ARRL 10m Contest 2015 – Soapbox


Contest season for me is still going strong. This past weekend was the ARRL 10M contest. I was looking forward to it because our local amateur radio club participates as a group effort and I would like to add to the effort. Last year I managed 345 contacts which I ended up with 103,452 points. I guess my goal is to break that.

I decided to enter as a single operator, low power without using assistance of the cluster/skimmer. I knew band conditions weren’t going to be so great. It wasn’t going to be packed with juicy multipliers everywhere and felt that I wasn’t going to be having high rates.

This year I put more focus in CW contesting. Without the cluster/skimmer I knew that Morse code will be much harder. No problem, I need less assistance anyways.

Starting Off Slow

0z came and I was off to the races. However around here 0z is 7pm and the band is pretty much closed to skywave contacts. There were a handful of local ops running and I managed to make contact with them. It was nice to make contact with locals. Plus it’s nice to see who around here is playing. through out the contest I would keep tabs on them and see who they were contacting.

I went to  bed making only a dozen or so contacts.

The Contest Continues On

I woke up Saturday thinking it would be like Christmas morning as a kid. Got my coffee and hopped on the air expecting wall to wall contesting like years past. Well the solar cycle slapped me in the face this year. There wasn’t much on. However I hear DX stations so I will work them!

South America was really strong. I was hoping to make some contacts with countries I need like Boliva and the Falkland Islands.

I ended up not making many contacts on Saturday as the day was nice and I had other on my mind. Propagation predictions said I should be around 2pm local time for the peak but I just wasn’t feeling it. I’ve notice some locals putting a good effort though.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

After the run I had on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting Sunday to be much better. Sure enough I got on the air and it confirmed my feelings. I don’t think I made any European contacts. I concentrated my efforts on making contacts to west on CW. I needed a bunch of states for the ARRL triple play award so my efforts were on the US and SA.

The K3’s filters are amazing!


Here is an SDR shot of the CW section of 10 meters on Sunday. Compared to last year, this screen is empty. If you look to the right side of the image you will see a very strong CW signal. I thought it was going to wipe out the other two or three signals nearby. When I tuned into those signals, I could barely notice the strong station. It was there and I can hear it but it didn’t really affect the signal I was trying to listen to. This was very nice considering I don’t have a CW filter installed. I was using the 1.8Khz filter.

On SSB the filters got a workout as well. There were multiple loud Brazilian stations almost on top of each other. This is where the 1.8Khz filter really came in handy. I was able to hear each station even though some of the other stations were in the passband. Maybe it’s the kool-aid talking. Not sure.

Claimed Results

Once the band died down to local traffic, I called it quits


Made a 132 contacts. With the multipliers, I ended up with 26,000 points. Nowhere near the 103,000 I made last year doing mostly SSB. You will see that almost half my contacts were CW.

It was fun but you can see the solar cycle taking it’s toll. I better start working on better antennas for 40, 80 and the 160m bands. A good kick in the butt to make 5 band DXCC as I already have 10, 15 and 20 locked down.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K

CQWW CW Contest 2015 – Soapbox


This weekend was what some consider to be the biggest CW contest of the year. It appears the last time I attempted this contest (or at least submitted a log) was in 2011 and I made 19,266 points. I guess that’s my goal but I know I can easily beat that so I bumped it to 250k. Since I did over 1 million in SSB, I should at least do 250k… right?

CW Contesting without knowing much CW

Yep, I still have a lot of trouble decoding CW with my head. But that is not going to stop me from trying. I think contesting is beneficial when it come to learning even though I don’t think CQWW should be the place to do it. But I did it anyway.
I entered as “assisted” meaning that I will be using the skimmer/cluster/network or whatever you want to call it to help make contact with other ops.

What I am doing is depending on other people and/or software that will decode those calling CQ and letting me (the network) know exactly where they are. That’s perfect for me because if I have an idea of what the callsign will be, It’s much easier to make the contact.

Skimmer Vs. Spotter

I used two different networks to show me who and where the other operators are. One such network is the spotting network. Think of it as an online chatroom where other operators tell you where other operators are on the bands as they make contact.  Most likely their logging software is setup to send out a message whenever contact is made automatically. Other people using similar software will take that information and display it on a chart where the operator could click on the spot and the logbook would partially fill out and the radio could even tune to it. The software might even color code the spots to let you know if that operator is a multiplier that you need to make contact with. It’s been in use for a long time now and many contesters take advantage of it to increase rates since you are no longer have to search for a signal.

