Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Experimenting with Weak Signal Propagation Reporter

Last week, Phil KL8DX mentioned the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) network and the initial success he was having using 8 watts on the low bands from his high-noise location in Healy, near Denali National Park.  G4ILO has a really nice writeup on WSPR.  I couldn't resist the temptation to play myself, so on Friday I configured KL2R to transceive using the K1JT software and report results up to the network.  I changed bands aperiodically from 160/80/40/20 as well as changed antennas.  Here's a map showing spots to/from KL2R during a 16-hour period on 40m using 10 watts and a dipole at 100 feet.

I can see immediately the potential application for contesting to notify the user of possible band openings, particularly on 10 and 160m.  Information on all bands is useful, because propagation from our location to a particular area can be very, very short-lived.  I can also imagine a long-term study using the spot data to better understand conditions required for those openings.  We need more WSPR stations in KL7, since conditions can be highly variable with latitude. 

For the first time in a long time, I am really excited about some new radio technology.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Skywarn Recognition Day

Once again, Dan KL1JP and Tracy W7EIK did a fine job organizing operations for Skywarn Recognition Day at the local National Weather Service forecast office.  The station callsign is KL7FWX, and they run barefoot using a G5RV and ICOM IC-718 atop the International Arctic Research Center on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.  SSB, CW, and PSK31 contacts were accomplished in the 24-hour event.  Here's a video of Sam KL2TU making his first contacts:

A number of stations worked KL7FWX over the local IRLP node, too.  The down side of this mode is that the self-appointed "policeman" of Alaska IRLP rarely seems to miss an opportunity to belittle operators who may step outside his strict notion of protocol.  I witnessed this first-hand on Saturday afternoon.  We all know the type, and these people provide excellent examples of how NOT to behave on the air.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

CQWW CW - Quick Impressions

Conditions seemed, overall, quite decent for KL7 stations.  KL1JP reported incredible propagation using QRP on 80 and 40 meters Friday night.  No 10 meters was obvious in Fairbanks, but 15m proved strong from US/VE and JA.  N1TX took KL2R through the paces solo-band on 20m in low-power unassisted.  The EU C3 tribander proved its worth there. 

Alaska was well represented as a double multiplier for many.  NL7Z, AL9A, AL7R, AL1G, KL8DX, KL1JP, KL2R, and others were on.

Contest         : CQ World Wide DX Contest
Callsign        : KL2R
Mode            : CW
Category        : Single Operator (SO)
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : Single band (SB) 20 m
Class           : Low Power (LP) UNASSISTED
Zone/State/...  : 01
Locator         : BP64KU
Operating time  : 15h20

  160     0   0   0   0       0  0.00
   80     0   0   0   0       0  0.00
   40     0   0   0   0       0  0.00
   20   969  27  52  27    2250  2.32
   15     0   0   0   0       0  0.00
   10     0   0   0   0       0  0.00
TOTAL   969  27  52  27    2250  2.32
        TOTAL SCORE : 177 750

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

N1TX: More Impressions of SSB Sweeps

Contest         : ARRL Sweepstakes
Callsign        : KL2R
Mode            : PHONE
Category        : Multi Operator - Single Transmitter (MS)
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : All bands (AB)
Class           : Low Power (LP)
Zone/State/...  : AK

Locator         : BP64KU
Operating time  : 14h33

  160     0   0    0       0
   80     3   0    0       6
   40    12   0    1      24
   20   187   1   28     372
   15    92   0   25     184
   10     7   0    5      14
TOTAL   301   1   59     600
    TOTAL SCORE : 35 400

Operators       : N1TX, KL1JP, N6PU, WL7GK

Dan KL1JP and Elaine N6PU kicked off Saturday on 10, and shortly thereafter moved to 15 meters to good effect.  Elaine was new to Win-Test, and between that and getting used to the complicated Sweeps exchange, she had a steep learning curve.  However, she soon became expert.  The operators discovered that the cure for calling CQ and getting dead air in return was to have one of them remove their headsets. 

