Monday, 20 March 2017

The Don Miller Enigma



A mention in the KE9V weekly 'CALLING CQ' e-mail letter brought back more memories of my teen DX years. The article pointed to a YouTube interview of legendary DXer Dr. Don Miller, W9WNV, conducted by another DX legend, Martti Laine, OH2BH. The fascinating interview was conducted in December 2016 and is broken into five parts.

For those old enough to remember, Don spent a few years in the late 60's providing DXers with one rare country after another ... dozens of them. He was a superb operator and the originator of the now ubiquitous "5NN" shortened signal report, after trying unsuccessfully with "FNN". He was also one of the very first to operate 'split', requiring stations to call up or down instead of the then prevalent one frequency pileup! Don was really instrumental in shaping much of what we see today as 'standard ops' when it comes to DX'pedition operations. To hear Don handle a pileup was something else. Often when the pile became very large, he would listen to the calling crowd for a couple of minutes and then respond with a list of calls and signal reports ... nothing like the individual exchanges we see today.


My little DX-20 and VF-1 were only able to work Don at one of his stops ... YJ8WW on 40m CW. He was all about giving the little guy, those running modest stations, an opportunity to work some rare countries.

courtesy: F6BLK
All was not roses however. Don ran into several problems with the ARRL regarding some of his 'supposed' locations. Several of his operations were disqualified for lack of proper documentation, sworn affidavits from his DX companion that they weren't actually where they claimed to be and by his own admission. As well, there were certain stations at the top of the honor roll that, for whatever reason, Don was just 'unable to hear'. This infuriated many of the top DXers of the day as well as officiators of the DXCC program, still in its infancy. Don claims his selective deafness was because some of these amateurs were 'DX hogs', working him several times on the same band, a practice he discouraged. Others claim that it was because these top DXers did not contribute monetarily to his expeditions. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. With big egos and honor roll status involved, a lot of bad blood was spilled in the DX community at the time ... bitter memories to this day still, for some.

As bad as things had become for Don, it got much worse, when in 1980, rightly or wrongly, he was convicted of conspiring to have his estranged wife killed and was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Don Miller is one of those 'larger than life' personalities whose presentations at DX clubs and conventions would bring the large crowds to their feet with his DX stories and expedition accomplishments.

The YouTube interviews show a somewhat contrite, remorseful man, compared to the one we met in the 60's but there's still a hint of that young mischief-maker and a twinkle in his 80 year old eyes as he teases of putting another rare one on-the-air, one last time.

courtesy: OH2BH
Don is now AE6IY and if you hear or work him, love him or hate him, be aware that you are talking to one of amateur radio's living icons.


[See also: "The Don Miller Story As Told By Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD]

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

March Moonbounce


Tied up with other radio happenings, I missed getting on EME during the moon's last two orbits of the planet. I was able to get back at it last week, with three days of unobstructed ocean moonrises as the moon travelled through its northern declination peak.

Conditions seemed unusually good and I was able to complete several contacts with my small station ... a single 9el m2 Yagi and an older 2m 140W brick amplifier. The Yagi is nestled atop my 50' tower's mast, between my triband Yagi, and Yagis for 6m and 70cm. The tower is located about 100' from the ocean and on these favorable moonrises, looks towards the moon directly over saltwater. The antenna appears to develop the full 'theoretical' 6db of seagain and performance seems fairly similar to what I would expect from a box of four similar Yagis.

Stations worked last week (all on JT65B) where: I3MEK, K9MRI, PA0JMV, WA3QPX, G4DML, EA5SR, and SP8NR. The first three stations had been previously worked but answered my CQ while the remainder where all new, representing 'initials' #84 - #87 using this simple system.

WA3QPX 4 X 28 el Yagi array

EA8SR's 4 X 9el Yagi array


G4DML's 4 X 8el Yagi array


K9MRI's monster array - 8 x 28el Yagis


K9MRI provided the best signal report I had ever received on moonbounce, a -15db and indicated that my signal was audible during our QSO!

