Saturday, April 8, 2017

New QRP Personal Best: E51DWC (South Cook Islands)

I have been working E51DWC (op Milan, OK1DWC) on several bands (10/15/17 CW, and 15 Phone) at 100 watts. I finally heard him calling CQ on 12m phone just past midnight UTC with few takers. Could I have been at the right place at the right time for a change?

Since South Cook Islands is one that I need on 12m, and since everyone knows QRP phone doesn't work when the DX is buried in the noise, I bumped the K3 output power to 100 watts and called about a dozen times. But no love, he was weak and the QSB was pretty bad, so I decided that this wasn't going to happen.

I reset the K3 to 5 watts... and just as I took my fingers off the Power control and was about to switch bands his signal peaked at around S5. I grabbed my Mike, dropped my call after his CQ, and he came back right away with a "Whiskey Whiskey Two, Whisky Whisky Two?" I repeated my call, he returned with a 59 (yeah, sure...), we exchanged signal reports, and in the log he went! At 5 watts. On a "dead" band.

As with all our prior QSOs, Milan uploaded to ClubLog very quickly so I have proof I wasn't imagining it all.

According to Google maps, Rarotonga is a bit over 6,175 miles from Cedar Key, or 1,235 miles per watt. This crushes my previous personal best QRP DX record, TX6G Austral Is. from West, TX (5,093 miles, 1,018 miles per watt) by about 25%.

I'm starting to wonder whether I really need that KPA500 after all.

VOACAP shows that I was indeed at the right place at the right time -- 12m is strong to E51 in our (local) late afternoons and early evenings; my 10m contact with E51DWC was at around 2100 UTC, which fits this model as well. Good to know.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

March 2017 and into April... plus some thoughts on QSLing.

So March was pretty good to me. Getting the antenna outside was a big help, naturally. Working 47 countries with an indoor wire was something of a miracle, but they were easy countries - lots of Caribbean and Euro DX, mostly in the CW contest, but nothing I would consider exotic, much less new. Moving the wire out of doors and just outside my window I only added another 35 countries, but that included four ATNOs: VP6EU on Pitcairn, J5UAP in Guinea-Bissau, 5U5R in Niger, and TU7C in Cote d'Ivoire (that's "Ivory Coast" in 'Murican). I was still getting a lot of noise, possibly because of the short (approx. 10 ft.) coax run and close proximity to power lines in the front of the house, so this past Sunday I relocated the antenna to the back of the house, noticeably improving the noise situation.

So we'll see how this works. Bands took a dive for a few days but are coming back following a major solar event on 01/02-April. As of today (04-April), my DXCC count is 226 worked, with 210 confirmed (more on this later), and the DXCC Challenge total on LOTW is 774. My 80m DXCC count took a big jump from single digits to 29 confirmed, and I'm within spitting distance of 100 on 30, 17, 12 and 10.

And while I'm on the subject of confirmations... I've had a bit of a shift in my opinion on the whole concept of "countries confirmed." For the couple of decades as a radio amateur I held the belief that a QSO only "counts" when you have a card in your hand. This made sense at the time because that was the only way of knowing whether the DX didn't blow your call (or vice versa). Then along came Logbook of the World; now we had a second "official" metric for determining whether you had a DXCC entity confirmed. All well and good. At this time these are the only two methods acceptable to the ARRL to qualify for their awards, and since it is their award they get to make the rules. But while you can have a card in hand or an LOTW confirmation in your account, even then it doesn't officially "count" until you pay the ARRL a fee. This is where I call BS.

The fact is, I know that I worked a station if, 1.) The contact is in my log; and 2.) I have a card or an LOTW confirmation. If I decide not to pay the ARRL to get the credit applied to my DXCC account, does that mean I don't have a confirmed contact? Of course not. It only means that I can't use that contact for an award that, for the most part, is meaningless to me. I reject the notion that I need to pay the League (or anyone else) in order to have my achievement validated.

Then comes the matter of other, alternate methods of confirmation. We have several online resources --, ClubLog,, QRZ, and all the online logs of individual stations and DXpeditions -- that can be used to match one's log entries with those of a DX station. These don't count for the ARRL's DXCC award, of course, but if ClubLog, for example, shows a QSO match between my log and the DX station's log, that's all the confirmation I need to know that the QSO was good. Whether or not the ARRL accepts it as a "real" confirmation is irrelevant unless I want their fancy piece of paper to hang on the wall.

At this moment in time, I actually have that fancy piece of paper hanging on my wall. It's there only because I long dreamed of earning DXCC since I was a kid. It took me many years of intermittent operation to achieve it, but sometime in 2013 I finally got 100 entities confirmed on LOTW, I entered my credit card info on the ARRL web site to pay for the 100 credits needed to get the DXCC Mixed award. A few weeks later I received my cardboard tube in the mail, dutifully put the certificate in a nice big frame and hung it on the wall of my shack where it remains to impress all who enter. Meaning, of course, only myself.