Dan took advantage of the relative heat wave of Saturday afternoon -- it had warmed to -15F -- to try installing a new 160m vertical (rev 2.0), which unfortunately wouldn't tune up.  The MFJ antenna analyzer was cranky in the cold, too.  Dang!

At 1800 local, their shifts were done, so I pressed on 40m for a short while before getting a headache.  After supper, I napped a couple of hours and returned to the airwaves to ply 80/40 to little effect.  I mean, something like 10 QSOs in six hours?  C'MON!

Elaine returned early Sunday morning as 20m was perking up.  Guest operator Bob WL7GK arrived around 0900 local.  He was new to contesting, and Elaine patiently showed him the ropes while I fought a Windoze problem on a rebuilt laptop.  She gave him a good hour tutoring before having to leave again.  Bob caught his stride with S&P, picking up several badly needed sections on 20 and 15m. 

After lunch I finally elbowed my way on to 20m to try to catch a little running.  After a couple of CQs, and operator called me and told me I was QRMing some net and asked me to move a few kHz.  I agreed, but only after I guilted him into giving me an exchange. :-) I also worked W2RCA, a special event station for the Radio Club of America, which was a bonus.

Just after 1600 local I broke 300 QSOs and pulled the plug, completely exhausted but quite pleased with everyone's teamwork. 

We had no equipment problems, save for the 160m antenna situation.  Dan and I are determined to solve the Top Band QSO gap sooner rather than later.

Notice: We have finally signed up with GlobalQSL for confirmation delivery via the bureaus.  Service of everyone's QSL request should be much more responsive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ARRL Sweeps SSB - Tough, Fun Learning

I promise not to whine about how lousy the low bands were for us and will focus on the up sides observed here at KL2R.  Elaine N6PU soon developed a knack for keeping 15 meters open until late in the day on Saturday after some brief 10m fun with KL1JP.  N1TX manned the late shift on 40 and 80, and it might as well have a head-banging contest.  Elaine had a late-night work call-out and arrived about 1600Z.  She soon mounted up for some 20m action.  When guest operator Bob WL7GK arrived, she took him under her wing for the basics of operating this contest with Win-Test.  After a little more side-saddle time with Larry, Bob soon found a technique that suited him: S&P.  He netted several badly-needed sections, and I could see a big grin develop from this initial panicked look.

In short, I think we al learned something, both about each other as well as various technologies in the KL2R shack.  It's a training ground, first and foremost.

Monday, November 9, 2009

ARRL CW Sweeps @ KL2R in a Word: UGH!

160   0   0   0   0
80    6   0   0   12
40    48  0   6   96
20    207 1   23  414
15    90  0   32  180
10    0   0   0   0
TOTAL 351 1   61  702

TOTAL SCORE : 42,822
Operators :   N1TX, KL1JP

The contest was off to a promising start with a strong opening on 15m, but eventually we moved to 20m and found it was hard to gain traction. Best 40m QSO count ever using the new dipole at 100 feet. Sunday proved rough as the aurora picked up (see purple curve in the chart below), and those east coast multipliers could not hear us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Running KL2R Solo With An Iron Pot On My Head

Larry was gone for the week and upon his return to Alaska, chose to operate at Rich Strand's station KL7RA in Kenai. Larry's absence from Fairbanks and the imminent CQWW SSB contest was enticement enough for me to operate KL2R solo and give those new antennas of his a methodical checkout. My strategy for the contest was to concentrate on acquiring multi's, EU stations and accumulate data on what antenna works the best and for what direction and time period. Little did I know the aurora would kick up into high gear, effectively throwing an iron pot on top of me and that the sun would throw off a nice X-Ray Class C burst adding to a growing list of challenges for my low power operation.

