Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Bucket List

In mid-April I ticked off two items on my bucket list.  First, I had business meetings at the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, the stuff of dreams for me as a lifelong radio geek.   The cavernous Building 1 at the Boulder, Colorado, complex has that true science lab feel with long hallways of cinder block and grey metal desks from a bygone era tucked in the countless offices.  Book shelves lined with Old School references and unique textbooks wound around the virtual boundaries of personal spaces.  That unique, musty aroma of old government buildings permeates the atmosphere. The place just smells like genius.  The fundamentals of radio science have been discovered and explored here for decades.  (Its organizational predecessor, the Radio Section of the National Bureau of Standards, was founded before World War I.) The trip was capped with a trip to Table Mountain, one of two radio-quiet areas in the US. Ancient antenna dishes stand out like monuments on the prairie.  It is a special place for an RF guy like myself.

For many years I had pondered going to the Visalia DX Convention.  Last summer I determined to finally make an appearance.  I flew from Denver to Fresno (via Seattle and San Diego!), where Ken W6HF and Luci KL1WE met me.  We settled in a Tulare hotel a mere 20 minutes from the Visalia Convention Center.  One of the most remarkable things about ham radio is that faceless connections you make with people are almost indelible through the years.  Finally connecting with the people behind the signals was hugely satisfying, and of course seeing again a number of industry folks for the first time in the 25+ years since I worked at 73 Amateur Radio magazine was a real hoot.

At least among the contesters, the KL2R badge caught immediate attention.  They knew the call well. I was struck, however, by the number of people who came up to me and started the conversation with something like, "So do you really live in Alaska, or do you just have a KL call?"  To begin talking with a stranger like that implies a lot of cynicism.  I guess they've been duped in the past, excited to work a KL only to find soon after the operator lives in the Lower 48, but still...

In the end, I was sorry I had not attended before.  The friendships made, renewed, and cinched up enriched me more than I could have imagined.  If any of you are reading this blog, THANK YOU!  I hope to see you again next year.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Final Fling with KL7RA

All credits to Wigi AL7IF and Rich's XYL Jyl for supporting one last hoorah for KL7RA on the air.  

The team converged on Kenai on Good Friday from literally around the globe.  Ed K3PN flew in from South Africa via Denver, in a blizzard.  Others converged from points around Alaska to re-connect, make new friendships, and memorialize Rich in the best possible way.   Wigi and Angela came down from Anchorage several days before to prepare.  The Kenai crew of AL2F, KL2HD, and KL8X were there for the duration, as were KL7SB, WL7BDO, and N1TX. Dan KL1JP flew down from Fairbanks for two hours operating on Saturday, cut short by weather delays. Corliss AL1G showed up noon-ish Sunday and worked the final four hours on 20. 

You can find Wigi's summary here on 3830: 

It pretty well sums up the great emotions we all shared by activating KL7RA one last time.  

The gravity didn't really start hitting home with me until 1200Z Sunday.  I had avoided focusing on it.  I was working the overnight shift with WL7BDO on 20 and chipping away at 160m.  Rich was always THE top band guy, and there I was at the position with his hat and glasses in front of me.  I answered a call, and another fine op gave me the exchange and said what a wonderful thing it was we were doing.

Then I moved over to 40m.  As long as I knew him, Rich had an autographed photo of Joe Rudi NK7U in his Oakland A's uniform, and it was on the wall right in front of me.  I heard NK7U around 1400Z and called.  It took quite a few times yelling back and forth to finally get through.  "KL7?"  "KL7A?" back and forth.  When he finally got the RA, there was an awkward pause.  The band gods cooperated long enough to clear the freq.  The op (not Joe) and I had a brief conversation, both of us very, very moved.  I fought the tears.  I couldn't do anymore and went to bed.

After the contest was over, we went upstairs and shared a few Rich stories, then Skyped with Rich's widow Jyl.  She was in Indiana.  We offered a toast, and let me tell you, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.  The remainder of the evening was spent celebrating a remarkable life and legacy.  It was a memorial I will never forget.  

With Gary AL9A now gone as well as Rich, those of us remaining have more incentive to get KL on the air.  There will be no more huge beacon like KL7RA, but we can try to hold a candle in the cold and dark left behind.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Tribute to Gary Senesac AL9A SK

The Alaska contester community lost another great one last week.  Gary AL9A passed away suddenly while on vacation in Florida.  AL9A was a true beacon, often working multiple contests each weekend.  According to Carl WL7BDO, in 2015 alone Gary submitted 95 reports to!  He most recently helped with the KL7RST special event.  He mentored a number of us, highly skilled in all modes, and particularly knowledgable about Writelog.

He was a kind, generous man and dedicated to his family.  He was so proud of his grandchildren and rarely failed to mention them in his correspondence.  We send deepest condolences to his clan.

Corliss AL1G put together a video of Gary operating in W1AW/KL7 as part of the ARRL Centennial celebration a couple of years ago:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


The run up to ARRL DX SSB this year was an exciting one.  Compared to 2014, KL2R was largely silent in the multi-op categories for contests in 2015.  We did a multi-op in ARRL DX CW during 2015, but it was a marginal effort.  A number of factors contributed, chief among them broken and failing equipment.  Last fall N1TX resolved to get the station back to multi-2 capability.  A new PC for the main position brought the shack to life again.  The Shuttle XPC with a 4 GHz i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, and solid-state drive has no problem keeping up with the multitude of tasks now.  It runs Windows 10.  Also, the Alpha 89 amplifier, long idle since it became deaf during a brown-out, went off to N4UQ for repair and was returned in perfect working order in February.

KL7SB and WL7F joined N1TX in the shack for ARRL DX CW.  It was a good shakedown.  We were able to get the "B" position PC going, but it had suffered the same boot problems and unreliability issues for quite some time despite repeated repair attempts.  After that contest, it failed hard.  With SSB looming within days and more interest in using a second radio to look for multipliers, KL1JP stepped in and donated another zippy PC, which was quickly configured and ready for action.

We have pretty much abandoned Win-Test in favor of N1MM Logger+ over the past year.  The latter is very stable and functional now, while WT support languishes and the program seems to be at a dead end. However, I had choice words for N1MM the night before SSB.  After an upgrade to the latest version, a cascade of runtime errors proved problematic.  They persisted even after a clean re-installation.  In the end, I had to rename the old database files, re-install the logger, upgrade it, and then move the old files into the new directory.  Heart attack narrowly averted.

Finally, KL2R was ready to go a mere few hours before contest start.  It started with a bang on 15 and 20, and just after sunset 40m gained some serious traction by running split.  KL stations can run phone between 7075 and 7100 kHz.  The FTdx5000MP dual-receive made it so easy to listen for Canadians on our transmit frequency as well as for US hams in the high part of the band.  One US ham commented how he'd never had to run such a wide split, which was about 200 kHz.  The bottom line is it works for us.  We can hear you, and you can hear us.

Sadly, Elaine KL6C was ill and missed the event, but the rest of the gang toughed out up-and-down conditions to score an all-time best for KL2R.  Many thanks to KL1BE for being a fantastic hostess again after several years of being out of the game.  Good to have you back.
L-R: WL7F, WL7BDO, KL1JP. N1TX not shown.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

NAQP RTTY from February

NAQP RTTY proved to be interesting.  I started off solo, and then Dan KL1JP stopped by to make it more fun as a multi-op contest (although we only used one radio).  Ten meters was a complete bust, and for some reason 15m never opened the way it usually does.  It's odd to see twice as many QSOs on 40 as on 15.  Twenty turned out to be the band we focused upon, mostly running, and not enough S&P time on the other bands for some better multiplier counts.

Many Canadian provinces were lacking, but VY0ERC called all the way from Ellesmere Island for a nice surprise.  Also, Andy VE9DX was able to reach out to us on 20 and 40m.  He is running 50 watts on  RTTY.  It is always a pleasure to work him!  Europeans and JAs called mightily at times, which is always very frustrating when trying to eek out a few new sections and states in a pileup

The boys at WL7CXP, about 40 miles west of KL2R, made a great effort and beat us handily with more multipliers on 15 and several on 80.  Here's what WL7F had to say about it, echoing several sentiments Dan and I had:

Well another RTTY Multi contest using the Skinny Dick’s club call WL7CXP.  This time we had Wes (WL7F), Carl (WL7BDO), and Paul (KL4ET) in the shack working the contest.  We started the contest out on 20M with KE1DS the fist contact from WA and ended the contest with W4MPB on 40M.

15M did not seem to open all day long really and did not hear a single signal on 10M throughout the day. This contest it seemed 20M was the go to band  for contacts which is a slight change from previous ones where 15M was the go-to band. The pace was a bit slower also which leads to good training time and time to hone skills on other aspects of operating. 40M was a good band for getting more multipliers and usually it is not as good so the solar cycle is definitely shifting. A few 80M stations from NVand CA made the log.

Paul worked VY0ERC, a weather station up in NU Canada, and Carl hauled in Japan even though someone came on the frequency and sent No JA. People really need to read rules and understand them. Guantanamo Bay was also on, but the pileup was too big. They were heard on 20 and 40 meters here.

Some of the statistics from WL7CXP:

Band   QSOs Sec
     3.5       3   2
7        73  28
     14      192  46
     21       52  52
 Total       320 100

Score: 32,320


Steve KL7SB and Wes WL7F joined me (N1TX) to form a pretty potent multi-single team at KL2R. Band conditions were really good, especially considering how iffy things were in the weeks and days prior.  In fact, it's safe to say propagation was so good at times the team's capacity to log was nearly saturated.  A big surprise was the solid-rate openings on 40m. The phased verticals worked stupendously.  The final claimed score bested a 2014 SO effort (N1TX) by about 350 QSOs and 100k points.

One of several highlights was working Phil AK7DD (ex-KL8DX), who now resides in Oregon. Check out his QRP activity (with an indoor antenna) here. He works us at around 5:30 into the video.

Score Summary
 Band     QSOs     Pts  Sec
   3.5      25      75   16
     7     489    1461   55
    14     636    1908   52
    21     781    2343   57
    28     104     312   22
 Total    2035    6099  202
Score: 1,231,998

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Well, this contest is in the bag. Had WL7BDO Carl and WL7F myself Wes as operators for this one and broke the 1 million point mark. Of course, this was 100W max so it was under Multi Operator Low Power Radio Teletype. Radio used was a FT 857D with a Microham USBIII interface and laptop. Antennas were a HyGain TH6 up 50 feet for the high bands and Phased ground mounted verticals on 40 meters.

This was the first time using the callsign for the club and seemed to work well for RTTY. Had just gotten the callsign on Thursday and decided to use this one. I started the contest out on 15 meters and Carl ended it on 20 meters. We used the OPON feature in N1MM+ and it was very successful as it one saves the window layout for each operator and is good for statistics and a bit of friendly competition during the contest and after.

The info from N1MM+ and some of the information that can be gleaned this way:

Band     QSOs     Pts       WPX
     7     86      408       32
    14    260      663      176
    21    525     1293      219
    28      8       17        2
 Total    879     2381      429
Score: 1,021,449
1 Mult = 2.0 Q's

Total Time Off 02:44  (164 mins)
Total Time On 45:16  (2716 mins)

65 Countries

Max Rates:

2016-02-14 2131Z - 3.0 per minute  (1 minute(s)), 180 per hour by WL7BDO
2016-02-14 0132Z - 1.6 per minute  (10 minute(s)), 96 per hour by WL7BDO
2016-02-14 0134Z - 1.3 per minute  (60 minute(s)), 75 per hour by WL7F

