DX’ing and Operating Award Tips

AB1OC 8 Band DXCC

AB1OC 8-Band DXCC

We’ve been pretty active in Operating Award programs since we built our station a few years back. Operating Awards provide incentives to get on the air and chase all kinds of contacts and they also help us to understand our station’s and our personal operating strengths and weakness. They also provide motivation to improve the latter.

Yesterday was a banner day for me in terms of completing Operating Award goals. I was able to make the needed contacts to complete two that I’ve been working on for quite some time:

  • Worked All Japan – Requires working and confirming all 47 Prefectures (similar to US states) in Japan
  • Top Band DXCC – Working and confirming 100 DXCC Entities (basically countries) on 160m

Both of these goals were completed using the FT8 digital mode for the remaining handful of contacts. I wanted to take a little time and share some of the techniques that have worked for me in hopes that it might help our readers have more fun and meet their operating goals on the air.

DX’ing Basics and Tips

Here are some general techniques and tips for working DX (in no particular order):

  1. Use spotting clusters such as DX Summit to find the DX
  2. Use propagation prediction tools such as those available on DX Summit to assess the best times and bands to use to try to work DX
  3. Subscribe to DX Notifications such as DailyDX to learn about planned operations in rare places
  4. Make time to operate in and BEFORE major DX contests
  5. Vary the times of day, days of the week, and bands on which you operate
  6. Vary the times of the year when you operate
  7. Learn about propagation and how to take advantage of short enhancement effects such as grey line enhancements
  8. Learn how to identify days when the bands are particularly good (and bad) for working DX. Good conditions include very low noise levels, undisturbed ionosphere conditions, and favorable sunspot conditions.
  9. Learn how to use Reverse Beacon Network Tools such as PSKreporter to assess propagation conditions and the real-time performance of your station. Pay attention to how these measurements change relative to the days, times and band that you operate on and related conditions such as solar weather, grey line location, etc.
  10. Equip your station for CW, Digital (FT8 and RTTY), and SSB phone modes and develop your operating skills using all three of these modes.
  11. Learn to use the filtering and other capabilities of your radio and your digital mode software to hear and work very weak signals
  12. Successful DX’ing requires BIC (Butt In Chair); sometimes at challenging hours during the day and at night

You can learn more about items 1 – 3 via the links above and by spending some time on the associated websites.

Item 4 is a big one when you are starting out. There are more “big” DX stations on during major DX contests such as CQ WW DX, CQ WPX, etc. than at any other time. We routinely work a DXCC here in less than 24 hours during these contests. An additional tip here is to set plenty of operating time aside the week BEFORE the contest begins. Many folks travel to interesting DX locations to operate in contests and spend lots of time on the air before the contest checking their stations and assessing propagation from their location. These are excellent times to work the DX as they are not as busy and can often take more time to help you make a contact.

Items 5 – 6 are often overlooked by operators who are just beginning to focus on DX. Many of us have busy daily schedules and we sometimes tend to set somewhat regular times aside to operate our stations. Propagation to different parts of the world varies wildly depending upon the time of day and frequency bands available to the operator. Switching both up will usually add significant numbers of new DX contacts to your log.

In my view, items 7 – 9 are key skills that begin to distinguish the serious DX’er from the pack. A good working knowledge of propagation effects, band openings, and how to measure conditions in real-time are essential skills and are not difficult to learn. I’ll reference a very good book in a bit which has some great basic information on propagation and how it relates to effective DX’ing. I’d also encourage you to set up your station for FT8/WSJT-X and learn to use PSKreporter to measure propagation and your station’s performance as well. If you pay attention to how the band conditions that are shown by PSKreporter change during different times/days and solar conditions, you can learn a great deal about how propagation actually effects your ability to make DX contacts and when the interesting (and sometimes brief) band openings occur to distant parts of the world. You can learn more about how to set up and use WSJT-X, FT8, and PSKreporter here.

Items 10 and 11 relate to both your basic operating skills and your station. Many DX’ers will focus on SSB phone when they first start out. This is a great way to gain operating experience and have fun on-the-air. I strongly encourage the addition of the FT8 Digital Mode (and RTTY) to one’s station early on for two reasons:

  • FT8 coupled with PSKreporter provides important tools for understanding and assessing propagation and your station’s performance
  • You will likely find a great deal more DX that is workable with a modest station using the FT8 mode that can be had with either SSB Phone or CW

You will also want to add basic CW skills to your toolkit as soon as you can as there will be some important rare and semi-rare DX that you can only work using DX. Developing your CW skills to the level required to work a DX contact is pretty easy and is a good stepping stone to developing contesting and conversational DX’ing skills. Learning to use the features of your radio and your digital SW is a topic unto itself. The book which follows has some great information on using your rig and other capabilities of your station to work DX. FT8 software tools such as JTDX and JTAlert also bring some important capabilities that the DX’er can take advantage of (read more via the preceding links).

Item 12 probably does not require any explanation…

One DX’ing Book To Read…

AC6V's DX101s HF + Six Meters DXing Reference Guide

AC6V’s DX101x HF + Six Meters DXing Reference Guide

Before I share my recent experiences and how the items above fit in, I’d like to share one more resource. While there is no substitute for getting on the air and operating, I would recommend AC6V’s DX101x Book as a comprehensive beginners guide to DX’ing. I read this book cover to cover several times when I was starting out and found it to contain a wealth of great information on all of the above topics and more.

