My Most Recent QSO's

Saturday, January 10, 2015

ZS2DL in South Africa is my 108th DXCC Station

My focus for the last couple of months has been the NAQCC monthly challenge and this month  the "challenge" is to work stations whose call letters spell out "Happy New Year"-  in seven different languages. I've decided to use as many DX stations as possible to complete this months game. 

Using 5 watts of power is interesting when working those long distance stations. Along with a bit of luck, it takes a special skill to get a station to hear you at more than 5,000 miles,  This contact was one I will remember for a long time. Straight line distance to this station in Port Elizabeth, South Africa is 8,465 miles.

I usually watch a DX cluster and "filter" a specific band when I'm "hunting". This evening it was the 30 meter band which is limited to "Morse Code" and transmit power of 200 watts. Being a QRP operator, this band is radio paradise.

More than anything else, I happened to "be at the right place at the right time".  As I tuned around the band, I heard a distinct Z letter, and strong too. I was expecting a L to follow but the following letters didn't sound right. (most of the time these guys are sending around 25 wpm)  After hearing a station work him here on the east coast, I correctly copied the remaining last letters and realized the second letter was a S.

I figured all was lost when I saw the "first" post on the DX cluster, (this is usually the nail in the coffin when a rare station appears to a QRP operator) - and sure to follow, a half dozen stations immediately called him. He was transmitting simplex but the second station to work him tuned "down" instead of "up". As the third station called, all others followed the traditional "up" 1 procedure.

I remained "down" 1 and worked him easily with about 3 watts.

I finished my "challenge" for January today (the 10th) with an impressive amount of DX stations in the log book. Completing the challenge for this month was an amusing game. The solution called for 84 letters from the combination of 20 different letters. (ABDEGHIJKMNOPRSTUVWY)

I used DX stations for 58 letters and I've logged three new DXCC countries this month.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My 2014 Summary of the Year

In summary of last year, I've reached a point in my life where my enjoyment of QRP radio is something I want to share with all my friends and family. Ham radio, IMHO, is the greatest hobby in the world. I sincerely wish more people would enter the hobby and meet the fine folks we all know, blog with, and talk to on the air everyday. There's something for everyone in this hobby.

Spare time is at a premium this year but I still love every radio minute. I've been a ham nearly 25 years now and still find the same enthusiasm for the hobby as I did the day I made my first contact. The older I get, the more important I find keeping the mind sharp is essential for a happy life. I can't think of a better "senior" exercise than Morse Code to keep the old brain functioning.

I wasn't on the air as much in 2014, as the year before, but I still managed to work an average of at least one station a day; my total contacts for the year of 2014 was actually 413 QSOs, and I enjoyed every one of them. My log book now has 2,847 entries with 505 NAQCC members and a total of 816 DX contacts. I actually worked a couple of new DXCC countries on Christmas eve this year which brought my total to 107. I'm amazed every day that I work DX with QRP power and an indoor random wire antenna. Last year I put my QRP rig behind an enormous beam antenna, but found working DX like shooting fish in a bucket. Where's the challenge?

I challenge all those who work those long distance stations with a KW and a massive antenna to experience the exhilaration of doing the same thing with 5 watts and a piece of random wire. Twice this year, with stations in Japan and Slovenia, I've had DX stations "stop" a "pile up" after seeing my "cluster post" with "QRP" in the remarks section. (I never send QRP at the end of my call sign when working a long distance DX station). When a sending station takes that extra minute to acknowledged me with a return call (they're actually calling me) a few moments afterwards, the congratulatory "well done" brings me the greatest sense of accomplishment in all of radio land.

I've had more responsibilities with the family this year. My dad is now 94 years old and still living independently and still driving his car. One of my grand kids is learning to drive now, and the others are involved in sports. My youngest grand son will begin school soon. Four cats and a small dog also keep me busy. The dog rules....

I took the position of VP and Treasurer of the NAQCC  club this year. I'm the leader of the West Virginia Chapter and try to schedule an outing each month. We have a breakfast meeting each month. I do a weekly QRS net and write a monthly article about the WV activities for the club newsletter . I also do a monthly mass e-mailing highlighting the "monthly challenge ".

I knew I would not be on the air as often this year when I took on the responsibilities of the Vice Presidency of the club. It was a conscious decision and I have no regrets. I hope to use the position as a way to to share my hobby with more and more people through the NAQCC club. Some of the ways I've learned to maximize my diminished "air time" is by using a laptop or my tablet when I'm traveling out of town. The learning experience has actually been a good thing.

