May 21, 2018
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20m phone band was wide open to Europe this afternoon at the QTH. Made several contacts on 100W SSB. The waterfall looked quite active with stations coming in from pretty much all over Europe and the Middle East. Interesting that the solar indices (SFI=68 & SSN=0) do not suggest any improved activity. This could be a seasonal shift. I hope it shows up again tomorrow!
April 7, 2018
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Made a run to Home Depot this morning and bought the PVC bits I needed to build the 2el vertical Beam I described in a previous post. The PVC is for the antenna mount to raise the feed point up to about 8 feet. I had some issues laying the elements out in the backyard as a tree was in the way. The two elements are 16 ft apart which is a bit further than the 13 feet modeling showed was optimum. I started by setting up the driven element. this went together very similar to the homebrew Buddistick with the exception that the fishing pole allows me to go full length. It tuned under 2:1 SWR across the whole 20m band. The reflector was even easier as it does not need to be tuned. I used one continuous piece of wire for the element and radial and keep the distance to the radial end at 14 feet. The beam is pointed in roughly a 45° bearing towards the northeast USA and Europe.
I should mentioned I did all this in a dead calm and in very muggy conditions outside today. I did not like the was the PVC was bending but rather than properly guy them I opted to try the antenna out a bit first…what could go wrong? I ran WSPR for about 2 hours with the following result:
Note the high density of spots to the NE and the two spots to Europe. Pretty good for this time of day. Some SSB work towards the Mississippi QSO party yielded several “strong signal” QSO’s. I also made a QSO to Spain. After I closed that QSO, I switched to the S9V31 and noted a drop on the S meter from S4 to S1 when he was transmitting. Not sure what to make of that as 3 S units represents an 18dB change in signal strength. Perhaps the difference in pattern?
Did I mention what could go wrong? Let me first mention that PVC is like a wet noodle. The reflector was supported somewhat by some nearby tree branches but the driven element was not cooperating. I leaned a step ladder against it to provide a bit of support. Now remeber I did not guy it down as I was anxious to test it out. The weather shifted while I was gathering data. A cold front blew in and it started to rain lightly and the wind started gusting. The antenna has not failed but I don’t expect it to stay up through the night. The driven element is leaning over quite a bit in the breeze and I expect it to flop over at some point. The good news is this is hard to damage.
I’ll guy it up tomorrow for more extensive use. I think this is finally a winner in the gain department. Setup is fairly easy with the only thing I need to improe being how to get the feed point to 8 feet and still keep it portable.
March 16, 2018
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I have been trying to collect some solid data on the performance of the S9V31 antenna configured for multi-band operation. It is currently configured to be non-resonant on any band and I go through an antenna tuner in the shack. WSPR results have been lackluster and possibly a little worse than when run as a resonant 40m antenna. FT-8 spots on pskreporter.com on the other had have been quite good on early morning 40m. I am being heard all along the western Pacific rim consistently.
I have noticed quite a few stronger European stations in the late afternoon on 20m and have made several SSB contacts. I actually closed four all time new ones this week: St Eustatius on 12m, Republic of Congo & Easter Island on 17m, and Revillagigedo Island on 20m. Interesting that 12m and 10m have had brief openings in the late afternoon. Band conditions have been pretty bad with long periods of zero sunspot numbers.
I am still working on what to do to lower the noise floor at the shack. I feel that is the key to improve station performance and should be readily visible when running WSPR. More on that coming up….
March 11, 2018
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After a full year of experimentation with vertical antennas I finally deployed the Alpha Antennas S9v31 antenna. It was a perfect day here for it as well. Mid 80’s with very little wind. A bit muggy for the work on the radial field but otherwise just a beautiful day in South Texas!
First up was finishing up the radial field. I set out the radial plate with 20 radials with lengths that vary from about 10 feet to just over 25 feet. The back breaking job was installing the lawn staples to hold them down. Tedious but straightforward. The yard was freshly mowed and I had tested three long radials and found no issues with the mower. Here is the finished radials:
Next I removed the 20m vertical element and finally lowered the SOTAbeams travel mast. This mast took a great deal of abuse over the past year or so and all told is still in serviceable shape. I highly recommend this mast!
The setup of the S9 was really simple. The mast is extended on the ground and a set of clips installed at each section joint to prevent collapse. The radiating wire is inside the mast. Once extended it is walked up and I mounted it onto the same aluminum angle I used with the travel mast. The hook ups remained the same with the junction box and ugly balance used before.
Here is the finished product:
I am running WSPR on this now so will report on performance after I collect some additional data.
