Monday, 31 October 2011

CQ-WW-SSB 2011

Well that was fun!

The timing was perfect. I had erected my simple rotatable dipole for 10M the day before the contest. The CQ-WW-SSB contest provided me with plenty fun and proved to me that one can participate in the big international contests with a very mediocre (little pistol) station.

I put in a fair amount of time and worked mostly in search and pounce mode and I only worked on the 10M band. I only made 190 QSOs, but I worked 68 DXCC entities (countries), 26 CQ zones, 12 brand new (all band) DXCC entities and 23 new DXCC entities on 10M. My log has been uploaded to the contest robot and to the ARRL LoTW. It will be great to see how many new confirmations I will achieve as direct result of participating in the contest.


The conditions on 10M were very good indeed. The SFI was around 140. I had a fairly high noise floor of around S5 to contend with, until I found the offending device on Sunday afternoon. It was the power wall warts to the newly installed cordless phones. I was extremely pleased to see my noise floor drop to around S0 after unplugging them. You can’t work them if you can’t hear them.

It was quite something to hear the pileups generated by some of the rare stations. The ones that stood out were: KL7RA the Alaskan station and 3XY1D the station from Guinea. The pile ups were huge, reminded me of a feeding frenzy much like hungry piranhas, devouring a poor hapless victim.

I am a huge fan of technology and normally I agree with using it to its fullest in our hobby, but I wonder if we have not become too reliant to such things as the DX-cluster. I found and worked OJ0X Market Reef and it took me all of two calls. However, after he was spotted on the cluster he ended up with a huge pile up and I seriously doubt it, if I would have been able to get a QSO with him had it not been that I caught him before he was spotted on the DX cluster network.

I tried unsuccessfully for about 30 minutes to work KL7RA. He was S9+, but the “wall” calling him was just too big to overcome.

I am now looking forward to the CW leg of the CQ-WW contest. I sure hope the HF conditions will remain as good as they are or improve even further.

73, Pierre ZS6A

Friday, 28 October 2011

Resonant Vs non-resonant Dipole

Due to various reasons, restricted space and laziness I had no proper antenna available for 10M. Until now, I have used my 40M dipole and used the ATU to match the horribly mismatched antenna to the transceiver.

Today I made a very simple half wave, rotatable dipole from aluminum tubing and mounted it on a mast 7 metres high (21 Ft). This is only 3 metres (9 Ft) above the roof of the house. The dipole is directly fed with some old RG-213 coax I had at my junk box.

The difference in performance is huge. On average the signals are 4 S-points higher during fast A/B switching between the old and the new antenna. This translates to a 36 dB improvement. Even more convincing proof is achieved, by monitoring the Reverse beacon network. I could only manage to get spotted on the old antenna if I used power well in excess of 100 watts. I am now able to generate a few spot’s whilst running QRP (5 watts).

Unfortunately, with this improved performance of the antenna, the noise floor has also increased. I suspect I will get a better signal to noise ratio, if and when I raise the antenna a bit higher than what it is at the moment.

I am now finally convinced that it is essential to use resonant antennas. Using the ATU to force a match to a non resonant antenna is not very effective and should be avoided.

The screen shot below clearly shows the difference in performance. The spot made by VK6IA and PJ2T were achieved with 5 watts, all the remaining spots are done with 100 watts and the new dipole. I am not able to get spotted at all with 100 watts and my old non resonant antenna.

Now imagine, if only, I had a multi element Yagi up at 100 Ft…….

73 de Pierre ZS6A

Monday, 24 October 2011

Haunting Foghorns on 10M

I have been monitoring the lower end of 10M quite a bit lately. It is such a pleasure to see the band so wide open for a change.

There seems to be a fair bit of intruders in the band. The most noticeable, are the signals that sound like foghorns. The signals all have the same signature and sound similar. They seem to have unstable oscillators. At the start the transmissions the frequency changes fairly rapidly then settles down to a fairly stable tone. For example 500 Hz in screenshot below. Some have a single letter indent; some have two letters and some none at all. I suspect the signals are from the infamous beacons associated with the marker buoys used by the long line fisherman.