Since getting my DXCC Mixed award I have received more LOTW confirmations (a lot more, in fact) and many more paper cards, but I have never paid to apply these credits to my account. I currently have 210 countries "confirmed" to my satisfaction through one or more of the methods listed above. However, even though I can easily qualify for several additional DXCC awards and endorsements for individual modes and bands, according to the ARRL I only have 100 countries confirmed because that's all I paid them for. So who do I believe, the ARRL or my own very meticulous records? Thanks, but my own word is good enough for me. I'll keep the $125 or so bucks and pass on the wallpaper for now.

So while I used to believe "it only counts if you have the card," technology today allows me to revise that opinion to mean "it only counts if you can prove you're in the other station's log." Because, when you boil it all down, that's really all the card did in the first place. Thankfully, we can do that now through several different online systems with far less expense and delay. If someone thinks a QSL doesn't count because I didn't pay the League, tough cookies. I just don't care.

Does this mean I'll never apply for additional DXCC credits again? No... I really want a 5-Band DXCC plaque (also a childhood dream), and the DXCC Challenge appeals to me as well, so when either or both of those requirements are met I'll most likely pony up the dough for those awards, and also catch up with all the other awards and endorsements I qualify for at the same time while I'm at it. But for now if someone asks me how many countries I have confirmed, my answer will be "210," regardless of what anyone else thinks. Because it's true.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The road to DXCC on 80m is long and slow...

...but I'm trying. Ten new ones confirmed since last month, all from the two ARRL contests.

That makes it a total of 26 now confirmed on 80. Since 1988. Sigh. Maybe I need an antenna longer than 24'.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

DXCC #226: TU7C Cote d'Ivoire (and a new band slot: 9G5X Ghana on 17m)

Two more from Africa on 17m...

TU7C Cote d'Ivoire finally came back to me with the correct call after several exchanges of "WA2PT 5NN." Good signal around 1530. ClubLog upload followed after about an hour. Great operation! DXCC #226 in the log!

Update 16-Mar-2017: Second Band (15m)!

Later, the British crew at 9G5X Ghana was pounding in and gave me a new band slot (I'd already worked and confirmed 9G5ZZ on 20m back in Texas, May 2014). Woke up Wednesday morning to find a match on ClubLog.

Update 18-Mar-2017: Second Band (15m)!

Bands have been quiet (possibly too quiet...) the past few days, with SFI around 70 and SN at 0. My 24' end-fed and 100W is not giving me much love on any of the lower bands, at least not in the general direction of Africa. Even on 20m it is difficult to copy 5U5R, 9G5X, and TU7C; it seems like 17m is this antenna's sweet spot. That's cool, I need to concentrate on filling in some band slots on 17 anyway, though I sure miss busting pileups on 40m with the KPA500.

Update 16-Mar: LOTW from 9G5X is in!

Friday, March 10, 2017

DXCC #225: 5U5R Niger

Second ATNO of the day -- 5U5R in Niger! Another case of 17m QSB and the EU wall made this a tough one. I knew from the cluster that it was spread out as far as +5 from the DX frequency, but I couldn't hear any of the EU stations and very, very few stateside callers. The DX, however, was pretty strong, his signal picking up as the afternoon went on. I couldn't figure out where to place my call, though, so I parked my ass on one frequency and waited for him to come to me. This took hours, on and off, until I finally got him at 1947 UTC. The expedition's online log updated soon thereafter, and a smiley face under 17m CW relieved me of the anxiety of wondering whether my call was blown.

DXCC #224: J5UAP Guinea-Bissau

I've been chasing J5UAP Guinea-Bissau for a couple of days (along with 5U5R and 9G5X), pulling what's left of my hair out. Then today happened... got after just a couple of calls on 17m at 1514 UTC. No upload to ClubLog, wasn't sure if the Q was good... then I found his own online log ( which was updated after a few hours. Boom!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

2017 ARRL International DX Contest (SSB)

Total DXCC: 28
New DXCC: 0
New Band Slots: 11 (?)
Category: SOAB-L Unlimited

No surprises or big moments, and frankly I wasn't really feeling like working a phone contest, so I didn't spend but a few hours total time at the radio this weekend. Band conditions seemed weak Friday night (local), only one QSO on 40m. 

Played a little on 20m for an hour Saturday afternoon (local), then that evening (UTC Sunday morning) I decided to cherry-pick some needed band slots on 80m. I went to bed Saturday night with 7 new ones on 80m, plus four more that I worked in the past but still need QSL'd. Not sure if I picked up any new ones on other bands, wasn't really paying attention except on 80. 

Had a good hour between 1900 and 2000 on Sunday afternoon (local) working 15m. Nothing at all heard on 10m whenever I checked. Noise levels are still higher than I'd like but I'm definitely hearing better with the antenna outside hanging off the Jackite pole.

