Dayton 2015 HAMvention Recap

Contest University 2015 Kickoff By Tim Duffy, K3LR

Contest University 2015 Kickoff By Tim Duffy, K3LR

Anita, AB1QB and I began our 2015 Dayton HAMvention experience by spending a day at Contest University. Tim Duffy, K3LR and the Contest University team put together another great program this year.

Contest University 2015 Dayton Agenda

Contest University 2015 Dayton Agenda

Anita and I choose to attend the VHF contesting, Low-Band Antenna and Waterfall Displays sessions and they were all very interesting. It was also great to see all of our friends from Contesting Community.

Anita, AB1QB At The ARRL Exhibit

Anita, AB1QB At The ARRL Exhibit

We began our visit to the HAMvention exhibit halls at the ARRL booth. It is quite something to see the scope of the activities that The ARRL engages in to the benefit of the Amateur Radio Community.

ARRL Emergency Go Kit

ARRL Emergency Go Kit

One thing that caught our eye there was the very well put together Emergency Go Kits that the ARRL can supply in disaster relief situations.

Elecraft K3S

Elecraft K3S

Next, we visited the Elecraft booth and saw the newly announced K3S Transceiver. The K3S is a pretty major upgrade to Elecraft’s popular K3 transceiver. Most of the K3S upgrades can be retrofitted to existing K3 Transceivers. Elecraft’s approach to making significant upgrades available to update older version’s of their radios is a major selling point for them.

Elecraft KX3 And Accessories

Elecraft KX3 And Accessories

We also saw the recently added accessories for the Elecraft KX3 Transceiver – the KX3 Pan Adapter and the KPA100 100w Amplifier. These are both excellent units which we have added to our KX3 Transceiver setup. The PX3 provides a really nice band activity and waterfall display capability and the KPA100 is nicely integrated with the KX3 making the combination a 100W transceiver package. Look for more on our experiences with the PX3 and KPA100 in future posts.

Bob Heil And Gordon West - HAMNation Forum

Bob Heil And Gordon West – HAM Nation Forum

We had the opportunity to spend a little time with our friend Bob Heil, K9EID again this year. Bob and the HAM Nation crew are always fun to listen to. Bob was also part of Contest University this year where he spoke about improving contest audio.

Ward Silver, N0AX And The Spurious Emissions Band

Ward Silver, N0AX And The Spurious Emissions Band

A big part of the HAMvention fun was the various dinners and end of day events that we attended. We did the RTTY Contesting, Top Band and Contesting Dinners this year. A special treat was seeing Ward Silver, N0AX and the Spurious Emission Band perform some HAM Radio Hits!

We expanded our 2015 Dayton HAMvention experience with a County Activation Tour on the trip to and from Dayton. You can read more about that here.

The Dayton HAMvention is always a treat for us. We hope to see some of our readers there in the future.

– 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)

AB1QB Enters The 2014 JARTS RTTY Contest – Our First Use Of N1MM+

AB1QB In 2014 JARTS Contest

AB1QB In 2014 JARTS Contest

One of Anita’s (AB1QB) favorite contests in the JARTS RTTY Contest. We decided to use the new N1MM+ Logger for the first time in this contest. There are many new features and improvements in N1MM+. A summary of N1MM+’s enhancements can be found here. We opted to do a completely clean installation of N1MM+ (rather than upgrading our existing N1MM Classic installation) to avoid any issues related to an upgrade scenario and to clean up any lingering issues with the software that we use with N1MM. We did save our N1MM Classic databases from previous contests and we imported those into N1MM+ after the upgrade. This process went very smoothly and we are finding N1MM+ much less difficult to configure and use. We also did clean installations of the MMTTY and 2Tone RTTY programs that we use along with N1MM+.