They seem to be spread out over the entire 10M band.

The screenshot below was taken on 28.036.00 MHz, CW @ 13:12 UTC

I suppose these signals are being observed worldwide?

73, Pierre ZS6A

Saturday, 22 October 2011

SARL QRP Oct 2011 contest

I have just returned from taking part in the last leg of the SARL QRP contests for 2011. I set up a small ultra light field station in our local park at the Rynefield dam.

I used the tiny HB-1a transceiver and small 3 AH SLA battery, Kent paddle and a newly built 40M dipole. I arrived at the site 45 Minutes before the start of the event and quickly erected my inverted vee using a fairly large tree as the support. I used the underhand toss method for the first time and used a water filled plastic bottle as the weight. I am pleased to say the method works very well indeed, much better than what I anticipated.

I was ready for action with 15 minutes to spare.

I managed to make 15 CW QRP QSOs and a further 2 cross band QSOs. Not too bad considering that we don’t have many CW capable operators active locally.

This outdoors QRP stuff, is great Fun !!


Thursday, 20 October 2011

Radio at its best – QSO with VE7SL

Yesterday I was on 10 metres chasing some very interesting and rare DX when I noticed that someone spotted  VE7SL on the cluster with a comment “CQ with homemade rig, FB !!!”

I immediately changed frequency to see if I could copy that station. I was pleased to see that the band was open to VE. I copied VE7SL loud and clear at around RST 579. I gave one call and he replied immediately and we had a very short QSO. His signal had a distinctive almost pleasant chirp, something we very seldom hear these days. When I started in HAM radio back in the early 70’s it was quite normal to hear the chirpy CW signals. I digress; I kept the QSO very short since I thought that Steve was busy chasing DX and I did not want to hold him up. At the end of the QSO I realized that in my haste to call Steve that I was transmitting split 1.3 kHz high and was rather surprised and puzzled how he was not fazed by my mistake.

Today I received an email from Steve and was thanking me for the QSO. In the email he referred me to his web site that explains the transmitter that he was using. The transmitter is a beautifully constructed “Longfellar” two stage valve transmitter.

Steve thank you, you made my day !!

This is Amateur Radio at its very best. Thanks for the QSO and sharing. Long live QRP and homebrew.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

QSL procedure - $$$ collectors

I note with interest that many sought after DX don’t use LoTW and only QSL via direct mail with a self addressed stamped envelope (SAE) and sufficient postage normally US Dollars. Initially this was 1 USD, but lately I see many are requesting up to 5 USD to cover the postage.

This is tantamount to extortion. I think it is time we gave a clear message to these extortionists, we should not encourage this any further by sending money in excess of 2 USD. I am pretty sure that 2 USD is sufficient in most if not all countries to cover the postage. In South Africa, postage costs around R6 i.e. slightly less than 1 USD.

Some stations even get so clever that they indicate that they do use LoTW, but on further investigating you might find something like this:

All other logs for my operations are on paper. Once I retire :) I'll retype them and post 'em on the LoTW!”

Yea right!!

Maybe I am wrong, but I think many of these stations work DX purely to collect US Dollars and it has nothing to do with the passion of being able to help fellow radio amateurs with working new DX entities.

In this day and age I find it very difficult to understand that someone, especially stations operating from rare DX entities that make hundreds of QSOs, still use paper logs and do not use LoTW.

I should add, I don’t have a problem with a small donation to DX expeditions. They do have very high costs to cover. Giving, for example a 5 USD donation might mean expediting the process of  receiving a QSL. Preferably a paper QSL and confirmation via LoTW. If no donation is made, they normally will still upload the logs to LoTW, but only after a fairly long delay.

Monday, 17 October 2011

T32C Kiritimati DX Expedition

I had a very pleasant start to my day.

This morning I went looking for T32C and found them with a fairly weak signal on 18 MHz.

I dropped my call once and immediately they responded after the first attempt. The real RST was only 439 so the operator must have exceptional abilities IMHO. 

I would have been over the moon if it was with QRP, but alas it was with high power and a poor antenna.

