Category: Uncategorized

Episode 26: February packed with contests

Episode 26: February packed with contests

Let’s take a look at February and a jam-packed roster of radio contests. There’s something for everyone this month – whether you’re a CW or RTTY lover, prefer phone contests or the newer digital modes like FT4.

Read the full text transcript at VA7ST.CA

Episode 25: Top Band action in CQ 160M CW

Episode 25: Top Band action in CQ 160M CW

The latest edition of the Zone Zero radio contesting podcast takes a look at the upcoming CQ 160M CW contest, and the antennas used for transmitting and receiving at a modest station that produce plenty of fun in the contests.

Solar Cycle 25 is slowly warming up, so over the next several years we will see the high bands improving and the lower bands won’t be quite as strong.

But as long as sunspots remain rare, these years of quiet solar activity are the heydays for 160M (that’s 1.8 Mhz  — also fondly known as the Top Band). You’ll have a ton of fun enjoying good DX through the night.

If you’re keen to see what you can work on Top Band, this episode is for you.

Read the full text transcript at VA7ST.CA

Episode 24: CQ WPX RTTY and ARRL DX CW

Episode 24: CQ WPX RTTY and ARRL DX CW

The old song continues – conditions ain’t what they used to be – but the end is in sight. With two of the biggest contests of the year coming up in February, will the HF bands hold up well enough to enjoy? We’ll take a look in Episode 24 of Zone Zero.

Hi everyone, and welcome to the middle of winter here in the British Columbia interior. It’s minus 26 outside with the windchill – cold enough to slow the grease in the tower rotator. But we won’t let that slow us down with two very big contests on the immediate horizon.

Here in the first week of February, we’re angling toward the upcoming CQ WPX RTTY contest on February 9 and 10, and the following weekend February 16 and 17 the whole world lights up for the ARRL International DX CW contest.

These are two very different contests. The WPX RTTY is an “everyone works everyone” event with lots of rate on every available band. It’s a bit of a rate-fest, with a nice short exchange – a signal report and serial number.

It’s vital to remember that the QSO points double on 40M and 80M in the RTTY contest. I can’t stress strongly enough how great it would be if more stations went to the lower bands in the evenings to take advantage of the double-point contacts after the sun goes down. Sadly, 80M is often a wasteland after an hour or two of darkness.

An interesting little statistic from last year – 95 percent of the contacts made in the 2018 running of WPX RTTY were made on 20M, 40M and 80M. I’m willing to bet that a very small fraction of those were on 80M – it’s a real lost opportunity for the full-time stations aiming for all 30 hours on the air.

Our good friend Ed Muns, W0YK, is the contest chair for this one. In his report following the 2018 running, he noted that a total of 3,060 stations entered as single-operator last year. Almost 1,800 of those were low-power – running 100 watts or less – and another 1,137 were high-power. Ed sure knows this contest inside and out, and in fact won the high-power all-band category last year operating from P49X in Aruba. He won, but noted it was his third-lowest score over the past 12 years.

For teletype fans, WPX RTTY is the best contest of the year – with the possible exception of CQ Worldwide RTTY and the ARRL RTTY Roundup — with plenty to work even now in the lowest sunspot years.

Contrast that with the ARRL DX CW contest, which only allows contacts between stations in the US mainland and Canada and the rest of the world. That puts more emphasis on DX-capable stations, especially in the low-sunspot years when bands won’t support as much intercontinental activity.

At the time of this airing, there are a total of ZERO sunspots, and solar flux is parked at 71. That’s not as low as it can go, of course. We have seen flux fall to 68 or 69 in the bottom of the solar cycle, so we’re in for a little bit of a treat with a few extra points of flux. A tiny bit more flux is better than none.

But recent contest activity is a good predictor of what’s about to occur. For both of the upcoming contest weekends in February, I’m anticipating limited activity across North America on 15M with almost all the daytime production to be found on 20M.

Last year in the WPX RTTY I managed just one contact on 15M all weekend long and had my second-lowest final score ever. This year, I’m expecting to land 100 or more contacts on 15, as I have been working stations from across North and South America on 15M in recent weeks.

That means you should not neglect 15M in the WPX RTTY, and point at the Caribbean from the US and Canada in the ARRL DX CW contest. Competitive stations will be there to find those openings. The multipliers will be well worth staking out 15.

From here in Western North America, even 20M will pose real challenges in the ARRL DX CW contest, as Europe hasn’t been open for more than a few minutes in the mornings this winter. But there have been some windows of light, and if one of those windows opens things could get very interesting. DXCC countries are multipliers so even a brief opening to Europe can really change the game. Same goes for Europeans searching for US states and Canadian provinces for their multipliers.

Last year’s ARRL DX CW produced my third-lowest ever final score, but I was surprised to work eight stations up on 10M a year ago. I’ll probably poke around on 10M for a little while – hoping to find a few South American multipliers as I did last year.

For me, the Big Ticket in the ARRL DX CW is Japan – if Japanese operators get on in any numbers, that can help keep the keyer busy and rack up lots of QSO points on 20M and 40M. Sadly, Japan is just one DXCC country, so it doesn’t do much to bulk up the multiplier count. Advantage: East Coast.

All right, that’s a quick hit of Zone Zero for February. Don’t let the poor band conditions dissuade you from getting on the air in these two contests. You’ll have a blast no matter what the conditions are like – say hi to old friends and make some new ones.

Check the rules before the contests start and be ready for the opening bell. If it’s as cold where you are as it is here, maybe turn on that amplifier for the extra warmth. Now, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there.

Episode 23: Looking ahead to CQ Worldwide CW 2018

Episode 23: Looking ahead to CQ Worldwide CW 2018

The 2018 CQ Worldwide CW contest is coming to a radio near you on the November 24 and 25 weekend.

Over the past month I’ve made some major changes to the VA7ST setup, including updated equipment and a fairly substantial reconfiguration of the shack layout. Contest prep is done and I’m ready to roll. How about you?

Let’s get going with Episode 23 of Zone Zero – the CQ Worldwide CW preview edition.

Welcome to the big CQ Worldwide CW contest preview edition.

We don’t do this very often, but I will open with a bit of homework for you – be sure to listen to the pre-contest report from last year – Zone Zero Episode 15, which is packed with interesting information about the contest that still holds true for the 2018 running of this great big event.

Pre-reading/pre-listening: 2017 pre-contest Zone Zero

For extra credit, I invite you to also listen to the 2017 post-contest report

Okay, that’s the homework assignment.


Now let me tell you quickly about some of the homework I’ve been up to. Big changes are now in place at VA7ST. A new transceiver and amplifier have brought the shack up to current contesting snuff with the first major renewal of gear since I added the FT-2000 and SteppIR 3-element yagi in 2009.

I decided the investment was entirely worth it and long overdue – providing improved receive capabilities for incredibly congested bands in the bottom of the solar cycle, and more power for all bands, including 6M work.

I’d like to think that this was all in anticipation of the biggest contest on the annual calendar – CQ Worldwide CW — but the reality is I’ve been contemplating the changes for quite a while.