N1MM+ Setup On Dual Monitors

N1MM+ Setup On Dual Monitors (click to enlarge)

Having plenty of screen space really helps with our computer assisted style of operating. Each of our two operating positions has a PC with dual monitors and we made good use of the display space to organize all of the information that N1MM+ provides. The picture above shows the N1MM+ screen layout that Anita used for the contest (the following screen shots were taken after the contest so as not to interfere with Anita’s operations in 2014 JARTS RTTY).

N1MM+ Setup - Left Monitor

N1MM+ Setup – Left Monitor (click to enlarge)

Anita’s left monitor contains the N1MM+ and related windows that Anita used most during contest operations. You can see the MMTTY and 2Tone RTTY decoder windows in the right middle of the screen in operation on a RTTY signal that we are receiving. The windows to the left of the decoders are the N1MM+ Digital Interface windows which show the received text as it is decoded. It is common to use multiple decoders in a RTTY contest to maximize the chances of a good decode in marginal or noisy band conditions. MMTTY and 2Tone are set to use different decoding algorithms and each will work better in certain conditions than the other. The windows in the upper left and lower left of the screen provide a summary of available QSOs and multipliers based upon spotting cluster data and real-time contest information and performance statistics vs. goals that Anita programmed based upon her experience with this contest from last year. The small window at the bottom/center of the screen is the Rotator Control Window which provides an interface between the rest of the N1MM+ software and our rotatable antennas which are controlled via our microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controllers. We had no problems at all getting N1MM+ to work well with our microHAM system including the SO2R and WinKey capabilities of our microHAM MK2R+ and the antenna controller capabilities of our Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controllers.

N1MM+ Main Window

N1MM+ Main Entry Window

The picture above shows N1MM+’s Main Entry Window in detail. If you are familiar with N1MM Classic, you will immediately notice that most of the capabilities that are most commonly used to operate in a contest have been consolidated in this window. You can now change bands and see overall status of available contacts from this window. The fonts (including size), colors and skins are all customizable in all N1MM+ windows including this one.

Digital Interface Window (MMTTY)

Digital Interface Window (MMTTY)

The Digital Interface Window provides a new mode (wrap-round) which does not scroll the text up when the window is full. This is a big help to avoid “moving target” issues when one is trying to click on a decoded callsign or exchange information to get it into the logger. You can also hover over a callsign in this window with the mouse and it will be automatically entered in the N1MM+ Main Entry Window and checked.

Callsign Check Window

Callsign Check Window

The Callsign Check Window provides multiple options for determining if a callsign is valid or making corrections. The decoding algorithms have been improved and possible alternative characters for unmatched letters are highlighted in color. You can also now select multiple sources for information to base callsign lookups upon – your current log, the SuperCheck Partial file, Telnet spots received over the last 48 hours, and your current Call History database.

N1MM+ Setup - Right Monitor

N1MM+ Setup – Right Monitor (click to enlarge)

The picture above shows the N1MM+ Windows on Anita’s Right Monitor. On the left is the Bandmap Window which shows callsigns that have been spotted or worked on the current band. Clicking on a callsign or your CQ frequency indicator in this window will tune your radio to that place on the band and load the appropriate callsign into N1MM+’s Main Entry Window. In the upper right is the Telnet Cluster Window which shows and filters spots as they are received from your favorite Spotting Cluster server.

Log Window

Log Window

The picture above shows a closeup of the Log Window. This window’s layout is much cleaner and easier to read in N1MM+. it’s also possible to make corrections in log entries by just clicking on the desired field in a log entry and typing in a correct value. This is a real time saver when trying to make real-time corrections during a contest.

Multipliers Worked Window

Multipliers Window

There are a number of different Multiplier Window formats and each is useful depending up the multiplier structure of a given contest. The example above shows DXCC entities by band which is the most useful format for the JARTS RTTY Contest. N1MM+ allows one to include a color coded mix of multipliers that have been worked, spotted but not yet worked, or those that you expect to be on the air based upon your logs from the same contest during previous years (or perhaps an “announced operations” list that you have received prior to the contest). This new format provides a much more useful view of the operator’s progress on multipliers during a contest.

