New QTH

After what has felt like an eternity, there’s finally a new QTH in my immediate future. I’ll finally have space for proper antennas (including beverages) — and I didn’t even have to leave FN32 to do it.

I’ve begun the somewhat arduous task of breaking down and boxing up the station. After twenty years in the same place, this is no trivial matter. That being the case, I may be posting less often over the next few months.

Once I get past the indignities of moving everything, I’ll be anxious to get back on the air. My target is to be competitive on 160 (ears too) by the Summer Stew. I’ll be sure to post station upgrades as they happen.

Mike

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160m is cool.

“Top band,” “the Gentleman’s Band,” “MF” or whatever you call it, 160 meters is a blast. And it’s surging in popularity, much thanks to Joe Taylor and his weak signal modes. You may have opinions on those modes counting as real radio or not, but your opinion doesn’t really matter. The fact is that more operators than ever are finding 160 and most of them are doing it from city lots!

The true beauty of 160 is that the playing field is pretty level; even the most extensive arrays are still very much compromise systems. Consider for a moment that a true 1/4-wave vertical made out of tower sections is only as effective as it’s radial network. Consider for an additional moment that your wire inverted-L over a more extensive radial field might just smoke that first example.

Nick, K1NZ runs an inverted-L with a single radial, no RX antenna nor amplifier, and works EU on demand with the new FT8 mode. At my current QTH, I’ve worked at least 100 countries with a simple half sloper and a 250′ beverage-on-ground (BOG), primarily on CW. Neither of us are particularly skilled with antenna modeling and both of us face space restrictions.

There’s a lot of information online for anyone looking to get on topband, and plenty of misinformation. Here’s what I’ve learned as it applies to this QTH only (your mileage may vary):

  • Verticals crush dipoles on 160. Crush is the strongest responsible word I can find to use.
  • Elevated radials are better. I found 6-8 played nice with inverted-L type antennas here over the years.
  • Buried radials are less efficient, so you’ll have to use more. The point of diminishing returns at my QTH was 30 evenly-spaced radials slightly buried or on the ground. This agrees with the consensus among various mailing list geniuses.
  • Use an amp. Absorption is very high on 160; the extra dB’s help.
  • Nobody really understands propagation this low, and the best openings may only last a few minutes — VOAcap and similar programs are critical for the serious operator.
  • Immediately at grayline (and ONLY then), my low dipoles outperform my beverages for RX and my verticals for TX. There is no good explanation for it, but ON4UN notes a similar phenomenon.
  • Beverages are cheap; build one if you have the real estate. If you don’t, you should try a BOG. If you don’t have space for that, try a Shared Apex Loop or a K9AY loop. There’s no excuse for being an alligator!
  • Learn CW. Try the JT weak signal modes. Do something new.

See you on topband!

73
Mike

2018: a Good Year for DX

HNY all! Now that we’re on the second day of 2018, let’s look ahead. We have a number of announced major DXpeditions and many, many holiday-style operations planned. Here’s what has me excited so far:

3Y0Z, Bouvet Island (Jan 25 – Mar 14). The team includes K9CT, WB9Z, EY8MM, and others. The island itself has been called the most remote island on earth and lies nearly equidistant South America and South Africa, but is only about 1000mi north of Antarctica. There won’t be too many operations here in our lifetime, so be sure to chase this one.

9M0W, Spratly Island (Mar 10 – 20). The dates are still uncertain, but YT1AD’s team looks to activate Spratly on CW, SSB, and digital. The group also includes K1LZ and K1ZM (known to contesters as VY2ZM).

KH1/KH7Z, Baker Island (June). N1DG and the Dateline DX Association are leading a group to this Pacific atoll located midway between Hawaii and Australia. Although a US territory, the island is uninhabited and a very rare activation. You’ll find them on 160 thru 6 meters on SSB, CW, and digital.

CY9C, St. Paul Island (Aug 1 – 9). W2RE, WW2DX, and others are headed to this island just off Nova Scotia. This operation is unique in that they will pursue EME, just as they did in 2016 when their array was destroyed by wind.

VP6D, Ducie Island (Oct 20 – Nov 3). It’s been a while since we’ve heard Ducie! K6NRJ’s Braveheart will bring a large team to this atoll in the Pitcairn Islands group. They plan to have seven operating positions and will be active on CW, SSB, and digital — including FT8!

We’ve got an exciting year ahead. Be sure to trim those antennas, break-in those tubes, and practice your split technique. I’ll hear you in the pileups!

73,
Mike

Sources: NG3K, DXnews.com, team press releases

New layout

You might notice the site layout has been updated. The old theme, while attractive, made navigation difficult. A reader also mentioned the WordPress ads interfered with scrolling (but you’ll have to ask WordPress — I don’t solicit advertisement here).

