December 4, 2013
Its that time of the year – when sooth sayers try to predict what will happen in the coming year. This is a fun – (but very trivial) thing to do, so why not? Without further adieu – and with 1000 apologies to Carnac – the Real Soothsayer, here are my 2014 predictions:
- Amsterdam, Tromelin, and one other entity that I need for DXCC #1 will be activated. I will work each of these
- There will be two more announcements for entities that I need for 2015 activations
- The “second peak” of sunspot cycle 24 is happening now – and 10M and 12M will close down for quite a few years – but with occasional little bursts of activity over the next year or two
- 160M will get really good again
- DX-peditions to very rare and expensive entities will get smaller due to transportation costs
- Kosovo will be added to the DXCC List
- Nothing will be Deleted from the DXCC List
- More DX-peditions will turn off the Leaderboard
- More DX-peditions will stop promising automatic log uploads
- The whole “Remote” issue will remain as it is – even if the DXAC comes up with some kind of 150 mile radius rule. Mainly because there is nothing that anyone can do to enforce any rules. Cheaters are going to cheat – even if technically, it isn’t cheating (i.e. someone using East and West Coast Remote stations for DXCC Honor Roll and HR #1)
December 1, 2013
I have been working on DX-peditions for a year and a half now – four DX-peditions as a “pilot” and two as a planner – and one as a “dreamer”. I have been shopping for transportation and getting into logistics. I know how outrageously expensive chartering a boat would be to go to Heard Island. If you know me, you know that I am always overly optimistic and perservering. I have even learned to be somewhat patient!
We all have seen the financial / donation goal for FT5ZM and how expensive that one is – in fact, it is the most expensive DX-pedition ever (as far as I know). And Amsterdam is not south of the “Roaring 40′s” and it has a dock – and thus doesn’t require a helicopter.
I was originally going to call this blog “The DXCC Endangered Species List”, but then I realized we probably all have such a list – and that with time and changes in laws that govern access, what used to seem impossible becomes possible.
Lets take a look at the “roadblocks” to activate rare or ultra rare entities on the DXC List.
Difficult Political Situations – the P5 “Use Case”
Take for example, P5, North Korea. If you don’t have it – it seems impossible. While a difficult proposition, there are “Intrepid” DX-peditioners like Paul, N6PSE working on such activations. My hat is off to him for having the patience and stamina required. I don’t know if Rick, K6VVA is also still working on P5. Scarborough might be difficult – the South China Seas are really heating up. Maybe even Spratley will be tough to gain access now.
Access Difficulties (Mostly Environmental)
We have seen that the fine people at the KP1-5 Project had great success activating Desecheo, and have been trying to activate Navassa. There are several additional factors with KP1 that didn’t exist with KP5 – such as “security concerns”. I am confident that if it is ever possible to activate KP1 – the KP1-5 Project Team will do it. ZL9HR activated Campbell Island – and that had as stringent access issues as any of the US F&W run entities. So “impossible” is too strong a word to use with such entities that have Access issues (mainly due to environmental concerns).
With FT5ZM, we have passed the “tipping point” on cost. I believe that 3Y0X was the previous high cost DX-pedition “leader”, and as we had seen – they needed a helicopter. I know first hand, that the cost of chartering a ship, plus a helicopter, plus crossing the “Roaring 40′s” now puts several entities in the closest thing that I have seen as being “impossible”.
For years I have been hoping that someone would show a “thermometer” on their web site to show if they were making their budget / donation goal. And FT5ZM might be the first to do that and then break down who is donating and from which continents. Its probably as effective as any other way of doing this.
But the cost of activating such entities is approaching 10 times the cost is was back in 1997. here is a list of entities that probably fall into this category:
Heard Island, VK0/H
Peter 1, 3Y0/P
South Sandwich, VP8/S
I’m not sure, but VP8/O, ZL9 and VP8/G might also be on this list.
What this means is that not only is it nearly impossible to reach DXCC Honor Roll #1, it might even be starting to get difficult to reach DXCC Honor Roll – mixed.
So when I see hand wringing about adding something like Kosovo to the DXCC List, I think to myself – sure – add as many entities like these as you like – including Transnistria – but Delete the one’s that are now too expensive to go to! [I am joking about deleting anything, actually, but the thought has crossed my mind. Instead - lets figure out how to make the impossible possible again - see my comment about how at the end of this article] . . . .
When I hear OOT’s explain why only entities should be added to the DXCC List and that nothing should be Deleted – based on their idea that “China and Albania took 20 years before they were available to work”, I find that to be like comparing apples to oranges. Also – it favors the OOT’s who are bored. What about all of the younger DX-ers who would like a crack at Honor Roll – do you keep raising the bar to exclude them? After all – the younger DX-ers are the future of the DXCC program.