Grey Line Map

Grey Line Map

N1MM+ also provides a useful Grey Line Map Window which shows the current Grey Line location as well as recent spots. You can determine the callsign for a given spot “dot” by hovering over it with your mouse. A nice enhancement here would be to support click on this map to turn your rotatable antennas to that direction to enable working a group of spotted stations. It would also be nice if a line showing the current antenna direction could be displayed on this map.

Contest Statics

Contest Statics

There are also some nice enhancements in the Contest Statics reporting capabilities including a color coded graphical format. The format of the graph can be customized using a set of drop down boxes.

Score Summary Window

Score Summary Window

All of the enhancements in N1MM+ add up to a big improvement in usability of this popular contest logger. Shown above is Anita’s final claimed score for the 2014 JARTS RTTY Contest. Her score this year was about 200% higher than last year and no doubt the improved N1MM+ logger (along with Anita’s increasing experience as a contest operator) get some of the credit. Anita is using N1MM+ as part of the 2014 CQ WW SSB DX Contest this weekend. Look for an article here in the near future on Anita’s experiences with N1MM+ in that contest.

What’s your favorite Contest Logging Software? To help us understand our readers interests better, please complete the poll above.

– Fred (AB1OC)

AB1OC’s 2014 CQ WPX SSB Contest Results – Another Station Goal Met

2014 CQ WPX SSB Results

2014 CQ WPX SSB Results

The CQ World Wide WPX Contest is one of my favorites and 2014 was another improvement year for me. This was the first year where I was no longer in the “Rookie” (<3 years licensed) category. I received a nice surprise in my email today – a certificate with a first place finish in Area 1 in the USA, fifth place overall in North America and #20 in the World in the Single Op High Power All Bands category in this contest. This realizes another of our basic station design goals – “to finish in the top 20 in some major contests”.

Contest QSO Summary

Contest QSO Summary (from the Athena Tool)

There are several things that worked together to help me improve my score in this contest over the 2013 total of 1,883,448 points. First, thanks to work on operating technique, my accuracy improved considerably to a respectable overall error rate of 2.8% (this is more than a 2X improvement over 2013). Secondly, our work on station automation plus better receiving equipment for the low bands worked together to provide a nice improvement in my results on the 80m band. Band conditions were also very good during this contest which helped to improve my run rates and multiplier counts. I’ve also been working hard to improve my SSB phone operating technique through participation in other contests and on-air events like The 13 Colonies Special Event. I operated for most of the allowed contest period but could have put in a few more hours of “butt-in-chair” and perhaps moved up a spot or two in North America (the difference in the final scores between places #3 and #5 in North America was only 854,958 points).

All this said, I am very happy with my results in this contest and my progress as a SSB contester in general. Anita (AB1QB) and I are continuing to work on both our skills as contest operators and our station and I hope we can continue to improve quickly.

– Fred (AB1OC)

World Radiosport Team Championship 2014 Experiences

Hollis Site Support Team And Referee

Hollis Site Competitors, Referee And Support Team

Anita (AB1QB), Scott (NE1RD) and I had the opportunity to serve as site managers for the WRTC 2014 competition site in Hollis, NH. Our site was one of 65 sites in New England USA (and the only on in the state of New Hampshire). This gave us a chance to be part of the WRTC 2014 event and to meet some of the competitors, referees and the event organizers. WRTC has been called the “Olympics of Amateur Radio” because it brings together the very best Amateur Radio Contesters in the world to see who is the “best of the best”. Here’s a summary of what WRTC is all about from the WRTC 2014 Website:

“The World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) is held every four years and consists of 50+ two-person teams of amateur radio operators from around the world competing in a test of operating skill.  Unlike most on-the-air competitions, all stations are required to use identical antennas from the same geographic region, eliminating all variables except operating ability.”

