Monday, January 26, 2015

EP6T redux

I managed 3 QSO's with EP6T, one on 30M and the other 2 on 40M.  The first 40M contact was busted.  They had an odd operating style that screwed up the normal rhythm of a DX contact.  If they got a partial like W9O they would send something like W9O? 599 and you would reply but you were never quite sure they got your callsign.  It would also breakup the normal bang-bang rhythm.  I think if they would have changed one thing it would be to go back to bang bang with each station until the qso was confirmed.  I could NOT have made any contacts with them without the Flex 6300.  I have 2 SDR radios that I use extensively, the Flex and a Anan 100D.  I like the Anan for it's diversity reception and the ability to steer the received signal.  It would take upgrading to the 6700 to realize this in the Flex line.  But the panadapter and waterfall in the Flex is superior by orders of magnitude.  The Flex 6300's panadapter can peer -19 dBm into the noise floor.  The Flex 6700 can peer -25 dBm into the noise (500hz filter).  This gives the Flex a tremendous advantage in allowing one to analyze what signals are trying to beak through the noise.  All signals are present all the time if only you had the ability to perceive them.  Once you understand there is coherence present you can use that to your advantage.

This was the typical pileup on 40M, a barrage of RF!  Notice the pileup is about 10 khz wide.  The dilemma is where to place your transmitter in that mess so the DX will be able to discern your signal over his QRN and QRM.

On 30M this is typical of what I was seeing on the night I made contact

Notice the little trail of dots next to the cursor.  I'm quite sure on his end the pileup was not all that different than the above 40M pileup.  I tried to work them the night before on 30M and I saw the same dot trail about 7-10 khz up the band.  This "10 up" was where the DX was working stations the night before, as reported by the Cluster spots.  Propagation was such that this dot trail is all you could see of the stations calling the DX.  In other words without this little crumb trail of callers you would have no idea where to place your transmitter.  On the Anan this crumb trail was not visible because you can not see as far into the noise with that radio's panfall.  I fired up "up 2" right in the center of the dot trail, and he was in the log in 3 calls.  I never realized the advantage the Flex panfall provides prior to this contact.

My last contact on 40 was made in 2 calls.  I simply watched the DX's pattern on Skimmer (as above) and noticed he was moving down the pileup.  When he got to the bottom where interference was least I heard him work a W4 and saw the red 599 pop up on skimmer.  I immediately clicked that freq and fired off a couple "W9OY's".  He came right back and once again I was in the log  

The op for both contacts was the excellent  Kostas  SV1DPI.  

I understand the EP6T team had big QRN problems.  Apparently they were set up next to a scooter rental store with many battery chargers a.k.a death to a DXpedition.  They were licensed for a specific location so they could not move the station away from the noise.  I can't imagine the frustration to try and hear weak callers through what was reported to be a S9 buzz saw.  Fortunately I was able to crack the puzzle of where to transmit twice for confirmed contacts.  Color me happy.  

Propagation at my QTH started the week good but deteriorated over the next several days only to come back nicely yesterday which is when I made the 40M contact.  I tried and tried on 80M but he was not hearing me on that band.  I did hear them once on 20M but they were absent to me on every other band.  

There is much kvetching on the DX boards about what a lousy operation this was but I didn't find it to be the case at all.  It was merely a challenge.  There have been many DXpeditions I have failed to contact and many I've had success contacting, it's just the nature of the business, and it's what makes DXing fun.  I'm very pleased and grateful for the opportunity.  Clearly making contact with EP6T was a challenge for NA hams.  

For 67547 QSO's only 6602 were from NA on all bands.  Given the nature of the huge pileups this would indicate very poor conditions (including their local QRN) most of the time between NA.  The days I worked them I consistently heard them trying to control the pileup in favor of NA but the propagation wasn't cooperating compared to EU and neither was the behavior of the EU operators, but thems is the cards that was dealt.  It's interesting to see nearly 5000 QSO's on 10M CW, and 10M overall competing strongly with 20M.  

