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Episode 8: Puttering about in the summer doldrums

Episode 8: Puttering about in the summer doldrums

My new Ameritron AL-80B on the left, and one of my SB-221 HF amplifiers on the right.

The prime contest seasons are behind us and ahead of us, so we’re in what I like to consider the summer doldrums.

Not a lot of really big contests to jump into, but plenty of interesting events if you’re looking for some ham radio action on a late spring and early summer weekend.

Let’s go take a look in Episode 8 of Zone Zero.


Welcome to Zone Zero, the ham radio contesting podcast. This is Bud, VA7ST, your faithful contesting observer, reporting in after a couple of weeks of downtime following the big WPX RTTY contest at the end of May.

Since then, I’ve been in station-building mode. Nothing major, I guess, but it sure has been an interesting couple of weeks as I have been addressing the shortage of HF amplifiers.

The little side-trip into technical country began the night after WPX CW. With nothing to work on, I decided to fix up a failing SB-221 amplifier, which had a tube go dark on me a couple of months ago. After checking things out I narrowed the problem to the now-dark Eimac 3-500Z tube itself.

That old tube has been in service since the day the amp was built in 1978, that’s 39 years of faithful high power for me and the unknown number of hams who owned it before me so that tube owes me nothing but happy memories. But I couldn’t give up on it without a fight.

Taking a tip from one of the online reflector groups, I re-soldered the filament pins – actually doing all five pins while I was at it — and the tube came back to life just fine.

But that got me going down a rabbit hole of changes to the amplifier. I spent an evening re-wiring for 240-volt service, as I now have a 240-volt circuit in the radio room. But when that didn’t appear to work, I returned the amp to 120-volt configuration.

After three more nights I finally traced the problem back to the breaker box. In the load-center, someone had put the double-pole breaker on a single pole of the mains power. I moved that double breaker one position over, and solved the problem – nice and stiff 240-volt service in the shack.

I spent an additional hour reconfiguring one of my SB-221 amplifiers for 240 volts, and haven’t looked back.

But that tube I mentioned? It bothered me that I don’t have a backup tube in case one fails in either of my Heathkit amplifiers. So I went online looking for a spare.

DX EngineeringAmeritron and RF Parts all sell 3-500ZG tubes for about the same price — US$220.

RF Parts won’t ship tubes outside the US. But DX Engineering and Ameritron will ship 3-500 tubes, and get my endorsement.

However, the currency conversion from US to Canadian dollars makes the price from any retailer a bit high — US$220  right now is $296 Canadian, plus shipping. So I looked around on Canadian swap and shops for a used 3-500Z tube.

And amazingly, I found one!

Well, it took a few days of hunting as these aren’t the most common spare part around. But Rick VA7EM, about half an hour’s drive from where I live, was selling an Ameritron AL-80BX amplifier with a spare 3-500Z as part of the package.

My ham-guy brain was ticking over pretty fast as I realized an AL-80B is a fine modern amplifier with a single 3-500Z tube providing about 600 watts out on 160M CW, plus it does the WARC bands for a bit of DXing firepower. My trusty SB-221 amplifiers have dual 3-500Z tubes and are bulletproof contest units putting out a kilowatt all day long if I wish, but they don’t do 160M or the WARC bands.

So, I got permission from the station manager – my lovely wife Kim – to make a call and see if I could acquire the amplifier and spare tube. The whole package cost me $1,000 – which is more than I went into this expecting to shell out for a spare tube, but I got a very solid, almost-new amplifier in the bargain.

I like that the AL-80B is still manufactured and sold in stores – which means parts and advice should be readily available if ever needed.

The retail price in Canada, by the way, is $2,300 – so I saved $1,000 plus another $300 in federal and provincial taxes and shipping charges buy buying slightly used and not having to ship anything.

So what does that all have to do with contesting?

Simple. Station-building – getting the gear – is a big part of the ham radio hobby and especially competitive contesting. Better, higher antennas, radios and other equipment that makes operating easier and quicker, even things as basic as more or better antenna switches, all improve your game.

The RTTY contest amplifier heat treatment

Over the past weekend, the AL-980B had its maiden voyage here.

I ran the first leg of the DRCG Worldwide RTTY contest on the AL-80B, and had a great time. I didn’t notice a performance difference with 500 watts on RTTY using the Ameritron versus more like 700 watts with the SB-221 amplifier.

I didn’t expect to work more or fewer stations with either amplifier. Rather, I wanted to compare them running teletype, which is a 100 per cent duty cycle that pushes amplifiers to their limits.

Unless you have one of the big amplifiers costing 10 times the price of an SB-220 today, RTTY is not a mode to transmit continuously for more than a few seconds at a time,. If you keep things short and provide cooling pauses of a few seconds between transmissions (a technique which is perfectly aligned with the pace of RTTY contest CQing cycles), your amplifier should run a RTTY contest all weekend long without any issues at all.

The difference I saw was quite clear: the SB-221 ran a lot cooler – the plates of the single tube in the Ameritron glowed dull red and then orange after a few transmissions, while the SB-221 tubes never even began to turn color, and remained a lovely dull carbon gray.

The SB-221 amp won the heat shootout, but it doesn’t do 160M or WARC, and the Ameritron wins for pure flexibility and I also like that it has a reasonably accurate SWR and power meter in it.

So, now I have a few high-power options and the redundancy I want for operating in the big contests that really matter this fall.

And now, about those contests…

That’s Amp Talk for this week. Now let’s take a look at actual contests.

CQ WPX CW is now a couple of weeks in the past, and the next worldwide contest is the IARU World HF Championships in July.

For me, that will be preceded by what I hope everyone will play in – the Radio Amateurs of Canada RAC Canada Day Contest, which is actually on Canada Day, July 1. I’ll provide more detain abut these two contests as their dates get closer.

I mentioned the past weekend’s DRCG Worldwide RTTY contest. Well, I don’t know how well I did but I put in nearly 11 hours – considerably more than the six or seven hours I normally allocate for this one – and managed 251 contacts in 30 or so countries.

The DRCG RTTY gives you more points for contacts in zones further away from you, so being in British Columbia can be a real advantage. A contact between me and W6 in California might be worth 2 points on 20Ms, but a contact with Yugoslavia is worth 32 points.

Normally, all those European QSOs rack up massive umbers, but 20M wasn’t super strong to Europe over the pole – workable but only passable not great. So I didn’t gorge on EU points.

What does promise some advantage is my easy shot to Japan, here sometimes thousands of hams get on for a contest. But not in this one. I managed a handful of JA contacts on 20M, worth 24 points apiece on 20M and double that – 48 points – on 40M. The activity just wasn’t there to make a feast of Asian DX points.

Maybe next year.

I also listened around on six meters in the ARRL: June VHF contest, but other than one CW signal heard on a meteor scatter event for less than a second, nothing heard here in British Columbia.

Up next

Coming up on the calendar next weekend – that’s June 17 and 18, 2017 – you’ll find the All Asian DX CW contest. That’s 24 hours of Asian-focused activity, starting 0000 UTC on Saturday.

For teletype fans, also get into the Ukrainian Classic DX RTTY contest, which starts at 1200 UTC Saturday for 24 hours. The multipliers are Ukraine oblasts or provinces, plus all the DXCC countries worked on each band.

And for Top Banders who like 160M like I do, the Stew Perry Top Band Distance Challenge runs his weekend for 24 hours starting 1500 UTC Saturday – in my part of the world, because 1500 UTC is actually 8 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday morning, the Stew Perry is really a Saturday night contest. I’ll get in on it with the new amplifier and try to make my first-ever QRO contact on 160M.

I’ll be limited in time, though, as Sunday I am taking my two grown boys on a salmon fishing expedition on Vancouver Island for all the fish we can eat and all the crab we can catch over a couple of days next week.

I will be back in plenty of time for the following weekend’s contests, which include the Ukrainian DX Digital contest and the ARRL’s June Field Day.

But that’s all in the future. Hope you can get on for some or all of the fun to be had on the air.

Subscribe to Zone Zero on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or your favorite podcast platform. Tell your friends, and come back often for more.

Until then, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there!

Episode 7: Glass half-empty in CQ WPX CW

Episode 7: Glass half-empty in CQ WPX CW

After putting 1,264 contacts in the log, the bands are pretty much silent. Around the world the keyers are at rest, and thousands of us are in recovery mode after a hectic weekend of action on the air.

If you’re like me, your ears are still hearing ghosts of high-speed Morse code from CQ Magazine’s WPX – or Weird Prefix – CW contest.

There’s plenty to talk about – from conditions to the competition itself.

Welcome to episode 7 of Zone Zero.


This is Bud, VA7ST, on a Sunday evening and the CQ WPX CW contest ended a few  hours ago.

I decided to run high-power this weekend and I’m glad I did.

I have a single three-element yagi and some wires for 40M and 80M. With that antenna setup, for much of the weekend the bands were not strong enough to make a lot of contacts across North America and especially into Europe without pushing some power through the ether.

The first night and early Saturday morning were great fun. Sunday was painful and no fun at all.

The bottom dropped out of the bands mid-day Saturday and never recovered. Some pretty ugly aurora and soaring A-index ruined WPX CW this time out.

I was glad for the nice conditions in the first 12 hours prior to the hammering as Earth swept through the path of a coronal mass ejection or CME from earlier in the week. That path was a river of high-speed solar wind hitting us, buckling the magnetosphere, and decimating the ionosphere that carries our radio signals.

Within a few minutes mid-morning Saturday, the HF bands went from working nicely to totally broken – and the aurora went from not being a factor to controlling the rest of the contest.

Here’s a glimpse at how conditions changed during the contest:

Anyone who was in this contest for just day two must have felt cheated. Between 0220z and 1255z on Sunday, the A-index rose from 16 to 52. The aurora hit a high power level of 9.1 or 78 gigawatts of power before slowing declining to level 4.3 or 8 gigawatts by the end of the contest.

Sadly, the bands really didn’t respond – they usually take more time to improve as the geomagnetic conditions ease up.

I ended up beating last year’s score and outperforming my goal of 1.1 million points – finishing with 1.86 million. That’s my fourth-best ever in WPX CW, which is quite a surprise.

I had to take two multi-hour breaks on Saturday morning and afternoon so lost out on any European multipliers that might have added to the total — again, I never recovered from missing those crucial points and prefixes from Europe.

Having said that, I suspect there wasn’t much worked over the pole from here after 1700z Saturday, when we encountered that high-speed solar wind stream.

As 15M was not a factor in this contest – being totally dead much of the time, and even when it was carrying signals well, hardly anyone was up there to make use of the conditions.

The magic of skewed paths

In a previous episode, I mentioned the Scandinavian Express. That phenomenon occurs sometimes even when the aurora is extremely strong. Point north over the pole and you might still be able to work loud Scandinavian stations from Norway, Sweden and Finland because they’re so far north that they are actually inside the auroral oval.

Well, one of those miraculous Express contacts happened for me on Saturday afternoon on 15M. I was not working anybody at all, and figured why not check to see if Japan is hearing me. So I flipped the SteppIr yagi to Japan, about 45 degrees south from the normal bearing for Scandinavia.

I called CQ three or four times, and then — as if by magic — a loud signal filled the headphones. OH3Z. I touched the rotator controller and turned a few degrees further northward,and he got a bit stronger, but not a lot — he was working me on a skewed path while I was beaming Japan.

It is magical. But you won’t work many stations on magic alone. Generally, 15M and 10M were just not open or nobody was there if they were.

That meant during both days the entire contest population on the west side of the Atlantic was packed into 20M. From my perspective, it sure is a drag to spend all the daylight hours on a single band — 20M was worked out almost completely by the final hours, with very few callers answering endless CQ calls pointed at the mainland United States.

Chasing the finish line

I made four Qs in the entire last 15 minutes, hoping to catch up to K3WJV, whom I had been chasing on the online scoreboard all day on Sunday. He was usually 20,000 or 30,000 points ahead of me. I’d catch up to within 10,000 points and he’d make a bundle of new contacts and skip ahead again.

With 15 minutes to go, he was up by 14,000 points. I called CQ to the US and made a few more contacts, including a couple of new prefixes worth about 4,500 points apiece. I figured three more prefixes would do it, and got pretty close.

Alas, I couldn’t make up the ground. I finished with 1.865 million points, 14,000 points behind K3WJV.

In part, that’s because I lost the final couple of minutes to a mystery operator sending ‘something slash six’ on a bug. I just couldn’t decipher what he was sending, and ran out of time so he never did get in my log.

If you use a compatible logging program like N1MM Logger, you might consider having it post your score in real time so we can enjoy watching your progress.

Seeing how you’re doing up to the moment against competitors adds a great dimension of fun to any contest, and it sure gave me something to watch while I was bleating out CQ on slow bands over the weekend.

My main competition this time out was Todd VE5MX, who was also posting to the online scoreboard. I bolted out ahead of him on Friday night, and he went to bed a few hours before I did so I was up by 200,000 points or so when I shut down for the first night. When I got back on for real around 12 noon local time on Saturday, Todd had been operating all morning in Saskatchewan and was now ahead by a bit.

I stayed relatively close for a couple of hours until Saturday evening, when he rocketed ahead of me, finding multipliers and contacts I just couldn’t attract.

All day Sunday, Todd pulled away, ultimately finishing with 550,000 points more than me – with 174 more contacts and 112 more prefixes in his log. I know how hard those contacts were to make under an aurora that was about as strong as it can get in our part of the world. VE5MX did a stellar job in very tough conditions.

I had hoped for 100 Qs on 15M but it was a struggle just getting the 77 I did manage to find.

As well, 80M was disappointing – it sure is a huge lost opportunity for all of us. If only people would stay up later and move down to make 80M more active. I know that’s easy to say from the west coast where 80M is most useful during hours we are normally still awake, but those four-pointers are like gold.

Summing up

All right. That’s WPX CW for 2017. I’m fatigued after 29 hours operating, but reasonably happy with the score from this station. It could have been better, and it could have been worse. So I guess that’s about even.

Subscribe to Zone Zero on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or your favorite podcast platform. Tell your friends, and come back often for more.

Until then, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there!

Episode 6: Psyching up for CQ WPX CW

Episode 6: Psyching up for CQ WPX CW

On May 27 and 28, the world will be alive with CW operators vying in CQ Magazine’s WPX – or Weird Prefix – CW contest. It’s one of the biggest radio events of the year, with many thousands of hams competing from hundreds of DXCC entities.