Each competitor must qualify based upon results in selected contests over a period of 3 years. There were a total of 63 teams which participated in the event. It is a tremendous achievement just to qualify for WRTC. Each qualifying competitor selects a second person to make up their team. The competitors at our site were Julio Henriquez, AD4Z and Dan Thompson, W4UH. Our referee was Alex Orlov, RW4WR from Russia. We really enjoyed getting to know Julio, Dan and Alex. The stories that they shared and the information and tips they gave us a relatively inexperienced contesters will stick with us forever.

 

WRTC 2014 Competition Sites

WRTC 2014 Competition Sites

The WRTC 2014 competition was held on July 12-13, 2014 as part of the IARU HF World Championship contest. A great deal of effort was put into selecting and building 65 competition sites for WRTC to ensure that they were as equal in terms of propagation, antennas and configuration as possible. WRTC provided all of the antennas/feedlines, generator power and a tent for each site and each team of competitors supplied their own radios and supporting station equipment.

WRTC Station Kit In Transit

WRTC Station Kit In Transit

Preparations for WRTC 2014 have been in progress for several years now including planning sessions, station and site tests, team formation and training. All in all, the event is a tremendous planning and logistical effort. Doug Grant, K1DG was the leader and chief evangelist for WRTC 2014. Doug and his team did a tremendous job in making WRTC 2014 happen.

Our part of the WRTC experience began with the pickup of the station kit for the Hollis, NH site on the Wednesday before the event. The station kit consists of a 40 ft Rohn 25G tower, beam/wire antennas, feedlines, generator, tent and miscellaneous equipment.

TX38 Tri-Band Beam Assembly

TX38 Tri-Band Beam Assembly

Ed, K2TE and our “beam team” were at the Hollis, NH site bright and early on Thursday morning to put up the tower and antennas. The heart of the WRTC 2014 antenna system is the TX38 Tri-Band Beam which was designed for WRTC 2014.

TX38 Yagi Installation On Tower

TX38 Yagi Installation On Tower

Here’s a picture of the assembled beam and tower ready to be pulled up and into place at our site.

Tower Going Up!

Tower Going Up!

The picture above shows the tower going up. The Falling Derrick System that was developed for WRTC is quite ingenious and it raises the 40 ft tower and beam antenna with very little effort. Each beam team was specially trained in the use of this system to ensure safe setup and takedown of the tower and antennas at each site.

WRTC Site In Hollis, NH USA

WRTC 2014 Site In Hollis, NH USA

While Ed and the team took care of the tower and antennas, Scott, Anita and I setup the tent, generator, feedlines and “crew tent” at our site. The picture above shows the completed site ready for our competitors.

WRTC Station Radios And Equipment

WRTC Station Radios And Equipment

Julio, Dan and Alex arrived at our site after the site drawing at WRTC headquarters on Friday and proceeded to setup and test their station. As you can see, they brought quite a sophisticated setup! They used Ten-Tec Orion II radios, a microHAM band decoder and antenna switching system and PCs running the N1MM Logger to create a modern, state of the art multi-two contesting station at our site. WRTC competitors used a variety of different radios to compete in the event. You can find a summary of the radios and software used by the competitors here. The Elecraft K3 was the most popular transceiver and a combination of the Wintest and N1MM loggers were used most of the competitors.

WRTC Monitoring System

WRTC Monitoring System

The WRTC 2014 organizers did some custom design work to facilitate the event. Shown above is the WRTC monitoring system. This system is used by the referee to monitor the power levels of each operator’s radio to ensure that the 100W WRTC power limit is not exceeded. The referees can also monitor the audio from each operator simultaneously and a recording of these audio streams for the entire contest period is also made. All of this is done in the interest of ensuring a fair contest and for judging purposes as needed when the event is complete. A device also monitors the logging streams from the competitors computers to create a live, real-time scoreboard on the web. The scoreboard uses an innovative data collection method developed by Dave Pascoe, KM3T and Bob Raymond, WA1Z to “sniff” the logging information being exchanged by the competitors computers. The data extracted in this way is fed via cellphone data connections to the WRTC headquarters to update the teams scores on the web in real-time during the contest.

