Category Archives: Contesting

Michigan QSO party QRP style

This weekend there were several state QSO parties running — Michigan, Ontario and South Dakota, plus a DX contest centered in South America. Saturday night I came down to the shack to see what I could do in the three, but when I started messing with the K3, the AF gain (volume) knob broke. I was thinking about running the contests by using the shaft with no knob, but that looked like an exercise in pain so I turned on the KX1 QRP (low power) radio.

I heard a station calling from Bolivia on 40 meters, and thought “why not try” and worked him on the first call — with 4 watts and my Steppir vertical. Cool.

I switched to the Michigan QSO party and started working everyone I could find. It often took three or four calls, and a couple guys had to really work to hear my report, but I kept working stations. By the end of the evening I’d worked 30 stations in Michigan, 10 in Ontario, and 5 in South America, mostly on 40 meters with a few contacts on 20 and 80. For 80 I switched to the K2 at 5 watts, but most of my contacts were made with the KX1.

This is much different from my normal contesting mode of running 500 watts and seeing how high a rate — how many contacts per hour — I can reach. But it was just as much fun, I used a lot less power, and it was much lower key than most contests I run.

For any hams out there who think “life is too short for QRP,” you are missing a big part of the hobby. To work Boliva and Brazil with 4 watts — that is exciting.

So that was my hamming for the weekend. I’ll go into more detail on my broken knob on the K3 later.


ARRL DX contest

I had a good time this wekend with the ARRL DX contest. We’ve had sunspots the last month, so it appears propogation is finally improving.
I managed to make contacts on 15, 20, 40, 80 and even three on 160 last night. As a result, I wound up with over 400 contacts in about 10 hours of operating. I had a great time.
With a DX contest such as this, you work different parts of the world on different bands at different times. There is enough activity, that you can really hear the propogation changing and get a better understanding of where in the world a band is open to at a particular time. You use your knowledge of how the bands are, to pick the right bands at the right time. If it all works, it’s great.
The contest also sold me on the K3. It is just the nicest contest and DX radio I’ve ever used. I switched to the Icom 756 Pro III for a short period last night, but soon went back to the K3.
On another note, the line noise that has plauged me most of the winter seems to have subsided. Both the electric and cable company have been working on the lines in this neighborhood, and my hope is somewhere during that process the faulty insulator, or whatever was causing the problem, was replaced.
Now that I’ve said that, the noise will probably return. All I can say is it wouldn’t have been much of a contest this weekend with the noise present.

Winter contests, winter noise

Last weekend was the winter North American QSO Party, CW. I usually operate this contest, but came down and discovered S9 (that’s very high for you lay-people out there) line noise on all bands. I’ve had this intermittent noise since I moved to this house, generally when there is snow and ice on the electric lines, like last weekend.

I have good enough radios that I can filter much of it out, but it’s still bothersome and keeps you from really hearing well, which is a real disadvantage in a contest. Despite that, I made 388 contacts on 20, 40, 80, and 160 meters, and had a good time.

The SSB version of the contest was this weekend, but the line noise is still here, despite the weather warming and ice melting off the lines. I didn’t want to battle the noise, so took a pass on the contest.

I hope the noise goes away. Otherwise I have to start fighting with Commonwealth Edison again. I’ve had them even come out here a couple times, but of course, when they come, there is no noise..Oh well, stay tuned.

DX contest

I spent some time working the CQ Worldwide DX contest this weekend. I learned a good lesson — keep checking the bands.
The contetst started Friday night, and I tuned around on 40 meters. I could hear a few Europeans, who were being swamped by hundreds of US operators calling them. That wasn’t the contest I remembered, so I went upstairs and did something else.
Saturday morning wasn’t much better. I worked a few Asians on 40 meters to get started, then moved to 20. There I heard just a few Europeans, again being hounded by hundreds of US operators. With my vertical, I don’t stand much of a chance in that situation. I made a few contacts, but soon gave up and did something else.
Then late afternoon I went back in the shack and listed on 15. I could hear Asians, and made contacts. Then I ate dinner, and came back down to 40 meters. There were the Europeans, all over the band. I spent the night working them. It’s still a thrill to hear that faint signal from half-way around the world, and to hear them answer with your call.
I worked the contest off and on during the evening, and Sunday morning came down and there were the Europeans on 20. Again, I started working them, and really got into using CW Skimmer to spot for me. It scans the band, and feeds the stations it’s hearing to the bandmap on my logging program. it creates a whole new world for search and pounce.
But Skimmer isn’t all-knowing. You still have to tune the band. During all this, I worked a fair number of Africans, and I imagine I picked up a couple new countires (for me) in the process.
This afternoon I was tuning across 15 and worked New Zealand and Botswana back to back. That’s cool.
So it was a good radio weekend. I didn’t set the world on fire, but sure had a good time.

Slow sweepstakes

Last weekend was the CW Sweepstakes, probably the biggest and most challenging of North American contests. I had planned on making a major effort to work a clean sweep — all 80 sections — but discovered I had an old friend and his wife visiting over the weekend. It was hard to tell them “No, don’t come, I have a ham radio contest.”