Back To Yesterday’s DX…

Now I’ll share how I used these ideas yesterday to complete WAJA and Top Band DXCC. I began the day with a focus on completing my Worked All Japan (WAJA) award. Prior to this time, I had completed over 800 contacts with stations in Japan, working and confirming over 250 cities there. I had also managed to work and confirm 46 of the 47 prefectures in Japan. These left needing just 1 contact with someone in the Miyazaki Prefecture for my WAJA. This prefecture seems to be a beautiful place with 12% of its land being designated as Natural Parks. Hams in Miyazaki have area 6 callsigns.

The Search for Noda San, JA6FUV

My initial approach to securing my contact with someone in Miyazaki was to work as many JA6’s as I could find on 40m, 30m, and 20m (the most open bands from New Hampshire to Japan over the last year). After months of trying without success, I decided that I needed a better approach.

40m FT8 Opening to Japan

40m FT8 Opening to Japan

I decided to use PSKreporter to see if I could identify a station in Miyazaki that I could contact. The data in PSKreporter is time sensitive so its important to do this analysis at the times of day that you expect band openings to your target location (in my case Japan early in the day). For my conditions here in New Hampshire, the best time to work Japan is in the morning between about 9:30z and 11:15z. My analysis of the PSKreporter data identified one, and only one station, JA6FUV owned by Katsuyuki Noda. I next contacted Noda San to learn about his station and see if he might help me with a contact. He was happy to try but cautioned me that he had a 100W rig and a dipole antenna for 40m and warned that making a contact with the USA would be difficult. He also indicated that he was on most days at around 11:00z (7 am local time at my location).

Solar and Band Conditions

Solar Conditions

The next several days were marked by poor solar weather and associated band conditions. The K was 3-4 and the A rose to 20. Noda San heard me only one time during this period and I did not hear him at all. As of early this past week, we had both given up. Here’s where the BIC aspect and propagation assessment skills came in. I was up every day at 9:00z (5 am local time) and on the 40m band trying to work Japan. Some days I made only a few contacts, others were a little better but no sign of JA6FUV. What I learned from this was the very best time for propagation was to Japan on 40m is a 30 minute period from 11:30z – 12:00z and I shared this information with Noda San.

Two days ago, I found the K to be 0 and the A to be 3 with the resulting band conditions to Japan on 40m as quiet as I had seen them in a while. I alerted Noda San and the following morning I found the band wide open to Japan at 9:30z. I worked maybe 15 JA’s before JA6FUV appeared on PSKreporter. JA6FUV is the station at the very bottom center of the PSKreporter image above. I began a series of directed FT8 calls to JA6FUV. After a few minutes, Noda San answered and my Miyazaki Prefecture contact was finally completed! The signal report on my end was only -19 which is right on the edge of what I can hear. Noda San reported my signal as -15 which was solid but not particularly strong. All of this shows how the various tools and tips can come into play to make an important but difficult DX contact happen.

The Path To Top Band DXCC

My other goal for this past winter season was to complete my Top Band DXCC (100 countries on 160m). We have an Inverted-L transmit antenna and some good low-band receive equipment here at our station so I felt that this was a reasonable goal. Given we are at the bottom of the solar cycle, it’s also a good time to work DX on 160m and 80m. Things got busy and I did not get the time to operate that I would have wanted nearly the end of winter. Still, I got my first 90 and then 95 confirmed DXCCs on 160m.

Upon seeing the expected solar conditions and the very quiet band conditions while working JA6FUV, I decided to take another run at DXCC 160m. While operating sporadically on 160m since the beginning of the year, I learned that there are two primary DX openings each day on 160m from here in New Hampshire. The first occurs early the morning at about 9:00z (5 am local time) and lasts until just before the grey line turns to daylight. This is a good time to work Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific on 160m. Contacts during this time helped to get me to 95 on Top Band.

The most productive opening occurs just as it begins to get dark here (grey line enhancement again) at about 22:00z and lasts through the night until the grey line passes over Europe at about 06:30z (2:30 am local time). There are many more DXCCs that I can work in Europe so I decided to try this second opening last evening to complete my Top Band DXCC.

160m FT8 Opening to Europe

160m FT8 Opening to Europe

Again, the combination of propagation, band opening, and solar weather experience paid off. As you can see from the PSKreporter view above, I caught a very good opening into Europe and South America on 160m last night. I was able to work over 70 stations on Top Band – including CN2FA (Morocco), LX1JX (Luxembourg), IS0CDS (Sardinia),  HR5/F2JD (Honduras), and ES4IN (Estonia) – the last 5 DXCC’s needed to for 100 on 160m.

BTW, I have had a great experience with confirmations on Top band and have managed to confirm all 95 DXCC’s that I had worked prior to last evening. Hopefully, these last 5 will all confirm as well.

A Final Through – It Really Takes BIC…

Again, there is no substitute for BIC when trying to meet DX’ing goals. It took me exactly 850 contacts to work the required 47 prefectures for my WAJA. It took 1,252 contacts on Top Band to work (and hopefully confirm) the required 100 DXCC’s there. Both awards involved many contacts using SSB, CW, and Digital modes to get there. I certainly had a lot of fun meeting these two goals and I learned a great deal about the associated bands and propagation in the process.