The other network I used is what is known as the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) or “Skimmer”. Its similar to the spotting network except it’s fully automated. It’s not depending on human input. There are hundreds of Software Defined Radio (SDR) rigs throughout the world listening to the bands. A popular piece of software known as “CW Skimmer” will listen to the bandwidth of the SDR and decode any CW signal being sent using a sophisticated algorithm based on Bayesian statistics. If the skimmer picks up anyone sending “CQ” or “Test” or other keywords, it will note the callsign, frequency, sending speed, and even signal strength and send it along to RBN or it’s own network which will end up on your screen if it’s supported and enabled.

I use RBN to usually test to see how far my CW signal can be heard. It’s great for testing out the various CW kits I’ve built. It tells me the Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) and it’s another confirmation that I am indeed on frequency.

In contesting both RBN and the Spotting network can help. However it will most likely put you into a different category. There is some controversy over using the networks and some consider it flat out cheating since you are being fed information that could give you an advantage compared to the operator that is not using the network and having to manually search for their contacts. However it’s becoming more accepted.

There is one big problem with using the either network. You can never trust it… ever. With the spotting cluster, you are depending on other people. Those people might not have copied the callsign correctly or there are some evil doers out there that will send out false contacts in hopes to mess you up. The RBN is even less trusting. I don’t think software decoding will ever be perfected to match the experienced human ear. Even though it’s extremely impressive when you look more into it, there is still a lot of bad spots coming from RBN. Even though I wouldn’t trust both, it’s a very useful tool if you want high scores and rates.

I have to look into making the Spotting Network/RBN work better for me. With RBN I just connected to their telnet network and was FLOODED with information. It was so much that it was causing my computer to bog down which affected my CW keyer. It was causing delays and even locking the TX. I ended up having to disconnect and go back to a spotting cluster. There are ways to filter out RBN results to just include decodes from your area/region/zone

If it wasn’t for these networks, I wouldn’t be looking forward to CW contesting. I hope I do enough CW to where I can do some contests without having to use the networks.

Now on to the contest

I’m entering as SOAB(A)LP which means Single Operator, All Bands, Assisted and using Low Power. When it comes to digital and CW contests, I just don’t trust my amplifier so I run low power.

The contest starts at 7pm local on Friday night. However there is a VE exam the same night and I would prefer to be there instead of being on the air. After the exam, I went on 40m and 80m, made a handful of contacts and went to bed.

When I woke up on Saturday and got on the air, EU was booming in on 15m so I spent most of my time on there. My Yagi is tuned for SSB so CW contesting is a no-no since my tuner is not inline with the beam. I could have hooked it up but it’s something I didn’t want to do. That basically cancels out the CW portion of 10m and most of the CW portion of 20 using the beam. I did 20m and 40m off my vertical and kept the G5RV on 80m.

Not really feeling this contest so I didn’t put much effort into rates.

Sunday wasn’t any better. I couldn’t hear much on 10m so I stuck to 15m with the occasional trip to 20m. Towards the end of the contest I was excited to make contact with Alaska and Hawaii since I need LoTW confrimations for Worked All States Triple Play Award. Those contacts and some JA contacts made me very happy.

My CW decoding improved greatly towards the end of the contest. Even though I was still using the cluster, I was able to confirm the calls much faster. Caught a lot of busted calls much easier.

Claimed Results 


I ended up making 255 contacts with 143 band countries and 44 band zones which gives me a total of 134,079 points. I spent about 7 hours on the air. I didn’t reach my 250k but I shattered my 2011 score and I had a good time. Hopefully I get some new countries confirmed and I hope AK and HI confirm as well.

I just love how much faster CW contesting is compared to SSB. At least it felt that way for me. I am sure it would become better and faster after I really learn CW.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff (NT1K)

My Mountain Topper Radio project

After doing some portable operations with the KX3, I felt that having something smaller and lighter would allow my pack to get smaller and smaller. The only problem is that there is nothing smaller than the KX3 that is comparable unless you get a CW only rig. I decided to get the MTR (Mountain Topper Radio) that was developed by Steve Weber (KD1JV). It’s a 2.5-5W QRP CW rig that gives you the options for two bands.

The problem is that the MTR kits are produced and sold in small quantities with high demand.  I’ve learned that Steve developed a version 2 of the MTR (3 bands) and had a pre-sale. Even though he gave out the wrong URL, people managed to figure out the correct URL and sold out within hours. I found out a tad too late and ended up having my money refunded.

I was a little bummed out. I was very excited that I might get this kit. I’ve never worked with surface mount devices and the CW only aspect of the rig would sort of force me to actually learn CW. After making my disappointment known, a local ham mentioned that he had an unbuilt kit from the orginal run that he might be willing to sell to me. Making fun of him didn’t help but I think the fact that I might learn CW might have compelled him to sell me his kit.

What did I just do?