The online log showed the QSO as logged within minutes of our contact. I am also pleased to see that they will be uploading to LoTW within 6 months. Based on this I think I will make a small donation to them.

Now, I am greedy and will see if I can work them on more bands. I was hoping to catch them on 15 or 10 meters, but nothing heard yet.

10M has been alive with activity all day. This is so nice to see.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

10M The other Magic Band

I know we normally refer to 6M as the Magic band, but I think the same can be said for 10M ?

For so much of the solar cycle the 10M band is of little value to us as amateurs, but when the sun gets active and the sunspot counts improve it produces great results and surprises. Just yesterday I worked K5ZY at 07:00 UTC (9 AM local time) I recon this must have been a long path QSO via the sunlit side of the earth? IMHO: Quite unexpected propagation. The VOACAP predictions below does not show a path either. Maybe there is a lesson in that. We should remain optimistic at al times?

I don’t have decent antenna up for 10M, in fact I use my 40M dipole and tune out the gross mismatch with my internal ATU. This is worsened by using some 25 metres of high loss RG58U. So we can safely say that it is a very poor antenna system indeed.

With this poor antenna system I still hear plenty of activity and I also manage to work the odd DX. The signals are generally quite weak and I get rather poor signal reports using 100 watts. I have tried using QRP, but I have not been very successful. I think it is time to put up a half decent antenna. A simple rigid dipole i.e. a single element beam or single element Quad fed with good low loss feed line like (LMR-400) might be the easier and most practical option for now.

With a better antenna I might even get lucky and get to work some interesting DX using QRP.

I should stop procrastinating and erect an antenna this weekend. Sure would be nice to have a multi element gain antenna up high on a tower, but that is out of the question for now.

Have a great weekend.

10M Prediction for 07:00 UTC Short Path

10M Prediction for 07:00 UTC Long Path

Monday, 10 October 2011

Mystery signal on 40M band.

I often see the following strange occurrence on the spectrum display of my IC756 Pro 3.

The first telltale signs:

The normal low spiky grass display of the noise floor across the entire 40M Amateur band is replaced with a higher, almost constant value signal and its amplitude seems to vary, much like as a signal affected by QSB.

Tuning across the band one will normally observe what appears to be a normal strong signal as show below. However, tuning across the signal produces no audible signal at all, whilst using for example LSB mode.

Could this be spread spectrum signal?

The fact that the displayed noise floor is increased does it actually mask or obliterate weak signals? As weird as it may sound it does not seem to have a negative effect, but that still needs to be confirmed.

It would be great to see if the same situation is observed elsewhere in the world.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Chasing paper

The job isn’t done until the paper work is….

I set myself a goal a while back to achieve sufficient CW QSO’s so that I could qualify for a WAZS-200-CW award. This basically means that I needed 200 confirmed contacts with South African stations using CW to qualify for the award. This award has only been issued once before and that was some 10 years ago.

Initially it did not seem to be such a big deal, but considering that CW is only used by a small select group in South Africa and many of those that do operate on CW are mostly old hands and many don’t have QSL cards etc.

This left me no option, but to dig into my old logs using my previous calls and see if I could find QSOs that were yet to be confirmed by QSL card.

One of the gems I found was a QSO with Al Akers ZS2U for a QRP QSO we had in 1975 (36 years ago) I took a chance and hoped that Al still had his log and that he could confirm the QSO.  I am very pleased to say that he could confirm the QSO and the card is shown below.

How cool is that ??

Getting close now, still need about 10 QSLs then my goal will be achieved.

Fond memories - Early days of AR

The internet sure is a goldmine of information with so much interesting bits of info. It sure complements our hobby and is most useful in sharing of information.

I enjoyed playing the video clips that Larry W2LJ referred to in his blog. (Refer to the link below). It sure brought back fond memories of my early years as a pimple faced youngster whilst still was at school.

There was something magical about that era when we used refer to radios as wireless and in the days of condensers, coils and aerials before it became capacitors, inductors and antennas.

I wonder does the same passion for Amateur Radio still exist today ??