By Continent it also shows the difficulty of the NA path.  I wish they had paid a little more attention to sunup and sundown propagation.  Many of my local sundowns I could hear them peak on 80M but they were always running JA's at my local sundown which was the JA local sunup.  When the JA's finally passed into daylight it was too late for me since EP6T had started to fade he was still copy-able but no longer enhanced.   

I'm a CW only op so it's interesting for me to look at the broken out CW stats.  For NA a little less than half were CW but very nearly half (including RTTY into the calc).  According to the above it breaks out once you subtract out a RTTY percentage of 34% about 282 30M CW contacts were made with EP6T in NA.  Except for the Flex 6300 I would not have been one of them.   

73  W9OY

Monday, January 19, 2015


The Gambia on 80M.  I've worked them on several bands... excellent op.  I got them using the W5GI mystery antenna which was about 2 S units quieter than the vertical.  I tried calling with the vertical and listening on the W5GI as the 6300 allows for several antenna combinations, but finally got them with the W5GI.  I was surprised as the W5GI at 55ft has a pretty NVIS pattern on 80M.  I'm sure my proximity to the Atlantic helps.

Once again the split dual slice setup on the 6300 did the trick.  It was a moderate pileup. 

It pays to have more than one antenna

73  W9OY

Just sat down at the rig and they were on 40M.  Got them first call in broad daylight on the half wave end fed vertical!  The bands are good


I worked them 10 minutes before sundown local.  (the above was taken about an hour later)  The pileup was amazing

Very very dense RF.  The SDR/CWskimmer combo was invaluable in analyzing the pileup.  eventually he moved down the pileup to about 1.5 khz above his transmit freq where the signals were sparse and that is where I worked him.  All those guys who were 8 khz up the band were never in the running.  The opposite happened to me last night.  I spent 3 hours trying to work him on 30M but I didn't have any propagation to EU or AS and last night I was transmitting up 2-3 and he was listening up 7, so no way last night.  the panfall and skimmerfall did not help at all.  When I realized he was up 7, the terminator had overflown his head and he soon faded into the noise of day light.

If you look closely at the way I have the radio set up I am listening to EP6T on the B vfo and transmitting on the A vfo.  I do this because click tuning on skimmer causes VFO A to change, so it makes skipping around the pileup much more ergonomic.  Once I get the DX tuned in perfectly I set the lock on vfo B so I don't click myself off freq at the wrong time. and set the TX to VFO A.  With the Flex 6300 all of the controls related to each "slice" such as DSP, AGC-T volume AGC RIT etc are available on both vfo flags so it's super easy to fine tune either vfo's properties.  I also run my FlexControl tuning through DDUTIL v3.0 because its very easy to switch between VFO A and VFO B

simply by pressing the knob.  Another advantage of this single-panadapter-2-VFO implementation is it's quick to deploy.  The disadvantage is the decoder aspect of Skimmer is lost since the decoder goes with VFO A and the DX station is on VFO B.  Not a big loss since I copy in my head anyway.   

There is another way to deploy SSDR for split DX ops and that is to use slices!

As you can see now panadapters are independent and there are 2 skimmers.  With 2 skimmers the decode function of skimmer works in each skimmerfall so that aspect is preserved.  In addition each skimmer decodes independently so the information in each skimmer is not a mirror of the other.  This means if the DX is sending a callsign and I want to tail end I have a greater opportunity to discover where that station is in the pileup and click tune to that freq.  I always set up the skimmer streams to match horizontally.  My transmitter slice is always B so even if see the call in slice A it's heartbeat quick to slip the mouse over to slice B and click to tail end a given station.  Skimmer does one more thing it repoerts out a decoded 599 as a red flag

with the most recent 599 as bold and bright red.  This is a big clue of where to tail end but not infallible.  There are a LOT of stations who think they are working the DX and sending 599 when they are not even in the ballpark.  Tracking 599's is a good way to discern where the DX is moving in the pileup.  Like bread crumbs you can pick out if he is moving up or down and try to insert yourself into where he is going to be listening next.  This is the technique I used tonight I saw him moving down and placed my transmitter at the next clear spot on the panadapter and 10 minutes to sundown he was in the log.  

Over the years it interesting to see how skimmer has changed working pileups.  The RF in the panfall and skimmerfall ball becomes much more dense as 599's are handed out.  So once again even skimmer use requires strategy.  On to 30M and 80M!!