The new equipment includes an Acom 1000 amplifier, which has been in place for a couple of weeks now and was used in the Worked All Europe RTTY contest to great effect.

The other item is a new Icom IC-7610 transceiver. This is an amazing bit of kit – software defined radio in a real radio box with knobs.

I’m still learning how to use its capabilities, but I did manage to get it on the air in two-VFO mode in Worked All Europe RTTY earlier this month and spent hours while CQing on one receiver and searching and pouncing up and down the band on the other receiver.

The IC-7610 also did a great job in the past weekend’s Sweepstakes Phone contest – providing almost clear-channel audio on my run frequencies even when 20M was packed to the rafters with stations. It’s really quite something to experience.

Having two spectrum displays – one for each receiver – in N1MM Logger makes it dead-simple to see signals and callsign labels, so you can click and jump on any signal you haven’t worked before.

All the new gear meant a rethink of how I have the radio room laid out. Specifically, I had to rearrange the desk surfaces to put two transceivers in their optimal locations – so I can easily tune the bands, reach the knobs, adjust amplifier and antenna tuner, and still have the correct ergonomics for three computer monitors and a keyboard at hand.

So, now I have the Yaesu FT-2000 as my left-hand radio and the Icom as the right-hand radio – they’re Radio B and Radio A from left to right. Then a little further to the right side and continuing around the corner of the desk surface, I have:

  • my keyer paddles
  • the Acom amplifier
  • an AEA AT-3000 antenna tuner that serves as my main antenna switch.

After 30 years this setup is about as close to perfect as I’ve ever come. Everything within easy reach, nothing in a spot I’d rather not have it. And in my couple of days of user testing prior to the upcoming contest, I think it’s all working out even better than I had hoped.

Now, on to antennas.

Attached to the AEA tuner’s output sockets are:

  • the SteppIR yagi which covers 40M through 6M
  • a dedicated 7-element 6M yagi
  • the 80M array made up of three full-sized verticals that I can steer in three primary headings plus three other alternate opposite headings with a bit less gain.

For 160M, I manually change over to a second high-power manual tuner to run the inverted-L on Top Band.

In addition to those antennas, I also have a 40M full-size two element quad suspended between two tall pine trees, and that’s pointed directly at Europe at 30 degrees. For an HF contest, the 40M quad is connected instead of the 6M yagi.

And, if I want, I can connect a little Hy-Gain 18AVT-WB all-band vertical strapped to about 300 feet of chainlink fence around the back yard.

For the low bands, I have a short 270-foot Beverage receiving antenna as well, though I haven’t used it in about two years and am sure it needs a little love and attention after being neglected for so long. Not using it may be the reason my pursuit of 80M DXCC has stalled at 96 countries.

I’ve come to realize the value of having lots of antenna options – even if they’re not mounted up on massive skyscraper towers.

Some of the antennas require manual swapping of cables here in the shack, but those antennas are special-purpose and not used often – like the 160M inverted-L or the 40M quad. The primary go-to antennas for each band from 80M through 6M are all on a single switch – so I can hop around pretty quickly, with a quick gesture on the switch and a little retuning of the amplifier.

Blast from the past

I love to go over my previous contest scores and re-read the post-contest reports on the 3830 reflector. Doing this earlier in the week, I stumbled upon a report I posted from the 2009 CQ Worldwide CW contest – nine years ago, when bands were not particularly hot but still pretty good.

Here’s what I wrote back then:

As I usually do, I concocted many melodramas as the weekend progressed — little near-term challenges to keep me motivated. With half an hour to go, I set my sights on hitting 950,000 points… but I would need spectacular 20M mult-hunting to get there.

30 minutes left. Land 9V1 Singapore for zone and country multipliers. Then flip the beam to V31 Belize for another mult, and flip again to 9M2 West Malaysia for a welcome double-dipper. Put the antenna into bidirectional mode and work several 2- and 3-pointers (Ws and JAs) as I tune the band for elusive mults.

Find LU1 for a single mult, then stumble across E21 Thailand and put the yagi in full-forward mode aimed at Asia for a double-mult. Favorite thing in the CQWW world: green letters in the N1MM callsign box.

Just a handful more points to hit 950K but time is slipping away. Run across a string of exceptionally loud JA and BY 3-pointers. 1:40 to go. Need about 6 more QSO points — that’s a long shot in search-and-pounce mode because everybody at this end is doing the same thing and competition is fierce for the CQer jump-balls. Find a loud WA6O. Work him though I’m aimed at UA0; wonder how he heard me (I see he was at N6RO: no wonder). Need 4 more points. 60 seconds remain, tune lower and hear K6TA also off the back of the beam. Got him but I’m only at 949,500 and still need a 2-pointer (x 250 mults)… just 30 seconds left.

Tuning the low end of the band like a cruising barracuda now. Holding breath and clenching teeth, both of which are well-known receiver boosters. There’s a JA1 ending a CQ… clear channel to him. BAM. N1MM Logger score turns over to 950,250 and I pull off the headphones. I still have a whole 15 seconds left. Happy, happy. Sponge Bob-like grin in place because I’ve advanced my personal-best score by 175,000 points.

Bud’s Law: even after a 172,800-second (48-hour) contest the final 60 seconds will always be a completely heart-thumping, adrenalin-pumping panic 🙂

That, my friends, is all I need to remember to get myself charged up for another run at CQ Worldwide this weekend. That was back in 2009, and I believe 2018 conditions will be very close to where they were nine years ago.

Band planning

Remember that in this grand-daddy of all contests, you multiply your QSO points by the number of CQ Zones and DXCC countries on each band. If you miss a band that others found multipliers on, you are really going to regret it. And by “a band” I am referring to 15M this time out.

During daylight hours I will have the FT-2000 on 15M listening and feeding a spectrum display in N1MM Logger, while the main radio is on 20M with the 3-element SteppIR yagi and Acom amplifier. Keeping one radio on 15M and at least watching the spectrum display will be a key to being on the air if anyone shows up and is workable from here.

From time to time, if 15M shows any life at all, I’ll flip those around to run the amplifier and 3 element yagi on 15M. This will be the approach if there’s any sign of Europe – or more likely South America — on 15M.

Generally, I will be using the IC-7610 and the FT-2000 together in Single Operator Two Radio (SO2R) mode.

My plan is to get started with just one radio going on 20M for the first hour or so – that’s 4 p.m. here on the West Coast, so Japan may be booming in on 20M at first. But I’ll quickly want to dive down to 40M where most of the evening action will be found.

I am not good enough with two radios to operate CW efficiently if rate is too high on one radio. Rather, my preference is to run a single radio until the bands die down a bit, and then CQ on two bands, alternating between them. I can interleave QSOs quite effectively to stay comfortably busy on a pair of slower bands.

Another SO2R strategy is to call CQ on one band and search for stations on the second band. I just don’t have the mental acuity to copy two simultaneous signals in my head, so I prefer the interleaved, alternating CQ approach.

