Archive for the ‘DX’ Category

VA to EI

So it has been a very long while since I have posted here and there is much to talk about.

Unfortunately work commitments have curtailed much of my air time this winter and spring, however it has been developments abroad that have kept me on the air.

As an Irish citizen holding a Canadian callsign I cannot unfortunately apply for a CEPT certificate in Canada. Those are only available to Canadian citizens.

So to be able to operate in Europe and Ireland I must contact each jurisdiction I would like to operate in. My plan was to operate in Ireland on my trip home to family over the Christmas period, so I contacted ComReg in Ireland to apply for a temporary (12 month) visitor callsign.

The usual scenario is for a temporary callsign to be issued but because I was an Irish citizen and was able to provide a permanent station address in Ireland (parent’s family home) ComReg informed me that if my qualifications checked out with Industry Canada that they would be more than happy to issue a life-time Irish callsign.

After a couple of weeks waiting ComReg issued EI8GNB.

Now with callsign in hand I needed to assemble my travelling station. Along with my IC7000, AH-4 and Acer netbook I also purchased a Gamma Research HPS-1a power supply. This little puppy puts out enough power for 100W SSB and about 35 to 40w in PSK/RTTY and it’s no bigger than a small paperback book, perfect for travelling. The whole station fitted into a nice Lowe Pro Classified 200 AW camera bag that I would use as my airline carry-on. I placed a length of coax, feedline and antenna-wire in my checked suitcase.

Shack in a Bag : (clockwise from top left) Icom AH-4, Icom IC-7000, Gamma Research HPS-1a, headset/mic etc.

Shack in a Bag : (clockwise from top left) Icom AH-4, Icom IC-7000, Gamma Research HPS-1a, headset/mic etc.

Travelling during the holiday period is troublesome at best but I was also worried about all this electronic gear I was carrying. I found however that if I unpacked the major components into separate scanning trays that airport security never had a problem with the stuff.

I would put the AH-4 and rig in a tray on their own for scanning like you would with a laptop and I rarely had a problem. However I do advise to carry about a photocopy of a manual page for any suspect objects. The AH-4 did draw the eye of security screeners a couple of times but with manual in hand and a little explanation things were smoothed over instantly. Funnily enough the ’suspicious’ level seemed to be higher in European airports rather than in the Canadian and US airports I passed through.

Once in my parents home, time to setup the antenna. They have a standard square shaped backyard that provided about 1500sq ft. Hmmmm, simple dipole anyone? I cut some of my antenna wire into a simple dipole just over 34ft in overall length, with a run of 10ft of 450 ohm feedline in the middle down to the AH-4. I also made sure it was off-resonace, the AH-4 does not like high impedance resonant antennas. I strung the antenna from a upper floor bedroom to the permanent workshop building on the other side of the garden and offset it away from each wall with insulators and a length of plastic cable. Height above ground varied from about 20 to 10ft enough for the upper bands but probably creating a general upward omnidirectional pattern on the lower bands.

The AH-4 had no problem tuning the antenna on every band except 160m!

Over the course of two weeks I made dozens of PSK contacts all over Europe working about 30 countries including the US & Canada. The bands seem so much more alive in Europe than they do in the Pacific Northwest and there always seems to be somebody calling CQ, so there is never a shortage of QSOs.

I also managed a couple SSB QSOs as well, the highlight was working Gunther VA3GA on 17m. Conditions were poor for that QSO with lots of QSB, late in the day in Ireland, but with 100W on that simple dipole all the pertinent information was exchanged easily.

The ARRL RTTY Round-Up was also on over the holiday period and I made over 80 contacts again including the US, Canada and highlight making P49X in Aruba! Not bad for a wire antenna and 40w.

Holiday 'shack' setup with my Acer Netbook. Running RTTY with N1MM during the 2010 ARRL RTTY RU.

Holiday 'shack' setup with my Acer Netbook. Running RTTY with N1MM during the 2010 ARRL RTTY RU.

Now that I know I can pack up the station into one bag I’m looking for many more opportunities to do holiday style DX operating, I can’t wait for the summer to come.

New Rig Workout

So having received my gracious gift from St. Nick it was now time to set it all up.

I have also purchased an Icom AH-4 tuner and this will become the focal point for future antennas.

Setup of the tuner and radio was pretty straight forward. Power is supplied to the tuner over a control cable that plugs directly into the IC-7000 and all tuning functions are accessed from the front panel “Tune” button. I set up a simple 16m wire loop on the balcony and the AH-4 had no problem tuning it to 1:1.5 SWR from 40m to 6m. 40m prodced some RFI which tripped a GFCI in the apartment but other than that no other issues or complications arose.

