Friday, September 30, 2016

SLSRC 2m FM Sprint Contest

This past weekend I participated in the SLSRC 2M Simplex Sprint contest.  This was a local 2M simplex contest for 3 hours on a Sat night.  Stations were encouraged to work as many contacts and zip codes as possible during the 3 hours on specific simplex frequencies.  The club use to sponsor this contest a couple of times a year a few years ago, but the member who championed it left the club.  A few months ago I decided to bring it back as a club activity and become the champion.

Creating the rules from basically scratch was a challenge.  I used the existing rules as a base, but gathered all the "good parts" from other QSO party and contest rules put them into these rules.  The hard part was writing rules language that made sense to everybody else along with making sure there wasn’t any loopholes.  While doing research on the net, I found some really poorly or loosely written rules, which I did not want to do.  I also wanted to use Google sheets as a submission process, as not everybody has Excel or wants to paper log.  For this contest we didn’t use Cabrillo files, as I think that is something we might want to migrate to in the future.

We have club repeater that just doesn't get a lot of activity, so I tried having a pre-contest net on that repeater to give it some love.  The purpose was to share tips and tricks and offer any advice.  Only got 1 question, but I think it served its purpose.  4 people checked in, but who knows how many were just listening.  The net was over in 15 mins which gave me time to get my setup in order.

I started on a large parking garage at the corner of Hanley and Hwy 40 at 7pm.  That parking garage is 10 stories tall and is basically the tallest structure around, so I was able to make 10 contacts in a quick amount of time.  I then moved into Clayton, Forest Park and then down into south city for the reminder of my zip codes.  I hit 9 zip codes with a total of 60 contacts.  I don’t think I won the contest as someone else had 62 contacts and also hit more zip codes as myself.  That zip code multiplier is a huge factor, even if you only make 1 contact in each zip code, you got to hit as many zip codes as possible.

I noticed there was a lot of people jumping on top of each other on the frequencies.  People were calling CQ, making a contact and then someone else would call the previous operator who was answering the CQ to make a contact.  I think with such few frequencies, that was going to happen.  Maybe I should update the “tips and tricks” section to specifically point that out as a no-

From what I can tell, we had around 20 to 25 people participate, which I think is a good solid number.  We’ll see how many people submit logs.  It was a good time and we’ll do it again in the spring, as the goal is to have this contest at least 3 times a year.

Monday, September 26, 2016

NVIS Antenna for State QSO Parties

During my week off of work, I built a NVIS antenna for the IL QSO party and other future QSO parties.  I used the DX Engineering NVIS antenna model for my build but I just couldn't bring myself to purchase all the parts that were overpriced, since I had most of them in my stock.

This antenna is 15' tall, occupies a foot print of 60x60ft in area and is only for the 40m and 80m bands when you spread the dipole in a X configuration.  Not sure where DX Engineering got the 45x45' footprint in their instructions, when each dipole leg is 45'.  This was a rather easy and fast project to compete.

I had some extra RG-213 laying around for the pigtail connector, so I unraveled back the braid and center conductor and soldered two 14 gauge ends with ring terminals to connect to the dipole ends.  The feed line connector end has a soldered PL259 end so you'll have to use a female to female cuppler to attach to your coax.  I used 4 clamp-on ferrites to keep the common mode current off the feed cable, which I clamped just north of the PL259.  I wrapped the RG-213 end where it splits into the dipole ends with waterproof tape to keep water out and also wrapped the small 14awg pigtail ends in electrical tape just to add some strength to it as they are rather weak.

The "T" connector was made out of IKEA cutting boards.  It cuts clean in a band saw, is strong and cheap.  Each board is $1.50, so messing one up isn't going to break the bank.  Drill holes where you have attachment points for your coax pigtails, ring terminals and dipole ends.  The hole the dipoles weave through on each end are smaller 5/8" towards the end and a 3/4" closer to the ring terminal connectors as they provide strain relief for the dipole ends. I used some zip ties just to make sure the dipole ends don't pull out with some tension.

For the mast system, I use a painters pole to elevate the center at 15 foot.  A 1" PVC pipe slips over the top of the painters pole well and I used hose clamps to attach the PVC pipe to the "T" connector.  I'm not going to use guy wires for the painters pole, as the 4 connection points for the dipole ends should provide enough support in the wind.