WA3QPX represented a new 2m state, which made me wonder what my confirmed state totals had reached ... 26 now, including EME and terrestrial contacts. Interestingly, my 2m DXCC total also stands at this same number ... 26 confirmed.

With such a low ERP, I often think that I will eventually run out of stations that I can work on EME, yet I continue to see many new stations every time I get on the air ... likely enough to keep me challenged for some time yet.

I often hear stations better than they are hearing me so if I do run out of stations, the next logical step would be a modest 3db increase in my power by building a simple 300W amplifier. An extra 3db would probably open up a large number of new challenging target stations to work with.

I have a box of NIB 4CX250Bs and sockets that have been looking at me longingly for some time!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

CQ Crossband and ... 3 Down, 97 To Go!



Several QSL cards have arrived after the last 630m 'crossband' event ... including one from ZF1EJ in the Cayman Islands confirming our 630m QSO in January.



 

The contact was made on JT-9, the 'WSPR QSO' mode, and represents DXCC country #3 for me on 630m ... only 97 more to go! ZF1EJ was running just 32 watts output when we had our 630m JT-9 contact but has since cranked his output to around 60 watts. Eden is beaconing most nights on WSPR and puts out a well-heard signal. He is very interested in two-way JT-9 work with other VE stations as well as any Europeans and down-under stations.

From what I can tell, it looks like JT-9 (similar to JT-65 but a much narrower bandwidth of 15.6Hz) is establishing itself as the go-to mode for weak signal two-way work on 630m. It has a couple of things going for it that makes it very attractive for this band ... it can dig way down into the noise (-25 db approximately) and communicate with very weak signals and, it does not require amateurs to know CW, a growing trend with newer operators and a real hindrance to two-way CW work. I suspect, and hope, that there will be much more CW activity on 630m once amateurs in the U.S.A. get the band as the amount of information that can be exchanged per transmission on JT-9 is limited ... time will tell.

In the meantime, here is a request for more two-way 'crossband' CW activity with amateurs in all parts of North America. I have recently totally revised the 'CQ Crossband' page on my website, 'The VE7SL Radio Notebook'. Please note that my web address for well over a decade, is no longer valid and everything has been moved to this new location. If you have the old one bookmarked or are linking to it from your own site, please be aware that previous links will now be dead.

The crossband concept allows amateurs not yet on 630m to still participate in this exciting part of the spectrum ... and to check out their ability to hear anything on MF. If we were to make a schedule for a crossband contact, I would be transmitting on 630m at full ERP while you would be answering on one of the HF bands ... usually 160, 80 or 40m.

I am very much interested in setting up crossband schedules for 630m at any time and can very likely enlist several other VE7s to be there as well so that you can work more than one station. I have full details on my updated 'CQ Crossband' web page but please do not hesitate to give crossband a try!


Roger, VE7VV in Victoria, B.C., recently became the 8th VE7 to muster RF on 630m, with power limited to 1 watt at present. Our contact was on CW while he worked stations in Vancouver on JT-9. Hopefully he will continue to build his station and become more active on the band.

Crossband continues to be a subject of much interest both here and with many U.S. stations that are waiting for the band. Recent cards from Colorado and California, shown below, are the latest to arrive.




K6YK gave me an RST of '519' but explained the reason for this was because he was receiving on his 3 el HF tri-bander which provided the best signal-to-noise value! This is often the case on 630m so try what you have. Many times a 'non-resonant' antenna will pick up less noise and yield the best signal readability.

If you would like to try a crossband QSO, please contact me at VE7SL (at) shaw.ca ... I'll keep the rig warmed up!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Novice Rig Round-Up Report





Last week's Novice Rig Round-Up delivered far more enjoyment than I ever imagined!




Operating from the left coast and choosing to limit my output power to 5 watts, I really didn't expect to work more than a half dozen stations or so. The week-long event included two weekends, providing plenty of opportunity for participants to spark-up their novice-class rigs or their favorite pre-80's 'boatanchors' ... and they did!

I had 68 contacts with other 'NRR' stations, working numerous Heathkits, Drakes, Johnsons and homebrewed favorites ... even a Collins KWS-1! Staying true to the 'novice' class spirit, most were using hand keys and a surprising number were even using crystal control.

