Friday, December 23, 2011

High speed meteor scatter communications - what a rush!

I posted back in 2009 about HSMS on VHF. Check out my QSO with Sebastian, W4AS, down in south FL. This is a beautiful meteor burn at my sunset (a little early, but I will take it!) Thanks, Sebastian!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A side-note to my JH0INP post

I worked Hiro using 5 watts to the hex beam. This is country #49 for my QRP DXCC. That's some pretty good conditions, 5 watts covering a 6500 mile path. I'll take it!

73 and good DX
Mark Lunday, WD4ELG

The magical gray line

One of the wonderful mysteries of propagation occurse at sunrise and sunset. Those times are when some amazing things happen in terms of propagation. I have written earlier about some events I have observed, and the accomplishments by others are quite remarkable. This is often referred to as grey line propagation.

Tonight at my sunset, I heard JH0INP on 17 meters CW, 599. This was at his sunrise. Hiro had an echo to his signal, which implies multi-path.

Now, was this Short Path and Long Path? Or bent path? Well, on the lower bands (which are attenuated by sunlight), a bent path through darkness would make sense. In this case, it seems unlikely that this would occur on 17 meters. You can see the short path (A, in red), the long path (B, in blue) and the bent path (perpendicular to the gray line, a common path of gray line propagation).

All stations working Hiro were in US along the gray line (MS, ID, IN, and KP4). No EU, no California.

I was using a hex beam pointed short-path. When I switched to the dipole and vertical, I could hear the LP signal much better. It was weaker on the hex beam (as expected).

For more great info on propagation paths, get ON4UN's book.

73 and good DX!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

If you can't hear it, you can't work it

One thing my first Elmer, Ed Reddington W4ZM (SK), taught me was to listen, listen, listen. That applies to human interactions, not just ham radio...but I was 13 at the time and did not understand the prophetic power of Ed's statement.

As it applies to our hobby, an obvious but often overlooked element is that the signal must be heard at a copyable level if the station is going to be worked. There are many barriers to effective reception: noise (on the air and from the barking dog in my shack), fading, directivity, and other propagation elements.

As I became more interested in 160 meters after arriving at this new QTH in 2009, I wondered how to combat the horrific static and man-made noise that I heard. I did a LOT of reading (and discussed it on this blog) on beverages and other receive-only antennas. Over the past year I have put up some shortened beverages and had some success with them; they certainly are less noisy than the transmitting antenna on 160 inverted L. I also recently acquired a small magentic loop for 80 and 160. Finally, I placed my 80-10 meter off-center-fed dipole at a lower height and am using it for receive only for the times when signals are coming in at high angles.

I went through (several times) ON4UN's book on low-band DXing. It is worth its weight in gold. Also read (several times) the sections on receiving antennas in the ARRL Antenna handbook.

The desired result is better reception and therefore more DX worked. I already have a fantastic rig in the Flex 3000. Let's see where this gets me. Stay tuned!

73 and good DX

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wow, conditions are either really good or I am really lucky.

8Q7EJ, first call on 20 SSB.
YB1ALL, first call on 30 CW.
UN8GV, first call on 30 CW.
ZD8ZZ, first call on 30 CW.

It DOES help to have a great rig like the Flex 3000. Speaking of, you must take a look at their notching software video. AMAZING. I love this rig. Best money ever spent.

In other news....antennas.

Some hunters came up behind our house while hunting deer, and intentionally cut my two beverage antennas. I can't complain, the antennas were on their property. Also, the bevs were short (250 feet) so they worked OK on 40 and 30, but not much use on 160 where I really need them. Maybe I need to go vertical rather than horizontal for better receiving antennas. I just don't have enough room for a good beverage antenna for receive. I like them because they are cheap, but it takes a lot of real estate. Here's a good intro, if you are interested in reading more. I am using shortened Beverages, so there is a compromise involved. I have less room on-property, but I will try to use the 150 foot lengths...since the hunters have rifles and I do not!

Also, my inverted L broke in a windstorm last week. This is my primary antenna for 160 and works very well on 30, so I put it back up quickly yesterday, with the help of this device! Tested it out today, and worked YB1 and UN8 listed above, first call, so it's working fine. Now I just need to see what I can work on 160.

