ARRL Centennial Convention This Week – Come Join Us In Hartford!


ARRL Centennial

ARRL Centennial

Anita (AB1QB) and I will be attending the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford Connecticut, USA this coming weekend. We are looking forward to seeing the vendor exhibits, Contest University and the many fine forum presentations which are scheduled.

Station Design Presentation

Station Design Presentation

I will be doing a presentation on the design, construction and operation of our station at the ARRL Centennial event. My presentation is scheduled for Saturday, July 19th at 11 am in Room 27 at the Connecticut Convention Center. I will be presenting the complete story of our station from planning and design, through construction and finally how the station operates and performs. The presentation will include lots of high-resolution pictures and video including material on our shack, tower and antennas.

Updated Station Tour

Updated Station Tour

The presentation will include lots of new material covering all of our recent projects as well as an updated virtual station tour.

Latest Antenna Projects

Latest Antenna Projects

Some new topics will include our latest antenna projects and some information on our recently completed LEO Satellite System.

Station Automation Overview

Station Automation Overview

The presentation will also include information on our recently installed Station Automation System from microHAM.

Current Station Performance

Current Station Performance

We plan to talk about how our station is performing against our original design goals and we’ll have some updated video too!

For those who are attending the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford Connecticut, I hope you stop by and say hello to Anita and me. We’re anxious to meet as many of our readers as we can at the event. For those who cannot make the trip, we will be taking lots of pictures and we plan to post a summary of what we saw here after the event.

- Fred (AB1OC)

13 Colonies Special Event Begins Today!


2014 Thirteen Colonies Special Event Certificate

2014 Thirteen Colonies Special Event Certificate

The Thirteen Colonies Special Event begins today! The event runs from July 1st through July 6th, 2014. Anita and I will again be operating as K2K, New Hampshire as part of the event. There will be thirteen stations on the air (K2A-K2M) plus two bonus stations during the event. Working one or more will earn you an attractive certificate. If you work all 13, your certificate will indicate this (an endorsement for the bonus stations is also available). Details on how to obtain a certificate may be found here.

We have been operating as part of the Thirteen Colonies Special Event for several years now and we always have a great time doing it! I was able to make over 5,800 contacts as part of the event last year.

The Original Thirteen Colonies

The Original Thirteen Colonies

The idea of the event is to work one or more stations in each of the states that grew from the Original Thirteen Colonies. Each state has several stations on the air and we try to provide contacts in SSB Phone, CW and digital modes on the HF bands and via Satellites. We will be operating on all of the HF bands 160m-10m (except 60m) including the WARC bands this year. Some states will also have operations on 6m and above as well as providing contacts via HAM Sats. The Thirteen Colonies Special Event stations made over 80,000 QSOs last year and we are shooting to make even more this year.

Thirteen Colonies Special Event QSL Cards

Thirteen Colonies Special Event QSL Cards

In addition to the attractive event certificate, each state and the two bonus stations have attractive QSL cards available. A card can be obtained for working on of the Thirteen Colonies Special Event Stations via a direct QSL request (including SASE/postage for the return of a card). You can find more information on how to request our QSL cards here.

This event is a lot of fun and is open to all HAM operators around the world. Many stations outside the United States work all 13 Special Event Stations and the two Bonus Stations for a clean sweep! There is an excellent website that contains lots of information about the event and I’d encourage our readers to take a look at it. There is also a Yahoo! Group for the event this year which contains additional information.

We hope that our readers will spend some time next week working the event. It’s a great thing for US operators to do over the July 4th Holiday. I hope to see meet some of our readers on the air as part of the event. See you in the pileup!

- Fred (AB1OC)

LEO Satellite System Part 2 – Antenna Assembly and Ground Test


Assembled Eggbeater Satellite Antenna System

Assembled Eggbeater Satellite Antenna System

We continued our project to add LEO Satellite capability to our station this past weekend (you can read about the design of our LEO Satellite System here). With 370′ of 7/8″ Hardline Coax (LDF5-50A) ordered and with Matt Strelow, KC1XX of XXTowers scheduled to help with the antenna installation on the tower later this week, the only prep work left was to assemble our M2 Eggbeater Antenna System and preamps and test the setup. The first rule of tower work is to assemble and test as much on the ground as possible. To this end, we decided to mock-up the entire antenna system a few feet up from the base of our tower. The first step in the process was to assemble the M2 Eggbeater Antenna System. This step was not difficult.

