ph Mults
20: 312.......14............9............. 4
Total: 312 14 9 4 Total Score = 18,772

Club: North Coast Contesters

Since I did not operate this contest from the beginning, decided with my schedule this weekend to catch it on Saturday. I like the 24 hour format but I only operated the last 6 hours. 20 meters left a bit to be desired but I have heard worse. I did well starting off with VE6RAC and I worked many of my contest weekend friends (too many to mention them all). It's always great to hear from my Twitter & Blog DX friend Scot KA3DRR, who has become a regular in my logbook - thanks Scot!! A highlight of course is being called from my long time personal friend (and DXer / Contester that I have looked up to for many a year) Dan, W8CAR. Fun to work back into my old stomping grounds by working Dan W8CAR and of course Rick, WB8JUI! Both Rick and Dan live only miles from where I used to reside in Northern Ohio.

I expected to work many more VE (Canadian) stations but it must have been the band conditions. I did work many that I normally hear in contests and it's always great to work the Eastern Canadian group (including VE1DX, VE9DX - my fellow DX stations). VE6AO gets the strongest signal award. Great working ALL the Canadian stations as they are the money contacts at 10 & 20 points a piece.

The weather here was -25 F at the start of the contest and by the end of the contest we were about +14 F! This was due to once again a southerly wind flow that brings in the warmer temps. We were forecasted to get 50 mph wind gusts but as of this writing, only seeing the upper 30's.

The SKCC club had their DX-Travaganza during the same time so I worked a few of my fellow straight keyers as I always have my Navy Flameproof on deck and ready to go.

I really like the RAC Contest from the 24 hour format to the exchange not to mention having both modes to choose from. If you have not worked the RAC contest, you're missing out. Lots of fun and it's always great working a contest dedicated to our Canadian neighbors.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Having some extra days off in December finds myself spending a bit more time on the internet. Today I decided to experiment with WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporting Network).

I am into the digital modes of communication in Ham Radio and there seems to be new modes coming to life from time to time. With computers and the internet, it could not be any easier to get started on some of these modes. If you have your radio hooked up to your computer and can send / receive signals via software, you're home free. You can download any of this mostly free software and get to experimenting almost immediately. It is always highly recommended that you read the instructions on how to operate the new mode first but like many, I jump in with both feet.

After my wife was off to work, I decided to fire up the WSPR program and read about how it functions. After skimming over the user document, it was not long before I was transmitting a signal using the software I recently downloaded. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my less than 10 watts signal was being heard by a station in Europe (see map, top left).
I have some local noise or hash on 14.09560 so I am not receiving any European callsigns as of this writing but at least I'm being heard on WSPR for the very first time. My first receiving signal on this mode was NU8D, once I turned my beam toward the lower 48.

Being a DX'er, I'm always interested in propagation paths. I find this should be a great tool to see what section of the globe that my signal is being heard. I enjoy chasing the HF beacons but this adds a new exciting element to live propagation reporting.

Some of my WSPR results in the first hour or so of operation listed above, hearing & heard (TX = 8 watts).

Monday, December 7, 2009

With 5 Watts, where do I go from here?

As Ham Radio Operators we are always looking at the latest and greatest equipment to color our latest versions of QST, CQ and other related publications. Always wondering what is new and what large full page advertisements we will see next. What's not to dream about? Hard to believe their is a market in our hobby for $10k HF radios. Way out of my league! Many of the equipment manufactures cater to the BIG guys. They are often toting world records while these stations are using "their" equipment. Well, it's not only about the radio. These guys have stacked arrays which top out at several hundred feet. Lets not forget the top notch operators and the miles of copper used for receiving antenna's. There is more to a world record than a radio. You just don't see many advertisements for a small station doing great things with "their" (equipment manufacturers) the much less expensive versions of "their" equipment. I have the highest respect for the BIG GUNS and their stations but from a little fish in a big pond, what's in it for us little fish?

I have really enjoyed learning about others in your hobby. Often times we are inspired by people to do different things. I have been impacted by others which lead me to operate everything from satellites to digital modes and from echolink and APRS! Once I experienced these different modes, I often times found them as a regular form of operating from my station.