Conditions are excellent, and lots of folks are on the air. Big CQ WW CW DX contest in 2 weeks, my favorite.

73 and good DX!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A funny (ha ha) thing happened to me this evening, DX-wise

It was a gorgeous fall evening in central North Carolina. Temp about 72F, low humidity, light breeze, sun low on the horizon, no clouds. I joined the wife on the back porch, where she (a talented painter) was doing some artwork of the back garden. I hooked up my FT817ND QRP swiss army knife rig on the back deck (which I hardly ever do, but I wanted to watch the wife do some of her lovely art work).

No sooner had I fired up the 817 and hooked it to the hex beam than I heard the bands ALIVE. I tuned to 12 meters and heard T32C working split on CW. Second call, in the log! Not a new QSO with T32C, but 5 watts from US East Coast is not too bad!

Then I heard a watery, fluttery signal 1 kHz down. The FT817ND CW, unfiltered is wide as a barn door (which is no problem for me, I can do the signal processing and filtering in my head if needed!). I tuned down and heard the callsign 9M6XRO! Wow, new DX, never heard this one before. I called once with the 817, unsuccessfully (no pileup yet, he was working simplex). So I ran tearing and yelling through the house, upstairs to the shack, fired up the amp, and turned on the Flex 3000. By this time he was working split, so I moved the TX up one and got him on the first call! Number 287 in the log!!!

Kinda neat that I heard him on the 817 on the hex, then ran up to work him on the Flex. I really love those 817 rigs, so versatile and capable. You can do a lot with 5 watts. And thank the DX gods for 9M6!

73 and good DX!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Always remember, it's a hobby....there is more to life than ham radio

Yeah, right! Do as I say, not as I do
I need to follow my own advice.

One way to do that is to get another hobby which is guaranteed to make me take a break from ham radio. What would that be? How about rescuing Golden Retrievers! Exercise, entertainment, and a bunch of fun.

The pic here is of Raj, Maggie, and Boomer. All three are rescued, pure bred Golden Retrievers (many shapes and sizes). We adopted them through Triad Golden Retriever Rescue of North Carolina. No puppy stage, a known quantity in terms of behavior, and each is grateful for being rescued!

A Bing search turns up lots of results, so consider adopting a Golden Retriever. You will be happy you did!

73 and Good DX! And lots of Golden Retriever hugs!

Conditions improving!

I was looking at my logbook for 2011, and I have added ten new DXCC countries this year. Some have never even been heard at my QTH before!

XV (Vietnam) - I remember during and after the Vietnam war, I got my novice ticket in 1977 (age 13). I never thought the day would come when I would work Vietnam! Lots of activity in recent years, but over-the-pole is always a challenge.

AP (Pakistan), T6 (Afghanistan) - ahh South Asia. The most intriguing DX there is for me. The Steppes and mountains of Asia from Kazakhstant to Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, nothing is more exciting than hearing these countries. Working both of these in the fall of 2011 was a highlight of the year.

XU (Cambodia) - another mind-blowing DX contact, who ever thought Cambodia would be on the air? Another over-the-pole DX contact, always a challenge from here.

SU (Egypt) - right before Mubarak fell. Should be fairly easy, but I always seem to miss this one (until now).

P29 (Papau New- Guinea) - first time I have ever heard this one also. Big time luck to catch him alone on SSB.

Other good ones: C2, JD1/O, T31, VP8/O.

Here's a snapshot of progress of countries worked to date. Currently at 286. I really became serious in 2004 and started computer logging (DX4WIN softwware).

One thing I have observed....each time I reach a plateau, I have to step it up a notch.

  • It was fairly easy getting to 100 DXCC with 100 watts and wires on 15, 20, and 40.Getting to 150 required me to step it up a notch, and get on all available bands including WARC. I also started studying propagation and learning about predictions and patterns. Finally, I bought DX4Win software to help me track my progress.

  • Getting to 200 was another challenge, so I started participating in DX contests, reading bulletins, and learning the tricks of the trade. I also got a 2 element hex beam for 20 meters which helped.