I’ll concede about all of the US F&W entities. All it would take is one official to demand access for all of its tax payers – and then we are there – even if with an expensive “monitor” along for the ride. Finding a US Congress Person who actually gets something done for the people might take a while – hi hi. But it will happen – some day.
But how do you raise $500K or more for a South Seas DX-pedition? I think we have hit the answer with FT5ZM – you don’t! So, what is the answer?
Maybe the answer is “two people in a sailboat” – which had been done before the current day “mega DX-pedition”. With the aging DX community – who would have the strength, stamina and sailing skill to pull off such an event?
I’m just not sure . . . . I’ve personally eliminated DXCC Honor Roll #1 from my list of goals. Just staying on the DXCC HR list – mixed is a much more realistic goal. And working 100 on Top Band . .
November 20, 2013
I am the West Coast Pilot for the VU7AG DX-pedition, and so I’ve come up with a plan that might help you work this most excellent team.
In 2007 I sat in my shack, listening, listening, listening, and NADA. Then the “magic” happened – VU7RG came up out of the dark aether:
20-JAN-2007 0127 utc 40M SSB
20-JAN-2007 0133 utc 40M CW
And the opening lasted less than an hour. They climbed up from beneath the noise to an S9 or so and then back down. They were S9 for less than a half hour. It was a piece of cake, and that was the only time I heard them on any band where it was worth calling. I think they had phased verticals on the beach with a PVS-2, and I had phased verticals using the Christman Feed. I don’t know if I had an amp – or if it was my usual 200 watts back then (FT-1000D I think).
The propagation now for VU7 (short path) looks like this:
And long path here:
This is the magic of the gray line – and BTW – the propagation might turn out to be very similar to me working Paul at XZ1J the last few days on 10, 12 and 15 meters. Each time – almost at the same time – during our evening greyline – BOOM his signal went from nothing to S9. I was only running 100 watts and only had a gain antenna on 15M, but no problem – I didn’t have to call much at all, and there were pretty decent pileups to bust each time. Of course it helped that he was asking for NA – as VU7RG did back in 2007. I fact, I think VU7RG asked for West Coast specifically . . . I’ve worked Paul on those bands between 0120 utc and 0130 utc each time. So – its funny how similar these paths are:
And from 1500 z – 1800 z – which is a path I don’t think I have heard myself – but I am now getting reports that 20M is open in Southern Oregon at this time:
I have worked ZS and 3B7 and 3B9 at these times – but as you can see – this is closer to the morning grey line at both ends of the circuit. I’m intrigued that VOACAP thinks the path will be open to VU7. I hope so . . .
The West Coast PM gray line propagation “is like deja vu all over again” – except the SSN in 2007 was 30 or so – and its more than three times that now.
Craig, N6ED, notes that we should look on the Long Path around 1500 -1730 z, and Jonathan, W6GX, reports hearing VU7AG on 20M and 17M in the Denver area at his sunrise. I will add West Coast spots to this blog as time goes on.
So – I think all high bands might happen for the West Coast – and “around” the times that VOACAP suggests. Lets hope some minor miracles happen where we have propagation longer and outside of just these two “slivers” . . . .
73 and good luck!
November 18, 2013
I’ve given several presentations that included HFTA plots on how my QTH is basically down in the folds of the beautiful hills that surround Orinda. My last ATNO was SV2ASP/A on January 1, 2013 (putting me on the DXCC Honor Roll), and FT5ZM is my next chance at the next ATNO – which would be #332/337.
Well, yesterday, my wife Kat and I took a wonderful hike from Orinda up to the Sibley Volcanic Preserve that is off of Skyline in Oakland. The elevation rise is 1500 feet and very quickly / very steep (please click on any image in this blog to expand):
And here is what we saw half way up the hill, looking down at my QTH:
You can see Mt. Diablo in the background – which is almost due East from my QTH. The golden gate bridge is almost due West of my QTH. What I have learned is that 240 – 270 degrees – which is the path to Amsterdam just happens to be along a valley where my takeoff from my “lowly” QTH is actually just about the best (unencumbered by hills) as any direction. You can see this in a 360 azimuthal plot that has data from Microdem and HFTA 1 degree “fans”, turned into an “antenna.13″ file by a utility that Stu, K6TU wrote, and then visualized using HFAnt:
The short path to Amsterdam happens to be between 240 and 270 degrees, and because I have a Moxon on 20 and 15M – that has a fairly wide “cardioid” lobe, I will be able to exploit the best path to Amsterdam in a way that I can’t in any other direction. HFTA shows this:
And another picture that is worth 1024 words:
The arrow points almost directly to the golden gate bridge, and there is a deep “v – notch” right where the Caldecott Tunnel is – so, even in my severely limited QTH – (as far as being down in a hole) goes – FT5ZM – which is a path that supports other “needed” entities is a good path for me.
