My first 50-MHz QSOs with Japan from new Colorado QTH

I made contact with 19 Japanese stations yesterday afternoon (June 14, 2013) on the 50-MHz (6 meter) band between 2314 and 2356 UTC.  This was my first “JA opening” on 50-MHz in a LONG time; my last Japanese QSOs on 50-MHz were back in the ’90s when we lived in Tiffany, Colorado (grid square DM67), a bit south of our new home in Glade Park, Colorado (grid square DM59pa). During the years we lived in Vermont the furthest west I ever reached on 50-MHz was Guam, a bit short of Japan.

If I’m anywhere near my radio (and sometimes when I’m not – thank you, smartphone) I point a Web browser at the “ON4KST 50 MHz IARU Region 2″ chat page to read late breaking 50-MHz DX related news, spots, rumors and general chatter especially during during times of the year when 50 MHz propagation is known to be possible:

  • Around the spring and autumn equinoxes for Trans-Equatorial Propagation (TEP)
  • May through the first half of August for the northern hemisphere summer Sporadic-E (Es) season
  • A few weeks either side of New Year’s Day for the northern hemisphere winter Es season sometimes with propagation links to the southern hemisphere
  • And – if we had more sunspots than Cycle 24 has seen fit thus far to bequeath – the northern hemisphere autumn and winter for F2 propagation

(Of course 50-MHz can open at any time of day and year and much of what happens on “The Magic Band” is poorly understood.  But the periods above are the ‘prime time for six.’)

It all began yesterday afternoon at 2200 UTC (which was 4 pm Colorado time) when Han JE1BMJ, a noted 50-MHz enthusiast and propagation theorist, was reported on 50,090.5 kHz by Jay K0GU on the ‘KST chat which grabbed my attention.  Jay lives in Wellington, Colorado (grid square DN70mq) about 230 miles east of me and is a dedicated, experienced 50-MHz DXer.  Jay hears a lot of stations before any one else in the Rocky Mountain region and his ‘KST posts are always worth noting.  I turned my new 50-MHz antenna (thanks to K7JA for assistance in building and installing this last month and of course G0KSC for the design) towards Japan – 312 degrees azimuth – and started listening.  At 2226 UTC I started hearing Han’s CW (Morse Code) signal slowly fade and out.

Green Heron RT-20D controlling a Spid RAK rotator
Green Heron RT-20D controlling a Spid RAK rotator

When I first attempted to make contact with Han but he was unable to hear my complete callsign and was responding to me as “AA7X” (leaving off the final T, I am AA7XT).  I eventually stopped calling JE1BMJ – I didn’t want to ‘hog the DX’ as Han and other Japanese stations were being heard over much of the US.  For a two-way contact to be considered legitimate in ham radio circles each party must copy correctly the other parties callsign and preferably some other information such as a signal report.

DXMaps.com caught the action!
DXMaps.com caught the action!

At 2314 I noticed Han’s signal had gotten louder so I called him again and made a solid contact straight away.  Success!  I was amazed my ‘barefoot’ (no amplifier, only 80 Watts output) Elecraft K3 transceiver and InnovAntennas 8 element LFA Yagi (an awesome antenna but it was on a tower parked at only 3 meters [10 feet ]above ground due to recent high winds) were making the 9,000 kilometer journey!  At ten feet up towards Japan my antenna was looking into a hillside!  I listened to Han work other stations for a few few minutes and savored the moment.

InnovAntennas 8 element 50-MHz LFA Yagi
InnovAntennas 8 element 50-MHz LFA Yagi

Here’s a short YouTube video I made of JE1BMJ’s signal yesterday:

I would have likely made many more contacts if had started calling CQ earlier!  For a long time I was only hearing JE1BMJ so I didn’t bother calling CQ until around a full hour after opening started.  I had an ‘instant pileup’ after first my CQ call; clearly I should have started CQing much earlier – Doh!  I proceeded to work 18 more Japanese stations before the path closed:

UTC kHz MODE CALL KM GRID RST_RCVD RST_SENT
2356 50,093.0 CW JA0DET 9079.748 PM97jk 559 559
2355 50,093.0 CW JA7LGE 9355.597 PM85io 559 529
2350 50,093.0 CW JA0MVW 9011.677 PM97ox 559 559
2349 50,093.0 CW JA7DDK 8920.079 QM08dg 599 549
2348 50,093.0 CW JH1RFR 9063.668 PM96wr 559 559
2346 50,093.0 CW JN1JFC 9355.597 PM85io 559 549
2345 50,093.0 CW JQ1TIV 9355.597 PM85io 559 559
2344 50,093.0 CW JA1UAV 9133.899 PM96ta 559 559
2343 50,093.0 CW JR2UKF 9351.394 PM85km 559 559
2342 50,093.0 CW JF2WXS 9355.597 PM85io 559 559
2341 50,093.0 CW JA7KE 8843.041 QM08pk 559 569
2340 50,093.0 CW JH1MDJ 9355.597 PM85io 579 559
2339 50,093.0 CW JA0RUG 9066.984 PM97jo 599 599
2338 50,093.0 CW JH7FNM 8856.099 QM08ml 579 569
2337 50,093.0 CW JA7EVP 9355.597 PM85io 599 529
2334 50,093.0 CW JI1DMH 9150.703 PM96nf 559 549
2331 50,093.0 CW JH0INP 9155.598 PM96cw 559 559
2329 50,093.0 CW JA9SJI 9236.878 PM86pp 559 559
2314 50,094.5 CW JE1BMJ 9355.597 PM85io 559 559

 

Toshi ,JA0RUG, who I worked during this opening, sent me a MP3 recording of my signal as heard in Japan (click on link to listen to the audio):

2013June14-2340z-AA7XT-50.093MHz-CW

Here are the grids I worked during yesterday’s opening:

The WG7J Gridmapper is a great post opening analysis tool
The WG7J Gridmapper is a great post opening analysis tool

The first hop was certainly Es as I was hearing loud stations in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia at reasonable Es single distance, but how about the rest of the way?  Han, JE1BMJ, the first station I worked in this opening, has developed a theory on these openings – which cluster around the summer solstice – and he has dubbed the mechanism “Short-path Summer Solstice Propagation” aka SSSP.  Articles on SSSP by JE1BMJ, W3ZZ, WB2AMU and KH6/K6MIO have been published in Dubus, CQ VHF, Six News and elsewhere.  Here are a few links:

So far, SSSP, if it in fact exists (such mysteries make 50-MHz DXing a fascinating avocation!) seems to be unique to the 50-MHz band.  I look forward to learning more about SSSP as more and more DXers become aware of the mode and watch for it.  Ham Radio is the exception to the ‘watched pot never boils’ rule of thumb.  In DXing, an unwatched band never opens!  One interesting note is that propagation like SSSP frequently repeats itself the next day so you can be sure I will be at my radio this afternoon!

73 and CU on the Magic Band!

Bill AA7XT

 

PS:  Some interesting recordings of 50-MHz DX signals heard in Japan by JE1BMJ can be found here (including yours truly):

http://audioboo.fm/han01a

Pipeline To The Arabian Peninsula Over The South Pole

Over the past three days I have made two-way amateur radio contacts (a “QSO” to hams) via an unusual short wave propagation path – the long way, over the south pole – from my home in Glade Park, Colorado to amateur radio stations in the Arabian Peninsula, each day in the late morning my time.  Signals have been surprisingly strong and audible for hours.

Short wave radio signals usually follow the shortest path from point A to point B, the ‘great circle path.’  From my house to the United Arab Emirates this is approximately 13,000-km.  Since the circumference of the earth is just over 40,000-km the long path to the UAE is around 27,000-km and crosses the equator twice!  The DX Atlas Map below has markers for my home (QTH), where the map is centered, and the UAE and also shows the location of the sun, dusk/dawn zones and areas of darkness for 1744z on January 5, 2013 (this is the time for one of the YouTube videos I made of this event).

