The 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest – AB1QB Gets Serious

AB1QB Operating In The BARTG RTTY Contest

AB1QB Operating In The BARTG RTTY Contest

This past weekend, I operated in the 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest.  I had previously learned some things during our multi-single operation in the 2013 CQ WPX RTTY contest and made some enhancements to our contesting setup. As a result of this experience, I set a goal of making a serious effort in a RTTY contest.  The 2013 BARTG HF RTTY contest ran from 0200z Saturday March 16 – 0200z on Monday March 18.  I operated in the Single Operator All Band category, which allowed me to operate for 30 hours out of the total contest period of 48 hours (each break had to be at least 3 hours).

N1MM Setup - Left Monitor

N1MM Setup – Left Monitor

I used the N1MM logger again in the SO2V configuration with our Icom IC-7800 transceiver.  We added the 2Tone decoder, which when used along with MMTTY, made a huge difference in being able to pick the call signs and exchange information out of the sometimes garbled exchanges.  I kept a window up with each decoder, which gave me two different interpretations of the RTTY signals.  When I couldn’t make sense of what I saw in one window, I could almost always pick out a call sign or exchange from the other.  This improved my QSO rate as I did not have to ask the station to repeat the exchange.  As conditions deteriorated on Sunday due to a Solar Flare, using 2 decoders made a big difference.

The N1MM screen shot above shows the SO2V configuration that I used with 2 decoders associated with each VFO.  SO2V was helpful in speeding up the search and pounce.  You can tune one signal in on one VFO, and while you are waiting for your chance to call, you can be finding the next signal in the other VFO.  Each VFO has its own call sign entry window on the left, and then 2 digital interface windows (with the decoded RTTY text) and 2 tuning windows per VFO – one with 2Tone and one with MMTTY.  The upper left window has the spotting network, which was useful, but in a RTTY contest, I can find far more stations in search in search and pounce mode by manually tuning through the band.   I also used the Check window, which looks up call signs in the Super Check Partial database. This was also a big help in determining whether I got a call sign correct – if it cannot find a match, it suggests other similar call signs, also speeding up my QSO rate.

The lower right hand window shows my QSO rate – if this gets too low, it could indicate that its time to change bands.  Also it has a band timer – there is a rule for my category that I must stay on a band at least 5 minutes – the timer tells me when I can change bands again.

N1MM Setup - Right Monitor

N1MM Setup – Right Monitor

Here is the N1MM setup on my right monitor.  The multiplier window shows which multipliers I worked on each band.  For this contest, the multipliers were DXCC countries and W, VE, VK and JA call areas.  The two windows on the left are the band map windows – one for each VFO.  It shows spots and stations that I have worked. If I click on one, it tunes the VFO right to the station – useful in search and pounce mode.  The right monitor also has my QSO log, the spotting cluster access window, and the score window.  Below are the graphical statistics showing my progress during the contest which are provided via an analysis program called Athena.   You can see that once the Solar Flare hit during the day on Sunday, 20m was practically the only band with steady traffic.  15m and even 10m opened up again later in the afternoon.

Performance Statistics

Performance Statistics

Since this was a European hosted contest, I started out on Friday at 10pm Eastern Time on 40m, pointing our two SteppIRs toward Europe, which was very productive.  I spent some time on 80m but by 3am Eastern Time, the traffic slowed down so I took a break to sleep.  I started up again Saturday morning around 9 AM, and was able to run on 20m for some time.  The SteppIR beams have a Bi-directional mode which was very useful. This configuration of the SteppIRs worked really well since most of the stations in the contest were either in Europe or the US and I could point the SteppIRs in both of these directions at the same time using the bi-directional mode.  By afternoon, 15m had opened up and I had good runs on both 20m and 15m.  I was able to make some calls on 10m as well, but that band was not as productive.    After dark, I worked 40m toward Europe, but took my break at midnight, since I learned on Friday that the late hours are not so productive.  Before going to bed, I checked my email and saw a message from my local PART club that a Solar Flare was heading toward Earth and would hit by Sunday.