When I'm traveling and can't take the QRP rig with me, I use a CW program on the laptop and send dots and dashes to hams all over the world. I enjoy using "software defined receivers " on the web to keep track of activity on the bands. There's also a variety of ham radio programs on the web which I enjoy when using the laptop. All these options fit well with my basic philosophy of portability and QRP radio.

The winter months are a bit too cold for much outdoor activity now, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself, you can be sure I'll be doing more camping. I had forgotten the joy of watching the stars from the woods and chatting with friends on the 40 meter band. Despite my age, I've learned how to tolerate the hard surface of the ground while camping. It's a small price to pay considering the sights and sounds of nature all around me. Yes...even bears, bobcats and coyotes.

Staying connected to the earth is a wholesome and worthy activity. Simplicity and QRP radio fit my basic philosophy of keeping everything "as simple as possible". I'm looking forward to the year 2015.

Even though I may not be on the "air" as often this year, I still find this hobby the best in the world. My advice to everyone about ham radio, in the forthcoming year, would be the phrase coined by W2LJ -- "do more with less".  Doing so, you will find, is a great pleasure. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Club Puzzle Brings Some New DXCC Countries

How many times have you asked yourself if you've worked about "everything" you can get out of five watts and a simple wire antenna? I know I did when I received my DXCC award a few months ago. I had resigned myself to that illusion and decided, from here on out, to just enjoy long QSO's with old, and new friends. I was, and still am, happy with that decision. My current logbook is full of those call signs with a little * beside them.

I'm still in that mode, but as I began a new game originated and produced by the NAQCC Club two months ago, I found myself, again, scanning the DX clusters to complete what Gary Meyan (K1YAN) of Plymouth Massachusetts calls "The Monthly Challenge" .  


The object of the game is to complete a series of "words" which revolve around a common monthly theme. The theme changes every month. To complete the game (or challenge)  you use the letters of the station call signs you've worked while you're on the air.

Here's how it works: Tutorial Explanation

I know, with my station at least, DX competition is really tough when forced to operate QRP with an indoor antenna. In my case, that means a 50' piece of Radio Shack speaker wire which is routed around the perimeter of an upstairs bedroom.

These two new stations make my 107th DX contact.

Getting back to the "challenge"....I was looking for the last few letters in the game when I decided to bring up the DX clusters and "see" what was out there. My worksheet only needed a few more letters for completion.

In November, the theme worked around the names of food on the Thanksgiving Day table. In December, the theme was "Marconi" (the father of radio). If you've never tried this game, you have no idea what you're missing. It will encourage you to "get on the air" and even chase a little DX at times. I'm still enjoying long QSO's on the air, but it's also a good excuse to chase DX.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mystery Solved from Paraguay

It was nice to see this card in the electronic mail box this evening! I had mistaken the call for CP6CW and the mystery is now solved. While sitting at a picnic table at the Hurricane Wave Pool Park on November 11th, I distinctly hear the wrong call.  (it happens from time to time)

We've worked several times before but this was my first contact with them on 10 meters. Morse Code is such an amazing thing isn't it? You catch the band open for a few minutes and bounce a signal 4,677 miles into South America. I'm happy to see this confirmation card (ZP6CW) from Paraguay.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

NAQCC Chapter Event From Hurricane WV

I've little doubt that when my fellow NAQCC club member Jim Stephens (NX8Z) and I (N8ZYA) decided to set up and operate from Hurricane WV on November 11, 2014, we might have caught the last day of warm sunshine in West Virginia; it was a good decision. Today, as I type this blog entry, it's 18 degrees Fahrenheit (7.7 Celsius ) in the Kanawha Valley. That temperature is a bit on the chilly side.

Our West Virginia Chapter of the club operated from this nice park last year. This year, we both set up around the same shelter with the same antennas. Jim uses a Buddipole and I used my end fed Par cut for 40-20- and 10 meters. We both used Icom 703's and we both were dressed appropriately for the warm sunshine with temperatures in the mid 70's. (23.8 Celsius)

Living in the Kanawha Valley, even in Hurricane season, seldom brings the harsh weather that runs along the eastern coast. Those bad storms simply take the appropriate interstate exit and we're left in the clear.

Don't believe it?.....let me just say "look at the photos". We're both wearing short sleeve shirts and Jim was looking like a Florida resident sitting in the shade and wearing shorts under an umbrella.