In the end, I added 6 countries to my YTD DXCC total (now at 59 since going QRV on 24-Jan). Now waiting for some LOTW magic -- my 80m confirmed count was at 17 before this contest.

I did get to use the Yamaha CM500 headset for the first time. It worked well except for RF getting into the audio on 15m. That's when I switched over to the MH2 hand mic which worked fine. Might be time to get the Heil boom mic out of storage. If nothing else it will give me a place to hang the headphones...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

DXCC #223: VP6EU Pitcairn Island

I've been watching the VP6EU DXpedition since it began operations a couple of weeks ago, but I could barely hear them with the indoor wire so I had pretty much lost hope. Then yesterday happened. I decided to put my ass in gear and at least get the window feedthrough panel in place so I could throw the Ultimax end-fed up as a temporary solution. I took some doing finding someone was a saw to cut the panel to the proper length; I had to put a PL-259 on a short coax run using some angel-hair thin solder; and finally I needed to move my desk (with everything on it) away from the window. All done without too much trouble.

With the 31' Jackite pole I bought last year zip-tied to the front deck, the antenna zip-tied to that, and coax attached, I was in business. I'm still getting a lot more noise than I did at the last QTH, but the signals are noticeably stronger when they don't have to pass through a steel roof. It seems like the K3's ATU is getting a better match, too. Still can't run the amp, so 100 watts is what I have to work with for now.

Right off the bat I easily worked VE3VSM/HR9 Honduras (Roatan Is.) on 20m, PJ7AA  Sint Maarten on 17m, and ON4UN Belgium on 40m. Okay, all working. The hunt for VP6EU was on.

I kept my eye on the cluster until I saw VP6EU spotted on 17m just after local noon. He wasn't terribly strong but above the noise level by an S-unit or so. Dropped my call once and got him. No. 223 in the log!

Among the other current DXpeditions that I've been able to check off the list today is TX5T Austral Island on 15m. I had Austral on all bands 80-10 from the TX6G operation a few years back while I was in TX, but this is another new one for my Cedar Key QTH. Also worked 5K0N on San Andres Island on 17m this morning.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Spent about 30 minutes chasing PJ2ND on 40m just to see if I could work him at 5 watts with my end-fed indoor wet noodle. Finally got him at almost 1am local time (0550 UTC). This is my first DX country worked QRP with the KX2. Got LOTW confirmation the next morning.

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 ARRL International DX Contest (CW)

Total DXCC: 44
New DXCC: 0
New Band Slots: 3
Category: SOAB-L Unlimited

No outdoor antenna at the Paroda Ave. QTH, but I had the UltiMax end-fed strung around the shack for a few weeks. Prior to the contest I had limited results -- the occasional Caribbean  and Central American station here and there. So when the contest weekend rolled around I had pretty low expectations. Due to RF issues when running 500W (mouse moving around the screen on transmit, all sorts of beeping and menu openings, etc.) I kept it at 100W and had no problems, as long as I kept my hand off the mouse when transmitting; otherwise I'd get macro repeats and other weird happenings.

Wkg condx...

I started out on 40m around 0230 Saturday, immediately started working into Europe, as well as Madiera Is. and the usual Caribbean big guns (and a few little guns) Eventually got KH6LC in Hawaii, the only Pacific station worked during the test. Only put in four hours, picking through the cluster. Since I wasn't after a big score I chose not to work any country twice per band. Went to bed with 19 countries in the log.

Saturday afternoon I spent an hour and change making 5 QSOs on 15m and one on 20m before running around town. Back in the shack that evening (UTC Sunday morning) and got TA3D Turkey right off the bat, then a bunch more Europeans. Later on I tried 80m and managed to work some more Caribbeans (US V.I., Aruba, Bonaire, Turks & Caicos, and Curacao) and France.

Sunday afternoon and evening (local) between 1945 and the end of the contest was mostly spent in and out of the shack, bouncing between 10m, 15m, and 20m before ending on 40m. At this point I was pretty surprised to have made more than a handful of contacts, so I set myself a goal of working 30 countries. Then 40 countries. Then 60 QSOs. Then 10,0000 points. Then 12,000 points.

Ended the weekend with 65 QSOs for 44 Countries, 65 mults, and 12,675 points. Not bad for 100w into a 24' piece of wire inside a house with a metal roof. 😎

Monday, February 13, 2017

No. 200!

...and that, my friends, is #200 confirmed! 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Elecraft KX2

Announced (or at least leaked to the public) just before its grand debut at Dayton last week. I held out for four (4) days before blowing the rent money.

Brother K2JK asked me, "Why do you need a KX2?" As if that's a relevant question...

