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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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