IARU HF 2015 Contest: Soapbox

Even though Field Day was a few weeks ago, I am still “exhausted” from it. There is really not much motivation for me to get on the air after. Usually my station is still in pieces but for some reason I wanted to particiate in the IARU HF contest. Ealier in the week I manged to get my station back together and chased stations on the cluster to make sure I was back where I was before Field Day.

I am currently trying to put an honest effort into learning CW which will be another article. I wanted to use the IARU contest to see how well I can contest with my limited CW knowledge. It’s a perfect contest for those who are trying to learn CW for the purpose of contesting. Other than the HQ stations, the exchanges are short and somewhat simple, the logging software (N1MM+) already gives you an idea of the exchange is going to be. All you have to do is listen.

I was looking forward to the contest all week but the weather in my area was very excellent. I couldn’t resist going outside and playing with the family so the contest became an afterthought. I would go on here and there when I got tired from doing work outside in the sun.

Getting on the Air

Even with the amp and beam, there is still no way I was going to “run” or call CQ and hold a frequency. The 20 meter band seemed really packed so it was the band of choice for me during the contest. Nice propagation to Europe so I took advantage of it. Since I was doing this very casual, I depended on the use of the cluster to find stations/mults. I didn’t really spin the dial. Even thought it puts me into a different category, I didn’t mind.

Where’s the cold?

Weather is warming up here in New England and it was predicted to be around 90F degrees today. I decided that having the central air would be a nice. However a few hours into the running the AC, I noticed the air coming out of the vents were warm. Uh ohhhhhh. Contest was now put on hold. After doing some troubleshooting, I narrowed it down to the AC condensor/compressor. Soon as I removed the panel, I saw this.

2015-07-12 10.22.51

The capacitor that helps run the fan and compressor decided to go out in a blaze of glory.  Thankfully it was easy to spot… Oh well. Opened the windows and took out the fans. I consider AC to be a luxury, even though I love it, I can deal without.

Not much contesting

With the nice day and the AC kicking the bucket (for now), I didn’t get much air time. CW was slow for me because I listening to the operator make exchanges with other operators to make sure I have it correct before sending out my call. I hope to improve on that.

IARUresults

It appears I made a 127 contacts and got a score of 24.5K.  Nothing to be proud of but it’s better than nothing and I will most likely get a bunch of LoTW confirmations on CW which I badly need.

It was fun, can’t wait for CQWW now that I have some aluminum in the air.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K

NEQP 2015 Soapbox

This past weekend was the New England QSO party (NEQP). There was also 7th area QSO party, Indiana QSO party, and Delaware QSO party happening during the same weekend. Even though I love contesting, I really don’t do much from my house because it does create a disturbance and I would like to keep that at a minimum. However I do make an effort to participate in CQWW SSB and NEQP. I really like NEQP because I’m the wanted station and a lot of local operators are active on HF. Now that I have a new beam and a new radio, I wanted to really see what I can do with it compared to years past.

QSO Party VS. Contest

Some people put QSO parties into a different category when compared to contests like CQ World Wide. QSO parties are advertised to be more laid back and welcoming to new hams and new contesters. So you will see a lot of different operating habits. You will see more conversation, real signal reports and you will see a mix of seasoned contesters, new contesters, award chasers and even old timers. Large contests like CQWW are about making the contact as fast as possible and as many as possible.

Getting Ready

There wasn’t much I had to do to get ready. I’ve recently installed the DVK/DVR in the K3. It’s a device that can record and play audio clips. This is a great tool in contesting because I can record things like calling CQ and even the exchange and play them over and over. I much prefer using the recorder in the K3 than using wav files over my soundcard. I found that when using .wav files and a soundcard interface, the audio sounds much different from the radio’s microphone. With the DVR/DVK built into the K3, I can control it using the logging software and the audio is pretty much match up.  It helped out quite a bit during the contest as my voice was dropping out.

Let’s Go!

What I like about NEQP is that it starts at 4pm local time. I am not sure if they do it because of the New England Amateur Radio Festival  (NEARfest) or for other reasons but I had plenty of time to get stuff done around the house.  Soon as 4pm rolled around, I was on the air.

nt1kneqp15sm
(Me During NEQP 2015)

I didn’t spend the entire time on the air. I’m not as serious as other contesters that have an iron butt and won’t move from the chair. I went to the park, fixed some things around the house and did some other things instead of contesting. Even when I was on the air, I wasn’t really serious as some others might be. I was chatting it up with people, giving honest signal reports, trying to help people with audio issues and even ragchewing with other operators. Even though I would like to win my county, it was more about having fun. I’ve received many compliments and tried to give out as many as well. The last 20min of the contest I was in “contest mode” trying to hand out contacts as fast as possible. I have yet tried to participate in a contest from home that involved fast contacts. I’ve only done “Contest Mode” during multi operator events at other stations

Pan adapter usage during contesting

Even though I was mostly calling CQ and not bouncing around looking for contacts, I had the pan adapter running and I felt it made a big difference. I can switch to a band and see that it’s not alive instantly. I could also find “holes” in the band much easier for me to park and call CQ. It made it much more easier and faster to get up and running.

Differences between years past

Having a new antenna and a new radio does make things feel different. The K3 performed well as expected. I think the K3’s DVK/DVR (Digital Voice Recorder) is worth getting even if you have a soundcard interface.  I also purchased the 1.8 Khz filter knowing that I will be doing contesting where the bands could be packed. At first I wasn’t a fan of how the filter sounded until it was suggested by Jim (KK1W) to shift the filter. Adjusting the shift made a world of difference and I was able to enjoy what the 1.8kHz has to offer. The bands weren’t as packed compared to the likes of Field Day or CQ Worldwide but it helped with stations that were QRP or in the noise. I purposely setup shop near other stations calling CQ for NEQP and didn’t get much interference from strong near-by stations. Every once in a while someone would setup shop in my passband. Most times it’s an accident but sometimes they do it on purpose with hopes that I would move. depending on the band, I might move slightly up or down but most times I just stay on the frequency and eventually it will clear up. However it does cost me potential points.