After initializing all the equipment and working out a few start-up bugs, I spent quite a bit of time simply listening…. switching between the Force 12 antennas – the NA C3 and the EU C3. I know that listening in a contest is verboten but heh… I’m testing here. The EU C3 had more noise than the NA C3 but the EU C3 was more sensitive to EU especially Russian and US west coast stations while the NA C3 was more sensitive to daylight JA’s and NA east coast locations. It quickly became obvious that working daylight JA’s off the back of the NA C3 worked better than the EU C3 direct. And, as I expected, China on 20m is still easy during the daytime on the NA C3. I broke thru both large pileups on the first call. Attempting to work the B1/BY3 stations on the EU C3 didn’t bring any results and both calling stations were much muted.

Playing the grayline in the afternoon with the EU C3 got me several stations to the south of Japan and the western coast of Africa (Cape Verde D44AC) to boot. D44AC picked me up on the second call. Tonga (A31KK) came in around the same grayline time period and on the first call. Add to those, both ZM2M and VK4KW which were logged on 15m on the second call. The VK station said we had a big signal.

As I mentioned, during the contest, the aurora kicked up to 9+ and as you would bet, from Fairbanks, the only stations that could hear KL2R where those immediately inside Mother Nature’s iron pot, ie… the aurora cap. Realizing the low probability of contacting lower 48 stations, I altered strategy and attempted to maximize my multi points so I switched to the EU C3 and started calling CQ on both 20m and 15m. Stations in Sweden (SJ2W), Norway (JW7QIA) and Finland (OH8L) came booming back on the first or second call. Surprisingly, even a few in Spain (EB1WW) and (EC2DX) came right back.

Philosophical speaking, having a short lived but high aurora period puts us northern low power stations in good position to pick up EU mults while circumventing the competition. Stations outside the auroral bowl usually have difficulty in being heard by the stations inside the bowl. As long as the aurora is short-lived, it is quite comforting to hear the flutter and realize the competition just dropped out.

In previous contests, the NA C3 usually had difficulty working into JA country during their nighttime. However, the new EU C3 worked exceptionally well into the JA nights on 20m. I had little trouble picking up any existing 20m contacts that I could hear from both JA land and scattered locations within EU. Russian stations RG9A and RZ3AXX came back on the first call. Both reported we had a great signal.

The new 40m dipole was actually disappointing. I expected more EU stations. Generally speaking, I had better luck with the older 40m loop. For example, I was able to get UA0IT on the 40m loop but not on the 40m dipole. The 40m loop is also much quieter and if nothing else, represents an excellent receive antenna. However and surprisingly, the 40m dipole works FB into Alberta and the east coast. I got VE6FI, VE6SV and VE6AO and VA3YP (Ontario) on the dipole – all on the first attempt. I now wonder if the 40m dipole is pointed correctly ? Time to dig out the compass and make some azimuth measurements.

Here in Fairbanks, the 10m band was non-existent. The 15m band was disappointing and full of noise. Usually, 15m contacts from SA were plentiful but not this time. I fought hard for my QSO with LS2D. Both 40m and 80m were disappointing and very noisy, probably due to the high aurora. I made only one contact on 160m and that was one I fought hard for.

Although I spent a lot of time testing, sometimes using one antenna to transmit while receiving on another, I still made 167 QSO’s with 30, 628 total points and was pleasantly surprised I did as well as I did with only 15 hours in the chair (had to work on Sunday).

Dan (KL1JP)

Monday, October 26, 2009


N1TX diverted to Kenai on the way home from DC for a bit of radio action.  Great to have a mini-reunion of some of the old Fairbanks crew from KL7RA, plus some new blood added to the team.  And a good time was had by all. Listen to some 40m audio here.