Then, as darkness falls each night, one radio will run 40M on the rotary dipole while the other runs 80M on the three-element vertical array. I have plenty of antenna separation between the 80M array and the 40M dipole so neither transceiver will hear the other.

And I better not forget about 160M. I have an inverted-L for that band, and when the time is right I will flick the switch to 160M and see what I can work. Last year, 160M produced 40 contacts in four zones and three countries (Hawaii, US and Canada).

What? No XE or KL7 on 160M? They’ll be there, and I’ll work ‘em this time.

This year, I hope to do a little better with about 400 watts more output power with the Acom and a much, much better low-band receiver.

It would be great to add a few of the Caribbean entities this weekend on 160M – at least PJ2T in Curacao, whom I’ve often heard but rarely get through to on Top Band. A few other frequent fliers from the Caribbean I’ll be seeking out on 160M are P40 in Aruba, 9Y6 in Trinidad and Tobago, CO in Cuba, C6 in the Bahamas, and a handful of other contest station regulars. They should be relatively easy multipliers if the inverted-L is working at all.

On the record

Here are my official predictions for this coming weekend, based on how I hope to operate and how the bands may turn out to be:

2,000 QSOs with 150 countries and 80 zones for 1 million points.

That’s a slight lift from my final claimed score from last year. This assumes I’ll end up with close to 1,000 QSOs on 20M alone, with 300 on 15M, and 300 or 350 QSOs on each of 40M and 80M. I actually think 40M may produce significantly more contacts than that, given the number of hours I’ll spend there, so here’s hoping.

To get there, I will need a couple of things to fall into place:

  • 15M must open to Europe, at least for a few minutes on one of the mornings. Without 15M opening over the pole, the reduced European country count will be very tough to overcome.In 2017, I made nearly 300 QSOs on 15M, with 27 countries and 13 zones. None were in Europe. Alas, I don’t expect anything other than perhaps an EA8 (Canary Islands) from the east or north this year on 15M.
  • I need to watch “butt in chair” time – last year I put in 37 hours, which was one hour longer than I had done in my previous high time back in 2012. This weekend, I’d like to approach 40 hours on the air. The only way to fill up all that time is to operate on 40M and 80M/160M well into the tiny hours both mornings. I can still get nearly four hours of sleep each night and still come away with 40 hours on the air.

Sleep strategy is such a big deal in these 48-hour marathon contests. I recall years when I stayed up so many hours in a row that I had very real hallucinations on the second night.

One year (I think it was 2004) in CQWW CW, my hallucinations took the form of me racing along railway tracks and CW signals in my ears were oncoming trains. To avoid head-on collisions, I had to work the callsigns so they would veer off and out of my audio passband. It was quite something to know I was hallucinating but not being able to stop it – and then just working with it to keep making contacts.

And it takes days to recover. So, plan to operate as much as you can but pay attention to fatigue. Here are a trio of tips I try to follow myself:

  • Take a nap if you feel the need, and set double alarms (on your phone, this is easy insurance). CW contesting is a brain-drain for sure. You’ll never focus as much on anything as you do when trying to pull out a single callsign from 10 calling you. It is entirely exhausting, and especially mentally fatiguing – when you feel woozy, with hallucinations or simple dullness setting in (and it will), stop and rest. Even 45 minutes of snoozing can bring things back to perspective.
  • Drink lots of water. It may mean more frequent rest breaks, but staying hydrated is important. Water also helps keep you hydrated when all the coffee you consume tries to dry you out. Let the coffee and water trips force you to take micro-breaks, as long as you’re not giving up a great run frequency. Standing up once in a while is a very good thing.
  • Watch what you eat. I tend to eat very little during a major contest – snacking on nuts, an orange or a sandwich when I get a chance. I avoid heavy meals not only because they take time to prepare and consume, but they’ll drag you down energy-wise.

Having said all that, it’s also important to eliminate self-doubts. I have to constantly remind myself that even when things seem slow and not worth the time in the chair, it’s not me or my station and it’s not personal. And if I keep at it just a little longer conditions and activity can change very quickly. Someone might spot you on the band, and suddenly a dozen new stations will work you or a new multiplier will find you. Or the band might shift and suddenly you have all of Asia open to you.

Hands up if you’ve ever thought about pulling the plug but stayed at it a few more minutes, only to be called by ZD8 on Ascencion Island (Zone 36) or TZ in Mali (Zone 35)? It happens, and often enough that it’s a real thing. So don’t quit just because rate falls off. The surprises are so worth it.

Radio contesting is a game of dogged determination, blind luck and preparation. Take any of those out of the mix, and you will miss out on a lot. With all three in play, you’ll have a lot of fun. I sure do, every time out.

Okay, so that’s it for what was supposed to be a quick Episode 23 of Zone Zero. We’ll all be packed on to 20M during daylight, and we’ll probably see a lot of compression on 40M after dark, too. Go into it with good cheer, play nicely and with passion, and have a complete blast in CQ Worldwide CW.

Listen for the QRP guys – they’ll be buried under the clicks and sparks of the big guns.

We’ll see you at the starting gun  at 0000z on November 24. Now let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there.

VA7ST CQWW CW scores since 2002

       QSOs  Ctry   Zn      Score
2017: 1,989   154   74    970,368 HP 37 hrs
2016: 1,226   122   61    478,179 HP 23 hrs
2015: 2,170   239  111  1,750,700 HP 34.5 hrs
2014: 2,372   264  113  2,099,136 HP 34 hrs
2013: 2,075   246  118  1,798,160 HP 31 hrs
2012: 2,365   249  104  1,888,550 HP 36 hrs
2011: 2,114   248  109  1,725,024 HP 32 hrs
2010: 1,721   180   92  1,033,056 HP 32 hrs
2009: 1,777   158   92    950,750 HP 31 hrs
2008: 1,580   129   71    670,600 HP 25 hrs
2007  1,470   129   69    615,582 HP 32 hrs
2006  1,476   163   78    775,297    35 hrs
2005  1,014   126   61    411,587
2004  1,421   146   79    697,500
2003    865   115   73    351,936
2002    675   147   63    313,740

Stress and the ham radio operator

Stress and the ham radio operator

We get a little introspective this time, looking at what’s stressful about contest operating, and how de-stressing it really is. And we’ll talk about contests, too. That’s the direction we’re heading in Episode 22 of Zone Zero.

Welcome to Zone Zero – if you’re new to the podcast, it’s pretty much a radio contester’s diary. I’m Bud, VA7ST, and for years I’ve been keeping notes about my contest experiences and that morphed into this irregular set of audio diary entries. I know lots of fellow contesters are just like me, and I also know how useful it can be for new contesters to hear what others have experienced.

I thought this time out we’d consider some of the virtues of contesting that have little to do with competing, and everything to do with wellbeing and what our fun pastime – this avocation on the air — does for us.

If you work in a high-stress environment — or are a particularly high-strung retiree for that matter —  ham radio may be the best stress-reduction therapy there is, short of walking your dog or going fishing.

