Wednesday, October 26, 2016

IL QSO Party 2016 as W9W & A Rant About WIARC

Oct 16th was the IL QSO party.  This QSO party is only for 8 hours during a Sunday, unlike the MO QSO party stretching out 20 hours over a 2 day weekend.  Since it's a quick 8 hours, it seems everybody is in a rush to get as many contacts, which I think is great.

I do have a bone to pick with the IL QSO party organizers.  I won the 2 county line for the 2015 IL QSO party and I still have not received my plaque for 1st place.  It was a year ago!  I emailed Danny Pease, NG9R and all I get is excuses from him on why he has not mailed the plaques.  He first put the wrong year on the engraving.  Then said the plaques were mailed, then retracted that and said he had to go pick up the plaques from the engraving shop.  His latest excuse is the plaques are going to be mailed to him and then be shipped out.  This guy should not be in charge of mailing out the award plaques.  And to throw salt on the wound, I find out he's the president of the club that sponsors the IL QSO party.  WHAT?  I wrote a very stern letter to Danny expressing my disappointment regarding him and the clubs lack of urgency.  There was no response, which I was expecting.  What if I was a new ham and this was my first contest?  What type of impression would I make on that new ham and the hobby?  Western Illinois Amateur Radio Club (WIARC), I'm disappointed in your lack of urgency regarding sending out the 2015 IL QSO plaques out to the winners.  I hope in 2016 you get the plaques out sooner than you did in 2015.

Now on to more cheerful things.  We started planning for the QSO party a few months before, putting together lists of items we needed to bring and sharing them with the team on Google drive.  This works great, as everybody has access to the same list on their phone, computer, etc.  We found the lists were already made in our head, as we know what to bring and what not to bring.  For MO QSO we had a huge trailer full of stuff.  This time we stuffed everything into the back of a pickup bed.

We decided almost a year ago that we were not going back to our 2015 location, as that location was RF noisy, dirty and not the best place to setup.  It was on a 2 county line, but the organizers changed the rules regarding what you could use as a county line, which made us move.  You can't use a waterway as a county line.  I think that is BS, but whatever.

The team was made up of the same guys from MO QSO with one addition, Sterling Coffey, N0SSC.  He is no newbie to contesting or working a pile up, which he does with ease, as his 120+ SSB QSO rate from 7 to 8pm on 80m showcased his skills.

From L to R.  Sterling N0SSC, Kyle N0KTK, Chris WX5CW, Justin KE0HXL, Kevin K0KEV.  Chris worked CW, Sterling CW and SSB, Justin SSB, Kevin digital and myself SSB.  Most importantly, Kevin cooked and kept us fed.  Those grilled chicken sandwiches and bacon cheddar cheese burgers hit the spot after setting up and contesting for hours on end.

In our usual quest to find good setup locations, we resorted to Google Earth and some BIC (butt in chair) time scanning the county lines and outlines of community/public areas.  We settled on a picnic area within the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park on the Jefferson and Franklin county lines.  There just happens to be a large pavilion area the county line runs through.  Looking through the logs from last year, we saw this two county line didn't have a lot of QSO's, so it was a good fit for us.  2 counties, close to STL, lots of tall trees, etc... We got online, filled out the permit and requested the pavilion for the day.  25 dollars later and a few months of waiting, the pavilion was reserved in our name and the location was set.

County Line Pavilion with the location of the county line

We got lucky and snagged a 1x1 call for the MO QSO party for 2016, so why not run a 1x1 for the IL QSO party?  After a trip to the 1x1 call sign page and a quick search and form request entry, we were the owners of W9W for the weekend.  As a group, I really prefer to run as a neutral call sign, as it makes it easier overall.  One thing I don't like is how LotW handles contests with portable stations on multi-county lines.  You basically have to pick 1 county to upload your logs.  There isn't a multi-county selection, nor can you upload twice by moving the time a few mins for the 2nd, or 3rd county.  I've never had any luck with that, as LotW can be quite confusing.