Here is a birds eye view of what I need – and you can (sort of) see how the FT5ZM path is pretty clear:
This would partially explain why I was able to work VU7RG in 2007 on 40M CW and SSB in that direction using phased verticals, and TO4E way back when in that same path – which would be great for Tromelin. The toughest path for long distance is the NE, which looks like this:
This is the path where you see how it gets chopped off terribly, because the hill is even worse than it seems here. It is a ridge that rises 200 feet above my QTH and very steeply. This is why the 360 degree AZ plot above shows 0 – 90 degrees pretty much wiped out as far as low angles go. However – I have done quite well on the LP to the DX that I can’t hear on the SP in this direction. Of course, the DX station has to be beaming this direction – and I certainly never heard a peep out of FT5GA – when they were on Glorioso. To compound things, at the lowest part of the sunspot cycle, only low angles give any possibility of making the Q – so for me – FT5GA was impossible. So – for those of you who have asked “Why don’t you put up a 70′ tower and MonstIR?” The answer is simple – while it would be an improvement – the ROI would be terrible – especially since I was able to earn Honor Roll with much simpler antennas – but more tenacity and patience than most DX-ers I see posting on the social media these days.
Here is the last direction that is worth showing – Navassa, South Sandwich and Bouvet on the Short Path:
I do very, very well in this direction. I worked XR0ZR on many bands – even with my KPA-500 out of service and only running 100 watts. I literally have another “notch” that allows even 160M access to the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
KH5K would be an issue – since there are hills in that direction, but because it is so close – I actually need higher take off angles, so low horizontal antennas or verticals (with their 20 – 25) degree take offs work wonders in that part of the world.
Taking the hike was most excellent because I could very much visually see exactly what all my analysis and modeling has been – but from a personal “birds eye view” – and on a gorgeous Fall day with nice Fall color popping out here and there, and while get much needed exercise. Here is a parting shot – coming down the long steep trail – (where you can see the top of a bright yellow gingko tree that is exactly aligned with where I am standing) – which is the direction of where FT5ZM will be when they fire up in January:
If we are lucky enough to have an SSN of at least 100, here is what VOACAP predicts:
The morning grey line lines up perfectly for Amsterdam, as long as the team can say “NA West Coast Only” at that time. This will be another really difficult path – but if they run it like FT5XO did, then no sweat. FT5XO had phased verticals, but also did have amplifiers on the low bands.
The biggest problem will be the amount of time that the US is in daylight or darkness with FT5ZM. I think this means the openings will be only a couple of hours twice a day. Here is what the N6BV Propagation tables say – and I used High for the prediction – which means its optimistic:
Wow – I think North America will not do so well, unless FT5ZM devotes a 24×7 station on 20M for ATNO’s. When NA has propagation – every place in the world will have better propagation. Hopefully this won’t end up being frustrating. My only hope is that I had worked FT5XO with much lesser antennas than what I have now – and propagation back then was about half what it will be for FT5ZM, and I worked FT5XO on 80M – through 17M.
I have a shortened hatted and top loaded vertical on 160M (63′ tall) full quarter wave vertical on 80 (the 63′ tall vertical again with 76 buried radials, phased verticals on 40M with 44 buried radials each, my choice of the 63′ vertical or 40M phased verticals on 30M, and a nested Moxon on 20 and 15M – where it acts as a rotatable dipole on 17, 12 and 10M.
I have a killer 4 element 20M mono bander that I have designed in EZNec and all of the aluminum to build it. I even have 4 “starter” elements left over from the 2 over 2 17M stack that I had up a year ago. This might be the best time to get 4 elements up on 20M. HFTA likes that idea a lot:
I truly think that we are having our last fun with Cycle 24 right now – this “second peak”. I am guessing it will be like 2011 – where the second half of October – through almost the end of December, we had high band openings on 12 and 10M every day to just about every part of the world. It almost seems what we have now is even better. But I think it will peter out – a month before FT5ZM, but that it will still be twice as good as when FT5XO was active – which gives me moderate to good hope.
Here is what my OWA design looks like in EZNec:
Hmmmm. 4 elements on 20M with my KPA-500 amp – that might be what I need to ensure a Q with FT5ZM! (Oh – please don’t ask me why I don’t just buy a SteppIR. The answer is – “Because I like building antennas and futzing in my back yard – even more than I like DX-ing!” . . . )
I hope they run multiple stations on the most productive bands for ATNO’s. Usually its 20M . . . . but not always.
November 17, 2013
T33A wraps today, and I have one last DX-pedition that I will help as a pilot, but after a year of piloting for 4 DX-peditions, I will call it quits. Partly because I am just too busy with work, and the other – I feel like I have gotten my “fill”. Like making Honor Roll, I’ve met my goal – and more is not more any more.
I have written an article on how to use a blog to alleviate the lions share of the work and problems that arise when you use pilots and ust email for a DX-pedition.