If you notice anything out of place or stupid-looking, please excuse the appearance while I get everything settled. Thanks!

73
Mike

WAE DC WA1J at K1TTT

The trough of this solar cycle continues to produce interesting (albeit frustrating) effects. You may remember our struggles during the SPDX contest. This past weekend, amidst the WAE contest, we were treated to an X-class flare and an ensuing three-hour total HF blackout. And I do mean total.

Nick, K1NZ and I headed up to our familiar haunt, the superstation QTH of Dave, K1TTT. For those of you new to this blog (or new to ham radio), Dave is a legend in these parts for building a top-notch contest station but letting others use it. Unfortunately for us, it didn’t matter how big the station was; the conditions were truly awful.

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen conditions this bad before, just never during a contest weekend.” – Dave, K1TTT

Nick and I managed some uneventful runs on Friday night. The money band was 20 right from the get-go, but 40 did manage a gentle opening the first night. We were working only DL’s, something analogous to WAE, but almost all of them had very low serial numbers. So we knew the conditions were global after all.

20170911_131231

K1LOL’s screencap of a headphone-less K1NZ summarized the contest. Note the beer.

Dave was experimenting with the new waterfall display in N1MM. Using a separate SDR, we were able to see the band and find holes to run more quickly. Well, we could have probably run anywhere in this one, but I imagine that’s what it would be useful for on a busy weekend. Cool nonetheless!

Jeff, NT1K came up Saturday and stayed into Sunday morning. The overnight was awful; at times we went 30 minutes or more without a single QSO. I sat down and fought KC4AAA’s pileup just to stay awake. At some point, we all went to bed — it was like the antennas were unplugged.

Jeff grabbed the early morning 20 run and had probably the best few hours of the entire contest. I relieved him and was treated to a decent five hours of strong Europeans. When I finally needed relief, Nick sat down and continued. But it wouldn’t last much longer…

swx-overview-small

Guess what happened on Sunday!

A massive X-class solar flare struck just as things were finally rolling. Nick stopped operating — there was no use. Total HF blackout! The flare was so tremendous that the ensuing proton storm hasn’t yet died down (and it’s Tuesday as I write this). Conditions remained in M-class until the end of the contest, although we did manage another few paltry runs of Europeans.

Sometimes contests are feast-or-famine. This time, it was just famine-or-famine. Join me in a quick prayer for the next sunspot peak.

 

Call: WA1J
Operator(s): K1NZ N1TA NT1K
Station: K1TTT

Class: M/S HP
QTH: WMA
Operating Time (hrs): 26
Location: USA

Summary:   Compare Scores
Band QSOs QTCs Mults
80: 9 6 36
40: 130 121 90
20: 813 809 94
15: 3 0 6
10:
Total: 955 920 226 Total Score 422,846

Club: Yankee Clipper Contest Club

 

73,
Mike

“Ham radio is dead”

This is in response to a Facebook post I saw. I responded there, but I’m going to break it out a bit deeper here. Sorry to those experiencing deja vu.

I was first licensed at 11 years old. I liked contesting, DX’ing, being on HF, operating CW/SSB, etc.. I did not like VHF. I did not like the tech stuff. I had very little technical interest, but I sure did like working multipliers. Being young made me the minority. Being of any age but interested in old-fashioned operating made me part of an even slimmer minority.

There was no BitX or Arduino or $50 QRP kits then. Had there been, I would have migrated into those. I didn’t have much money in middle school, so I was interested in doing whatever I could afford. Luckily, my parents bought me a TS-440 and a G5RV one Christmas and I was off to the races.

Then came high school, college, a career, etc. (in this case “etc.” means “girls”). I took down a lot of gear and was dormant for a while. I didn’t seriously return to the hobby until I was hired to work at ARRL HQ. Then I put up a tower, beams, bought an FT-1000, amps, and started chasing DX again. If I hadn’t been hired there, it would have taken me longer to return. This is because…

Ham radio is for middle-aged individuals with disposable income, a home, and an understanding spouse.

We spend so much energy trying to recruit young people, but that clearly isn’t a great return-on-investment when it comes to our numbers. Sure, kids are the future — but they have about two decades before they can carve out a realistic place for ham radio in their lives. There are certainly exceptions in our ranks, but we’re talking marketing “dollar per gallon” here.

If we did a survey, I suspect most of here have taken a hiatus from the hobby. I further suspect that hiatus came while we were getting jobs, starting families, and buying homes. So where would you sink the advertising money: on your 10 year-old self or on your 40 year-old self? My money is on the latter.

I’m thankful to have been in this hobby from a young age. At 28, I’ve been licensed the majority of my life. Heck, I can join QCWA before I’m even 40. So don’t read this as “ham radio is not for kids.” I’m just suggesting we avoid exclusively marketing to that crowd, and focus our efforts where the mileage is better.

73
Mike