One of these days I'm going to form a non-profit contesting group, send in my paperwork and request a formal club call from the FCC, but the 1x1's make due and give some urgency to the people chasing as some want to work all the 1x1's and also they think it's a special event call.

During the planning, we created an antenna plan based on a few site visits.  There was many versions of this drawing, as we were trying to create the best antenna layout per our operating techniques and how we wanted to operate.  There were also power distance concerns and antenna coax length issues that we had to be aware about.  Below is the final plan we decided upon.  One thing we learned during the MO QSO party was to create your plan and stick to it.  This year for IL, we did a very good job in sticking with the plan.  The only change we had was the digital Packtenna location that was more towards the pavilion on the east side vs the south.

We left town Sunday morning around 6am and arrived on site at 7:45am.  The first station setup was the CW tent within the south part of the grounds.  Chris (WX5CW) and Sterling (N0SSC) worked in this station.  Chris was connected to an NVIS antenna that I had built for 40m and 80m.  You can read about this antenna here :  It's basically a homemade DX Engineering NVIS antenna and was the first test of the design and it worked great!  I built two of them, one for CW and the other for SSB, and they came in handy!  

40 & 80m NVIS antenna

Sterling's antenna was a 80m - 6m Windom with a vertical radiator about 40ft up in the trees.  He didn't spend much time on 20 or 40m, but when 80m came alive around 7pm, he ran for the hour and racked up 120+ QSO's with that antenna and his rig.

The SSB tent was a pop up tent with my Flex radio and an NVIS 40m & 80m dipole.  Again this antenna worked great.  I could hear and work stations as close as 30 miles, all the way out to OH and CO as the bands came up and down.  I'm really impressed with the overall performance of the NVIS antenna and can't wait to use it in the MO QSO party.

Justin and Kevin were under the pavilion, as they were guarding the food from predators and also serving as home base for others to take a break from the squawk on the radio.  When not stuffing their faces with cookies, Justin was running S&P on 20m and would throw out a run when others were taking a break and Kevin did the same on digital with his Flex radio.  The Flex radios are very valuable when running digital, as you can have multiple bands up with multiple VFO's, and running separate instances of FLdigi at the same time all decoding at the same time.

40m was hot during the day, with lots of IL stations booming in.  Bands were in good conditions which made the day go quickly.  There is nothing like calling CQ with nobody coming back to you.  80m picked up around 6:30pm, as everybody was trying to get that last QSO in on a different band or multiplier in the last hour of the show.

I have not turned in the log yet, as I'm still going through it, but looks like the raw score is around 185K with a total of 575 QSO's, ~1500 QSO points and 125 multipliers.

Looking back here are the good, bad and the ugly.  What was good : 1) We stuck to our setup plan.  2) We made sure someone was running at all times.  3) We timed our setup correctly and had time for lunch and dinner.  Having someone dedicated to cook is key.  4) Bugs were not an issue.  5) I think we did a good job of coordinating who was running and who was running S&P.  6) We were watching the bands and when 80m opened up, we starting running to get those extra QSO's in.

What was bad : 1) The elements.  The wind was a pain sometimes as it would whip around my sun shade tarp.  2) Tearing down in the cold and dark was an issue, but I did get out of there with everything I brought in.  Tearing down all but 2 stations starting at 7pm helped.  3) Going through the log after the contest is always a pain.  4) Forget your VHF station, we made 1 contact the whole day.

Not too bad for our first outing as a group in the IL contest.  The more and more contests we work as a group, the better we get and the more we learn what works and what doesn't work.  Our goal is to be competitive in the MO QSO party and be near the top of the entries for years to come.

Not sure if there is going to be a YouTube video for this contest, as my SSB audio did not record correctly but we did get some of Chris' CW, so it might be in the background.

Here is our QSL card for the contest.  If you worked us and want a QSL card, please send a SASE to me via my address for my personal call, as I'm sure the W9W QRZ page will be changed for the next W9W special event station.

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