I used this on TX5K and T33A, but the guys to watch will be VU7AG:
These guys will no doubt take the e-Pilot idea to its next level. I had to deline their offer to be lead pilot, and instead recommend Stan, KH6CG – who I will support and help as much as possible. I’m excited, but tired from T33A – I have to admit – the whining did get to me this time. The level of “instant gratification” has put me over the top as far as DX-peditions go. And you do see it in the pileups today. many are down right rude.
So – as always, I want to go out on a high note, and will. I will continue to act as an advisor to anyone who wants to maybe get to what I call a fully automated e-Pilot – where posters post on a blog, the DX-pedition team themselves write the blog posts – and people can get automatic RSS feeds to complete the loop.
Just like my 10 years of “Little Pistol DX-er Series” that I created – and presented at various clubs and conventions, I like to try new things, develop a few new ideas from the perspective of the small suburban DX stations point of view and then share my ideas by educating or elmering others.
I have made a lot of friends through this approach – its been very rewarding. The journey sure is the award – yes siree Bob.
November 9, 2013
I built a set of common mode chokes by winding 17 turns RG-58u on an FT-240-31 core. I already had Balun Designs current chokes at each antenna, and these I put at the input of the K9AY Loop controller box and the MFJ-959c box – meaning – at the first point where the antenna feedline hits the RX components in the line. I have now dropped the noise component down by 1 “S Unit” on the K3, but a more reliable measurement is showing the RX circuit and then the TX antenna – where it just has a 1:1 choke at its base. Here is the TX vertical:
And here is the RX circuit with the K9AY Loops as an aux – and N6RK loops as MAIN:
135 – 95 = -40 dBm in noise, and last week, the K9AY Loops were so bad, I couldn’t hear the DX – so I used the TX antenna. Now that I am using the N6RK loops as the main RX in the MFJ-1025, and the K9AY Loops as the “noise” or AUX antenna in the MFJ-1025 – and that there are common mode chokes on the RX antennas and antenna inputs – and a 1:1 choke on the TX vertical, I have my noise level flattened to the point that was my “ultimate dream”. Thanks to Wayne for recommending the MFJ-1025 – it really did an amazing job – and did the lions share of the noise reduction – but the common mode chokes also made a very noticeable improvement – and so I highly recommend them. I know I can get away with less “engineering” above 160M – but now I really feel good about my setup. Not sure I can do any better as a Top Bander on a small suburban lot.
Jim, K9YC has a great web site with fantastic presentations. He is an expert on common mode noise on transmission lines, and I followed his advise. Check out his web site:
November 7, 2013
Hats off to NCDXC Members Advice on 160M Receive Noise reduction:
- N6RK, Rick’s advice on a 160M coaxial loop – with improved feed
- K9YC, Jim’s advice on common mode chokes
- WB6RSE, Steve’s advice on all things 160M RX on a small lot
- N7NG, Wayne’s idea to use an MFJ-1025 to phase my K9AY Loops with my N6RK loops
I have had profound success. Here is the “before” picture of the noise – without these improvements:
And here is the “after” picture:
On the K3, the noise (with no station present on frequency) dropped from S9 to S2 – 3. Here is the circuit for my 160M RX antenna configuration:
The most significant thing about this circuit is the fact that both antennas can be rotated physically – the N6RK with a rotator – and with a very sharp nulling affect, and the K9AY Loops in the NE, SE, SW and NW directions, with a cardioid pattern. The MFJ-1025 then phases the two antennas using an internal noise generator – and voila! The noise is cancelled. Using the K9AY as a directional noise antenna lets me tune into noise sources which include:
- Neighbors plasma TV mounted on his wall about 15′ away from the NW direction of the K9AY Loops
- A PG&E “Smart Meter” that has a power supply source that generates terrible noise in the SE end of the K9AY Loops – also 15′ away
- A Cisco Cable Modem that generates that “knee” that you see in the “before” picture above – in the SW direction of the K9AY Loops – also 15′ away
Before you ask “why not just move the K9AY Loops away from the noise sources, the answer is – “no space” and I would then have to basically plant it over my radial field of 76 buried radials for my 63′ 160M transmitting antenna. As it is – I’m lucky the TX antenna doesn’t fry the K9AY Loops – but they as far as I can get them away.
I do NOT use my TX antenna with this box – just the two RX antennas. Now – the TX antenna has a very similar noise characteristic as the “before” picture above, so the new phased RX antennas did the trick. And it is really amazing to use the K9AY Loops to steer the noise – then phase that against the N6RK loops. One of the most dramatic improvements I have seen in ham radio “experimentation”.
I also put “Material 31″ based common mode chokes at each antenna, and will be adding the same at the shack end of my two coax for the RX antennas in the shack. I also replaced an Astron switching power supply that generated a terrible “howl” on 160M with a linear power supply, and so no more “howl”.