(See some of the DX that will be active this weekend).

That’s the focus of this week’s Zone Zero ham radio contesting podcast.

This is Bud, VA7ST, and I’ll gearing up for my 14th consecutive entry in WPX CW starting at 0000 UTC May 27th – that 5 p.m. Pacific time this Friday. I can hardly wait, no matter what is in store for us.

So let’s dive right in with Episode 6 of Zone Zero.


When NASA trains astronauts, they fly them in big planes along a parabolic trajectory. As they fly up they’re under about 1.8 times normal gravity, but near the peak of that parabola, they are at zero gravity for about 40 seconds before returning to 1.8 times the Earths gravity as the plane descends.

That parabolic path is what our propagation is like over the course of an 11-year solar cycle. And we had a pretty good time of things when we were up near the top – goofing about as we played in weightlessness, the bands wide open around the world at all hours of the day.

But now we pay the price. You have to come back down some time, and boy, are we ever coming down to Earth as 2017 rolls along.

Over the past weekend, for the King of Spain CW contest, conditions were about as bad as they can get.

Not from solar flares or big geomagnetic storms, mind you. Rather, we just lack oomph in the ionosphere. Sure, we saw active geomagnetic conditions, a pretty strong aurora absorbing signals over the pole, and an A-index that hit 21 instead of a nice low 2, which is what it was during CQ WPX CW last year.

But the poor conditions we’re seeing now have less to do with momentary space weather events, and more to do with the natural long-term rhythm of the 11-year solar sunspot cycle.

The sunspots are all but gone, so solar flux is in the 72 range now and it doesn’t go much lower than that in the bottom of a solar sunspot cycle. When flux is low, so are our spirits because the bands just don’t carry our signals like they do in the years of peak sunspot activity.

While 20M is often abuzz with activity on any given Saturday, over the past weekend I didn’t hear much at all. In fact, in the King of Spain contest, during my hours of operation Saturday I managed to make just 22 contact through the day. One was with the King of Spain station, EF0F. And two other European stations made it into the log, but they were the only non-North American signals heard all day. 20M was plain dead – and I’m sure people stayed off the air in droves as a result.

We can be sure they’ll be on the air this coming weekend, though, because CQ WPX CW can pull contesters out of the woodwork like few other events on the calendar.

Still, don’t expect too much from the bands this coming weekend.

Last year’s WPX performance

The solar cycle has diminished so quickly over the past year that we can’t put too much stock in looking at 2016’s results as an indicator of what to expect on the final weekend in May this year.

With that caveat, let’s quickly look at last year, as a recent benchmark.

Checking the official results for 2016, I had just shy of 1.8 million points – with 1,164 contacts and 555 multipliers. The bands were not particularly good, but 15M was still useful. I don’t expect much out of 15M this time out.

My 2016 score was good enough for second place in my ARRL section – which is British Columbia – and there’s nothing wrong with being second to a firecracker of an operator like Lee Sawkins, VE7CC at the VE7SV mountain-top station. Lee beat me by 600 contacts, 142 prefixes, and two million points, so I’d really have some work to do to keep up with him in WPX CW.

Activity last year was strong with more than 4,200 logs submitted, and new world records were set for multi-two and the low power all-band and single-band categories. So despite the fact that conditions were in decline last year, things were actually still crackling hot for WPX CW in 2016.

The popular entry categories last year were, as usual, single operator high power (about 2,200 entries)  followed by single op low power (about 1,300) plus 302 QRP stations. While participation from high power and QRP operators was down a bit from the previous year, the low-power category saw a jump – and that’s a great sign as it hints that more casual operators are getting on the air to try it out.

No two solar cycles are the same. What happened during this point in the last cycle won’t be mimicked this time, but trends are bankable.

2008 as our comparable

We can look at the last time solar and geomagnetic conditions were in the same ballpark we are now in. And that would be 2008.

Fortunately, I kept pretty good records from that year – and most years – so I can look back and get a sense of where to be and what to expect on each band.

What I’m looking at will apply to my own situation – running high-power, which is about 600 or 700 watts, into a modest three-element yagi for the high bands, and wire antennas on the lower bands.

So what can we predict for the WPX CW this weekend? It looks like we’ll have solar flux of about 75 and few, if any, sunspots.

Looking back nine years to 2008, we had flux of 68 – which compares nicely with what we have this spring.

That year I finished with 1.7 million points, 492 multipliers, and 1,171 contacts. Actually, that’s not far off my 2016 numbers.

Generally, in the low-sunspot years from 2007 to 2010, I was in the 400 to 500 prefix range, and that’s what I’ll expect this time out.

So, in setting my expectations based on these data points, I think I can get 1.5 million points, 1,100 contacts and about 400 prefixes in the log.

In practical terms, the level of productivity means I will need to average 37 contacts per hour for 30 hours. I know some hours will produce 100 or more contacts, and in the wee hours of the morning I might only make 20 an hour. But it should be entirely possible to average 37 per hour over the span of the weekend.

Strategy and intel

Earlier in May, during the Volta RTTY two weekends ago, I put in more hours on 20M during the night than I usually do – it was a research investment in the upcoming WPX CW. There are lots of things contesters should do ahead of a contest, and high on that list is to simply get on the radio and listen.

I remember as a new contester decades ago contesting all night working tons of 20M DX in the wee hours, and not finding much to work in daylight. But those years are long behind us.

For the past decade 20M has been a daylight band mostly, at least here in the North American west. But that’s not a truism to live by. During the Volta RTTY earlier this month, I worked European stations in the morning, through the afternoon and evening, and some of the clearest signals from Eastern Europe were worked after my midnight, or 0700Z.

I wouldn’t have that intel if I hadn’t got on the air at various times over the past weeks, and made notes about what was workable.

I have been fretting because this year, during WPX CW, I have to take a four-hour break to go into the nearby city and pull a city bus In a United Way fund-raiser. I’ll be off the air during what I know is primetime for Europe from here – about 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

For a competitive score, that’s an almost fatal blow – but now that I know Europe may still be workable later in the day and through the evening, I’ll still have a shot at all those European prefix multipliers. What I will miss is the highest rate of the valuable DX points Europe offers during primetime here. But again, I’ll do what I can to make up the losses later in the day.

To hit my goals this year, a few things will have to happen:

15M will need to cough up 100 or so contacts, and 20M will need to provide some European access from the West Coast of North America.

I haven’t had much luck on 15M for a few months, but a CQ Worldwide contest has a way of breathing life into an otherwise dead band, and WPX will almost certainly light up 15M for domestic contacts.

From here, those contacts will be in Florida and the other southeastern states. If they’re not pointed away from us up here near Washington State.

There will also be some South American action on 15M – there almost always is in this contest.

But I think one of the keys for me will be to max out performance on 40M and 80M. Seeing as I will be away for part of the 20M daylight situation, I’ll have to be up much of both nights hammering 40M and 80M for as long as there are stations to call.

For the past two years straight, I’ve had 240 or so contacts on 40M – which tells me it’s definitely worthwhile pouring time into 40M activity.

In 2016, I had 80 QSOs on 80M, and the year before just 22 QSOs. What that tells me is 80M simply isn’t popular for a lot of casual CQ WPX contesters. I will be there, but I have a feeling I will be bouncing back and forth between 40M and 80M, or running duelling-CQ with a radio on each band once the runs get a little slower late in the night.