Unless you have an unwalkable border collie like ours or my luck with the fish. Then contesting is definitely time better spent.

When I have a moment of spare time, I find it quite relaxing to just sit and listen to people chat — whether that’s using Morse code or phone or even digital modes like teletype or PSK.

There’s something mesmerizing about a CW QSO under way. Like the beer ads once said, Those who like it, like it a lot.

And then I go and screw it all up by being a contester. Talk about self-inflicted stress. I will admit there are times when being in a contest makes me nervous or downright angry. When Europeans are piled up on top of me and I can’t work them fast enough for their comfort, I get anxious — imagine that happening on two bands at the same time with an SO2R setup!

And then there are those times when some lid parks on top of me and thinks he’s going to outbid me for the frequency.

That’s stressful because it wastes my time, but I also know I’ll rarely lose a frequency fight with an interloper. I don’t obsess about holding a frequency as I know most of the time interference is not intentional and many times I’m the low-power guy the other guy probably can’t hear, but I do have a secret weapon in those instances. And that is the sustained pressure of all the stations trying to work me.

The VE7 or BC multiplier is pretty valuable in most contests. People want it more than the other guy’s multiplier, and they eventually drown out and chase away persistent irritants co-located on top of me. Stress relieved.

I find the weekend flies by if I’m in a contest – I get into flow and don’t think about work for hours at a time, and certainly not nearly as often as I do without a contest to focus on.

But perhaps the greatest anxiety reducer there can be is social interaction — being with other people and, in particular, others who share your interests or a common goal. During any one contest, you might spend five seconds in contact with a fellow operator making your exchanges. But over a lifetime of contesting, you begin to feel a strong sense of kinship with your competitors.

I could offer a long list of people with whom I have never had more than a brief hello on the air, but I consider friends and would miss if they were not out there sharing the experience with me each weekend.

They don’t know it, but I smile to myself every time I work fellows like John W9ILY. We’ve worked literally hundreds of times over the years, even when he was in PJ4. John was one of the first guys I made a contest QSO with when I got back into contests in 2002, and he’s there almost every time out in the 16 years since.

I don’t know John, but I consider him much more than an acquaintance. He’s a colleague in a common pursuit.

And that is a wonderful feeling. Now multiply it by hundreds, because John is far from alone on my list of people I don’t know but with whom I share a special sense of camaraderie. Don K0FX, and John K4BAI, Tim N6GP, Aldo YV5AAX, Phil GU0SUP and so many others light up my day when we work and get to say hello one more time.

If I had not been hooked by contesting as a teenager, I wouldn’t still be at it, and I wouldn’t have those frequent moments of warmth. And I wouldn’t have the other things I have come to value in my radio life — the people who have indeed become close friends, through visits and long emails and phone calls about our antennas and kids and graduations and illness and plans for next weekend, and yes, through short, almost meaningless contest QSOs.

I do not underestimate the power of such simple interactions. We call it “contact” for a reason. And it feels very good. Stress relieved.

So, with that said, I’m really looking forward all the contacts we’ll make in the next two big contests on the event calendar — CQ Worldwide SSB and CW. Just saying those names gives me an endorphin rush. But I suspect I’ll be almost comatose by the end of both contests.

Predictions from the rear-view mirror

Now let’s look ahead — and in contesting the best way to do that is look behind us.

Combing through the archives of my CQ Worldwide reports over the years, I see that in the SSB contest I made 1,200 contacts in 2017 — despite last year being about as poor solar-cycle wise as we’re seeing right now. In the peak solar years I was running about 1,600 to 1,800 contacts in the SSB contest, so 1,200 again this year is a realistic target for me.

In terms of score, though, there’s a huge difference these days. Sure, there are still lots of contacts to be had, but multipliers will be way down from the peak years prior to 2015. My best-ever score in CQ Worldwide SSB was 1.7 million points in 2013 — five years ago — while last year I ended up with 450,000 points or less than a third of my best-ever score. That precipitous drop is mostly due to the lack of multipliers – you can’t work as many countries and zones right now as we once could because the wheels have fallen off a couple of bands – 15M and 10M. For many of us, the higher HF bands are simply out of commission.

Last year, which will be about the same as this year, I noted that 15M surely made the difference in competitive scores from out west – those who found the brief openings got a real boost. Even I got to work some Europeans in the SSB contest on 15M, but will I this year?

Those who found any openings on 10M as well did even better, but I didn’t hear a peep up there any time I listened around.

Last November, I put in my longest-ever CQWW CW session — 37 hours is one more than I managed in 2012, which was my previous iron-pants record for this contest. Thanks to some short-ish naps at just the right times — and not sleeping a lot longer than planned — I didn’t feel too beat up at the finish line. But I recall needing a LOT of coffee through the weekend.

I went into last year’s CW contest with a simple and probably too lofty goal of 1,500 Qs, 150 mults for a 500,000 score. Going unassisted, I figured a lot of mults would be left on table.

And I managed to finish with 1989 Qs, 228 mults and 970,000 points. That was way above my goal so was very happy. I didn’t expect the bands to be as strong as they turned out to be.

I’m expecting very little from any band above 20M this year, though I could be proven wrong especially in the CW contest in late November. 15M surprised me on CW last year with almost 300 contacts and quite a few European countries and more zones than 80M offered. So not too bad at all at the bottom of the solar cycle.

They keys to success are almost always the same. Be on the air, pushing hard the whole time and don’t miss short band openings.

Okay, I love this stuff. Hope it doesn’t show too much.

Going above high frequency

One of the coolest things about ham radio is the constant stimulation it provides. Just when you’ve done everything you thought you were interested in doing, you discover some new aspect to delve into. And for me over the past few years that has been VHF activity. Mostly 6M but also some 2M operation.

The reason we’ve gone two months between Zone Zero episodes is simple: I was busy with a project. A really neat one. Back in September I learned that one of the biggest 6M signals from British Columbia — John VE7DAY — was selling his 7-element 6M yagi for a quarter of what it would cost to buy a new one and ship it to Canada.

An email and phone call or two, and we had the sale done. Now, John is a long way from me — five hours of driving plus nearly two hours on a ferry, each way. So, one day after work I hopped in the SUV and set out on my little road trip. Very late that night I got to visit with my parents, who live just an hour from John’s place, and the next morning Dad and I drove the final leg to collect the antenna.

It’s a 30-foot boom, and with John’s help we disassembled the whole thing and got it all into the back of my SUV. By midnight that day I was back home and the next morning I rebuilt the antenna, put it on a pair of sawhorses in the back yard and made my first 6M contact on the new antenna.

Appropriately, it was with VE7DAY via meteor scatter. With the antenna three feet off the ground.

As of last weekend, it’s up on my tower, at the bottom of the antenna stack at about 30 feet in the air. And while conditions haven’t been much good in the time I’ve been using it, I am hearing stations I could not hear with the four-element antenna I was using until now.

Come next spring and summer, when E-skip returns and VHF contest season is upon us, I think I’ll be having a total blast on 6M. John tells me he even worked Europe on that antenna with 100 watts, so that’s something I’ll have to try from here.