Having a beam also made a huge difference of course. When it was just the G5RV, I had a hard time working West Coast stations but that changed. It seemed like I had a pipeline into the Southeast as the majority of my contacts where from 4 land. I’ve also worked some South American DX stations and a couple EU stations off the back of the beam. Even though I was communicating with a narrow signal both in TX and RX, I still received many compliments about my audio with the exception of one person who said I was too narrow for a QSO party. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes using a wider bandwidth.

However the biggest difference compared to previous years is that I didn’t have to fight anyone on the air. Every previous NEQP, I would end up getting into an argument with someone because I dared to operate near their precious net or someone would purposely jam me. This year I had none of that. Everyone I contacted was nice and wasn’t interrupted by a net or some other type of rag chew. I am not sure if was because the bands weren’t in great shape, that I have new gear, more experience or a combination of everything? Who know, maybe my previous setup was causing more harm during contests.

Getting Spotted

NEQPspots

With NEQP, I didn’t use the cluster or any kind of spotting assistance.
I had no idea that I was being spotted but I had an idea when I was getting a trickle of contacts then all of a sudden I was getting pileups out of nowhere. Thanks to those who spotted me.

Overall Experiences

I had a great time. It would have been better if my voice wasn’t cutting out but it was great.

neqpscores15

Overall I made 664 contacts. Most of them were on 20 meters. However I am impressed with my 40m contacts as I was using my G5RV to make them. 40m helped out with a lot of local counties. My claimed score is 36,521 points. I didn’t think that was a good score until I started comparing them against other claimed scores on 3830scores. I also need to look at my log a little closer because you will see that I made 619 SSB points but yet I made 664 contacts. I feel that something is not correct with my log. It’s possible that the DE contacts I made for DEQP are counted as errors because I put their county as part of the exchange. So it’s possible I have 39K points.

Improvements for the future

After looking at what’s coming through 3830 scores, I have a high amount of SSB contacts. At this point in time, I have the most SSB contacts on 3830 for my category. but yet I have half the points compared to the CW only ops. This means I really need to know CW in order for me to place higher in future contests. I have now set a goal to make at least 60% of my contacts in next years OSO party on CW. I can’t really do much to improve my signal or my SSB rates so I will have to start looking at CW for the points.

I had fun, thanks for reading.
Jeff – NT1K

 

My Experience as W1AW/1

If you’re not aware of it by now, the ARRL is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Along with the many things they are  doing, they are  putting on an ARRL Centennial QSO Party.  It’s a year long event where it’s encourage to make contact with as many ARRL members and staff as possible. There are also stations that are allowed the use the W1AW callsign in their state for a week twice during the year. Known as a portable station, it’s possible to obtain worked all states award just by contacting  the  W1AW/# Stations.

This past week it was Massachusetts, Virginia and Puerto Rico’s turn as W1AW. For Massachusetts, the host was David Robbins (K1TTT) located in Peru MA. K1TTT has what some consider a “Super Contest” station that is designed around contesting. It’s the perfect station to host the W1AW/1 call. Problem is that it’s impossible for Dave to be on multiple bands at the same time for an entire week straight. Dave needed help and asked the local ham community for operators and I jump at the opportunity and put my name on the list. I decided to show up on Friday night (4/12) and stayed until the morning.

20140410_194610
Custom sign I’ve made for Dave since he has let me use his stations so many times over the past few years.

It’s Showtime!

I’ve been to K1TTT and operated in contests many times. I was going to treat operating W1AW/1 as how I would do contesting. During pileups I would just make the exchange and work as many stations as possible and during slow times I would be a little more chatty. Soon  as I arrived, I was promptly placed on 10m SSB. The band wasn’t really “alive” at the time but I had a constant stream of stations which was really nice. It was a great warm up for prime time operations. Another operator came in and I let him get on 10m SSB and decided to play on 15m SSB where it felt the same. nice steady stream of contacts.

Here Comes The Pileup!

Jim (KK1W) was operating 40M CW and had to return home. I was asked to hop on 40m and do SSB around 7pm EDT (23:00z Friday). I was figuring that it was going to be the same as 10 and 15. I got on, asked if the frequency was clear and starting calling CQ. After the first couple of contacts I was spotted on the cluster. Soon as I was spotted, a huge wave of callsigns which seems like thousands of people were trying to contact me. It was so thick and so loud (20-40+) that I couldn’t even string together two letters of anyone’s suffix to call back “Yankee Bravo station?”. It was the biggest pileup that I ever been on the other side of.  I was terrified and excited at the same time. It’s was so much that I wanted to run split but didn’t want to   any more bandwidth on a already narrow band. There was pretty much no choice and had to call by numbers. I really didn’t want to but I had to in order to speed things up. So I called 0 through 9 and then asked for QRP stations. As I’ve been a QRP station in a pileup. It’s not fun at all. and figured to give everyone a chance. Even though I was calling by numbers, the pileups were just as bad but tried my best to work everyone as fast as possible. After a few rounds of calling by numbers, I stopped calling by numbers because I understand it can be frustrating waiting for your number to be called. Soon as I said “Anyone Anywhere” the huge rush of calls were just as big and loud as before but I was able to string together some of the callsigns.

IMG_0095

Here I am on 15M SSB. I was making that crabby face on purpose as a joke but it doesn’t look so at all .
(photo courtesy of James, WD1S)

High QSO Rates

After ditching calling by numbers and dealing with what seemed to be the never ending pileup for some time, My ears got used  to it and now I’m able to pick out callsigns from the sea  a little bit easier. Since it’s likely that I’ll never get this many people wanting to make contact with me ever again and that I’m using a station that is pretty much optimized for contesting, I wanted to see what I can really do. Now it’s my time to shine. Haven’t confirmed it yet but I recall seeing between 220-260 QSO per hour rates at times. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t contest that often. I could have gone faster. Since this is a QSO party and not a contest to likes of CQWW, I wanted to at least make some exchanges  other than 59 with people. Even though people on the frequency knew I was W1AW/1  in Massachusetts, I made sure to repeat the call and state I was in (since there are 2 other W1AW portable stations on the air) as much as possible. I also made comments about nice signals and nice audio, I exchanged my name and thanked as many people as possible for waiting. Other than calling by numbers, I tried as much as possible to avoid doing the things that annoy me when I am in the pileup trying to contact that wanted station.