I decided to enter the fray with my homebrew "Longfeller", shown above, run at 5W to take advantage of the low power multiplier as well as using crystal control.

After struggling to work two stations, I soon decided that if I was going to work much at all, I would need to switch to 'search and pounce' mode and use the VFO. The once ubiquitous Heathkit VF-1, with all of its charming quirks, was pressed into service. Although I've always loved its green hypnotic dial, a week with the VF-1 reminded me of all the things I also hated about it as a teenaged ham back in the mid 60s'. But as it did back then, it served me well and allowed me to park the Longfeller wherever I wanted.

My NRR Setup
So much of the NRR reminded me of my early exciting radio days, high up in my attic bedroom shack. It reminded me of how challenging each contact was back then and of the pride of achievement when a contact was completed using pretty basic gear. It reminded me also, of just how far our equipment has evolved since then and gave me a renewed appreciation for the modern gear I unfortunately often take for granted.

For the low bands (80/40m), the Longfeller was fed into full-sized vertical wire groundplanes made from homebrew ladder line and both fed with the same coaxial feedline.


A counterpoise of eight wire radials were laid on the lawn temporarily with the feedpoint sitting about 20' from the ocean. Being right at the ocean allows me to take advantage of an approximate 6db of "sea gain", effectively turning my 5 watts into 20 watts of radiated power. At times, my signal needed all the help it could get.


It was also exciting to catch the sometimes fleeting transcontinental openings on 15m, as the MUF often struggled to reach 21 MHz each morning. This very much reminded me of past solar cycle peak winters and the morning excitement of watching the MUF slowly climb towards 50MHz, or in some cases, shoot up like a rocket. As Cycle 24 reaches the bottom, the effects of low solar flux values on our higher bands becomes increasingly more evident. I suspect that there will be no 15m transcontinental work in next winter's NRR and who knows how long that might be the case. High MUFs were fun while they lasted ... another thing often taken for granted.

Without question, one of the most interesting parts of the nine day event was following the propagation variances from night to night on 40 and 80m. With a couple of exceptions, low-band propagation was generally pretty good, with one mid-week night being just great. Signals from the east coast to the southern states were strong and with almost no QSB. The Longfeller pushed its 80m signal to Florida, Maryland, New York, Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio and Kentucky. I remember many nights like this when operating 80m back in the early to mid 60's, during the lull between monster Cycle 19 and wimpy Cycle 20. Hopefully we will see more of these really nice transcontinental nights on 80 over the next several years.

For me however, the highlight of the event occurred last Saturday afternoon, while on 40m, fully ninety minutes before our local sunset. I had called WW6D after his 589 CQ only to hear him respond to another NRR local, Mark, CF7MM. He gave Mark's 50 watt DX-60 a '589' and when he finished I called him again ... with not even a whisper of response or even a QRZ. After I called him a third time, he returned to his CQ, leaving no doubt that he wasn't hearing a trace of my signal. Now full-sized 1/4 wave groundplanes mounted beside the ocean are not noted for producing high-angled radiation, which this path would certainly have benefited from, but I would have expected something!

I immediately moved down the band a few kilohertz and sent a short hand-keyed CQ and received an immediate response from WS1K in Plymouth, MA! Jon's signal was a solid and unwavering 559 and he was running only 5 watts as well ... and, he was crystal-controlled! The groundplane had swiftly redeemed itself as this exciting contact went into the log on 40m ... and all in broad daylight! Pictured below is Jon's transcon ether-busting machine ... proof that form does indeed follow function!

WS1K's 40m Transcon 6V6 Ether-Buster
For me, there is only one other operating event that is as enjoyable as I found the NRR to be ... the annual 1929 BK Party, when signals are often just as strong as in the NRR, but a couple of decades raunchier-sounding. Both are great fun and if you loved the NRR you will love the '29 BK.