The directions say each dipole should be a total of 45 foot including guy rope.  Instead of cutting the correct length of guy rope just for this setup, I used the pythagorean theorem to figure out where the stakes should be located on the ground away from the base.  42.4 feet, or about 42 feet 5 inches.  I cut a ring out of the excess cutting board scrap and attached some paracord with a marker with red tape at 42 feet 5 inches.  I can then drive a stake in the ground at the painters pole location and mark all my stakes.  Raise the center mast to 15 feet and then use random length guy ropes to support the dipole ends.

Ring and red maker on cord for 42.5 inches.

You will need to use an antenna tuner with this setup along with at least 75ft of feed line.  To get the ultimate performance, use a band pass filter after your tuner to remove any stray signals.

We'll see how well it does during the next QSO party on the 16th of this month.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Contest University, W9DXCC and Peoria Superfest

This past weekend I drove up to Chicago and attended the the W9DXCC Contest U on Friday and the convention on Sat.  On the way back I hit the Peoria Superfest on Sunday.

My week started out on Wed with the drive up to Chicago.  I was betting that I could use an app called "hotels tonight" to snag a cheap hotel in downtown Chicago for a few days before but didn't have any luck.  There was a huge manufacturing show going on and downtown hotels were 350+.  Typically you can find hotels on that app for less than $120 a night for downtown, so I had to go with plan B.

Instead of driving into downtown, I found a cheap hotel in Joliet, IL and decided to hit Starved Rock State Park on the way up.  This was right on the IL river and had some really great views of the river and lock and dam.  Lots of steps if your thinking about hiking any of the trails.

Pano from Eagle's Point

Thursday I got up early, drove to a CTA "L" park-n-ride site near Schaumburg, took the train in, and spent the day in the city.  I love Chicago, it has the big city feel, but it's still spread out enough to have that midwest feel.  Chicago just opened most of their Riverwalk, where you can walk from Lake Michigan to Franklin Street bridge all along the Illinois River, never touching a city street.  Later in the day I made my way out to the Field Notes store, The Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co and the American Science & Surplus store.

Pano from Lake Michigan

For the convention, I booked a hotel in Schaumburg near the venue Thur through Sat.  I got lucky and found a hotel with a grand opening for $60 a night less than a mile away from the convention center.  Schaumburg is a nice area. Lots of good restaurants, micro breweries and things to do in the area.

Friday was Contest U.  I was really excited to ask questions and absorb as much info from the presentations as possible.  Some of the presentations talked about RTTY, propagation, contesting hardware and software, etc.  The presentation were great, but socializing with everybody there was the best.  I learned more from asking questions to my peers than I did from the whole presentations combined.  Friday night we all had dinner and talked about contesting strategies and operating procedures.  Lots of talk about N1MM and how to get the most out of that program. 

Saturday was filled with general DXpeditions presentations of Palmyra, Heard and South Sandwich Islands.  There was a short presentation around the sunspots and future of the bands.  Flex also did a short 45 min presentation around how to use the 6000 series for contesting, which really didn't provide any new info to me, but confirmed they are serious about making a great contesting rig.  The door prizes were unbelievable, as almost everybody came out with some type of door prize.  Prizes ranged from an Icom ball cap to a new set of Radiosport mic and headphones.  I didn't win anything, but because I was the youngest person in attendance on Friday, Tim Duffy (K3LR) gave me his prize, which was a 2 year subscription to the DX magazine.  Thanks Tim!

I liked how the Society of Midwest Contesters had a large presence at the convention and showed all the benefits to joining their group.  Every Aug they have an annual meeting which they have presentations and just talk contesting.  I'm thinking about going next year, as it's held in Bloomington IL.

Saturday night I drove from Chicago down to Peoria to attend Superfest on Sunday morning.  I stayed in an Extended Stay hotel and learned they don't provide towels!  What hotel doesn't provide their guests towels!?!  