Sure enough, when I woke up Sunday morning, the solar storm had hit, the K-Index was 6 and all of the bands were rated as poor.  I was going to give up… but AB1OC convinced me to go down to the shack and keep operating as I could still reach the closer US stations.  Surprisingly, when I turned on the IC-7800, I was hearing stations from Europe on 20m.  So I did some search and pounce until I found a run frequency.  QSOs were not coming as quickly as they did on Saturday but I was still making them at a good pace.  20m was the only band that was really open for most of the day. Later in the day I turned toward the southwest and received many calls from the US, and surprisingly quite a few from Japan and New Zealand as well.  The SteppIRs are amazing antennas!!

DXCC Multipliers

DXCC Multipliers

My goal was a score of 1 Million and I probably would have hit it if not for the Solar Storm.  Even so, I came pretty close as you can see my score data below.  I worked close to 60 countries, all of the US areas on most bands, and many VE areas and even a few JA areas.

Claimed Final Score

Claimed Final Score

I posted my score to the 3830 website and as of this morning’s report my claimed score ranked at the top of my category – I am hoping that this will hold up.   Each time I operate, I learn more about N1MM and I’m looking forward to the next contest to learn even more about its capabilities and to be able to better take advantage of SO2V.

Anita (AB1QB)

Amateur Radio Station Design And Construction

Station Design And Construction

Station Design And Construction

A little ways back, John (W1MBG) discovered our Blog and approached us about doing a presentation for the Nashua Area Radio Club (NARC) on the design, construction, and operation of our recently completed station. The NARC group invited us to their March meeting where we shared our presentation with the nice group of folks in the Club. I wanted to post an overview of what we shared as well as a link to the full presentation so that our readers can have a look at the material and hopefully benefit from the information that we have assembled. I have also used this post as an opportunity to create an index to all of the articles on this Blog related to the design, construction, and performance of our station.

Topics Covered

Topics Covered

Our new station project involved both the construction of a dedicated room for a new shack and a tower-based antenna system. It took us about 1 1/2 years to build our station including the associated antenna system and we covered quite a number of areas during the project. Our presentation focused on some things that we did to plan and build our station that should be useful to many Hams building or upgrading anything from a simple station to an all-out effort to create a state of the art multi-op station.

Station Goals

Station Goals

I think that it’s important to begin a new or upgrade station project by thinking through and writing down the goals that you have for your new station prior to purchasing equipment or beginning construction. This step is important because it helps you to think through what you want to accomplish and serves as a high-level blueprint for making the design, equipment selection and construction decisions as you build your station.

Shack Layout

Radio Shack Layout

We put considerable time and thought into the design of the room and operating area for our new shack including many rounds of drawings and some “human engineering” to arrive at the final room layout. While not every Ham will build a dedicated room for their shack, some careful thought put into the layout of the operating and storage areas for your shack and the associated support systems is an important design step.

Antenna System Planning

Antenna System Planning

The other major element in the design of our station was a new tower-based antenna system. We had some pretty expansive goals for the band capabilities and associated performance of our new antenna system and the presentation explains how we went about developing and executing a plan to meet our goals.

Additional Antenna Construction

Additional Antenna Construction

Since the initial installation of our tower antenna system, we added an 8-Circle Vertical Receive Array for the Low Bands and we’ve reinstalled our SteppIR BigIR Vertical Antenna. These new antenna systems provide important additional performance on the low bands and during contests. We’ve also added an Antenna System and Electronics for LEO Satellites.

Station Automation

Station Automation

We’ve also installed an SO2R and Station Automation System from microHAM. The microHAM system enables much smoother and less error-prone operation of our station and enables SO2R and Multi-two operation during contests.

Virtual Station Tour

Virtual Station Tour

Our presentation includes several slides that cover the construction of our new shack and tower as well as the feedline, antenna, power, and other supporting systems. The end result of all of this work is shown via a few slides that provide a “Virtual Tour” of our station.

Virtual Station Tour - Operational Videos

Virtual Station Tour – Operational Videos

The “Virtual Station Tour” slides contain several videos. You can play these videos below.

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Other posts in this Blog contain more detailed information and many additional pictures and videos about our station. See the index of links at the end of this post to view more detail about the areas that interest you.