I will report if adding the common mode chokes at the shack end of the coax makes a noticeable difference – but wow – on 160M its all about reducing noise. It truly is like “night and day”, and now I understand why some locals would say the DX was S9 on 160M, but for me – barely audible above the noise. Cancel that noise and you too can brag about S9 “pounding in” signals on 160M!
November 7, 2013
Its amazing. I have been a pilot for several DX-peditions, and we have to come up with a new DXCC Honor Roll Award:
DXCC Whiner Roll
DXCC Whiner Roll #1
Forget about asking if this rare class of DX-er understands the effort that a team makes to activate a rare one – these guys (and they are only guys BTW) have a logic that goes like this:
1) Complain that an entity is never activated
2) Complain that there is no DX to work
3) As soon as that rare DX is activated, complain that they will never get through some wall
4) Complain that there is now TOO MUCH juicy DX activated
5) Complain that their G5RV 15 feet off the ground and 100 watts “is ignored” by the DX-pedition, or their mobile hamstick wasn’t heard
6) Complain that the DX-pedition has no good operators or doesn’t look for Peanut Whistles, Grunions and Gnomes
7) Complain that they can’t work the DX due to lids, cops, tuner uppers, barking dogs or guests over for Thanksgiving Dinner
8) Complain that the DX-pedition busted their call
9) Complain that the QSL manager doesn’t respond to the busted call
10) Complain that they aren’t in Clublog
11) Complain that the operation is a $$ collector
12) Complain that its an NA only operation
13) Complain that the operators don’t know propagation
14) Complain that they only got ONE ATNO and no band fills – like SSTV Moonbounce
15) Complain about leader board leader DX Hogs and Marathon Chasers
16) Complain about kids, lids, school bus riders, phoney phonetics, and space cadets
17) Complain that they don’t use eQSL
18) Complain that the DX-pedition won’t set the flag counter on QRZ.COM as soon as they get their busted call ATNO
Ok – we all complain – I do – but man – some of these guys just have an endless supply of gripes – and as a pilot, you see it all. Some are just never happy.
I take it as a good source of humor, and I can laugh at myself – and some of my past complaints too. This is only a hobby, right? Enjoy it.
October 30, 2013
By far, I think the nicest “looking” ARRL DXCC Award is the 5BDXCC award. It is a tile that is set inside a mahogany plaque. If looks were a judge alone – you would be under the impression that the 5BDXCC award is more important and prestigious than the DXCC Honor Roll Award (which has been touted as the “pinnacle of DXCC achievement”). The DXCC Honor Roll plaque is in reality pretty “plain Jane”, and the DXCC Challenge Plaque looks like something out of a bowling trophy shop or mausoleum along Route 46 or Route 10 in New Jersey. (Cymbal crash!) . . .
So, What Do I Think About Ham Radio Awards?
The only awards I have been interested in are the ARRL DXCC awards. this is because of the history and “lore” associated with the program. The CQ DX Field Award in many ways is the most logical award, and 5BWAC is probably more difficult than some of the ARRL awards, but for me – the ARRL DXCC awards capture my imagination more.
When I first started DX-ing in 2001, I thought these awards are some kind of contest – where you are competing against others. Part of this is the “leader board” listings, such as the ARRL DXCC “standings” web page and reports:
But the day I earned DXCC Honor Roll (January 1, 2013) I had an instant “epiphany”, that this really is not a contest at all, but a ranking of each individuals personal achievement. If it were a true contest – like running a marathon – there would have to be classes. A Little Pistol in a crummy QTH just simply cannot compete with someone remoting into a massive super duper contest station that is on top of a hill – or out in a salt water marsh. But relatively speaking, maybe that Little Pistol actually achieved more than the Big Gun (?). This we have to leave up to each reader to decide. One thing for sure – each station and operator has so many different variables, it would even be hard to classify many hams into categories. So – in the end, I feel these awards are really “operating achievement” awards, and not a competition. We really only compete with ourselves.
I regularly check calls on the list – just out of curiosity. I actually do have more respect for those farther up on the list.
The ARRL DXCC Awards
There are four major awards – 5BDXCC, DXCC Honor Roll, DXCC Honor Roll #1 and DXCC Challenge. Each of these have a plaque associated with them:
This blog post will only discuss the 5BDXCC award – if there is interest, I will blog about the other three in a subsequent blog post.
5BDXCC vs. 8BDXCC (and beyond . . . )
On the West Coast, it is very much possible to earn 8BDXCC in 3 or 4 years, and with a “little pistol” station. The 8 bands include:
80M, 40M, 30M, 20M, 17M, 15M, 12M an 10M (add in 160M if you are really brave, and 6M if you are flat out nuts) . . .