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

I hope that this will help our readers to have fun DX’ing and to become accomplished DX’ers. What this is really all about is building your operating skills, experience, and station. The paper awards are like earing an educational diploma – the award is a reminder of the path you’ve walked and the knowledge that you’ve gained along the way.

Fred, AB1OC

A 6m Es Season to Remember

AB1OC Worldwide 6m Grids

AB1OC Worldwide 6m Grids

2018 has been a summer 6m E-Skip (Es) season to remember. The Es openings have been strong this year and they are continuing into the second half of July. We are enjoying almost daily openings to Europe and the western USA from here in New England. For fun, I’ve plotted my 6m Grids worked and confirmed to date using WG7J’s GridMapper site.

We got started a little late with 6m Es operations this year but the conditions have really helped our Grids, DXCC’s, and States totals worked on 6m. My totals are currently standing at:

  • 6m DXCC’s – 55 worked
  • 6m US States – 48 of 50 (only AK and HI still needed)
  • 6m Grids – 357 worked

A great deal of this progress has been made in 2018. Here are my 6m worked totals since the beginning of the year:

  • 6m DXCC’s – 48 worked
  • 6m US States – 46 worked (All but AK and HI)
  • 6m Grids – 312 worked
AB1OC Europe 6m Grids

AB1OC Europe 6m Grids

The new FT8 and MSK144 modes has made more difficult 6m contacts much easier. This is especially true for DX contacts into Europe and Africa.

AB1OC Americas 6m Grids

AB1OC Americas 6m Grids

At this point, we have worked most of the grids in the eastern half of the US. There are still some “rare” ones that are needed and a contact with Delaware is still needed for my last state on 6m in the continental USA. Alaska and Hawaii will be a challenge on 6m and I may need to use JT65 and EME propagation to work these states on 6m.

With some work on QSL’ing, the recent 6m activity will add significant progress to several of my operating awards. The new 6m DXCC’s worked recently should enable breaking the 2,000 band point level on my DXCC Challenge Award.

If you are interested in trying 6m operations or perhaps you are a new Technician Licensee or are looking for something new to try, don’t forget about the Magic Band (6m). The availability of FT8 mode has really enhanced the activity on 6m. Give it a try!

Fred, AB1OC

Why Ham Radio?

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck into work and people ask me what that big antenna on the back of the truck is for. I explain to them that it is for Ham Radio.  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?  We have cell phones and IM, etc…what do we need Ham Radio for?  So I thought I would put down my thoughts as a relatively new Ham about why I enjoy spending so much of my time with Ham Radio.

amateur_radio_could_save_lives_in_times__2205260000_9445423_ver1-0_640_480

Amateur Radio for Public Service

Public Service

The number one reason we still need Ham Radio along with all the other technology we now have is for public service.  When there is a disaster and cell phones, television, etc are all not working, Ham Radio operators provide the critical communication.

Ham Radio operators help locally to keep hospitals and first responders in contact with each other to help those affected by the disaster.

Hams also use our ability to communicate around the world on HF bands to help family members around the world to get in touch with loved ones affected by a disaster.

Ham Radio operators have been on the scene helping in every disaster from the earthquakes in Nepal to the recent flooding in California.

hamsats

Amateur Radio Cube Satellites

Technology and the Maker Movement

I only became a Ham 5 years ago but many of my fellow Ham Radio operators got their license when they were in their early teens and used what they learned to launch their careers. Many have had very successful careers in STEM fields, all launched by their interest in Ham Radio at a young age.  As technology advances, so does the technology used in our hobby.   We even have a nobel laureate, Joe Taylor K1JT who is a ham. Joe has developed weak signal digital communication modes that let us communicate by bouncing signals off the moon!

As technology has advanced, so has the use of it in Ham Radio.   Most Ham Radio operators have one or more computers in their shack.  Many also have a software designed radio (SDR), where much of the radio functionality is implemented using Software, we use sound cards to run digital modes, which are a lot like texting over the radio, and we use the internet extensively as part of operating.  We can also make contacts through satellites orbiting the earth and even the International Space Station.

Most hams love do-it-yourself technical projects, including building a station, home brewing an antenna, building a radio or other station component.  In my day job, I am a program manager for software development projects, but its been a while since I have built anything. As a Ham I taught myself how to code in Python and about the Raspberry Pi and I built the DX Alarm Clock.

vk6lc

QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

One of the coolest things about being an amateur radio operator is that you can communicate with other hams all over the world. Ham Radio is an international community where we all have something in common to talk about – our stations and why we enjoy ham radio.    The QSL card above is from a memorable QSO with Mal, VK6LC, from Western Australia, who was the last contact that I needed for a Worked All Zones award.  I must have talked to him for 1/2 hour about his town in Australia and his pet kangaroos!