So instead I did a very modest effort — in about 2.5 hours of operating I made roughly 140 contacts. I had a good run going on 40 meters Sunday morning, and did some search and pounce just to listen around the bands. Actually, it was a little liberating not to have to try to beat last year’s score and make that clean sweep. Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other contests coming up this winter. Maybe I’ll make a big effort on the 160 meter contest next month. Phone Sweepstakes is two weeks away, and I’ll dabble in that a little, but I just don’t see the challenge of working a phone contest. Maybe if I had a better microphone and a foot switch I could run the frequency….

Two contests at once

This weekend I was able to run two large QSO parties at the same time — the New England QSO party which covers the New England states, and the 7th Area QSO party, with all the 7th call district — Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

I had tried doing it in the past, but found logging a probem. You really need two separate log programs open. With the new setup with the K3 and LPBridge, I’m able to run two logging programs at once. Saturday night I was running the 7QSO party on WinEQF and the NEQSO party on N1MM logger. Both were up on the screen, so switching between the two was simple.

I don’t have exact numbers, but I did around 70 contacts in the 7QP and 40 in NEQP. I just didn’t hear enough New England stations.

On another note, I got my 80-meter dipole back up in the top of a tree where it belongs. It’s now at 40 feet, rather than sloping from 40 to 10 feet.

Sprint, and good weekend

I ran about an hour and a half of the NA Sprint last night — a very fast-paced contest — and wound up with about 60 contacts. Nothing to write home about, but I had fun.

The good news is the line noise that is generated by the electrical system in this neighborhood disappeared last night, about the same time the snow melted. It had been steady s5 noise since December. It’s great to hear a quiet band again.

This morning I was down enjoying the quiet band, and had three great contacts. They were Joe, N4YG in Huntsvuille, AL, who I’ve talked to a couple times before; John, K3MD, who I’ve worked in many contests but never had a long contact with; and Mike, VE3GFN, in Toronto who had a new K3 and we talked K3s for a while. Good morning on the air.

I almost met my goal

With over 500 contacts I only managed 79 sections, one short of the coveted clean sweep.

On Sunday morning I only had four to go, ND, and NLI in the US. and NWT and NL (Newfoundland) in Canada. I got them all but NL.

Oh well, that gives me a goal for next year, to finally get that clean sweep.

In the end, I had fun. That’s all that matters.

Ready for Sweepstakes

After what seems weeks (okay 2 weeks) of swearing at the computer, I have the station fully set up and ready to run for the contest season. In this screen shot you can see LP-Pan giving me a visual display of the band, CW Skimmer decoding a signal, and N1MM logger running.

I had most of this running on an old XP computer two weeks ago, but I was at 100 percent processor capacity. So thinking it would be too much work to upgrade to a bigger processor on that machine, I bought a basic new gaming computer with Vista, a high-powered processor and lots of RAM. That made sense to me. I could get the machine for $500 or so, move the sound card and extra port cards from the other machine and be ready to run. If Vista was a problem, I could downgrade to XP.

I waw wrong on every assumption. The sound card I had — an M-Audio Audiophile 2486 — has no Vista drivers and it was a bear to get the Power SDR software to run on Vista, so I decided to downgrade the computer to XP. It didn’t want to do that. After a week of futile attempts to get XP loaded on the new machine, I bought a sound card with Vista drivers and went about the task of getting Power SDR to work on Vista. The secret — which I finally discovered — was to run the program as administrator the first time I ran it. One of those Vista tricks. Thanks to the folks on the yahoo group for LP-Pan for the tip.

On Thursday of this week I had it all working. so I decided to put the computer in a better position and rearrange my operating position for better ergonomics for Sweepstakes. That meant unhooking everything and setting it back up. I the process, I reversed two wires from the LP-Pan panadapter the sound card. The result is that it looked like it was running correctly, but I was having all sorts of problems with ghost images and other strange occurances. In trying to fix it, I blew up the software a couple times, but have gotten good at reinstalling everything.

Finally, last night I realized the two channels from Panadapter to the sound card were reversed. I fixed them, and I’m done. It all works as advertised.

Now I’ve added CW Skimmer and the last piece of the puzzle. I’m not sure I can multi-task enough to use it in the heat of a contest, but I’ll try it next weekend.

Getting the station set up

With new radios, it always seems to take a while to get the software, the wiring, the station set up correctly. I’ve got the K3 now running throught the ICOM PW-1 amplifier, along with the 756 Pro. I’ve got both radios interaced withe the computer logging program, and a different computer set up as the contest station.

There are still a couple bugs to work out, but I’m getting close.

I tried testing things this weekend running the Texas QSO party, but propagation seemed to be against me. On both 20 and 40 meters, I could barely hear anyond from Texas this afternoon.

Oh well, it’s almost contest season. I’ll be trying to update my contest activity more regularly as the season progresses.

I’m now feeding the RSS feed of this blog to my twitter account. So if you’re a twitterer, you can follow this at twitter/bplantz.