Sunday I walked around the flea market at Superfest and the two buildings with vendors in them.  Superfest was really just "Fest" without the "Super".  There was maybe 20 vendors and the same in the flea market area.  Not really the greatest showing as it looks like this hamfest is dying.  I did purchase some PVC tubes for my military mast and Anderson Power Pole connectors, so it wasn't a wasted trip, but will not be on my list to attend next year.

I met so many neat people during the weekend, I hope they show up next year to check up on what they have accomplished within the year.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Mix 31 Clamp On Ferrite & Torriods for Ham Radio Applications

After doing some research around common mode current and trying to keep the RF out of my shack, I started looking at putting ferrites on my coax and also torriods around anything that plugged into the AC. I found the following ferries and torriods that worked well. I sourced all the products through Mouser Electronics.

I used Mix 31 clamp on Ferrites for LM400 or my RG-213 cable.  This is the thicker coax.  You might need to trim off the outside plastic around the ends for it to fit.  This can be done with a pair of wire clippers.

I used the round torroid cable cores for my AC or DC cables.  Basically anything that gets plugged into the wall or has a transformer, I put these inline.

Torroid Cores : Mouser Part 623-2631803802
Clamp on Cores : Mouser Part 623-0431167281

You can easily wrap a thick computer power supply cable around this at least 7 times, maybe more.  I secure each end (entry and exit) with a zip tie.

2 3/8in outer diameter

1 1/2in inner diameter

1/2in wide

These are to clamp on coax.  The inner diameter is just big enough to fit around LMR-400, RG-213 or RG-6.
I'm sure you could maybe double up on RG-8 or RG-8x.

Inside ferrite is 1 1/4in tall

Inner diameter is 3/8 across

Depending on how thick your LMR400 or RG213 jacket is, you might need to trim it.  The left ferrite is not trimmed, the right is.

Palomar Engineers has a good article on choosing the right choke for your application.

I've typically found doing a little research and purchasing your ferrites or torroids online from an electronics retailer, you can save quite a bit of $$.

Monday, September 5, 2016

NPOTA - Grant House NS73 Activation

Scott (ND9E/0) and myself activated the Grant House (NS73) on Aug 25th 2016.  This was the actual 100 year birthday of the National Parks system.  The parks system were trying to get as many parks on the air during the week as possible.  Last count I heard for the week was 75+.

We setup just north of the parking lot in their 1st amendment rights area beside the big canons.  It's a very large area, so we had plenty of room for antennas, plus no issues with fall zones.

We arrived around 9am to setup.  I brought my 40ft military free standing mast and we jacked that up with guy wires to around 30ft.  You can't string anything within the trees within the site, but we were able to drive stakes into the ground for guy wires.  The site has huge +50 foot trees screaming for dipoles, but we were unable to use them.

My 40M dipole on the mast system was setup in a north/south configuration so I could get good coverage east/west.  When I setup like this, it's like my antenna has a direct path into Ohio and Michigan, nowhere else.  :)

Scott setup his big MFJ vertical antenna around 50 feet from my military mast just to the east.  He tuned his vertical for 20M.  Scott's radial system was very unique.  He used some old tape measures Harbor Freight gives basically away for free.  He bonded them to the stand and base plate and rolled out a 1/2 wave length for either 20 or 40M depending on the band.  Not to shabby.

I started operating around 10:30am local on 40m and picked up quite a few stations right away.  The noise on 40M was an S5+ as there were high voltage power lines less than 200 feet away.  

I ran my KX3 with KXPA100 amp and an laptop running N1MM.  I didn't know someone created a user defined contest for NPOTA until a week ago, so I ran the straight DX contest in N1MM.

Thanks to Scott for letting me use his battery, as I don't have a battery box yet.  That's one of the things on the list for this winter.  I'm hoping to have it completed before Winter Field Day.

I'm not sure how many contacts we made all together.  Maybe 150?  200?  I uploaded the log to LotW, so if you worked me and your not confirmed, please let me know via the contact info on my QRZ page.

Also check out my contest and audio page on this blog for a recording of your audio exchange if you worked me!  

Here is the YouTube video I created on the activation.  If you like the video, hit the thumbs up and subscribe to my channel for more ham radio videos.

Friday, September 2, 2016

NA QSO Party Video Is Online

The video I made from the NA SSB QSO Party in Aug 2016 is up on YouTube.  You should go and watch it.