Boxing Day? More like DX Day

Today’s logbook entries.

I think I managed more DX today than I have before, including one with Indonesia that rivals my other DX record at 8,757 miles and one with Australia at 7953 miles. 28 contacts, averaging about 4400 miles. I also added three new confirmed countries: Australia, China, and Indonesia. 10 and 12m were my workhorses here, though I did hit the other side of the US (Rhode Island) on 15m.

FT8 has been very helpful here to understand propagation characteristics, particularly for 10-12m. Generally, if we’re both in the light and inside of 9,000 miles we can talk. That means Europe has to be hit right around sunrise, while in the afternoon I can hit Asia and Oceania.

Tomorrow I’m going to make an effort to get a confirmed QSO with Europe to get that WAC award. I’m also one confirmed grid square away from the Grid Squared award (100 grid squares worked) and 12 states away from the Worked All States; I have unconfirmed QSOs with Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, and no QSOs at all with Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Vermont, or Wyoming. I’m slowly working towards this award too.

I got some QSOs with people in my grid square, which feels to me like saying hi to the neighbours.

On an unrelated note, I think someone nearby got a Baofeng for Christmas and loaded it up with one of the prepper loadouts: over the 2m simplex calling frequency, I heard a bunch of kerchunks followed by “Lost 1, this is Lost 3, are you lost too?” Some people monitoring kindly informed them we could all hear them.

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Sixth continent added

Finally got the EU with an eQSL-confirmed contact with F4FDR in France. That makes six continents worked; Antarctica doesn’t issue radio licenses (because it’s not a country), but I think you might still be able to make a contact with someone down there. For the purposes of “worked all continents,” you only need the other six that do issue radio licenses.

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Windfarms Net Control

I’m working towards a Ten-Ten International membership, and fortunately there’s a local net (Windfarms) that meets Wednesday nights. Last week, I checked in for the first time. I volunteered to run tonight’s net and added a new 10-10 number to my list. I saw there’s one in Seattle right after, so I might try to hit that next week.

The thing about 10-10 is you need 10 member numbers from QSO’s on 10m. You get a membership by getting out and making contacts. I like this.

One person checked in with the wrong antenna, and it was interesting how much the signal changed when he switched antennas. All of the checkins were within 10 miles, so I’m going to have to work to get more numbers. I don’t think I did too badly, and I didn’t get any feedback otherwise so there’s that.

Running a net was a great experience, and I recommend everyone do it.


New DX record

Previously, my farthest DX contact has been Japan on FT8, at about 5700 miles. Well, this morning I managed to reach Angola at right around 8800 miles.

Related, I’ve been trying to work Canada on FT8 for some time and I just haven’t been able to do it. Today I managed to do it twice: once to Quebec, and once to the Yukon. Also finally managed to work South America and Alaska, two more places I was gunning for.


Chasing waterfalls

In a previous post, I mentioned setting up the SuperAntenna indoors. However, I couldn’t get it tune much of anything. I ended up building a dipole with the legs roughly 8¼ feet long (e.g. for the 10m band), however I couldn’t get it set up fell length indoors, so it ended up with the legs at 90° angles to each other.

This antenna uses an antenna hardware kit I’ve had lying around forever, along with some silicone-coated copper wire I have a couple small 100′ spools of. I figured better to construct the antenna and see what happens. Well, here’s what happens:

This is the antenna tuned up on the 10m band. I need to spend some time thinking about what that SWR graph says about the antenna’s performance, but the point is that the antenna wasn’t bad. I still had a hard time picking anything up, but I tried this in the evening when the 10m band wasn’t so hot. I figured I’d see what else I could see. I’ve mostly stuck to the 40m, 20m, and 10m bands, but there’s a couple more bands in between the 10 and 20m bands (e.g. the 12, 15, and 17m bands).

Turns out I had the best luck on the 15m band.

I was able to receive a couple signals decently enough, including one that I think is a PSK31 signal.

Here’s a short video of the signal:


10m Contest: no dice

I went to a local park to try to take part in the 10m contest. I brought the FT-817 because I don’t have a battery yet for the G90 and I don’t have an antenna connector for the KX2. For an antenna, I set up the Superantenna on the picnic table; I probably should have strung up something else but I was already getting enough weird looks.

I could hear quite a few people on SSB, and I could see a lot of activity on FT-8 and even some on JS8Call. However, I noticed my radio wasn’t transmitting at all. I poked around at it to see if I could figure it out, but couldn’t get it sorted. I had a brief bit of panic that I had blown the finals: at one point, the ATU had stuck in tuning mode. Fortunately when I got home, I thought to reset the radio1 (hold down the F key while you power it on), and then it began transmitting. It wasn’t receiving V/U modes very well, though. I’m not sure if that’s normal (I almost never use it for V/U), or if something else is going on.

