Thursday, 16 February 2017

The 2017 Novice Rig Round-Up!

VE7AIJ's Original Setup

There's a relatively 'new' contest in town that seems to be gathering a lot of growing interest. I'm talking about the 'NRR' or "Novice Rig Round-Up".

Harry, VE7AIJ, recently sent me a wonderful picture of his original station reproduction as used back in 1956. Hopefully Harry will be able to activate it along with countless others in the upcoming NRR.

The NRR is the brainchild of Bryan, AF4K, and Gary Johanson, WD4NKA, who developed the idea through chat on the Boatanchor and Glowbugs reflectors. They put the concept to the test in 2015 with the initial running of the NRR. Station pictures and soapbox comments from the last two runnings may be viewed here and here ... and they are truly inspirational.

With so many retired or soon to be retired 'baby boomers', there are a lot of guys out there that really enjoy recreating their original station setup, which for most U.S. hams, would have been their Novice station. There is also a huge group of 'not so old' hams that just enjoy refurbishing or homebrewing rigs from the 50's and putting them on the air ... the NRR will present another great opportunity to get on-the-air and light up those filaments once again.

As indicated on the NRR website, this is "more of an EVENT than just a typical contest ... once again taking our OLD ham radios off the shelf and putting them to use again! "

Although the NRR strongly encourages participants to use era-appropriate 'Novice type gear', using a modern rig will not prohibit you from joining in on the fun ... as well as give you a chance to hear how some of these old classics sound on CW.

The full rules are available on the dedicated NRR webpage. You will also find information there for Yahoo's NRR Group as well as the Facebook link. An excellent FAQ page also makes for valuable reading.

Many of the contest stations will be crystal controlled, just as they were back in the Novice days and a list of individual rockbound frequencies can be downloaded for your reference here ... those using crystal control will also tune well above and below their own frequencies for callers, a long-lost technique once required, when all Novice stations were using crystal controlled rigs ... tuning high and low should give rockbound stations better chances of success.

The NRR takes place from 0000 UTC February 18 through 2359 UTC February 26 - 9 full days, covering two full weekends.

Suggested HF frequencies are: 3550 - 3650 kHz, 3579, 7055, 7060, 7080, 7100 -7125 kHz, 21.114, 21.120, 21.150 MHz, 28.114, 28.120 MHz.

An automatic logger page has been set up for log handling as well as a 'live skeds' page to announce your frequency or to chat. Clearly, a lot of effort by the organizers has gone into this event!

Hopefully you can participate and make the 3rd annual NRR an even more enjoyable event than the first two. I know of several VE7's, including myself, that will be operating.

Harry's homebrew 6AQ5 crystal oscillator (Feb '55 Popular Electronics) and Hallicrafters S-53, pictured above, allowed him to work the world back in the amazing radio days of Cycle 19. Let's relive some of that excitement in the closing days of Cycle 24 ... in the NRR!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

630m Midwinter Activity Summary

Last weekend's 630m Midwinter Activity Event appeared to bring out a lot of new listeners to the band as well as to the crossband activity.

John, KB5NJD, reports in his daily 630m summary, that numbers were higher than previous events, indicating much new interest in what might eventually become the new 'Topband'. John has a very detailed timeline of events for the night including extensive coverage of experimental station reports.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, geomagnetic conditions were still suffering the effects of a week long coronal hole stream bombardment, particularly geo-effective in VE7 and the PNW, which always seems to tickle the southern elongated tail of the auroral oval further north. Stations to the south reported better, but quickly shifting propagation paths, while VE3OT in Ontario seemed to have no difficulty in working his numerous QSX callers.

Murphy's Law in action. The yellow disturbance coincides exactly with the event!

The path from VE7 was predominantly north-south, with the east-west path almost non-existent ... often the case when K indices are higher than 0 or 1. Several of the crossband stations reported heavy QRM on their HF QSX frequencies, which was expected. There were a number of CW events, including the NA CW and the FOC parties, as well as an international RTTY contest in full swing. I found my QSX of 3526 kHz to be busy but manageable as stations did not seem to stay too long before moving to another frequency. My 40m QSX of 7115 kHz was clear all night but most callers chose to use 80m.