After The Storm

Things started to die down. it was getting easier and easier. Then I looked at the clock. It was 2am. I was on 40m SSB for at least 6 hours straight. Time flew by really really fast. Even though I was sore (mostly from work) and my voice was shot, I had a really fun time. That sit down and work stations non stop is thrilling to me and wish I could do that type of operating from my home.  I wish I could do it more often without getting trouble at home for doing so. I ended up going to bed around 3am at K1TTT.

Wake and Shake.

I woke up in pain at around 6am. With only a 3 hour nap, I went back to the station to get as many QSOs as possible before I had to return home by noon. I was hoping 20M would be open to europe but wasn’t hearing much  on 20, 15 or 10 so I went back on to 40m. I made sure to call QRZ a bunch of times and to make sure the frequency is clear as always. This time I wanted to work DX so I went lower into the band to work those outside of the USA. The pileups weren’t  as bad and I was able to work a bunch of Australian and Japanese stations.

20140412_092555

Very blurry image of some of the ops that were there. NJ1F, N1RR  and WM1K pictured

How Rude. 

After an hour of so of operating. I was told to QSY because there is a net starting up on frequency. I informed the net that I’ve been on frequency for the past hour and kept making contacts. Without any care they started jamming me with CW, tuning carriers and running their net right on the same frequency that I’ve been already using. I held back every ounce of energy to start yelling at these people.  It’s like they never heard of a VFO knob. They don’t own the frequency and really shows the class that these so called “Experienced” operators showed. These are also the same people that think No-Coders are ruining HF. Since I’m using the W1AW call, I did not want to create any type of issue so I simply turned the station over to a CW operator.

Other than that one incident, things went very well. I was excepting for some operators to give me their entire life story right in the middle of gigantic pileup, or yelling at me because I didn’t call them or their area. But for the most part, everyone played nice and I hope I did as well. I also viewed the cluster and only saw a couple things but oh well. I’ve noticed with ham radio that it’s next to impossible to please every person.

Lessons Learned

As always I try to walk away with learning something along the way.  Since I never operated a beam before and mostly used vertical and wire antennas, I thought pointing the beam 90 degrees would get me into Europe

free-vector-world-map

I honestly thought that this is how it should be. Thanks to a little help from N1RR, I’ve learned that I was WAY wrong.

AzimuthalMap
Map Thanks To NS6T

That’s how I should be looking beam headings. Hopefully someday soon I’ll be able to take advantage of that and apply it to my own directional antenna.

I also now truly understand what DXpedition and other rare station operators go through when they are on the air.  Seeing the amount of QSOs that these operators can make with the short time on the air is impressive. I busted my chops and didn’t get close to the rates from the ops on these DXpeditions. Maybe… Just maybe if I had a “Big Gun” station and the right location, with think I could get close. A G5RV in the side of a hill isn’t going to cut it.

Some Stats

More photos and results can be found over at K1TTT.net for the entire W1AW/1 MA event

QSO Per Band Breakdown for NT1K

  • 80M – 2
  • 40M – 652
  • 20M –  6
  • 15 M – 248
  • 10M – 87
  • 6M – 4

Total amount of QSO’s : 999 (I couldn’t have made just one more!!!)
Highest QSO Rate: 2014-04-12 0029Z – 17.0 per minute (1 minute(s)), 1020 per hour by NT1K

QSO’s per hour break down for NT1K

Starting 2014-04-11 @ 21:00z
21z – 1
22z -86
23z -98
00z – 79
01z – 117
02z – 149 (Contact approx every 20 seconds)
03z – 137
04z- 137
05z – 26
06z – 43
07z – 1
10z – 28
11z – 36
12z – 51
13z -5
14z – 5
Ending – 2014-04-12 @ 1400Z

Overall experiences.

20140412_092607

 

Dave (K1TTT) and myself on 6 and 2M during the morning. Lots of CW that I couldn’t do.

Even though I was tired and in pain for most of Saturday, I had fun. It was exciting, I got to operate a nice station, met some nice people and enjoyed my short time there. I wish I could go back and operate as W1AW/1 but I was lucky enough to get out and play during prime time Friday night. There is always W100AW that I can hopefully operate before June.  Thanks to all who stood by and to those who worked me on 40M SSB.

– Jeff, NT1K

Contesting With SDR

This past weekend I had time to play in the North American QSO Party (NAQP) with my new SDR Attachment to my FT-950. The results in my book are mixed. There were two reasons why I wanted the FT-950 to go along with a SDR. The first and most important reason to me was to have a band scope. The second reason is to take advantage of the filtering done by the software.  I wanted to apply both of these features to contesting to hopefully improve my search & pounce QSO rate.

At the moment of writing this I am using SpectraVue software to display the SDR as well as controlling the VFO of the FT-950. SpectraVue is an excellent piece of software but is very basic. It has some software filtering but doesn’t compare to HDSDR or SDR-Radio. I prefer SpectraVue because  it’s minimal and runs smoothly on my somewhat dated computer (Quad core AMD @ 2.3Ghz, 4GB Ram, ATI [512Mb memory] video card).

For contest logging I use N1MM. My personal opinion is that N1MM is hands down the best software for contest logging. The software has so many options that it’s difficult to find something that it can’t do. It has so many options that some people think it’s too much and won’t use the software. It’s free and there is a huge community that is there if you were to find yourself in trouble. It maybe overwhelming at first but it’s not that hard to setup and use.

Here is a really horrible sketch of my setup for HF for those who are wondering.
StationSetup

COM PORT FIGHT!

Running N1MM and SpectraVue that both want to control the radio leads up to an issue. The serial port is currently being used by one piece of software which blocks out the other software from controlling/reading the radio.  There is a way around it by using another piece of software call a “Virtual Com Port”. The fine people that make the LP-Pan has thought of this and released software called “LP Bridge” that will allow multiple software to use the com port all at the same time. It works well and it’s free! There is also “Virtual Serial Ports Emulator (VSPE) ” that also does the job but is not free.