  • Getting to 225 was another challenge, which I tackled by putting in even more time on the air listening and learning about propagation. I also started using software (DX Monitor, SpotCollector) to monitor DX station patterns and operating times.

  • The 250 point was another hurdle, and I tackled it by getting a 5 band 2 element hex beam for 20-10.

  • Getting to 275 and higher required me to add another arsenal...I finally broke down and purchased a Tokyo High Power 750 watt amp.

  • The next factor in my favor to (hopefully) get me over 300 is the improving sunspot cycle. Once I get past 300, it's all luck and depends upon somebody going to those rare, uninhabited archipelagos and isolated rocks...or daring to go into a war zone (Yemen) or a totalitarian police state (North Korea) and activate it.

According to the graph, I should hit 300 in the next 18 months. From there onward the chase is littered with the ruined dreams of thousands of DXers who pursued the Honor Roll but languished between 300 and 310 and finally gave up from despair, old age, boredom, or death. I don't plan to be one of those who fails to reach the summit...I intend to achieve Honor Roll status! Why? Because DX IS!

73 and good DX!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Here and there...

Looking at the logbook, I can see a gradual increase in my progress towards DXCC honor roll.

The sunspot cycle is improving, also reflected in my log.

In the past six weeks, I worked C21 and JX5 for all-time new ones. Also worked several new ones on the higher bands. This was while I was doing extensive travel for work, so the on-air time was very limited on the between honey-do tasks. (I'm not complaining, I have the most awesome wife ever...she has unending patience for my hobby and I am the luckiest ham ever!) So there are always tasks to complete on the maintenance, walking the dogs, working with the horse. It's probably a good thing; with my obsessive personality I would probably spend all day every day in front of the ham radio gear!

Speaking of gear, my THP 1.2Kfx HF amp makes the difference with 500 watts out. It's the difference between QSO and no QSO in several instances.

73 and good DX!

Thanks, Mr. Postman

Just received a batch of QSL cards today from the US incoming QSL bureau in Sterling VA.

With the increase in postal rates, more folks are using ARRL Logbook of the World (LotW). This is an electronic, secure method of confirming QSO's and receiving DX credit. It is an awesome setup and takes just a few minutes to get started. It increases the chance of getting a confirmation, with the dramatic availability of the internet throughout the globe.

Still, in my 34 years of hamming I have never lost the excitement of receiving in my postal box, a 5x7 brown envelope with the latest "hard copy" QSL cards. This time was no different. I finally received a QSL card from my first QSO with China during the 2008 summer olympics. Also received several band/mode confirmations. About 90 QSL cards in all, including some for my QSL manager duties for 5X1RI.

So even with the increase in postage, lots of hams still send true QSL cards. It's a nice aspect of the hobby, and I am glad to see that it has not gone away.

Now, I have a lot of QSL cards to reply to. Good thing I have a software logging program to handle the printing of it...DX4WIN.

OK, back to hamming.


73 and good DX

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tajikistan on RTTY

No surprise to anyone, Flex filters in digial mode are simply second-to-none.

Last night (local) on RTTY, I worked EY7AD for a new one on RTTY. There as polar flutter that was a challenge but I still did get a decode. Only my 2nd Tajik QSO ever (last one was in 1990!) And I did not have any interference from nearby signals. Just set the SDR DIGI-U filter width to 300 Hz. No sweat. Call him, and he's IN THE LOG.

My best guess is over the pole (if not true, then certainly magnetic!). I have two hex-beams, one pointed 350 and one pointed 070, both at 40 feet high. The signal was much stronger on the hex pointing north...from here in NC that's 023 degrees true...I presume that if the path were bent then it would have not had as much flutter and would have been stronger on the E pointing hex.

I heard EY7AD on RTTY 2 weeks ago but had to QRT before I could work him. The interesting thing is that after I worked EY7AD, I had a UA4 calling me on the EY7 frequency. I QSY'd up and worked him, and then worked several very strong UA3 stations as well.

At first I thought it might be that the EY7 signal was bent path along the UA3 route. But after I worked EY7AD, I did not hear anyone calling him. Not even the UA stations. So I am guessing that he was not audible to UA3. Certainly, Tajikistan is uncommon on any mode and esp RTTY, and I feel certain that if they could hear him they would have called him.

