Not too much excitement during the September VHF test this year. Conditions on pretty much every band/mode I have up seemed average to poor. Maybe some of these comments will help someone.
Meteors were pretty poor after about 1300Z Sunday, although, a few hours earlier, they seemed to start well. I was able to call CQ on 50.260, running split-mode and work a slow, steady stream of callers for about 45 minutes. 2M rocks didn't produce well, but I didn't really go at them aggressively or get too pushy on PingJockey, since I was mostly 'playing contester' instead of contesting.
Being September, there were no sporadic E openings on 6 that I noticed and even the be-all-end-all miracle mode of FT8 didn't produce any long-haul stuff. Funny - I can recall working several stations in the 900-1100 miles range on ionoscatter using SSB or CW almost every contest. One would think FT8 would be even better at that but there was seldom 'anybody home' on 50.313. Hard to figure out what's really going on in the minds of the majority of FT8 mode users. Also, meteor pings just play holy havoc with FT8 decodes - not as miracle as some make it out to be, 'eh ?. My 6M go-to mode of choice for years in these conditions was always CW (you remember that mode, right ?) I don't think that would get you too far now, unfortunately.
2M tropospheric conditions (if you can call them that in this part of the world) were average. The rovers with decent antennas who got far enough east of the front-range foothills were easily workable. Those that stayed close to I-25 ? Not so easy. I was able to work into DM89 and DN81 with good signals - both rover and fixed station. The DM/DN-70's were not so easy. Sunday mornings 2M "tropo" conditions were above average, with WE7L in over S9. Unfortunately, there was hardly anybody else around. Thanks to K0UK, who got on as promised, for the DM59 mult on 6 & 2, another hard to get one.
Rover station KK6MC once again showed how it's done. I was able to work Duffy with relative ease on 2M from 5 of his 7 New Mexico grid stops and even a few on 6. These Qs were 250-300 miles across a 14,000' mountain range 50 miles south of my QTH. All but one QSO was on CW (you remember that mode, right ?) Some 2M attempts were met with very bad QSB, but just sticking with it for a few minutes and waiting out the fade cycle, usually brought the signal back up to Q5 from in the noise. This is a good point to remember if you're new to VHF or attempting a higher frequency band like 432 for the first time. Stick with it - deep cyclic QSB is normal and what goes into the noise usually comes right back out again, although on 432, the cycle MAY take a few minutes (or longer). This is not a western phenomenon - back in W9-land, it was very common for a long-haul attempt (400+ miles) on 432 to take 15-20 minutes and ultimately end up with Q5 signals both ways. Whether the time spent is worth it or not in a contest situation is up to you, although the rules now allow even single op's to transmit on multiple bands at the same time. That's something to think about when planning station architecture.
A new local showed up on 2M from about 3 miles south of me and proceeded to call CQ a bunch on 144.200, sometimes on top of the few front-range guys who were workable. I worked him, thanked him for being on from my home grid, which is usually impossible to work and then we had a frank discussion on the why's and when's of 2M from the west slope. Somebody gave him a 2M all-mode radio and antenna, then a few days before the contest, he caught one of those 'big' mornings into the front-range and worked WE7L at over S9 - then, he worked a guy up on Grand Mesa with a big signal (line-of-sight, of course). So, armed with that 'knowledge', he was all ready to tear up the state on 2M SSB ! Hopefully, in the future, he will be more 'ear' then 'mouth', seeing he's down in the bottom of a canyon with 25W and a short beam fixed east. Not much, but enough to be 40-over in MY receiver. I guess I'm spoiled from having the valley pretty much to myself for the last 7-8 years :)
I worked George, AB0YM/R several times, including answering his FT8 CQ from DM89 on 6M for a new mult. I again caution those who sign 'slash-R' with FT8. What you think the program is sending might not be what actually goes over the air - I'll leave it at that as it will probably get fixed with the release of WSJT-X Ver 2. George, if you read this, be advised you were S9 at the start of the contest on 2M, calling CQ in my face for 5 minutes when I was calling you. I'm running considerably more power then you in your rover. All I can figure is you were in motion and must have had a very high noise floor, either from the urban crud or from your own vehicle. It Was VERY Frustrating :)
The biggest news is that the trash covering the entire 6M band, emanating from a local FM broadcast station, has been cleared up after a lot of tough work. Many thanks to the responsible parties !
Keith J Morehouse
Calmesa Partners G.P.
Keith - Thanks for the kind words.toggle quoted messageShow quoted text
Although I made 7 stops, I only visited 6 different grids, so we only missed in one,. I visited DM64 at its extreme ends diagonally, DM64xx near Moriarty, and DM64bw in the Malpais National Monument. That turned out to be a good strategy as I worked several AZ stations easily from the west end of the grid that there was no way to work from the east end. I may do more of that in the future. There was lot of activity in AZ and the trip through the three western NM grids paid off.