You can see the new 6M antenna and check out the post on my site at

FT8 and MSK144 — now for contests, too!

As a side-note, if you are into the newest digital modes keep watching for the upcoming full release of WSJT-X version 2.0. It has some great new features for FT8 and MSK144 modes, such as exchange formats supporting quite a range of HF and VHF contests. But a word of caution, some of the new features aren’t backwards compatible with earlier versions, so Joe Taylor K1JT and the amazing development team are hoping everyone will quickly migrate to the latest software to avoid confusion on the bands.


Before we wrap up, I should mention that the always-great Makrothen RTTY was this weekend, and it was a lot of fun running low power to see how many points I could make. The exchange is your grid square and you get a point for every kilometer between you and the station you’re working.

I only put in a few casual hours (five hours total), missing the first of three eight-hour segments, but had a great time without the added stress of running an amplifier (on RTTY pushing the amplifier can be stressful). I made half a million points last year with low power, and this weekend was even worse with just 314,000 points using 100 watts. That’s a long way down from the 3.3 million points in my peak outing back in 2013, though I was using high-power that year.

I ended up with only two Europeans in the log on 20M, which is sad because they’re valuable at 8,000 points each.

As the Shirelles once told us, Mama said there’d be years like this.

Notes from listeners

I want to say special thanks to a new friend, Kiran — VU2XE in India. He wrote about listening to the podcast after discovering it while looking at some of the half-square and other vertical array antenna projects on my main website — VA7ST.CA. Kiran is an active contester, running a hexbeam, a spiderbeam and verticals. I’ve used all three of those antennas and he should be doing very well with that setup and so many great options.

In the upcoming CQ Worldwide contests, watch for Kiran using the special callsign AT3A.

Namaste, Kiran, and thank you all for checking in. If you’d like to share something about your contesting setup or experiences, or thoughts about what we’re doing here, just send me a note to [email protected].

That’s it for this episode of Zone Zero. Now, let’s go get ’em. I’ll see you out there!

Episode 20: Who’s on first? Real-time score reporting

Episode 20: Who’s on first? Real-time score reporting

Spring has hit us with full force in southern British Columbia. This is Bud VA7ST, and I’m sitting here with a bit of a sunburn from my first couple of days of full warm sunshine and looking forward to the next six months of outdoor activity.

Operating in a contest often means giving up big chunks of a sunny weekend in favor of fun on the radio. It’s quite an investment of time, and if there’s anything we can do to make that time  even more enjoyable and less isolating, it’s worth doing.

We toil away with purpose during a long contest weekend but – at least for single-operator unassisted  categories – we intentionally avoid sharing details about where we are making contacts or whom we have found on the air. But that doesn’t mean we have to be isolated from our competitors.

I thought it might be interesting to begin this episode by looking at a few outstanding contesting community resources that can help add to the enjoyment we get from our investment in time and station-building.

Live, online score reporting

In recent years, thanks to the availability of Internet access from just about anywhere, a growing community of contesters are posting their live contest scores in real time to online score reporting services.

These are quite sophisticated online pages that gather up-to-the-minute contest scores from around the world and publish them live. Anyone can go online and watch the competition unfold, with stations jockeying for position in the various categories.

Over the years, I have found this to be one heck of a motivator to try harder, to keep my butt in the chair and keep turning the dial or turning the antenna looking for that next valuable multiplier or contact.

There are two primary online score reporting sites – I like them both.

Contest Online Scoreboard

This site works with all the popular contest logging programs, including N1MM Logger, WriteLog, DXlog, Win-Test and several others. The development team includes Victor VA2WA, Alex K2BB, and Randy K5ZD, and they’ve done a masterful job of building a site that is easy to use and reliable.

You can view a station’s total score up to the minute, along with the number of contacts they have, and a band-by-band breakdown, as well as their multiplier totals.’s scoreboard

Also compatible with all the major contest logging programs, is a powerful score reporting site. Developed by the R4W team in Russia, it’s very popular with the global contest community.

It, too, offers a variety of ways to view the live scores – you can dive down into the details of a station’s activity, view statistics and even view hourly rate graphs for any station, all in real time.

One-stop score reporting

The good news is you don’t have to choose which online scoreboard to which you want to submit your score. There’s a very handy single address that you can plug into your contest logging software that will take your score report and automatically forward it on to both sites.

In your logging program, just point the score reporting to this address:

This is a score distributor that will forward your reports to both Contest Online Scoreboard and

And don’t worry about breaking any rules by posting your score to an online score reporting site. These resources are used by many of the world’s preeminent contesters and have been designed by outstanding and scrupulous contest operators. I am not aware of any contest rules that prohibit real-time score reporting – your online score doesn’t tell anyone what frequency you are working, or who you have worked in the contest. At most, another station might be able to figure out what band you are on but not where on the band they would find you.

So give it a try. Both sites provide good guidance for setting up your particular logging software to automatically report your score in real-time.

Official score submission

One final note about score reporting. After the contest, remember to submit your official entry log to the contest sponsors. Many contests these days have short submission deadlines – some as short as a few days after a contest. Every contest will list the “log deadline” in its rules. If you miss the deadline, your log might end up being considered a “check log,” which means it wouldn’t be eligible for the competition but is still highly valuable to the log-checkers as your log can help validate the log entries of other stations. score summaries

And, if you want a little more fun, consider posting your claimed score to the website. The site has custom forms to post your claimed score for just about any major contest and many smaller regional contests.

A lot of contributors like to include a brief write-up of their experiences in the contests, and these make for interesting reading in the hours and days after a contest is over. It also makes a great archive from year to year, which can be a valuable source of expert knowledge as you prepare for the next contest.

I like to use the score comparison tool to see exactly how my totals on each band matched up against similarly equipped stations in my category. It’s amazing to see how one station in my region can do well on 80M while I suffered, or vice versa. It’s useful intel to help assess your station’s weak points and strengths.

And that is how a station-building to-do list keeps getting longer.

Recapping April conditions

Our last episode was at the end of March, and at the time we were looking forward to a handful of contests in April. Looking back over the past four weeks, conditions were a real mish-mash.

The EA RTTY contest on April 7 and 8 produced surprisingly good results for us here on the North American West Coast. 20M was open to Europe from VE7 for hours both mornings, and strong enough to work down into the second tier of stations. The European country multipliers and the Spanish multipliers added up quickly, and  I ended up with my sixth best score in the 14 years I’ve been recording my entries. That’s not too bad considering we’re in the trough at the bottom of solar cycle 24.

The following weekend brought the Japan International DX CW contest on April 14 and 15. While we on the west coast usually enjoy and advantage when working Japan, in this contest the bands were truly awful. I ended up with just 12 contacts with Japanese stations, in only 10 prefectures – that’s just 10 multipliers out of a possible 50. Conditions were so poor I only entered as a 20M single band operation, and only put in about an hour as there just weren’t enough workable stations from here to justify more time.