It’s a complete blast running stations on 80M with the big steerable array of three full-sized verticals tucked into the Ponderosa pine forest here.

Remember, it’s important to work as many unique prefixes as you can, but you really need as many QSO points as you can get. For those of us in North America, each contact on 40, 80 and 160M is worth four points, but only two points on 20M and up.

Remember that I got beaten handily by VE7CC last year? The biggest difference in our scores was on 40M and 80M – on 40M Lee had 238 more contacts than me, and on 80M he had 118 more than I did. At four points per contact, those extra QSOs on the low bands add up quickly – and with Lee’s additional 140 prefixes, it’s no wonder VE7SV finished with two million more points by the end of the weekend.

Translation: it’s worth making as many low-band contacts as you can but those bands typically won’t produce at the rate you’ll get on 20M.

If you’re a single operator, you can only work 36 hours over the weekend, with off-times of at least one hour.

Picking when your 36 hours will be is a really important strategic decision. I suspect most semi-serious operators look for six hours of sleep both nights – say from local midnight to 6 a.m. – giving them the 12 hours of off-time they have to take.

For me, because I will have to take four hours off on Saturday for the fund-raiser, I’ll trim my sleep time to four hours each night, which is enough to wake up relatively okay to begin another long day at the radio.

Instead of packing it in at midnight local, I’ll stay on 80M and 40M until about 2 a.m. both nights – or mornings, as the case may be.

This all assumes I am going to be pushing for a full 36-hour effort, which I probably won’t.

Over the past few years, 30 hours has been about my max – and more often than not I end up with 25 or 26 hours of air time.

WPX CW – it’s fast, fun and fantastic. Whether you are gunning for the Top Ten box, or are comfortable being in there with the rest of us, get on the air and join the action.

As I often say, there are a lot of stations far bigger than mine, and many operators much better than I am, but nobody has more fun in this contest than I do. I’ll happily hand out the Victor Alpha Seven multiplier for as long as people want it this weekend.

Be sure to come back next week for a full post-contest report.

Subscribe to Zone Zero on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or your favorite podcast platform. Tell your friends, and come back often for more.

Until then, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there!

Episode 5: All modes in one weekend

Episode 5: All modes in one weekend

On the horizon we have a royal weekend, with His Majesty the King of Spain CW contest, and something for fans of every other major contesting mode.

Let’s get to it – a look ahead at the May 20th and 21st weekend.

Thanks for joining us for Episode 5 of the Zone Zero podcast. This is Bud, VA7ST, fresh off the Volta RTTY DX contest over the past weekend.

Last week, I said 20 million points would be possible in the Volta without even trying very hard. Well, I spent nine hours and finished with a claimed score of 60 million points. That’s triple what I thought I would end up with, and four times my 2016 score. And that’s despite taking off four hours in mid-morning to grocery shopping with my wife. Missed what is often a big part of the day on 20M.

Maybe the bands aren’t as flat as I thought.

The big help this year was a path to Europe on 20M. It wasn’t super strong but it was open, and it stayed open almost the full 24 hours. I made contacts with European stations — at 26 to 29 points per contact — all morning, in the afternoon and well after midnight.

Volta RTTY gives you big scores in a hurry, and even with conditions half-baked as they were this weekend, the Italian-sponsored Volta RTTY did not disappoint.

Coming up on May 20, we have a veritable bounty of smaller but very enjoyable contests to consider – whether you like Phone, CW, RTTY or PSK modes. There’s something for all of us this time out.

His Majesty the King of Spain CW

So much depends on the radio conditions at this part of the solar cycle – we’re often on the knife-edge between not having any useful DX propagation on the higher bands or having workable signals where we need them.

On Saturday, starting at 1200 UTC, we will see the 24-hour Spanish contest – His Majesty the King of Spain CW test – which will be a fun even for most of North America and certainly Europe, as it doesn’t require a totally polar path to work the most valuable multipliers – which are EA stations in Spain.

Having said that, I can report that last year from the North American west coast, I only managed to work 38 stations in 11 Spanish provinces.

You don’t have to restrict yourself to working EA stations, though. You’ll get one point for statins outside Spain, but three points for Spanish stations – and that includes EA6 in the Balearic Islands, and EA8 in the Canary Islands.

Just 38 QSOs more me last year, but the year before it was 216 Qs, which is more like it. There’s a fair amount of activity and lots of stations to work for CW operators.

One of the cool features of this contest is the possibility of working the special station of His Majesty the King of Spain, which will use the callsign EA0.

I worked the royal station last year, and no matter how laid back you think you are, it will give you a real kick to know you’ve made contact with the King of Spain station. I think I bragged about it to my wife for about a week after the contest.

You can check out the rules on the URE website – there’s a link in the show notes for Episode 5 at ZONE.VA7ST.CA.

EU PSK DX and the Aegean RTTY

If you’re not a Morse code operator, you have other options, starting at 1200 UCT Saturday. Both are 24-hour contests as well.

The EU PSK DX contest is for PSK operators – phase-shift keying is a digital mode that many find exciting because it uses such a narrow bandwidth. You will find literally dozens of PSK signals within a couple of kilohertz on 20M for example. Just tune your receiver to 14.070 and watch for the narrow-band signals in your waterfall display.

I won’t go into too much detail right now on how to operate PSK, but a quick pointer to some software is in order.

I use  a few different software packages for PSK operation – MMTTY can handle it, and I like that because MTTY interfaces with my contest logging program, N1MM Logger.

Another option that integrates with N1MM Logger is FLDigi, which is great for AFSK teletype or PSK modes.

For a good tutorial on operating PSK or RTTY, check out the Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Society’s Getting Started page — again, there’s a link to that great resource in the show notes for this episode.

Most PSK rag-chewing and a lot of contest activity is done using PSK-31 – which is a 31-bits-per-second mode and admittedly kind of pokey in terms of data speed.

But the EU PSK DX Contest is run using PSK-63 – twice the speed of “normal” PSK operation.

You’ll make exchanges a lot faster, which means more QSOs per minute, and more points in the log for a given number of hours operating.

Check it out and see if PSK contests are for you.

While you’re at it, take a look around the bands for the Aegean RTTY contest – also starting at 1200 UTC Saturday.

This is the eighth year for the Aegean RTTY contest, sponsored by the Aegean Radioamateurs Association. You’ll be looking for any station anywhere – on 20M through 10M, each is worth one point on your own continent, or two points outside your own continent. On 40M and 80M you’ll triple those contact points.

Again, if you aren’t a CW hound like I am, the EU PSK or the Aegean RTTY will give you hours of fun on a spring weekend. IU might even get on myself for a little digital mode action – I really do enjoy the gentler pace, and being able to check Sports Central or watch an NHL playoff game on TV while I’m in the contest.

But hey, Bud, you said all the contest modes were on this weekend. What about Phone or Single Sideband?

And right you are. There is one of those, too.

UN DX (CW and Phone)

Our friends in Kazakhstan offer the annual UN DX contest for CW and phone operators.

It actually gets going before the contests I’ve already mentioned – starting at 0600 UTC on Saturday and continuing until 2100 UTC.

You can work anyone no matter where they are, for two points in your own country, three points in a different country, and five points if they’re on a different continent. But if you work a station in Kazakhstan you get 10 points.

