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)

Station Automation Part 3 – Antenna Cutover And Final Integration

AB1QB Operating Position

AB1QB Operating Position

The final article in our microHAM installation series will be about the cut-over, configuration and integration testing of our station. The first step in the process was to bring the second radio in Anita’s (AB1QB) position into the microHAM system. We also added a PR 781 microphone and boom from Heil Sound to her setup at the same time.

AB1QB Position Design

AB1QB Position Design

Anita’s second radio is an Icom IC-7600 and it’s integration into the system went very smoothly. We also integrated the control of our Power Amplifiers (a combination of Icom PW-1s and an Elecraft KPA500) into the microHAM system. As you can see from the diagram above, the amplifiers are dedicated to specific radios and can be controlled directly by each radio’s Station Master Deluxe (SMD). We used microHAM supplied amplifier control cables for the PW-1s and I built a custom control cable for the Elecraft KPA500 (this was not difficult – both microHAM and Elecraft provide good documentation for the interfaces involved).

Bandpass Filter Control

Bandpass Filter Control

I also built custom cables to allow our SMDs to control and automate the switching of our Bandpass Filter Units from Array Solutions.

Bandpass Filter Configuration

Bandpass Filter Configuration

With the cabling done, I next configured the SMDs to correctly set the control leads to switch the Amplifier and Bandpass filter bands based on the Transmit (Tx) frequency of the associated transceiver. The picture above shows the configuration for the bandpass filters. The configuration for the amplifiers is similar.

Control Box Configuration

Control Box Configuration

The next step in the process was to add some additional microHAM Control Boxes to the uLink bus and configure their addresses. The picture above shows the control interfaces in our system including the four SMDs. The addressing convention that we use in our station has 40-series control boxes which control our 4×10 antenna switching matrix, 50-series control boxes which control our Tx antennas and 60-series control boxes which control our Receive (Rx) antennas and associated equipment. The picture above also illustrates some of the Units that we’ve defined on our Control Boxes to create interfaces to amplifiers, filters, antenna switching and other controls.

Palstar Dummy Load

Palstar Dummy Load

The first step in the cut over of our antennas was to connect the antennas and devices which did not require complex control. This included our OCF Dipole and our Palstar High-Power Dummy Load. As each antenna was connected, the associated path was configured in the system and tested to ensure that everything worked as expected.

Dummy Load Mod

Dummy Load Modification

I made a simple modification to the Dummy Load to allow its lamp to be switched on when one of the radios in the shack selects it. This involved adding a couple of binding posts to the device and running the lamp bulb circuit though the binding posts. The posts are connected to a RELAY6 control box and the microHAM system is configured to close the associated relay whenever a radio selects the Dummy Load. This makes it easy to see that the Dummy Load is selected and extends the life of the bulb.

Transmit Antenna Controls

Transmit Antenna Controls

The next step in the cut over process was to move all of our transmit antennas and rotators to the system one at a time and test them. This required the construction and testing of some RS-232 serial cables to connect our three SteppIR Antennas and our Green Heron RT-21D Rotator Controllers to their associated DATA Control Boxes (top row in the picture above).

SteppIR DB36 Control

SteppIR DB36 Control

The picture above shows the configuration for one of our SteppIR Antennas – The Upper DB36 Yagi. This particular configuration step involved assigning the antenna to a DATA Control Box as well as telling the system the type of control protocol to use to control the antenna. The microHAM system “knows” about a wide array of serial and other controllable devices and implements the necessary protocols.

Receive Array Control And Sequencer

Receive Array Control And Sequencer

The integration of our 8-Circle Low-Band Receive Array involved some special steps at both the Hardware and Configuration levels. The connections on the RELAY10 control box shown above are used to “steer” the Rx array and to enable or disable the associated shared Low-Noise pre-Amplifiers (LNAs). To protect this antenna from damage from nearby transmit antennas, power to the array must be removed a few milliseconds before transmit begins. This is normally done by a sequencer in a single radio station. Our station can have up to four different radios transmitting on any one of several different antennas on the low bands. To solve this problem, I used a RELAY6 control box to create a multi-radio sequencer. Each antenna that can transmit on the 160m – 60m bands has one of the relays on the RELAY6 shown above associated with it.