Friday, April 10, 2015

March 2015

DX - I was not quite as active in March as I'd been in Jan/Feb, but I ended the month with three all-time new countries and a YTD DXCC total of 164, up 13 from the end of February. Had a fine run of African DX, some easier than others. Here's the highlight reel:
  • E51UFF North Cook Islands: ATNO #216. Worked op LA5UF on four bands (40/20/12/10), always weak but always in the log on first or second call. No ClubLog or LOTW. 
  • E30FB Eritrea: ATNO #217 - This was tough, took a week before finally get in the log on two bands (12/20) in one day (15-Mar). Matched on ClubLog.
  • A71EM Qatar: ATNO #218. Fairly easy, LOTW confirmation in three days. Tnx Juma!
  • 9Q0HQ Dem. Republic of Congo: Worked on five bands (40/30/20/17/12) but the 17m QSO is missing from their online log. I'll take four. 
  • 7QAA Malawi: Five bands (20/17/15/12/10), all ClubLog matched.
  • 5Z4/DF5ZP Kenya: Second band (15) for the DF3FS/DF5ZP operation. No LOTW, apparently...
  • 5Z4LS Kenya: ...but Nick G3RWF thankfully does use LOTW! Worked him on 12m and got LOTW the same day for DXCC Mixed #178.
  • FR5DX Reunion Island: This was a nice catch! I was just tuning around the 20m phone portion and stumbled upon Erick in QSO with another op. Dropped my call after they were finished and got a 58 report back. No ClubLog/LOTW.
  • V5/G3TXF: Only heard Nigel on one band (12) and got him in the log. ClubLog matched, LOTW confirmed a few days later.
  • KG4HF Guantanamo Bay: Added two more bands (30/15) to the three QSOs in February (20/17/12), although the 12m QSO was busted. So this operation ended with four bands matched on ClubLog and confirmed via LOTW.
  • 4Z5ML Israel: Finally found a 4X who uploads to LOTW! Thanks for DXCC Mixed #179, Alex!
Last 10 New DXCC Worked
216N. COOK ISLANDSE51UFF3/4/2015
212COCOS IS.TI9/3Z9DX2/19/2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Overheard on the Internet

Via Brian McDaniel on Google+ Amateur Radio community.
Actual SKYWARN exchange tonight:

Station: Net Control (&(AS*#^# This is K(^&A%^&@T&*#

NCS: Station Calling, you are not making it into the repeater.

Station: (&(A(*)(~~9&

NCS: I'm sorry, can you go to high power?

Station: I'm on &WT^JY#KW(Q(*QOI$OIJ% Over.

NCS: Please call one more time. This is KA1AAA.


NCS: Ok, I got most of that now. Go ahead.

Station: No traffic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sun Fart

Our geomagnetic field is currently doing a song and dance with old Sol.

Via The Watchers:
A sequence of events led to an Earth-directed asymmetric halo CME on March 15, 2015. The events began with a 14 degree long filament eruption, centered near S24W38, lifting off between 00:45 to 02:00 UTC. This was followed by C2.4 flare at 00:41 UTC and a long duration C9.1 at 02:13 UTC, both from Region 2297. 
Associated with the C9.1 flare were low-frequency radio emissions including Type II (estimated velocity 745 km/s) and Type IV radio sweeps. WSA/ENLIL modelling showed an approximate arrival time around 20:00 on March 17. However, it appears this CME arrived some 16 hours earlier (see update #2).
An interplanetary shock wave arrived at the ACE spacecraft around 04:15 UTC and at Earth a half hour later.Geomagnetic K-index of 5 (G1 - Minor) threshold was reached at 05:59 UTC. Potential impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 60 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude. Weak power grid fluctuations can occur. Minor impact on satellite operations are possible. Aurora may be visible at high latitudes, i.e., northern tier of the U.S. such as northern Michigan and Maine.
A G2 - Moderate geomagnetic storm warning has been issued based on solar wind signatures at the ACE spacecraft. Under G2 conditions, area of impact is primarily poleward of 55 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude. Power grid fluctuations can occur. High-latitude power systems may experience voltage alarms. Satellite orientation irregularities may occur; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites is possible. HF (high frequency) radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes. Aurora may be seen as low as New York to Wisconsin to Washington state.
Update #1: 
Geomagnetic K-index of 6 (G2 Moderate geomagnetic storm) threshold was reached at 08:46 UTC.
Update #2:
Initial SWPC's diagnosis suggested the arrival of the anticipated CME from March 15, however, the subsequent temperature and density measurements pointed towards a recurrent negative polarity coronal hole high speed solar wind stream (CH HSS). 
The disturbed conditions may be the combined effects of the high speed stream and CME.
Geomagnetic K-index of 7 or greater (G3 or greater - Strong to Extreme) is expected as the impacts from today's shock continue. 
Update #3:
Geomagnetic K-index of 8 (G4 Severe) threshold was reached at 13:58 UTC. 
I wasn't on the radio at all this afternoon (17-Mar) so I can't say how the conditions on the higher bands were. Tonight (18-Mar @ 0300 UTC) 40m has a noise level at S3, with occasional crashes as high as S5. The A index was 100 earlier, currently 117 with a K of 6.