I was really surprised to hear you come back to my SSB CQ on 2M in DM74. That was a nice QSO and one that I will remember for a long time.
I echo your comments on troposcatter QSB. The amplitude of the QSB is pretty well defined at about 15dB peak to trough. The time period varies a lot, with time constants from fractions of seconds to minutes and even hours. So the rule of thumb is that if you hear someone and it is not a ping, chances are their signal will increase and you can work them if you put in the time, are patient and follow some kind of routine like taking turns transmitting on the first and second 30 seconds of a minute. As you know, we have worked a lot of QSOs this way, some in excess of 300 miles if I recall correctly. I have a modest set up in the rover; 100W to a 8ft Yagi up about 11 feet.
W0AMT/r was also out in NM and gave out a lot of QSOs. Although QRP he had a good signal when I worked him and gave out a lot of grids. He also hiked to the top of Mt Sedgwick and had a commanding signal from there. Things have changed since I first started roving in NM and was the only NM rover for several years.
My first rove stop ever was DM55 near Prewitt in 2007. I think WB2FKO was the first QSO I made as a rover. So, it is always nice to work Mike from DM55. It reminds me of my origins. For many years my rover was the only VHF contest station in DM55. W7QQ/has since activated it, and now N5SJ is active with a well equipped 2M station. N5SJ and I were joined by W0AMT/r this contest for three active stations in DM55. Who would have thought?
There were lots of AZ stations on, and I know that they were worked by many in NM up to Santa Fe or maybe beyond? For many years I have been trying to work AZ from western NM to no avail, but I think it was always an activity issue on the AZ end as I worked lots of AZ stations from the western NM grids this year, as did N5SJ. I also heard the AZ stations working W7QQ, N5SJ, and others.
I rate the September contest this year high. Part of that was my laid back rove plans and allowing enough time on Sunday to try long haul QSOs to AZ.
It is always nice to hear people’s contest experiences. It helps all of us be better.
Not sure if either of these groups allow attachments, but as have attached a picture of the rover in DM55 with Mount Taylor in the background.
James Duffey KK6MC
Cedar Crest NM
On Sep 10, 2018, at 15:58, Keith Morehouse <w9rm@...> wrote:
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Nice write up Keith. You're getting things churned up in western CO. All good work.
I tracked Duffey and worked pretty much 50 through 1296 at every grid.
I worked several in AZ:
WA7XX, N7IR, K7KMR, N1RWY, K1IEB, KA7CVJ, N7DPX and N7GP/r (formerly WA8ZWG) on 2 meters
N1RWY N7GP/r on 222
N7GP/r on 432 (50ish watts here)
Also got the three guys in El Paso on 144 and 222: K5PHF, WA5FBM and K5LA and Floyd K5LA on 432 as well.
We tried hard to put 1296 in the log but were unsuccessful. They copied me 559 but I could not complete a copy for a contact..... always missing some tiny bit: one grid square character (even though I know damn well what it is) or a rr. I spent a lot of time on 1296 working long period QSB and didn't get much for my new 600 watts except Duffey in grids where we had worked before on 1296 with 10 watts. Need a preamp of more antenna on that band. I spent a lot of time with the AZ guys on 1296 as well with no results. Mostly hearing nothing except CW rock pings. When I started on 1296 I couldn't hear a damn thing then took a look and found I had put 28 dB of transmit attenuation on the receive side as well. It was much better once I "redesigned" the station but not good enough. Tough band for long Qs with moderate conditions.
Several guys were on the air locally that have not worked a contest in years. Newby W0AMT/r (QRP) did a nice job hitting high el op spots on foot with an FT-817 and a Ukranian 222 transverter. 50-432. I'll turn him on to SG Labs for 902, 1296 and 2304; great for hikers.
Thx for DM58 Keith.
73 Bill W7QQ
On Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 3:59 PM Keith Morehouse <w9rm@...> wrote:
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I really need to try harder to work the guys in AZ. I know it's a haul, but I don't think it's that much farther from here then it is from W7QQ, although Bill's path (at least close in) is considerably better. I was surprised during our June multi-op from W7QQ that AZ was so....workable.
I recall several years ago, working WA7JTM from his portable location near the Grand Canyon on 2M Sunday morning of the June contest. He was VERY loud and very surprised to hear some W9 from DM58. But, PHX and the bulk of AZ's VHF op's are a lot farther away.