Bandscope/Panadapter

When everything is up and running and your hardware is working with your software and your software is working with your hardware, you will have a busy screen.

NAQP on 20M

Here is my small computer screen sharing N1MM with SpectraVue.  In the center you will see SpectraVue displaying 200Khz worth of bandwidth from 14.814Mhz to 14.344Mhz which is the majority of 20M voice band. What you see is a “Water Fall” with conversations trickling down the screen and the waveform of the signal above the waterfall. Just by glancing at the waterfall you can have an idea on how busy (or dead) the band is. You can also tell how strong some of the signals are by their brightness compared to other signals. By clicking on the left side (or right if using LSB) of a displayed signal, you will focus the receiver to that conversation. Depending on your setup, the radio will also change its VFO to that frequency so you can initiate contact.

Mixed in around SpectraVue you will see N1MM software also running waiting for me to log contacts instead of taking screen shots.

NAQP 2013 40M

Here is a shot of what 40M  (7.1MHz – 7.3MHz) looks like during NAQP

I will say that having a panadapter does help me (and possibly you) when It came to search and pounce contesting. Instead of spinning the dial looking for a station, I can now just click on a station and the software and radio will do the rest. It has improved my QSO rate much better.

It’s not the best thing since slice bread. 

I just want to add that I did have an Issue when it came to contesting with SDR capabilities.  It may be just an issue of mine but I have a feeling it applies to anyone with a similar setup. One of the great things about SDR is to let the computer and its software to do the filtering instead of the radio. It could allow you do use all different kinds of filters and filter widths that could really pull that signal “Out of the air”  When I’m using the SDR standalone, there is no problem what-so-ever. But when you hook it up to the radio that is already processing the signals, It’s very clear that there is a delay between the two. That is because of the SDR and computer are processing the signal coming out of the radio and takes longer than the radio.

In contesting that delay is annoying. More so if you have the volume up on your radio. In the cut throat world of contesting and chasing DX. That delay will end up costing you points and some angry ops (when isn’t there angry ops) because you’re not in-sync with them.

It’s not the end of the world. I found that using the audio from the radio and using the software as band scope proved to be beneficial.

Not sure about CW contesting. 

At this point I am in the early stages of learning CW so I am unable to comment on anything having to do with CW. I am going to assume that it just like voice contesting. Zoom in until you see all the CW and click on the signal you want to make contact with.

I’m in dream land again!

If I had the skills I would love to have software that is designed for SDR contesting. Combine the logbook and waterfall into one impressive package. Then allow to do digital work like PSK and RTTY on the same waterfall.

Thanks for reading,

Jeff – NT1K

 

Field Day Fever

Even though Field Day (FD) is weeks away, the planning of it gets me excited knowing that it’s near. Field day is the basically the main reason why I got my license. During  my CB days, someone brought me to a field day hosted by the  MTARA (Mount Tom Amateur Radio Assn.) on top of Mount Tom around 1995. I recall being on 14mhz using a Kenwood TS-440 and was making contacts all around the country. Compared to CB I was amazed about the contacts I was making considering I would never hear the stations, let alone make contact with them on CB. Field day was the kick in the ass to get my license and pretty much put CB behind me.

For those who don’t know what Field Day is, I would check out this website that would explain it in more detail then I could. It’s a emergency preparedness exercise where operators try to contact with as many other operators as possible. Even though you don’t have to, it’s encouraged  that you bring your gear and communicate from a field, hence “Field” Day. A lot of local Amatuer Radio Clubs put on events related to FD to have fun and also promote Amateur Radio to the general public at the same time.

Last year I participated in Field Day with the Hampden County Amateur Radio Association running the digital station.

NT1K Doing Digi (Photo By: Frandy Johnson, N1FJ)

This year I will be running SSB on 40M (7mhz) with the HCRA again at Dufresne Park in Granby MA.  If you are in the area. You should stop by and check it out. Go Here for more information

 

Obtained DXCC Mixed Status

After a year of chasing stations, waiting hours in pile-ups, chasing LoTW DX ops and checking LoTW whenever I uploaded my logs. I finally got enough entities to apply for my DXCC award.

My DXCC Certificate

 

Earlier this week I have DX Labs Spot collector running and with 20m acting the way it has been for the past week (very good), I saw a couple stations being spotted that I’ve never worked on before. I got to work ZL2WL (Wayne, New Zealand) and MD0CCE (Bob, Isle Of Man). MD0CCE uses LoTW and confirmed to be  my 100th entity. Then last night I made contact with MW0ZZK (Steve, Wales) that confirmed my 101 entity.

DXCC on LoTW

Now I need to apply and get the paper. Then I’ll start working on 5-Band DXCC and finishing up my WAS

Thanks to all who use LoTW!

Edit 6/7/2012: I submitted my application using only LoTW credit and using the LoTW website on 6/1/12 and I got the actual certificate in today.

Contesting… Huh?

As this blog is geared to newer hams, you’ll sometimes hear the word “contesting” or “radio sport”. Sometimes I think it’s funny seeing or hearing  Ham Radio and sport in the same sentence. It reminds me of a scene in the movie “King Pin” where  the character played by Randy Quaid says, “It’s intimidating to be in the presence of so many great athletes.” Then the shot pans to a bunch of fat guys smoking, eating and drinking.  Sort of an oxy-moron if you ask me.

So what is this “contesting” and what’s it about?

As simply as I can put it, Contesting is where a operator or operators try to establish contact with as many other operators as possible within a certain period of time. What makes each contest unique are the rules and regulations that govern each contest. Most contests have the operators  send a piece of information to the other operator and vise versa. This “Exchange” is used by sponsor of the contest to ensure that an actual contact actually happened. Once the contest is over, all the operators that took part in it will send in their logs to the sponsor before a deadline. The sponsor will then enter all the logs into a database and it will cross check all the logs and award points. The points are awarded depending on the rules of the contest. It can be as simple as one point per contact or 2 or 3 points. There are also Multipliers (mults) which are defined by the rules of the contest, making contact with a mult will multiply your entire score by that amount.