On April 22 and 23, our Brazilian friends sponsored the Manchester Mineira or CQMM contest. I spent about five hours in that one and managed just 61 contacts and eight South American contacts. To my surprise, I had more contacts on 40M (including more South American QSOs) than I did on 20M.  That tells us something about the strength of 20M that weekend, which is kind of typical of high band conditions at solar minimum.

On the final weekend of April, we had the British Amateur Radio Teleprinter Group (BARTG) 75-baud RTTY Sprint, and the SP DX RTTY contest.

In the Polish-sponsored SP DX RTTY, conditions were rather flat but not as bad as they had been on the previous two weekends. Running low power this time out, on 20M I was able to work a few Europeans, including a handful of Polish stations for multipliers. Participation seemed down a bit from recent years, which is to be expected as the bands aren’t in good shape, but as solar cycle 25 revs up to speed in coming years we should se a resurgence in weekend contest participation rates.

Before the BARTG 75-baud RTTY Spring, I checked the rules and was reminded to check the list of “Expert” stations before the contest began. In BARTG-sponsored contests, anyone with a top-10 finish over the past year is required to enter the Single Operator Expert category in the subsequent two years. About 40 stations each year make the list and remain there for two years. To my surprise, I made the Experts list in 2017, so I now must compete with the other “Expert” stations through 2019. That made my day – I had no idea I’d been in the top 10 last year.

The 75-baud Sprint is interesting for three reasons:

  1. It’s only four hours long – starting at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1700z) on Sunday, and ending at 2 p.m. So, it’s an action-packed sprint indeed.
  2. Continents are multipliers – so you multiply your contact points times the number of DXCC countries and W/VE/JA and VK call areas worked, times the number of continents worked.
  3. The sprint is operated using higher-speed radio-teletype. Normal RTTY is 45-baud, and while you wouldn’t think 75-baud is that much faster, it really is. Calling CQ takes a second or so, and an ideally brief two-way exchange takes perhaps six seconds. That makes for very quick QSOs, and at times the contacts-per-minute rate can be very high.

With the bands in sorry shape, the sprint was definitely a daylight-only 20M single-band contest. In BARTG contests, there is no differentiation between low- or high-power entries – you compete against everyone, regardless of power level. So, I ran the amplifier, putting about 500 watts into the three-element yagi. I tried like crazy to work as many continents as I could find. For me, North America is automatic, and it would take quite a disaster to prevent me from making at least one European contact in broad daylight in the morning hours.

I pointed the antenna in all the best directions, calling CQ and combing through 20M over and over hoping to run across an African station – perhaps the Azores or Canary Islands, or Morocco, which are the most likely African stations to work from here in most big contests. It was futile. When the four-hour clock ran out, I had just North America and Europe in the log, and nothing for Asia, Oceania, South America or Africa. It was very disappointing, but that’s life in the trough.

Volta RTTY

May is a bit thin on big contests, but there is a great RTTY contest on May 11 and 12 – the Italian-sponsored Volta RTTY – it’s incredibly fun because scores soar quickly into the millions, and some really successful stations will have scores in the billions of points before the weekend is done.

Each contact is scored according to a points table, based on the distance between you and the station you’re working. Then for multipliers, you multiply the QSO points by the number of DXCC countries and call areas of the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It makes for great fun, so if you are able to get on the air for some teletype contesting, I’d highly recommend this one.


Then we have one of the year’s biggest contest – the CQ Worldwide WPX CW contest on May 26 and 27. WPX is short-hand for “Weird Prefix” because the multipliers in this contest are each unique callsign prefix. That means working stations with the callsign prefixes of W6, WA6, N6, NN6 and NK6, for example, would give you five multipliers! Scores rise quickly and it’s a complete blast.

CQ WPX CW is a two-day event, but single operators can only work 36 hours of the 48-hour contest so picking your 12 hours of off-times is an important part of a winning strategy.

I don’t have the stamina I had a decade or two ago, when I’d put in the full 36 hours, so I usually max out at about 28 or 30 hours of operating time. I’ll get on from the start – which is 0000 UTC on May 26 – and keep going for about the first 10 hours. That takes me to about 3 a.m. local time on Saturday morning, when I’ll try to get five hours of sleep before getting back on for the usual 20M morning opening to Europe.

Typically, I’ll take a two-hour nap on Saturday afternoon as 20M goes soft but be back on as 40M begins to open across North America in the late afternoon, and I’ll work 40M and 80M through the night – again, until about 3 a.m. or so. Then repeat that cycle through Sunday.

Who knows what the propagation gods will deliver for us. I do know that we’ll all be in the same boat, no matter the conditions, and it will be extraordinary fun to make rapid contacts on packed bands.

If you’ve never competed in the WPX contests, you should give it a try. The exchange is super easy to copy in Morse code, because it’s just a signal report – almost always you’ll receive a 599 report – plus a progressive serial number. And that’s usually fairly easy to copy. Stations should have the courtesy to slow down for you, if you’re sending at a slower speed. I sure do, because I remember what it’s like to copy code on paper before it became second nature.

To give you an idea of how much fun you can have in this one, I looked over the past 10 years of my entries, going back to 2008. In every year except 2011 and 2013 when I was part-time, I made more than 1,000 contacts in this contest. And usually I end up with about 1,200 contacts – the pace is frantic at times and for a lot of contesters, that’s what we crave.

You can do well in WPX CW even with a modest set-up. For those who don’t know, I have a three-element yagi for the high bands, and it’s on a little crank-up tower that puts that antenna at a modest 47 feet in the air when fully extended. But I usually compete with the tower nested so the yagi is only 27 feet in the air. And I do just fine with plenty in the fun-factor department.

It doesn’t matter what gear you have. Just put it on the air and jump in – you’ll enjoy it a lot.

And if you’d like to add an extra element of fun, please do consider posting your scores either in real time during the contest (via Contest Online Scoreboard or’s scoreboard) or after the contest on the 3830 Score Reporting site, so we can see how you did.

That’s it for Episode 20 of Zone Zero. Now, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there.













Episode 19: Back at it with new eyes

Episode 19: Back at it with new eyes

We’re back in the saddle and ready to look at 2018 through a whole new lens. Literally. I’m seeing like a kid and ready to hit the air again. Welcome to Episode 19 of Zone Zero.

It has been a long road, but I am back in action and possibly better than ever thanks to the wonders of modern science and medicine.

Since the end of 2017, I have been in a self-imposed exile from the podcast – spending January and part of February in the grip of near blindness caused by cataracts in both eyes.

But those days are behind me. In February my right eye received a new lens implant, which gave me 20/25 vision in that eye – I was cleared for driving the following morning. Just over a week ago, I went back to have my left eye done – and that artificial replacement lens has some reading power built into it,. I am 20/20 in both eyes now and I don’t even need reading glasses.

Well, except for reading the small print on a pill bottle or for soldering electronic parts, perhaps. But I can live with that.

All of this is to say, I have no excuses left for not putting my entire best effort into whatever I choose to pursue. And my favorite pursuit is amateur radio contesting, as you know.