The multipliers are Kazakhstan districts plus the number of DXCC countries worked on each band.

I have a little secret at my station. Due to a convenient situation when I am beaming due north, where the distant horizon is at zero degrees elevation, I often have a pipeline into Kazakhstan from British Columbia.

I can’t say it gives me great scores in the UN DX – I usually manage to make 50 or so contacts each year – but those UN stations are usually the loudest signals coming over the pole into my antenna.


There – as promised: CW with the King of Spain, RTTY with the Aegean hams in Greece, PSK with the European PSK Club, and CW or phone with Kazakhstan. All the major modes in one weekend.

Which will you work?


Before we go, I’ll give you a preview of next week’s podcast – we’re going to take a look at the CQ WPX CW contest, coming up May 27 and 28.

This is one of the biggest Morse code contests on the calendar, and thousands of us look forward to it every May.

Over 48 hours, we’re going to be hunting for “weird prefixes” – that’s what WPX stands for– trying to land as many different callsign prefixes as we can put in the log. But we’ll be doing that in a contest where sustained rate – making as many contacts as you possibly can every minute – is the most important factor.

Some will go after the multipliers, which are all the prefixes you work, while others will simply run as fast as they can and let all those multipliers come to them.

It’s a strategy game unlike most other contests, and it’s a frantic, fantastic time on the air.

But that’s for next week’s episode.

Thanks for listening – I’d sure appreciate a review on iTunes to help get the word out. Tell your friends if you like what we’re doing here.

You can also email me at bud@va7st.ca — tell me a bit about contesting from your corner of the world.

Let’s go get ‘em… I’ll see you out there!

Episode 4: Volta RTTY DX and the CQ-M International

Episode 4: Volta RTTY DX and the CQ-M International

This week, we’ll take a peek at one of the great RTTY events on the annual calendar – the Volta RTTY DX contest coming up this weekend. If you want to score 100 million points in a weekend, then this one is for you.

We’ll also look at the CQ-M International DX contest for CW and phone operators. So let’s get started….


100 million points in a single contest?

That’s entirely achievable in the Volta RTTY test, sponsored by the  SSB and RTTY Club of COMO and A.R.I. (Associazione Radioamatori Italiani).

This year it’s the 51st running of the Volta RTTY, honoring the Italian discoverer of electricity, Alessandro Volta.

I’ve been in this one every year since 2003. Now, that year I earned 81,000 points and finished 144th overall. Over the years, I have managed to reach the top 25 pack a couple of times, and in 2013 when conditions were at their peak for solar cycle 24, the score I submitted was 299 million.

What a blast this one is, folks.

How do scores get so high? It’s simple. Every contact you make earns points based on a table that gives you more points for contacts in zones farther away from you.

So, if I am in California (in CQ Zone 3) and I work a station in Germany (in Zone 14) we both get 26 points for the contact.

Volta RTTY points table

What countries are in which CQ zones?

That alone can make the contest a whole lot of fun, and encourages the effort it takes to make those DX or long-distance QSOs.

But there’s a whole lot more.

Now, you get to multiply all those contact points times the number of DXCC countries and call areas in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA. Now, that makes your score rocket up the charts. But then it gets really interesting.

In Volta RTTY, you then multiply that calculation times the number of contacts you have made. Boom – into the stratosphere.

Last year, even with conditions that were mediocre at best, I managed 155 contacts in 55 countries and call areas – a pitiful performance really – and my claimed score was 16 million points. I put in six hours, which works out to 2.7 million points per hour.

The year before, when propagation was still pretty good, I had 261 contacts and 106 multipliers, and finished with almost 153 million points in 8 hours. That’s more than 19 million points per hour.

It’s pretty neat to see a seven-digit score.

If you go by recent conditions, I think we’re currently experiencing propagation similar to what we saw back in 2008.

That year for Volta RTTY, the solar flux was 67 – lower than it is right now – but the A-index was just 3 with quiet geomagnetic conditions. We might get a bit lucky and have a more flux than that to keep the bands open longer this weekend.

Anyway, in our comparator year of 2008 I landed 16 million points with 180 contacts and 48 countries and call areas – a rather piddly amount, and over the nine years since then participation in RTTY contests has increased dramatically.

Keep in mind that if you work all 10 call areas in the US, Canada and Japan, that’s 30 multipliers – on just one band. You can work ‘em all on each band, too.

If there’s any opening to Europe from where you are (or to North America if you’re in Europe), this weekend could produce 20 million points or more in just a few hours, without even trying too hard.

A quick tip for North American stations – let’s get on 80M during the evening. In most years, there are very few stations running Volta RTTY on 80M and that’s a huge lost opportunity.

It’s entirely possible to work all 10 US call areas there, and another half-dozen Canadian call areas. But only if we get on to hand out those multipliers. Help one another out and go to 80 – and watch your scores leap.

Volta RTTY takes to the air at 1200 UTC this Saturday, May 13, and goes 24 hours. It’s a straight-up 45-baud RTTY contest, so get out there and give it a try. I’ll be listening for you.

CQ-M International

CQ-M rules

The P-150-C country list (multipliers in CQ-M)

Now, I know teletype isn’t everybody’s cup of bourbon, but this weekend has something for everyone.

The CQ-M contest is an international event sponsored by Russian hams in the name of peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding.

It’s been going for 61 years now, and provides an outlet for either r CW or Phone contesting starting at 1200 UTC on Saturday, May 13 and going for 24 hours.

You’ll be looking for contacts with anyone, anywhere, with contact points varying depending on where the other station is located.

Multipliers are the P-150 country list, and there are links to that list in the show notes for Episode 4.

I’m going to be honest, every year this weekend I enter the Volta RTTY, and stick with that one pretty intensely. So, I’ve never entered the CQ-M contest – but if I wasn’t such a RTTY hound, I would and I’d encourage you to give CQ-M a whirl if you’re not doing the teletype thing this weekend. I have listened around in previous years, and there’s activity to be had.

Or maybe you can do both – interleaving your time between the two events.

Peaceful coexistence. After all, that’s kind of the message, right?


That’s it for Episode 4. Thanks for listening – I’d sure appreciate a review on iTunes to help get the word out. Tell your friends if you like what we’re doing here.

You can email me at bud@va7st.ca  — tell me a bit about contesting from your corner of the world.

Let’s go get ‘em… I’ll see you out there!

Episode 3.1: Recapping the 7QP, Indiana and New England QSO Parties

Episode 3.1: Recapping the 7QP, Indiana and New England QSO Parties

Welcome to another post-contest episode of Zone Zero, the podcast for casual but avid ham radio contesters.

It’s late Sunday afternoon, and I’m taking a break from NHL viewing to file my report for the weekend’s contest activity here at VA7ST.

Keep listening for a recap of the 7QP, Indiana QSO Party and New England QSPO Party – and here’s a hint… May 6 and 7 was a pretty darn good weekend to be on the air.


Welcome to episode 3.1, a recap of this weekend’s contest action. This is Bud, VA7ST.

On Saturday and Sunday, we saw three major state QSO parties on the air, offering as many as 421 counties up for grabs across New England states, Indiana, and the entire US Pacific Northwest.

I decided to run low-power this weekend, and it worked out just fine – better than I could have hoped, in fact, as conditions were surprisingly good for a domestic contest weekend.