80m Delta Loop Sequencer

80m Delta Loop Sequencer

These relays are controlled via an optional SEQ control unit that is configured for each of associated antennas. All of these relays are wired in series with the power lead for the 8-Circle Receive Array. Whenever any radio transmits on any band from 160m – 60m on one of the low-band Tx antennas, the associated relay is first opened (with appropriate delay) before Tx is enabled. This approach implements a multi-radio low-band sequencer across the four radios in our station. The control logic also powers down the array when it is not in use by any radio.

Virtual Rotator For 8-Circle Receive Array

Virtual Rotator For 8-Circle Receive Array

The other “special” step involved in the integration of our 8-Circle Receive Array was the implementation of a “virtual rotator” for it. This involves creating a table in the system configuration which maps all possible headings to one of the eight available direction settings for this antenna. Once this is configured, the antenna behaves as if it had a conventional rotator associated with it. When its selected, loggers like the DXLab Suite and N1MM can automatically steer the antenna to the best possible direction selection to work a given station. The front panel rotator controls on the SMDs can also be used to turn the antenna just as if it had a “real” rotator.

Available Antenna Paths

Available Antenna Paths

With all of the antennas and other RF devices properly configured and interconnected in the configuration, the microHAM router software generates a list of available antennas paths as shown above. The software automatically determines the path and associated control resource needed to connect a given antenna to a given radio. Note that some of our antennas have multiple paths by which they can be reached. The software detects this and allows the alternative paths to be selected or, if configured as is the case with our 8-Circle Receive Array, be used by multiple radios at the same time. This table represents all of the antenna selections that are possible in our system.

Antenna Selection Configuration

Antenna Selection Configuration

The final step in the configuration process is to determine which antennas may be used by which radios on a each of the available bands. The microHAM router software initially populates this table with all of the possible choices based upon the “available antennas”. I edited the automatically generated configuration to remove a few choices which were not needed and to reorder the lists for each band so that the displays on the SMD would be the most logical for us to use. With these steps done, our configuration was complete.

Yagi Stack Control

Yagi Stack Control

The system is quite easy to use and provides easy to read and useful displays. The picture above shows the selection of our Stack of two SteppIR DB36 yagis on one of radios. That radio (an Icom IC-7800) is currently on the 20m band tuned to 14.267 MHz for both transmit and receive. The two white squares show that both yagis are currently included in the stack. Options exist to use either antenna independently and to use them either in or out of phase in the stack. Both SteppIR DB36 antennas are pointed to 45 degrees (we can turn them independently) as can be determined from the numbers next to the white blocks and the direction of the arrow next to them. The row of buttons numbers 1 – 7 show the available antenna selections for this radio on the 20m band.

80m Split Tx/Rx Antenna Selection

80m Split Tx/Rx Antenna Selection

The picture above shows the SMD display for the same radio when tuned to 3.658 MHz on the 80m band. Note that the available antenna selections have changed to those available in our station for the 80m band. In this example, I am using different antennas for Tx (our 80m Delta Loop) and Rx (our 8-Circle Receive Array). The virtual rotator for the 8-Circle array is active and you can see that this antenna is pointed toward 245 degrees (the virtual rotator input was actually 255 degrees and the SMD picked the closed direction selection on the Rx antenna). Our 80m Delta Loop is vertically polarized and omnidirectional which is indicated by the symbol next to it on the display.

Station Master Deluxe Keypad

Station Master Deluxe Keypad

In addition to the buttons and rotary controller on each of our SMDs, antennas can also be selected and steered via a keypad that is associated with each SMD. The keypads enable many functions including direct entry of rotator headings, antenna selection and setup for split Tx/Rx antenna operation.

MK2R+ Virtual COM Port Configuration

MK2R+ Virtual COM Port Configuration

The microHAM platform (MK2R+ and SMDs) create an interface to all of our logging and control software on our PCs via a series of Virtual COM Ports. The ports for radio CAT interfaces, PTT and FSK (RTTY) keying, and control of the CW and Voice Keyers in the MK2R+ are created by the microHAM Router as shown above. Each of the two radios at a given operating position have a unique set of ports for CAT and keying.