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

I have learned much about geography from being on the air and trying to contact as many countries as I can.  There are 339 DX Entities, which are countries or other geographical entities and I have learned where each one is in order to understand where propagation will allow me make a contact.  I have learned a great deal about world geography. Through exchanging QSL cards often get to see photos from so many areas of the world.

dxcc-challenge-award

DXCC Challenge Award Plaque

Achievement – DXing and Contesting

DXing and Contesting provide a sense of achievement and exciting opportunity for competition. Many Hams work toward operating awards. You can get an operating award for contacting all 50 states, contacting 100 or more countries, contacting Islands, cities in Japan, countries in Asia, or anything else you can imagine.  Each of these operating awards provides a sense of accomplishment and helps to build skills.  Contesting builds skills through competition among Hams to see who can make the most contacts with the most places in 24 or 48 hours. Contesting also improves our operating skills and teaches us to copy callsigns and additional data accurately.

anita-instructor

Teaching a License Class

Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On

Recently I have joined a team of club members who teach license classes to others who want to get licensed or upgrade their existing Amateur Radio licenses.  Teaching provides a way to improve my presentation skills and also helps me to really understand the material that we teach about Amateur Radio.  It is always a thrill at the end of the class to see so many people earn their licenses or upgrades.

There are so many interesting aspects of Ham Radio which is what makes is such a great hobby.  Getting your license can open up a world of possibilities.  Upgrading to a new license class provides more opportunities to communicate over longer distances.  Ham Radio clubs, including our local club, the Nashua Area Radio Club,  provide many resources to help you get your first licenseupgrade to a new license class, and learn about the many aspects of our hobby.

A Milestone Contact – Working Mt. Athos (Last New One In Europe)

Monk Apollo

Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A on Mt. Athos

I have been working on completing contacts with all of the entities in Europe for some time. I have been fortunate to earn the DARC Worked All Europe Top Plaque having successfully confirmed contacts with 72 or the 73 DX entities in Europe on a sufficient number of bands. For some time now, I have been trying to work the last entity in Europe – Mt. Athos. There is only one station in this location which is SV2ASP/A operated by Monk Apollo. Last evening while looking at the spotting cluster, I noticed that Monk Apollo was operating 40 m CW. This was the first time I was able to hear him in over a year of listening for him! He had a pretty large pileup going and was working split. After some careful listening and some tuning, I was able to make the contact for number 73 of 73.

Recording of my QSO with Monk Apollo on 40m CW

As a bonus, Roman, DL3TU recorded my QSO so I have a very nice memento from this important contact. After some looking at my log and where I currently stand on contacts to the rarer ones in Europe, I am going to set my sights on earning the DARC’s WAE Trophy Award. To date, no U.S. station has been able to complete the necessary contacts to reach this level. It requires contacting all 73 European entities on the DARC list on at least 5 different bands.

– Fred (AB1OC)

 

HF Mobile – Planning A U.S. County Hunter’s Tour

2015 Dayton, OH County Tour

2015 Dayton, OH County Tour

Anita (AB1QB) and I have been having a lot of fun with our Mobile HF station since we completed it several months back. We’ve been working quite a bit of DX and we make some contacts whenever we are out doing errands or taking other trips. We are planning to attend the Hamvention in Dayton, OH again this year and Anita suggested that we use the trip to activate some most wanted United States Counties along the way.

CQ US-CA Award

CQ US-CA Award

U.S. County Hunters are Amateur Radio operators seeking to work and confirm all 3,077 U.S. Counties. CQ Magazine has an awards program for U.S. County Hunters. Quite a few Amateur Radio operators work all U.S. Counties – some do this using multiple modes and several have done it multiple times. To find out more about the US-CA Award, see the excellent County Hunter Dot Com site.

The Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club (MARAC) is a support group for county hunting and mobile activities with members all over the world. This is a great organization to join if you are interested in County Hunting. MARAC provides additional awards center around County Hunting and mobile operating.

You can also view WY7LL’s video on YouTube for a nice introduction to County Hunting, MARAC and the tools that the group provides to help County Hunters.

Anita did the planning for our County Tour to Dayton, OH and back. She began by looking at looking at the County Hunter’s Web most wanted page to determine which counties lie along potential routes between are home and Dayton, OH were most needed by County Hunters. Based upon this information, she created the route shown at the beginning of this post. As you can see, we are taking different routes going to Dayton, OH and back to allow us to activate as many U.S. Counties as we can. We are also taking a few side trips off our route to activate a few of the most needed Counties near our route.

Date

States Counties
SundayMay 10 MA Middlesex, Worcester
CT Windham, Tolland, Hardford, Litchfield, New Haven, Fairfield
NY Putnam
NJ Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren
PA Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Lebanon, Dauphin
MondayMay 11 PA Northumberland, Montour, Union, Snyder
TuesdayMay 12 PA Cumberland, Fulton, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Indiana, Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene
WV Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler
OH Monroe, Washington
WednesdayMay 13 OH Athens, Meiga, Gallia, Lawrence, Scioto, Pike, Ross, Greene, Montgomery
SundayMay 17 OH Clark, Madison, Union, Delaware, Morrow, Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Medina, Summit, Cuyahoga, Lake, Ashtabula
PA Erie
NY Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Wayne, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaiga
MondayMay 18 NY Oswego, Madison, Oneida, Herkimer, Montgomery, Fulton, Schenectady, Albany, Columbia
MA Berkshire, Springfield, Hampshire, Worcester, Middlesex

Planned U.S. County Activation Schedule

The table above shows the 86 U.S. Counties that we plan to activate on our trip along with a rough idea of our schedule.

County Finder App

County Finder App

We found a useful iPhone App (County Finder) that will tell us what County we are in at a given time. The County Finder App uses the GPS in our iPhones to provide our current location in real-time.

Ham Clock Grid Square App

HamClock Grid Square App

We will also be tracking and logging the current grid square that we are operating from. We will be using the HamClock App on our iPhones to determine our grid square of operation in real-time.