The one with the most points wins is a general way to put it. Depending on the contest, there could be multiple winners for all the different categories they have. Some of those categories could be QRP, Low Power (>100W), High Power(<250W), Emergency Power, Single Operator, Multiple Transceivers with Multiple Operators,  Single Transmitter with Mulitple Operators, Rover/Portable (Driving around) are just some of the categories that could be used in a contest. Just read the rules of the particular contest and you will know where to fit in or what to aim for.

Is contesting for me?

That all depends on you. Some operators love it. They eat, drink and don’t sleep contesting. The only time you will see them on the air is during a contest. There are even clubs dedicated for contesting. I belong to the “Yankee Clipper Contest Club” (YCCC) and they  take contesting very seriously. If you are into contesting I would suggest to join one. As I did with the YCCC, you can learn a lot about contesting . It’s not necessary but If you get bitten by the contesting bug, the information and help from fellow members is worth the membership fee.

Some of the operators who do a lot of contesting, setup their stations with only contesting in mind. Some ops go as far as buying property and building their  station around contesting.
I had a chance to visit one of these contest stations and I was quite impressed with the setup. The station I got to visit is built and owned by Dave Robbins (K1TTT). I got to operate at his station with the BSA Venture Crew 510 (NE1C) for both the North American QSO Party (NAQP) and WPX SSB.

Here is what is station looks like

Pictured:  John (Kx1x) and Nick (K1MAZ)

You’ll notice that there are multiple transmitters scattered throughout his station.  Each area is basically dedicated for a single band. If the contest allows, there can be 6 to 9 transmitters being used at the exact same time. The software (N1MM) that is being used is networked throughout his entire shack. This will show real time progress of the contest and predict a very accurate score. It could also lead to a little contest between operators to see how many QSOs each operator can make.

Here are some of the Antennas that make this station possible

I didn’t have time to take photos of all of his antennas but it’s quite impressive. If you want more information about K1TTT, you can visit his website.

With this Station/Setup, It’s NOT hard to have a high score. Since this is what is considered to be a “BIG GUN” station, it’s easy to take command of a frequency and “Run” for a good portion of the contest. Let the contacts come to you. The only thing I did not like about using his station is when I returned home to use my equipment only to hear a fraction of what I just heard at the contest station. But if you ever have a chance to use a contest station, go for it! You can learn a lot about contesting  just by watching someone who has done it for a while.

Now don’t let me scare you out of contesting by saying you need to have this “BIG GUN” station. The truth is a lot of the stations that participate in contests have what is considered to be a “Normal” setup. If you’re still on the fence about contesting, my advice would be to find someone or a group within a reasonable distance and shadow them for a  contest. If you join a contesting club (if it’s possible), there are contesters who are looking for more operators as they work in “Shifts” depending on the contest. Another thing you can do is wait for Field Day. Even though the ARRL calls Field Day a emergency preparedness exercise, it’s could be considered a contest or even both. You get points for making contacts and points for doing certain things and they publish the results every year. Visit a Field Day site and you will get a general idea on how it works. If you don’t want to transport to another station, as long as you have the equipment, there is nothing to stop you from contesting from your home (other than your license limitations).

The Dark Side of contesting

Not all Hams enjoy contesting. Actually some Hams just flat out HATE contesting and anything to do with it. Some of them beleave that contesting actually ruins amateur radio because it’s turning a leisurely hobby into a “Sport” and it’s congesting the airwaves with nothing but false exchanges transmitted by operators who are over-driving their signal and using more power than the legal limit to force other ops off the frequency and/or band. You’re not learning about the person on the other side, you’re just establishing contact and moving on.
That is basically what you will hear from the “Anti-Contesters” and I think it’s a half truth. There are operators that show no respect and do all of those things. But it also happens when there is not a contest going on. When a major contest is going on, depending on the contest, there is a lot of activity going on. There is so much activity that it’s very possible that the entire band is being consumed by contesters. There is refuge from all this chaos however. Most, If not all contests do not allow contesting on the WARC bands (60m, 30m, 17m, 12m) so if you don’t like contesting, you can use these bands. The downside to the WARC bands is that you have limited space and there are not many antennas designed for the WARC bands which keeps some operators off.
Most contests take place during the weekend. A good amount of the contests are mode specific. So if it’s a RTTY contest, most of the activity will be around the RTTY calling frequencies and the SSB portion will be not effected. Same with CW or PSK or SSB only. However there are contests that any and/or every mode can be used.

If you’re an avid “Rag Chewer” contesting might not be up your alley. Don’t knock it down until you at least put a serious effort into contesting. If you’re going into contesting with a negative attitude, you’ll have negative results. If it ends  up that you don’t like contesting for whatever reason, please don’t turn into a “Anti-Contester”. Just because you like telling your story to every ham that you come across doesn’t mean  that every single amateur radio operator should be doing the same thing. Some hams are in it for CW, some are in it for Ragchewing, some are in it for chasing DX, some are in it for EmComm (Emergency Communications), some are in it for contesting and yada yada yada ya.  Ham Radio is a big melting pot of all different types of people and the different ways they communicate. It shouldn’t be subject to a single use.

I want to try contesting, what do I need?

As I stated earlier, you don’t need a “Big Gun” station to participate and have fun in a contest. All You need is time, will and determination more than anything else. Oh and at least some equipment. If you already have a transceiver, antenna and a way to log the contacts then you are all set for contesting. If you’re comfortable with just that then hopefully you’ll have a fun time contesting.
There are things out there that will make your contesting experience much more enjoyable and will give you a better chance of a higher score. In my personal opinion, the biggest contribution to contesting is the personal computer. With that and CAT control and possibly an internet connection, it will make you much faster  in the contest. With a computer you can use logging software in combination with rig control to log the frequency, time, call-sign and exchange. Depending on the software, it will estimate your score. That depends on if the other stations you’ve contacted submitted their logs.