WPX RTTY - 2016-02-13 0000Z to 2016-02-15 0000Z - 886 QSOs
WL7CXP Runs >10 QSOs:

2016-02-13 0033 - 0113Z,   21116 kHz, 43 Qs, 64.1/hr WL7F
2016-02-13 0130 - 0154Z,   21097 kHz, 27 Qs, 65.4/hr WL7F
2016-02-13 0242 - 0309Z,   14100 kHz, 16 Qs, 34.7/hr WL7F
2016-02-13 1927 - 2113Z,   21100 kHz, 73 Qs, 41.6/hr WL7BDO
2016-02-13 2150 - 2217Z,   21108 kHz, 14 Qs, 30.6/hr WL7BDO
2016-02-13 2232 - 2339Z,   14106 kHz, 57 Qs, 51.5/hr WL7BDO
2016-02-14 0005 - 0146Z,   21104 kHz, 111 Qs, 66.0/hr WL7BDO
2016-02-14 1958 - 2020Z,   21117 kHz, 11 Qs, 29.6/hr WL7BDO
2016-02-14 2114 - 2139Z,   21105 kHz, 34 Qs, 80.1/hr WL7BDO
2016-02-14 2147 - 2220Z,   21096 kHz, 41 Qs, 73.2/hr WL7BDO
2016-02-14 2228 - 2301Z,   21114 kHz, 33 Qs, 61.1/hr WL7BDO

Early on the gremlins showed their face as the radio was just not putting out the power as noticed the power down to 9V coming into the radio on transmit but was showing 12v on receive and the power out was a lot lower. Figured the batteries were low so went out and started the generator and then looked at the power and same thing happening. I grabbed the power cord going into the radio and it was hot so wiggled the wires and walla full power once again. Swapped the power cable out with the backup one and inspected the cord and noticed the solder had melted arggggggg least it is a quick fix and shows the duty cycle of RTTY. New cable went the rest of the contest without a hitch, and much cooler.

I woke up for the early morning shift on Sunday to see Carl in his coat and saying the fire went out.  Started a fire and warmed the place up and Carl went to get his sleep in after working both 20 meter Europe opening and some Japan on 40 meters.

Good runs both Friday and Saturday into Japan and great openings into Africa and Europe. 15 meters opened into Europe sometime in the am on Sunday as when I checked it at 0600 local time it was already going hot and heavy, now this was not over the pole but rather pointed at the lower 48 was hoping to work some east coast and was quite surprised. S9 signals from Europe. Now toward the end of the contest it was a nail biter to reach 1 million point mark and bantering between Carl and I was non stop along with the math flying as to how many more q’s were needed. 20 minutes left in the contest and we hit that mark.

Upgrades that are simple is a movable base for the faceplate to the FT857. As Carl liked to have it in one position and I liked it in another. Making the base for it so that it is semi-mounted would make life easier. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Contesting with 100 Watts

Hello there! This is a subject that a lot of the contesters have very strong feelings about. This is not an article to bash or even to look down on those that run legal-limit power, but rather to show how one can be successful running 100 watts. 

To be successful at running contests at lower power one must understand some basics. First, you are not normally gonna break into that pileup and work that rare station the first time calling, even if the station is S9. Another thing is seeing as how you are not running power, ya need to make sure the antenna system is the best you can possibly put up, create, or even buy. You can be successful running just wires, as I have done in past, but ya have to make sure they are high enough to give you good take off angles, and the VSWR is as low as possible without a tuner in line. You want every watt going to that antenna. 

Better antennas have a double benefit.  They are better on receive as well as transmit, and ya can't work ‘em if ya can't hear 'em. 

Transmitter/Receiver/Transceiver is basically up to your preferences given your budget and operating style. A good 300 Hz filter is invaluable for CW work as well as RTTY, and a good sideband filter will help you. A bandscope on the radio will be another feature that is very helpful. A voice keyer another feature that is nice to have. If you have not noticed I have not said these things are needed with the radio but are helpful.  The whole idea is to get on the air and operate, and nice-to-haves are not required!!! 