73 and good DX!

Memorial Day weekend - remembering the heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice

Just a quick note to remember those Americans who gave their lives in armed conflict throughout our history. May we always remember their sacrifice and never take it for granted.

73 and DX!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Who can forget Jim McKay on ABC's Wide World of Sports, using that famous line for the intro on Saturdays.

Well, last weekend was the T31A DXPedition, a new DXCC that I needed. I turned my hex beam at 40 feet to the west, fired up the 500W amp, and started listening on Saturday 23 Apr. Not much going on at the time at 1600 UTC. So I took a break. I came back online at 2300 UTC, saw a spot on 17 meters SSB, and listened on frequency. I saw he was working 5 up. I heard him say QRZ and fired my callsign twice. (Sometimes I get excited and yell into the microphone, so I always keep the gain low to prevent splatter). He IMMEDIATELY came back to me with a 59! I gave him a 55. IN THE LOG! Talk about dumb luck and timing! The stations were only on the air for 24 hours and I got through from the East Coast on SSB, with a modest setup! The THRILL OF VICTORY!

I was using the FLEX 3000 SDR, PSDR 2.2 software, THP 1.2 KFX amp (500 watts), Traffie Hex Beam at 40 feet, and a Yaesu hand-mic that came with my FT817. This has served me quite well in pileups, without anything else in the mix.

I was pretty pleased with myself, and that night worked a new one, Egypt, on 30M CW.

On Sunday evening, before starting a week of travel for work, I worked Egypt on 20 meters also. And I saw a spot for T31A on CW on 15 meters. I got greedy and decided I wanted to get a CW contact in the log also. Again with the hex beam and amp, this time with some fast CW at 27 WPM, the same speed as the op (he was keeping a good QSO rate going). Signals marginal at 449 on my end, but with the FLEX 3000 and DSP software with brick-wall filters, no problems with copying him.

I called for about an hour. The op was following a pattern and I was in the right spot but not the only one who had figured out the pattern. West Coast stations kept beating me to the predicted location that the DX was listening. (For more ideas on this technique, I recommend the books by AC6V and W9KNI). I was about to give up, but decided to try for another 10 minutes. It was now 2300 local and I needed to get some sleep for travel the next day. 5 minutes later he came back to me. But he copied my call as WD4LEG. I replied as WD4ELG and sent 55N. He came back and said RRR 73 WB4ELG TU. I tried to resend "WD4 WD4", but he had already moved on. THE AGONY OF DEFEAT!

I wrote to the stateside coordination station and asked for special consideration. He said I should write to the station control operator and ask for special consideration with the QSL card. I will do that, hope for the best, and make a special offering to the DX gods. Maybe put 1000 foot of beverage wire up, or plant some trees for a future DXer.

Meanwhile, I went to VE1DX's page and read some humorous stories and decided to not worry about the T31A CW QSO.



Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sun is alive and well

Who says this sunspot cycle will be a bust? Some folks predicted another Maunder Minimum. Well, after getting off to a slow start, cycle 24 is going gangbusters. The prediction curve may need to be revised.

The bands are ALIVE. Here's a sampling of DX worked from my location (FM06be) using a 2 element 5-band hex beam (thanks, Mike Traffie, for getting me into the serious DX game).

All over the north pole: BY, 9M2, XV, BX, 4S7 (First time I ever heard 9M2 or XV)

Also, I was working these stations at 2200 local time on 15 meters, 2.5 hours after sunset!

On 10 meters, I can hear EU and AF with sunrise, and I can hear and work VK at least an hour after sunset. That's amazing, I have not done that since 2001.

On 20 meters at midnight local I can hear JA, A6, VK, and ZS.

Also, I busted a bunch of pileups to Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Bragging here: total DXCC count is up to 276 worked/263 confirmed. Closing in on 5BDXCC, 9BDXCC, and eventually Honor Roll.

I have added a couple of logs to the fire of the signal with an amplifier from Tokyo High Power. Talk about an outstanding piece of gear. It gives me 400-500 watts out, which is all I need for the extra "punch."

Hope to hear you on the bands in the pileups!

73 and good DX!