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!



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!


Sources: NG3K, DXnews.com, team press releases

Remote Operation: an editorial

There’s a debate raging on the CQ-Contest list at the moment centered on remote operation. Both as a contest administrator and a participant, I’ve been familiar with the practice and even tried it once or twice. My station is, at the moment, capable of it (albeit with some amplifier limitations).

There are two sides to the argument:

  • “It’s internet.” The control of the station relies on the internet; that is to say, without internet, the QSO wouldn’t occur (even though it is strictly RF between the physical radios).
  • “It’s the same as a long mic cord.” The internet is not replacing any of the RF; it simply replaces the mic (or key) cord and other control devices.

I was pretty neutral about the whole thing until I read EI5DI’s piece, which is probably the ugliest, most petty opinion piece on the subject today. Now I’m convinced there is an entire class of operators who have chosen their decade and refuse to leave it. Let me save you the agony of reading that and paraphrase: remote operation is bad because it involves the internet in some way.

FACT: the internet replaces the control, NOT the RF. So EI5DI (and his ilk, whoever and wherever they may be) are really asking for a rule that says I must be mechanically connected to the controls of my station at all times. So for those of you who use wireless switchboxes or filter networks (like me): you’re out. Sorry.

Personally, I don’t care how long your mic cord (or any other control interface) is. I don’t care if you’re in the next room or the next continent. Like EI5DI says: facts are facts, so here’s a fact: remote operators are sending an exchange based on the physical location of the transmitter — the location of the operator is therefore immaterial. I’m not even sure how EI5DI can reach the conclusion that the location of the operator’s butt has anything to do with a radio contest.

Is it because we’ve made it too easy to win? Is it because this allows some of us to build far remote stations with great capabilities in advantageous locations? Sure. But that doesn’t stop EI5DI from doing that too. There’s realtors around the globe happy to help you find that dream location deep in a jungle and there’s airlines willing to fly you back and forth to operate it. To say that the difficulties of doing it for each major contest somehow discredits those operating remote stations is just blatant jealousy, especially when you consider the prevalence of rare zones in recent contests brought to us by remote stations.

This just becomes more embarrassing the longer I think about it. If anything, remote stations that rely on an internet or other data link for control actually have a disadvantage, as that link could go down at any time.

The hobby is always changing. If you want to sit in a room full of radios and use low dipoles in CQWW, that’s great — it’s about having fun. If you want to use cutting-edge technology and hand out a rare zone, that’s great too. But either way, for the love of Hiram, can we just let others do what they want and stop pretending they are lesser operators because they’re doing something we can’t?


Revolutionary 160m antenna at N1TA

I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a contest plaque, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation. A vision…a picture in my head. A picture of this! This is what makes 160m possible from a city lot: the DX capacitor! It’s taken me nearly twenty years and my entire fortune (EDITOR: $300) to realize the vision of that day. Gosh, how has it been that long?

Basic design of the DX capacitor

The capacitor is easily constructed and inserted at the feedpoint of your series-fed vertical. The smaller the vertical, the better it will work. I constructed my prototype for less than $50 with parts I had in my junk drawer and I’ve already worked 160 Meter DXCC…twice. In a single month. No listening antenna required.

The prototype in use

Fair warning: the 1.21 gigawatt power supply was very, very difficult; I recommend consulting an experienced local ham and/or astrophysicist (what difference is there?) to help you with the construction. World events and global politics may severely impact your ability to complete this element of the project, so be sure to check ahead of time.

These angry OM’s chased us home from AES!

I’ve been attempting to bring these to market, but there seems to be little interest from DX Engineering and MFJ. Luckily, Dr. E. Brown Enterprises, located in the new Twin Pines Mall next to the Hill Valley HRO, has agreed to construct and market the device to the amateur market. Please contact them directly with sales and design questions.

Dr. Brown works out of a van

The next topband season is just around the corner, so don’t wait. Get started on your own DX capacitor today and work the world before you’re outatime!


Lower 15m beam slipped

It’s been windy here the past few days and the lower 15m beam seems to have slipped a bit when I checked antennas this afternoon. Luckily, it’s restricted by the tower face and can’t go too far so the feedline appears to be alright.

Low 4L15 spun by the wind

Why does this sort of thing happen? Because the tower leg is too thin for the existing U-bolts on the boom-to-mast plate. I should have drilled the plate for smaller U-bolts before raising the antenna and fixing it to the tower, but it was a few days before CQWW and I had run out of time. There’s little sense in repairing at this point, as this antenna will be taken down with the rest in anticipation of moving to a suitable QTH. I will probably climb up and use rope to secure it, simply to prevent pinwheeling.

This antenna (and the one up top) are homemade 15m monobanders using parts from Cushcraft 4L10’s. I needed minor extension in the elements (only a few inches each) and I extended the boom. I’ll post full details later, in case anyone else wants to try this conversion. They sit on a telescoping tower that is controllable from the shack so we can adjust spacing using a ground-mounted winch. This has been an interesting platform for experiments in stack design; at some point I’ll compile what we’ve learned.