The loop is bascially just folded around the balcony. Right now I don’t have the supports to fold it in the manner that I would like but that is something I will rectify after Christmas.I based the design on WX7G, Dave’s, 3d folded loop antenna for 10m, I’m hoping to perfect the concept for HF operations. Remember my balcony is only about 40sq ft or about 8ft by 5ft (2.4m x 1.5m), in a highrise apartment surrounded by concrete and steel in a downtown setting at 140ft up.

I patiently waited for the 20m band to open one Sunday morning and eventually worked a couple of stations in PSK31 up and down the west coast all easily on 25watts. If this was all I could do then I would still be a happy ham. Just being to get on the air in the apartment is a great for me, anything after that is a bonus.

It took a while before I got used to the macros in DigiPan and it has a couple of quirks that you need to be aware of, especially the RX and RXANDCLEAR functions. If you don’t use the RXANDCLEAR function you risk sending your last macro again as I found out a couple of times while transmitting. Other stations were still happy to work me as I fumbled with the mode. And this is the thing with PSK, as a relatively new mode, everyday I go on the PSK bands I always come across other ‘first time’ QSOs, everyday. I also love PSK63, I love the speed, I love the QRM busting nature of it. Sometimes PSK31 can a bit finickity if soundcards are not calibrated spot on, PSK63 being wider blows that problem away while still being a relatively narrow bandwidth mode. I may try other programs aswell but Digipan works well on my lightweight netbook and I think DM780 might be a bit OTT for this machine, might try FLdigi or PSK31.

I have exclusively used the IC-7000 on HF and have not done any TX on V/UHF at all. But I didn’t get the radio for the extra bands, I got it for the IF DSP which I feel is comparable to that in the Pro III. The IC7200 has the same DSP but doesn’t have the graphical interface that the clearly better IC7000 has. I love the interface, being an Icom man it took no more than an hour to find my around the rig, the screen is awesome, just awesome. I have it in the white screen mode as I find it more legible in variable light conditions and from odd angles.

So it was another Saturday afternoon I found myself on the PSK bands. It was the weekend of the PSK Deathmatch and I was working stations on the east coast US even though my balcony faces NW. At about 3.40pm a weak signal appeared in the waterfall, a JA station calling CQ, and nobody was coming back to him. I pumped up my RF out to about 35watts and gave it a go. He came back to me with a 529, weak but readable, he copied me better than I could read him, a product of all the crappy urban noise I must put up with, but the QSO was made none the less. The JA station was soon followed in the log by a UA Asiatic Russian station whose eQSL I already have in my Inbox.

In less than a week I have gone from no station or rig to intercontinental DXing with a compromise, temporarily installed antenna and 35w or less. HF dead, don’t think so.

CQ WW DX SSB 2009

I had always wanted to put a bit of time into this one. In the end I worked a bit of the Friday evening, most of Saturday daytime from VE7NSR, along with VA7JMO as a Multi-Single.

Ran for a time on 40m and 80m on the Friday evening and Saturday though mostly S&P. Was the first time doing any significant running on sideband. It was lots of fun and not as scary as I thought it would be. I’m always worried about screwing up callsigns but it never became an issue.

I used the the ProIII’s built in DVK, as setting up the DVK from N1MM would be painful. Getting the audio levels right out of a sound-card can be difficult. The ProIII DVK delivers audio indistinguishable from that of live on-air audio, plus it’s really easy to setup. It is a pity that there is no way you can key the ProIII DVK directly over CI-V from N1MM like you can with the Yaesu FT2000. I think I might buy the Better RF ‘I-Mate’ which allows you to key the DVK memories externally.

There were lots of highlights for me. I enjoyed running but I think it is better suited to a lower noise environment. There were so many stations I just could not pull out of the mud, especially on 40m. DX wise the highlights were working ZL and VK stations with low power on 40m and 15m for the first time. In fact the first contact was on 40m, with a wire dipole at 100W, not bad for a solar minimum.

VE7NSR SteppIR 3ele: This is our workhorse antenna.

VE7NSR SteppIR 3ele: This is our workhorse antenna.


15m was a blast on the Saturday. It was like a DX expressway. I don’t know was it the case that 20m was so busy that many stations moved up or were conditions that bit better? I think it was more a case of the former to be honest. Bands will sound dead if nobody is operating on them.