Ground Pre-assembly And Test

Ground Pre-assembly And Test

We next assembled a Rohn sidearm mount and attached it to our tower about 5 feet from the ground. We then mounted the antennas and cross boom on the sidearm mount and did some SWR sweeps on just the antennas with a RigExpert Antenna Analyzer to ensure that the they were performing to specifications. Both antennas checked out just fine. They both had SWR readings of 1.2 or less across a very wide bandwidth.

Satellite Preamp System Mock Up

Satellite Preamp System Mock-Up

The final step in the pre-assembly process was to mount the preamp system that we had assembled previously to the tower. We also built all of the coax cables needed to connect the system from the planned 7/8″ Hardline Coax Feedlines (LDF5-50A) through the preamps and to the antennas. We used LMR-400UF Coax for these jumpers along with crimp-on N-connectors (we crimp and solder the pins on these connectors to the inner conductor of the coax to improve reliability). We installed heat shrimp tubing to seal the connectors in the crimp ferrule area and then covered all of the exposed connectors with electrical tape and CoaxWrap sealing tape. We also installed a 200′ length of DX Engineering Heavy Duty Control Cable (DXE-CW8-HD) to the preamp system. With these steps done, we again verified that the SWR performance of both antennas checked out within specifications.

I plan to pre-install a run of control cable from the control line surge protectors at the base of our tower to the shack and hook the control cable up to our M2 S3 Sequencers sometime later this week. With these steps done, we will be ready to put our LEO Satellite System on our tower and perform the final integration and testing steps with the rest of our station.

- Fred (AB1OC)

2014 Es Season On The Magic Band – A Journey Towards A 6m VUCC


6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMaps

6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMAPS

I decided to become active on the 6m band this year. This 6m Sporadic E (Es) season was in full swing about a month ago when I got active on 6m. The picture above is from the DXMAPS website and shows one of the daily openings that we’ve experienced on 6m here in the US during the last month. The DXMAPS website is a good tool for monitoring for VHF/UHF band openings (10m and higher). The site collects and plots cluster spots and propagation mode information on a world map in real-time. This includes spots from CW Skimmers which monitor beacons on the VHF and UHF bands. This allows one to determine when a VHF/UHF band is open and the directions for possible QSOs from one’s location. As you can see from the picture above, there was a solid 6m opening on this particular day from my QTH in New England to the Midwest, the Southeast and the Caribbean! You can also see the beginnings of an opening into Europe.

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLabs SpotCollector)

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLab SpotCollector)

The graphic above shows spotting cluster data (we use the DXLab Suite at our station). You can see the details of the stations being spotted during the opening.

The 6m band is often called the “magic band” because it exhibits many different propagation modes including Sporadic E (Es), Tropo, Aurora, Iconoscatter, Meteor Scatter and even Earth-Moon-Earth (EME or “Moon Bounce”). You can find a good introduction to the magic band, its propagation possibilities and some ideas on how to get started on 6m on these sites:

I would also recommend Six Meters: A Guide to the Magic Band by Ken Neubeck, WB2AMU. While the equipment information in this book is somewhat dated and it can be a little had to find, it contains excellent information on propagation modes and operating on 6m.

Many of the 6m propagation modes can be very short-lived so one must be prepared to make short contacts at the start of a QSO. The typical 6m exchange would include callsigns, signal reports and grid square (more on grid square below). The 6m band is typically very quiet and will easily support QSOs that do not move one’s S Meter even with the rig’s preamps on!

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

We planned for 6m operation when we built our station a couple of years ago. Our primary antennas for 6m are our SteppIR DB36 yagis at 105′ and 65′. These antennas are used separately on the 6m band (we can run them as a 4 over 4 array on 10m – 40m).

SteppIR DB36 With 6m Kit

SteppIR DB36 With The 6m Kit Installed Below Our 2m and 432 MHz Yagis

Out SteppIR DB36 Yagi’s feature a 36 foot boom and have a 6m Passive element Kit installed which provide two additional elements on the 6m band. The resulting gain and front/back performance are in the range of  typical 5 element 6m mono band antennas. Having two independently directional antennas for 6m has turns out to be quite useful in contests and when monitoring for 6m openings. These antennas have 6 elements on 6m and are pretty directional. Typical operating setups at our QTH would have one antenna pointed to the West or toward Europe while the other is pointed south to monitor for openings to the Southeast and the Caribbean. In these configurations, we can instantly switch between two directions using our microHAM Antenna Control System.