Speaking of WA7JTM, readers may be interested in looking at his QRZ.COM biography. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated opinion within the long-time VHF community. We're losing guys and a lot of the guys we're losing are traditional BIG signals who are 'band beacons' and 'go-to' guys for all the small stations. I had commented privately to several, earlier today, about the decline of VHF/UHF op's along the front-range and some of the reasons behind the decline. I had wondered if it was due to the loss of big-time station W0EEA, who was always a beacon on any band, 6M to 47 GHz, who could work anyone within 200 miles, no matter how small the station. I really believe this is true, and the loss of more and more of these guys, for whatever reason, is really going to hurt.
Keith J Morehouse
Calmesa Partners G.P.
On Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 4:50 PM, James Duffey <JamesDuffey@...> wrote:
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Keith, You're one of those beacon stations so eat your vitamins!
On Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 5:26 PM Keith Morehouse <w9rm@...> wrote:
It was an interesting September VHF contest here. Although
participation is nothing like the summer contests, there was
plenty to keep me busy trying to manufacture points. For better
or worse, activity has indeed migrated towards digital. It was
amazing to see short-lived 6m Es throughout the contest, as
stations from almost every direction would pop in on FT8 long
enough to decode and then disappear into the noise -- too short
for FT8 and too weak for ssb or cw. I benefited greatly from the
WSJT-X automatic uploads to pskreporter, which provides a
real-time reverse beacon, propagation, and activity map. I did
manage to snag W5PR in EL29 on FT8, but he was my only Es QSO. I
was surprised to see that W9RM did not make any Es contacts, as
his callsign appeared prolifically in the FT8 spots, especially
from midwest stations. East of the Mississippi seemed to be lit
up with FT8 spots for most of the contest, but spots don't
necessarily mean a QSO took place.
There were about 5-6 stations at direct meteor scatter distance
from me that were likely doing unattended monitoring of 50.260 and
uploading spots. To test conditions, I would fire off some CQs in
their direction and watch the spots pop up about a minute later.
I can confidently claim that 6m meteors were there all weekend.
Many ops still seem riveted to FT8, despite the obvious pings they
must see coming in that are far too short to decode. A QSO might
only be a mouse-click away on MSK144. I made two dozen meteor
scatter QSOs on 6m MSK144. Also got one logged on 2m towards the
end of the contest, when there wasn't much of anything else going
on. The points incentive on 2m does not warrant spending the
better part of 30 minutes chasing a multiplier for a single-op.
There are well understood physical principles in play that make
meteor scatter much harder on 2m than 6. Under-appreciated and
underutilized is 6m meteor backscatter. This is a great way to
work those miserable grids that are too far for tropo and too
close for direct meteor scatter. I heard many Colorado, Arizona,
and New Mexico stations on backscatter and even worked some of
I worked Arizona stations AI1K and N1RWY direct on 2m FT8. The latter took two tries. The first attempt he decoded me easily yet I saw not a trace. We tried again a few hours later and he was loud enough to work ssb. He has a 5000 ft mountain directly in front of him, so maybe there's some weird diffraction effect happening.
W0AMT/R covered the 90-mile path from DM55 to DM65 on 446.0 FM.
That one is going into the NMVHF DX database. Think I got Duffey
from every grid except one. Sorry I missed the El Paso guys;
wanted to thank K5LA for elmering me on the superflex feedline
On the digital controversy... I think there are valid arguments on both sides. WSJT was not designed to replace analog radio but to complement it. I use it to great advantage for weak signal VHF and want to mention a few things that seem to get overlooked. First, it's not plug-and-play radio like packet or D-star, for example. Considerable skill and experience is required to use it to maximum effect. Second, it allows QSOs to happen on otherwise dead bands, pretty much the situation we encounter every September on 6m. Third, this software represents an extraordinary advancement of technology. The cost to develop something like this commercially would be many millions of dollars, yet ham radio gets it for free. I feel thoroughly honored and privileged to have the opportunity. Finally, I find that making a difficult digital QSO is every bit as exciting and compelling as the traditional modes. Try it yourself or at least get a demo before dismissing it.
73 Mike WB2FKO
On 09/10/2018 03:58 PM, Keith Morehouse wrote:
Since I went into the contest as a part-timer with the intent of working as many "locals" as I could and helping out those guys running meteor scatter, I had a lot of not-in-chair time. Most of that time, I parked the radio on 50.313, just to use FT8 and PSK Reporter as a 'reverse beacon'. As Mike, FKO mentioned, there was a good number of random meteor bursts throughout the whole contest, including a lot of rather dense pings most all day Sunday. So, a lot of the things I decoded (and subsequently auto-spotted to PSK Reporter, which passes them throughout the spotting 'system') were the results of meteor scatter bursts just long enough to allow WSJT-X to actually figure out who was there. I think a stable signal needs to be present for a little more then 5 seconds to get a FT8 decode. This is why a weak ionoscatter signal which keeps getting interrupted by a strong meteor burst won't decode using FT8 but might be readable on CW or even SSB and would be a quick QSO using WSJT-X's MSK144 mode.
