Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 highlights, 2020 goals

My traditional post for years, to look back at 2019 and look forward at 2020. I think it is good to have a goal in this hobby, or at least a wish...People do need something to look forward to, what would be life good for otherwise?

So, what happened this year? Did I meet my goals, do I still have wishes for future radio activities? This will be post 140 this year, a absolute year record since I started this weblog in 2008. A lot has happened, unexpected things as always and some expected things as well.

2019 operating position
Starting with my antenna experiments this past year. I had great success with the fence beverage but found it didn't work after everything went wet by rain. I didn't get it right afterwards when everything went dry, just recently I discovered I probabely have transmitted on the beverage by accident. I dismantled the transformer and it was clear to me everyting went black, and it did smell as well...on it went with a experimental vertical, a experimental H-pole antenna and finally a top loaded shunt unipole vertical. I made my first Japan QSO on 160m with the unipole and it did a very good job on 60m and 80m as well. Not really a goal but just a "for fun" alternative DXCC challenge took off in March and it really went on. I also got more and more problems with my 22 year old Icom IC-706 and realized I would need another transceiver. Luckely I could borrow the IC-7300 from Bram PC7B. I achieved my 2019 goal with it working Japan on 6m after a evening with the brightest noctilucent clouds I've ever seen. The same month achieving my goal I activated 5 castles for the 10th anniversary of the World Castle Award program, it was unbelievable that this has so much interest from stations providing me with small pile ups every activation. Then in August I finally had the money to buy a Icom IC-7300 as a birthday present.

Tower dec. 2019
I decided the HF5B had to go and I mounted the 4 element 10m LFA beam instead. For 10-24 MHz I mounted the vertical again with only one radial. The inverted-V is still there for 3-7 MHz. Strange enough the vertical does a unexpected good job on 160m. We had a great CQWW DX SSB contest with the PA6AA team again at the end of October and this was the actual start of my contest season again taking part in the yearly Frysian 11 cities contest, the PA-beker contest and the 160m CQWW CW contest in which I participated QRP.  In between I squeezed a kit building project, a digital FSM which gave me some trouble at first but I got it finished in the end. A 10m band opening to Australia was a nice surprise at the first of December and some real magic on this band. Unfortunately the magic didn't hold on and propagation was worse for the 10m ARRL contest although we got a bit of winter ES at the second day. I didn't have time enough unfortunately. Wow, if I look back on 2019 a lot of things happened it is just amazing.

Blogwise my most populair post was about the rowland ring feed experiment. I actually got the idea from VK3YE. A post about antennas, especially rare ones, seems always be very populair. Although personally I think my posts about PA0DR are the most interesting read this year.

Do I still have a goal for next year?
Yes I do, I might be a little ambitious but I intend to build a 5 band quad beam antenna. I have been searching for a suitable design and think I found it but more about that in future posts. If time allows of course! Another goal would be get active on 70MHz, the IC-7300 does have the 4m option and we are allowed to transceive there. It would be great to be active on that band with a good antenna in the ES season. Not that I lost interest in the 6m band, but I need some variety ;-). Besides that there are not too many active on that band yet and so there are a lot of challenges. I will continue with the DXCC challenges on various bands although instead of 6m I might insert 4m this time.

Do I have wishes for next year? Well, actually hobby wise no. I wish my family and me stay healthy which is the most important thing of all.

From the operator chair in my shack wishing you all a good, healthy and prosperous 2020.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

#10m 29 Dec. 2019

Again there was some ES especially to Scandinavia today. I heard FR4OO but unfortunately he didn't hear/see me...

Saturday, December 28, 2019

#10m 28 Dec. 2019

There was an ES opening on 10m late afternoon. Unfortunately I had to after a few contacts. But the nice surprise was a contact with ZS6BUN today. Using 50W FT8 into my 4 elem. LFA @13m agl.

Friday, December 27, 2019

VHF / UHF FT8 activity

When PA4GB Gerrie (my closest HAMradio neighbour) visited our workshop today at my job I realized there are other topics within our radio hobby besides HF. Personally I'm almost only writing about HF, it's my passion and in my opinion it contains the magic I'm personally looking for. However, there is so much more. I know Gerrie is more into UHF and even SHF, he has the capability to work via QO-100 sat and does more experiments with that. Could it be I miss something? Well I don't know? But it might be interesting to enter this new open contest on VHF/UHF FT8.