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

Both of our two operating positions are 6m capable. They both feature Transceivers with good receivers (a Yaesu FTdx5000 and an Icom IC-7800) and both have PW-1 Amplifiers which provide 1KW output on the 6m band.

QSOs By Band

QSOs By Band As Of Early 2014

Before the 2014 Spring Es Season, we had only done limited operating on the 6m band. I did participate in the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest and operated on a combination of the 6m, 2m and 70cm bands during that contest. I also did some 6m operating as part of the 13 Colonies Special Event in 2013. In total, I had made about 200 QSOs on 6m and had worked 10 grid squares by the beginning of the 2014. Most of these 6m contacts were with stations in the US with a few to the Caribbean. My longest DX up to that point in time were a few contacts 6m stations in the Canary Islands on the northwest coast of Africa.

JT65 QSO On 6m

JT65 QSO using WSJT-X and JTAlert On 6m

At the start of the 2014 Spring Es Season, I decided to get serious about earning an ARRL VUCC Award on 6m. This award requires one to work and confirm 100 grid squares on the 6m band (it’s also available for 2m and higher bands). I began by studying 6m propagation modes and monitoring the calling frequencies on the 6m band. We work a combination of modes on 6m include SSB Phone, CW, and digital (using JT65). The CW and JT65 modes are very useful on the 6m band when the propagation conditions are marginal. We recently upgraded to Joe Taylor’s WSJT-X software which supports both the JT65 and JT9 weak signal modes. This WSJT-X software coupled with JTAlert software from HAMApps integrated the JT65 and JT9 modes very well with the DXLab suite that we use for logging and other DX’ing work at our station.

There were some exciting times on the air during the early part of the Es Season this year. Two that stand out were my first double hop Es contacts with hams in California and several openings to the Midwest and the Southeast where the band went from dead to very active in a period of 5-10 minutes! This is typical for the 6m band but it’s quite an experience to go from calling CQ with no answers to being in the middle of an almost instant small pileup!

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

I also decided to operate in the 2014 ARRL June VHF Contest again this year. I decided to operate in the Single Operator, High-power Category on 6m only. I was able to make a little over 300 6m contacts in this contest and managed a score that was significantly better that my 3 band effort in this contest last year. My QSOs were primarily SSB phone mode but I also managed a number of contacts in CW mode and a few digital QSOs using JT65.

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest (N1MM Logger)

As you can see from the screenshot from the N1MM logger that I used for the contest, I was able to work quite a few grid squares. We had a very nice opening to the Southeast and Florida during the contest period and this resulted in lots of new 6m contacts and even some small pileups at times!

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

By the end of the contest, my total grids worked was up to 98 and this put me very close to my goal of earning a VUCC on 6m. At this point I was hooked on 6m!

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

A couple of days after the contest ended, I took a look at the DXMAPS website and saw that a good 6m opening was occurring to Europe. I got on the air and was able to make my first ever contacts into Europe on 6m. The opening was a “spotlight” one (covering a limited area) that involved double hop Es propagation in Spain, Portugal, France and Morocco. Over the period of about an hour and a half, I made some 30 contacts into these countries. A very exciting time on the air and one that I will not soon forget!

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

With the opening to Europe and some continued operation on 6m I am currently at 122 Grid Squares worked (with 91 confirmed so far. My 6m QSO count stands at 755 with 112 new grid squares and approximately 550 QSOs made in the last 30 days.

The website used to plot the grid squares worked and confirm in the previous pictures is WG7J’s GridMapper site. Its a really nice tool to visualize the grid square one has worked or still needs to work.

At this point, I am totally hooked on the 6m band! While a yagi antenna with 5 or more elements helps a lot on 6m, I have found that it does not take a big station to have fun on the band when it’s open. I have worked many station in the US who were using wire antennas and verticals with 100w or less. See the following youTube video for an example of a simple 6m setup. Another good 6m intro video can be found here. If you have not given 6m a try, I encourage our readers to take a look at the band. It is really quite a lot of fun.

