Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Improved listening on the low bands

It has been a year since I installed my HiZ four square listening array.  Tonight at 1:30 AM local (0630 UTC) I worked K9W on 160 meters.  The signal was in and out on the inverted L transmit antenna due to high static from midwest lightning.  On the HiZ the SNR was improved and no static to wear my ears out.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Building and experimenting is half the fun

I was recently able to communicate cross-polar to my antipode to a rare DXpedition, Cocos-Keeling.  Background on it is here.

And I mean BARELY.  The hex beam at 42 feet was marginal at best.  Only after I swapped out the feedline for LMR 600 VERY LOW loss was I able to sneak in a 2-way communication.

I started doing some reading on improved wire antennas, and read the ARRL Wire Antenna Classics text.

One particularly interesting design is the collinear array.  Basically, it's a combination of loaded dipoles in series, end to end, which provide improved gain.  Here's the design for the Franklin array.

Lower height, no towers, cheap, and they work.  I put one up for 17 meters at the low height of a quarter wave in the back trees.  Super stealth.  I am still making measurements, but it appears to pretty good.  This morning for a station in Taiwan it was S4 on the Franklin, and S6-S7 on the hex.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The art of the "rag chew"

Conversation is an art, not a science.  Amateur radio is a great hobby that brings together people of many diverse backgrounds and lets them enjoy fellowship and the fun of this great adventure.

"Rag chew" is the amateur's term for a casual conversation.  It's much more than just a signal report exchange. 

I used to "rag chew" all the time, before the DXing "bug" bit me.  But sometimes I still find the chance to enjoy a chat with a fellow ham.

Case in point: I worked Peter, VK6APZ, Friday night October 26.  He is located almost at my antipode in western Australia, which gives it some special propagation characteristics (more on that in a separate post).  We confirmed that the propagation was via Long Path, as his signals were arriving from East instead of West (unusual for the signal to travel so far in darkness when there is a daylight path, and it was long after his sunrise so not a gray-line path.

What is really neat is not the propagation, but the 20 minute rag chew we had about dogs.  Peter's best buddy is his blue-heeler mix named Champ.  You already know from my earlier blogs about our three rescued golden retrievers.  So we had another life passion/interest, our canine friends.  It was great to chat with Peter, and I look forward to working him again soon.

Sometimes DX is more than just getting a new one in the log.

73 and Good DX!
Some DX thoughts: somebody posted on www.eham.net, asking what each person's best DX was.  I thought about it, and had an interesting reply:

I have been really lucky, some of the DX I have confirmed is not active now: Turkmenistan, Navassa. Also, I was VERY VERY lucky to work 7O6, A5, 9N, HK0, 3C6, 3C0, 4W, 5U, ST0, YI, T6 DXpeditions over the past 24 months. Every time I did, I went in and gave the XYL a kiss for supporting my hobby. Then I did a "victory dance" in the shack! (She knows I am hopelessly addicted to DXing).

But for me, "best DX catch" is about the significance of the QSO or finally getting it after a long time, and not necessarily the rarity of the entity.

---JH1WIX, my first real DX, 15 meter CW in the Novice Band, 1977, I had my license for 5 months. I was 13 at the time, had just figured out that I could load my 40 meter inverted V on 15. My parents thought I had received an electric shock from the Johnson Viking transmitter because they could hear me yelling so loudly from my room where they were downstairs.

---ZA1A - my dad did his masters thesis on (then) hard-line communist Albania in 1977. What a thrill to tell my dad that I worked ZA1A in 1992 (after the iron curtain fell).

---VR2XMT, SV2ASP/A, V85SS - finally, VR2 and Mount Athos and Brunei after 35 years in the hobby. Worked all three earlier this year. Never, ever even heard any of them before this year.

---J69MV - Tot Henry. I actually met him in October 1988 when I was in the Coast Guard. I got to meet his family as well back then, and toured his shack. He is a wonderful person and a terrific ham. I worked him on 10 this year AND on 6 meters.

---8R1X - September 1978, using a low dipole + 40 watts and a straight key, I worked that pileup for almost 3 hours but I did finally get through.

---ET3SID - finally worked Sid on Sept 15 of this year, and then he passed away 2 days later. Great ham, sad loss.