Some other things that can help you in a contest are a Headset (For SSB) with either a foot switch or the VOX (Voice Operated Transmission) enabled on your radio (if you have one). That will free up your hands for logging and other things. It will also block most of the noise happening in your environment.  A memory keyer (CW/SSB/Computer) would be beneficial for both CW and voice contesting. What the memory keyer does is store messages that you will be sending over and over again. For example if you say “CQ Contest CQ Contest This Is November Tango One Kilo Contest” hundreds or thousands of times throughout a contest, it can get tiring  and you’ll sound horrible towards the end of the contest. The memory keyer will store the message and play it over the air whenever you push a button. So you can store things like CQ, Your exchange (if there is no serial number involved or anything that is different per contact), “Thank you, 73”, “QRZ This is NT1K” and other things that you might say repeatedly. Same with Morse code. A lot of this can be done with the computer. However,  you might have to add an additonal piece of equipment called a “Sound Card Interface” like the Rigblaster or SignaLink for voice and/or some kind of CW interface like WinKey.  You can also just buy the hardware (linked earlier). There are many options out there, some people use a couple of Audio cables and the VOX on their radio as an interface.

In short, a ideal contest setup would consist of  your transceiver(s), antenna(s), computer w/ appropriate software, headset and/or memory keyer (either software or hardware).

I have what I think is needed for contesting. What do I do?

First off, see what contest(s) are out there that you are interested in and see when they happen. This website catalogs  the upcoming contests and gives you the basics about each one. Most contests have a website that is dedicated to the contest  in question. I would visit that web site, read and understand all the rules for that contest. Nothing is more embarrassing then not reading the rules and participating in a contest where all the work  that you did could be flushed down the toilet.

Next thing to do is to set your goals. You can aim to beat your last years score, the score of a rival operator or operate for X amount of time or X amount of contacts. You can  aim really high and set your goal to WIN the contest.

If you are brand new to contesting, I would read the rules and listen in on a different contest before taking part in the one that you’re interested in. That way you have a feel for what’s about to happen. If you’re in a contest that is using a “Digital” mode (such as RTTY, PSK, CW, FeldHell, etc.. ) it would be wise to setup “macros” or scripts needed for calling CQ and making exchanges. Nothing is more irritating when you’re in a PSK or RTTY contest and the persons macro is a mile long causing the QSO to take way longer than it should.

About a week before the contest begins, start checking your equipment and software to make sure everything is in working order. That way you’re not running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off looking for hardware to replace your non-working hardware or trying to fix the software you’re using.

The day before the contest starts I would check your equipment again and configure your software (if you’re using it) to the contest that you will be participating in. If you’re using rig control, make sure that it works and everything communicates with each other. Then I would test your setup by getting on  the air and making contacts. If you happen to have  towers and beams or directional antennas, have them pointed in the direction you need them in.

Get a good nights sleep. You don’t want to be exhausted when getting into the contest. Depending on the contest, you might NOT be sleeping for the next 48 hours. So plan accordingly. Hours before the contest starts, I would do one final check of you’re equipment. Depending on how serious  you want to be, I would also take this time to setup your area. Make it as comfortable as possible since you might be planted there for a long time. Things  like having a stocked cooler and/or coffee maker within arms reach can really make things easier. Same thing with snacks and/or meals. If you’ve ever done gaming then you should already have an idea of what it’s going to be like. This may sound extreme but that’s how some people do it.

Contest Started. What do I do?

To answer that easily… GO GO GO!! What are you waiting for?!? Start!.. Every couple seconds of just sitting there wondering could cost you points. The ideal thing to do would to take command of a un-used frequency (good luck) and start calling “CQ contest…” (running) and start racking up those contacts. However depending on the contest, you might get pushed off by the “BIG GUNS”. It’s happened to me (even when I was using a “BIG GUN” station) a lot and I am sure it will happen to you. It’s hard to compete when the “Big Guns” are hogging up the band. Don’t let that make you lose hope. Use that to your advantage. Work all those “Big Gun” Stations and do what it called “Search & Pounce (S&P)”. Start from the beginning of the band and turn the dial towards the end of the band, working as many stations as possible. Depending on the contest or the rules or the category you’re running in, once you reached the end of the band, go the next higher band and do the same thing over and over. If you happen to find an empty frequency that can be used then stop S&P and go back to Calling CQ (Running) and repeat.

Another way people contest (if it’s allowed in the contest) is to utilize the Spotter/Skimmer/Packet networks that are out there. For those who don’t know what this is, it’s the exact same thing as a “DX Cluster”. What happens during the contest is after the operator makes a contact, the frequency and callaign will be “Spotted” on the network. For CW there are computers that use SDR (Software Defined Radio) that can look at almost 200Khz worth of  bandwidth, decode the CW and post the spots on the cluster. They call this skimming. If you have the appropriate software and it’s setup correctly, you can have all this information displayed on your computer and all you would have to do is click on the callsign you want to make contact with and it will automatically put you on the frequency they are on and partially fill out the log book. The downside of this is that it could possibly put you into a different category. It’s may be fine for some contests (because you’re already in that category) but will make it difficult for you to even place in other contests because there is a possibility that you will be lumped in with the bigger stations.

What can I do to have the Highest Score Possible?

Well, that depends on you and your will, determination and the goals you set before the contest. If your goal was to operate for at least a couple hours and you did then your Goal has been achieved  and your score will reflect it. However there are things that you can do to get the highest score possible. The fastest way to a high score is to work multipliers(mults). I brushed on this earlier but depending on how the contest is setup and governed, certain stations are considered multipliers.  If you work that station and get confirmation, your score will multiply by that amount. So if you worked 54 (1X) multipliers, each contact (QSO) would be 54 points. If you’re working assisted and depending on the logging software,  it will tell you that you’re working a multiplier and your predicted score will change.