- Fred (AB1OC)

More Progress On Operating Awards


Worked All VK Call Areas

Worked All VK Call Areas

I have continued to make progress on my operating award goals and have recently received a few interesting new awards. The first one is the Worked All VK CALL Areas. This award is issue by the Wireless Institute of Australia and requires confirming  a number of contacts in all 10 VK call areas on the HF Bands (160m – 10m). For me, the VK0 contact in the VK0 area was the most difficult. I was able to work Craig, VK0JJJ a few months back and confirm the contact to complete this award. Contacts in the VK6 area in Western Australia can also be a challenge from my area there are a limited number of HAMs in this rural area of Australia and it’s almost half way around the world from our location. Fortunately, there are a few big stations in the VK6 call area. The Worked All VK Call Areas award is one of the most attractive looking operating awards that I’ve earned and it’s always enjoyable to work HAMs in Australia.

Worked All Africa

All Africa Operating Award

I’ve also recently completed an All Africa Operating Award. This award is issued by the South African Radio League and required working and confirming at least one station in each of the six call areas in South Africa plus at least one station in 25 African Countries outside of South Africa (islands off the coast of Africa do not count for this award).  Working some of the more rare entities in Africa can be a challenge as many countries have a limited number of HAMs and most do not have many “big gun” stations making them more difficult to work. It is often possible to work some of the more rare stations in Africa during contests and this is the way that I completed many of the contacts required for this award. I have a goal to contact all entities on the African Continent at some point in the future.

ARRL Worked All States Triple Play Award

ARRL Worked All States Triple Play Award

The last award that I’ve recently completed is the Worked All States Triple Play. This award is issued by the ARRL here in the United States and requires one to work and confirm via Logbook of the World (LoTW) all 50 US States in each of three operating modes – Phone, CW and Digital. With all of our contest activity, I have had all the needed confirmations via a combination of cards and LoTW for some time but securing confirmations for a few states on LoTW in CW mode was a bit of a challenge.  This award is also very attractive and can be had both as a certificate and in the form of a plaque. This award is well within reach of many US stations and provides great encouragement to expand your skills and station to new operating modes.  AB1QB is working toward this award by working all of the W1AW portable stations this year on Phone and CW (she already has all states confirmed on Digital) as all of the W1AW portable stations will confirm on LoTW.

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

I’ve been fortunate to have the chance to complete quite a few operating awards to date and these make for a nice display in our shack. Right now, I am focusing on a few new awards as well as some additional endorsements to awards that I already have. These include:

Operating awards provide good incentives to get on the air and work new stations, new bands and new modes. I hope that you’ll consider working towards a few operating awards – it can be great fun!

- Fred (AB1OC)

2014 Dayton Hamvention Show


2014 Dayton Contest University Attendees

2014 Dayton Contest University Attendees

Anita (AB1QB) and I attended the Dayton Hamvention again this year. Anita began her Dayton experience by attending Contest University again this year. As you can see from the “I Made It” sign-in board outside the Contest University meeting rooms at Dayton, the Contest University instructors and attendees include quite a few of the top contesters in the United States and several others from around the world. Some of the most interesting sessions included one on Multi-Operator Contesting, given by W3LPL, who has one of the large multi-op contesting stations, but there were tips that anyone who wants to work a contest multi-op can use.   The session “The Best Hints to Becoming a Better Contester, presented by N0AX had many great contesting tips to help improve your score.

N1MM Plus Preview

N1MM+ Preview

The new N1MM+ Contest Logger generated a lot of buzz during Dayton 2014. We saw previews of the new N1MM+ Logger during dinner and forum events at the show. The new N1MM+ software features many improvements based upon input from the contesting community. For some more information on N1MM+, see the videos from the Dayton Contest Forum on the N1MM Website.

Bengali Keys

Begali Keys

It was Anita’s birthday during Dayton 2014 and she has recently become interested in learning CW. To help her along, I decided to get her a set of Begali Stradivarius paddles and their CW Machine to help her practice CW. The CW Machine is an interesting training aid – it can generate CW from text, create practice drills for sets of letters and it can decode CW sent from a key or paddles. When used for decoding, in detects when the operator’s timing is off and will not decode the characters sent. This helps a new operator to not only learn to send the code but to develop the rhythm needed to send good quality CW with the proper timing. The CW Machine can also be used as a CW Keyer.

ARRL Display At Dayton 2014

ARRL Display At Dayton 2014

The ARRL had their usual large display at Dayton again this year which featured all of the ARRL Centennial Activities that the ARRL is doing. It’s always fun to look at the many ARRL publications and we could not resist picking up some new books and a few videos. One video that we particularly enjoyed was the ARRL Film Collection DVD. This is a collection of several short films that the ARRL and other have made over the years to promote HAM radio.

AMSAT Display At Dayton 2014

AMSAT Display At Dayton 2014

We are in the process of upgrading our station for LEO Satellite operation and we spent some time at AMSAT’s display to learn some more about satellite operations and get some information on the software and hardware required. The AMSAT folks are always very helpful to new satellite operators and they have excellent publications available to help folks who are getting started.

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (TBD)

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (K9EID)

Anita and I had the opportunity to spend some time with our friend, Bob Heil (K9EID) at Dayton this year. Thanks to Bob, we had the opportunity to be on Ham Nation this year to talk about station building. Bob has shared many great experiences with HAM Radio and all of the work he’s done to move the recording industry forward. It’s a lot of fun to spend time with him and to learn from his experiences. We use his microphones and accessories throughout our station.

New Add-ons For The Elecraft KX3

New Add-ons For The Elecraft KX3

There are always new product announcements at Dayton. We spent some time at the Elecraft Booth looking at the new PX3 Pan Adapter for the KX3. This will certainly make a nice accessory for KX3 users.

FreeDV HF Digital Voice Software Display

FreeDV HF Digital Voice Software Display

We spent some time at the FreeDV HF Digital Voice display. The authors of this program continue to enhance it. Recent additions include some new bandwidth options and support for more platforms. Digital Voice on the HF bands via FreeDV continues to gain momentum as more HAMs learn about FreeDV.

There is so much to see at the Dayton Hamvention that it’s impossible to describe everything here. We hope to attend the Dayton Hamvention again in 2015.

- Fred (AB1OC)

Contest Results for Anita (AB1QB) and Fred (AB1OC)


Anita’s Best Contest Result To Date – 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest

Anita’s Best Contest Result To Date – 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest

Anita (AB1QB) and I really enjoy working contests to build our skills as operators. Anita has steadily improved her RTTY contesting skills over the last 18 months as is getting to a point where she is quite competitive. He best finish to date was a 5th place finish in the world in the 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest in the Single Operator All Band Category. BARTG RTTY is a pretty major worldwide RTTY contest and her 5th place finish is a great accomplishment given her limited experience (Anita is licensed for just about 3 years). You can read more about Anita’s experiences in this contest here.

AB1QB 2013 ARRL RTTY  Roundup Certificate

Anita’s (AB1QB) First Place NH Finish – 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup

Anita’s first serious contest attempt was the ARRL RTTY Roundup in January 2013.    She placed 1st in the New Hampshire section in the single operator high power category.

Anita’s (AB1QB)’s First Place NH Finish - 2013 (RTTY) North American QSO Party

Anita’s (AB1QB) First Place NH Finish – 2013 (RTTY) North American QSO Party

Anita also finished first in our state during the 2013 NCJ North American RTTY QSO Party. Anita is a regular participant in RTTY contests and she at the point where she is entering some RTTY contests for the second or third time. Her goal is to improve here score in each successive attempt a RTTY contest that she has competed in the past. She is also getting better at contest strategy particularly in the area of band/time planning.

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish in NH – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish In The NH Section – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

I received a very nice surprise in the mail recently – a certificate for my very first VHF contest effort (the ARRL 2013 June VHF Contest) last year. Since this was my first VHF contest, I operated only in SSB phone mode with the goal of learning what VHF contesting was about and testing the VHF side of our station for the very first time in a contest. I operated in the Single operator High Power Category on a combination of the 6m, 2m and 70cm bands. It was a very nice surprise to receive a 1st place certificate for NH for this contest!

I am planning to enter this contest again this year (2014) in the 6m single-band, high-power category. I am working on completing my first ARRL VUCC Award on 6m and I am hoping that the contest will help me toward this goal.

Contesting is a great way to improve your skills, work DX, make progress towards operating awards, and just plain have fun. I’d encourage our readers to give contesting a try. You do not need a “big” station or a lot of power to have fun in contests. There are many articles on contesting and contest station design here on our blog. A read through of some of these should help you to get started in contesting if you’re interested.

- Fred (AB1OC)