Now the most important thing is glue. Ya say glue? Yes, glue, because ya need to stay on the air even when the bands are slowing down or ya get a bit frustrated (yes, I have been guilty of this). You can't work a station if you are not there to work them, nor are you gonna get that rare multiplier if they all of a sudden appear on the band if you are not there. If you are doing a single band then know when that band dies and know when it might come open again. Take the break during that time and show up before it might come open again as it might surprise you that it opens before. So yes butt glue is exactly what is needed. 

Find a local ham or a friend to compete against it will give you even more incentive to stay there and work the bands. After all ya don't want them to really stomp your butt if they do by chance ... strange fluke ..... wild possibility beat you. Set goals high and if ya meet them then set even higher goals during it. Learn to contest in all modes you will find that some will be a mode that works well from your location and that you truly enjoy working. 

Learning CW is not as hard as most think it is. Anymore a technician has more hf privileges then a novice and technician had on HF as they have the same privileges as a general on the CW bands that a technician can use. 

Now some tips I have learned and work for me during a contest. You have to be heard to be worked. Hams that normally don't get involved because of all the fast code actually will when they hear the slower CW. If you are going to be calling CQ ("run"), find a spot on the band normally up high that is relatively clear. If you are doing CW, don't be worried about doing slow code, since others will come and work you.  Something else that has helped me is opening the filter up and seeing if someone is calling off frequency.

Make sure you pay attention to rates (QSOs per hour or points per hour). When you drop below a certain rate during a run, go into search and pounce.  Search and pounce is very beneficial.  During search and pounce, you tune the band, hear a callsign, and toss your call out to work them.  If you call a couple of times and get no response, remember or write down the frequency and come back later. Another option is to just go up and down the band populating the band map in the logging software. The newer software does this for you with a few keystrokes.  The problem here is they might have moved on by the time you listen for them later. 

S&P does two things. First, it shows you what the band is looking like, and it helps you decide if it is even worth staying on or moving to another band. By running up and down the band and calling, successful contacts will show you where your signal is directed. 

These are just a few pieces to the puzzle, and if you would like to hear a few more, just ask. If I actually get some response, I will go over some of them. Something to remember is this: Just because someone says ya can't or it don't work, try it. You might be a bit surprised that it does work for you. I use to get told that contesting as a novice in the novice bands would not work. Guess what? It does work, and at 5 wpm, you will get contacts.  They won't be the quantity you will get later, but it will keep you busy and competing. 
Thanks Wes WL7F

Monday, January 4, 2016

RTTY Roundup 2016

We Alaskans appear to whine about extremely fickle propagation in virtually every contest.  "I had no idea" is the usual response when a guest op from mid-latitudes completes an hour or a weekend at the operating console under the aurora. They almost invariably come up here thinking they can teach us "bush people" rubes a thing or two about contesting. The visitors go back home shaking their heads. Ham radio is hard in the Far North.

This year's RU played out with some decent results, all things considered.  With radio blackouts, geomagnetic storms, and green lights overhead, this game proved to be more tactical than anything else.  That is, if a band or operating technique started to gain traction, Mother Nature soon concocted another obstacle to force a change.  Just to survive the weekend in the chair of frustration was a major accomplishment.  That said, there were a handful of good (and sometimes strange), brief openings across HF.  At least I didn't get skunked on any band.

Band     QSOs     Pts  Sec   DXC
   3.5       8       8    0    0
     7      21      21    1    1
    14     163     163   10   18
    21     355     355   37    9
    28      14      14    2    3
 Total     561     561
 Score: 45,441  (Op: N1TX Class: SOHP)

Special mention goes to N7XCZ, who provided a little insight into his excitement about Star Wars. Thanks for the chuckle!