Friday, December 10, 2010

November Sweepstakes 2010 Recap

Well, the ARRL November Sweepstakes has come and gone for 2010. This year was the best ever for me, and I put 2,279 contacts for a total score of 360,678 (claimed score before log checking) in the logs for my club, the NCCC. A few thoughts about the two weekends.

CW (Nov. 6-8)

I operated a split-site effort for the first weekend, opening the contest from my home station for about 10 hours. Murphy struck in the form of a flaky disk on my primary logging laptop, and my backup laptop turned out to be very RF-sensitive. I lost the first 90 minutes of the contest to those problems, which threw me off my plan a bit. I was also a bit "off" because I was using my second rig, a Yaesu FT-857D, as I was going to use my K3 for my second half of the split-site, and SS rules only allow a transmitter to be used with one callsign/station combo. When I finally pulled the plug, I'd made 383 contacts and had 77 sections, missing MB, NL, and NT. I was pretty tired, so I tried to nap for a few hours, but just couldn't seem to get to sleep. Finally, I gave up and headed over to my second station at around 4 or 5 am.

For the second half of the contest, I operated from Kevin, AD6Z's excellent station up in the Santa Cruz mountains. Kevin is at about 1700 ft elevation with nice downslopes toward the continental US, and has an impressive antenna farm:

80m: full-size dipole
40m: 2 different 2 element monoband yagis
20m: 5 el monoband yagi
15m: 5/5 monoband yagi stack
10m: 5 el monoband yagi

Kevin also provided an Ameritron AL-1200 1500w amplifier. Everything was very plug and play with my K3, and I had a great time up there, using the callsign NW6H. I operated right up until the end of the contest and had 832 contacts and 79 sections. One highlight of the contest was working my pal Tim, KT8K, operating QRP.

Phone (Nov. 20-22)

After the CW weekend, Kevin, AD6Z emailed me and asked if I'd be interested in trying to do a dual effort from his QTH, where we have two simultaneous operators on the air. He's been dabbling with SO2R over the last year or so, and had all the needed bandpass filters, in addition to having enough antennas to make it all work. I jumped at the chance, remembering how loud I'd felt over the CW weekend. I also knew that this approach had been used by some other NCCC members in the past, and they'd said how much fun it was.

Kevin "stuck" me with the smaller of his two amplifiers, an AL-80b, but it was still plenty fun. There were some sketchy moments when a storm came fairly close to the QTH and the power blipped off a couple of times, but we were very lucky and the storm missed us for the most part. Other NCCC members were not so fortunate, as that storm either caused them to lose power for hours, or messed with their plans to operate from their mountain QTHs in the Sierra Nevada. Everyone made it home safely, though.

This was my first phone contest running with high power and good antennas since operating W8UM in the early 1980s, so I was a little apprehensive about being able to keep up with the logging tasks and operating the footswitch (we decided to not use VOX since we were only a few feet from each other). That turned out to be a non-issue - I'd spent the week before SS Phone listening to the audio of George, K5TR, operating in the 2004 SS, and my strategy was "sound like George." After a couple of rubbing-head-and-patting-stomach moments, I got into the groove and was having a ball.

I finished the contest with 1064 contacts and a clean sweep. There's plenty of room for improvement, obviously, but I'm very happy with how I did, and my point total for the two weekends is the 11th best among the NCCC membership. Kevin is already plotting station enhancements for next year. And by the way, Kevin's station, which was operated by Donald, AE6RF and myself for CW, and Kevin and myself for Phone, was responsible for 2,942 QSOs over the two weekends.

What Worked Well

Split Site Operation was a ton of fun. Showing up on Sunday morning with a call that no one has worked yet makes Sunday a lot more fun than using a single call.

N6BV Propagation Charts. Having these printed out with my operating plans on them helped keep me on task, and also encouraged me to try out 10 meters during the Phone weekend.
Five Element Monobanders. I have come to the earth-shattering conclusion that these work better than dipoles.

Amplifiers. They not only make you loud, they keep the shack warm.

The Elecraft K3. Allows you to get very cozy with other stations, or deal with other stations getting cozy with you.

And my secret weapon:

Opportunities For Improvement

Have a backup of everything. Things will break. I speak from experience.

Make sure your backup equipment actually works! Although I had another laptop with N1MM installed, configured, and had all my voice messages on it, I'd never used it running high power into my temporary wire beam. There was enough RF in the shack to make the backup laptop spaz out.

Don't wait to do your last-minute check until (literally) the last minute before the contest. I discovered that all the function key definitions I'd set up a few days before SS Phone mysteriously disappeared, and I had to frantically re-do them all while the contest was starting. Fortunately, the voice message WAV files were all still there, so I only missed a couple of minutes.

