Monday, February 16, 2015

K1N - Fabulous DXpedition

My Results from K1N
Well, it's over now. The much-anticipated K1N DXpedition to Navassa Island is now over. Lucky for me, I made it into the log multiple times, which makes me quite pleased.

Granted, it was a pretty easy shot from here in northwest Georgia to Navassa Is compared to other parts of the world. They were quite strong on just about every band, with the exception of 10 and 12m. I never heard a peep from them on 6m.

The pileups in the low bands were completely crazy in the evenings. All of my contacts 30m and below were made in either the 0900z or 1000z hour -- 4 or 5 AM local. That's one of the secrets of working DX -- be on the band when others are not! The one exception was 60m, and, honestly, the channel was so crazy I'm not entirely sure how I made it into the log.

All of these contacts were made with 100 watts and wire antennas, either the Inverted-L or the 80/40m dipole. Working DX does not require huge amplifiers and large antennas.

The team on Navassa Island did a fantastic job handing out contacts despite unruly pileups, deliberate QRM and the usual craziness. I witnessed on CW pileups that extended over 30 kHz with people continuously calling. Finding the listening frequency in the second receiver was an incredibly difficult task, and quite often I was just guessing -- but a few times I got lucky.

As I told my friend Mike, W1YM, now that I have Navassa Is on nine bands, I'm planning to volunteer to operate the next time team heads to the island. Perhaps in 10 years....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

K1N - in the Log!

From the Department of "OK, that was a little bit weird":

Just after the SuperBowl, I easily found spots for K1N on 40m - they had just started operating. He was quite loud on the Inverted-L. At that point, the challenge wasn't in finding the DX, but finding exactly where he was listening.

As a belated Christmas present for myself, I bought the KRX3 -- the second receiver option for the K3. After ten months of chasing all the W1AW-portable stations, I became pretty proficient at pressing the REV button and tuning around to find the split listening frequency. Months I spent thinking that this would all be so much easier if I could just hear both sides at the same time.

Adapting to the second receiver wasn't so easy. While I've had a little practice with two radio operation, it isn't easy concentrating on one signal in one ear, and perhaps a bunch of signals in the other. I've had a little time to practice with it, and while it is really handy, I find that sometimes its easier to just listen to one receiver at a time.

In any case, the bedlam I found surrounding K1N was a LIDfest in the extreme. K1N was clearly asking for European stations only, and yet there were thousands of K, W and AA-AL stations calling madly. More than 15 kHz of the 40m band was covered in signals repeatedly sending their calls. It was going to be very difficult to discover the DX stations listening frequency. Add to this mess the number of operators who could not figure out how to properly configure their rigs for split operation. Plus the frequency cops repeatedly sending "UP UP", clearly interfering with the K1N transmissions.

Please, guys. I have written about how to work DX before. You have to LISTEN. Stop transmitting, and listen.

After about 40 minutes of that mess, I turned the rig off. I'd work them later. I hoped. Well, I'd have nearly two weeks of chances.

The next morning, I woke a little early at about 4:30 AM. I felt rested, so I figured I'd go out to the shack and check on K1N.

I half expected to hear K1N on at least 40 and 80m. I had heard them briefly the evening before on 80m, only to hear the operator send VERY TIRED QRX 5 HOURS. Great. (Well, I'm sure those guys were exhausted from the trip and all the setup)

Nothing to be found on 80m, but K1N was hoppin' on 40m. And seems like most of the lids had gone to bed. About five minutes later, I figure out roughly where he's listening (only about 9 kHz of people calling this morning), and it's time to join the fray.

Wait. He's gone. For about five minutes, there's no transmissions from K1N. Then a series of Vs, and he's back - works a couple of Qs, then disappears. Hmm. I keep calling for a while. I figure the generator may have quit, or someone tripped over a cable or something. Might as well call as I'm listening.

That's when something weird happened. You see, I'm using that KRX3 module, listening to the K1N transmit frequency in my left ear, and my own transmit frequency in my right ear. Then, very clearly, I hear "AA4LR 5NN" -- in my right ear. My transmitting frequency. OK, that's not right. I figure it's just some lid out there that's heard me calling over and over, and is just messing with me. Or maybe I'm just sleepier than I thought. I glance up and confirm, visually, that I am indeed operating split. Yes, thank God I'm not a lid -- today.

But, he comes again "AA4LR 5NN" -- insistently. Speed, cadence and strength are about right -- but it is definitely in my right ear. Well, why the heck not: "R 5NN TU" and the reply comes "TU UP" -- again in my right ear. But nothing else.