DX Atlas A65BP -> AA7XT 2013-01-05 1744z

Here are the QSOs I’ve made over this path (so far, fingers crossed this path will be here tomorrow and beyond):

  • Jan 3     1805z     A65BR     28076-kHz     JT65A
  • Jan 4     1839z     A65BP     24893-kHz      CW
  • Jan 4     1844z     A45XR     24902-kHz     CW
  • Jan 5     1702z     A45XR     28009-kHz     CW

My four contacts were made with a simple vertical antenna and 100-watts transmitter power (except for the JT65A mode contact which was made with a mere 10-watts).  The footprint of the propagation was very specific – the southern Arabian/Persian Gulf area on one end and western North America on the other.  Here is what the A65BP DX Cluster spots looked like as of this morning.  You can get a feel for the where the signals were landing in this part of the world from the spotting stations’ locations:

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 6.35.36

Why did this path open now?  A recent spike in the solar flux above 140 helped refract the 25/28-MHz radio waves a long distance, a ‘quiet sun’ (low Kp and Ap indexes) helped the signals transverse the auroral zone around the south pole and a double crossing the trans-equatorial zone – where radio waves from the upper HF all way up to low UHF can get a turbo boost plus the seasonal geometry of the sun and earth which puts a lot of solar radiation in the southern hemisphere all played a part.  I wonder if higher solar flux would have resulted in a rare (for the USA) long path opening in the amateur 50-MHz (6 meter) band?

Here is a recording of A65BP operating from the United Arab Emirates with a great signal on 28,012.26-kHz as heard in Glade Park, Colorado (DM59pa) today 2013-Jan-05 morning at 1743z with a simple vertical antenna. The signal was propagating via long path over the south pole. A45XR was also strong on 10m CW on this path around this time. I completed QSOs with A65BP and A45XR on 24.9-MHz long path on January 4th and had a 28,076-kHz JT65A QSO with A65BR on January 3rd. Nice to hear some 10m long path in Cycle 24!

Here is a recording of A65BP operating from the United Arab Emirates just a little later with a great signal on 24,902.00-kHz, also captured with a simple vertical antenna.

These last few days have really lit a fire under me to get off my ass and build the 3-element 12-meter LFA Yagi and 5-element 10-meter LFA Yagi from InnovAntennas that are sitting in my shed.  If I can work stuff like this on my vertical what will I be able to do with a pair of state-of-art antennas?  Who cares that hasn’t been above freezing here since December 17th when there is DX to be worked!

(Sunday morning update – A92GR & VU2XO are audible on 10m SSB at approximately 1600z, looks like another good morning on the long path.)

Planning My New QTH (Ham Radio Station) Part II Of III: Modern Contesting Tools

I’ll be writing a lot in future postings about how FlexRadio’s new 6000 series transceiver technology has influenced my new station’s design.  Today’s post will focus on these rigs’  ‘Slice Receiver’ capabilities.

First, however, allow me a digression on 21st Century Radio-Sport a/k/a “Contesting.”  There are hundreds of radio-sport events spread across the calendar each year from state QSO (QSO = radio contact) parties to major global events such as the CQ World Wide DX Contests (CQ WW DX, ‘DX’ = long distance radio contact) held across two weekends – one for CW (Morse code) and one for Phone (Signal Sideband = voice) –  in the northern hemisphere autumn.  The smaller events have a friendly ‘small town’ vibe.  On the other end of the scale, the big DX contests are hard fought struggles that test technology, skill and endurance (you try averaging two international contacts via morse code per minute for 48 hours straight!).

The big contests have a multitude of classes to parse the competitors.  Single operator, multiple operators with one transmitter, multiple operators with multiple transmitters, high power, low power, really low power (also known as ‘QRP’), assisted and unassisted.  You compete against others in your class in your country and in your class on a regional and global scale depending on your ambition.

I mentioned ‘assisted’ and ‘unassisted’ classes in the previous paragraph.  This can mean various things but the major source of assistance during a contest is the so-called ‘cluster’, Internet resources that reports what stations are active and on what frequencies.  These networks started in the ’80s with hams transmitting short reports of the distant stations they were hearing, generally on the HF (short wave) bands, via the amateur VHF digital networks which were generally local, within a city or region.  These were know as ‘DX Packetclusters’ back then and I used to operate a node in Tiffany, Colorado in the ’90s.