Station Master Deluxe Virtual COM Ports

Station Master Deluxe Virtual COM Ports

In addition, the SMD associated with each radio creates addition virtual COM ports to allow software programs to control the rotator associated with the currently selected antenna(s) on that SMD. The control also includes any “virtual rotators” associated with antenna(s) that may be selected on a given SMD.

DXLab Radio Control

DXLab Radio Control

We use both the DXLab Suite and the N1MM Logger at our station and both work well with the microHAM system. Shown above is DXLab including its Commander component (lower-right) which provides the radio interface to the suite. If you look closely, you can see the Commander radio buttons which select either of the two radios at this position. DXLab (and N1MM) know the microHAM control protocol and will automatically switch the associated MK2R+ to use the appropriate radio. This includes setting which radio is active to Tx as well as what audio is heard in the headphones/speakers and what audio goes to the sound card for the associated MK2R+ and its radios. The appropriate routing of the shared microphone and CW paddles is also automatically configured.

DXLab and HRD Rotator Control

DXLab and HRD Rotator Control

The picture above shows our rotator control software. We are using two programs here. In the upper left is DXLab’s DXView program which will steer our antennas in the direction associated with the callsign which is currently entered into the logger. The other rotator controller is HRD Rotator (lower right) which displays a map of the world and a path. We can click on any location on HRD’s Rotator’s map and the software will turn the currently selected antennas in that direction. The use of independent rotator control programs is made possible by the microHAM Router which implements two separate Virtual COM Ports for the rotator(s) associated with each SMD’s selected antenna(s) for its associated radio.

As you can probably tell from the articles in this series, the microHAM system is very powerful and can handle most any station’s setup including those which are much more complicated than ours. While the construction and configuration work described here may seem a little complex, it’s really not that difficult if you create a good plan for your system at the outset (see the first post in this series). The documentation for the microHAM system is very good and Jozef (OM7ZZ) and Joe (W4TV) at microHAM were very good about answering my questions and steering me in the right direction as I built and configured my system. There is also a good Yahoo! group for the microHAM system. You may want to look at the other articles in this series for more information as well:

I had the opportunity to use our new microHAM System as part of the 2014 CQ WPX SSB Contest this weekend and it definitely helped be to improve my score. For more on this, check out the article on the contest on this Blog.

We are considering the addition of legal limit solid state amplifiers and high-power bandpass filters to our station and these will be integrated into the microHAM system when installed. I am also experimenting with the addition of a software defined radio to the setup. I plan to provide additional articles here as those projects proceed.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2014 CQ WPX SSB Contest Experience

AB1OC Operating In CQ WPX SSB

AB1OC Operating In CQ WPX SSB

I particularly enjoy the CQ WPX SSB Contest and I had a great time working it this past weekend. Each time we work another contest, we try to do some things to improve our skills and our score. This time was no exception with the following things done to improve:

Band conditions were great this year which made the higher bands (20m, 15m and 10m) a lot of fun to work! At the end of the contest, I was able to muster a score of 7.4m – more than 3.5x times what I did in this contest last year. I am hoping for a Top Ten finish in the United States.

DXCC Entities Worked

DXCC Entities Worked

I made over 2,400 QSOs and worked 117 DXCC entities.

CQ Zones Worked

CQ Zones Worked

I was also able to work all but two of the 40 CQ zones.

Contest QSO Summary

Contest QSO Summary

The picture above is an Athena analysis of my final log from the contest. I was able to use the virtual rotator capabilities of our microHAM Station Master Deluxe (SMD) antenna controller to use our steerable 8-Circle Receive Array alone with 75m Delta Loop transmit antenna to put together some great runs on 75m on Friday and Saturday nights. The combination of N1MM’s Rotator Controller and the SMD’s virtual rotator allowed me to instantly steer the receive antenna to each call as I got it staged. This greatly improved my ability to “hear” on 75m and 160m which helped my score significantly. I was also able to put together several really good runs on 20m, 15m and 10m at various times during the day on Saturday and Sunday. I was also able to sustain a couple of good runs on 40m during the contest.