CQ Worldwide DX Contest, SSB

Call: KL7RA
Station: KL7RA

Class: M/M HP
Operating Time (hrs): 48

 Band  QSOs  Zones  Countries
 160:   92     7        6
  80:  341    17       19
  40: 1592    31       71
  20: 3273    35      131
  15: 1525    32       86
  10:   19     7        7
Total: 6872   129      320  Total Score = 7,312,863

KL7RA - N1TX - NL7Y - N5XZ - AL2F - KA1NCN - AL7IF
Photos: KA1NCN

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Antennas on the Tower...At Last!

The planets aligned, weather moderated, friends and co-workers gathered for a good old-fashioned antenna party at KL2R yesterday. See the KL1JP video (28 MB) here. It's unbelievable how lucky we were. The Force 12 EF-140 40m dipole made it to 100 feet and is oriented to North America and Asia. This should help fill the gaps on 40m, as we go lacking for NA contacts in most contests on this band. The second Force 12 C3 oriented towards Europe is now installed at the 85-foot level and produces superior results. Check out the comparison I did today:

KL2R New Antennas Compared

I don't have enough thanks to offer: KL1RL, KL1JP, N6PU, and my two work colleagues Marc Meindl and Lance Seman.

Good times coming!

Photo by KL1RL

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sweepstakes Surprise

When I went to the post office late last week, there was a pickup slip for a parcel. When the clerk brought it to me, I was surprised to see it had an ARRL return address. Hmmm...I hadn't ordered any books, so I was intrigued. Lo and behold, I was stunned to see KL2R has won NW Division CW in multi-op category. It just goes to show the importance of choosing your competition category carefully. Our first plaque ever!

Thanks to EVERYONE who worked us that weekend! And special appreciation to Eric KL7AJ for his help as second operator.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

KL1Y Returns from YI-land

Two Rivers Contest Club member Rod Mitchell KL1Y/YI9YO (photo center) returned home safely after a year stint overseas. Yay!
I think the desert has made him soft. He's back just in time for cooler temperatures ahead and snow only weeks away, and Rod is already making noise about relocating to warmer climes, at least temporarily. That's a bad thing. We could use some extra help for KL5O and the fall contests. :-(

Welcome home, Rod!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Nearly Cooked Bush Shack

Here's some pics a friend took a couple of days ago showing the results of this summer's forest fire (called Zitziana fire) that nearly cooked the NL7Y remote cabin and two towers at West Twin Lake. QTH is 93 miles SW of Fairbanks. The black in the foreground near the cabin is the result of a backfire set by the smoke jumpers to prevent the fire that approached from the west (upper area now turned tan/brown). All was saved as the fire was slow moving through grasses and new green vegetation. Some big big spruce trees were saved. The tallest one to the left rear of the cabin held my 160M inverted-L. Hope the groundplane survived. The Force-12 beam shines through the trees to the right of the dwellings.

Prior to the first big fire in 2002, the area was unburned for over 150 years. Some of the big spruce had been there since the 1600's (over 400 yrs at least). Trees like those surrounding the cabin plus black spruce covered the surrounding terrain as far as can be seen. So, after two fires in seven years maybe it's now safe to move the main tower up the hill for a better shot at East Asia.

73 Gary NL7Y

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Keep an ear out for KL5O

The Alaska 50th Anniversary of Statehood Special Event will be on the air October 18, 2009 from 1800Z until October 19, 2009, 0600Z. There will be many stations on from around the state of Alaska all using KL5O (kilo lima five oscar). We will be on all bands, from 160 through 10 meters, including the WARC bands. This would be a good opportunity for those station needing Alaska on a particular band or mode to make that needed QSO. Operation will be scheduled to facilitate working North American stations, though all stations worldwide are encouraged to participate.

Making a QSO in this event qualifies as credit for Alaska in the ARRL Year Of The State QSO Party.

Details and updates: http://www.kl5o.com/

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Yeah, well, THAT sucked. 98 QSOs in six hours of operating. My objective was 100. 40m never really opened. I was happy to make a few Q's on 15m. The rest were, of course, on 20m. The Kp and aurora were giving KL2R fits. On the DMU-2000, I could watch the signals peak and dip in a rhythm almost sea-sickness-inducing. Bang, bang: make four or five Q's in a spurt, then nothing for 15 minutes. Typical for Fairbanks.