---YF1AR - worked Buddy on the long path after my sunrise in April 2002 on a dipole on 15 SSB. He had an amazing signal.

---4O3A with a half a watt on 20 meter CW. Never thought such a small amount of power could do that much! 4595 miles on 0.5 watts = 9000+ miles per watt!

---VK4DHF with 5 watts and a dipole at 12 feet on 20 CW. Interesting prop conditions, my dipole was oriented NE, directly at the gray line 30 min before sunset, and he was 30 minutes after his sunrise. He was 599+, nobody else copied him on an open band. 10 minutes later, his signal faded and was gone. I thought "spotlight" prop only happened on 160.

---VK9DNX at 2:45 in the morning local, barefoot on a Cushcraft MA8040V on 80 CW. It was worth the fatigue I felt the next day!

---JH1OGC at my sunrise on 80 CW in the CQ WW DX CW contest, got me reading more about propagation!

---4Z1UF on 160 meters barefoot with my inverted L at his sunrise, February 4, 2010. I was speechless when he replied to my call (it was 11:30 PM my time, I was almost ready to go to bed). What REALLY blew me away was I worked him AGAIN, one year and one week later, February 11 2011, at exactly the same time of day. That's what got me hooked on 160. Both times I caught him calling CQ and noone else heard or answered him.
73 and GOOD DX!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

DX progress

Count is up to 303 as of August 20!  My 48th birthday, and I am getting closer to honor roll every day!  D64K, VU7M this past week.  13 so far this year.

More DX coming up: 3D2C, ZL9HR, VK0TH, PY0S.

Trying to balance life, work, hamming, and most importantly...the family.

73 and good DX!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What is luck? With DX, luck is HUGE!

80 meter CW, not for the faint of heart or timid. HK0NA, day 1, 0300 UTC, darkness covers EU and NA, SA and AF. EVERYONE is calling HK0NA. The operator running the pileup is obviously skilled at keeping control, and the poor operators are few (thankfully). But the sheer SIZE of the pileup is immense. I don't remember anything quite like this on CW.

You can see in the picture that I am hearing HUNDREDS of stations calling HK0NA on my inverted L. I can pick out calls from US, SA, and EU...all VERY STRONG. The CW Skimmer is actually unable to decode most of the calls due to the overlap.

I got some AMAZING luck. I saw HK0NA work two stations +3 KHz. I saw a gap +2.85 kHz with noone calling, so I parked it there. After five attempts (about 3 min), he returned my call. LUCK! 250 watts to an inverted L. I need to make an offering to the DX gods, some sort of indication of my gratitude. Some coax in the field or something.

73 and good DX!

Off to a good start this year, DX-wise

12 Jan - 4W0VB, Timor-Liste (UA4WHX, Vlad Boyko)
21 Jan - HK0NA, Malpelo DXpedition
21 Jan - VK0TH, Macquerie Island (thanks to Trevor, VK8TH)

That's 293 worked. Checking the log, I had 14 new ones last year. If I can keep pace, I will break 300 this year. Fingers crossed. The Tokyo High Power amp sure helps, and the Flex Radio 3000 is outstanding.

I also learned how to optimize the SSB audio with the Flex 3000. Like other high end rigs (Yaesu FTDX5000), the operator can configure the TX equalizer for maximum "DX punch" without overload/splatter.

I first read about this in W9KNI's "A Year of DX" but since I am not on SSB that often, I never bothered with it. But I wanted to get a headset, and started asking questions on the Flex Radio owners forum.

The CM-500 from Yamaha is a moderately inexpensive headset with boom microphone. An op recommended it. I tried the Heil Proset Elite first, but the earphones rest ON the ears...not over them. Very uncomfortable for me. So I ordered the CM-500 and the adapter for the Flex, hooked it up, and listened to my audio on a separate receiver (no antenna connected). HOLY COW! What a difference the TX equalizer makes when I follow instructions for optimization. I was only getting half the "punch" before with default settings. And with the optimized levels, many stations have commented on the strength and quality of the audio.

I am really lucky to have a Flex radio. It's making SSB more interesting and fun than ever before!

73 and good DX