It seems this is a Romanian based site. I have to say it looks good. You can upload your log, there is a good and clear description. It is a short contest round of 3 hours (17-20UTC) every month. It seems you can view results instantly. Looks very promising...

The whole intention is to generate more activity on VHF/UHF. I doubt if it will help but I think this will always attract some stations. Unfortunately the IC-7300 does not have 144/432 MHz, but my small FT-817 has. Just for curiousity I might take part at some the ES season this summer?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

60m Christmas DX

Well, everyone should know, Christmas is the best time for DX! But of course you need to balance your time between family and hobby. However, the 60m band is mostly a nighttime DX band. So when everyone is sleeping it's time to DX. Unfortunately I need some rest as well, I can't stay up the whole night. But there is enough DX that can be worked in the evening already.

Christmas evening I worked 2 new DXCC and reworked one that I was not shure about I was in the log. The first new one was with 8P2K from Barbados. I knew that this station had been active the day before but I had no time to be on the radio at that time. Luckely he was on again,

Second station was VP8EME from Falkland Islands. I never received any good signal station from VP8 on 60m but propagation was in our favour this time. I managed to make the contact for another new one on 60m.

Third station was ZF1DM from Cayman Islands. I thought to have worked Danny before but I was not shure he got my RR73 message. But from my second chance I immidiatly received his eQSL...

Of course I worked a lot of other DX. Many from the USA, Canada and Brazil. But most important I received a lot of DX as well. Most of them already worked. Spotted were: Z81D, C5YK, HC2AO, 9K2YM

And then first Christmas day, everyone was calling Z81D. But I was aiming for my fellow blogger AE5X from Texas. We tried to make a sked a while ago on 17m but it didn't happen. I noticed I could receive him on 60m lately and wrote him a e-mail yesterday since I was on the radio just with a few minutes difference between his CQ and me being on the keyboard. So I had a estimated time this time....and it did happen. We finally made a QSO. Thanks John!

Well, I already publish this blogpost but Christmas is not yet over. If there are more Christmas DX presents I will certainly update.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Friday, December 20, 2019

#DX ?....the incredible 60m band

Little did I know that 60m would be my main DX band in 2019 when we just were allowed on this band on 3-dec-2015. Actually in the first years there were not many stations, most DX traffic was on SSB/CW and all digital traffic was on JT65, JT9 and RTTY. Imagine sometimes there were no stations at all on 5357KHz digital. I remember I did a QSO QRP 5W JT65 to A45XR Oman in 2016 when I was busy with my QRP challenge. But over the years more and more countries are allowed to transmit on 60m. And these days the digital mode frequency is getting overcrowded with FT8. It also seems that DXpeditions are seriously interested to gain access to 60m because there is a lot of interest for that. There are even DXpeditions in countries that don't normally have 60m access but do make exceptions. It also revealed surprise propagation paths that no one would ever think of. Like hearing the pacific till late in the morning (daylight), longpath contacts to New Zealand almost every day and hearing Asia late in the afternoon (daylight). If you want to DX, the 60m band is a good choice if you're allowed to transmit there. The only problem is the limitation on output power. 15W is not a lot, but with a good antenna and good propagation everything is possible.

At the start of 2019 I worked about 80 DXCC on 60m. I thought it would be great if I would be able to get that number at 100 but doubt it would be possible. I created a list for 6m and 60m at the right side of my blog, just for fun. That way I was able to count towards that 100 and others could see my efforts. However, things went crazy....I worked far more as expected. I had never thought that 60m would be this suitable for DX.

We are almost at the end of 2019 and the list is still growing...
 I gathered all worked stations on 60m in 2019 (till today) to display it at the world map.

Total number of DXCC worked in 2019 only is 58. Total DXCC worked at this date is 132. I never dreamed I would get this far on the 60m band.