Station Performance

Station Performance

Our new station has been complete for several months now and we wanted to take some time to look at how it is performing against our original design goals. As you can see from the above slide, we are on a good track to meet or exceed all of the original goals that we set during the planning stage of our project.

What We Learned

What We Learned

Finally, we shared some additional information about what we learned during the project and a set of links to various sources of equipment and information that we used to complete our new station (see the full presentation). This Blog contains many more details (and pictures) about the design and construction of our station for those who are interested. Some good places to begin are categorized in the index of links below:

Shack Design and Construction:

Antenna and Tower Design:

Tower Construction:

Antenna Construction:

Tower Integration:

Station Integration:

Station Operation and Performance:

I hope that you can apply some of the ideas and information shared here to building or improving your station. We’d also like to extend a special thanks to John, W1MBG and the NARS Group for encouraging us to create and share this presentation. We are available to provide this presentation to other clubs or Ham gatherings. If your club or event is interested, please contact us at ab1oc@arrl.org.

Fred, AB1OC

The 2013 ARRL DX Phone Contest – Occasionally, Everything New Works Out

ARRL DX Phone Contest Ops

AB1OC Operating In The ARRL DX Phone Contest

I participated in the 2013 ARRL DX Phone Contest from our recently completed shack in New Hampshire, USA. This was my first serious effort in a Phone contest and I participated in the Single-Operator, High Power Assisted category within the W/VE segment of the contest.

We have been enhancing our station’s contesting hardware and software recently. These enhancements included the addition of a microHAM MK2R+ SO2R interface the week before the contest.

microHAM MK2R+ SO2R Interface

microHAM MK2R+ SO2R Interface (Courtesy microHAM)

The MK2R+ provides a single interface to the two radios (an Icom IC-7800 and an Icom IC-9100) at my operating position. It allows one microphone, one set of headphones/speakers, one set of paddles, both radios’ FSK interfaces and the MK2R+’s built-in sound cards to be used with both radios in a very flexible way. I used the MK2R+ along with the our logger’s voice keyer as part of the contest. I only operated using a single radio, the Icom IC-7800, in Single Operator 2 VFO (SO2V) mode in this contest as I wanted to prove in the MK2R+ in a relatively simple configuration during the first contest that we used it in. The MK2R+ also provides for control and sharing of our SteppIR DB-36 antennas between the two radios at my position.

The other major station enhancement for this contest was my first use of the N1MM Logger. N1MM is a very sophisticated contest logger which provides many features to enable a more competitive contest effort to be mounted.

N1MM Screen Layout (Left Monitor)

N1MM Screen Layout (Left Monitor)

Anita (AB1QB) used N1MM as part of the 2013 CQ WPX RTTY Contest a few weeks back so we had some experience with it prior to this contest. N1MM presents a lot of information and I configured it to display various pieces of information on two different monitors. The picture above shows the N1MM setup on my left monitor during the contest. This screen is the primary one that I used to operate. It contains the logging and control windows for both VFOs on my Icom IC-7800 (lower left), the spotting cluster data and band maps for the same (upper left and center tall vertical windows), and the Super Check Partial call sign checking window and my contest score window  (to the right of the two logging windows). The final two windows on this monitor are the control window for our rotators (Ham Radio Deluxe, upper right) and N1MM’s cluster telnet window (lower right).

N1MM Screen Layout (Right Monitor)

N1MM Screen Layout (Right Monitor)

The N1MM setup on my right monitor displays statistics and results for my contest operations. The windows here include my contest QSO rates (upper left), map of multipliers (countries) worked by band (upper right), the logged calls during the contest (lower right) and my QSO rate and score statistics throughout the contest shown graphically (lower right). The graphical contest statistics are provided by a program called Athena.

Contest QSO Statistics

Contest QSO Statistics

As you can see from the picture above, Athena provides a great deal of information about my performance by band in real-time during the contest. It is also an excellent tool of analyzing your performance after the contest is completed.

So how did the contest go? Well, I operated for about 40 of the 48 hours of the available contest time. The following shows my final “claimed” score for the contest.