7QP recap

The 7QP – or the 7th Call Area QSO Party — was a total hoot on Saturday. What a blast I had on all the bands from 20M down to 160M, ending at midnight my local Pacific time.

On 15M, I landed four Qs and four counties across NV, UT and WY which is four more than I figured I’d get by going up there.

I was surprised to so readily work the close-in states on 20M — most years it is tough to work WA, MT and ID until I go to 40M, but no trouble this time.

80M was pretty solid with the triangular array of verticals pointed SE or SW to cover the 7th call area pretty well. The band was strong even to New England, where I kept working stations until the New England QSO Party’s first of two sessions ended at 0500z.

Top band didn’t see much action, though I was there bleating out CQs to get whomever strayed down there in the final hour. Got 8 additional Qs by going to 160M and sure appreciated the calls.

I didn’t really miss running high power with the bands open no nicely, and assume noise wasn’t a big problem at the other end on 80M and 40M.

Managed to beat my previous best score from 2011 (31,374) by a healthy margin, finishing with 173 contacts and 81 counties in the log, for a total claimed score of 42,039 points, which should land me in the top five for out-of-state low-power CW scores.

View the 3830 Scores page for the 7QP

Love the 7QP — thanks to everyone who got on for the day!

Indiana QSO Party

Then there was the Indiana QSO Party, on Satuday as well. This one had some good activity but it wasn’t nearly the rate-fest that the 7th Call Area states mustered up.

With the distance to the midwest not an issue for most bands, the real challenge for Indiana was just being on when the active stations were on.

I ended up with 17 contacts and 10 Indiana counties – most on 20M but two were on 40M before the contest ended at 0300z on Saturday (which is technically on Sunday UTC).

Final claimed score was 340 points.

New England QSO Party

And then there was Sunday.

The New England QSO Party had good activity on the bands Saturday, but my focus on Saturday was the 7QP – you want to max ut your time in thtatone, because it ends at midnight Pacitiv Saturday night, while the New England contest continues all day Sunday, starting its second session at 1300z – or 6 a.m. where I am.

So, at around 7 a.m. I was back on he radio, hunting for New England counties. At first, it was easy to find the active stations, but after about an hour, things got real slow – as I expected.

While New England stations get on in good measure, they just aren’t there in the kinds of numbers that you’ll find in the Florida, 7th Call Area or the biggest of them all, the California QSO Party.

Still, it’s a great state event with plenty to work. At first. Then things thin out, at least on the CW end of the bands which is where I as operating this time out.

Through Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or so Pacific time – about half an hour before the end – I put in four hours and managed to add about eight New England counties and about 60 stations to the total. That’s not a great payoff for four hours of hard work sifting through the bands, but it is worth it if you’re trying for a competitive score.

Remember, no matter where they are – near New England or far from the eastern seaboard as I am —  most of the other guys are having the same rotten luck with the bands.

The problem isn’t so much the radio conditions, but the lack of activity as Sunday has church and all kinds of other callings that pull otherwise active competitors off the air.

It’s just slim pickins. The only way through it is to barge through it – stay in the chair, keep sifting through the stations already worked, keep an ear out for any mobile rovers who might possibly be activating new counties, and don’t let the Sunday doldrums get you down.

This weekend, 20M was either great to New England or really bad. Some stations just couldn’t hear me, while others got me first call. The difference? Antenna direction, mostly.

Those who wanted W7 states and VE7 in the log turned their beams away from the south and southwest — the W4 and W5 masses — once in a while, and were rewarded with multipliers frm the northwest.

Over the years, since 2006, I’ve been in the NEQP 11 times. My best score was in 2011 as solar cycle 24 was in its ascent, and I had 96 contacts in 31 counties for 5,950 points or so.

Flash forward to 2017, and this weekend. I ended up with exactly the same contact total —  96 – but six more counties – 37 – and a claimed score of 7,100 points.

Considering that 100 watts doesn’t go as far at the very bottom of the solar cycle, having a personal best in the New England QSO Party this year feels pretty good. But it was hard work. Just not as hard as digging in the garden, which was the alternative.

I didn’t get into the Delaware QSO Party, though I handed out one contact when asked, and I entirely skipped the ARI International DX contest. I heard Europeans working it on Saturday on 20M but that was during the same hours that 7th call area stations were swarming like bees all over 20M and the attraction south of me was just too strong.

So, there we have it. Three of the QSO parties this weekend in the bag.

Up next, we will look ahead at one of the great teletype contests of the year – Volta RTTY coming up next weekend. That’s in Episode 4 due out shortly.

Thanks for checking in after the contests. You can find all the episodes on our website – that’s ZONE.VA7ST.CA. Be sure to subscrbe if you don’t want to miss an episode. And please, consider adding a review of Zone Zero on iTunes to help get the word out.

I’ll see you out there, now let’s go get ‘em.

Episode 3: Four more QSO parties and ARI International DX

Episode 3: Four more QSO parties and ARI International DX

Bud takes a look at the May 6-7 weekend QSO Parties for the 7th Call Area, Indiana, Delaware and New England states, plus the ARI International DX contest.


April’s behind us and it was a big month for QSO parties, with the Michigan, North Dakota, Ontario and Florida QSO parties.

Not to be outdone, May opens up with a bunch more so if you like to hunt around for counties you’ll be fully engaged this weekend.


This weekend we have one of my favorites — the 7QP, or the 7th Call Area QSO Party — but that’s just one of four state-based events starting Saturday. We have the Indiana, Delaware and New England QSO Parties as well.

So, get out the keyers, microphones — and maps — and go county hunting everyone.

7QP (7th Call Area QSO Party) 

The 7QP will have hams out from across eight states in the 7th call area — that’s Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona. And that’s a lot of hams and a lot of activity.

It gets underway at 1300 UTC Saturday, May 6, and runs until 0700 UTC on Sunday.

I sure love the 7QP but I never do well in it, because I’m just too close to Washington, Oregon and Idaho, though on 80 meters in the evenings I’m close enough that I can work just about anyone in those states, and it’s great fun to work the counties. And there are a lot of them across the 8 participating states.

I understand that two years ago nearly 1,200 stations in the 7th call area participated. That’s a huge number of stations you can expect to find in the CW, phone and RTTY bands over the 18 hours of the contest.

The exchange in this one is a signal report plus the two-letter state abbreviation followed by the three-letter county abbreviation. So, if you’re working a station in Arizona’s Apache county, that station would send you Alfa Zulu Alfa Papa Hotel — that’s “Arizona Apache.”

I think the hot tip for this one depends on where you are. For me, being so close to the Washington border that I could throw an Okanagan red delicious apple and hit the border, I’ll only manage a few contacts on the higher bands such as 20 meters, but as the day moves into evening I’ll start to hear and be heard on 40 meters and especially on 80 meters. I like racking up multipliers in the close-in states of Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, picking up counties I just couldn’t hear on 20 meters.

For those in states further afield the reverse might be true. You’ll get the best signals on longer hops on 20 meters and maybe have less success on the low bands. But remember 40 meters and 80 meters can be really strong across the continent in the evenings.

So make sure you get on and see what you can hear.

The same advice applies to the other three QSO parties and I’ll quickly run through them right now.

Indiana QSO Party 

The Indiana QSO Party starts at 1500 UTC on Saturday and ends at 0300 hours. The Hoosier DX and Contest Club which sponsors the contest advises that for 2017 county name abbreviations changed. So be aware of that and check the revised list on the Indiana QSO Party website.