Time for a little research. We have a small DXCC league on clublog. Unfortunately not every DXer is participating. I miss PE5T and PG0DX, I know both worked many DXCC, certainly more compared to what I managed to work. PA2S is at top with 166 DXCC, I think he does a good job considering he suffers a lot of QRM at his QTH. PA3FQA is a well known DXer in the Netherlands. Surprisingly I'm on 3rd place, but I know that's only because at least 2 top DXers are not in the list. As far as I know PG0DX Henry has worked over 140-145 DXCC, not exactly shure of that number. I don't know how many PE5T Kees has worked. Kees has been on top of the overall DXCC league for years, but that tells nothing about the 60m of course since everyone started at zero in 2015. It would be interesting to know what countries they worked. I know that between the 166 DXCC Henk PA2S worked are a lot of DXCC that are officially not alowed on 60m. Unfortunately this happens to me as well. I'm not shure how many DXCC are illigally on 60m but I guess I worked at least 5.

Well, I know.....many radioamateurs do collect DXCC as a hobby. It is nice to compare numbers to see if you do well. But DXCC is not the most important thing in the hobby. Everything in the hobby is important, some prefer this and some prefer that. It is just wat you're attracted to. Personally I like to experiment, but I like to make contacts to DX  as well. 2019 was really a "DX" year for me and on 60m it was a blast.

Below some nice cards received from some of the DX I worked (Click on it for larger versions).

HC2AO Ecuador 06-Mar-2019 60m FT8
K5EK USA 15-Nov-2017 60m FT8
MJ/OQ7A/P Jersey C.I. 27-May-2019 60m CW
TA4AEI Turkey 17-Mar-2019 60m FT8
TK/DB4BJ Corsica 07-May-2019 60m FT8 (probabely illigal!)
VE1YX Canada 5-Dec-2015 60m SSB
5B4ALX Cyprus 06-Juli-2017 60m JT65

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Omega match shunt fed tower

Final match, I removed the ladder of course...
I got a insight of how to construct this when watching VE6WZ videos on this subject. I miss a good working full size vertical antenna for 60m and after my successful efforts with a top loaded shunt fed unipole vertical made from my antennatower at the start of this year. I could have repeated building it but currently have my autotuner feeding my vertical all band antenna on top of the tower. So I still search for another solution. This describes my experiment with shunt feeding my tower with a omega match or gamma match. I took a 80cm alu corner strip and tighten it to the tower with ty-raps. Measured with a ohm meter if I had a good connection of course. A single wire is going down from the end and on the ground around the mast in star formation are about 10 radials of 15m each. Well, I guess you look at the video first to understand what I'm talking about.

I followed Stephen's advice and searched for a 50 Ohm point on my tower with the antenna analyzer. Started too hight of course and found 50 Ohm on 4,4MHz. So I went on a little lower in a few steps for a 50 Ohm point at roughly 5,360MHz. (You can click the pictures for a larger one.)

A variable capacitor should make the SWR 1:1 but in practise I got a 1:2 match only. I got a better match when I moved the wire further from the tower.

 The final match is 1:1 SWR with almost a R=50Ohm and X almost nil. Good enough for me.

And now the final test, does it work?
Well not surprisingly it does but not as good as my inverted-V. It works like the vertical I made last year alongside the tower and it works just as well compared to the 1/4 wave endfed. About 3-4dB less signal as my inverted-V both on receive as transmit. Compared to my vertical on top of the tower it is about 2dB better. Yes, even on DX it doesn't work as well as my inverted-V.

Is it disappointing? Well it is of course, after each experiment you hope to find something that works much better. But unfortunately this is real life, and not every experiment will succeed. If you have a free standing tower like me and it is at a reasonable distance from any building (with iron inside) it could work well with a system like this. But I guess a vertical antenna for me is out of the question due to the metal structures near the tower.

Now a few other antenna experiments are on my wish list. MW1CFN John suggested I should try a sloper configuration. This will be a next experiment. I tried a sloper before at my previous location. It was a 3 band, 160m, 80m and 40m and it worked well. But at that time I didn't have my 2x20m inverted-V with open line feed, so I couldn't compare. Another experiment would be a single shortened dipole in the tower. I've had the idea from PA2S Henk, but think it is really a compromise antenna to turn away the noise. A magnetic loop outside the house probabely does equally. And that is a experiment I wish to do as well but it has to wait for summer. A large magnetic loop only for 60m, will it work? Too many ideas....and not that much time.