AB1OC's Claimed Score

AB1OC’s Claimed Score

It was very useful to analyze these results against other scores posted in my category on the 3830 website. When I compare the scores posted to these stats, I am pretty satisfied with the performance of my station on all bands but 160m. My 160m performance was a little weaker that the top stations in my category in this contest. My planned addition of a DX Engineering  8-Circle Receive Antenna System which will cover for 160m plus the addition of some longer radials for my 160m Inverted-L antenna should help with this.

I made extensive use of N1MM’s cluster data and band map features plus N1MM’s voice keyer to operate in Search and Pounce Mode at QSO rates which exceeded 150 QSO’s per hour at times. These rates were far better than I have ever been able to achieve. N1MM’s voice keyer coupled with some focus on improving my operating technique while running allowed me to approach QSO rates of 200 per hour at times while running. This coupled with decent coverage of the available multipliers resulted in a good overall score – by far my best so far.

Multipliers Worked In Contest

Multipliers Worked In Contest

One of my goals in every contest is to work as many DX stations as I can towards various DX awards. This contest was also my best effort to date in this area. The picture above shows the final set of multipliers (these are DXCC entities, think of these mostly as countries) during the contest. At the 24 hour point, I had worked 100 DXCC entities, effectively earning a Phone DXCC Award in 24 hours. My final count for the contest was 120 DXCC entities.

I learned a lot about how to select which bands to operate at various times during the contest as well as how to use some of the best capabilities of N1MM. I was also able to improve my operating skills as the contest progressed. I am looking forward to the next major Phone contest so that I can apply all that I learned and hopefully perform better. I am hoping to finish in the top 20 within my category for this contest which fulfills one of the major goals that we had when we set out to construct our new station.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Digital Contesting – AB1QB Enters The 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup

AB1QB Contesting

AB1QB Contesting

I worked the 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup contest this weekend for the first time with the new station and the difference from last year was amazing! I also got to use my new Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio for the contest. Band conditions were very good (the sun spot numbers were high) and 10 meters was open. I entered the contest in the Single Operator High Power category, which did not allow me to use a spotting network.

Software Defined Radio

Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

This was the first time I tried to “Run” during a contest. That is to find a spot in the digital sub-band that nobody is using and call CQ (as opposed to “Search and Pounce”, which is to tune across a sub-band looking for stations to work). “Running” allows you to work QSOs at a much higher rate. Using our two Yagi’s and 500 watts of power from our the amplifier,  I was never “lonely” – I always had a constant stream of callers answering my CQs and sometimes several at once.

Multipliers for this contest were individual US States, Canadian Provinces, and DX Countries. To calculate your score, you multiply the total multipliers by the number of QSOs that you made. I had 111 multipliers for the contest and 759 QSOs. My total score before log checking is 84,249 (the final scores for the contest will be posted here in the near future). Below are some statistics for the QSOs that I made during the contest by area of the world and by band.

RTTY Contest Stats

AB1QB Contest QSO Statistics

Most of the US and Canadian multipliers were easy to get, but it is usually the closest (or most remote) states that are the most difficult – and I did not get Vermont or North Dakota. Saturday evening, I pointed the Yagis toward Europe and worked stations from many different European countries on 40 meters. Sunday toward the end of the contest, I was running on 20 meters with the antennas pointed West working W6s and W7s and I started seeing JA stations calling me. Before we upgraded our station, the only QSOs with JA’s in my log were made during our DXpedition to Bora Bora Island. I moved the antennas around toward Japan and worked approximately 20 Japanese stations and started completing calls with other DX stations in Asia including South Korea, Indonesia, and New Zealand.
RTTY QSO In Contest

RTTY QSO During The Contest

All in all this was a very enjoyable experience. Planned improvements for the next contest (CQ WPX RTTY) will be to work more hours (this time I took time off to sleep, working about 20.5 hours of the 30 hour contest period) and include trying to search out more DX stations. Also, we will be trying contest oriented logging software (we are considering WriteLog and the N1MM Logger). I have been using Ham Radio Deluxe because its well suited for Digital Operating and chasing awards. But logging software designed specifically for contesting will do a better job of keeping track of multipliers and duplicate contacts as the contest progresses. (Generally multiple QSOs with the same station on the same band do not count – and  also wastes precious time for you as well as the other station).