All kidding aside, we had a beautiful day at this park and worked seventeen stations while sitting in the warm sun. I can't imagine a more perfect day at a more perfect park.

We plan to use the Hurricane Wave Pool Park in the future for more of our radio outings.

I had planned on using a new 31' fiberglass pole for an antenna mount on this trip but didn't want to take the chance of driving a steel stake in the ground to support the pole. There's lots of "night lighting" in this area. I decided to err on the side of safety and use the existing trees. Perhaps on the next trip, I can shift shelters and use this one.

Before leaving the site we worked stations from Canada to Florida and I even managed to hear and work a couple of DX stations in Spain and Guernsey Island. Oscar (EA1DR) sent me his confirmation card from Spain.

The stations we worked were W8NNC in Ohio, W8GDP in Charleston WV (a member of our core WV Chapter group), VE3ED in Canada, WM3X in North Carolina, W2JEK in New Jersey, N4LTS in Florida, WA4WHV in North Carolina, KA0ENU in Tennessee, WA8ULB in West Virginia, K8SX in West Virginia (member of the WV Chapter group), EA1DR in Spain, W4DUK in Virginia, WB3T in Pennsylvania, WA8REI in Michigan, and W2LJ/P in New Jersey!

It was a real pleasure to work Larry (W2LJ/P ) as my last contact. Larry (W2LJ) is the Assistant Publicity Manager for the North American QRP CW Club and was operating "portable" from Warren New Jersey.

I also worked a station which I distinctly heard as GP6CW . I couldn't find it on the data base. The only GP6 call I can find is GP6UW (my mistake)

There were several Special Event Stations commemorating Veterans Day on the air. I did something I rarely do and made a SSB contact with WW2COS in Georgia. This radio club is among a group that is slowly restoring a B-17G bomber.

Here's what it's like to be in the sky in one of these airplanes: 

We've had snow in the mountains since operating at this park and look for an accumulation this coming week even here in the valley. It's sure cold enough now. The weather up North has been shockingly cold with temps well below freezing. My guess is it's going to be a brutal winter. This means "good times" for being on the radio. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Keeping it Simple

As with the spirit of QRP and doing "more with less"; I decided to take W2LJ's advice and downsize my radio camping gear. The process started soon after the return trip from Elkins WV and the 4,000 ft mountain top. My 15 year old tent was showing a lot of wear and tear. I was afraid a really cold rain might leave me very uncomfortable and possibly even in danger of hypothermia during the upcoming winter months. We both decided to downsize and use simple tarpaulins and bivy sacks for our dwellings.

Our fellow NAQCC club member Steve Ashcraft (KC4URI) and I decided to return to Grantsville WV once again before the snow started to fly. After all, this site is one, if not the best, places in the state to view the Milky Way from horizon to horizon.

We both arrived at about the same time and soon realized our former campsite, on the top of a 360 degree hill, would be too cold with temperatures predicted to drop near freezing. There was stiff cold wind blowing from the West  too. We were forced to pitch our tarps and bivy sacks on the side of a small hill to protect us from the cold wind.

That's Steve in the background checking the wind direction to maximize our warmth as the temperatures continued to drop towards the 30's.

I'm glad to write we stayed quite comfortable with this gear. Modern day fabrics and insulation kept us warm as toast as we arose the next morning to a light frost (only because of the wind). If you look closely, the ice covered much more than just the windshields of the cars. There was a coating of ice from the roof to the tires.

This month is the anniversary of the West Virginia Chapter of the NAQCC Club. It's been a very busy time with two different camping trips in October. As usual, Steve's Elecraft K-1 did a fantastic job with the contacts on the this trip. Of the 15  contacts we made on this trip, 13 were NAQCC club members.

The highlight of the trip was having a long talk with a bow hunter in Wisconsin. Ken (WA9JTU) was at his cabin at the time. It had a nice metal roof which he loaded up for the antenna. Many of the QSO's were about deer, which we saw very little of because of howling coyotes and barking farm dogs in the countryside. A good dog is the best burglar alarm money can buy in the country. It was especially rewarding to work two members of our "core group" who were back in Charleston. Both AC8LJ and W8GDP had 599 signals.

As usual, Steve fixed a great breakfast before breaking camp the next morning. Biscuits and gravy really hit the spot on this cold morning.

The West Virginia Chapter is having our slow CW net on 40 meters again during the winter months. If you're just kicking around and trying to stay warm, tune to 7.117 MHz at 9:00 PM (local time) and we'll chat about the weather and radio. The net will be repeated each Wednesday night until the temperatures start to rise again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bears and Other Woodland Radio Creatures

In addition to our monthly breakfast meetings with the local NAQCC WV Chapter group, Steve (KC4URI) and myself (N8ZYA) continue our radio camping trips to isolated places in West Virginia. On the first day of October, we both made a three hour drive (from different directions) and met at the Bear Heaven Campground near Elkins WV. We set up camp near the Bickle Knob Fire Tower which is just above an elevation of 4,000 feet on an isolated ridge high in the Monongahela National Forest.

We used Steve's Elecraft K-1 CW radio for our time at this campsite. Despite a shady location, Steve's solar panel worked well to keep the marine battery charged. I was able to place the dipole antenna at least 40 feet in the trees; it could barely be seen from the campsite.

It took little time to work NAQCC Club Member KB8FE on 30 meters. Keith lives near Lake Erie in Ohio. I don't know if he was using this key but I find it very unusual. He calls it his "letter opener key". I like resourcefulness and creativity. This key certainty fits the bill.

Soon afterwards I worked K2XN in Rock Hill, South Carolina on 40 meters. I then worked WA8KOQ in Tennessee and it was time to put the finishing touches on the campsite and think of dinner. Steve worked KC4NN in Weaverville, North Carolina as the sky started to darken and the temperature began to drop at this 4,000 foot elevation campsite.

I'm amazed at Steve's cooking skills. We had great food on the last radio camping trip and this trip was no exception. As he arranged the menu items on the picnic table, he made a great cup of "campfire coffee". Boiling water with freshly ground coffee beans thrown directly into the kettle, simmered for exactly four minutes, and strained with a "french press" is something not expected in the wilderness. I'm a coffee addict and this process makes a GREAT cup of coffee.

A few minutes later, I was amazed to see Steve creating a dinner of "biscuits and stew". He did this by mixing the properly measured (top secret) ingredients of "Steves Biscuit Mix" directly in the large zip lock bag. The stew was added easily in the same process and it turned out perfectly.

This little item is the key to everything. It works like this: 1. Place mixed (top secret) ingredients in plastic bag. 2. Carefully place zip lock bag on the circular inner ring, 3. Add water to just below the inner ring. 4. Place lid on large container 5. When the steam starts to rattle the lid, continue for 10-12 minutes. This thing makes great cobblers and pies too!

I haven't seen one of these used since my youthful days of working with the Boy Scouts.

As the skies continued to darken and the temperature continued to drop, I noticed this creature sitting in the distance. Steve called it the "Cookie Monster Big Foot". While at this campsite (appropriately called "bear heaven" for good reasons) I never expected to see this unusual sight. I heard it utter the phrase "peaches are good".

This creature must have kept all "bears" at a safe distance because we never saw any of the those "big black fury puppy dogs" on this trip. Don't get me wrong; bears should be taken seriously, but it's rare to have problems with them in the back country. Our philosophy was "leave them alone, and they will leave us alone". It's worked every time for me, and both of us have seen plenty of black bears over the years. They're normally docile creatures that forage on roots and berries.

As darkness fell, I started a nice fire with my favorite "wood stove". This little contraption creates a roaring fire with only small twigs and sticks. It can burn anything from wood, charcoal briquettes, or alcohol, and does it quite well. I really like it because it eliminates the need for liquid fuel. The "Firebox Stove" is a quality stove designed uniquely for simplicity and portability.

I next worked N2ANL in Newburgh New York. When traveling back and forth to NYC, I've often landed there, at an old Air Force base, rented a car, and drove into the big city. Garry was QRP, by the way, at around 450 miles distance.

As the sounds of the night forest became more prominent, and chipmunks scurried through the leaves, we both expected frosty conditions that night. But the temperature never dropped below freezing. The sky was cloudless and the moon shown brightly through the tall trees. I left a small candle lantern on the table which burnt most of the night.

The next morning, I was able to work a NAQCC QRPp station (K3PXC) in Manchester Pennsylvania running less than a watt into a G5RV antenna. Both Steve and I had nice conversations about camping near the fire tower with him.

I feel more comfortable about outdoor radio camping all the time now. Believe it or not, I'm seriously considering downsizing my tent. The next camping trip might be with nothing but a bivy sack and a tarp. The modern fabrics and insulation materials of today make camping with the barest of necessities very comfortable. I'm looking forward to the next trip!