The contest was great fun and I am looking forward to doing it again next year.

73,

– Fred (AB1OC)

Station Automation Part 2 – Second Operating Position And Antenna Switching

microHAM Gear At Second Operating Position

microHAM Gear At Anita’s (AB1QB) Operating Position

We have continued our work on automating our station’s operation with using microHAM equipment. I have integrated the second operating position into our station into the system via the installation of a second microHAM MK2R+ SO2R interface and two more Station Master Deluxe (SMD) antenna controllers. This position has a Yaesu FTdx5000 Transceiver and an Icom IC-7600 Transceiver. The integration of the FTdx5000 was straightforward and involved a cable hookup to the transceiver. I will add the Icom IC-7600 once the interface cable for it arrives here.

Current Antenna Control Stack

Current Antenna Control Stack

We’ve also begun to integrate the control of our antenna equipment into the microHAM system. I’ve moved our three SteppIR SDA100 controllers for our two SteppIR DB36 Yagis and our BigIR Vertical as well as the two Green Heron RT-21 rotator controllers to a set of microHAM DATA control boxes (all of these devices have RS-232 interfaces). With these steps complete, any of our four radios can control the Rotators or provide frequency data to automatically tune our SteppIR antennas.

Antenna Switching Matrix

Antenna Switching Matrix

The biggest part of this project is the construction of a 4 x 10 antenna switching matrix. This element of the system allows any of our 4 radios to connect to any of up to 10 antennas. We built the Antenna Switching Matrix on a 4′ x 8′ board that is mounted on the wall outside of our shack. As you can see from the picture above, this step required quite a few control cable connections as well as the construction of 40 coax interconnect cables (LMR400 Coax and crimp-on connectors were used here).

microHAM Ten Switch

microHAM Ten Switch

Our Antenna Switching Matrix uses a set of microHAM Ten and 4+4 antenna switches along with multiple RELAY10 control boxes for control.

Antenna Switch Matrix SWR Test

Antenna Switch Matrix SWR Test

It’s important to test an element like this as it is constructed to catch any errors and to ensure that the final system performance is as expected. I did a combination of continuity, voltage and end-to-end SWR measurements on the Antenna Switching Matrix as it was built. The microHAM control boxes have a nice manual mode that is available via their front panel buttons which allowed me to configure each antenna switch manually to fully test all of the coax and control cabling in the system.

Receive Antenna Splitter And LNAs

Receive Antenna Splitter And LNAs

Our antenna farm includes a steerable 8 Circle Vertical Receive Array for the low-bands and we decided to create two separate appearances of this antenna on our switching matrix. This approach allows two different transceivers to use the receive antenna at the same time. Doing this involves splitting the incoming signal from the receive antenna using a 2-port Splitter from DX Engineering. We also decided to include a pair of Low-Noise Amplifiers (LNAs) to boost the signals coming from the splitter before feeding the received signals to our antenna switching matrix. The Splitter and LNAs are 75 ohm devices. The signals are passed through a pair of 75 ohm to 50 ohm transformers from Wilson to match their 75 ohm impedance to our 50 ohm antenna switching system and feed lines. The LNAs are controlled by the SMD(s) which have the associated receive antenna connection selected at any given time. This way, an operator can turn off the LNA at their SMD if they don’t need the extra amplification.

Antenna Matrix And Receive Antenna Control

Antenna Matrix And Receive Antenna Control

All of this antenna switching requires quite a number of microHAM control boxes. We are also planning to terminate our 8 Circle Receive Antenna’s control lines at this point in our system. The receive antenna requires control leads to steer its direction and a sequencer capability to insure that its is not damaged by strong signals from other nearby transmit antennas. The microHAM system handles these functions easily via a combination of RELAY10 and RELAY6 control boxes which are the units in the upper row in the picture above. These boxes also control the two receive LNAs.

