A Call for Ideas – Planning a VHF/UHF Antenna Shootout

Ideas and suggestions are sought for a hamfest forum in June I am trying to gin up – a shootout for VHF and UHF antennas.  Have you ever been to one, participated in one, read about one, or just have some ideas for me (other than don’t do it, you dummy)?

Here’s the plan as it now stands – we’d have three categories: factory-built, homebrewed, and whips for HT’s.  I’ve just ordered a MFJ Field Strength Meter that comes next week, so my hope is to use that, stationed say, one hundred yards away from the contestants, to record signal strength as generated by the contestants’ 5 watt HT’s.  This has been stimulated by my own desire to know what antennas are best, despite manufacturers’ claims, in real-world conditions.  If the distance is too close, we could try to station someone a mile or so away, but the logistics of that in a hamfest settting, with all the normal commotion, may not be practical.  Maybe reserve that for a club meeting or Field Day.

Another method may be to have a willing ham with a station out of town, listen for us on simplex from his QTH.  I’d have to find the right ham in the right location in hilly Atlanta, and hope that he can hear any of us.

So, if my ideas are lame, please pass along your no doubt better ideas.  Tnx & 73, de Wayne, k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.

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On the Air – SOTA, POTA, BOTA, IOTA and now, COTA

Cinderella's Castle

Photo Attributed to Katie Rommel-Esham, commons.wikimedia.org

The newest OTA I’ve discovered is the World Castles Award, or COTA – Castles on the Air.  Not sure if COTA is official or not, but let’s call it that for now, since it rhymes so well with SOTA, POTA and BOTA.  (IOTA is only a half-rhyme).

You might think “We Americans don’t have any castles here; we were settled after the period of castle-building, so how is this relevant to me?”  Well, you can think that if you want to, but you might be wrongish.  True, we have no castles in North America (or do we? – see below), but we do have other structures that the wise men and women of WCA have recognized as eligible structures of note.  Happy Dance!  Here’s a new game we can play once we’re all worn out activating all the mountains in SOTA, parks in POTA, and beaches in BOTA.

Here in the Southeast that I inhabit, there are scores of eligible structures.  In my own tiny hometown of Decatur, GA, pop. 18,000, I find that we, too, have a castle called Oakhurst Castle.  I need to find out what that is, and of course, activate it.  Look for me on Dxsummit some day.

Forts, even if not fortified, can qualify, such as Fort Jackson, SC, where I spent three happy months one summer and most if not all other military bases with “Fort” in their title.  Also, historic forts like Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida qualifies but the towns of Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Fort Pierce where we can imagine forts once stood, are sadly excluded.  However, don’t despair – you can still go to the beach in those towns and activate your suntan via BOTA!

Mansions, or “Stately Homes,” also seem to qualify, such as the indisputably stately Biltmore House in Asheville (raise your hand if you’ve been there).  The WCA styles it as “Biltmore Castle.”

Scanning the list I see others in my haunts I can consider activating and some that raise questions such as one on Marco Island known only as “Unknown Castle.”

But there is one I expected to see that has been overlooked – probably the only purpose-build Castle in the United States, and it’s certainly not unknown; of course I’m talking about Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom (raise your hand again if you’ve been there).  If you are as hurt as I am at this (rather slight) slight, please join me in a letter-writing campaign to the WCA to help right this wrong.  We’re Americans – we fought for our freedom, now we must fight for Cinderella’s honor!

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

Split Personality

Illustrating my Split Ham Personality – QRP or QRO?  I am conflicted.  On the one hand Dr. Jekyll wants to use QRP for the fun and challenge of minimal operations; because you can build your own gear and antennas, and because of portability – take it to the field!

But Mr. Hyde wants to work DX and collect countries and is tired of being a 90-lb barefoot weakling being pushed around by more powerful stations so he craves power!

Yes, I know about John Shannon, K3WWP, (who is a national treasure by the way) who’s worked the world many times over on 5 watts and simple wire antennas and who has made a QSO a day for 19 years (>7,000) on QRP so we all know it is possible but if you are still working full time as I am and have a limited amount of time to devote to DXing or even to just hamming in general, a little extra power is nice.  Is this a long sentence or what?  John’s excellent and interesting website is http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/ and worth a visit, IMHO.

The upper amp in the pic is an old Heathkit SB-200 that I have not been able to get on the air and the lower is a “new” used Ameritron 811H I just acquired and with a tuner that is coming soon I will have it on the air when needed.  My strategy, initially at least, will be to go barefoot to try to make a DX contact calling CQ but failing that, up the power.

The rigs on the bottom are my Yeasu 817 bought used in 2012 and my NorCal 40A built from a kit in the nineties.  It needs a new keyer at the moment, by the way.

I still want DXCC QRP and have 88 countries so far, so I’ll resume that after I get to 200 countries barefoot or QRO.  Two hundred countries seems to be a nice threshold for DX accomplishments, based on the number of people at the DX dinner at Dayton a few years ago I attended.  A well-attended event, the moderator had everyone stand who had 100 countries and of course that was most of us, absent spouses.  Then remain standing if you have >200 and at least half the room sat down.  So, I scientifically conclude that >200 would put you in the upper half and that’s where I want to be.  As the count increased to 250, etc. more and more people sat down till just one hero remained but I don’t expect to ever get into a rarefied atmosphere; just the upper half will do for me.  So I’ll use my amp(s) to get me there, then sell one and keep the other for special occasions.