I'm really looking forward to next year's NRR but will definitely be running more power. I was impressed with the several Drake 2NT's that I heard and luckily enough, have one such rig in my boatanchor basement. It will be a good project to recap and put back on the air, along with the VF-1, which will also be given the once over to encourage it to behave properly when driving the classy Drake.


Please give the NRR some serious thought for next year ... it's not too early to start planning, refurbishing or to seek out and cherish that aging old beauty, presently hiding in someones attic gathering dust. See you in the NRR!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Hunting For NDBs In CLE 216

CLE 216 NA Targets!




This coming weekend will see another CLE challenge. This time the hunting grounds will be:  320.0 - 334.9 kHz.






A 'CLE' is a 'Co-ordinated Listening Event', as NDB DXers around the world focus their listening time on one small slice of the NDB spectrum.

A nice challenge in this one is to hear the White Rock NDB, 'WC', on 332 kHz. The 'WC' NDB is located just a few hundred feet from the Canada - U.S. border, about 25 miles south east of the Vancouver International airport and about 20 miles west of the Abbotsford airport.

The beacon is located on a quiet residential street, nestled between well kept homes and towering fir trees.

'WC - 332' White Rock, BC

Antenna at 'WC - 332'
The antenna is an inverted 'L' end-fed Marconi about 65' in height with a flat top of about 200'. The downlead is barely visible in the above photo as it angles its way back to the transmitter shed. 

Heard regularly in California, 25 watt 'WC' is not as widely reported as is 'XX -344', especially from points east. As the system is similar to what a typical amateur LF installation might be, I would be very interested in any reception reports of 'WC' by DXers to the east. 'WC's upper sideband modulation frequency is ~ 423Hz so look for it on 332.423 kHz with your receiver in the CW mode. 



From CLE organizer Brian Keyte, G3SIA, comes the usual 'heads-up':

Hi all,

Here are all the details for this weekend's co-ordinated listening event.
First time CLE logs too? Yes, please!
Short logs are always as welcome as long ones.

Days: Friday 24 February - Monday 27 February
Times: Start and End at midday, your LOCAL time
Range: 320.0 - 334.9 kHz

Please log the NDBs you can positively identify that are listed in the
frequency range (no DGPS please), plus any UNIDs heard there too.

Send your CLE log to the List, if possible as a plain text email and
not in an attachment, with CLE216 at the start of its title.
Please show on EVERY LINE of your log:

# The date and UTC (the day changes at 00:00 UTC).
# kHz - the beacon's nominal published frequency, if you know it.
# The Call Ident.

Show those main items FIRST on each line, before any optional details
such as the NDB's Location, Distance, Offsets, Cycle time, etc.
As always, make your log meaningful to everyone by including your
own listening location and details of your receiver, aerial(s), etc.
(It would be OK to use a remote receiver, with the owner's permission if
necessary, provided that ALL your loggings for the CLE are made using it).

I will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 18:00 UTC on Tuesday
so that you can check that your log has been found OK. Do make sure that
your log has arrived on the List at the very latest by 09:00 UTC on Wed. 1st
March. The combined results should be completed later that day.

Remember that you can find all CLE-related information from the Group's
CLE page ( http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm ), including a link to the seek
lists provided for this Event from the Rxx Database.

Good listening
Brian
----------------------------------------------------------
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA ndbcle'at'gmail.com
Location: Surrey, SE England (CLE co-ordinator)
----------------------------------------------------------

__._,_.___

(Reminder: You could use any one remote receiver for your loggings,
stating its location and owner - with their permission if required.
A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, whether local or
remote, to obtain further loggings for the same CLE). 


These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed

Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event. If you are a member of the ndblist Group, results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

The very active Yahoo ndblist Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome. As well, you can follow the results of other CLE participants from night to night as propagation is always an active topic of discussion.

If you are contemplating getting started on 630m, listening for NDBs  is an excellent way to test out your receive capabilities as there are several NDBs located near this part of the spectrum.

You need not be an ndblist member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 

'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the ndblist or e-mailed to either myself or CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above.

Please ... give the CLE a try ... then let us know what NDB's can be heard from your location! Your report can then be added to the worldwide database to help keep it up-to-date.

Good hunting!