5BDXCC is the “entry level” award that earns you the nice tile plaque, but in reality, you should actually work on 8BDXCC all at once. (If you can figure out how to put up a decent 160/80M antenna, then you should try for 9BDXCC. Why? Because the WARC bands plus 160M can be worked in lock step with 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10M. This is because propagation usually lines up along two bands at a time. More on this later.
In some ways, 5BDXCC or 8 or 9BDXCC is actually a bigger feat of DX-ing skill than DXCC Honor Roll. From an antenna “prowess” and “operating conditions” skills aspect, it most definitely is. The reason I say this is because – for DXCC Honor Roll, you can put up a 4 or 5 element 20M mono bander and earn DXCC Honor Roll – easily in 10 years or less. Sit there with your king crown on and rotate your yagi when the locals or DX-peditions activate the one’s you need. Turn on the full gallon linear when you need it, and voila! CW or SSB – 20M makes everything easy (except there are pretty big pileups).
Try doing that on 80M, and you will find that what you know on 20M with that yagi doesn’t mean squat on 80M. And it gets even trickier later on 160M – but 160M requires a full blog all unto itself. But the major mitigating factor here is your antenna farm. Not many have the luxury of space to put up effective antennas from 160M – 10M (and 6M if you are a masochist and want 10BDXCC).
What Does “Easy” Mean?
At this point lets talk about what “easy” means on the West Coast. “Easy” is anything in OC-PAC, SA or the Caribbean. These three parts of the world are so close – or at least offer a water path to the point where you can easily snag 100 entities – on any band – but again – the higher the band, the easier it gets. Because they are close to the US West Coast – high antennas with low take off angles are not even required – so you can work these with a low dipole and even 100 watts.
These places are activated almost constantly during the Northern Hemisphere winter because they attract “snow birds” on vacation, they are easy fly in locations, the XYL is willing to go with you, and so on. They are always activated for the winter DX contests as well, and whenever this happens – look for many stations of the air from these places a week before and after each DX contest.
“Paired” DX Band Work
Usually, propagation is open on at least two bands, and the antenna requirements and time of day, year or place in a sunspot cycle all affect these bands. Here are some usual pairings:
160 and 80M – both require large antennas and are best during the Winter months
40 and 30M – both require fairly large antennas, but are open year round, but excel during the winter months as far as longer distance is concerned
20 and 17M – this is where typical “yagi territory” starts. 20M is by far the “money band”, but everyone and his kid brother seem to have power and a yagi on this band. Propagation stays open to more parts of the world on this band than any other – in terms of “useful hours” is concerned. 17M is a “sleeper”. Personally speaking – 17M is the “secret weapon” for smaller stations who are working really rare DX with lesser stations when the big guns are stomping all over each other on 20M.
17 and 15M – there is some overlap, but once we get to 15M, we start finding that when open, long distant DX-ing becomes even easier than 20M.
12 and 10M – the same thing that applies to 15M is even more so on 12 and 10M. Sometimes 12M opens and 10M doesn’t, but of you see 12M opening fairly early in the morning, then 10M will most surely open as well.
A Caveat on Antennas
The antenna is by far the most important thing in DX-ing and chasing any award. My method has been very “UN-coventional”. I have, on purpose, used the least antenna possible. Some call it the “minimalist approach”, but my reasoning for this is that I had always intended on giving presentations where the theme was “Even on a small lot (and with basic antennas you can build out of the ARRL Antenna books), you too can earn all of the DX-ing awards”. There was a component of “hey, this wire antenna is actually an antique of sorts”. Wire antennas, especially with home made open wire feeders have always held a kind of “antique-y” feel for me.
So, I’ve been on a mission using this “minimalist approach”. And I have proved that you can earn all of these awards with simple antennas in your own back yard.
Having said that – there are many better antennas than what I have used. Your mileage will vary!
6 Meters and DXCC
The truth is – the higher the band, the easier it is to earn DXCC – with the caveat that those bands are open. This is why 6M on the West Coast is so hard – nothing is “close” as far as 6M is concerned, and you need the special propagation openings that pretty much only happen for a few years at the very height of a good solar cycle. Cycle 23 was one such cycle – Cycle 24 has been a 6M bust on the West Coast. Even at the peak of a good cycle, there are only so many months during those peak sunspot times when there is enough “F” activity to work 100 entities on 6M. If you live on the East Coast or Europe, 6M DXCC is much, much easier. Lets pop down a band or two . . .
12 and 10 Meters and DXCC
With 10 and 12 meters, we get into “normal” HF, and it is very, very easy to earn DXCC on 10 and 12M with a dipole and 100 watts when those bands are open. Just make sure you know when these bands are open!