A note of thanks

I want to thank everyone who sent me best wishes while I was waiting for the surgery. In particular, Brian AF7MD in Oregon – thank you so much for taking the time to write and letting me know your thoughts. I appreciate it a great deal and it helped me push through to get back at it.

Not totally off the air

Now, I am going to confide in you that while I wasn’t able to see, I was still able to dabble in the occasional contest while I was awaiting my new vision. In fact, so far in 2018 I have competed in 12 contests already, which is quite something when you consider I literally could barely see characters on a computer screen when zoomed in to 200 percent.

In those 12 contests, I have averaged 269 contacts per event. That’s lower than the average of 310 contacts across the 46 contests I participated in through all of 2017, but still pretty respectable considering my limitations.

All of this is a segue to an interesting phenomenon I have noticed in tracking my contest performance over the past 16 years – essentially across Solar Cycle 24 as we approach the beginning of Cycle 25. If you go to my contest scores web page, you’ll see the scores I have recorded in every significant contest since 2002. As of this month, I’ve entered 861 contests and there are links to my post-contest write-ups for almost every one of them.

At the bottom of the scores page is a chart showing each year’s total QSO count and the number of contests entered for that year.

Curiously, the chart reveals that the highest annual QSO totals occurred in a twin peak – in 2012 and 2014, which correlates very closely with the two peaks we saw in Solar Cycle 24’s sunspot counts.

If I was a betting fella, I could use this past performance to project future performance.

So, in 2017 I ended up making about 16,700 contacts. Looking back over the previous solar cycle, I see that the closest equivalent performance was in 2006 with 16,000 contacts.

I haven’t substantially changed my contesting habits or antenna capabilities over those years. I still have a triband yagi on a short tower, and wire antennas for the low bands.

With this historical comparison, I think I can reasonably predict that in 2018 I’ll end up with a QSO total similar to one year after 2006. That would be 2007, when I had 18,600 contacts, or a marginal improvement.

The big jump I would expect to see is next year, in 2019, when I think we will see a rise into the new solar cycle and a significant improvement in contest performance (going from 2007 to 2008, my performance rose from 18,600 Qs to 20,000 Qs).

That’s all conjecture, of course, but I like to play with the historical performance to see how well it applies to current and future conditions. We’re at the bottom of the cycle now, and should see things improving over the next couple of years.Now, all of that good news doesn’t take the sting out of current conditions. Simply put, things pretty much suck right now. Solar flux has been sitting at 68 for weeks, if not months, and there are zero sunspots. That’s as low as things can go.

Clearly, the high bands are virtually useless, and though the lower bands still kick up some dust they don’t make for riveting contest experiences the way a snappy 15M band does.

March in review

The CQ Weird Prefix SSB contest ran in early March. Conditions were about as poor as they can get, which is a familiar refrain these days.

The following weekend, March 17 to 19, we had the BARTG HF RTTY Contest. It’s a worldwide event in which everyone works everyone. I love it.

The trick is  to find as many DXCC countries on each band, plus all the call areas of Japan, the United States, Canada and Australia. This year the bottom fell out of the bands and I only managed to work five continents – and did not hear Africa all weekend.

Thinking of spring

We’re seeing daytime temperatures well above freezing and full-on spring is just around the corner.

I’ve been thinking of antenna projects for when the warm weather arrives. My first project will be to replace the floppy old Inverted-L antenna for 160M. I plan to use the drone my XYL bought me for Christmas to haul up a fishing line to drape over an 80-foot tall elm tree on one side of the back yard. I figure that will give me about 70 feet of vertical and the remainder of the 135 or 140 feet of wire will just be laying over the top of the tree and tied off at the far end with rope.

I’ll give it a try on the first calm day once the dandelions come back this spring and report back.

One thing’s for certain, Boomer the ham radio Border Collie is going to love getting back out there on the squirrel patrol. All winter long he’s been bounding around the back yard looking for them in the trees, and they’ll be back to taunt him as soon as the sun warms things.

There’s always good entertainment in that back yard. I’m looking forward to it all.

That’s it for Episode 19 of Zone Zero. Now, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there.

Episode 18 — 73 and QRT for now

Episode 18 — 73 and QRT for now

After eight months, this is the final episode of the Zone Zero podcast.

It’s the last day of 2017, and we’ve had a pretty good contest season this year, considering how poor the radio conditions have been down in the bottom of Solar Cycle 24. We have another couple of years of these slack bands before things will perk up – and I would expect Solar Cycle 25 to be a lot better than we have experienced over the past decade or so.

If you look at historical records of previous sunspot cycles, it appears Cycle 24 was an anomalous one – with an unusually low peak sunspot count. Let’s hope it was just a one-off, and that by 2019 or 2020 the rise toward the next sunspot peak will be a lot stronger than it was last time around.

Here on the final weekend of 2017, we had two important contests to close out the year.

Participation was pretty good in the Radio Amateurs of Canada RAC Winter contest which began on Friday afternoon and ran through Saturday. I had a really good time making more than 600 contacts with so many friends across Canada and the United States. Multipliers in this contest are the Canadian provinces and territories, and over the course of the 24 hours I managed to make contact with all except Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

The other major contest this weekend was the Stew Perry Top Band Distance Challenge. During the solar minimum years we’re now enduring, we would expect the lower bands to be quite good.  160M was very good for me over the weekend with noise levels very low, though I have to admit signal levels were also low — but at least they were standing out against the background.

This was the first time I’ve used an amplifier in the Stew Perry, and while I expected to see a dramatically improved score, my score was actually only the sixth best in all years I’ve operated in this contest.

That is a great reminder that watts in the coax don’t mean much if they don’t get out.

With 700W this time, I earned fewer points than I’ve earned in five previous years running just 100W. The difference? My 160M antenna used to be a lot better, but over the past few years the horizontal portion of that Inverted-L has sagged, and the elevated radial wires I use have been pulled down from their elevated positions. And I’ve been too lazy for the past three summers to get out there and fix things.

That will change this summer – Santa brought me a drone, which I’ll be able to use to put new lines over the very tall Ponderosa pine trees on our property, so the Inverted-L can get back in top form for Top Band.

Which is probably a good transition point to talk about my eyes. You have to see well to work on antennas, and certainly for flying a drone over tall trees. Right now, I’d be lucky to be able to read the flying instructions, let alone actually flying a drone.

I have really enjoyed putting together these occasional reports, many of them following important contests on the annual calendar. What you may not have known is that I’m fighting a serious eye condition which means that I am gradually – and, in recent months, more rapidly — losing my vision.

So far I’m struggling to read emails and web pages, but I can still see well enough to drive. At some point in the next few weeks I will be unable to read or drive – and at that point I will be unable to go to work or do anything at work even if I did get to the office. Of course, that also means producing a podcast even occasionally will no longer be an option.

The underlying condition was a retinal failure two years ago – and while treatment for that has brought my retinas back to almost full health, the drugs that cured my retinas involved steroid implants that are known to cause rapidly developing cataracts in my lenses. Sure enough, a year after the steroids began, the cataracts began forming this summer.