Mobile Logging

Mobile Logging

Anita and I will be taking turns operating and logging. We are planning to use a laptop computer running the DXLab Suite and we will connect it directly to the IC-7000 Radio in our truck. This combination plus the County Finder and HamClock Apps above should allow us to accurately log all of our contacts. We will also be uploading contracts that we make to eQSL, LoTW and ClubLog in real-time as we operate.

OpenAPRS App

OpenAPRS App

We will also be running an APRS station so that folks can see where we are located in real-time and follow our progress. We are using the OpenAPRS iPhone App for this purpose. Our APRS callsign with be AB1QB-15 and you can see our position and progress on aprs.fi at any time by clicking here.

N1FD Special Event QSL Card

N1FD – Nashua Area Radio Club QSL

Anita and I are members of the Nashua Area Radio Club and we will be operating using the Club’s call sign, N1FD/M, during the trip. In addition to the electronic QSL’ing methods mentioned above, we will also be able to provide paper QSL’s using the Club’s QSL card shown above. All paper QSLs that we send will note the correct County and Grid Square from which the QSL’ed contact was made. See N1FD on QRZ.com for QSL information.

Band County Hunters Net Frequency (SSB)
20m 14.336 & 14.271 MHz
40m 7.188 MHz
80m 3.901 MHz
17m 18.136 MHz
15m 21.336 MHz
12m 24.936 MHz
10m 28.336 MHz

County Hunters Net Frequencies

We plan to operate on or near the County Hunters Net Frequencies listed above. We will be QRV SSB on all of these bands and we may also do a limited amount of operating on 160m SSB as well.

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Our Mobile HF Station

We hope that you will take some time to work us during our trip. If you do and you read our Blog, please let us know. If we do not have other stations calling, we’d like to take a little time to say “hello” and get to know some of our readers better. We will also be attending the County Hunter’s Forum on Friday, May 15th at this year’s Dayton Hamvention. If you are there, please introduce yourself and we’ll have an “eyeball QSO”.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2015 DX’ing – One Of The Best Years Ever So Far

March 2015 DXpeditions

March 2015 Featured DXpeditions

2015 has been quite a year for working new DXCC’s for us so far. This month is the most productive that I have experienced with more than 20 interesting DXpeditions on. We’ve been fortunate to have the chance to work the DXpedition on Navassa Island (#2 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) which took place in February of this year. In addition those show above, there are also quite a few small operations including E51UFF on North Cook Island and VP8DOZ on South Georgia Island (#9 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) being on. Also, Eritrea, E30FB which is operating right now is #20 on ClubLog’s most wanted list. All of this makes for a great opportunity to work all-time new ones as well as to add new DXCC Band-Points.

Anita, AB1QB has worked 13 all-time new DXCC’s and I’ve worked 5 all time new DXCC’s since the beginning of 2015. Anita has broken the 250 DXCC barrier and I’m just 2 away from breaking 300. There have also been quite a few new IOTA’s for us. Anita has added 11 IOTA’s this year and I’ve added 14. We also added more than 85 DXCC Band-Points each towards our DXCC Challenge Award totals. I have set a goal to work at least one new DXCC Challenge Band-Point each day in 2015 in hopes of getting to the 2,000 DXCC Band-Point level before the end of the year (I am currently at 1,785 worked).

Shack Board

Shack Board – Upcoming Operations and Contests

We use a number of different sources to find out about these operations. Our favorite ones are The Weekly DX, the DX-World.net (the source of the graphic above) and DX Publishing’s QRZ DX. These are all excellent sources for finding out about upcoming DXpeditions, small DX operations and IOTA activations. Working DX contests such as CQ WW DX, the ARRL DX Contests and CQ WW WPX are also excellent ways to work new DXCC’s and new Band-Points. We have a whiteboard in our shack where we record upcoming operations that we need as well as contests that we want to participate in. This helps us keep track of what is coming up that we need.

DXLab SpotCollector

DXLab SpotCollector

We also use the SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite to help us identify new DXCC’s, Band-Points, IOTA’s and WAZ Band-Zones that we need in real-time when they come on. We have also used SpotCollector to alert us when stations that we need for the Yearly CQ DX Marathon are on the air.

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

We have configured SpotCollector (the spotting component of DXLab) to aggregate spots from a variety of sources. Our logs are kept in DXLab and we program the SpotCollector to filter all of the incoming cluster spots and CW/RTTY Skimmer data to tell us about high-priority stations that we want to work when they are on the air. The key to this approach is careful filtering of incoming cluster and skimmer spots to only display and forward the most important opportunities.

Award Setup in DXKeeper

Award Setup in DXKeeper

The first step in the filtering is to configure DXLab’s DXKeeper component for the types of contacts that we are interested in. This is done in the Award configuration section of DXKeeper.

SpotCollector SQL Filter

SpotCollector SQL Filter

We then use the powerful SQL script capability of SpotCollector to only tell us about stations that we are willing to “head for the shack to work”. SpotCollector is configured to send the appropriate spots as text messages via email to our mobile phones so that we know immediately when something that we need comes on. The filter above selects all-time new DXCCs, new DXCC Band-Points, new IOTA’s and new WAZ Band-Zones which are spotted in the Eastern or Central United States. The filter also picks up new Band-States for the ARRL Worked All States Award.

