Tag Archives: contest

ICOM 7300 – First Impressions

I spent some time playing with the new IC-7300 transceiver this weekend on various modes. My first comment is that having used an IC-7100 for some time I was instantly familiar with about 90% of the IC-7300 controls. Most of the buttons are labeled the same and many of the setting menus are also the same. First thing I installed was a headset adapter so I can use the Koss SB-45 headset. I needed a plug adapter (which I luckily had on hand) to plug in my Vibroplex paddles. Rig control via Ham Radio Deluxe was fairly straightforward as the USB drivers are the same as the IC-7100.  I started operating on 20m during the North America QSO party on Saturday with the 1/4 wave verticals.

My first impressions are that the rig works well (and possibly better) than the IC-7100 on SSB. My signal reports were solid 59’s and occasionally 59+ all across the USA. Also made some DX with favorable reports.  Receive options make it easy to adjust RF gain controls and filters to help clean up the signals. I like the overload indicator which tells me to back off on the preamp or RF gain or both. The main learning curve for me thus far is in using the scope screen. Once you play with this awhile you get used to operating more visually. You can see whats going on across the whole band and find signals to tune into or find dead spots where the frequency is open. It is also easy to switch in the audio monitor to hear what you are transmitting.

Also tested digital modes JT-65, FT-8 and PSK31 after configuring the software for the rig. The audio scope helps look at the signal quality on digital modes. I did not find any notable differences in using the 7300 vs the 7100 on digital.

So overall I am impressed by the new rig especially on SSB Phone. I’ll likely expand on this review as I get some more time on the rig but I am happy with what I have seen thus far.

The IC-7100 is now setup as my base VHF/UHF rig and I hope to play with DSTAR on it for the first time sooner rather than later. I will continue to have it connected to my PC for rig control and can switch in HF when needed.

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My Contest Software Setup

I installed the RA0SMS Mini-whip just in time to use it during the CQ WPX SSB contest this weekend. I use the N1MM Logger+ software during contests. This is a great piece of software with many many features useful in contesting. I am particularly fond of its “memory” and in alerting me to dupes. It connects to my rig via serial port which is ok but it has prevented me from using the panadapter at least until now. I am using a piece of software called VSPE (virtual serial port emulator) that allows multiple applications share the same serial port. In my case my rig is on COM11. The software creates a port called COM21 which can be used with multiple applications. This is useful as the HDSDR software is controlled using Ham Radio Deluxe to control my rig when using it as a panadapter.With this setup I can open HRD and HDSDR as I do during normal HF operations. This gives me the panadapter functionality. Then I can open N1MM Logger plus which links to the radio for frequency information during logging. Her is what the whole thing looks like while running:

Photo Mar 25, 6 41 31 PM

The panadapter display is on top allowing me to see activity across the whole band and select with a click what I want to hear. The contest logger is running at the bottom. Ham radio deluxe is running but minimized as I don’t need its functionality other than rig control. The lower left shows HamCAP propagation prediction tool which is also useful in contests to see what directions I can expect to receive from.

Really happy with the way this worked out! I am a casual contester and generally use the opportunities to evaluate antennas. I made over 70 QSO’s during this contest over 30 prefixes on 40m, 20, 15m and 10m using the end fed vertical antenna.

ARRL DX SSB Contest

As I have stated before, I am a causal contester. The ARRL DX SSB contest was running this weekend and I used it as an opportunity to test the vertical 31 foot antenna as an end fed with a 9:1 balun with the IC-7100 radio and tuner. I figured this would be good to test on 20m during the day and 40m at night. I didn’t join in until Saturday afternoon and found that nearly all the action was on 15m which tuned up well on the antenna. There was also activity on 10m and 20m. All told I made around 30 contacts using “search and pounce” all of which were DX stations. Sunday morning I tried 40m and made a JA contact, my first on 40m! I was hearing Indonesia as well.

All in all good results of my antenna and rig. This shows that a multiband antenna is very useful to adjust to changing band conditions and that the increased receive sensitivity is being put to good use.

As always, I am shocked to hear so much activity on contest days on bands that one usually thinks are dead. I may start making a point to call CQ on these bands and see if anyone is listening. I may be surprised!

Great Day to Be Outdoors!

Living in South Texas has some advantages especially in mid December. Great day here, sun was out and the temp around 78°F. Took out the FT-817ND and setup for solar operation with the DXtreme end fed antenna in vertical orientation. This end fed antenna needs an antenna tuner but allows me to operate on multiple bands. I used the LDG Z-11 Pro II tuner and ran at 45W today. Solar conditions were pretty bad with SFI of 72 and a sun spot number of zero. That’s right…zero…nada. I only made a few stateside connections on 20m. The ARRL 10 meter contest was going on today and I found this band was open. I logged contacts in Argentina and New Zealand without any difficulty.

Some notes on my operation today…first up it was bit breezy had gusts up to 30 mph. The travel mast worked great but I did have two instances where one of the segments broke loose and brought the wire down.I am going to think through some 3d printed clamps to keep this from happening in the future. I found I am short one PowerPole “Y” harness if I need to use the radio, amp and tuner. I switched from the two 15W panels to the fold-able 52W panel so I could free up the power connection. Duh, I just remembered I have some power distribution blocks that would solve this problem! Will try these next time. This time of year the sun angle is way different than the summer. Makes finding a suitable position for the solar panel a bit tricky. Overall no issues running the portable station at 45W. Finally, there was a lot of noise on the bands today. Suspect it was external man-made noise as the radio Noise blanker would help.

Feels good to get outside and play radio again!