These networks later migrated to the Internet, became interconnected and are now global in scope passing literally millions of ‘spots’ (as each report of a station and its frequency is called).  DX Summit, based in Finland but with visitors from around the world, has reported over 23 million such spots since it launched in 1997!

One of the challenges of big data is finding actionable useful information shooting out of the digital firehose.  The cluster networks go bonkers during the big contests with several spots per second streaming by.  This is not always helpful.  An operator can be overwhelmed by choice; which station do I try to contact?  It’s like getting a restaurant menu with a thousand choices.  And with spots being reported from all corners of the planet much of the data is not actionable.  A station being heard in say Mongolia might not be making it to your shack in Peoria at that time of day on that particular frequency.

I will manage this onslaught of data by disconnecting from the Internet clusters and generating my own spots distilled from radio signals actually being detected at my station in real time.  The data will thus become relevant and actionable.  Many stations are already doing this to supplement the Internet spots that every assisted class station sees.  K3LR and W3LPL, two giants of multi-operator contesting, are doing this effectively using CW Skimmer software written by Alex Shovkoplyas, VE3NEA.  CW Skimmer uses ‘sensitive CW decoding algorithm based on the methods of Bayesian statistics'; in other words your computer listens for Morse code on your radio and tells you who is transmitting and on what frequency.  CW Skimmer, of course, is not much use in Phone (voice) contests.

There are several challenges to using CW Skimmer effectively.  The first challenge at most stations is receiver bandwidth.  Most ham radios can only listen to relatively small segments of radio spectrum at any one time limiting the size of the net CW Skimmer can cast.  If a particular contest has its competitors spread out over say 70-kHz and your radio can only monitor 2.8-kHz you are going to miss a lot of the action.  So called SDRs (Software Defined Receivers) overcome this limitation and can look at much larger chunks of spectrum at once.  An operator using one of these radios (older generation FlexRadios for example) can actually look at a visual spectral display showing where signals are and indicate their relative strength; a CW Skimmer software working with one of these radios can decode and report on the activity of dozens of stations with this set up.

That hurdle jumped, another one looms ahead.  If you are monitoring stations on one band how do you know what’s happening on other bands?  Most contests are spread across several of the amateur radio bands.  Some bands are good during the day, some are good during the night and propagation on all the bands is always changing.  Europe might be good in the morning on a particular band , say the 21-MHz (15m) band, Africa in midday and Japan in the afternoon.  The general propagation trends are predictable but there are large daily variations in propagation that are not predictable (in other words, what signals are being refracted back to earth and where).  Some stations (K3LR, for example) have separate SDRs for each amateur contest band.  Other stations (W3LPL for one) uses the QS1R receiver which can listen to several bands at once.

The Flex 6000 series radios listen (via direct sampling, more on that in a future posting) to 77-MHz of spectrum at the same time.  That is truly spectacular!  With my multiple Flex-6700s (I have two on order and plan on ordering a third unit later in 2013) i will be able to assign ‘Slice’ receivers (each Flex-6700 can have up to eight of these, created in software and 384-kHz) to each amateur band from 1.8-MHz (160m) to 144-MHz (2m) and let them run all the time, during contests and in between.  I will have live, actionable intel on what CW (Morse) signals are propagating to Glade Park, Colorado at any given time on all the amateur bands.  I will be feeding this data out to the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and using it for my own contesting and day-to-day DXing operation.  (More on the RBN in a future Blog posting.)

How I plan to keep transmissions on one frequency from overloading and possibly damaging receivers listening – and running CW Skimmer software – on other frequencies on co-located (and sometimes the same) antenna will be covered in a future posting.  The Flex 6000 series radios are full-duplex (in other words, they can transmit and receive at the same time) so the listening on the same band I’m transmitting on becomes a possibility but one with significant challenges.

I should point out here that many hams operate without any kind of assistance in contests whatsoever.  These are some of the world’s most skilled and motivated amateur radio operators and I admire this type of contesting.  However, my personal current motivation is to see where I can go with technology in contesting and amateur radio in general.  Assisted, in so many words, but seeking innovation.

 

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