Monday, December 16, 2019

#10m ARRL contest 2019 review

Well, this was a very busy weekend. First of all I promised to install a christmas star in the antennatower. I had the idea to use a multicolor LED strip in the form of a star. I found a reasonable priced LED RGB strip with WiFi in a local shop, a colleague still had a star made of iron on his attic. Well, things came together and I lowered the tower to install everything saturday morning. I was a little afraid the LED driver would have a dramatic QRM effect on my receiver but it does not. I was also afraid of  electrically driving the LED strip when transmitting, something I saw lately from a light project by PB7Z Bernard. But nothing happened, even not when transmitting 100W. I have access to this LED strip with my phone over the internet and can choose any color I want it to shine from everywhere in the world with internet access. Well project finished.....But when I pull the line to install the inverted-V antenna again I noticed one of the legs was broken, just the part into the trees and over a ditch which is normally dry but is full of water in wintertime. Oh my! And I had to go for the 10m contest.  I don't need the inverted-V for the 10m contest so I let it go at first, but then later on I got a message that a new country could be worked on 60m already late in the afternoon. I had to choose, listening to the 10m band noise and wait till I found a signal or fix the inverted-V to have a chance for A50BOC from Bhutan. I chose to repair the inverted-V but had no time to try for A50BOC since I had to go to a party, family business, returning very late in the evening.

Well, the 10m contest. I managed 20 QSO on saturday after all. It took a lot of effort, propagation was really hard. With some meteorscatter pings and fast fading. Stations could appear one moment and gone the other. Most of the QSOs are made on CW as expected, almost nothing was heard on SSB. And in the end I spend less time due to antenna repairs.

Contesting with bad propagation on the IC-7300 is a complete different dimension compared to how I did it in the previous years. I had to get used to it, but it works well. The spectrum display in N1MM+ working together with the IC-7300 is really usefull in this case. Turning the antenna you can clearly see signals going up or down to see which direction is the best.

And no, you cannot hear everything. The IC-7300 is good but is not magical. I didn't work all the calls displayed in the picture, they are from the DXcluster and are just a indication in case a signal pops up there.

The HamAlert tip I gave...well I hope it did well. It went too well here. I got over 1000 spots on my phone. My XYL asked me who was calling all the time till I explained it could be stations I could work. I actually went crazy from it and changed it to only spot when my own call was spotted.

FR4QT's signal
I had some more time Sunday, that will the morning. I started reasonable early and there were already some conditions. At least I made some QSOs but signals were fading fast again. Till about 11 UTC when propagation started to get better. The magic winter ES?? It was even so good that I heard FR4QT from Reunion Isl. with a S7 on SSB! Well I tried to make a screenshot, should have switched the AGC to slow....

Below the first part a short recording from FR4QT's signal. A few minutes later I managed to work Namibia V51WH Gunter in SSB. He was about S5. Recorded the QSO and attached it to the soundfile. Listen below...

Fun isn't it! I really enjoy the 10m band when it is opening. Propagation was really good and I managed to get some EA stations in the log on SSB. I heard Russia and Israel on CW but unfortunately they didn't hear me. However, I had to go. Since we had a party saturday evening my daughter slept at my parents home. So we had to go there to get her home. I decided I wouldn't be returning on 10m again and finished the contest participation. I'm shure if I had more time I would at least have 25 more contacts into the log.

Actually I did know winter ES was something possible but never hoped for it during the 10m contest, but it happened. I heard other dutch stations as well and think they did a lot better since they had some more time. Overall I had a lot of fun again, the 10m band is still my favorite band.

Returning back home late afternoon. You wouldn't believe it but we had to go again! We just had a hour to get a cup of tea and then leave for other family business, in this case out for a diner. But in that hour I saw A50BOC spotted. I slipped into the shack and tuned in for 60m FT8. I saw A50BOC with strong signals. A few calls later I was in the log...Bhutan of a new one on 60m and a ATNO (All Time New One).