The Big Moment - Our Station's Callsign

The Big Moment – Our Station’s Callsign

On Saturday, just before the competition began, Alex our referee opened the sealed envelope which contained our site’s callsign which was W1T. As with all things about the event, the callsigns were not disclosed to the operators until just before the contest began to ensure that none of the operators specific callsigns were known to others.

Julio (AD4Z) Operating

Julio (AD4Z) Operating

Once the contest began, our team was all business. Julio is shown above operating CW. He is an amazing operator and can easily operate at 40+ WPM speeds!

Our site was one of the public access sites for the event and we had quite a few visitors from the press and local HAMs who were interested in seeing what WRTC 2014 was about. The event also received quite a bit of media coverage, some of which can be viewed here.

2014 WRTC Medal Winners

2014 WRTC Medal Winners

An award ceremony was held at WRTC HQ the following Monday to announce and recognize the winners:

Medal winners

Gold K1A 7,184,844 points

Daniel Craig, N6MJ – United States
Chris Hurlbut, KL9A – United States

Silver W1L 6,816,144 points

Rastislav Hrnko, OM3BH – Slovakia
Jozef Lang, OM3GI – Slovakia

Bronze W1P 6,421,383 points

Manfred Wolf DJ5MW – Germany
Stefan von Baltz DL1IAO – Germany

Award winners

Highest SSB (with >35% QSOs on CW)

K1M (IK1HJS/I4UFH) SSB – 2063 CW – 1233

Highest CW (with >35% QSOs on SSB)

N1S (LX2A/YO3JR) CW – 2391 SSB – 1302

Highest Multiplier

K1A (N6MJ/KL9A) 436

Best Accuracy

W1P (DJ5MW/DL1IAO) 1.0% error rate

The final results were very close with only 118,425 points separating the 3rd through 5th place teams. To give you an idea of how close this really was – only 6/10 of a multiplier or about one minute of operating time separated the 3rd and 4th place teams! Some of the operators achieved peak rates of over 300 contacts per hour. This is very impressive considering that Field Day style stations with 100W output were used by the competitors.

WRTC Tower And Antennas At Sunset

WRTC Tower And Antennas At Sunset

Our  WRTC 2014 experience was a very memorable one. It was a great combination of amazing people, the best contesters in the world, great application of Amateur Radio technology and some of the best logistics and organization of a large event we’ve ever seen. Truly an Amateur Radio experience of a lifetime!

– Fred (AB1OC)

2014 Es Season On The Magic Band – A Journey Towards A 6m VUCC

6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMaps

6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMAPS

I decided to become active on the 6m band this year. This 6m Sporadic E (Es) season was in full swing about a month ago when I got active on 6m. The picture above is from the DXMAPS website and shows one of the daily openings that we’ve experienced on 6m here in the US during the last month. The DXMAPS website is a good tool for monitoring for VHF/UHF band openings (10m and higher). The site collects and plots cluster spots and propagation mode information on a world map in real-time. This includes spots from CW Skimmers which monitor beacons on the VHF and UHF bands. This allows one to determine when a VHF/UHF band is open and the directions for possible QSOs from one’s location. As you can see from the picture above, there was a solid 6m opening on this particular day from my QTH in New England to the Midwest, the Southeast and the Caribbean! You can also see the beginnings of an opening into Europe.

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLabs SpotCollector)

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLab SpotCollector)

The graphic above shows spotting cluster data (we use the DXLab Suite at our station). You can see the details of the stations being spotted during the opening.

The 6m band is often called the “magic band” because it exhibits many different propagation modes including Sporadic E (Es), Tropo, Aurora, Iconoscatter, Meteor Scatter and even Earth-Moon-Earth (EME or “Moon Bounce”). You can find a good introduction to the magic band, its propagation possibilities and some ideas on how to get started on 6m on these sites:

I would also recommend Six Meters: A Guide to the Magic Band by Ken Neubeck, WB2AMU. While the equipment information in this book is somewhat dated and it can be a little had to find, it contains excellent information on propagation modes and operating on 6m.