Pay Attention while checking things out beforehand. I'd noticed a few weird freeze-ups in N1MM while testing things a week before SS CW, and I now realize I was seeing the first symptoms of a disk failure (not N1MM's fault at all). As I write this in December, the disk has completely failed, and is getting swapped out under warranty. If I'd paid more attention, I probably would have used a different laptop.

CQ more. After looking over my rate sheets, I see that running can be "bursty" - a few minutes of 80/hour, then a minute or two with no contacts, then a mini pile-up of two or three stations. I think I tend to abandon a run frequency prematurely because I think it's dried up, when it's just sleeping for a bit.

Make better use of dead time. I have gotten good enough at operating that I'm feeling a bit antsy while the rig is calling CQ, or there are no callers. I used slow times to pounce around the bandmap and work stations I hadn't worked yet, then Alt-Q back to my CQ frequency. I think I might be ready to try SO2R. Maybe I'll play around with SO2V using my K3's subreceiver in the next minor contest?

Get better at finding a good run frequency. Especially on 20 meters, it was hard to know if I'd picked a good or bad run frequency. Sometimes I could tell that I'd chosen a frequency near a loud station that was in my skip zone because I could hear the other side of his QSOs (I call this "QSO backscatter"). Other times, though, my rate was miserable and I wasn't sure why.

Historical Sweepstakes Scores

Here are the scores from every SS I've entered (my old calls were WB8YVI and KC8ES). What's nice is that this year I beat the score of every multi I've ever done.

1979CW105,3767127423BW8UMK8LF, KB8EQ, WB8YVI
1979Phone144,4409767424BW8UMK8LF, KB8EQ, WB8YVI, AG9V
1980CW110,0167647224BW8UMAG9V, WB8YVI
1980Phone83,7766166818BW8UMAG9V, K8KA, KA8DXR, WB8YVI, WD8DFS
1981CW64,7404986524AW8UMHP1EI, KA8DXR, KC8ES, KM8I*, N8DB, WD8DPA, WD8JFC, WD8OKN
1981Phone65,3764547224BW8UMKA8OCF, KC8ES, KC8LX, N6BGM, WD8DPA
1982Phone103,2487177724BW8UMKA8???, KC8ES, KC8LX, KM8I, KT8K, WD8DPA, WD8DFS
2008Phone25,64416656?U (low)KM6IKM6I
2009CW99,8406248022U (low)KM6IKM6I
2009Phone22,800200579U (low)KM6IKM6I
2010CW190,438121577, 7924.5U (high)KM6I, NW6HKM6I
2010Phone170,24010648023.5U (high)KM6IKM6I

* No, that's not a typo. KM8I is Al Plant, now N5UM. It's just a total coincidence I got the vanity call KM6I recently.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

SS Phone Plans

For November Sweepstakes Phone this weekend, I will be up at Kevin, AD6Z's place again, signing KM6I. But this time, he and I will be doing a dual station effort, with two transmitters on the air at the same time. Since Kevin's station is mostly SO2R-ready, with bandpass filters and decent antenna routing, it should work out great. This has worked well in the past at other stations, most notably when N6DE and W6RK operated at the K6IDX station for CW SS.

I'll "only" have an AL-80b amp (1000 watts) - Kevin gets the big AL-1200 (1500 watts). But I'll be able to use all that aluminum!


Minimum: 785 QSOs (to make KB-2000 award).
Stretch: 1285 QSOs (to make KB-2500 award).
Crazy: 209,562 points (to make a combined CW/Phone score of 400,000 points)

Approximate rates required (assuming 24 hours op time)

Minimum: 32/hour
Stretch: 53/hour
Crazy: 55/hour

My crazy goal corresponds to about 1327 QSOs and 79 sections). That's pretty unlikely, but what the heck.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How much does the station matter?

Here are some comparisons of my efforts from home and from AD6Z (all SO1R).

Home: FT-857D + Ten Tec Hercules amplifier at 500W, G5RV inverted vee at 60 feet, 2 element wire yagi at 35 feet and fixed @70 degrees. Sea level.

At AD6Z: Elecraft K3 + Ameritron AL-1200 amplifier at 1500W, 80m dipole, 2 el 40m Yagi, 5 el 20m Yagi, 15m 5/5 el Yagi stack, 10m 5 el Yagi. At about 1700' elevation, decent downslope to US.

Major differences:
  • Triple the power (+4-5 dB)
  • Way better antennas (+9-15 dB)
  • Better terrain (just guessing +5 dB)
So here's what you can expect from an improvement of 18-25 dB)

@Home @AD6Z (callsign NW6H)
Time: 10:18 14:13
QSOs: 383 832
Sections: 77 79
Average Rate: 37/hr 58/hr (+57%)
Best 60 min: 52/hr 83/hr (+60%)
Best 10 min: 96/hr 108/hr (+13%)
Longest run: 50 QSOs 151 QSOs
Run/SP count*: 120/263 577/255
Run/SP ratio*: 0.46 2.27
Score: 58,982 131,456
*only counts runs of more than 10 QSOs. Runs less than 10 counts as S and P since that's all that N1MM will show.