ARRL SSB Sweepstakes 2017

This year I haven’t participated much in Contests for various reasons realted to the life thing. I really missed Field Day this year and also missed the CQ DX SSB contest. ARRL Sweepstakes was this weekend and I was able to run for several hours on the IC-7100. Band conditions were generally poor. I managed a total of 34 contacts working for about 3 hours total on 15m, 20m, 40m and 80m. Overall not so happy with the performance of my station this year. I had trouble maintaining tuning on 80m and it just felt like I struggled more this year than last year. I’ll be investigating this a bit more deeply in the coming weeks. I suspect the antenna but I’ll have to run some tests to find out.

ARRL DX SSB Contest

There were many Ham radio activities in my area this weekend but unfortunately I could not attend most of them. This is after all a hobby and pressing family events and activities ALWAYS take precedence over Ham Radio. I missed the annual ARES Summit in Harlingen on Saturday as well as the Saturday morning coffee at the local club. The ARRL DX SSB contest started in the early evening Friday and continued on through Sunday afternoon. I was not able to tune in until Sunday afternoon at 20:12 and continued until the end at 23:59. During this time I worked over 50 DX stations on 10m, 15m and 20m mainly in Central and South America as well as all over the Caribbean. Pretty fun time and as always it is great to see the bands alive on the panadapter.

Outdoor Radio

Took the FT-817 and magnetic loop antenna outdoors Saturday afternoon and ran solar powered. I wanted to test out the Amplifier on battery power so I was running on 20W. Reception with the magnetic loop is clearly superior to the end fed wire. I had it pointed to the north east and was getting some great signals that the FT-450D was deaf to. The RAC contest was going on so I racked up about 25 contacts mainly in Canada and the US. Not overly difficult getting stations to answer the call on 20W.

Saturday afternoon was really nice here in the low 80’s and sunny skies. What I did not count on was the lower angle of the sun casting shade through the trees. This made positioning the solar panel difficult to keep the batteries topped off. With full sunlight, I put in about twice what I am consuming with the radio on receive and the amplifier on standby.

ARRL 10m Contest

The ARRL 10m contest started this weekend. I decided to try running the contest as single operator. low power on SSB only. For me, the contest start was right around dusk so the band was closed out of the gate. I did not start working the contest until mid afternoon today and worked till just before dusk. Made 20 contacts on SSB, 17 of which were to South America. All US contacts were to the Pacific Northwest. I found it strange that I did not hear more stateside contacts. I tried calling CQ a few times but got nowhere. After I logged out of the contest for the day, I noticed on the spotter map that most Stateside stations had moved to CW. Conditions for 10m were not strong today so that may have motivated the mode change.I tried using the 10m Magnetic loop on the FT-817 but did not hear hardly any stations.

UPDATE (12/14/2015): Worked 10 more stations yesterday afternoon before the contest ended. Stations were basically oriented the same as on Saturday. All stateside contacts were either in WA or OR and all other contacts were in South America. Checking the HAMCAP maps seem to confirm that propagation is oriented in these directions.

November SSB Sweepstakes

Participated in the ARRL November SSB Sweepstakes this weekend for the first time. This was overall a great experience and allowed me to try some new tools, make some needed WAS contacts, practice on the low bands  and experience the full effect of radio contests. I realize that contests are not every Ham’s cup of tea and yet there are many who clearly take the whole thing way too seriously (both for and against them). I don’t mind contests as I see them as ways to measure the performance of my radio system  as well as ways to improve operating and listening skills.

I started off about a week ago and downloaded the rules and became familiar with the exchange needed which matches a radiogram header. I decided to run as Low Power, single operator, no spotting assistance and  single transmitter which defined my precedence as “A”. I did everything on the FT-450D at 100W.

I decided to run a contest logger so I downloaded and installed the N1MM Logger+ program. This type of logger is a big help vs my standard HRD logger. Super partial check, dupe alerts, entry error checking against contest rules, running section display & points count and automatic frequency download from the rig are all features that were new and had to be explored somewhat to use. The benefits are solid though. When I was done the log was saved as Cabrillo format as well as ADIF format for upload into my standard logger. Really useful for this application.

I started a few minutes after the contest officially started and used my RTL-SDR panadapter to view the now busy waterfall. Unfortunately, I could not use the DDE feature of the HRDSDR software as the logger takes control of the rig (vs. HRD doing this under normal use). Upshot…I had to manually tune the rig.

I ended up operating for a total of just under 9 hours as measured by the logging program. During this time I made 101 QSO’s across 52 ARRL/RAC sections for a total of 10,400 points. No clean sweep and no high score but a respectable showing for a first time out. Worked 20m and 15m during the day and 40m and 80m at night. Only made 2 QSO’s on 10m.

The nighttime work was notable as it was really my first hard usage of the 80m band. I was pleased that the antenna tuned up well on 80m and I was able to make 6 QSO’s on that band. 40m was comparable to 15m contacts. Everything was done as “Search & Pounce” as I did no CQ’s.

Overall a fun time on the radio this weekend and still managed to do a healthy mount of other activities with the family.

Field Day Score

The December 2015 edition of QST published the final Field Day scores. I entered my scores this year as a 1B1B station, i.e., one operator, 5 watts or less running on battery power. If you recall I ran my first ARRL Field Day from my dad’s front porch in Mercedes, TX. I only operated for about 4 hours right after the 1800UTC start. I made a total of 45 SSB contacts on 20m and 15m during that afternoon running my solar powered FT-817ND and the homemade Buddistick.Here is my call on the QST list:

qst

Next year more points will require that I work more stations on Phone or I have to learn CW or operate digital. It is interesting that QRP phone earns less points than QRP CW which would seem to be harder to  make contacts. Oh well, good incentive to finally learn CW!