Right about that moment, the operator must have realized something was amiss. Next transmission is in my left ear - "K1N UP". For a moment, I'm flabbergasted. Did I work him, or not? Well, if I did, I know exactly where he's listening - so I send my call exactly once. "AA4LR 5NN", "R 5NN TU", "TU UP".

There. In the space of 20 seconds -- less time than it takes to read about it, I'd worked K1N twice -- once simplex, once split. Once in one ear, once in both.

About an hour later, I find there's spots on 80m. He's very strong, but even stronger on the trap dipole. The pileup is fresh, and hasn't had time to get as unruly as 40m. In three minutes, I found where he's listening and he comes right back to me.

UPDATE: Looks like he logged me twice as well, as I have two 40m CW contacts in ClubLog. Fine operator!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

K1N - Pumped for Navassa

Back when I first got interested in Amateur radio, I remember an article published in 73 Magazine about a DXpedition to Navassa Island.

This was something of an unusual article for 73 Magazine -- which, at the time, generally focused more on radio technology and construction articles. However, since the publisher Wayne Green W2NSD/1 had been part of the DXpedition, it was no surprise the story was covered.

I don't remember why, but the tale of hauling equipment and personnel up a steel rope and angle iron ladder from an inflatable boat amidst all the waves, surging and swells captured my imagination. You can read an account here.

It would be over a decade later that I would join the Atlanta Radio Club myself, but for some reason I never asked anyone about this trip. It wasn't until nearly two decades later, when I happened to strike up a conversation with Jim Streible K4DLI that I heard the story firsthand. (Ironically, Jim was the father of one of my colleagues at Georgia Tech as well - something I didn't piece together until that conversation)

At lot has happened since those days. When the Desecheo Island DXpedition was active in 2009, I intentionally worked them on as many bands as I could -- since it was clear that it might be decades before it was active again. I logged them successfully on 160-15m, using CW, SSB and RTTY. Given my relative proximity to the DX, it wasn't that hard to work.

Needless to say, I am pumped about the Navassa Island DXpedition. The pileups will be huge, of course, but I expect to work them on as many bands. It will be great fun trying.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

W1AW-Portable - Thanks for a fun year!

Well, it's over now. All the W1AW-portable operations are complete. It's been a great, great year. I have had a ton of fun chasing these stations. I only wish I had gotten started in the first couple of months, rather than just the last 10.

According to my log, I've worked W1AW-portable stations 1276 times. It's been a lot of fun. I'm definitely going to miss this in the new year.

ARRL 160m 2014

Two radio setup for the ARRL 160m contest.
K3 on right, K2 on left.
For the 2013 running of the ARRL 160m, I put in more operating hours than ever before, but I fell short of my personal best set in 2010. For 2014, I wanted to make sure that I set a new record.

Two radios would allow me to call CQ while I am scanning the band for other stations. I had used two radios in 2013, but it proved to be ineffective.

The inverted-L is my only 160m antenna. That would go to the K3. What I needed was some type of receiving antenna for the K2. The 80/40m dipole wouldn't cut it, as I found in 2013.

I had intended to set up some K9AY loops, and I've been working on a push-button controller for it. That project ran into a snag at the last minute, so some creativity was in order. I ended up stringing a 150 foot "Beverage" antenna into the woods. At such a short length and unterminated, it's not a true Beverage, but it did allow me to receive with the K2.

The two-radio setup was configured in haste about an hour before the contest. While the K3 continued to overload the K2 even with the receiving antenna, I used the K2 to populate the band-map while CQing. This did not produce a significant change in the number of Qs, but it did allow me to listen to other parts of the band during the slowest periods.

Started the contest at 2201z and continued all night to 1230z, right at sunrise. The all-night shift was tough, but netted 544 Qs and 68 multipliers. Conditions seemed good but not great. Worked 47 states - all but AK, HI and MT. Early part of the contest was nearly all CQing, with short sessions of S & P to look for mults, as well as when rates got slow after 0600z.

Second night started at 2210z until 0456z. It might have been better to stay on until 0600z, but I was exhausted. Got back on at 1040z, and switched off at 1240z. That's over 23 hours of contest time. There are only 28 hours of darkness in this part of the world at this time of year, and I was on the air for 22 of them.

Passed 700 Qs around 0430z the second night -- which put me into personal record territory. What I needed was mults. In my previous best, I had 78 mults. However, there was no DX to be found. I heard no Europeans, and very little from the Caribbean. Worked XE, PJ2 and ZF. Heard a V3, but he did not hear my calls.

Very hard the second night to decide between calling CQ and S & P. I ended up mostly S & P, because the rate was slightly better.

Found missing mults the second night, with MT, LAX, SCV, SV, MAR and WTX. With three countries that makes 74. Total 745 QSOs for a total score of 111,148.