Eventually, if and when the U.S. gets the 630m band, crossband work will no longer be needed. With all of the loud VE7 and Washington state activity on 630m, it will be an interesting challenge to work within the band itself ... but what great fun it will eventually be to hear 630m sounding like 160m during a winter CW contest!

Here is a rundown on the Canadian crossband action:

Joe, VO1NA out on the rock, used 80m as his talkback frequency while running 50W to a large inverted-L.

  • PE5T              
  • VO1DI             
  • PAØO             
  • K1PX          

Additional 'heard reports' were received from LA6LU, VE2PEP, DL4HG and PAØRDT.

Moving further west, Mitch, VE3OT, had a busy night with his 250 watts and 340' rectangular loop pointing east-west:

  • VA3DN---ON
  • W3TS---PA
  • K1PX---CT
  • W8PI---MI
  • WB3AVN---MD
  • K3PA---KS
  • K3CCR---MD
  • AC9S---IN
  • WA8ZZ---MI
  • W3WH---PA
  • WA9ETW---WI
  • AB4KJ---IL
  • NS8S---MI
  • N9SE---IN
  • WA3TTS---PA
  • W2JEK---NJ
  • VE3GRO---ON
  • WØBV---CO
  • K2PI---VA
  • K1HTV---VA
  • N2MS---NJ
  • KB5NJD---TX
  • NO3M---PA
  • NA5DX---MS
  • K9RT---IN
  • WØJW---IA

Mitch adds:

"Good conditions here - and similar frequency choice as last year….all but 2 QSOs on 3.5Mhz. Lost 3 possible QSOs - just too weak - at the noise level, but they obviously were copying me on 477….interesting.
Thinking about band condx - I think I should have stayed another hour or so and see i the band finally opened further West than Colorado.
It was interesting to see the East slowly fade away and the Mid-West and Western stations started calling. A good exercise - and lots of compliments and thanks from the U.S. operators."

Mitch is working on a special QSL for those stations that worked him.

Out on the west coast, things were busy as well but other than a couple of brief periods, there seemed to be a Faraday shield not too far east of the Rockies ... mostly a north-south affair.

John, VE7BDQ, reports:

  • W7FI---WA
  • K7WA---WA
  • K6YK---CA
  • VE6XH---AB
  • VA7JX---BC
  • VE7BGJ---BC
  • K7CW---WA
  • AH6EX/W7---WA
  • CF7MM---BC
  • K6IR---WA
  • K7SS---WA
  • W9PL---WA
  • CF7MM---BC
  • CG7CNF---BC
  • VE7SL---BC

From Toby, VE7CNF:

  • AH6EZ/W7---WA
  • K7CW---WA
  • CF7MM---BC
  • K7SS---WA
  • W9PL---WA
  • N7BYD---MT
  • VE7BDQ---BC
  • W7FI---WA
  • W6TOD---CA
  • VE7KW---BC
  • VE6XH---AB
  • VE7BGJ---BC
  • VA7JX---BC
  • K6YK---CA
  • KB5NJD---TX

From Mark, VA7MM:

  • W7FI---WA
  • K7CW---WA
  • W6RKC---CA
  • W6TOD---CA
  • AH6EZ/W7---WA
  • VE6XH---AB
  • VE7KW---BC
  • K6YK---CA
  • VE7BGJ---BC
  • VA7JX---BC
  • K7SS---WA
  • CG7CNF---BC
  • VE7BDQ---BC
Both Toby and Mark were in the middle of a nasty ice storm, slowly watching their output power drop as their antennas gradually accumulated more and more ice. Thankfully neither antenna came down!

630m top-loaded 'T' (and multiband HF dipole) at VA7MM...100' vertical x 50' tophat.
At least there was no ice storm in progress here on Mayne at VE7SL:
  •  CF7MM---BC
  • W6TOD---CA
  • K7CW---WA
  • W7FI---WA
  • K6YK---CA
  • K7WA---WA
  • WØBV---CO
  • AH6ZE/W7---WA
  • VE7KW---BC
  • VE6XH---AB
  • VA7JX---BC
  • VE7BGJ---BC
  • NO3M---PA
  • KB5NJD---TX
  • K7SS---WA
  • N7BYD---MT
  • CG7CNF---BC
  • VE7BDQ---BC
Besides being just a lot of fun, these events always provide some interesting 'takeaways'.