9Q0HQ (Dem. Rep. of Congo) is about S4 on 40m, maybe a little weaker than they've been this past week but still readable; 7QAA (Malawi) is a bit stronger at S5 on 40m and about S4 on 30m. Oddly, hardly any other stations heard on 30m at this time other than a few stateside ops, but there are a few EU signals on 40m.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February 2015

DX - Some great operations graced the bands in February and I had a fair amount of luck working most of them, including nine all-time new ones.

  • K1N Navassa Island: ATNO #207. Possibly the biggest operation that we'll see in 2015. Worked on 80/40/30/20/17/15m CW and 20/15m SSB. My Navassa exploits are documented here. The K1N guys made 140,000 Qs with 30,000+ unique stations. All QSOs matched on ClubLog. More on K1N: and DX-World.
  • S79AC and S79CO Seychelles Is.: ATNO #208 - First S79AC on 30m CW, then S79CO on 15m 10 days later. The 30m QSO has been matched on ClubLog.
  • TJ3SN Cameroon: ATNO #209. Worked on 10m only, ClubLog match and LOTW QSL the next day! Good sigs with some QSB.
  • 5T0JL Mauritania: ATNO #210. Worked on 12m CW, no ClubLog or LOTW. An email exchange with op Jean confirms the contact for me, so I will send a QSL when I get mine printed. Great CW op! More on 5T0JL here.
  • 5Z4/DF3FS Kenya: ATNO #211. Worked 12m CW, no ClubLog or LOTW, but I am confident this was not a blown Q. Ops Bertrand DF3FS and Oli DL9OLI are scheduled to be QRV until March 8.
  • TI9/3Z9DX Cocos Island: ATNO #212. Worked 17, CW, matched on ClubLog. This was a difficult one to work because of pileup bedlam and a general lidfest on the DX frequency throughout the operation. I was originally critical of the way 3Z9DX handled things at his end but I've become more understanding and sympathetic since learning of the difficulties he and his team endured. More on DX-World and
  • UA2F Kaliningrad: ATNO #213. Worked 15/10m CW during the ARRL International DX Contest. Matched on ClubLog.
  • Z81X Southern Sudan: ATNO#214. Caught this one by surprise during the ARRL contest on 20m CW. ClubLog not updated since 2013, hoping they upload soon. LOTW shows an upload on 3/1 but so far no QSL. Hoping this one wasn't blown; it seemed like a clean contact at the time.
  • VK9LC Lord Howe Island: ATNO#215. Worked on 12/10m CW. No ClubLog or LOTW log data at this time. More: DX-World.
  • KG4HI and KG4HF Guantanamo Bay: Two different operations, with KG4HI worked on 30m CW and KG4HF on 20/17/12m CW. Only the 30m, 20m and 17m contacts have been matched in ClubLog and confirmed on LOTW so I assume the 12m contact was busted.
  • C5DX The Gambia: Another C5 expedition following C5X. Worked 40m CW only, matched on ClubLog. Good sigs into FL but I didn't chase them since I have C5X verified on 40/30/20/15/12/10m. Didn't hear them on 80/17m anyway. 
  • 3G0ZC Juan Fernandez Islands: Worked 30/20/15/12/10m. Already have Juan Fernandez verified on 40m CW (the XR0ZR operation in 2013) so I'm just filling in missing bands. QRV until 3/4 so maybe there's still time for 80/17m. No ClubLog or LOTW yet. More on 3G0ZC:  &
  • 7Q7GIA Malawi: Worked 12m CW, matched on ClubLog and verified on LOTW (DXCC Mixed #175 and CW #160). Already have a 30m CW QSO with 7QNL from June 2014 matched on ClubLog. More on 7Q7GIA: DX-World.

That's 13 out of 131 DXCC worked in February, a good number of those worked during the ARRL Int. DX CW test. Funny how I was trying for 100 countries in January and fell short, then the following month worked well over 100 without noticing until the month was over. One good contest makes all the difference.

A total of 403 QSOs added 53 YTD new DXCC and bringing the YTD total countries worked to 151. Adding 31 zones worked YTD puts my 2015 CQ Marathon score at 182 through the end of February. I even made 9 phone QSOs! As I write this (3/1), 51 productive QSLs received last month (i.e., new country/mode/band slots verified) have my DXCC Challenge count sitting at 601.

More boring stats:

DXCC Totals

Last 10 New DXCC Worked
212COCOS IS.TI9/3Z9DX2/19/2015
207NAVASSA IS.K1N2/1/2015

WPX (Confirmed LOTW)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

West Mountain Radio TARGETuner

West Mountain Radio TARGETuner and RigRunner 4004U
Took my first visit to the Orlando HamCation on Saturday 14-Feb and got to check out a few things on my wish list. I also scratched a couple of things off the list: a memory controller for the Tarheel screwdriver, and a PowerPole distribution box for better management of my DC power cabling.