I really feel like I am pushing the limits of what can be done with 100 watts and 1500 feet of wire suspended from trees. Score might be a little higher if I had stayed up the second night.

This contest is always a blast. See you next year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Logbook of the World

In the last month, I passed a significant milestone. I now have over 25,000 confirmations in Logbook of the World. Not bad for using it for the last eleven years.

I went back and checked, my first upload was on November 11, 2003. It took me just over a year to upload all my logs, including all of the hand-written logs that had to be typed in.

Every QSO I have ever recorded, as WN8WOY, WB8WOY, N8BHE and AA4LR has been uploaded to Logbook of the World. However, those early callsigns have not been very fruitful. My novice calls have not garnered any confirmations, and my general call just two, both from my brother NJ8J.

With those confirmations, I have qualified for several awards. I earned DXCC in three and a half years. Today, I have DXCC Mixed, CW, Phone, RTTY and on 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. I've earned WAS Basic, CW, Phone, RTTY, Triple-Play, and Six-band WAS (160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10). And from Floyd County, I have the confirmations to get WAS Basic, CW, Phone, RTTY, Triple-Play, and bands 40, 30 and 20m, with two other bands (160, 80m) just one state away.

Logbook of the World is a tremendous resource. While getting your account set up is just a little bit of trouble, gathering confirmations is so easy and inexpensive. Much better than the old-fashioned method of using physical cards.

If you have any interest in awards-chasing or DXing, you should be using Logbook of the World.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What Ever Happened to 2m FM?

My first 2m FM rig was the Icom IC-230, like this one.
I was reading an article in a recent issue of QST, talking about the rise of FM in amateur use, and it dawned on me. It's been nearly 10 years since I had a VHF FM radio in the car.

Thirty-five years ago, in September of 1979, I got my first 2m rig -- an Icom IC-230.

My brother Ben, now NJ8J, had gotten a 2m handheld several months before. While home before college, I noticed how much fun he was having on 2m, and I wanted to be part of it as well.

One of his 2m contacts, a gentlemen whose call I have forgotten, had a Icom IC-230 for sale, and the price was reasonable for my college-bound budget. Ben and I went out to his house and came home with the rig. I fashioned a 1/4-wave whip using 19" of coat-hanger wire with four copper wire radials attached to an SO-239 connector. A quick jaunt out the dormer window and the antenna was attached to the roof just above the window.

That old house was in a prime spot for VHF. Right at the top of a hill, it was the highest spot for a couple of miles around. And it didn't hurt the antenna was near the top of the roof.

Propagation that week of September, just before I headed for school in Georgia, was also fortuitous. There was a massive troposphere opening, and I worked FM repeaters in four or five states in just a couple of days. I don't believe I've ever experienced such an opening since then.

Back in the days before frequency synthesizers, the IC-230 was an ingenious design. It used about 18 different crystals in a mixing arrangement that allowed it to generate all 67 of the 30 kHz spaced channels from 146.01 through 147.99, plus the standard repeater offsets of +/- 600 kHz.

Ingenious as it was, this arrangement was obsolete by the time I purchased it. The 2m band had expanded to allow repeater operation in the 144 and 145 MHz sections of the band, and some repeaters were operating on the 15 kHz splinter frequencies, which the IC-230 couldn't access. The rig did have provisions for adding three extra crystals to generate oddball repeater frequencies, as well as a switch position for an external digital VFO. On my college budget, I never could afford these options.

Even so, I could generally find plenty of activity on the main 30 kHz channels. Somewhere along the line, I bought a car, and of course I put the IC-230 in it. My antenna was a home-brew magnet mount made out of a tuna can with a plastic lid, a phono connector with a 19" curved copper wire sticking out of it. Not sure where I got the magnets, but they were strong enough to hold it in place. While the IC-230 was sold long ago, I still have this home-brew mag-mount.

Driving around downtown Atlanta, I often heard other hams complain about intermod from the other VHF signals and the tall buildings. Not with the IC-230. The designers put five helical resonators in the front end to pass the 146-148 MHz signals. Those resonators were like a brick wall to out-of-band VHF signals. In downtown Atlanta, I might hear some picket-fencing, but never any intermod. That's the one feature of that rig I miss.

I eventually traded in the IC-230. I had a Heathkit HW-2036 for a while. I also bought several hand-held transceivers. Today, I have an Alinco DR-570 as well as an old Yaesu FT-227RA Memorizer. Neither of these rigs has seen the inside of a car in over 10 years.

I don't know what it is - perhaps it is the rise in cell phone, but there doesn't seem to be as much activity on 2m as there was a couple of decades ago. Maybe it's just because hams stopped putting rigs in their cars....