We hope our readers who are interested in working DX and IOTA’s will be able to find some time to work so of the operations that are on the air right now. This time period is certainly one that has a lot of potential to put “new ones” in the log. If you use the DXLab Suite, you might try some to use some of the more advanced features of SpotCollector to help you to better find stations that you want to work when they are on.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2014 Amateur Radio Highlights

2014 Readers Around The World

2014 Readers Around The World

It is once again time for our annual 2014 Year in Review post. First, I’d like to thank our readers for their continued interest in our Blog. Our blog was viewed about 100,00 times in 2014 from 165 countries around  the world. You, our readers have made 2014 our busiest year yet and this provides Anita (AB1QB) and me with great encouragement to continue to provide content for our readers.

2014 was a very busy year in Amateur Radio for us. Our activities included a continued focus on station building, contesting, WRTC 2014, special events, providing presentations to help other in the hobby learn about new things, attending several HAM Events, progress on operating awards, and most importantly – time spent on the air operating.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

We upgraded our fixed station to include a microHAM Station Automation system this year. This was a major project that added some nice SO2R capabilities to our Multi-one station as well as automated the sharing of our antennas between our two SO2R Operating positions. More of this project can be found here:

Eggbeater Antennas And Preamps SystemsOn Tower

Eggbeater LEO Satellite Antennas And Preamps Systems On Tower

We also added LEO Satellite capabilities to our station with the addition of some new antennas and electronics on our tower. This allowed us to make our first contacts through LEO birds with linear transponders. Our articles on this project include:

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Our Mobile HF Station – Screwdriver Antenna

Our final major station building project was the construction of a state of the art mobile HF station in our Ford F-150 pickup truck. We did this project in phases starting with a simple setup using a 100W radio and HAM Stick antennas through the installation of a Screwdriver Antenna System for the 160m – 10m HF bands and concluding with the installation of an amplifier to enable high power mobile HF operation. You can view the articles on this project here:

AB1OC Operating In CQ WPX SSB

AB1OC Operating In the 2014 CQ WPX SSB

Anita (AB1QB) and I continued to be active in several contests this year. We both continued to develop our skills as contesters and our scores and place in the rankings reflected this. You can read more about our contesting activities and what we learned in the following articles:

Hollis Site Support Team And Referee

WRTC 2014 Hollis Site Competitors, Support Team And Referee

We were also fortunate to host one of the WRTC 2014 competition sites. Along with our friend Scott Anderson, NE1RD, Anita and I acted as site managers for the only WRTC 2014 Competition Site in New Hampshire. You can read more about our WRTC 2014 experiences here.

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

Special event operations were a particularly fun part of our on air activities in 2014. We operated as K2K, New Hampshire in the 13 Colonies Special Event, W1AW/1 as part of the ARRL Centennial QSO Party, and as N1FD Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Nashua Area Radio Club. It’s great fun to operate in these events and the experience running the pileups that result continued to help Anita and me to develop our operating and contesting skills.

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

We make it a priority to develop a significant amount of our Amateur Radio time to helping others in the hobby learn new things. In addition to writing this Blog, Anita and I try to create and deliver several presentations each year on a variety of topics of interest to the Amateur Radio Community. Our presentation this year included an update of our presentation on Amateur Radio Station Design and Construction and an Introductory Presentation on the DXLab Software Suite. We are always interested in working with Amateur Radio Clubs to deliver the presentation either in person where practice or over the web.

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (TBD)

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (K9EID)

We had the fortune to meet some of the legends in Amateur Radio this past year. Anita and I had the opportunity to get meet Bob Heil, K9EID and to appear on his Ham Nation podcast. Bob is an amazing gentlemen and we feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know him. We also had the opportunity to meet Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ, the President and Founder of QRZ.com. Fred visited our station and did an article about our station on QRZ.com. Anita and I both learned a great deal about HAM Radio and how it came to be what it is today as a result of the time these fine folks spent with us.

Joe Taylor's WSJT Presentation

Joe Taylor’s WSJT Presentation At the ARRL Centennial Convention

Amateur Radio Conventions and HAM Fests were a major part of our Amateur Radio fun again this year. We were fortunate to attend and speak at the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford, CT USA this year – truly a once in a lifetime Amateur Radio experience. We also attended the Dayton Hamvention in 2014 where we had a chance to see all of the latest and greatest in Amateur Radio Equipment.

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

We were quite active on the air making almost 26,000 contacts between the two of us. As you can see from the graphic above, about 45% of our contacts were as part of Special Event Operations. We also made a little over 500 contacts from our mobile station, working over 100 DXCC entities in 2014 from the mobile.

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

 We were active on all of the HF bands this year. We made our first contacts on the 60m band and I was able to focus on the 6m band and earn a VUCC Operating Award (100 grid squares worked and confirmed) on that band. Anita and I also made our first DX contacts to Europe on 6m in 2014. Anita took quite an interest in the 160m band and she is working on a Worked All States Operating Award on this band. Our operating time using weak signal and satellite modes on the 2m and 70cm bands was limited to a few contacts this year. I did make my first contacts through LEO Satellites in 2014.

We

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

We mostly operated in the SSB phone mode in 2014. Anita and I both continue to work on our CW skills and we managed a little over 800 QSOs using CW in 2014. Anita was very active in the RTTY mode as part of her RTTY contesting efforts.