I can understand why all the real contesters beat feet south as soon as they could.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite KB2GSD SK

My earliest memory of TV is Walter Cronkite signing off. That magnificent, confident, reassuring voice was something to which my whole family looked forward weeknights. I was hooked on evening news as a tyke. He has been much on my mind lately, as we remember two generations have passed since man first walked on the moon.

Although licensed only as a novice, I think KB2GSD was a contester at heart. "I want to win," he once said. "I not only want to win. I want to be the best. I feel very badly if I can't be."

Good night, Walter. Thank you for being the very best.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Field Day Reprise

I turned on the Wayback machine and found myself thinking about Field Day a few weeks ago.

Last year's participants, Ken W6HF and Luci KL1WE, couldn't visit for Field Day, and co-founder Rod KL1Y is overseas. Nevertheless, Field Day 2009 at KL2R was a record-setter. We station operated Class 4E for a change of pace. Rain was minimal, and KL1JP's solar-battery cooler was put to good use with FT897 and FT857. The FT950 was primary for CW and digital modes. N6PU's Jupiter was in the #2 HF position. Dan attempted several satellite QSOs, but the passes were not favorable.

Justin KL1RL dusted off the ham-hat and lent a hand on setup and operation after months away from any radio. New member Elaine N6PU was first to arrive and last to leave, and she stirred up some good interest on PSK31 and the other modes. Her 5 kW generator came in handy in the middle of the night, too. New licensee Alex KL2TI camped in front of the microphone with some coaching and worked some SSB. Phil KL8DX, another new member, drove all the way up from Healy and earned the nickname "Manimal II" after six hours pounding brass with little introduction or orientation. He said of Field Day at KL2R, "My first chance at operating in a group setting was last weekend, and it makes me want to return and do it many more times. "

Read more about our Alaskan ham fun: http://www.akradio.net/activities.htm

KL1JP comments about IARU

As a beginning contester, this was my first multi-station event and I liken my involvement in IARU as something akin to the awe I've felt standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon or watching Mt. Saint Helens explode. Considering my marginal skill level, I feel quite humbled in being "invited" to participate by Rich (KL7RA) and Larry (N1TX). I've always wondered what it would be like to watch a log tick by fast, resembling a slot-machine feed of callsigns as contacts were made. From Fairbanks, there are always a series of challenging band conditions that most times plague our best efforts and you just do not see log entries motor-boating along that fast - ever. Thankfully, band conditions, even from Fairbanks were better than normal, which I suspect added to the extraordinary tally of contacts, especially those on 10m and 15m over the course of the 24 hour event.

It was truly amazing to watch the WinTest gab window; stations being passed from one band and op to another, reports of changing band conditions and of course, the camaraderie, issued personal challenges and the humor that were often displayed. In my opinion, it was a most memorable team effort by all participants involved. Simply put, it was a lot of fun to be a part of this, not to mention the education and experience I received. There's a lot to learn by participating in contesting. Any contest will allow you to work with different radio modes and frequencies, try new equipment, have a look at a variety of antennas and get a better understanding of propagation and the effects of the sun upon propagation and locations.

I continue to be impressed with all of the pre-contest testing and last minute tweaking everyone did for IARU. Things like Larry sitting out in his shack at 1am (that's 3 hours pre-start) wiring together a 240v power cable so we can use Gary's (NL7Y) amplifier, Rich climbing the tower to replace a blown 40m relay in the middle of the event or the extraordinary IT effort by Wigi (AL7IF) to make the routers play together nicely amaze me in term of commitment. And, I am especially astonished that nothing did a big melt-down in the middle of the event. We've all dealt with radio and computer equipment over the years to know how unusual that single event is; namely that everything worked the way it was suppose to AND when it was suppose to. After all... to think there were, what, 10 radios interfaced to 10 software packages using 8 separate routers using a variety of internet providers. Whew...just think what might have happened had GCI inadvertently cut their fiber optics cable again?