With these steps done, we need to complete the hookups of our Switchable Band Pass Filters and our amplifiers to their associated SMDs. With that done, we can begin moving the feed lines for our antennas and radios over to the system. This will be the topic of our next article. For more information on our automation project, you might want to look at these articles:

– Fred (AB1OC)

Station Automation Part 1 – microHAM SO2R And System Design

SO2R Operating Position

One Of Two SO2R Operating Positions In Our Shack (AB1OC)

As some of our readers probably know, it has been part of our plan from the beginning to setup our station for multi-SO2R operation . We took the first step in this direction some time back with the installation of a microHAM MK2R+ SO2R Controller (the box one top of the left radio in the picture above) at one of our two operating positions. The MK2R+ is a full-featured and powerful SO2R controller. It provides many capabilities across the two radios at its operating position. Some of its capabilities include:

  • Sharing  a single microphone, set of CW paddles, speakers and headset between two radios
  • A built-in sound card interface for both radios
  • Integrated voice and CW keyer capability
  • Dual-foot pedal control for keying each radio in the SO2R setup
  • Sharing of SteppIR antenna control between two radios
MK2R+ Audio Routing

MK2R+ Audio Routing

One of the most powerful capabilities of the MK2R+ is its sophisticated audio routing capabilities which are configurable via microHAM’s USB Device Router. The picture above shows the audio routing configuration options for the MK2R+. The operator can do things like listen to a mix of 4 VFOs from two radios at the same time. Hear one radio’s audio in one ear  and the other radio’s audio in the other ear. The routing of audio can be automatically changed based upon which radio is selected for transmit, foot pedal presses, etc. These capabilities are very useful when operating in an SO2R configuration during contests.

MK2R+ Control Ports

MK2R+ Control Ports

The microHAM USB Router software runs on the PC controlling the associated SO2R operating position/MK2R+ and provides a unified set of interfaces to both radios in the SO2R setup via a set of virtual COM ports. The picture above shows how this is configured for my operating position. In addition to a full set of ports to control each radio, there are common interfaces for the integrated WinKey CW Keyer and for controlling the MK2R+ itself. Loggers like N1MM know the microHAM control protocol and can automatically switch audio, sound cards, the radio which has focus for Tx, etc. based upon what the operator does inside N1MM. Again, this is very useful when operating SO2R or SO2V in a contest.

Current Antenna Control Stack

Current Antenna Control Stack

The MK2R+ alone works great for a shack with a single SO2R position but it leaves the operator to manually control antenna switching, rotators, and other antenna-related functions. Up to now, we have managed our antennas via the stack of antenna and rotator control boxes shown above. Manual operation of this type is fine for DX’ing or for one person operating alone in a contest.

Current Manual Antenna Switching System

Current Manual Antenna Switching System

The problem of switching and controlling antennas becomes more complex in a multi-operator station like ours (we have two separate SO2R positions in our shack with a total of 4 radios). We currently use the custom-built manual antenna switching system shown above to assign our available transmit antennas to one of our 4 radios and to select which antenna a given radio is connected to. We must  manually handle control of antenna rotators as well as manually setting the operating frequency of our three SteppIR antennas when they are not connected to the first of our two SO2R operating positions. This sort of manual operation works OK for DX’ing and casual operating with one person in the shack at a time. It is highly error prone with two operators working at once so we decided to expand our microHAM system to fully automate the control of our antennas and associated equipment.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

We are using microHAM’s Station Master Deluxe (SMD) antenna controllers to automate the control of our antenna systems.  We are installing an SMD with each of our 4 radios in the shack. The SMD provides a number of antenna control automation capabilities including:

  • Band and frequency specific selection and configuration of available antennas
  • Routing of frequency and other control data to our two SteppIR DB36 Yagis and our SteppIR BigIR Vertical based upon which radio has selected these antennas
  • Control and routing of our two rotators on our tower based upon the radio which has an associated antenna selected. For example, if one position selects  our upper DB36 Yagi and another selects the lower DB36 Yagi on our tower, each SMD will independently control the rotator associated with its selected antenna. If one radio has both antennas selected as a stack, then that radio’s SMD will control both rotators together.
  • Sharing and control of our 8-Circle Directional Receive Array including creating a “virtual rotator” for it which allows its direction to be set via the SMD’s rotary encoder or via a COM port by an external rotator control program or logger. We have also created a “scan” feature for this antenna which switches its direction clockwise by 45 degrees every few seconds. This is useful when one hears a weak station and needs to  determine where to point the receive array for best reception.
  • Automatic transmit/receive antenna switching for each of the four radios in the setup. For example, a radio can transmit on one antenna and receive on a different one. When the associated radio is keyed, the controlling SMD automatically switches the radio between the selected transmit and receive antennas.
  • Automatic control of the four Switchable Bandpass Filters associated with our radios. These are essential for operating multiple transmitters in the station on different bands at the same time.
  • Automatic control of our power amplifiers
  • Automatic same band lockout between the radios in our shack.
  • Enforcement and sequencing of antennas to avoid simultaneous Tx/Rx on closely spaced antennas from different radios.
SMD Rotator Control Ports

SMD Rotator Control Ports

The Antenna Rotator management capabilities of the SMD are very useful for switching and sharing antennas on rotators. Each SMD has a pair of Virtual COM Ports which are automatically associated with the active rotator for the currently selected Transmit and Receive antennas. This allows loggers and other software running on the host PC to control the direction of the current selected antennas no matter which antennas are in use. The SMDs can also create a COM port for the “Virtual Rotator” from devices that are steered via switches such as transmit and receive vertical arrays. These devices behave just like they had a conventional rotator when they are selected and can be controlled by software running on the host PC via the Rotator COM Ports for the controlling SMD.

Our HF-6m Antennas

Our HF-6m Antennas

The first step in this upgrade was to layout a complete design for the RF and control elements of our station. The picture above shows the Antenna switching and control elements of our design. The tan boxes are switches and other RF elements such as Low-Noise pre-Amplifiers (LNAs) that are part of our antenna system. The grey boxes are microHAM control boxes which provide relay or serial data interfaces to shared equipment in our station.

microHAM Control Boxes And Hub

microHAM Control Boxes And Hub

The microHAM control boxes are all part of a shared serial bus (microHAM’s uLink bus) that interconnects all of the control boxes to the four SMDs in our shack. The picture above shows the uLink Hub where the four SMDs connect to the uLink bus (lower right), the serial control boxes (uLink DATA – upper row) which control our SteppIR antennas and Green Heron Rotator Controllers, and several uLink Relay control boxes (uLink RELAY 10 & RELAY 6 – lower row on the left side) which provide relay closures to control antenna switches, stack controllers and other equipment.

SteppIR DB36 w/80m Dipole and Stack Switching

SteppIR DB36 w/80m Dipole and Stack Switching Design

The microHAM SMD system is quite flexible and one can control just about any RF device or antenna system that you can dream up. We have two challenging configuration situations our station. The first is a SteppIR DB36 Yagi antenna with the 80m Rotatable Dipole Option installed parallel to the boom. The Rotatable Dipole uses the same SteppIR SDA100 Controller as the associated DB36 Yagi but must be pointed with a 90 degree offset when its selected. I was able to configure this easily using a virtual switch and antenna combination that made the Dipole appear as an independent antenna which shares the SDA100 controller with its associated DB36 Yagi.

The second configuration challenge was related to my custom Stack Switch and Phasing System. I built this element around the DX Engineering ProStack PS-2B Stack Switch and added a custom-built Feedline Breakout Switch to allow us to pull the lower SteppIR DB36 Yagi out of the stack so it can be used independently by a second radio. This allows one operator to use one of the two SteppIR Yagis on one band while the other operator uses the other one on a different band. Again, the flexibility of the microHAM SMD system allowed me to control the combination of the DXE Switch and the Custom Breakout Switch as a Single Two into Two Stack switch with Both Out of Phase (BOP) capability.

Automated Antenna Switching Matrix

Automated Antenna Switching Matrix

The next stage of the antenna switching system is a 10 x 4 antenna RF switching matrix which allows any of 10 antennas to be connected to any of the four radios in our shack. This part of the design is being executed using microHAM’s Ten Switches and 4+4 Switches as shown above. The 4 SMDs in the system all have access to this antenna switching matrix via the uLink bus and the associated uLink RELAY 10 control boxes so they can connect antennas to their radios. This matrix also provides switching between independent transmit and receive antennas for the 4 radios in our shack.

