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
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 for the benefit of the Amateur Radio Community.
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 the older version’s of their radios is a major selling point for them.
Elecraft KX3 And Accessories
We also saw the recently added accessories for the Elecraft KX3 Transceiver – the KX3 Pan Adapter and the KXPA100 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 – 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.
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
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 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:
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:
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:
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 (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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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).
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)
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
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 (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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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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.
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.
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
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
Here’s a picture of the assembled beam and tower ready to be pulled up and into place at our site.
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 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
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
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
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
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
An award ceremony was held at WRTC HQ the following Monday to announce and recognize the 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
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
K1A (N6MJ/KL9A) 436
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
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!
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 (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.
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
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 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 monoband antennas. Having two independently directional antennas for 6m has turned 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
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 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 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 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
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 than 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 (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
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
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 into 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
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 stations 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.
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.
Anita’s (AB1QB) First Place NH Finish – 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup
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 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.
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).
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
I made over 2,400 QSOs and worked 117 DXCC entities.
CQ Zones Worked
I was also able to work all but two of the 40 CQ zones.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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: