2016 Oceania SSB DX Contest

Over the weekend, the 2016 Oceania DX Contest was held. This was my first contest for the season, having missed this years RD Contest due to other commitments.

This year was definitely hard going compared to last year, with band propagation conditions truly terrible throughout the contest and then suffering the static crashes from a lightning storm occurring on the SA/NSW/VIC border later on Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t being particularly serious about the event this year, and therefore much of the time was spent in “search and pounce” mode making the initial contacts and then after the initial flurry, going off to do something else and returning to the radio every half hour or so to spin the dial and listen for any new signals.

And new signals were very few and far between, with only 9 contacts logged in the last 12 hours of the contest, with most bands only answering with the sound of the noise floor up until the last 3 hours of the contest on Sunday.

In the end I managed 42 contacts over the 24 hours of the contest, with the band split below:

Band QSOs
1.8 2
3.5 14
7 16
14 10

In comparison, this is around half the contacts from my 2015 contest effort. Notably last year there was much more activity on 20m (39 contacts) than this year, and 15m saw some contacts where this year there was none.

During the contest, I think my highlights would have been working 2 stations on 160m – it’s very rare for me to work anything at all on “top band”, along with being able to exchange contacts with stations I knew such as IK4GRO and VK5PAS (Hi Paul!).

Well the next big contest is CQWW SSB, which will be “The Big One”. Looking forward to it.

2015 CQWW SSB DX Contest

The CQWW DX Competition would have to be the biggest radio contest of the year for the casual contester such as myself. It is also important reminder that you need to be under no illusion of the capabilities of your equipment, otherwise you may quickly find yourself very frustrated.

This is my first crack at CQWW since 2011, and I have entered with the goals of beating my 2011 score of 2160 and working some new countries. 0000 UTC is 1100 AEDT so I allowed myself to sleep in, get up and get ready. I was on the mic and ready to go as the clock ticked over to start time.

So you can imagine my early frustration when I couldn’t make a contact. I could hear the stations just fine, but they could not hear me. It actually made me question whether my station had suffered a critical failure while I was sleeping and was not transmitting at full power. Truth of the matter was that my station is quite meagre compared to many of the other stations on air and 100 watts into a dipole that is barely above ground level, along with an ordinary geographical location means that I simply do not have the power to punch through closed bands, I need to wait for them to open.

So I went outside to do some gardening.

The 20m band finally opened for me around 0500 UTC and from then on it was search and pouncing for the next 3-4 hours, occasionally listening on 15m. As usual, it seems the bulk of my contacts come from CQ Zone 15, though I was pleased to work USA later in the evening on 40m. Definitely the highlight of the evening was working VP2MDG in Montserrat late in the evening on 20m. The band should have been closed at that hour, but he was booming in!

Sunday followed much the same pattern as Saturday, except the 15m band was not really open for me this time around. by 0700 UTC I had become tantalisingly close to a 10,000 point score, with less than 500 point required. To my frustration, the 20m band started to close up at the same time, and those last 488 points took 1 hour to make with 2 QSOs.

At 0834 UTC  on 25/10 I finished up my competition operations with a total claimed score of 10,602.

This contest does indeed seem to be the most difficult of the contests, when in theory it should be one of the most straight forward. You become very much aware of the capabilities of your station, and when the bands are open for you. You learn to have some level of patience, and you learn to come up with different phonetics to make your callsign heard:

  • Victor Kilo Seven Bravo Echo November
  • Victor Kilo Seven Bravo Egypt Norway
  • Victor Kilo Seven Bravo Easy Nancy

It was very much a battle of the linear amplifiers for many people, and I was amused to hear many of the splatter in some cases over 5-6KHz across the band, which is not something you are meant to do.

Some lessons were learnt this year, and I think next year I may take my station mobile to gain some crucial elevation. I think by next year a significant amount of servicing will be completed to my feed lines and antennas to ensure they are working at an optimum level.

Definitely what I thought was going to be a simple contest was anything but.

     Band QSOs Pts ZN Cty
       7   5   9   2   2
      14   56  156 18 36
      21   2   6   2   2
Total      63  171 22  40
Score: 10,602

Everything Old….

The last time I was active on air was a brief period in 2011. During this time, I just wasn’t that interested in radio and it took a back seat to other projects and interests.

Fast forward to July 2015. My lovely partner has gone overseas for a few weeks and I decided to spend a couple of evenings at my local radio club which holds amateur TV nights most Wednesday evenings. This wasn’t new to me. What was new however was a couple of work colleagues deciding to come up with me and the discovery that the stuff I couldn’t do before I now could, especially having bought a contemporary new transceiver.

So now I find myself not knowing which way to go first with many of these “old” things (and not so old) that are all new to me again:

  • VK3YT’s endeavours with High Altitude Balloons I find just amazing, and can easily see this becoming science projects in high schools or colleges, promoting amateur radio, electronics and further research.
  • JT65 Weak Signal Modes being used for high altitude balloons, HF communications, EME, Meteor Scatter and a whole range of other types of communications that are just not suitable for voice communications
  • Traditional Modes such as BPSK, RTTY and STTV, and more exotic modes like THROB, Feld Hell and Contestia. Previously I did not have the hardware available to do this at home. Now I do. Enough said there really.
  • Packet Radio. AX.25. One of the many projects I am currently running with. I have acquired an old TNC, and it’s just a matter of interfacing it with the radio.
  • Speaking of interfacing, I need to make a suitable new interface for my Icom IC-706MkIIG that includes PTT and audio in.
  • Amateur Satellite communications. It doesn’t seem as hard as it sounds remarkably, and I think that would be great fun.
  • FreeDV – The new digital voice mode on the block. it’s achieving some amazing things like FM quality audio with weak signals, and is definitely a QSO mode I want to try.

This, along with station maintenance and improvements is definitely going to keep me busy in the foreseeable future. I’ll touch more on the station maintenance in a later post.