There were a lot of personal "firsts" for me in this event. First time I saw logging that rapid, first time as a multi op, first time I used an amplifier (thanks Gary !) and of course first time I used the W1AW/KL7 callsign. I remember hearing more than a few "huh's ?" and "are you guys in Alaska ?" and "how much power are you guys running ?" returns on calls. I assume the amp was partly responsible for our delightful BIG BOOMING signal for a change. And then... there was the tenacity of the operators. Now I know first-hand what sort of effort it takes to rack up several million points.

This truly was an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thanks again to Rich for his extraordinary courage in placing his head between the stock and the guillotine blade. Thankfully, no one had to let the blade loose.

Dan (KL1JP)

Monday, July 13, 2009


All I can say is, WOW!

The king of multi-multi contesters in Alaska, Rich Strand KL7RA, proposed last year to operate as W1AW/KL7 in the IARU HF contest. Several stations signed up to activate the headquarters station, and the idea began to germinate.

Stream of consciousness...

Rich pulled a million strings, even up to the last minute, to make the knot that held this thing together. WOW! He is far too modest, but I think we all know without this extraordinary effort, W1AW/KL7 would have been a pipe dream.

The HC8N CW team stacked the decks from Rich's new Kenai station. The 3830 reflector is full of comments regarding how strong the signals were. Some good 10m contacts were in the offing, too. Those guys really know how to light up the ionosphere.

Wigi AL7IF gets a blue ribbon for his technical support getting the VPN and WinTest networking going well in advance so we could have a chance to wring things out. Without it, I have a feeling things could have gone very badly.

Corliss AL1G gets my gold star for sheer staying power and making the Voice of Willow a force to be reckoned with, especially towards the end when new stations were not that easy to find. She did a tremendous job keeping alive the memory of Frank KL7FH SK.

Frank WL7O and Debbie KL7OU at Big Lake kept things running and running and running from there on 40 SSB. Whatever it took. And many thanks to them for pictures/words for my documentation effort.

AL7F Kris' 80m SSB signal from Anchor Point was absolutely amazing. That antenna work has paid off.

The odds and ends I contended with at KL2R to get ready were numerous but all relatively minor. Repairs from Field Day, re-cabling, labeling, running 240 VAC for the amp, etc. I dotted the last i and crossed the final t with just under 3 hours left until the start.

Dan KL1JP started the generator at 1150Z and toughed it out for half the contest until work demands drew him away. Thankfully,Gary NL7Y came to the rescue. Both these guys deserve a round of applause for dogged perseverance in less-than-ideal conditions. But we're used to that sort of tenacity, which is what it takes in Fairbanks to compete when the Kp and aurora go high. Lesser ops would have gone to bed or gone fishing.

The technology -- WinTest in particular -- was rock-solid. IARU gave us a chance to exercise some of the multi-multi tools in the software suite. After this, M2 operation at KL2R will be a piece of cake. Partnering was fun to do. Gab kept us awake and entertained, not to mention proved an invaluable coordnation tool. (I didn't receive one phone call.)

I had a huge sense of relief when I powered off the generator at 1201Z Sunday. I had slept barely 3 hours in the previous 48, and as Gary said, I was slowly bleeding. But I went to Snoozeville feeling a great sense of accomplishment, tremendous pride in everyone's teamwork, and above all, real honor in having been invited to participate in such a special event.

Long Overdue: A Blog

Yeah, I know, the web site just isn't keeping pace with all the shenanigans going on of late at the Two Rivers Contest Club. So, belatedly, we decided to try to keep up via blogging.

As Paul Harvey would say, "Stand by for NEWwwws!"