I'd been considering the MFJ controllers ever since I bought the Tarheel. Never pulled the trigger on one, though; my track record with MFJ products has been disappointing and another dice roll wasn't going to happen. The Tarheel's standard rocker switch and the MFJ SWR analyzer (one of their products that actually works well for me) was sufficient despite being a pain to switch from the K3 to the analyzer every time I wanted to QSY to a new band. So I dealt with it for the past six years, but I kept thinking I needed a little more automation in the process of changing bands.

I first heard about the West Mountain Radio TARGETuner a few months ago and it looked like a possibility, so it was one of the first things I sought out at Orlando. After seeing it demonstrated and having my questions asked, I bought one through one of WMR's dealers at the show, Ham World, for $235 -- a fair bit more than a comparable MFJ-1927 controller. The TARGETuner is a two-box deal: a compact controller box and a remote SWR sensor that samples the RF. The two units connect together via Cat 5 ethernet cable. The controller also includes a USB port for connecting to a radio's serial port to read frequency data directly and tune the antenna without transmitting.

Four methods of tuning the antenna are available:
  • Auto SWR Tuning -- Samples transmitted RF and adjusts the antenna for lowest SWR match.
  • Auto Memory -- Samples RF and tunes the antenna to the nearest frequency stored in memory.
  • Manual Memory -- Manually recall and pick a frequency in memory and the antenna is tuned to that frequency.
  • Manual Control -- Up and Down buttons raise or lower the antenna, just like in the old rocker switch days.
Hooking everything up is a fairly simple process. The initial settings require the fully extended and fully collapsed positions to be memorized to establish the range of the antenna. I then used the MFJ-259 SWR analyzer to tune the Tarheel on every band from 12m down to 80m, storing the settings into memories.

Setup complete, I began testing. The initial results were mixed. Returning to a stored memory setting would yield wildly different SWR measurements. It seems as though it loses its count, so I reduced both Auto and User Motor Speed settings to Medium-Slow; Motor Ramping was left on. It seemed to work better for a while but would eventually lose the turn count, requiring me to manually tune the antenna after every QSY.

The tuning weirdness continued for about a week as I recalibrated and tried different settings... and suddenly it just started working with all the motor speed settings to Slowest, and the Motor Ramping turned off; I also have the low and high frequency limits set to just below the 40m band rather and just above 15m. I figured the antenna is pretty much a dummy load on 80m, and when I want to work 12m (or 10m with the amp off and ATU on) I just bring the antenna down to Pos:0101 (as low a turn count as I can get) and get a good SWR match. I suspect the really long coil travel between 12m and 80m might be one of the things messing up the turn count. With the 40m-15m configuration it behaved admirably throughout the ARRL International DX CW contest weekend as I bounced around between bands, and a week later and it's still going strong, it is still accurate when returning to stored memory positions.

I've not tried the serial connection to the K3 yet but it is one of the supported transceivers. The instructions are not clear but it seems that the TARGETuner requires a connection to the serial port,. The shack PC is connected already to the K3's RS-232 port, so this is not an option. A support person I spoke with at WMR didn't think it could read band data from the ACC port. No big deal, selecting a memory manually is easy, and the Auto Memory tuning mode works well enough if I really need hands-off band switching -- just tap the key and wait until the controller signals the all clear. Ideally the controller would be able to connect to a second serial port on the PC and read the frequency from Ham Radio Deluxe, N1MM, or whatever logging program is controlling the rig. Maybe a firmware upgrade will address this. Meanwhile, it's working as advertised and making my life a little bit easier when chasing DX all over creation.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