Some lessons learned:

  • I really need to get some wire winders.
  • It would be nice to simplify the setup as much as possible: right now, I’ve got the radio, Signalink, and Z-817, with cables to connect pretty much everything to everything else more or less.
  • I’ve never had much luck transmitting on the MP1 Superantenna. It might just be bad luck, and to be fair, this time was due to the radio not transmitting. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever actually made a contact on it.

I’ve been coming to find I’m really only interested in FT8 as a “can anyone hear me” sort of deal. It doesn’t convey any useful information, and honestly just isn’t fun anymore.

  1. Yes, I tried turning it off and then back on again (more than once, even) while at the park. ↩︎


Dipole Notes

Well, I worked 12+ new contacts (still working that FT8 as I write this :)) today on 20m FT8; 9 new states in all. There was a 15 or so minute period around 1900 PST (last QSO at 0244 UTC) where I worked 4 QSOs, which was kind of nice. Interestingly, I had been trying to work one contact in Washington state on my 20m dipole, and finally QSO’d on the 10m dipole.

But that’s another story. I switched over to the 10m dipole today to try to make it in for the local 10-10 net, and couldn’t raise anything – I heard one person replying to the net, but everything else was quiet.

I decided to run an experiment… what if I tried tuning my antenna to 20m and 40m, using the 10m antenna? Well, the Z-817 gave me a good match but I couldn’t get any range on 40m. Not surprising, given both how much shorter the antenna is and how close to the ground it is. I have a feeling raising the antenna is going to help a lot. Anyways, after getting a match on 40m, I decided to try for 20… and it works.

As an interesting point of reference, the signal strength for the WA QSO was +4 to +5 dB on the 10m dipole; on the 20m, I watched their continued CQ calls go from -7 to +0 dB.

That being said, my CQ calls almost always go unanswered and I have to reply to CQs that I see. For some reason tonight, I’ve had quite a few quickly reply. Most of my contacts during the evening were aligned north / south – Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California.

Oh, and I kept running into issues with the Z817 erroring with “no RF” – going into the quick menu on the FT817 and making sure the split (SPL) option is off. WSJT-X and JS8Call will turn it on because it’s useful for those modes, but the tuner doesn’t like it at all.


Notes on 20m propagation

I tried working FT8 this morning (between about 10-12:30) on 20m. The received signals have a much lower strength; I’m not sure if it’s due to timezones (aka who’s transmitting) but it was rare to see a signal above -10 dB. Compare that to yesterday afternoon where I saw a much higher average signal strength. This is subjective (I could calculate averages from my logs but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).

Now, this wouldn’t be so problematic except that I have only 5W of transmitter power.

Also I made my first HF voice contact; I heard the conversation going on for a POTA (relatively close by at just under 40 miles I think). Receive quality was potato like – again, propagation conditions weren’t really favourable and my antenna is pretty low to the ground.

Still no dice with JS8call, but I’ll keep working it. I did manage to reach Russia tonight, but a lot of my replies to CQs go unanswered, probably because I have a QRP transmitter and a suboptimal antenna setup. I tried my radio with a longer (maybe 100′, I don’t know) RG8 run and my receive went to shit, so I probably need to grab a 50′ or a 30′ cable to run into my office so I don’t have to work on the back table in full sunlight where my radio starts getting real hot.

I think relatively soon I’ll be picking up some more RF gear: a Xiegu G90, a portable HF vertical, maybe some poles, and maybe a Kantronics KPC-3 TNC to do some digital things on HF. Along with that, a solar battery / generator setup for SOTA/POTA/field day stuff. More transmit power would be nice and probably would help with the unanswered messages.

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First Time on FT8

Worked FT8 today for the first time – I tried js8call but couldn’t get it working. I worked entirely on 20 meters and made contacts in

  • QM09 – Japan
  • DN88 – North Dakota, USA
  • FN04 – Ontario, CA
  • FM19 – Pennsylvania / Maryland, USA
  • EM69 – Indiana / Illinois, USA
  • DN84 – South Dakota, USA
  • DM78 – Colorado, USA
  • DM79 – Colorado, USA
  • EM16 – Oklahoma, USA
  • QM08 – Japan
  • EN43 – Wisconsin, USA
  • BL01 – Hawai’i, USA

So – two countries (though HI probably counts as one in this regard) and eight states over a period of two and a half hours (with some breaks) using a glorified walkie talkie and some speaker wire strung up on my fence. The average distance for a contact was right around 2,000 miles and the longest was almost 5,000 miles. Radios are freakishly amazing.

Some technical notes

I used my Yaesu FT-817 and a Radio Oasis 20m dipole strung along my fenceline oriented roughly north-south, probably 5 or so feet off the ground. I noticed that I couldn’t make contacts with a signal below about -6dB, though I made one contact at -8 dB. The radiation pattern of a dipole is orthogonal to its orientation, and my Japan contacts were in a fairly western line to my antenna – that’s probably what made it work. I used the Z817 antenna tuner to try to tune to each frequency as I switched, maybe that helped.