It's clear that there is a lot of interest in this band and it continues to grow ... reporting levels have never been higher. One crossbander in Washington state indicated that he has a station already to go, once the U.S. gets the band.

Activities such as this continue to demonstrate that stations running something less than the maximum allowable 5 watts eirp can produce impressive signal levels, allowing solid aural contacts over considerable distances via skywave ... even under the marginal conditions just experienced.

Considering the amount of RF being generated nightly for several years by high erp experimental stations as well as during numerous frenzied 630m activity nights, there should be little doubt that interference to hydro switching systems is a non-issue. Sadly, this argument by power authority lobbyists still appears to be the main obstacle for the FCC's foot-dragging of 630m implementation in the U.S.A.

It was great to see participation and interest from VE6 land! Hopefully more Canadian amateurs will take up the challenges offered by 630m ... both in operating and in building a station. You need not have anything more than a suburban backyard to enjoy transcontinental work and like so many activities ... the more, the merrier!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Topband Trifecta

It was a week of 'threes' when it comes to the 'gentleman's band'. The first was last weekend's CQ 160m CW Contest ... exciting as always, with propagation from VE7 land favoring the southeast. At times, signals from the Caribbean were exceptionally strong while it was a struggle on both nights to work eastern W1's. As usual, I entered in the low power division with a power limit of 150 watts, spending 8 hours in total and finishing with 249 contacts in 51 sections / 8 countries. Other than the odd State QSO Party, the 160m contests are about the only ones I enter these days.

The mail brought my next two Topband delights. The first being a copy of Jeff Brigg's (K1ZM / VY2ZM) spanking new "DXing on the Edge - The Thrill of 160 Meters". This is the second edition of Jeff's original classic which was published twenty years ago in 1997.

The new second edition carries all of the original content (except for the CD) along with four new added chapters. Although the original material is dated, it is still just as valuable and informative as it was when first published. Highlights of the book include chapters on:

  • Propagation
  • The Stew Perry Era (1930-1982)
  • 160m DX Chronology 1930 - Present (8 Chapters)
  • Notable Achievements
  • Simple and Effective DX Transmitting Antennas
  • Simple and Effective Receiving Antennas
  • Tips From DXers
  • Photographic Potpourri
  • Off-The-Shelf Transmitting Antenna Solutions (new)
  • Modern RX Solutions For Small Properties (new)
  • Cycle 24 & A View Forward (new)
  • 160m Achievement Levels As Of 2016 (new)

If you have any serious interest in DXing on 160m, you will find much inspiration in Jeff's book. The descriptions of many stations, from the simple to the extreme, highlight the fact that almost anyone can achieve DX success on the 'Topband' with a little perseverance and some thoughtful station design.

When it comes to Topband DXing, things have changed a lot since 1997 ... as Jeff indicates in the new section, his main reason for releasing a second updated version:

" ... was to publicly review the technical advances that are now available to the modern 160M DX'er. In this way, everyone - old timers and newcomers alike - would have the time to "get ready" for some great years that will be coming soon on Topband. So get going ... gear up ... start making plans now to be part of the action. It is probably going to be a wild ride ahead and a lot of DX'citement for those who are up to the challenge!"

If the coming solar low years are anything like the last previous low, we are indeed in for some fun times!

Jeff's book can be purchased through numerous outlets including Amazon and Chapters, often with free-delivery.

The third Topband event, again via the mail, was the arrival a new 160m QSL.

The sunrise 160m CW contact with H4ØGC, Temotu, was confirmed country #159 for me on Topband, with most of these being worked from here on Mayne Island using a half-sloper and an aging 500 watt amplifier with a pair of original 572Bs.

If you've not been on 160m and are keen on new operating challenges, Topband may be the place to begin ... along with a copy of Jeff's inspirational 'Topband handbook'.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

2nd Midwinter 630m Activity Event

One week from tonight, on Saturday Feb 4th, the 2nd Midwinter 630m Activity Event will take place.

The highlight of this event will be the opportunity for amateurs, throughout North America, to attempt crossband CW contacts with Canadian amateurs operating on 630m.

Canadian stations will call CQ on announced frequencies within the 630m band and listen on individual HF (QSX) frequencies for callers.

