Monday, January 20, 2014

ARRL January VHF Contest

AK2MA ARRL January VHF Contest Station
This past weekend was the ARRL January VHF Contest. I had decided to operate 6 Meters for this contest using my Yaesu FT-857D and my Buddipole antenna. My Buddipole antenna was configured as normal, indoors in the upstairs hallway. I was late in getting to operate in the contest due to other obligations but better late than never. One of the things I have missed about being in the lower 48 was operating in the UHF/VHF contests. When I operated from my hometown in Ohio as KE8RO (EN81om), I had a great location for these contests being just blocks from Lake Erie. When I relocated to Alaska as KL8DX (BP53lu) and realizing there was not going to be much for me on 2 & 432, I sold my amplifiers and rigs for those bands. I did enjoy a few 6 meter openings while in Alaska, with my best DX being a nice opening into Japan in May of 2006. My neighbor at the time Sean, KL1SF was working JA's on SSB and I was working them on CW. I had a very low profile 6 meter antenna but on a few occasions over the years, that was enough.

Grid Squares Worked on 6 Meters from my QTH (FN42do)
My first QSO was shortly after 1300z with N1SV, who also lives here in Townsend, MA. It reminded me of the days of living next to my old friend and UHF/VHF contesting guru Tom, WA8WZG. It was easy to know when Tom was on the air as he was so strong, it was not tough to find his working frequency. Tom had an award winning UHF/VHF contest station in Port Clinton, Ohio. I've known Tom for years and he was helpful in getting me started contesting on those bands. And in speaking of Les, ironically he was my last QSO. Since he lives so close, I was able to work him on 2 meters and 432 using my Buddipole tuned for 6 meters! Those were my only non-6 meter QSO's. 

The Grid Square text map above shows the grids I was able to work with my indoor set-up. Not much to write home about but I don't think it was bad considering the band conditions and my set-up. This is my first contest of this sorts here in MA, but from the conversations I overheard, seems like conditions were not very good this year. I found the Buddipole tuned easily for 6 meters and allowed me QSO's with NH, CT, MA and finally ME. 

Final Numbers for AK2MA
In the end, even though I only had a few hours to operate on Sunday, playing on 6 meters was fun. CW traveled the farthest and accounted for at least one multiplier. I'm not much of a SSB operator but when it comes to UHF/VHF contests, I don't mind picking up the microphone. Having to clear snow from the latest storm kept my time limited on Sunday, the only day I had available to play contest. But it was a gentle reminder of how much I really missed the UHF/VHF contests. Several of those who found their way into my January VHF contest log had been regulars in my HF contest logs when I operated from Alaska. As we get closer to spring, I'll be paying a bit more attention to 6 meters with hopes of expanding on my first grids worked from this QTH. 

August 2002 - My shack from EN81. 6, 2 & 432 equipped as KE8RO


Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 Year In Review

2013 KL8DX Total QSO's as reported by Clublog
It's hard to believe that we have entered yet another year. Leaving 2013 behind is bittersweet. I very much miss operating from Alaska however, it's nice to be closer to friends and family here in the lower 48. My wife and I spent Christmas with many of those important to us but most importantly, we spent our first Christmas with our grandchildren. We are looking forward to spending many more holidays and long weekends in Ohio, where most of our family live. The only ham radio excitement I had while back in Northern Ohio was hooking up with my CW Elmer Ed, K8QWY on a local repeater! It had been ages since I have talked with Ed on VHF. Even though I did not get to see him and many of my other ham friends personally, it is my plan to touch base with them on future trips to the Buckeye. I ran APRS for most of the trip and was pleased with much of the coverage. In many cases, I had better APRS coverage than I had cell phone coverage. 

2013 was the year of change for this ham. From leaving Alaska to changing my callsign, this was change in the extreme. If departing remote Alaska and arriving to busy Boston was not enough, having to learn a new callsign and change all of my information kept me pretty busy. We are still unpacking boxes and sorting through the years of accumulation with a goal of downsizing by at least 50%. It's also an adjustment going from a 4 element tri-bander at 43 feet with an Icom IC-756PRO to a Yaesu FT-857D with 100 watts or less to an indoor Buddipole. I went from finding a clear frequency calling CQ and dealing with contest pile-ups and running stations for hours to 100% Search & Pounce.  