Another thing to do is stay active. Some people are only active when the band is “Open” and go off to do other things when the band dies down. Spend some time before the contest looking at and learning HF Propagation charts (Link 1|2|3|4). Make a print out of what bands will be active at certain times and try to get on before the band “Opens” up. Hopefully that will give you a jump and possibly a running frequency. If the contest involves working stations in Europe, you most definitely want to be on the air when the band opens up to Europe due to the massive amount of stations and countries in that area. If the contest is a “work anyone anywhere” type then when the band dies down, concentrate your efforts to working contacts in your area/country. There might be a time were it seems dead. At this point find the most “Active” band and setup camp calling CQ. Contacts will come trickling in but it’s better than not making contacts at all. I also have either my laptop/tablet/smartphone going so I can be doing other things while calling CQ and stopping to make the contact.

Quick Notes On Contesting:

  • Set your goal – Is it to be on for X amount of hours? or to make X amount of points? or to beat last years score? or to WIN!
  • Check Check Check your equipment – Don’t want to spend the first 3 hours of the contesting fixing things.
  • Be comfortable – Setup the area to be as comfortable as possible. Possibly have food and drinks within arms reach.
  • Know band openings\closings – Use  HF propagation prediction software/sites so  you know when a band is opening/closing
  • Three tries – If you can’t get the station within three tries,  move on or say “Sorry, I can’t work you, please try again later. QRZ” . If they are strong, the chances of them of being there on your next go-around will be high.
  • No Ragchewing –  The point of a contest is to make as many QSOs as possible. Talking to another contester will end up costing you potential contacts and will annoy the other contester.
  • Start low and repeat – If you’re S&P, start at the beginning of the band and work your way to the end. At the end, move to the next band higher  until you’re high as you can get and then start over at the lowest possible band and repeat.  Like a cirrrrrrcle.
  • Follow the DX Code of Conduct – Even though this should be followed at all times. It’s more important during a contest. Not everyone follows this but after some time contesting, They stick out like a sore thumb and will be labeled a LID (poor operator)… Don’t be a LID.
  • Keep going – Make as many contacts as you can within the time  period you’re allowed. Try to stay at your station

Contest is done… Now What? 

After you recover,  I would glance over the logs to see if anything sticks out that is wrong like invalid callsigns or bad exchanges and see if you can fix them or possibly remove them (I would try to fix them). Some contests will give kudos to those whom submitted error free logs.

After checking the log, export it in the format the sponsor asked for (mostly carbrillo format) and check the rules of the contest to see how or where you have to submit/upload/e-mail your logs to.

Even if you were in the contest for 10 minutes, If you made contacts, I would submit a log file.  There is no FCC Law saying you have to submit a log, but depending on the contest, it might take points away from the other operators since it’s won’t be a true contact since there is no confirmation from you. So if you take part in a contest, please submit a log. Even if it doesn’t benefit you. It’s just good practice.

Was it worth all the time and trouble?

Once again, that all depends on YOU! Did you have a fun time? Did you reach your goals that you’ve set before the contest started? Was this your first time participating in this particular contest? Did you end up getting a certificate or winning a category? All of these questions will tell if you if it was worth it. A great thing about contesting is that you can use the contacts that you made during the contest to count towards awards like DXCC or WAS (that is if you were using YOUR callsign). And if this was your first contest, now you have a base to set your goals for.

NT1K Experiences in Contesting

At the time of writing this article, I’ve participated in a few contests. I am nowhere near being an “expert” at contesting and I don’t have what is considered to be a “BIG GUN” setup.  I’m writing this hoping to drum up at least some interest in contesting from those who are  just getting into the hobby. There are other articles by veteran contesters that are much better. If you have the  chance to join a contesting club, go for it! If you didn’t learn anything from joining and participating in a contest club then I would question what type of club it  really is. Some clubs even hold “Contesting Classes” where they will walk you through the details of contesting. You can also attach yourself to a group within the club (and hopefully near your QTH as well) and shadow them to see how it’s all done. Some of these contesters are begging for ops to come over and operate using their callsign (or club call) so they can take a break. Some are willing to teach you (isn’t really hard to say you’re 59 and the exchange) so they can have a semi warm body at the radio making contacts.

My Contesting setup is made up of the  following

  • Transceiver:  Yaesu FT-950 HF/6M  – It’s no K3 or IC-7800 but I like it!
  • Personal Computer: Quad-Core @ 3.2Ghz using Dual boot Windows 7/Ubuntu
  • Software: N1MM Logger, MMTTY(RTTY), FLdigi(PSK) and Ham Radio Deluxe. MMTTY  and FLdigi works within N1MM
  • Soundcard Interface: SignaLink USB. This is used so I can send Voice CQ and AFSK from the digi programs
  • Headset: Heil Pro Set
  • Antenna(s): G5RV, ButterNut HF9V (Not Used Yet)
  • Amplifier: Heathkit SB-200 w/ 600w out (Not Used During a Contest…Yet). This is optional and can change your category

Contests I’ve actively participated in (So Far)

  • Various Field Days (1995-2011) – Even though it not considered to be a contest, I think it is!  Field day with the MTARA, PRA and HCRA
  • New England QSO Party (2011,2012) – Actually won a plaque for winning first place in Hampden county in 2011. It also means that I beat 6 other ops. Doesn’t matter, still won.  Single Op from home using low (1oow) power, submitted as high power by mistake.
  • CQ World Wide SSB (2011) – 144,026 points. Would have had more if my power didn’t go out (Oct storm). I’m still getting logbook of the world confirmations from this contest
  • CQ World Wide CW (2011) – 12,000 points. My goals were to make 100CW contacts which was achived. I used a computer for the contest so I was only able to make contact with strong stations that were also using a computer. This contest gave me a push to learn CW
  • ARRL 10M contest (Dec, 2011) – Approx 8,000 pts.  Spent only a couple of hours operating as I don’t have very good 10m coverage (Dipole in attic)
  • North America QSO Party – (Score Unknown) Participated in NAQP from K1TTT contest station using the call NE1C.
  • CQ WPX SSB – Approx 10,000,000  points.  Multi-Op From K1TTT using call NE1C. Was the only op on the night shift for the second day. It was a slow night making abt, 100,000pts but when Europe opened on 20M, I made around 1,500,000 points in the first couple hours. Had a great time, I wish it was my call being used from the stations. I worked countries that I never even heard (Thailand, Mongolia) from at my QTH.It was pointed out that there is more pride making contacts from your home QTH and your setup which I fully agree.