Due to the RTTY and Sprint activities on the same night, some of the QSX frequencies have been shifted from those that might normally have been used in the past.

There appears to be a lot of growing interest in 630m among American operators. It is hoped that the USA will soon have access to 630m as a ham band.

There will also be a large turnout of U.S. experimental activity, either in beacon mode or in two-way QSO mode with other experimental service stations.

In past events,  Transcontinental crossband contacts have been completed. It is hoped that operating events such as this can serve to demonstrate the interesting propagation possibilities of this unique part of the spectrum and generate more new interest in the 630m band.

To read more about this event, please see the ARRL news announcement here.

This time out, there will be six Canadian stations, from Newfoundland to the west coast, hoping to work as many of you as possible!

Station: CF7MM (Mark) CN89 Coquitlam, British Columbia
Time: February 5, 0200-0700 UTC
Transmit frequency: 475.0 kHz
Receive (QSX) frequency: 1,801 kHz, 3,501 kHz, 3,528, and 7,028 kHz

Station: VE7BDQ (John) CN89 Delta, British Columbia
Time: February 5, 0300-0700 UTC
Transmit frequency: 474.0 kHz
Receive (QSX) frequency: 1,833 kHz, 3,533 kHz

Station: CG7CNF (Toby) CN89 Burnaby, British Columbia
Time: February 5, 0200-0800 UTC
Transmit frequency: 476.5 kHz
Receive (QSX) frequency: 1,827 kHz, 3,527 kHz, 7,027 kHz

Station: VE7SL (Steve) CN88 Mayne Island, British Columbia
Time: February 5, 0200-0700 UTC
Transmit frequency: 473.0 kHz
Receive (QSX) frequency: 3,526 kHz, 7,115 kHz

Station: VO1NA (Joe) GN37 Torbay, Newfoundland
Time: February 4, 2130 UTC, until February 5, 0130 UTC
After 0130 UTC, 5WPM CW beacon until 1000 UTC
Transmit frequency: 477.7 kHz
Receive (QSX) frequency: 3,525.5 kHz

Station: VE3OT (Mitch) EN92 London, Ontario
Time: February 5, 0000-0500 UTC
Transmit frequency: 477.0 kHz
Receive (QSX) frequency: 3,610 kHz, 7,105 kHz

See you next Saturday we hope!

VA7MM 630m Top Hat Under Construction

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

ZF1 - VE7 On 630m

Early last night ZF1EJ (Eden) and I were able to easily complete a two way JT9 QSO on 630m ... 475.300 kHz to be more exact.

This was Eden's first 630m JT9 QSO as well as the first ever 630m QSO between Canada and the Cayman Islands. The contact was completed shortly between 8:15 and 8:30 PM local time. The contact attempt was initiated via the ON4KST 2200m / 630m chat page after I had decoded Eden's signal shortly before 7 PM local time ... the first time I have seen his signal so early in the evening.

Eden was using a VK4YB Monitor Sensors Transverter and a newly deployed transmitting antenna described below in the KB5NJD Daily 630m Report:

"This is how the antenna is setup:- It is a tophat vertical, the tophat is 65’ 6” long and about 80’ above ground, the vertical is 74’ 6”, There are 4 radials 10’ above ground, each 128’ 6” long. The antenna is made of #10, stranded insulated wire. The tophat is strung between two towers and is side on about 45 deg. The tuner was built by Ron and Ward a few month ago and shipped down to me. Just found the time to set it up recently. The SWR is 1.1-1 and I am using a Monitor Sensors Transverter built by Roger, VK4YB. Output to antenna 22 watts."

The only change to the above report was Eden's e-mail follow-up indicating that his power output during our QSO was 32 watts ... conditions must have been even better than I thought.

JT-9 Screen At VE7SL
There is no question that his antenna works very well as his signal was decoded on every transmission following my first reception of his JT9 signal. Conditions appeared to be good enough that we could have continued the contact for some time as there was little fading during the time of our QSO. Later in the evening, signals at his end reached well into CW levels for considerable time while just one WSPR transmission from Eden was received at CW levels.

With an even newer JT-9A mode now promising a 2db improvement, making contacts should be even easier. Once the USA gets access to 630m, it is clear that Eden will be a popular target for most North American stations!