On a personal note, we went from living nearly tax free to tax overload here in Massachusetts. I've not sat down and compared apples to apples as it really doesn't matter as we are here. It's not all bad as we live next to New Hampshire and like many folks who reside here, we can shop north of the border saving some of that tax burden. So many cities and stores within 25 miles of our home and we have been enjoying the selection. And when it comes to radio, it's very different here. The biggest change is propagation. I'm no longer under the aurora curtain so there is normally something on the radio 24/7. I sure enjoyed the ARRL 10 Meter Contest and to date, I've worked a whopping 47 entities with my low power indoor antenna set-up. I had to create my submission log for the ARRL 10 Meter Contest manually, so after returning home from our holiday travels, I managed to finish up my log and submit it. Gives one a new appreciation of contest software that does all that paperwork for ya. I have plans of upgrading my shack computer so once I'm done with that task, I can hopefully get back to using Win-test. I have a few more computers to recycle and it will be time to get working on the shack computer upgrade. 

Anyhow, the photo at the top of the page is from Clublog of my 2013 activity as KL8DX. Only worked a bit over 2,400 QSO's with most being contest related from Alaska. I was not chasing DX, as I had while living in Ohio but my total while living in Alaska is also reflected by the Clublog DXCC overview. 
KL8DX DXCC Alaska 
Clublog is a great program and as long as it's available, I will support it and continue to upload my logs. It has actually caught several issues that my logging program either misidentified as a wrong DXCC Entity or simply helped me realize I busted a callsign. Just this afternoon, I created my AK2MA log and uploaded all of the contacts I've made since residing here in MA. But I'm happy with my 212 worked while operating from Alaska. Most were worked during contests but I did chase a few DXpeditions. 

I started working on my next QSL card prior to the holiday's but now that we are settled back into the new year grind, I will be continue working on my next design. I've already received a few QSL card requests so for those that might be reading my blog and sent a card, I hope to have some new cards printed soon. I also have two huge bureau drops for KL8DX to deal with as well. I'm hoping that since we are entering the coldest months of the year, I will have a bit more time for the ham radio administrative side of things. I've had visions of GlobalQSL and it is certainly worth consideration. From those I've heard that use it claim it puts more fun in ham radio as you're spending less time on QSL duties.

AK2MA Clublog Overview
So with only a bit over a few hundred QSO's in the ol logbook here at AK2MA, I have plans of some casual winter operating. As I write this, I'm watching the DX spots scrolling across a vintage version of Ham Radio Deluxe via KL7G, spotting many of the RTTY stations including a few of my old Alaskan neighbors in this weekends contest. I still very much enjoy RTTY in this age when there are so many digital modes available. Like Morse Code, it has that vintage feel to it (it that's possible while using a modern day computer with software and a soundcard). 

I have no plans or milestones set for 2014. I hope to do more portable operating and we will be on the hunt for out of the way places to camp and break away from the general public. If you had been following my KL8DX blog you will know that my Ameritron Amplifier has been out of service for the last few years. Carl, WL7BDO came down to my house while we lived in Alaska and helped me troubleshoot and diagnose my case of Ampluenza. I hope to send that off for repair and then as mentioned earlier, get my shack computer upgraded and rebuilt. I also need to start thinking of a new affordable (keyword) HF rig. I will hang onto my Icom IC-756PRO until there are no parts available but my goal is to set it up for digital contesting. I would like a main CW rig, that being a Elecraft K3, Icom or Yaesu HF rig. I'm not even sure when I will have a tower up again (won't be one at this QTH) but when I do, I want to have the station ready. In the mean time, I have my Icom 703Plus, Icom 706MIIG and my Yaesu FT-857D to play radio with. Unless I'm participating in a mult-operator setting at another QTH, my operating here will likely be casual and more Search & Pounce than anything. Once I find my data cable for my Icom's, I'm looking forward to getting back on digital. 

Now that we have entered into a new year, I'm hopeful that my adventures both on and off the radio continue. I'm sure 2014 will continue with some changes but I'm hopeful it will be less dramatic than 2013. I think my theme for this year will be less. I plan on much more QRP operating as conditions here are more conducive to low power operating. Not that Alaska wasn't a QRP contesting hotspot but many times even 100 watts would hardly make it across the state border. Both KL7AC and KL2R have posted some pretty nice numbers while operating QRP from the 49th. My station however lacked the exterior metal work that would help that 5 watt signal make it much beyond the neighbors house. Even though I no longer have my tower up since moving, ham radio is very much alive in our house. With the feedline running from the rig on our kitchen table, through our kitchen and living room, up the stairs and connecting to the antenna in the hallway during the weekends, there is no doubt ham radio is happening around here, just on a much smaller scale.