If you work contests, please complete our poll and tell us what logging software you use. This will help me to choose which contest logging software to try for the next contest.

– Anita (AB1QB)

Contesting QRP Style – The 2012 ARRL Phone Sweepstakes

KX3 Using Guest Position

KX3 QRP Rig

One of my goals has been to complete a Worked All States Award (WAS) QRP. We added an Elecraft KX3 Transceiver to our station recently to facilitate achieving this goal and to equip ourselves with a lightweight portable “travel” radio. When the 2012 ARRL Phone Sweepstakes came around a week or so back, I decided to use the combination of the KX3 and our new antenna system to try to achieve a WAS award QRP and to have a little contesting fun in the process.

I did a bit of on-air testing before the contest and got some pretty interesting results. As an example, I worked a QSO with KC0W, Tom in Minnesota, USA (about 1,550 miles from my QTH) using 5 watts peak power and got a signal report of 59 + 10 dB. After letting Tom know I was QRP he asked me to drop my power to 1 watt. I did so and received a signal report of 59. At this point, Tom was pretty amazed and asked me to drop my power again so I went as low as the KX3 would go which was 100 mW. Tom then gave me a 57 signal report and we proceeded to have a nice rag chew. These results gave me some encouragement to work the contest QRP.

2012 ARRL Phone Sweepstakes Results for AB1OC

2012 ARRL Phone Sweepstakes Results for AB1OC

I was not able to work the entire contest period due to other commitments. As you can see from my multiplier tracking sheet above, we came pretty close to our goal of completing a QRP WAS during the contest – 42 of the 50 states worked and most of the contest multipliers snagged. I made 130+ QSOs during the limited time that I had to operate. I have since worked a few additional states QRP and now only need 4 to complete a WAS QRP – Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah. The first two are the difficult ones that remain and I should be able to get there with a little more work on the air.

If any of our readers living in one of the states that remain to complete a WAS QRP and could help me complete a QSO, please drop me an email at ab1oc@arrl.net

– Fred (AB1OC)

Bora Bora Island DXpedition

Our QSL Card from Bora Bora

Our QSL Card from Bora Bora Island, French Polynesia

In February of this year, we had the opportunity to travel to Bora Bora Island in French Polynesia. This South Pacific destination is absolutely beautiful! When Anita (AB1QB) suggested that we take a portable HF radio with us, we had no idea what sort of experience we were going to have! We put together a portable HF station and antenna system and obtained licenses from the officials in French Polynesia. I also tested our portable HF setup on business trips to Arizona and Florida in advance of our trip.

Bora Bora Station

Bora Bora Station

Our location in Bora Bora was about 400 yards from the beach and 8 ft above saltwater. Needless to say, this made for some exceptionally good antenna performance and our station worked very well there.

Our Shack in Bora Bora

Our “Shack” in Bora Bora

We took a TransWorld Antennas Vertical dipole (all bands 20m thru 10m) and a two element Buddipole 10m beam with us to Bora Bora. Both of these antennas are good performers and are very portable (especially the Buddipole system which literally fit in the bottom of our suitcase).

Bora Bora Antennas

Bora Bora Antennas

Anita and I had only very limited experience operating a pileup prior to this trip from our participation in the 13 Colonies Special Event as K2K, the New Hampshire, USA digital station. It was quite an experience when we went on the air in Bora Bora for the first time using SSB phone and had at least 50 stations trying to call us at once! Anita (FO/AB1QB) and I (FO/AB1OC) did a little over 1,500 QSOs while on this trip. We earned a Worked All States (WAS) and a Worked All Japan Districts awards based upon our operations there. This trip allowed us to learn a great deal about DXpedition’ing, pileup operations, propagation, portable station design, and QSL’ing for a DXpedition. We are going to be sharing our experience via a presentation at the upcoming Boxboro 2012 Hamfest in Boxboro, MA USA later this month. If you are in the MA/NH USA area, please join us for our presentation at Boxboro 2012 on Saturday, August 25th.

– Fred (FO/AB1OC)