Even with this apparently good meteor activity, I still had numerous failures on MSK144 runs between 1400 & 1600Z Sunday. On some occasions, my run partner would have a page of decodes from me, with nothing on my end over 10 minutes and then, on the next run, my new partner would decode absolutely nothing in 10 minutes, while I had a page of decodes - go figure. This was with stations that I've worked many times before using this mode. The regulars call it "one-way rocks" and it's something that I've seen for many years. I'm sure the actual reason is complicated :)
Another comment on the digital debate. As Mike said, all the WSJT modes are simply part of the toolbox. Smart contest op's (and weak-signal op's) know when to select different tools for the job. However, this particular change (the introduction of FT8) is being very disruptive to the amateur community as a whole, not just us VHF/UHF op's. Entire sub-bands are emptying, their op's moving from traditional modes and frequencies to channelized digital modes. All of a sudden, many op's have "nobody to work", and this is where the problem lies.
Some small percentage of op's just won't accept any change, others are thrown outside their comfort zones and what happens with them depends on their ability to adapt. Many others move en masse to the 'next new thing' without giving it much thought, kind of like life in general in the early 21st Century.
Others, like me, look at this change from a technical perspective and try to preach some sanity, such as, don't stay on a 40 QSO per hour mode when the band opens during a contest, move to a 200 QSO per hour mode like SSB. I have no complaint about FT8, outside of it being used improperly and the wisdom of compressing many KHz of spectrum users onto one frequency.
WA7JTM seems to have followed the path of either the first or second group I described. Is he right ? Is there a 'right' and a 'wrong' ? Who knows - but he will be missed if he follows through. I can name another half dozen 'big signals' around the country who have much the same opinion as him regarding WSJT-X modes. These guys run the 'beacon stations" - the "go-to" stations - the guys Who Would Be Missed if they stopped contesting. MOST of them fall into my group, those who don't understand why people put up with 40/hour rates and massive single-channel QRM on FT8 during a band opening.
What do we, us dedicated VHF contest and weak signal guys, do about this ? Do we petition to disallow digital modes during contests ? Do we ask for a dedicated digital contest ? Do we walk away ? Do we do nothing ? Or, do we teach by example, using the proper tools at the proper time (like we've always done), telling people why and how we do what we do and hope we can build momentum and a cadre of tool-using, thinking VHF multi-mode op's ?
Keith J Morehouse
Calmesa Partners G.P.
I'd like to offer some comments on the Sept VHF contest from the perspective of a decidedly non-big-signal operator who typically has limited time and interest for contests. Although my interest factor was unusually high on this one, it was largely compensated by the time factor.
The high point of my contest, hands down, was working W0AMT/R in DM55 on both 6 and 2 SSB, QRP-to-QRP. There's something really inspiring about someone carrying all his gear on his back, going somewhere high and remote, and sounding like he's in your back yard.
My longest haul was K2AK, DM41, in southern AZ, on 6 m FT8.
My strangest contact was with WS5N, DM54, on 6 m MSK144, following a failed attempt at a meteor scatter contact with someone else. Perhaps this is not unusual for tropo scatter, but his signal had wild swings in strength, making me wonder if perhaps aircraft scatter was involved.
Not too surprisingly, there were several strong candidates for biggest disappointment. Topping the list was somehow never hearing KK6MC/R significantly above the noise, in any of the grids he visited.
Regarding the question of 6 m band openings, I'll mention that I “saw” a couple of FT8 stations (K6EU, WA6ZTY) in CM97 and CM98 with weak but persistent signals rising to a decodable level over a period of several minutes Sunday AM. These signals did not have the characteristics I normally associate with meteor scatter – they were relatively constant over 15-second periods, for multiple periods.
And of course, I'd like to weigh in on the FT8 issue. Keith, no offense, I have no doubt you are a beacon station, but I'm not sure I've ever heard you on the air. I have heard you here, however, and really value your insights and advice. As much as anything, I think this is the kind of thing that will help stem the losses to our community.
So why does it seem that everyone is fleeing the traditional modes to FT8? Presumably, they are not all idiots. I like to start with the understanding that basically everything we are doing in ham radio is really kinda nuts. Once you acknowledge that it makes no sense to try to bounce signals off meteor trails or the moon when you could just pick up the phone instead, it's really not that hard to see that a lot of people like FT8 or the next mode to come along simply because they like it, not because it helps improve their contest score or is in any sense the best tool for some job. And that is just fine. To preserve weak-signal and traditional modes, it makes sense to do exactly what I see is already happening in NMVHF. Recruit, talk about why THIS stuff is fun, show your enthusiasm, help those who need it, and avoid the mode shaming.