20m was tough. Europe was tough even after the wall of east coast stations dissipated, so much splatter. Picking off the JAs in the late afternoon is fun though, turns the tables on our east coast cousins who can pick off the Europeans at ease. It’s nice to be able to pull up into a minor pile-up on a JA station and work him first time round as stations further east struggle. Such was the case on 15m for the VK and ZL stations I worked along with FK8GM in New Caledonia and E51JD in the Cook Islands, it’s all ocean between here and there.

I tried working 9M8Z but to no avail on 15m or 20m. After the contest was over I wondered why. I loaded up Google Earth and pinpointed my station and his. 9M is on roughly the same 300 degree path from VE7NSR as the JA stations are. However the take off angle is a lot lower and Cypress Mountain looms high on that horizon, oh well!

Total contacts were 238 for 54,366 pts. Usually good enough for a cert. in the M/S category in BC but looking at the 3830 list it seems VE7SV are entering as a M/S this year as opposed to their regular M/2 or M/M. I don’t think we could catch their 2700 contacts!

Contest-o-rama

The contest season has truly begun……

I hope to make my first full contesting season as a ham a truly memorable one, by giving each contest a fair crack of the whip, or that’s the plan!

Last months CQ WW RTTY contest was a chance to brush up on my RTTY contesting skills, something which I hadn’t done in months. I’m a sideband man as you probably know, but RTTY contesting sharpens your speed and skills even if it is not my preferred contesting mode.

I also use it as a chance to hone my knowledge of the station and antennas at VE7NSR, my home from home during the contesting season. Contesting at VE7NSR is a usually a casual affair for most of the us (we usually enter as a Multi-One), though at least we set goals to better the previous years performances. However as my confidence in operating grows it is nice to set some personal goals vis-a-vis rates/hour etc etc. As a station we are limited by location and many other factors but I think as a part-time outfit I think we do a great job.

Following on from the CQ WW RTTY, I Single-Op’d in the CA QP, using the chance to try out a some of the other radios in the station. The main HF position at VE7NSR is an Icom Pro III but we also have an IC-718 and an HF capable IC-7000. I like the IC-7000, in some ways the DSP is better in the IC7K than in the Pro III. The dual-variable manual notch filters in IC7K beats anything the Pro III has. It really is a very good all round radio, I think it has caught my eye and very soon maybe my wallet too. Right now I’m just imagining it perched on top of my IC-1500, a match made in heaven.

Having got into the spirit of all things RTTY, VE7NSR’s next assignment was the Makrothen RTTY contest. The Makrothen is a fun and unusual contest. It’s scoring system is based on distances and the 24hr operating time is split up over three 8 hour segments, making this a very XYL friendly contest. I op’d all of the Saturday segment finishing at a respectable 5pm. I also logged the final hour of the overnight third segment on the Sunday morning, picking up some well needed European mults on 20m. With no other ops present I really learned some lessons in contest strategizing, breaks? band changes? band openings? etc. Becoming situationally aware of the contest as a whole is paramount, sometimes seeing the ‘bigger picture’ will make life easier and save valuable time. A lesson well learned during the Makrothen.

This weekend past was the JARTS RTTY. We entered as a Multi-Op station with four on the team this time round. I feel there is a definite sea change in band conditions compared to last year. Though we always usually enter as a HP station I can only operate within the limits of the Basic+ Cert. if there is no Advanced level op around. That means 100w barefoot as the PA is setup for 300w+ on RTTY. Industry Canada limits non sideband modes to 190w carrier power for Basic Certificate holders. But even with 100w this past weekend there were lots of DX stations to work, the highlight being (for me at least!), UN1L in Kazakhstan. 100w transpolar, no problem.

All of this though is only a warm up to the grand-daddy of contests, the one I have been looking forward to for quite sometime, the CQ WW DX SSB. There should be plenty of interest, so lets hope we have lots of keen hams on the team.

Keep an out for our recent and future contest scores on the 3830 list. I’ve been posting mine and VE7NSR’s there lately, a great way to see how you size up to the big boys!

ARRL Field Day 2009

The North Shore Amateur Radio Club (NSARC) this year operated as a 2F emergency operations centre station. Usually the club organises a field event on Cypress Mountain but this year it was felt it would be better to showcase the communications room at the North Shore Emergency Management Office (NSEMO). NSARC maintains a number stations in the room as part of an agreement with the NSEMO, in effect creating our club station.