There were 258 callsigns that I worked at both stations, meaning there were 125 stations I worked only at KM6I, and 574 that I worked only at AD6Z.

Another interesting thing to look at is the signal levels at the various Reverse Beacon Network CW Skimmers out there. Here's how my home signal compared with AD6Z's signal on 20m and 40m at the K4TD Skimmer site (at the time, Donald, AE6RF was operating AD6Z's station using the callsign K6WC). Click to zoom in on the charts.

While there's a lot of noise in this data (did I really put a 54 dB signal into the Skimmer? I doubt it), it's roughly consistent with my estimates for the signal differences between the stations.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

ARRL November CW Sweepstakes Results

I'll do a longer writeup later, but here are my SS CW results. I did a split-site effort, operating the first part from my home QTH, then driving up to Kevin, AD6Z's place in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Combined results:

24.5 hours, 1215 QSOs, 156 sections, 190,438 total points for the club.

Year Hours Power QSOs Sec Points
2008 ? Low 86 41 7,052
2009 22 Low 624 80 99,840
2010 24.5 High 383 + 832 = 1215 77/79 190,438


ARRL Sweepstakes Contest, CW

Call: KM6I
Operator(s): KM6I
Station: KM6I

Class: SO Unlimited HP
QTH: Mountain View, CA
Operating Time (hrs): 10:13

Band QSOs
80: 132
40: 146
20: 104
15: 1
Total: 383 Sections = 77 Total Score = 58,982

ARRL Sweepstakes Contest, CW

Call: NW6H
Operator(s): KM6I
Station: AD6Z

Class: SO Unlimited HP
QTH: Los Gatos, CA
Operating Time (hrs): 14:13

Band QSOs
80: 57
40: 248
20: 307
15: 220
Total: 832 Sections = 79 Total Score = 131,456

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ok, that was spooky...

I was using Morse Runner tonight as a warm-up for the ARRL November Sweepstakes, when, out of the blue, I'm "called" by the fellow who gave me my novice exam 36 years ago - Jim, WA8RCN. I think VE3NEA (Morse Runner's author) must have added mind-reading capability to his code.

CW Sweepstakes Plans Set

I've got a second station lined up to operate for the CW weekend of the ARRL November Sweepstakes. Here's the general plan:

Saturday: lead off from home, signing KM6I. Equipment:
  • FT-857D + Hercules amp @ 500w
  • 80/40m: G5RV @ 60ft
  • 20/15/10m: 2 el wire yagi @ 40ft
(I need to use my old FT-857D so I can haul my K3 up to the second operating location - SS rules only allow a transmitter to be used with one callsign.)

After 12 hours or so of operating from home, I'll get a quick nap, then drive up to AD6Z's place, where I'll be signing NW6H. Equipment:
  • K3 + AL-1200 amp
  • 80m: high folded dipole
  • 40m: XM240 2-el Yagi
  • 20m: 5 el Yagi
  • 15m: 5/5 stack
  • 10m: 5 el Yagi
This is far and away the best station I've ever operated, so I'm really stoked to do well. On top of having all this great aluminum and copper in the air, the station is up at about 1700 feet in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Thanks to Kevin, the owner, for the chance to operate!

Monday, September 27, 2010

KM6I/40 on air

From now (Sep 27, 2010) until the end of the year, I'll be signing as KM6I/40 as part of the Northern California Contest Club's 40th anniversary event (an award is available!). For more information about the event, see To get the award, you need to contact 40 NCCC members.

Note that we won't be using these special callsigns during contests, but the contacts you make with NCCC stations still count toward the award even if they aren't using the /40 suffix. You can determine if any of the contacts you made with during contests are with NCCC members by looking at the list of NCCC member callsigns at

I'm betting that if you operate either weekend of November Sweepstakes this year, you'll qualify for the award.


- Gordon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Preparations for November Sweepstakes

I've gotten spousal approval to go for two full-effort weekends in the November Sweepstakes, including a full 30-hour CW split station effort at AD6Z's excellent QTH. So, to get my home station ready to go, here's my list of tasks:

  • Repair my triband wire beam - replace broken spreader arm. [DONE]
  • Upgrade K3 firmware and N1MM well ahead of time (get them installed by the CQP in early October). [DONE]
  • Secure the coax feedline attachment to the G5RV - the strain relief appears to have worked loose, so all the downward pull from the coax is on the PL259. I just know it'll pop loose in the middle of SS. [DONE - feedline replaced, too]
  • Give the station a good shakedown in CQP - aim for at least 10 hours of operating. [DONE - some new problems discovered]
  • Spend some time tweaking my transmit microphone EQ settings. [DONE]
  • Get WAV files recorded for phone SS.
  • Get my netbook set up to do logging tasks. [DONE]
  • Make a list of things I want to take with me to a guest station (e.g. K3, headphones, netbook, keyer, etc.) so I don't have any unpleasant surprises upon arriving. [DONE]
  • Clean up the shack. [DONE]
  • Hang some blinds in the shack - that afternoon sun is blinding. [DONE]
  • Fix RFI problem that kills DSL when running high power (otherwise I won't be able to supply spots) [DONE - switched to Comcast for internet access]
  • Get FT-857D working with N1MM on Netbook. [DONE]
  • Fix virus infection on desktop (Grrrr!!)
  • See about maybe adding a simple longwire receive antenna to use with diversity reception on the K3. [NOT DOING]
  • Run an RFI check with amplifier running at 500w on 80-10 meters.
  • See if the ANC4 noise cancellation unit does any good.
  • Write down antenna tuner settings for all bands and put cheat sheet on tuner.
  • Raise the triband wire beam on Friday and test. [DONE]
  • Get hooked up to VE7CC cluster and get spot filtering working. [DONE - needed to change the SH/DX macro to SH/MYDX/30]
  • Find a packet cluster that includes RBN spots.
  • Make a function-key cheat sheet that can sit on the keyboard. [DONE]
  • Get N1MM set up with two separate log databases, one for each callsign, including FN keys. [DONE]
  • Make "go kit" list so I can roll out to AD6Z's place in a hurry. [DONE]
  • Make a rate sheet from last year's CW logs. [DONE]
  • Come up with an operating plan. [DONE]
  • Get N6BV propagation PDF on laptop. [DONE - actually printed it out]
  • Put "SS" back in at end of CQ. [DONE]
  • Update Prefill and SCP files. [DONE]
  • Get set up to record contest audio.
  • Add "R" to S and P exchange [DONE]
  • Be Faster on S and P!!!!!
  • Do the Sunspot Dance

Monday, August 2, 2010

Anyone know what this LP array is?

This last weekend I took my kids to Sacramento on the Capitol Corridor Amtrak. On the way, just south of the Fremont train station, and visible from the right side of the train is a big HF log-periodic array. It's got about 17 elements, and is about 70 feet in the air. I got a photo:

Near as I can figure with Google maps, the street address is on Centralmont Pl. in Fremont:

Anyone know what this thing is used for?
View Larger Map

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer 20m Evenings...

One of these days I'm going to learn why 20 meters is so great in the evening. Tonight I worked Greece, Serbia, Australia, and Bulgaria on 20m CW around 10:30pm local time. There was a big pileup on A71BU (Qatar) but he was just barely above the noise here, so I didn't wade in.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I heard something on the 5 MHz WWV frequency tonight:

I hear things like "bullseye", "track", and a lot of digits. It almost sounds like some military communications. But right on top of WWV?

Friday, April 30, 2010


Tonight I found 20m open, and worked Vlad, RA3EG on CW. I was pleasantly surprised, upon looking up his callsign on QRZ, to learn that he's 16 years old! Maybe ham radio isn't just a bunch of old guys after all.

P.S. After I worked him, another Russian ham started calling CQ almost dead-beat with Vlad (obviously, was in the skip zone and couldn't hear him). I sent "QRL" after the CQ, and got a "SRI" back. Considerate ops are still on the air.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Tonight I worked Steve Culp (K8QKY), an old W8UM friend operating as JD1BNQ from Ogasawara:

40 meter CW, 100 watts to my inverted vee at 60 feet. Thanks, Steve!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

South Africa, 40m

I've been hearing ZS stations on 40m in (my) mid-evenings, and tonight, I finally worked ZS1JX. I could swear I've worked South Africa before, but I don't see it in the logbook, so maybe this was a new one!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I put in a limited effort in the ARRL DX CW Contest this weekend. I was planning on making it a "get to know 40m better" effort both Fri and Sat nights, but a flu bug made me go QRT after Fri night. I did manage to stick my groggy head in the shack on Sunday morning and catch a nice opening into Europe on 20m. 40m on Friday night was really great. I even worked a couple of EUs there, which was a nice surprise.

Final tally:

Call: KM6I
Operator(s): KM6I
Station: KM6I

Class: SOAB HP
QTH: Mountain View, CA
Operating Time (hrs): 3.5

Band QSOs Mults
40: 57 30
20: 16 11
15: 4 4
Total: 77 45 Total Score = 10,395

Rig: K3 + Hercules @ 400w on 40m, Inv vee @ 60 ft.

I'm now up to about 122 countries worked. Also, this puts me at an even 100 countries worked from California, which is pretty satisfying. Those evenings tuning around 40m for dxpeditions are paying off.