K1N Interview for MDXC by W0GJ

The best comedy in ham radio can usually be found on the DX clusters during large (and small, for that matter) DXpeditions: the incessant whining and moaning from European ops who think they're being neglected. In an interview by the Mediterranean DX Club (h/t M0OXO) Glenn W0GJ was asked about this very thing, and he knocked it out of the ballpark:
Q: European stations complained a lot for the short time you applied during the best openings towards Europe. It has been your strategy or what?
This is a MOST interesting point of discussion!
If you look at our logs, we spent MORE time working Europe than working North America. Our ClubLog statistics however show that North America had 58% of the contacts, Europe 32% and Asia 6%.
WHY, then, if MORE time was spent working EU, was EU about half the number of NA contacts???
Simple answer: RATE.   Period.
When you listened to us working NA, we could cruise right along at 300-350 Q’s/hour.   When working EU, we would be extremely lucky to see rates of 125 Q’s/hour. EU signals are as strong, if not stronger than NA signals, in the Caribbean. The west coast U.S. is much harder to work than EU.
Here is a quote I received after I returned home.   It is from a well-known DXer in Europe:
“I listened to XXX working US pile-up on 80m. Fantastic, at least 10 QSO’s minute and when he turned to listen for Europe, the rate was only 10 % of that.   Same on the other bands and modes.”
The problem is THROUGHPUT.   Rate. Efficiency. Cooperation. Whatever you want to call it.
For the time we spent working Europe, we should have MORE contacts than with North America, but that did not happen.   I COULD have happened!
No one more than me would like to have seen the EU Q’s outnumber NA Q’s.   For the “next one” I have some helpful suggestions to help those in EU to be more successful.
Here is what I see are the issues: 
  1. Not listening to the DX operator
  2. LISTEN to and LEARN the rate and rhythm of the operator
  3. LISTEN to WHERE the operator is listening and his PATTERN of moving his VFO, know where he will listen next!
  4. Learn to use your radio (split/simplex, etc)
  5. Do NOT jump to and call on the frequency of the last station worked. The DX station will NOT hear you because the din is total unintelligible chaos.   Move UP or DOWN from that frequency, as we on our end were continuously tuning up or down after each Q, so if one jumps onto the last-worked frequency, we will not hear you, even if you were the only one there, as we have tuned off.
  6. TURN OFF ALL SPEECH PROCESSORS AND COMPRESSION! Do NOT overdrive ALC.   There is a night and day difference in listening to NA/AS and EU pileups.   The horrible distortion makes it impossible to copy many, if not most EU callsigns.   There were MANY loud stations that we did not work, simply because we could NOT understand their terribly distorted callsign.   Have you ever listened to yourself in a pileup?   We gave many stations a “19” signal report.   Very loud, but extremely unintelligible!   You want to have INTELLIGABILITY, not distortion!
  7. Give your callsign ONCE and ONLY ONCE!   DO NOT KEEP CALLING! We would tune on by those who did not stop calling.   We are looking for RATE and getting stations into the log.   You should be, too!!!
  8. If the DX station comes back with your callsign, DO NOT REPEAT YOUR CALLSIGN, AS WE ALREADY KNOW IT or we would not have answered you.   Many stations (in all modes) would repeat their callsign two, three and even four times!   We only want to hear “5NN” or “59” from you.   Anything else is a total waste of time and CHEATS others out of a chance to get into the log.   Only repeat your callsign if it needs correction, and then let us know it is a correction.   Anything else is cheating others out of a contact, as our propagation windows and time on the island are limited and we need to maximize the opportunity for everyone.   SPEED.
  9. Take some time to listen to the next DXpedition working NA and listen to the rate and rhythm of the operator.   It is fast, quick and efficient, and more people get into the log! Then listen to him work EU.   The wise operator will catch on quickly to what it takes to get into the log!
  10. SPREAD OUT!   Our highest rates (for any continent) were working the edges of the pileup where there was less QRM and weak stations were much easier to work than loud stations in the middle of the pileup.   If we say, “Listening 200 – 210,” 70% of the pileup sits exactly on 200 in an unintelligible din, 25% of the pileup sits on 210 and is almost as bad.   5% of the pileup will be spread out somewhere between 201 and 209, making them very quickly put into the log.   S P R E A D   O U T ! ! ! !
  11. LOUD is NOT better!   MORE AUDIO/COMPRESSION is NOT better!   Finding the spot to be HEARD is the MOST important thing you can do to get into the log. My biggest thrill (and I’m sure on both ends) is finding the lone weak station and getting him into the log quickly.
  12. LISTEN to the DX operator INSTRUCTIONS!   As we would constantly tune our VFO, if we find a clear spot, we would often say, “33” (meaning for YOU to transmit on 14033, 28433, etc) and a few would listen and get into the log very quickly.   You cannot hear these hints if you keep calling calling calling calling………   Many times I would say, “listening 200-210” and after a while would say, “listening 240-250”.   Often 30-45 minutes, even and HOUR later, I would find MANY still calling on the original “200-210”…..of course, they would never show up in our log, as I was not listening there.   LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN and LISTEN SOME MORE.   The less you transmit, the better chance you have of getting into the log.
  13. LISTEN
  14. If you don’t want to get into the DX log, just ignore the above suggestions.
This advice should be taken by all, not just EU ops.

Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 ARRL International DX Contest (CW)

Total DXCC: 96
New DXCC: 2
New Band Slots: 30
Category: SOAB-H Unlimited
A fairly productive DX weekend despite being out of the shack through most of it. Put in about 15 hours working 40/20/15/10m only. The great band conditions on all bands plus the low noise level here on Cedar Key made contest conditions the most enjoyable I've ever experienced. I beat last years score (156,600) by a wee bit despite having fewer QSOs -- 42 extra multipliers did that.

Ended up four short of DXCC, with two ATNOs (UA2F Kaliningrad and Z81X Southern Sudan), a big jump in 10m countries worked (from 71 to 94), and my year-to-date DXCC worked count (from 127 to 145). Fourteen different countries were worked on all four bands.

I thought Z81X was just a special contest call for a common country, only realized it was Southern Sudan just after the contest as I was importing the contest log into HRD for award tracking. N1MM had UA2F as European Russia. It wasn't until I uploaded to ClubLog and got email notification that I learned it was Kaliningrad. So two post-test surprises for me!