This years station, VE7NSR comprised of the following:

Icom IC 756 ProIII with a SteppIR 3 element yagi on 20m.
Icom IC 756 ProII with a inverted V dipole on 40m
Icom IC 7000 with an assortment of yagis on 6, 2 and 70cm.

We also operated the IC 7000 as a Get on the Air (GOTA) station with the callsign VE7EMR. This was radio fed into an N4PC loop operating on 80m.

This was my first field day as a licensed operator so I decided to jump straight into the deep end. I had signed myself up for a nice spot at around 9.30pm on the Saturday evening. Little did I know that I would remain the rest of the night, fortunes swaying with the changing band conditions.

I arrived early at 7.30pm hoping to sit around for a while and soak it all in. I hadn’t operated for over two months as work commitments had meant my weekends were tied up. As no other newly minted hams had showed up my first task was to fire up the GOTA station and score a few bonus points. I’m not sure of the exact amount of points but I believe it was standard scoring per QSO and then a bonus for each 20 QSOs. All the stations were using N1MM for logging but as I was switching the callsign to VE7EMR it was easier to paper-log than create a second instance of N1MM.

In about two hours or so with a few breaks I racked up about 25 QSOs on 80m. The band was poor at first, but around 9pm it came alive as more and more regional field day stations were switching over to 80m with the setting sun. I decided to call it quits on the GOTA station once I had filled out a page of a standard RAC logbook. This was my first time operating on 80m.

Switching to the 20m station things were a lot slower than I expected. The number of QSOs dropped considerably after 11pm. I kept plugging away logging a few Hawaiian and Alaskan stations and a few west US coast stations that had slipped under the radar earlier in the day. At about 12.30am I heard a Japanese station call CQ, he had a queue but an orderly one at that. Running 100w in poor conditions I knew I wasn’t going to bust the pileup.

I moved up the band and had a listen around but it seemed the band had gone long with little or no North American activity. At about 1am I decided to come back to the JA station. The queue was still there so I knew I would have to play the waiting game.

I have no problem pounding on the door of a DX station, but I’m more of a sly fox than a big gun. Its all about timing. Every station is going to call when the DX calls ‘QRZ’, there’s no point calling then. Listen to the rhythm of his QSO’s. Maybe the DX has a QSO that goes awry and the natural rhythm of the QSOs is upset, you should be ready to pounce on this ‘dead air’. At about 1am I bagged JE7YSS.

Throughout the event all of our QSOs were logged in N1MM. To highlight the stations contacted and provide a visual representation of the days proceedings club member Luke VA7LWE had designed a piece of software that interacted with the log in N1MM. His program ‘Visual QTH’ will listen for log traffic that N1MM generates over IP. (N1MM will send log contacts over IP to other instances of the software on the same network so as to keep the logs upto date on each station if running multi-multi, this avoids dupes).

Luke’s software extracts information from the log and correlates it with information from the QRZ.com database. Each QSO is presented as a point on a global map and with distances between your QTH and the station contacted calculated. The software also pulls up a QSL card and website of the station contacted (if available) and displays them in a scrollable list. To top it off the software announces each contact in cw and computer generated voice! We had the software running from a laptop projecting onto a large screen in a room adjacent to the radio-room. This allowed visitors to visualise the QSOs as they were being made. Read more about Visual QTH here.

At about 2am I switched over to 40m on the second 756 station. Things were slow here and once the Asian shortwave broadcasters kicked in around 3am the band became unusable except for a little sliver between 7150 and 7200. Having never operated at this time of day before I decided it would be beneficial to stick around and watch how the bands develop if only for educational purposes.

With sunrise calculated for around 4.20am I expected conditions on all bands to change considerably before, during and after this period. I was especially interested to see how 20m would shape at this time in the morning, but it didn’t. I kept monitoring 20m, up and down the band. Nothing. Around 6.30am some Florida stations were weakly heard but far too weak to work. It took another full hour before I could begin making contacts again, working a few in far southern Florida.

Gradually the pace of the QSOs quickened as the band opened up on the South East US. However what surprised me was how long it took for 20m to ‘warm up’. It was a full four hours after sunrise before the band would be what I would call ‘usable’ at about 8am. Granted I have never experienced 20m at this time of day before but it was a bit of a surprise.

With a only hours left in the event and a QSO hungry shift coming on stream in the morning I decided to call it quits and head for my bed. It was a very enjoyable night overall. I really familiarised myself with the ProIII on this event and I’ve found a comfortable operating zone with the controls I need the most, VFO, AF gain, noise reduction, passband tuning and notch. If every radio only had those I’d be happy.