Wish me luck; I have 111 entities confirmed (but 146 worked) as of July 2013 so this could take a while!split-personality-qrp-or-qro

QSO365 Streak Busted 12APR12

Inspired by the QSO365 Challenge I learned about on a Practical Amateur Radio Podcast in December, I began the New Year making a qso a day everyday I was in town (I had to relax the strict rule a little as I travel a bit on business and do not yet have a good, reliable portable radio setup) and managed it 103 days (minus travel days as discussed), but today I was busted.

I was returning from out of town and at first I didn’t think I’d even get back to the shack by 8pm EDT (2400Z) in time to even attempt a qso for April 12, but I did arrive abt 7:20pm.  After unloading, I was on the air by 7:35, in plenty of time, I thought.  But, Murphy conspired against me and I couldn’t hit anyone.  Tried a couple of Titanic commemorative stations (this wk is the 100th anniversary) but too much QRM and competition from stronger stations.  Finally, I heard K9KU calling CQ on 40m CW with a strong signal abt 7:58pm.  I answered him twice but he didn’t come back!  😦  At 8:01 I heard W8VLN a KHz up and answered him but to be honest with myself, it was after midnight UTC so it was the next day.

However, my reward was one of the best CW qso’s I’ve had in quite a while.  Larry, who lives west of Dayton, has been a ham for 57 years and been to Dayton 55 years!  However, he said he may not go this year.  He was very nice about QRS for me, which I needed as my CW is just plain lame right now.  We went on and talked about Dayton; he told me they had like 44,000 attendees 15 yrs ago but in recent yrs has been more like 18,000.  I went last yr for the first time (and will go agn this yr), and I thought it was plenty crowded at 18,000!  He told me (I think; my copy is ragged) they have 1,000 dealers this yr and 3,500 spaces outside.  Not sure if I copied that rt, tho.

As I received 599 from him, I lowered pwr to 50w and still got 599.  Lowered it agn to 25w and got 579.  Interesting thing to try in mid-qso.  I raised it back to 50w for remainder of qso, just for his ease of copy.

QSO356: will I go back to it or not?  It has been both a liberation and a burden.  A liberation as it has made me get on the air with diligence, and as a result, I have learned a lot more abt the many buttons and features on my rig.  A burden in that sometimes I am tired and returning fm an evening event at 10 or later in the evening and still feel the need to make that qso.  Often, just to make that qso for the log, I have found a DX station and done a quick 599 TU and got it over in a matter of seconds, which frankly is not that satisfying to me.

I think I’ll go back to attempting a qso a day but not be obsessive about it, and stress quality qso’s, like tonight’s, over just getting one in the log.

Bye bye!

Thoughts on QSO365, modified to suit my lifestyle

Larry, W2LJ is also pursuing QSO365 or the equivalent thereof but missed a day today.  He posted that in a blog, http://t.co/wcdOgVnD, so I replied as follows: Larry, I too am attempting QSO365 (k4wk.wordpress.com) but I have a modified the rule to say “an HF qso a day everyday I am home.” This is necessary for me as I travel overnight sometimes on business or pleasure and don’t have a portable HF rig. With that proviso in effect, I have made my qso365 so far but sorry you missed one of yours.

I run 100w normally so if you are doing it qrp, I tip my hat to you and will gladly grant you a “Mulligan!”

Plain and Simple Station

My table used to be full of misc gear, books and mags; cluttered and hard to work in.  Then, I had to move everything out of the shack to have the hardwood floors refinished so when it was time to move back in, I “cleaned house,” at least the shack part of it.  Now, it is clean and tight and I could make it even more spartan by removing the signalink I barely use (for PSK) and maybe even the mic since most my work is in Morse.

QSO 365

I am following G6NHU’s QSO 365 Challenge (http://qso365.co.uk/what-isqso365/) to make at least one qso everyday.  Today is Jan 28 and I’ve succeeded to make 28 daily QSO’s so far this year. 

In my time zone, eastern, 0000Z occurs at 7pm, so I’ve been waiting till after 7 to get on the radio every day.  Yesterday and last night I was out of town so when I got back today I had to get on the air before 7pm to make my qso for Jan 27, then waited a bit till after 7 and made mine for the 28th.  #28 was Croatia, calling CQ on 40m CW. 

Thoughts so far: this is both a burden and good discipline.  Most of my contacts are CW and a New Year’s Goal has been to get better at CW.  I don’t have time to actually practice CW but getting on the air daily, even tho just for a short qso, has improved my ear.  I am still solid at 17wpm but shaky at 19 and up.  In the low twenties, the speed of most DX stations, I have to hear the exchange several times to catch the whole call sign and then thankfully all I have to do is send and receive 599.

So much for the good discipline part; the burden is that I have to do this every night, even if I’ve been out for the evening or I’m tired or something else, or have to be darn sure I can get on the air before 7pm the next day. 

Since I’m doing this at night (as I have a fulltime job), 40m and sometimes 80m are all that’s been open.  This weekend I hope to work on 20m and up during the daylight. 

I don’t think I can keep this up for 365 days unless I get a mobile HF rig I can use in the car and take on trips.  Alas, Dayton is too far off to be of help here!