I tried to focus on 10m this time since that's where I need the new ones most. Unable to use the amp on 10, I did what I could with 100w to work 22 new ones. Another 2 new ones on 20m, and 6 on 15m for a total of 30 new band slots. Fingers crossed that a lot of them use LOTW. I've got 6 in so far as I write this in the wee hours of Monday morning, bringing my DXCC Challenge score on LOTW up to 580 and counting.

Most of the business was conducted with Europe and the Caribbean; surprisingly not a lot of strong JAs and VKs heard, but that might be because I slept through the Asia/Pacific openings on the higher bands. Or maybe it's just because conditions are that much different in Florida than they were in Texas.

QSOs by continent:
AF: 7
AN: 1
AS: 5
EU: 43
NA: 22
OC: 4
SA: 14
The TARGETuner worked quite well, setting the Tarheel on band changes with just a few button presses. Even at the slowest motor speed, jumping from 10m to 40m wasn't too long a wait. The turn count drifted eventually but not by that much, so I was was able to touch up the SWR as needed without much to do. Far better way of tuning the antenna than switching the analyzer in line.
Next big contest for me will likely be CQ WW WPX CW the last weekend in May, but possibly also the CQ-M DX CW on the second weekend. I'll try to work a few of the SKCC sprints with the KX1 in the interim. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

5T0JL Mauritania and the Art of CW

I happened upon Jean 5T0JL on 12m last Friday (13-Feb) and hung in through the QSB to get him in the log for #210 worked. A pleasant email exchange followed in which Jean told me to look for a couple of special 5T activations: 5T0ITU will be QRV on 25-Feb and 26-Feb, and 5T3MM during the third week of April.

Jean's QRZ page states his belief that CW QSOs should be more than "5NN" exchanges:
"As from this 7th december 2014 a confirmed QSO with 5T0JL will require a full exchange of names with a polite salute to enhance and complete a better human relationship among CW fans!!! ... if you want to pursue with a dry 599 by Law you will be in the Log but without a QSL, no need for you to send a card as it will remain unanswered! We all have the responsability to elevate our friendship and stop the machine intrusion into our life or quit CW and go digital!"
Harsh? Perhaps. But though I am barely qualified to call myself a CW newbie and 100% guilty of many quick hit-and-run QSOs made with the press of a couple of CW memory buttons, I embrace Jean's sentiment completely. Whenever I work someone, I always try to respond in kind -- a "WW2PT 5NN" gets a "TU 5NN" via the CW memory keyer. But if the op tells me his name, QTH, rig, blood type, and favorite childhood pet, I always do my best to send that info back. And why wouldn't I? I would do the same when operating phone or digital.

So Jean's comments got me thinking about this. Phone and digital communications can be easily taken for granted since using our voices and a keyboards to communicate with someone thousands of miles away is what most of us do all day at work and at home. CW, however, is fundamentally different, More than just another way for us to communicate information between ourselves, CW is our hobby's oldest and most enduring tradition. It's an art for which there is no comparison in the phone and digital realms, inside or outside of ham radio. Everybody talks. Everybody uses a computer. But Morse code is something that very few people use outside the ham shack. It was until recently a rite of passage for all radio amateurs. Even though it's no longer a condition for obtaining an amateur license, we are the last to carry the CW torch and are solely responsible for its survival. If it fades away, we are all guilty of letting it happen. For this reason we need groups like SKCC, CWops, and FISTS, as well as ops like 5T0JL, to be our evangelists and torch-bearers.

Chasing DX is a sport to those who do it, and the goal is simply to get into the other guy's log, and you surely don't want to have a little chit-chat with K1N about the weather on Navassa while a bloodthirsty barbarian horde is behind you waiting for their shot of working an ATNO, regardless of mode. So "5NN 73" it is. This is fine, both sides of the QSO are playing the same game and the rules are clear. It is also fine for any ham to wish to have his QSL earned by having a dialog rather than a dismissive and impersonal "Hi! Bye!" contact. If a QSL has to be earned by carrying on a basic exchange of civilities, then earn it. Or not. It's up to you. It shouldn't be easy all the time.

And trust me, it's not easy, not for me anyway. In fact I sometimes find it super-difficult to carry on a long CW QSO at speeds above 20-22 WPM where I'm most comfortable sending and receiving. Sometimes my brain clicks into gear and I can copy around 25 WPM fairly easily, while other times I can barely do 20 WPM without missing large chunks. For this reason I've tuned past a few stations who were carrying on short QSOs; I won't just send a "5NN 73" to someone who likes to chat while I'm out of the zone and not up to the task. Fortunately the more I do it the easier it gets -- I still do a little happy dance after a good CW QSO -- and it now feels completely natural for me to reach for the straight key any time I need to leave the "5NN 73" box and be a real CW op for a change.