Once I got my hands on the kit and took it home I inspected it (what ham doesn’t when they get a new toy?). That’s when I saw the components I’ll be dealing with. Very tiny resistors, capacitors and IC’s. The toroids were tiny and were not wounded.  Everything is so… small. I have built ham radio related kits before but they were all through hole meaning that the parts like the resistors and IC’s had legs and pins the fit into the holes. They were large enough to where I can easily work with them.

I am not prepared for surface mount work. My soldering iron is this $10 Radio Shack 35W fixed iron. I knew it was not ideal for SMT as I have tried and failed using that iron. I need to learn how to solder surface mount and I need the proper gear to do it with. I’ve learned over the years that working with the correct tools makes the job much easier.

New Tools In The Shack

I’ve learned the hard way many times over that having the proper tools can make things a lot easier. I feel that I have everything needed for the job except for a soldering iron. I looking at the sub $40 Chinese type irons but I stopped myself from purchasing one. I wanted an iron that can last me for many years so I ended up purchasing a Hakko 888D soldering iron. At around $100 I felt that it was worth the purchase.

The Build. Day One!

Soon as I got the iron in, I went straight to work. Following the assembly guide I started with the IC’s and the MCU. I felt that you are starting with the hardest part of the job by soldering small SMT IC chips with small leads and small gaps. I avoided installing the MCU and DDS chips until the other ICs were installed.  Once all the IC’s were installed, I used a jewelers loop and checked my connections. The MCU was crooked a bit and thought it was still good so I kept chugging along. I installed the resistors on the bottom of the board and called it a night.


My working area. You’ll see the board with solder, tweezers, assembly manual, solder, 10X  Jewelers loop, desk lamp with magnifying glass and my new soldering iron. When I purchased the soldering iron, I also purchased different sized and shaped tips.

The Build. Day Two

Next day I got back from work and installed everything else.  It wasn’t really bad as I thought. The soldering Iron was tight in some places but it appeared everything went quite well.


Here is a close up of my soldering. It could be better but I would say not too bad considering I’ve never done SMT work before.

Power On Time.

I didn’t want to wire up the power, headphones or anything else because I was going to design a case but in order to make sure it worked. I needed to wire it up.  Soon as I hooked up the battery… Nothing!  It did’t lite up, It didn’t beep. The only thing I notice was a slight noise in the headphones. Sounded like the noise of when you turn something on.

What Went Wrong?

As panic starts to set in, I was worried that I now have a nice new expensive brick  on my hands. All that time, energy and money spent on the kit and tools needed seemed be wasted. Out came the jewelers loop and soldering iron. I double checked every connection. Then I took out the multimeter and followed the troubleshooting guide in the manual and started checking voltages coming out of the regulators. Everything was checking out. The only thing I see is that the MCU was a little bit crooked.

I tried re-soldering the MCU but it proved to be very difficult. I used solder wick and suction tools that did not help, the chip would not move for me. For me the only choice was to remove the MCU. But how? After some internet searching I decided to use enameled wire and snake it under the chip where the leads meet the chip. I then touched the soldering iron to the leads and slowly pulled the chip off.


Using that method allowed to me to remove the chip, but in the process I damaged the MCU. The above images is not representative of my soldering work. It was more of a panic move and I just wanted to get the chip off without damaging the pads or board. The pads were in great shape and I’m just lucky nothing else happened.

Dealing With Steve Weber

Well it’s obvious the chip will need to be replaced. There are two options available. Beg steve for a new chip or purchase the MCU and flash it using a MSP Launchpad. I almost went the latter because Steve just released V2 and I am sure he was busy dealing with that and life in general but I decided to e-mail him anyways.

Dealing with Steve was a pleasure. I know these radios is not his full time job but he replied within a reasonable time and he was willing to send out a pre-programmed chip for my version of the MTR. Since I was having him sending me stuff, I purchased a case because the price he was asking was more than fair.

Attempt #2

Now that I have the new MCU, I promptly installed it. This time I quadruple check to make sure the chip was aligned properly before soldering. It went much better.


When I applied power I jumped for Joy as I saw the LED come to life and the sounds of CW in my headphone. I did some initial testing and then installed the last toroid.

It’s… ALIVE!!! ALIVE!!!  

Now that it turns on, it’s time to make the adjustments needed for proper operation. Thankfully I have Acquired the test gear I needed over the years from mostly local hams looking to clean their shack. I have a decent frequency counter, oscilloscope and a station monitor.

The manual found on the Yahoo Groups page provided step by step installation and tuning. It made things a lot easier.


First thing I did was adjusted the reference oscillator frequency to match exactly 10MHz. This was very easy. Just pushing a button until I see 10Mhz on the counter. There are reference points on the board to where you can easily measure things.