March 4, 2018
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Worked the ARRL DX SSB contest this weekend and managed to get 100 contacts over the course of the past 48 hours. I did not operate to aggressively but did operate with spotting assistance. I worked 46 countries on 40m, 20m, 15m and 10m. 34% were in North America, 30% in South America, 16% in Europe, 7.5% in Asia and 10.8% in Oceania. No contacts in Africa this year. None of the worked countries were counted as new ones. All in all not bad and a lot of fun considering the band conditions were pretty bad (SSN=0 SFI=67). North America was dominated by 20m, South America with 15m, Europe on 40m, Asia split evenly on 40m and 20m and Oceania also split between 20 & 15m. All in all 20m was the more difficult band to work with many really weak signals heard here at the QTH. 40m comes alive in the early evening into Europe and Japan in the early morning. 15m had less overall activity but had many strong signals from central and South America. My score works out to 22,572 with 100 QSO’s. The DX stations responded with power of 1000W about 90% of the time with the lowest power as 100W. Good test of the vertical 1/4 wave antennas!
November 7, 2017
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FT-8 has taken digital operating by storm since it’s release this summer. I had been running JT-65 early mornings to Asia on 40m but lately I am seeing the number of spots on pskreporter drop considerably in favor of FT-8. I have been using FT-8 with increasing frequency the last few days. This morning conditions on 40m were good with eight QSO’s to Asia in 40 minutes. Most were with Japan but had one each in South Korea and Indonesia.
I am finding that I have better results on FT-8 when calling CQ than answering CQ. WSJT-X takes over by responding to the first call that answers the CQ. Some monitoring is needed as there are times the responding station goes out of sequence in the response. In FT-8, the computer does most of the work when calling CQ as the sequences are so quick. I am finding that with FT-8 I have to repeat a sequence as the other station seems to have trouble decoding my signal (probably due to fading). As a result, I may have to add four or five extra calls to complete a QSO. In some cases the other station never responds again. This happens far less on JT-65. I suspect this is due to the longer receive cycle that helps balance fading as well as the greater sensitivity overall.
The bottom line is that I will likely be operating more on FT-8 only because there are fewer and fewer stations using JT-65.
October 31, 2017
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I achieved the QRZ.com DX100 award today thanks to an early morning JT-65 contact with DV1FZE in the Philippines. As of today I have logged a total of 2878 QSO’s and confirmed 100 countries using QRZ electronic logging only. I am now working to close the ARRL DXCC award and need only 5 more entities via LoTW contacts.
October 30, 2017
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I was on a short business trip to China last week and arrived back home late Friday night after the CQ WW SSB contest had already begun. I started working the contest after lunch on Saturday using the Icom 7300 on 100W and with the N1MM logging program. I took a little time before starting to enable the spectrum display feature on the logging software as well as the spotting capability. This was fairly straightforward and only required that I change the baud rate on the rig. How did this all work? Well all I can say is I wished I had this in earlier contests! Here is a view of my contest screen:
Spots match up with the spectrum display and a simple click on the signal of interest adjusts the rig. There are screens that display the spots that will maximize my score which is really handy. I operated search and pounce on 10m, 15m, 20m and 40m bands. Here is a summary of my score:
Action on the daytime bands was centered on 15m. There was some intermittent activity on 10m during daytime hours. 20m was very active but also seemed difficult for me to make contacts. Not sure if this was related to the antenna or propagation conditions. 40m at night was also quite active with very decent DX. Overall a good cross section of DX with 63 DX entities contacted over 35 CQ zones.
Lots of fun with this and a good test of the vertical antenna system.
October 20, 2017
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It’s been awhile since I have seen real big DX pileup. That was the case yesterday afternoon with Annobon Island on 20m SSB. I was not able to make a QSO. The operator was working split and listening up 5 to 20. Most of the stations responding were stateside and while many were well behaved the number of lids and cops on the frequency made it extremely difficult for all operators. I am a strong believer in the DX code of conduct.
The IC-7300 waterfall makes it fairly easy to see where the DX station is listening. When he calls QRZ the waterfall becomes almost solid in a band between 5 to 20 kHz. It dies out when he answers and then the answering station comes out in the spot he was listening. Some monitoring of this will tell you where he is listening to maximize your chances of him hearing the call I hope to see this op again this afternoon as he is only QRV for a few more days.
October 18, 2017
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For the past three or four months I was having great success early in the morning with 40m JT-65 contacts to Asia on the 1/4 wave vertical antenna. The band would be great at around 6:45 am and be open till around 8:30 am. Japan especially would be easy to make contacts with on JT-65.
I have been noticing a definite shift in early morning 40m to Asia. First, I should note that JT-65 activity has dropped off quite a bit now that FT-8 is getting so rapidly popular. Just in the last few weeks I have noticed a drastic reduction in the number of JT-65 spots showing on pskreporter. The second observation is that the band seems to open to Asia a bit later now from about 7:30 am to about 8:30 am.
So this morning I started out trying JT-65 and made two contacts to Japan but there were very few signals on the waterfall. FT-8 had much more activity overall. I switched to FT-8 and started calling CQ DX and the first response was from Indonesia. The next 8 QSO’s were from Japan.
Overall, I have mixed felling about this. I enjoy the early morning pace of JT-65. I can check my emails while checking the bands. FT-8 takes quite a bit more work and attention. One other effect is that FT-8 is a bit more difficult to close a weak signal QSO. It is easy for the signals to drop below the noise floor and disappear between transmissions.