Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012 ARRL DX Contest

2012 ARRL DX Contest
My initial plan for this contest was doing a single band entry on 15 meters. I have spent so much time on 20 meters the last few years, I wanted to change things up a bit. I like the single band entry for this contest as it normally leaves my evenings free to spend with family. Since Alaska is DX in this contest, my beam is parked to the lower 48 all weekend long. With my intentions of a 15 meter effort, I was even more excited to start the contest at the beginning. I normally miss the first few 2½ to 3 hours of the contest due to circumstances out of my control (at least until I retire). I fired up the computer and got the rig warmed up and started off right away on 15 meters. But that was not going to last long.

Aurora as seen on Saturday Night
Ironically, the photograph to the right is of a local power pole which sits directly in my path to the lower 48. We have seen some strong wind gusts in the last few weeks and something in the direction of (or at) this power pole has been loosened. I have some annoying powerline noise which is strong on 10 meters, a bit weaker on 15 meters, and just annoying on 20 meters. When I first started the contest on 15 meters, I found that this electrical noise was making it tough to hear weaker stations. After a few repeats I decided to check 20 meters. I found that the noise there was not as strong and I could still make out weaker signals. So, after making 65 contacts on 15 meters, I threw in towel and moved to 20 meters. I started from scratch but rather than asking for lots of repeats and never hearing weaker stations due to QRN, I decided 20 meters would be better.

I finished up Friday with a few QSO's and shut things down with anticipation of Saturday morning. I decided to sleep in a bit on Saturday and once I made it into the shack, it was not long before I remembered the morning propagation challenge of this contest. I was awake and ready to play at 1530z but I did not make my first QSO until 1732z with WA8V in Ohio. The reason being was that most of the lower 48 stations were still pointed to Europe and I could not get anyone's attention. Plus, the band was very good over the North Pole, so not only was the band crowded with the lower 48 stations, but European stations were just booming in! 20 meters was beyond standing room only as there was no place for this small station to retreat to but the nosebleed section. 

As I called CQ with little luck to work stations, I tuned around and was just surprised how strong the EU signals were off the corner of my 4 element beam. It sure would of been nice to have Europe that strong last weekend during the RTTY contest! Europe stayed strong well after 1830z. Once the lower 48 stations begin to turn their antennas west, things got a bit better for me.

HAARP Data ARRL DX Contest 2012
I noticed that the band was getting pretty tough on Saturday afternoon (2200z) and early evening. I checked HAARP's Riometer and noticed the absorption rate increase. I had been running stations and many on the West Coast had such a strong echo after 0230z, that many were tough to copy, especially if more than one station called. Lots of flutter associated with the geomagnetic activity. It was not long before the band was just too rough to operate on and I threw in the towel for the evening. I was hoping that things would be much better on Sunday morning. With what I was seeing on the charts, I kept a close eye outside and it was not long before we were entertained with light show from above. I spent a few hours outside on Saturday evening photographing the Northern Lights (photos used in this blog entry above). 

I had finished up Saturday with 611 QSO's in my contest log. I found that the conditions on Sunday were worse than Saturday morning. I was not hearing Europe that much with the exception of a few of the big guns. I tried calling a few lower 48 stations and many just CQ'd in my face. I figured that if Sunday was going to continue like this, it was going to make for a long day. 

I started calling CQ in the nosebleed section again (above 14.100) at the end of the row of continuous stations. I got run off my frequency twice, once by a NE3 station and a second by a VY2 station. I could hear them enough that it was effecting me but they were pointed to Europe and not hearing my 100 watts. If I had been running high power, I'm sure my presence would of been known. Just one of those things ya got to expect when you run a small station like mine and low power. 

As I worked stations on Sunday, I found the QSB to be very strong. I would really struggle to hear a station and the next would be 20 over! I had my volume up and down so much on Sunday not to mention it seemed I was hitting my preamp button frequently just to hear stations. I forgot to mention that I have been fighting a heck of a head cold this past weekend and weekend so that did not help things either. I would get a few stations calling and between the QSB, QRN, and my head cold, it made for more than normal repeat requests. 

On Sunday, I got to experience a huge amount of duplicate QSO's! I normally find out afterwards when I do some investigative work that it was due to being
Twitter Post by Glenn, K3PP on Sunday
spotted as KL7DX or some other DX station. This apparently was just the case. I heard my cell phone beep that normally alerts me to a Twitter post that I was identified in. To the right is what Glenn had to say about those apparent spots. Glenn confirmed by his Twitter post what I had suspected. Now mind you, I have busted many a call sign in my day but so many apparently saw the spot, clicked and called without listening first. I will slow my call sign down in hopes that the 8 stands out a bit more. Now mind you, I only run about 28 wpm so it's not like I'm blazing away on CW burning up the band. I'm not a high speed CW operator by any means but I try my best to correct those that are wrong so they don't lose the points. When the dust cleared, I had 44 duplicate QSO's on 20 meters out of the 828 that I had worked on that band. Thanks for the Tweet, Glenn!

Band & Score Summary for KL8DX
I'm pretty happy with my low power effort and even though my score summary reflects both bands, I'm submitting as a Single Band, 20 meters. This was a tough weekend to operate for sure and running low power was extremely challenging. I missed the following multipliers on 20 meters - Nebraska (where the heck was Nebraska??), and many of my typical Canadian Provinces - PEI (I normally get this one), LB, NT, YT, and NU. Some of the highlights were lots of familiar callsigns worked and several where those I refer to as having celebrity status. Also, lots of unique call signs worked this weekend so either I'm working new parts of the lower 48 or some new blood is diving into CW contesting! Very cool!!  Downside was the amount of dupes I had on Sunday. Also, I'm not a pile-up guru so I work through as best I can. Several times I would get a partial call sign from a pile-up and ask for that partial call to repeat. Others would continue to call making it tough to eventually work the station. An example would be if I had copied a WB2 out of those calling I would ask for just the WB2 station to call again. I would get several stations from other call areas continue to call making it tough to snag the station I was trying to log. I'm a firm believer in the DX Code of Conduct, especially the line "I will not transmit when the DX Operator queries a call sign not like mine." 

Thanks so much for all those that called or pulled my call out of the mud. The band was maxed more times than not with wall to wall signals well above 14.115. It was tough trying to squeeze in but that's all part of the fun of contesting. No matter how frustrating it can be at times, I find myself being drawn to the fast paced weekend craziness. When calling CQ, you just never know if that next call sign will be the multiplier you have been looking for, a long time friend you've worked hundreds of times, or that slow and new station looking to get their feet wet in contesting. There is no cure for my ham radio addiction but from what I heard this past weekend, I'm in good company. 

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