Adjusting the LO to find the center of the passband. This was a little tricky because I didn’t fully understand the manual and process. In the tuning mode the MCU sends out a tone and I adjusted it by watching the signal peaking on my scope while counting the steps between the peaks. I then went backwards only half of the steps. Hopefully it was done correctly. For me, this was the hardest part of tuning.


Here I am adjusting the receivers filters. With the station monitor I injected a signal into the MTR through the antenna port and adjust the band capacitors until the signal was at it’s loudest. I did the same thing on the other band. This was quite easy.

Last thing I did was hooked it up to a dummy load and checked for output wattage. Using a variable power supply and a DMM hooked in-line, I’ve sent out a tuning signal and adjusted the power supply until the DMM read 9Vdc with a TX load. I was seeing approx 2.5W which is within spec.

Time to get one the air

Now that it’s built and tested, It’s time to get on the air and see what I can (not) do.


Heh, it’s smaller than my paddle.  What’s great about CW is that you don’t have to call CQ over and over again hoping someone would come back to give you a signal report. Just call CQ a couple times and head over to the Reverse Beacon Network where you can see almost in real time where your signal is being heard. There are receivers all over the world scanning the bands for signals.


Here are my results using just a crappy 9V battery. I am pleased to see that not only are stations hearing my signal, but they are on the frequencies that the MTR is tuned to. While I was testing the worst thing happened… Someone replied. I tried very much to work the person. I know the call was a K2 something but that’s all I could make out.

Final Thoughts

This was my first actual kit that I built, It’s also the first time that I ever worked with tiny surface mount devices and even though I messed up the MCU, it was really fun to build. Soldering SMD seems to be a nightmare but after the first couple of parts, it felt real easy and it felt that I was working much quicker compared to through hole parts. This project is also a big kick in the ass to learn CW because I want to use this rig. I’m all about packing very lite when it comes to SOTA and even though I love the KX3, I feel it would be more of an adventure using the MTR. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

– Jeff




NT1K’s Ham Radio Website Of The Week – 5/9/2013 –

For this weeks WOTW, I picked otherwise known as Learn CW online. If you even want to learn CW (Morse Code) I would strongly suggest this website to use as a tool to make learning easier.


A new website to learn and practice Morse telegraphy has been launched: - Learn CW Online

There are already hundreds of training programs, MP3/CD courses and practice
aids available, but LCWO follows a radically different concept: While sticking
to  well-proven methods for learning and practice, all you need for using LCWO
is a web browser!

This gives the user the liberty to practice CW wherever an internet connection
is available, always retaining the personal settings, scores and statistics.

Currently the site, which is available in 27 languages offers a complete
Koch method Morse course, code group practice, callsign- and plain text training
modes and also allows to convert random text to Morse MP3s.

A high score list is available to compare results with other users, personal
statistics help to track training progress. is a non-commercial project. Creating a free account only takes a few
seconds, and you can start practicing CW right away!

Fabian Kurz, DJ1YFK

It  has a decent layout and after making an account, it will track your progress. I’ve used this site many times. My favorite part being the Morse Machine which is the same as this piece of software

Now maybe I should learn Morse Code…. Some day!

– NT1K

3/31 Contacts

Since my recent purchase I’ve been back into digital. In the past couple of say 20M in the afternoon has been really good to me

N1BMX Spots On PSK Reporter

I made contact with the following

RK9AN – Anvar -Asiatic Russia
RN3AJK – Artem – Euro Russia
DK9WB – Jakob – Germany
CT2FPY – Leonel – Portugal
M0NPQ – Nerijus – England
DL5MGH – Armin – Germany
IW3SGT – Alessandro – Italy
IZ3LEF – Emiliano – Italy
IW6NBX – Antonio – Italy
SP5GRU – Wlodek – Poland
EA3BJW – Joan – Spain
US5CCO – Vlad – Ukraine
UA3ON – Antoly – Euro Russia
RD3WW – Vladimir – Euro Russia
IN3NHZ – Roberto – Italy
KE5AQD – Roger – USA
W3CRR – Craig – USA
9A4A – Zlatko – Croatia

I have been noticing lately that after sending CQ and acknowledging someone that people are still trying to contact me. I like pileups for me but it’s hard in the digital world. It gets annoying because I’m unable to make out the first half of the conversation because of QRM. I figured like on SSB, once someone acknowledges someone else that everyone else on the frequency remains QRT until the exchange ends??? – END RANT

I also got work K2TPZ on CW. I still have trouble receiving so I cheated and used the computer to receive his CW and used the touch pad to send. I hope by engaging in CW more and more that the dits and dahs will automatically turn into letters and words