Take for example, 10M and 12M. On the West Coast – especially during the winter, look for morning openings on each higher band – and as the sun rises, you will hear 20, 17, 15, 12 and then 10M open up. Work DX towards DXCC on these bands as they open, but ping pong bck and forth on 10M and 12M when they finally open. Take whatever you can and keep chipping away at the stone. The best expression:
“Make Hay as the Sun Shines” applies here. 10M and 12M are rare to open in an 11+ year sunspot cycle, and they have ben extra rare to open in Cycle 23 at all. There was an 8 or 10 week opening on these bands during Oct – the first half of December in 2011, and that seems to be happening again in 2013. When you see the SSN > 150, SFI almost as high and the A at 3 or less and the K at 3 or less, then certainly, attack 12 and 10M like there is no tomorrow. Because propagation wise, the next time these bands open – it could be quite some time.
17 and 15M and DXCC
Just like 12 and 10M, 17 and 15M seem to open up in lock step with each other. This means that if say, the highest band that is open is 15M, then 17M is also most likely good. “Clean out” those bands of everything you need – just like you did 12 and 10M. 15M is open much more than 12 and 10M. and it is pretty easy to get a decent 15M antenna up pretty high. The “wingspan” of the driven element of a 15M yagi is only 22 feet, and a Moxon is only 20 feet. Also – the height above ground is easier to handle – 1/2 wavelength is 22 feet – which many can do even in a deed restricted neighborhood. Your 15, 12 and 10M yagi’s will look a lot better up higher – say 35′, and this is the height where a 20M yagi only starts to look “just OK” . . . . its important to put all of these things in perspective. If you go with a tri-band yagi, then you might need two antennas. One extremely good antenna – at least bang for the buck – for the “filler” WARC bands – 17 and 12M is the nested Moxon, which is essentially a shortened 2 element yagi:
I have used Moxons to great advantage on all of the higher bands.
20 and 17M and DXCC
20M really does require quite a bit of antenna and height to help you bust through massive pileups, since this is the band “where the big guns play”. 17M is your secret weapon – as I said earlier. You can fly under the radar on 17M as a Little Pistol while the lids and jammers and high powered nut jobs stomp all over each other on 20M. As much as I don’t like 20M for these reasons – 20M is the money band because it opens longer and offers world wide DX even at the bottom of the cycle. I respect and love 20M as much as I hate it. Its a necessary evil.
30 and 40M
Once you get to 30M, the antenna restrictions (size and “wing span”) get a bit too much for most towers and supports. It gets much more challenging on 40M and below. However, a 30M Moxon has the same wingspan as a 20M yagi – so the issue becomes how many towers can you put up – and what do you put on what tower. If I had my way, I would have a great triband yagi on one tower – the higher tower, and a 30/17M nested Moxon on the second. In fact, as a Little Pistol, I would really like to have a nested Moxon on 30/17M and another on 20/15M. WIth EZNec, I have modeled a 30/17M Moxon stacked above a 20/15M nested Moxon, and they could work – on just one tower. These antennas can be used as rotatable dipoles on 12M and 10M, and at those heights, rotatable dipoles look great.
If you can support the weight of a SteppIR, that is the way to go. The only issue there is that you better be ready to engineer and purchase a really tall and sturdy tower, a big rotator, and the winching system to raise and lower that MonstIR. It ain’t cheap, thats for sure.
40 and 30M look a lot alike. Both also require large antennas, so many start resorting to some kind of verticals. I have used phased vertical arrays using the Christman phasing method, and find these to have almost as much gain as a dipole up 70′, but where they have awesome front to back. If you have 70′ trees – by all means, put up 40 and 30M dipoles way up – and in the NE – SW and NW – SE directions and switch between the two. In fact, just two 40M dipoles up 70′ in those two directions is all you need – you can also use these on 30M with a tuner.
If you don’t have the height, I highly recommend phased vertical arrays – with plenty of buried radials. If you can’t do that – make sure you have a very good single vertical with 60 buried radials. The SteppIR BigIR Vertical is a great antenna option for the low-ish bands. A new vertical that you might consider if you want only one antenna from 80 – 10M is the new Cushcraft R9. But from my experience, with the R8 – that these are good antennas, but are a compromise. I found that they seem to be a couple dB down from a tuned quarter wavelength vertical on a single band. This is why the SteppIR vertical would be a better choice.
160 and 80M
I personally think that earning DXCC on 40 – 10M is actually very easy – and that you just need to be paying attention to propagation (and not be at work when these bands open), and you can work DXCC on each band with 100 watts and even low dipoles. From the West Coast – all of OC-PAC and the Caribbean are “easy” and you can get to 100 entities in one DX season or year. I certainly did.
Now 160M and 80M are different beasts. There are many factors:
1) The antennas need to be large to be efficient and effective
2) More power definitely helps
3) You will need a receiving antenna as well as the transmitting antenna
4) Noise is a major issue
5) You will need to develop much better “ESP Hearing” – many of the QSO’s will be sooooooo weak and in the noise that you will only hear “images” of someone sending CW. BTW – CW is much easier than SSB on these bands
6) Summer static crashes almost ruin summertime DX-ing on these bands, but don’t believe that there is NO DX on these bands in the summer. They are, however, substantially better from September – May, and especially good from October – April.