Many of the 6m propagation modes can be very short-lived so one must be prepared to make short contacts at the start of a QSO. The typical 6m exchange would include callsigns, signal reports and grid square (more on grid square below). The 6m band is typically very quiet and will easily support QSOs that do not move one’s S Meter even with the rig’s preamps on!

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

We planned for 6m operation when we built our station a couple of years ago. Our primary antennas for 6m are our SteppIR DB36 yagis at 105′ and 65′. These antennas are used separately on the 6m band (we can run them as a 4 over 4 array on 10m – 40m).

SteppIR DB36 With 6m Kit

SteppIR DB36 With The 6m Kit Installed Below Our 2m and 432 MHz Yagis

Out SteppIR DB36 Yagi’s feature a 36 foot boom and have a 6m Passive element Kit installed which provide two additional elements on the 6m band. The resulting gain and front/back performance are in the range of  typical 5 element 6m mono band antennas. Having two independently directional antennas for 6m has turns out to be quite useful in contests and when monitoring for 6m openings. These antennas have 6 elements on 6m and are pretty directional. Typical operating setups at our QTH would have one antenna pointed to the West or toward Europe while the other is pointed south to monitor for openings to the Southeast and the Caribbean. In these configurations, we can instantly switch between two directions using our microHAM Antenna Control System.

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

Both of our two operating positions are 6m capable. They both feature Transceivers with good receivers (a Yaesu FTdx5000 and an Icom IC-7800) and both have PW-1 Amplifiers which provide 1KW output on the 6m band.

QSOs By Band

QSOs By Band As Of Early 2014

Before the 2014 Spring Es Season, we had only done limited operating on the 6m band. I did participate in the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest and operated on a combination of the 6m, 2m and 70cm bands during that contest. I also did some 6m operating as part of the 13 Colonies Special Event in 2013. In total, I had made about 200 QSOs on 6m and had worked 10 grid squares by the beginning of the 2014. Most of these 6m contacts were with stations in the US with a few to the Caribbean. My longest DX up to that point in time were a few contacts 6m stations in the Canary Islands on the northwest coast of Africa.

JT65 QSO On 6m

JT65 QSO using WSJT-X and JTAlert On 6m

At the start of the 2014 Spring Es Season, I decided to get serious about earning an ARRL VUCC Award on 6m. This award requires one to work and confirm 100 grid squares on the 6m band (it’s also available for 2m and higher bands). I began by studying 6m propagation modes and monitoring the calling frequencies on the 6m band. We work a combination of modes on 6m include SSB Phone, CW, and digital (using JT65). The CW and JT65 modes are very useful on the 6m band when the propagation conditions are marginal. We recently upgraded to Joe Taylor’s WSJT-X software which supports both the JT65 and JT9 weak signal modes. This WSJT-X software coupled with JTAlert software from HAMApps integrated the JT65 and JT9 modes very well with the DXLab suite that we use for logging and other DX’ing work at our station.

There were some exciting times on the air during the early part of the Es Season this year. Two that stand out were my first double hop Es contacts with hams in California and several openings to the Midwest and the Southeast where the band went from dead to very active in a period of 5-10 minutes! This is typical for the 6m band but it’s quite an experience to go from calling CQ with no answers to being in the middle of an almost instant small pileup!

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

I also decided to operate in the 2014 ARRL June VHF Contest again this year. I decided to operate in the Single Operator, High-power Category on 6m only. I was able to make a little over 300 6m contacts in this contest and managed a score that was significantly better that my 3 band effort in this contest last year. My QSOs were primarily SSB phone mode but I also managed a number of contacts in CW mode and a few digital QSOs using JT65.

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest (N1MM Logger)

As you can see from the screenshot from the N1MM logger that I used for the contest, I was able to work quite a few grid squares. We had a very nice opening to the Southeast and Florida during the contest period and this resulted in lots of new 6m contacts and even some small pileups at times!