Operating Position Design (AB1OC)

Operating Position Design (AB1OC)

The final element of the design is the two SO2R operating positions. The picture above shows my operating position. As you can see, the MK2R+ provides the interface to the two radios and exchanges radio frequency, PTT, inhibit and other information with the two SMDs associated with each to the radios at this position. The SMDs provide direct control of the Band-Pass Filters (BPFs) and amplifiers for their associated radios. They both interface to the uLink bus via the uLink Hub so that they can control all of the antennas and switches which are shared across the station as well as coordinate the utilization of shared resources between the four radios in the setup.

The microHAM system has tremendous flexibility and my early work with it has gone well. There is a learning curve involved but microHAM’s documentation is excellent and Jozef, OM7ZZ and Joe, W4TV at microHAM have been great about answering my questions and helping me to configure my system. There is also a microHAM Yahoo! group which has been quite helpful. Many stations will not have the complexity to warrant the installation of a full microHAM system such as ours. For simpler stations, the microHAM Keyers, USB Interfaces or an MK2R or MK2R+ can provide simplified sharing and control of equipment across two radios.

As you can probably tell, the construction of the antenna automation portion of our station is a significant project. I will cover the rest of the project and more about the configuration of the system in a series of future posts. Right now I have our uLink bus built and all of the control boxes installed and configured. Two of our four SMDs are installed and operating. The planned next steps include adding a second MK2R+ and a second pair of SMDs to integrate Anita’s operating position into the system, building the antenna switching matrix and beginning to cut over some of our antennas to the new system. You can read the other articles our series on station automation here:

– Fred (AB1OC)

2014 ARRL DX Phone Contest

AB1OC Operating in the 2014 ARRL DX SSB Contest

AB1OC Operating In The 2014 ARRL DX Phone Contest

I had the opportunity to operate in the ARRL DX Phone Contest again this year. The object of this contest is for W/VE stations to work DX stations and vice-versa. I competed in the Single Op High-Power Assisted category again this year. In spite of my limited operating time (about 25 of the available 48 hours), I was able to pretty much duplicate my score from last year’s 40+ hour effort.

DXCCs Worked In The Contest

DXCCs Worked In The Contest

I worked a total of 109 DXCC Entities (97 in the first 24 hours) and 31 of the 40 CQ zones during the contest.

QSO Rates During The Contest

QSO Rates During The Contest

As you can see from the picture above, I had some great runs on 10m, 15m and 20m. The 20m opening on Sunday was one of the best that I have ever experienced. I had multiple QRP (5 watt) stations in the Middle East and Europe come into our station at RST’s of 59+! I also had several VK’s and ZL’s call me long path during this opening while I was running into Europe.

Final Claimed Score

Final Claimed Score

I was pleased with my final score of a little over 2M given my limited operating time. I was able to complete just under 2,000 contacts during the contest with 10m, 20m and 15m being my best bands in that order. The contest was great fun and a good warm up for the upcoming 2014 CQ WW WPX Phone Contest.

– Fred (AB1OC)

AB1QB Contest Results

AB1QB 2013 ARRL RTTY Certificate

AB1QB 2013 ARRL RTTY Certificate

Anita (AB1QB) has continued to work on improving her contesting skills. She has attended Contest University at the Dayton Hamvention the past 2 years and she has been working on applying what she has learned as well as gaining experience by participating in some major contests. Her work is beginning to bear fruit. She placed 1st in New Hampshire in the 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup with a final score of almost 80,000 points.

AB1QB 2013 BARTG RTTY Certificate

AB1QB 2013 BARTG RTTY Certificate

She is also starting to place well in some major international RTTY contests. Shown above is her certificate from the 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest where she placed 5th in the world! Anita is using N1MM and multiple decoders (she uses a combination of MTTY, 2Tone and the Hardware RTTY decoders in our Icom IC-7800) and she has begun to operate in S02V mode in some recent contests. She is looking forward to the upcoming 2014 BARTG RTTY Contest which is March 15-17, 2014.

– Fred (AB1OC)