(ARTICLE STILL UNDER REVIEW)

CQWW CW Contest / Rants

I decided to participate in CQ Magazine’s World Wide CW (Morse Code) contest. It’s one of the, If not the biggest CW contest of the year.
I have been trying to learn CW off and on since the summer so I needed some help if I were to even make one QSO on CW. I setup N1MM logging software for the contest and used DM-780 that comes with Ham Radio Deluxe to decode and encode the CW.
Since I never participated in a CW contest before I wanted to see how it worked so I can configure my macros to work with the contest. I was very impressed on how fast contacts and exchanges are made. It’s way faster compared to SSB, RTTY and PSK31 and I felt even more compelled to learn CW after playing in this contest. I worked the contest off and on so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed about the activity. I started off searching and pouncing (S&P) on only the strongest signals. I would wait until I have their full call and exchange before even attempting to contact the station. N1MM does help out by looking up the CQ zone which came in handy a couple of times. After establishing contact I would get the typical 599 and zone exchange. After the first night working the contest. I have learned what my new call sounds coming back to me and phrases like “TU”, “TEST”, “?” and some of the shortcuts ops used to make a faster contact like instead of a RST of 599, it will be 5NN and A5 would be zone 15. I went to bed with code buzzing around in my head. I woke up the next day to play again. I’ve managed to make 100 contacts even though I know for a fact that I can make more. I just wanted to see what it was like to play in a CW and I liked it. Nothing like just jumping right in with both feet and absorbing everything. Once you learn the key terms in code the contest went much easier. I would encourage ops who want to learn CW to work in a contest. After learning what some of the stuff sounds like, the only trouble would be on decoding the call sign. I just hope that the people on the other end got my call right.

This now leads me to my rant. I lurk around on a lot of Ham radio related forums and also hear it by ear. I see a lot of people saying something along the lines of “These No-Coders are going to ruin HF” and “Amateur Radio is going to be just like CB” because the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement years after many other countries dropped the requirement. Now all these “Techies” or Technician license holders are upgrading to general and/or extra without passing a Morse code proficiency test.
After spending a couple of years on HF I have not seen much (or any) evidence to support this claim that has been spewing out of the elders mouths for over 4 years now. A lot of the Issues I see have a lot to do with elder hams. For example, when it comes to contacting a DX station I see a lot of things happening. Things like after the DX station acknowledge someone, there are still people trying to crowbar their callsign in because there is a second of silence. I also hear 1KW amps tuning up RIGHT on frequency of the DX station then spew out their call (like we don’t know who you are when you’re 40+ on my meter). Then you got those that see a massive pileup trying to contact the station and when acknowledged, will try to strike up a rag chew session by describing their town and the weather and their medical ailments even though there are 100’s of people waiting. And if the DX working split… FORGET ABOUT IT! They endlessly send their call even though you have a bunch of people telling him that the DX is listening 5KC up. Try listening to the RX Frequency of the DX station working spilt. Wholly crap there are a lot of people who don’t even come close to following the DX code of conduct. I’ve jotted a bunch of these calls down and looked them up on QRZ to find out that a majority of them are elder hams (By the age of their call and station setup).
For a Hobby that is so-called “Dying”, I wouldn’t spend much time complaining about those who are actually trying to stay interested in Ham radio. Not only should you welcome these “No-Coders”, you should thank them for showing interest. Because with that negative attitude you will drive away the young Hams that are genuinely interested and you will see a truly dead hobby. After a couple of years on HF and thousands of contacts, It’s rare that I run into someone around my age (28). I basically think that those who bitch and moan about it are just jealous or feel that they are “A class of their own” because they had to pass a 20wpm (or 5wpm) CW proficiency test. The funny thing is that since I’ve upgraded, I wanted to learn CW more than ever so I can make even more contacts farther away.
This is just my personal opinion, I could be wrong.

HCRA Field Day 2011

This year I participated in Field Day with the Hampden County Radio Association. Instead of dropping by a site and using their equipment, I decided to offer up my equipment for use as the “HF DIGITAL” station. Other than a couple of software issues, the Digital station was a success with over 170 contacts.

Here are the pictures I’ve taken from Field Day

Check out Hampden County Radio Association’s Website for information about Field Day.
Continue reading “HCRA Field Day 2011”

FIELD DAY – 2 Weeks!

I will be participating in Field Day this year with the folks from the Hampden County Radio Assocation ( HCRA ). I’m excited because I will be using my FT-950 as the site’s HF Digital station (Mostly PSK, RTTY). So if you live  or will be in the Western Mass area on the 25th and 26th of June and want to see Field Day up close, we’re going to be at Dufresne Recreation Area in Granby, Massachusetts. All are welcomed, licensed or not.  Please visit the Field Day page on HCRA’s website. Also check out pictures and data from prior years

For those who don’t know about Field Day, It’s basically an event that takes place on the 4th weekend of June to test emergency communications and it’s deployment. Over 30,000 operators across US try to communicate with as many other field day operators as possible. Points are awarded to operators and/or clubs that make contacts and perform other tasks that would allow for more points ( For example: media coverage, getting Non Hams on the air [GOTA], Copying/fowarding messages). Some Hams treat this as  contest even though the ARRL considers it  an exercise. Whatever the case may be, it’s really fun and it can get you out of the house.

I’ve participated in Field Day multiple times at multiple hosts over the years. I’ve had a Digital setup back in 2004 and had a blast. I recall being very busy using digital back then, I hope that it’s even more popular this year compared to 2004 and hope to be more busy making contacts all over HF.

What: ARRL Field Day Hosted By the Hampden County Radios Association
When: Saturday, June 25th, at 14:00 (2pm), untill Sunday, June 26th
Where: Dufresne Recreation Area, Granby MA, 01033
Why: Because it’s fun, social and you get to operate all different type of equipment.

Hope to hear or see you at Field Day!!