Delaware QSO Party 

Then there’s the Delaware QSO Party organized by the First State Amateur Radio Club. This one runs from 1700 UTC on Saturday and ends at 2359 UTC on Sunday. The state abbreviations changed last year so make sure you’re logging software is up to date the exchange to watch wars a single report and county. And if you’re an out-of-state station, send a signal report and your state or province, or “DX” if you are outside the United States and Canada.

A cool feature of this one is that it applies a power multiplier to your score.

If you declare in your log that you’re running more than 150 watts, you get a 1-times multiplier. For 150 watts or less, multiply your score times two. And for QRP stations running 5 watts or less, you can claim a 3- times multiplier. So that’s pretty neat.

New England QSO Party

And then there’s the New England QSO Party. Not to be confused with the Nebraska QSO Party, the New England event is often just referred to as the NEQP. I love this one, too, because it includes stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The New England stations will send a signal report and state and county abbreviations. So, a Berkshire county station in Massachusetts will send Bravo Echo Radio Mike Alfa or “Berkshire Massachusetts.” And you can look up the county abbreviations on the NEQP website.

ARI International DX Contest
Rules for: non-Italian stations, in English  | Italian stations, in Italian

And just so those that aren’t into QSO parties don’t feel left out, there’s a big international contest this weekend, as well. Sponsored by Italian hams, the ARI International DX contest is an all-mode, everyone-works-everyone event on CW, phone and RTTY.

Things get underway at 1200 UTC on Saturday, May 6, and run 24 hours. The rules are posted in English and Italian language versions on the ARI website.

The exchange for non-Italian stations as a signal report and a progressive serial number. Italians will send signal report and their Italian province’s abbreviation. I should point out that the ARI International has a short turnaround time for log submissions after the contest. They have to be submitted via a web upload — you can go to www.ari.it — and you have to do that by May 12 or your log might only be accepted as a check log.

There you have it a bunch of state QSO parties this weekend and a big ol’ international contest.

Here in southern British Columbia where I am, the lawns need mowing now that the grass is going so well, and so it’s “busy times,” but I’ll try and get on for a bit in each of these events and see what I can do at this part of the solar cycle.

You can read more about the podcast at zone.va7st.ca. Subscribe and tell your friends about the program.

73 from BC — thanks for listening and I’ll see you out there.

Additional resources

  • WA7BNM Contest Calendar
    As always, for rules and links to the Florida QSO Party website and just about every other contest in the world, check the WA7BNM Contest Calendar. It’s about the best contest listing out there.
  • Orca DX and Contest Club website
    For other links of use to contesters, check out the Orca DX and Contest Club website — it has a short list of upcoming contests, many mentioned in the Zone Zero podcast, plus a handy propagation tool for at-a-glance band conditions.

Building a contest station or a special project?
Find the parts on Amazon and support the podcast, too!

Episode 2.1: Recapping the Florida QSO Party

Episode 2.1: Recapping the Florida QSO Party

On Saturday and Sunday, the bands were ignited by the Florida State QSO Party, or FQP. As the weekend (April 29-30) rolled along I took notes for this post-contest mini-episode 2.1.

Congratulations to the Florida Contest Group for 20 years of this great contest. It’s a fun one with lots of activity from Florida counties.

In this part of the solar cycle, during daylight the only band producing contacts was 20M, so that’s where I devoted my time and attention.

During and after a contest, I will often jot down notes about observations and things I could learn from for next time out. That’s sort of the point of this podcast about contesting. I’m making notes for myself, and I hope they’re useful to others.

I ran 100 watts, leaving the kilowatt amplifier turned off. In fact, out of the six years I’ve entered the Florida QSO Party since 2004, in only one year did I run high power – 2008, which also coincided with my second-highest ever score in this one, about 5,300 points.

It’s interesting to note that in 2011, with 100 watts I beat that score with nearly 7,600 points in the log. The solar cycle had improved that much by 2011, and over the six years since then the peak arrived in 2013 and we’ve slid down the other shoulder into the long, dry valley of solar minimum right now.

This time out, I finished with 38,500 points, 153 contacts and 63 counties in Florida. Time on the air was around 9.5 hours, spread out over many sessions

That might not sound like much, but those are all high-water marks from this station. In fact, it is a 500 percent improvement over my previous best score.

Saturday morning from British Columbia was very tough going into Florida. Stations were generally weak, and we had one-way propagation. They were pointing at the northeast and working the US northeast and Europe so stations in the W7 region got short shrift.

Makes sense to do that – I would, too, if I were in Florida. You have to go where the points are – finding the most fertile ground for your CQs.

Saturday eased a bit on 20M later in the day but it was never easy. 40M was no good from here on Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

But Sunday morning on 20M was fun for a couple of hours after local sunrise – from 6 to 8 a.m. Pacific — with signals from Florida strong for the home stations and workable rover stations moving as fast as I could keep up.

I have to thank N4EEB, who provided me with 20 counties. Other super-active rovers in my log included:

  • AD4ES – 13 counties
  • K4OJ – 12 counties
  • N4KG – 9 counties
  • K4ZGB – 9 counties
  • W4AN – 8 counties
  • NO5W – 8 counties
  • N4FP – 6 counties
  • K8MR – 6 counties
  • KN4Y – 3 counties
  • N4DAB – 2 counties

The really active rovers were spread out in a span just above 14.045 – smack-dab in the middle of the “rover window” from 14.040 to 050. I made a note of where we had worked before on 20M, using the band map built into N1MM Logger, and kept coming back to see if any of them had moved into a new county. It was a pretty good feed of new ones through the day.

If I couldn’t hear a rover on his parking frequency, I figured he was up in the phone band or on the move, and made a mental note to come back shortly to see what part of Florida he was going to activate next.

A little patience and persistence really pays off when hunting for rovers in new counties.

There were amazing stretches of rover activity when it was all I could do to keep up with them, they were all hitting new counties so quickly.

Special thanks to NO5W for the excellent rover station activity maps. They really worked well for tracking where a station was and where to expect them next.  These and other great resources are linked from the Florida QP website’s Counties info page.

I spent many sessions waiting to get through to some stations – going 15 minutes or longer between contacts as I sifted through the signals already worked. That’s called “working out the band,” but as I have mentioned, if you stay with it or come back a few minutes later there will be new stations to work.

In a lot of multi-mode contests, where you can work CW, Phone or both modes, points are weighted in favor of CW contacts. In this one, a CW contact is worth two points, while a phone contact is worth just one point. And isn’t that just as it should be (he says with a smile). So, there’s a real incentive to head lower in the band occasionally to work the CW stations.

Final analysis

This was a great running of the Florida QP. I saw a 500 percent increase over any previous best score I’ve had over the years, and with low power, on bands that were horrible between me and Florida.

I think my major score improvement this year speaks highly of the in-state participation rate and, in particular, the rover activity that activated so many counties with workable signals.

Thanks for the contacts, Florida.

Keep an ear out for four more QSO parties next weekend. They’re the subject of the next episode of Zone Zero. Subscribe if you like these brief contest podcasts, and please consider going into iTunes and leaving a review to help get the word out.

73 from British Columbia.

Thanks for checking in. Now, let’s go get ‘em.