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

By the end of the contest, my total grids worked was up to 98 and this put me very close to my goal of earning a VUCC on 6m. At this point I was hooked on 6m!

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

A couple of days after the contest ended, I took a look at the DXMAPS website and saw that a good 6m opening was occurring to Europe. I got on the air and was able to make my first ever contacts into Europe on 6m. The opening was a “spotlight” one (covering a limited area) that involved double hop Es propagation in Spain, Portugal, France and Morocco. Over the period of about an hour and a half, I made some 30 contacts into these countries. A very exciting time on the air and one that I will not soon forget!

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

With the opening to Europe and some continued operation on 6m I am currently at 122 Grid Squares worked (with 91 confirmed so far. My 6m QSO count stands at 755 with 112 new grid squares and approximately 550 QSOs made in the last 30 days.

The website used to plot the grid squares worked and confirm in the previous pictures is WG7J’s GridMapper site. Its a really nice tool to visualize the grid square one has worked or still needs to work.

At this point, I am totally hooked on the 6m band! While a yagi antenna with 5 or more elements helps a lot on 6m, I have found that it does not take a big station to have fun on the band when it’s open. I have worked many station in the US who were using wire antennas and verticals with 100w or less. See the following youTube video for an example of a simple 6m setup. Another good 6m intro video can be found here. If you have not given 6m a try, I encourage our readers to take a look at the band. It is really quite a lot of fun.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Contest Results for Anita (AB1QB) and Fred (AB1OC)

Anita’s Best Contest Result To Date – 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest

Anita’s Best Contest Result To Date – 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest

Anita (AB1QB) and I really enjoy working contests to build our skills as operators. Anita has steadily improved her RTTY contesting skills over the last 18 months as is getting to a point where she is quite competitive. He best finish to date was a 5th place finish in the world in the 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest in the Single Operator All Band Category. BARTG RTTY is a pretty major worldwide RTTY contest and her 5th place finish is a great accomplishment given her limited experience (Anita is licensed for just about 3 years). You can read more about Anita’s experiences in this contest here.

AB1QB 2013 ARRL RTTY  Roundup Certificate

Anita’s (AB1QB) First Place NH Finish – 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup

Anita’s first serious contest attempt was the ARRL RTTY Roundup in January 2013.    She placed 1st in the New Hampshire section in the single operator high power category.

Anita’s (AB1QB)’s First Place NH Finish - 2013 (RTTY) North American QSO Party

Anita’s (AB1QB) First Place NH Finish – 2013 (RTTY) North American QSO Party

Anita also finished first in our state during the 2013 NCJ North American RTTY QSO Party. Anita is a regular participant in RTTY contests and she at the point where she is entering some RTTY contests for the second or third time. Her goal is to improve here score in each successive attempt a RTTY contest that she has competed in the past. She is also getting better at contest strategy particularly in the area of band/time planning.

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish in NH – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish In The NH Section – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

I received a very nice surprise in the mail recently – a certificate for my very first VHF contest effort (the ARRL 2013 June VHF Contest) last year. Since this was my first VHF contest, I operated only in SSB phone mode with the goal of learning what VHF contesting was about and testing the VHF side of our station for the very first time in a contest. I operated in the Single operator High Power Category on a combination of the 6m, 2m and 70cm bands. It was a very nice surprise to receive a 1st place certificate for NH for this contest!

I am planning to enter this contest again this year (2014) in the 6m single-band, high-power category. I am working on completing my first ARRL VUCC Award on 6m and I am hoping that the contest will help me toward this goal.

Contesting is a great way to improve your skills, work DX, make progress towards operating awards, and just plain have fun. I’d encourage our readers to give contesting a try. You do not need a “big” station or a lot of power to have fun in contests. There are many articles on contesting and contest station design here on our blog. A read through of some of these should help you to get started in contesting if you’re interested.

– Fred (AB1OC)