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

13 Colonies K2K New Hampshire QSL!

All of this operating resulted in quite a bit of QSL activity. We sent a total of almost 4,200 QSL cards in 2014!

We again made a video showing all of our contacts around the world in 2014. As you can see from the video, we were fortunate to work quite a bit of DX in 2014.

6M VUCC Operating Award

Fred’s 6M VUCC Operating Award

All of this operating helped Anita and me to make some progress on operating awards this year. In addition to earning a 6M VUCC, I also completed a Worked All States Award on all 9 HF bands 160m-10m. I was also able to complete several nice regional operating awards (Worked All Europe TOP Plaque, Worked All VK Call Areas and Worked All Africa) as well upgrading my DXCC Challenge Award to the 1,500 Band Country level. Anita completed her JARL JCC Award (she worked 100+ Cities in Japan) as well as her Worked All States Triple Play Award (all states on SSB, CW and Digital via LoTW).

Anita and I had a lot of fun with Amateur Radio in 2014. We are looking forward to another great year of HAM Radio fun in 2015. We hope to share some of what we learn and our experiences with our readers here on our Blog.

– Fred (AB1OC)

6m VUCC And 9-Band Worked All States

6M VUCC Operating Award

6m VUCC Operating Award

The 2014 Es Season was my first chance to focus on operating on 6m. To help provide motivation, I set a goal to work and confirm enough Grid Squares on 6m to earn a VUCC Operating Award. After some time to confirm and for the ARRL to process everything, my VUCC came in the mail this past week.

6M VUCC Grids Worked And Confirmed

6m VUCC Grids Worked And Confirmed

The 6m Es Season this summer was a good one for me. I worked and confirmed over 150 Grid Squares on the Magic Band including my first contacts with the west coast of the USA and with Europe. The picture above shows my progress on 6m Grid Squares to Date (the green ones are confirmed, map via WG7J’S GridMapper website). I have also completed checking for an additional 50+ Grid Squares and should be receiving my 150 Grid endorsement for the VUCC soon. I guess I’d have to say that I’ve gotten “the bug” for the Magic Band this season.

5 Band WAS Operating Award

5-Band WAS Operating Award

The WAS award is often on of the first operating awards that HAMs in the United States pursue. It is a great award to develop some sound operating skills, prove in your HF station and make some new friends. The ARRL Centennial QSO Party with W1AW portable stations operating from each of the 50 US states provides a great opportunity to pursue WAS awards.

I’ve also been working on the contacts needed for a 5-Band Worked All States Award for some time now and I decided to focus on completing the contacts needed for this operating award last week. This probably seems like an award that should not be too difficult for a station in the United States and that is mostly true. There are two things that make this award a challenge – 1) working states that are “close-in” on the high bands like 10m and 15m, and 2) making contacts with less populated states like North and South Dakota, Montana, etc. especially on 80m.

Band Conditions (Or When Not To Operate)

Band Conditions (Or When Not To Operate)

The close in states like Vermont on 10m were some of the last ones that I needed along with a contact with North Dakota on 80m. As usual, I picked one of the worst days this year conditions-wise to complete the last few contacts. Rob, AB1NJ in Vermont helped me out with his state on 10m using JT65 and I worked W1AW/0 in North Dakota on 80m SSB to complete the last one needed for the 5B WAS.

I really enjoy operating on the WARC Bands and I often make 50 or so contacts in an evening on these bands. I have also been operating a lot on the Top Band (160m). At this point, I only need 3 more contacts (Montana on 80m, Nebraska on 30m and New York on 12m) to complete a 9-Band WAS (5B WAS plus WAS on 160m, 30m, 17m and 12m). I am planning to wait until I complete these and for all of the needed contacts to confirm to send in the paperwork for the 9B WAS.

I hope to perhaps someday make it to a 10-Band WAS, working all 50 states on 6m. At present, I’ve worked and confirmed 41 states on 6m but I know that Alaska and Hawaii will be very difficult during this solar cycle unless there is some extraordinary propagation event on 6m.

I find the pursuing operating awards provides good motivation to get on the air and work less common modes (like JT65) as well as to learn about and practice unusual operating techniques like HF Backscatter which I have used to work close in states on the high bands. Another benefit to this effort is that it has encouraged me to upgrade to Joe Taylor’s (K1JT) latest WSJT-X Software for working JT65 on the HF bands. Look for an article on WSJT-X here in the near future.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2014 Thirteen Colonies Special Event Operations

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

The 13 Colonies Special Event had another record year, completing over 108,800 contacts around the world during the 6 days of the event. This was about 25% more contacts than last year. We added the WARC bands to our operations this year which provided folks a chance to work several US states on these bands. This, no doubt, helped to increase interest in the event. The NH Operators had a good year this year completing over 9,000 contacts. I operated mostly SSB phone on 160m – 6m and made over 6,800 contacts during the 6 days of the event.