Episode 2: Florida QSO Party

Episode 2: Florida QSO Party

Right off the top I want to remind everyone that you can email me at bud@va7st.ca with thoughts about the podcast. In each of the shows were going to take a quick look ahead at one or two of the upcoming contests and this week, it’s the Florida State QSO Party.

Out the window I can see green grass growing like a spring weed, the creeks are rising, birds are chirping, the shrubbery is budding out, the dog — Boomer the border collie — is out there with his squeaky ball and a frisbee, and he’s having a great time because spring is back here in the southern part of British Columbia.

Now springtime weekends aren’t really big contest weekends. Other parts of the year are much more contesting-intensive, so right now is the perfect time for getting out in the yard to check out your antennas, looking for things you need to repair after a long, hard winter and just getting the property back in shape for a much-anticipated summer. And I sure hope we have a great summer because we had one heck of a tough winter.

Coming up at the end of April is the Florida QSO Party.

Organized by the Florida Contest Group, this is one of the more well-attended state contests, where everyone around the world turns their antennas toward Florida and tries to work as many stations in as many Florida counties as possible.

The QSO party has two operating periods – the first is a 10-hour stretch from 1600 UTC on Saturday, April 29, to 0159 UTC on Sunday. Then everyone gets to take a break, before getting on for the second operating period, which gets underway at 1200 UTC on April 30, and runs through to 2200 UTC – for those doing the math at home, that’s another 10 hours of operation.

You can operate the entire 20-hour contest if you wish – and many will.

The exchange, if you’re not in Florida, is a signal report and your state, province or DXCC prefix.

Keep in mind that if you’re outside Florida, you only get points for contacting stations in Florida.

It’s a contest for CW Morse code or phone operators, with activity on 40M through 10M – it’s important to note that 160M and 80M aren’t part of this one, folks.

Checking the log for past years, I see that I operated the Florida QSO Party in six previous years – most recently in 2014. My best score was 5,200 points or so, having made 64 contacts with stations in 41 Florida counties. That was in just two and a half hours of operating and I finished something like 12th in Canada that year.

One of the fun things about state QSO parties like this one are the roving stations. These are dedicated – very dedicated – hams who drive around the state activating  county after county.

That means there are often new counties to work as they day goes by. Just when you think you’ve found everyone on the air in a given hour, a rover may show up in a rare county and you’ve got another multiplier in the log!

One strategy I’ve found useful in this and other state QSO parties is to operate in shorter stints on the air, but keep coming back often.

At any given moment, there might be just 10 or 20 Florida stations active on 20M CW, and perhaps another 30 or 40 to be found up in the Phone portion of the band.

Depending on how close or how far you are from Florida you will probably be able to work most of them with relative ease. The in-state stations often call CQ, waiting for the masses of hams to find them. As you tune across the band, listen for swarms of signals on a frequency – the Florida station will likely be there underneath the callers.

After a few minutes of busy activity, you may find you’ve done something called “working out the band,” which means you’ve found all the stations active at a particular time.

But don’t be lulled into complacency.

Remember those rovers I mentioned? They’re moving – sometimes hitting a new county every hour or two.

A new county may be activated for only a few minutes if the rover is cutting though a corner of the county – you have to be on the air to hear them while they’re handing out the hot multiplier!

As always, for rules and links to the Florida QSO Party website and just about every other contest in the world, check the WA7BNM Contest Calendar.

73 from British Columbia, everyone. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you out there.


Show resources

  • WA7BNM Contest Calendar
    As always, for rules and links to just about every contest in the world, check the WA7BNM Contest Calendar. It’s about the best contest listing out there.
  • Orca DX and Contest Club website
    For other links of use to contesters, check out the Orca DX and Contest Club website — it has a short list of upcoming contests, many mentioned in the Zone Zero podcast, plus a handy propagation dashboard for at-a-glance band conditions.

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Episode 1.1: When conditions go horribly bad

Episode 1.1: When conditions go horribly bad

 

This is a special post-contest update on April 23, 2017.

Oh my goodness, what a terrible weekend on the radio!

Feels like I wasted a couple of days there in the SP International DX teletype and the BARTG 75 RTTY contests.

Didn’t make many contacts in either one of them.

In the previous podcast I mentioned the importance of working all 6 continents. Well, I managed to end up with 3 continents in the log. I did get one European station — an EA station in Spain on 20M by pointing south of the aurora — but that was it from east of the Atlantic ocean.

I found a couple of South American stations and the rest were all North America. I did not hear any KH6 Hawaiian stations or any of the South Pacific ZL/VK stations in New Zealand or Australia, so I was shut out for 3 continents and had only 3 in the log.

It’s about the worst performance I’ve had in the SP DX RTTY contest in many years. That speaks to the conditions of the solar cycle.

We are definitely in the bottom of the trough of solar cycle 24, so that means the next year — perhaps two years — are going to be similar to what we saw this weekend.

There will be moments of happiness and smiles and sunshine, as conditions aren’t always this terrible, but we sure had a look at what the future holds for the next while.

Seeing the numbers

I thought I might give you some indication visually of what the conditions looked like over the weekend, so I went to the orcaDXCC.org website and took some snapshots of the propagation dashboard. By taking a look at the two screen shots from the morning and the afternoon of Saturday, April 23, you get a visual indication of how the solar and geomagnetic numbers changed across the day.

Propagation conditions about 10 hours later — at 0140Z on Sunday
Propagation conditions at 1520Z on Saturday

The dashboard, which has been in use since 2010 and compares favorably with real-world conditions, indicates in real-time what the band conditions should be, based on solar flux, sunspot levels, the A-index and K-index, as well as geomagnetic conditions.

At 1520 UTC on Saturday morning, April 22, we were enduring a geomagnetic storm at a minor storm level. The solar flux was 82, driven by 39 sunspots. However the K-index was 6.

Now, it’s nice when the K-index is at 1 or 2, because that means the A-index will be low.

The A-index is a cumulative number that’s based on the K-index over several hours. When the K-index is elevated the A-index will rise and it will rise dramatically if the K-index is elevated to a level like 6, as it was on Saturday.

So conditions really did get worse as the day went on. The aurora level was actually falling during the day, as you’ll see in the screenshots that I’ve included in the show notes for this special episode 1.1.

The aurora had fallen from 8.4 in the morning to 6.7 in the afternoon. That means it had fallen from about 55 gigawatts of power in the ionosphere to about 25 gigawatts of power in the ionosphere.

The big difference through morning to the afternoon – the obvious clue to why the bands got even worse as the day went on — was the soaring A-index.

Remember, the K-index in the morning was 6 and in the afternoon the K-index had fallen to 4.

Now, 4 or 6 are both high numbers for the K-index. And because of the number of hours that K had been elevated, the cumulative A-index went up – from 47 in the morning to 51 in the afternoon.

That really does mean that bands are completely wiped out.

You will get some reasonably useful conditions on short hops across the continent on 20 meters, for example, and that’s what I saw. I was hearing signals — they weren’t strong and there was some fading on the signals between me and Florida and the US southeast; however, on the lower bands conditions were quite bleak, especially as darkness fell here in western North America.

Now we look ahead to a series of QSO parties while we await CQ WPX CW in late May. That one will be a real trial of patience if this weekend’s conditions repeat a month from now.


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Thanks for taking an extra few minutes this week for the Episode 1.1 post-contest update.