73  W9OY

Got them on 30M at their sunrise!!  The panfall and skimmerfall did help but in a unique way.  Once again I had no propagation stateside.and EP6T was working NA.  He was had a nice signal and the band was really quiet.  Occasionally skimmer would decode a lone stateside callsign so there was some kind of backscatter poking a bit of stateside coherence through the noise.  This mode of propagation turned out to be quite useful.  I was relying on cluster spots to steer my transmit freq but these were inconsistent , up 2.7, up 3.8, who knows where he was listening.  The previous night while listening on 30M I noticed there were a trail of white spots on the pan up 7-10 khz, but I thought they were too far away to be in the pileup and I didn't want to QRM some joker calling CQ.  It turned out this was precisely where the DX was listening and the falling dots in the waterfall, were actually the pileup.   

Not to be fooled twice, watching the panfall I noticed occasional streams of white dots on 10.125 falling down the waterfall, streams that were maybe 50hz apart, consistent with a couple stations breaking the propagation induced radio silence.  The DX was on 10.123 (actually 10.122847, the Flex's filters are tight enough that if I tuned to 10.123000 I could not hear the DX).  It was clear from the way he was working stations he was pretty much hugging one freq on RX and up 2 seemed a logical choice so I started calling there and pretty soon he was in the log.  Once again SDR allowed me to peer into radio darkness and pull out a plumb.  

I have 2 SDR radios, a Anan100D and the Flex 6300.  Each has it's advantages.  When it comes to gleaning information from the panadapter the Flex wins hands down.  I swear it can hear under the noise.  Unfortunately I didn't think to take a pic.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

W5GI Mystery Ant

John BasilottoW5GI was a friend of mine.  He was very involved with Flex from it's creation.  He published an antenna idea he created in CQ July 2003.  He claimed it was an antenna that defied explaination.  Here is a pretty good explanation.

I had a 137 ft dipole fed with open wire in the trees but it was struck by lightning and I've been debating whether to put something dipole like ever since.  My open wire tuner is the venerable KW matchbox, but I'm hooked on my MFJ-998 auto tuner for ease of band change.  I decided to give John's antenna a whirl since it's touted to be easy to tune and a pretty good match 80, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, 10. and 6.  A tall order for sure!  I recently put up a vertical dipole for the 10 meter test which gave me a ready skyhook to pull up the W5GI.

Last summer I purchased a W5GI from Joe K4TR over in Brooksville, FL across the state from me.  It's been sitting in the box ever since.  This antenna is very well built, and while I had enough stuff around to home brew it I didn't want to fool with tuning and primping to a fare the well, which is my general nature when it comes to ham radio.  I pulled down the 10M vertical dipole and hoisted the W5GI aloft.  It's up about 55ft and I shot some rope into 2 other trees so the ends are up about 25-30 ft.  High enough to keep away from ground effects but low enough to not get tangled in the lowest branches of the trees.  I coiled up the excess coax into an ugly balun about 10" in diameter and set about to test out my mystery antenna.

I ran some SWR data 80-6 with no tuner to get a general idea of what I was going to be up against.  Here is the result.

Pretty damn good!!   I am able to tune to low SWR on every spot on every band and then run a KW once tuned.  I don't perceive any RF ingress into the shack.  My radios and amp (ALS-1300) are smooth as butter.  It's basically a 102 ft dipole broadside into north Africa.  I was tuning around this evening around 2300 Z about sundown on 80 and heard several EU and worked a couple and then a couple in Africa running a KW on CW.  The antenna is a little bit quieter than my full size 80M vertical with a bazillion radials.  The verticals take the cake on 80 and 40 but they are very close to the W5GI and I can foresee there will be conditions where the W5GI will win.  I have the Verticals on port 1 of the tuner and the W5GI on port 2 so it's dead easy to compare.  

Overall I'm very pleased!  It's very stealthy in the trees, it covers everywhere from 80 to 6 and handles a KW without batting an eye and gives me one button rapid tuning so I don't have to screw around with the dip da dip da dip di dip and It took less than an hour to get it into the sky.

73  W9OY