Most recently, I have really taken a keen interest in QRP CW operating. Alaska brings with it many operating challenges and one of them is the propagation. Operating QRP from here can be as rough as our weather. I have been a member of the SKCC (Straight Key Century Club) for a few years and I have enjoyed that organization from the start. I operate a Navy Flameproof Straight Key and a few other straight keys. That involvement has peaked my interest in the NAQCC (North American QRP CW Club). I am a recent new member of that club so I'm just getting started and I have plans of operating in several of their contests during the winter. But, at the top of that list of others or organizations that I have been recently inspired by is wG0AT, Steve. (Another video guru is Randy, K7AGE)

Steve lives in a beautiful place and takes advantages of two things, his love of CW and radio and his love of the great outdoors. After watching Steve's numerous professional grade videos on YouTube, it got me to thinking. Since March of last year, I have been trying to get my health in check and what better way than to spend time outdoors, right? I find myself working behind a desk all day and then coming home to sitting behind a radio. Not the healthiest of lifestyles to say the least. Steve has two goat companions, Rooster and Peanut. Now, I don't have goats but I do have a Polaris 700 EFI. My wife (KL8SU), daughter, and myself along with friends, often times are riding and enjoying the millions of acres of non-Park Service land around our location. I can carry several pieces of equipment on my ATV (which I already do for our outdoor excursions) but it would be nothing to drag along some QRP equipment. Light bulb just went off!

So, where do I go from here? My daughter enjoys hiking so I hope to do lots more of that next summer. In the mean time, I plan on shopping and purchasing my first portable QRP set up. This will be the radio, antenna, keyer, battery packs, etc. I'm hoping that once summer returns to the Interior of Alaska, a new signal will enter the airwaves, that being KL8DX/p. What better way to combine a great hobby with some good exercise and make some contacts while I'm at it? I live in such a beautiful area and I enjoy sharing my experiences with other hams. Many have not been to Alaska before and are always curious about living and operating from the 49th. Bottom line is, don't be afraid to try new modes or new things. I can't afford a big contest station but I can sure have as much fun for much less money and enjoy some pretty awesome scenery at the same time.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


After uploading my contest QSO's from the CQ World Wide CW Contest, I decided to see how well I am doing on LOTW. I think more and more stations are taking the plunge and doing electronic QSL's. For me, this makes perfect sense. Yes, I do like the old fashioned QSL cards and I don't at all mind exchanging them. I have every QSL card I have ever received from day one. But, with today's postage rates and the weak USD, it just makes perfect sense to me to use such a great resource. It may take a bit to set up and get running but most software programs make uploading and downloading to e-QSL and LOTW extremely easy.

With that in mind, I looked at my QSL numbers using LOTW. I currently have 25,903 QSO's in my logbook. Of those, 12,396 have QSL records attached to them! Not bad as my percentage of QSL confirmations have increased over the last two years from just under 30% to 47.8%. Using LOTW only, I have confirmed WAS (Worked All States) on SSB, CW, RTTY, and am working on several other modes and band endorsements. I also have 129 countries confirmed via LOTW out of 185 worked and 158 confirmed via cards AND LOTW.

I just started to look at e-QSL stuff and have 80 + countries confirmed for my DXCC there and all 50 United States. Now that CQ accepts e-QSL confirmations, I think I may attempt to file for my first ever CQ awards once I get the confirmations that I need.

QSL'ing can be extremely expensive especially if confirming over seas contacts. It took me a while to get on the "boat" when it came to electronic QSL'ing but I'm glad I finally did. Oh, and in case you were wondering if hard copy QSL's dropped to near nothing, that is not the case. I get many confirmations both electronic and hard copy for the same QSO, which I don't mind in the least. I'm sure as we progress into the future, hard copy QSL cards will take a back seat to other means of confirming QSO's but until then, I enjoy them all. The bureau drops are fun but often times exhausting due to the amount of work involved to confirm several hundred at a time. I had an offer from an awesome QSL Manager to take over my QSL'ing duties but I'm still having way too much fun doing the "paperwork" side of this hobby. Moreover, one tends to collect a nice broad range of postal stamps from all over the world.