Category

QSOs % QSOs States DXCCs
SSB 7182 79% 50 71
CW 1546 18% 48 58
Digital (RTTY + PSK) 293 3% 26 36
160m 3 <1% 3 1
80m 82 1% 28 5
40m 2008 22% 46 32
30m 246 3% 34 26
20m 2936 31% 49 59
17m 1473 17% 49 53
15m 1443 17% 47 59
12m 268 3% 41 15
10m 361 4% 39 9
6m 201 2% 31 4

2014 13 Colonies QSO Statistics for the K2K NH Hampshire Stations

I thought it might be interesting for our readers to see how an operation like this breaks down in terms of bands and modes. The table above provides these stats for this year’s K2K NH operation. As you can see, the daytime band activity reflects the state of the solar cycle with most contacts being made on 20m, 17m and 15m. Operations on the 40m band are primarily during nighttime and are essential for many folks in the states close to New Hampshire to make a contact with us. SSB Phone is usually the most popular mode in this event with CW also being quite popular. It’s a little hard to grasp the diversity of the contacts that stations make during an event like this. Here are some additional stats for our operation in NH this year:

  • DXCC’s Worked – 82 (A good portion of a DXCC – not bad for a “US” event.)
  • DXCC Band Points Worked – 263 (A band point is a given DXCC on a unique band.)
  • CQ Zones Worked – 27
  • Unique Callsign Prefixes Worked – 1,061
  • Worked All 50 US States On The SSB Phone Mode
  • US Counties Worked – 1,416
  • IOTAs Worked – 60
  • 6m Grids Squares Worked – 94 (Almost a VUCC! Some DX from EU in here.)
  • Contacts Made To All 6 Continents

As you can see from this list, the event has become quite popular with folks outside the United Sates. There are quite a few DX operators that complete a sweep, working all 13 Colonies and the two Bonus Stations (WM3PEN and W3FT).

6m Opening During The 13 Colonies Special Event

6m Opening During The 13 Colonies Special Event

We had some very nice 6m Es Openings during the event. I worked a couple of these as K2K making about 200 contacts on 6m and working 94 unique grid squares – almost a VUCC on 6m! Amazingly, the conditions where good enough to generate a pileup for the duration of one of these openings. This was the first year that I have had the chance to focus on making contacts on the Magic Band and the  6m openings during the event were a nice chance to make some more contacts on 6m.

AB1QB's 13 Colonies Sweep Certificate

AB1QB’s 13 Colonies Sweep Certificate

Many operators who participate in the event do so with the goal of working all 13 Colonies and the two bonus stations for a clean sweep. Ken Villone, KU2US is the event coordinator and he provides a nice certificate each year for folks who work one or more of The Colony Stations. Anita, AB1QB completed her sweep this year and the picture above shows the nice certificate that she received for doing so. If you worked one or more of the 13 Colonies Stations, you can apply for a certificate here.

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

Many folks work the event to collect our QSL cards and for Worked All States Award Credit. This results in quite a few QSL cards being sent! The picture above shows the outgoing QSL response about 1 week after the event. This batch contained about 700 cards. The total QSL’s we will send in response to 2014 operations as K2K New Hampshire will be approximately 1,000 cards. We added ClubLog OQRS, LoTW and eQSL as alternatives to confirm contacts with the K2K New Hampshire Stations this year and many folks have used these to confirm contacts as well.

As the 2014 13 Colonies Special Event and the follow-up QSL’ing draws to a close, I have many great memories to look back on. I am already looking forward to the 2015 event. Ken has created a really great looking certificate for the 2015 event and you can see a preview here. I hope to contact many of readers as part of the 2015 13 Colonies Special Event!

Fred (AB1OC)

13 Colonies Special Event Begins Today!

2014 Thirteen Colonies Special Event Certificate

2014 Thirteen Colonies Special Event Certificate

The Thirteen Colonies Special Event begins today! The event runs from July 1st through July 6th, 2014. Anita and I will again be operating as K2K, New Hampshire as part of the event. There will be thirteen stations on the air (K2A-K2M) plus two bonus stations during the event. Working one or more will earn you an attractive certificate. If you work all 13, your certificate will indicate this (an endorsement for the bonus stations is also available). Details on how to obtain a certificate may be found here.

We have been operating as part of the Thirteen Colonies Special Event for several years now and we always have a great time doing it! I was able to make over 5,800 contacts as part of the event last year.

The Original Thirteen Colonies

The Original Thirteen Colonies

The idea of the event is to work one or more stations in each of the states that grew from the Original Thirteen Colonies. Each state has several stations on the air and we try to provide contacts in SSB Phone, CW and digital modes on the HF bands and via Satellites. We will be operating on all of the HF bands 160m-10m (except 60m) including the WARC bands this year. Some states will also have operations on 6m and above as well as providing contacts via HAM Sats. The Thirteen Colonies Special Event stations made over 80,000 QSOs last year and we are shooting to make even more this year.

Thirteen Colonies Special Event QSL Cards

Thirteen Colonies Special Event QSL Cards

In addition to the attractive event certificate, each state and the two bonus stations have attractive QSL cards available. A card can be obtained for working on of the Thirteen Colonies Special Event Stations via a direct QSL request (including SASE/postage for the return of a card). You can find more information on how to request our QSL cards here.

This event is a lot of fun and is open to all HAM operators around the world. Many stations outside the United States work all 13 Special Event Stations and the two Bonus Stations for a clean sweep! There is an excellent website that contains lots of information about the event and I’d encourage our readers to take a look at it. There is also a Yahoo! Group for the event this year which contains additional information.

We hope that our readers will spend some time next week working the event. It’s a great thing for US operators to do over the July 4th Holiday. I hope to see meet some of our readers on the air as part of the event. See you in the pileup!

– Fred (AB1OC)