80M took 2 DX seasons (2 years), and I used a home brewed 36′ short hatted vertical dipole with huge center coils and “hats” that were something like 50′ long and made out of wire. I also used a set of K9AY loops on receive – and don’t think I would have made DXCC on 80M if I didn’t have the K9AY loops. Furthermore – I was only running 200 watts – but I really think you need 500 watts or more for 80, and definitely for 160M.
160M – it has taken me 3 years just to get to 50 entities, but in some ways I feel I saved the best band for last. It makes me look forward to winter to play on 160M! I use a top loaded 63′ vertical with 76 buried radials on 160 and 80M – with a base matching network (home brewed). See QRZ.COM for pictures.
One of the biggest problems with 80 – but more so 160M is that many “casual” dx-peditions do not bring low band antennas for 80 and especially 160M.
What Antennas Have I Used to Earn 8BDXCC?
I have used Moxon’s mostly on 20-10M, but for a very short while has a Cushcraft MA-5B and a Force-12 C3SS. I should have kept the C3SS . . .
I have used a 2 element SteppIR for a short time on 20 – 10M
Except for a 40M dipole up 70′ for two months – before the squirrels ate the support rope – and then the neighbor cutting down the support tree – I have never had any antenna up higher than 55′.
I have used verticals (buried radials and vertical dipoles) and low horizontal dipoles on 160 – 30M.
I used a 36′ home brewed vertical dipole and 200 watts with the center loaded coils and ladder line feed down to an SGC-238 200 watts remote antenna tuner, and made DXCC on 40 and 30M in one month each – the months of December and January – when besides OC-PAC being easy, the morning grey line from the West Coast to EU would be open. I also worked very rare DX on those bands easily with that simple no gain antenna – Kerguelin and Europa islands.
If I Could Only Have One Antenna for 40 – 10M?
It would be a Force-12 Sigma 40 with ladder line feed going to a remote 500 watt antenna tuner. I would use my Elecraft KPA-500 linear amp and K-Line and would easily work DXCC on 40 – 10M. I would then take the Sigma 40 and change the center coils so it is resonant on 80M. All of this can be done on a deed restricted lot – the Sigma 40 is easy to hide (its 24′ high) and does not require radials.
Why I Hate Inverted Vee Dipoles
I think Inverted Vee dipoles stink. Compared to a dipole up even 40′, inverted vees look like junk. They are not good compared to a horizontal antenna, and they don’t even radiate all that well in the vertical plane. A decent vertical is a much better choice. The takeoff angles are better, and the patterns are better. Phased verticals absolutely crush a “lazy mans” inverted vee.
Having said that – I do know many who have earned 80, 40 and 30M DXCC with such a poor excuse of an antenna.
“Proximity Affect” and DXCC
Some have asked why I don’t use an inverted L on 160M. The answer is what Tom, N6BT calls “proximity affect” and where he explains this phenomenon in his “Array of Light” book, and in a great Pacificon Antenna Forum Presentation called “Maps and Aliens”. Basically, an Inverted L on 160M and or 80M means the horizontal wire would have to be routed right under my nested Moxon – and there would be serious interaction issues if I did this. So – for 160M – I have a Cushcraft MA-160V vertical on top of a 30′ Rohn telescoping mast – so its a 63′ vertical. It has 76 buried radials. Its a great antenna on 80M (quarter wave), and decent on 160M – because its top loaded. But this is no wimps antenna – I had to build a matching network at the base so I can use it with 500 watts on 160 and 80M.
QSL-ing and 5BDXCC
Today, LOTW is “da bomb”. Personally, I only care for paper cards for DXCC Honor Roll “ATNO’s” (all time new one’s), and I place these coveted cards in an acid free photo postcard binder – sold at (better) photographic stores.
I am going to write my next article on QSL-ing because there is more to it than what I care to fit in this article.
October 27, 2013
SSN=171, SFI=168 A=3 K=1
The threat of flares disrupting the contest didn’t pan out – and I could hear any and every part of the world almost 24 x 7 on some band. Signals were so strong – that the first few days you really had to be a big gun to play. There seemed to be more big guns than I have ever seen or heard in a contest. I’m not a contester, but just listening was a lot of fun. And the biggest surprise? Five minutes after the contest – on the frequency where 7O2A was – I decided to call him – just on a lark. Fell out of my chair when he came back to me – in the clear and an S9. Without all of the others - and in the clear – I do very well, actually. That’s a big caveat of course!
Still a little pistol – but I will guarantee you this – making HR with my “modest” station has a much bigger ROI than those who spent more on their antenna than I did my entire station!