So, since August I have gone from 20/20 vision to barely being able to read an e-mail message, and the cataracts are getting worse by the day. The side effect of the eye condition is that I will no longer be able to play in the contests, and that’s going to be quite difficult for someone like me who loves to contest and really enjoys the camaraderie of our contesting community.

So, I needed to prepare this final episode of Zone Zero while I still can. Let me tell you, putting this one together has been a hundred times more difficult than it was even just a couple of months ago. Things have deteriorated that quickly.

The great news is my eyes are going to come back!

Through the wonders of modern science, new multifocal lenses will fully restore my vision back to how it was when I was 20 years old. In fact, my vision will be better than when I was 20, because I will no longer need glasses for anything — from reading to seeing the far horizon.

For now, I will suspend the Blubrry podcast hosting service I have been using. Instead, the full archive of Zone Zero episodes will be available on the website at ZONE.VA7ST.CA. If new episodes resume in the future, they’ll simply be posted to that website but won’t be provided as a podcast feed.

I’m too young to be held back by cataracts and I am looking forward to being productive and active again as soon as possible.

You may hear me in the ARRL RTTY Roundup next weekend, and perhaps other activities in January, but if you don’t hear VA7ST you’ll know why.

73 and thanks for listening.

Now, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there. Sometime soon.

Episode 17: Top Band in top form for ARRL 160M

Episode 17: Top Band in top form for ARRL 160M

A shorter episode this week to briefly recap the ARRL 160M contest, Dec. 1 to 3, 2017. Of the 42 hours available in this one, I put in 16.5 hours — more than I usually do, but running high power helped provide more fun and higher rates through many of those hours.

In this show, I mention the online live contest score reporting website — using your contest logging software, such as N1MM Logger, you can post your real-time scores and see how you’re doing against other stations reporting live.

Episode 16: Recapping CQWW CW 2017

Episode 16: Recapping CQWW CW 2017

The contest ended on Sunday afternoon. I am ready to share my thoughts about CQ Worldwide CW for 2017. It’s a short episode recapping the biggest contest of the year.

The radio room is still a little unkempt after a solid weekend of amateur radio contesting over the November 25 and 26 weekend. If participation went according to recent trends, we had more than 8,000 contestants from around the world in the CQ Worldwide DX CW contest – it was a Morse code feeding frenzy for many of us, and I enjoyed every single second on the air.

Here in the radio room I still have a few coax jumper cables laying about, and my ears are still decoding Morse code in anything resembling a pattern of noise. It’s all over but for the ringing in my ears and some should’ve-would’ve thoughts.

First things first. How did I do, compared to my goals? The short version is I did a lot better than I ever thought I would.

I went in with a simple and — at the time last week when I divulged my predictions — lofty goal of 1,500 Qs, 150 multipliers – that’s the total number of CQ Zones and DXCC countries worked on each band — for a 500,000-point score.

I managed to finish with 1,989 contacts, 228 multipliers and 970,000 points. So I’m happy. I don’t think many people expected the bands to be as strong as they turned out to be. I sure didn’t.

It was so much fun I ended up putting in my longest-ever CQWW CW session — 37 hours is one more hour than I managed in 2012, which was my previous iron-pants record for this contest.

Thanks to some short-ish naps at just the right times — but not sleeping a lot longer than planned — I don’t feel too beat up at the finish line. Sure needed a LOT of coffee through the weekend.

Working the world

I think the best surprise was a ZS station from South Africa calling me on 15M during a US run Sunday mid-morning. the band shouldn’t have supported that path but the signal was loud and probably on a skew.

Going into the contest I was curious to see how the HQ9X lads would make out from Roatan, a Caribbean island off the Honduras mainland. They were booming in here every time I worked them (80M through 15M). If I ever get to retire, that’s the place for me. Verticals on the beach, and nothing but blue water to the horizon. Dream on, I guess. The XYL says I can go any time I want. And take the dog with me.

By the end I had netted 75 countries, so not even DXCC from here, but it was fun hunting for countries anyway. It would have been better if Saturday had not been so rough. I really missed Europe on 15M – all I was able to get on 15M across the Atlantic was a single Zone 33 in north Africa. Oh, and that lovely South African surprise.

I loved some of the runs on 15M and 20M. On Sunday afternoon I worked 418 stations in one session — peaking with a 60-minute rate of 185 per hour — before moving to 40M for the final hour or so.

The AL-80B amplifier here ran like a champ, but the sturdy old SB-221 was great until I needed to go to the AL-80B for 160M. Then I just left the 40-year-old Heathkit resting for the remainder of the contest.


About two of my 11 off-hours were spent on gear. When I wanted to run the second radio (on 40M) while running on 80M, I couldn’t get it configured for about an hour. CAT wasn’t working properly, until I realized the radio was in memory mode not VFO mode. Duh. Fixed, and had a great time with dueling CQs on 40 and 80 for about three hours from midnight to 3 a.m. when it was slow enough to stay on top of things.

I would have made a lot more Qs on a single radio without the down-time getting the SO2R figured out, but it was a good investment in time as I haven’t really done much two-radio in CW tests. The radios and antennas worked just fine with minimal interaction even with high power, at least on 40M and 80M. Will do more of that in future. Maybe in RAC Winter at the end of December.

I also spent the better part of an hour on Saturday afternoon getting the MFJ-1026 noise cancelling box working and hooked up (haven’t used it since the July 2016 shack rebuild, but 20M was so noisy to the east all weekend I needed to defeat the power line hash). Worked like a charm with the 40M quad as the reference sensing antenna.

I must have been an earless gator on Saturday pointing southeast. I could tell there were lots of low-power stations in the noise but couldn’t work ’em until the box was set up, and then my rate shot up.

Okay. That’s one more behind us on the slow crawl across the bottom of the cycle. Pretty good fun considering where we are, and where I am in VE7-land with modest antennas.

On to Top Band and 10M RTTY next

I sure appreciate everyone who called in. This weekend we move on to the ARRL 160M contest, and I’ll be running the AL-80B as a high-power entry for the first time ever. I am really looking forward to seeing how much difference a few dB in signal strength can make.

In this contest, the world is trying to work American and Canadian stations, and for me that’s a perfect situation. I don’t expect to work very much DX off the continent, but I should be able to play well across North America and hopefully into the Caribbean. Even on that short hop I have lots of unworked countries to add to my DXCC total on 160M.

The top band antenna – an Inverted-L with three elevated radials, all connected to a folded-counterpoise isolator or FCP box – hasn’t been touched since last year, so all things are equal except the power output this year.

If you’re into banging your head against a wall, and I know many of you are, there is also the 10M RTTY contest this weekend (Dec. 3, 2017). The band won’t be open much, if at all, but you could find some spotlight propagation and rest assured there will be stations out there listening or calling CQ no matter how dead the band might seem. This is a fun teletype contest that offers some daylight distraction in the hours when 160M isn’t workable.

Thanks for listening. Let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there.