Category Archives: DX

The 2013 Pacific Northwest DX Convention

On August 3, 2013 I attended the 58th Pacific Northwest DX Convention in Spokane, Washington. It’s been held every summer since 1955! This year’s convention was my first, but I came away very impressed with the organization and speakers.

Randy, K7TQ, Convention Chairman and his team did an excellent job organizing the convention, bringing in top-notch speakers, and offering great door prizes. The sponsorship of the convention rotates among the Willamette Valley DX Club, the British Columbia DX Club, and the Western Washington DX Club.

This year the Spokane DX Association hosted the convention, which put it near my backyard in Moscow, Idaho.

There were over 20 door prize contributors, including Ham Radio Outlet, Tigertronics, Writelog Software, West Mountain Radio, Alpha Amps, the ARRL, and The Daily DX. ICOM and Yaesu were on hand with displays and give-aways.

Randy, W7TJ, led off the presentations on Saturday morning with a very serious talk entitled, “Preparing for the Propagation Winter.” The talk focused on the current solar minimum our Sun is experiencing, in which solar activity is quite low, sunspots are much less frequent and of smaller size and intensity. All these factors, and more, mean HF propagation conditions are not nearly as strong as in previous years. Randy suggested that low-band DXing (80 and 160 meters) might be something to take more seriously.

I also heard,subsequently, that our Sun is in the process of flipping its magnetic poles. Currently the south magnetic pole of the Sun has already flipped. The North magnetic pole will soon flip as well, which has far-reaching consequences not just for Earth and our immediate solar system, but, as far as scientist know, even beyond!

For now, I plan to soldier on with my QRP work on 40-10 meters. Not enough real estate for the likes of 80 or 160 meter antennas. HI

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The second speaker, Lance, W7GJ, gave a brilliant follow-on presentation about 6 meter moonbounce work he did during a recent DXpedition to French-owned Clipperton Island, off the west coast of Mexico.

Lance’s presentation introduction was a perfect lead-in after Randy’s talk, as 6 meters is less dependent on ionospheric propagation. In fact, lower solar activity means 6 meters is becoming ideal for moonbounce work. I know Lance peaked my curiosity! It’s amazing what he accomplished with his 20-foot yagi.

Just getting to Clipperton Island turned out to be quite an adventure as Lance explained. During the DXpedition he made 50 moonbounce contacts under conditions that included high winds loaded with salt spray which corroded some of the gear.

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Geoff, W0CG/PJ2DX was up next and gave a very interesting look inside the world of station PJ2T (Curacao), one which many of you have no doubt worked over the years (myself included). Ever wonder why you hear PJ2T on the air all time time? That’s because it IS on the air all the time! Geoff shared stories of what it takes to keep the station on the air, in terms of station maintenance, legal and governmental paperwork, and operating. I have a whole new appreciation for PJ2T and would love to visit and operate from such a fabulous QTH. But Geoff’s presentation brought home the reality that keeping PJ2T on the air is literally a full-time job for himself and the support team. Interested in helping out? Contact Geoff.

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Jim, K9JF, presented, “The DX’ers favorite wallpaper,” next and did a fine job talking about the wide range of awards he has earned over his long career in ham radio. It’s hard to believe he’s been able to hold down a full-time job and still garner all these awards and QSOs!

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Next, Elvin, JA3CZY, gave a great presentation entitled, “The state of amateur radio in Japan.” If his presentation is any indication, Japanese hams are operating in fine style. He shared photos of some of the most amazing antenna farms I’ve ever seen. His QTH is no slouch either, with a transmission line running from his QTH to a roof-top location located some 1200 feet away and about 14 stories in the air. The antenna tower can be raised, lowered and rotated remotely. There is also a video camera mounted nearby so he can keep an eye on the whole set up. I spoke with Elvin just after his presentation and told him that I fully agree with one of the thoughts he left us with: Just call CQ! He noted that everyone is always amazed at how much activity there is during contests. His philosophy is that if more people would try calling CQ during off-contest periods, the bands would show more activity. I suspect he is right.

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We heard next from Dave, NN1N from ARRL, who has made a point of collecting callsigns over the years. I believe he has had over one dozen. He has a passion for collecting obscure QSL cards and challenged the audience to identify the locations of such calls as LY1000BY, Q2MK, VS9UA, AR1WW, and 3B2HA. Can you guess? He stumped most of us with his very entertaining presentation.

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Bob, W9KNI, presented on Digging Out the Rare DX. Many of you may know Bob’s excellent book, The Complete DX’er, now in its 3rd edition. It’s an excellent read for the serious DX chaser. Bob shared the wisdom he has gained over the years for best practices and techniques for consistently making rare contacts. Ultimately it gets down to a lot of dedication, late nights, hard work, careful note taking, careful tuning and listening, knowledge of the bands and propagation, and consistent effort over time. Bingo.

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As part of the convention, the Idaho DX Association, which I recently joined, was welcomed as a new participating member of the Spokane DX Association. IDXA will now be able to compete along with the SDXA for the annual DX Challenge Cup. As our total score improves over time, IDXA will be able to compete on its own for the cup. I hope to be a key contributor to that effort, starting with my work as IDXA contest coordinator along with Emmett, NA7EM, the founder and current president of IDXA.

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If you’re in Vancouver, BC in the summer of 2014 please plan to attend the next Pacific Northwest DX Convention. If it’s anything like this year’s it will be well worth the trip! Good DX!

Mini QRP to the field

On the evening of July 28th I took a short drive from Moscow, Idaho to Roundtop Park in Pullman, Washington where I set up my S9 vertical against a very tall pine tree, hooked up half a dozen radials across very dry weeds and ground, and then fired up my KX3 on 20m.

Here are a few photos from my setup on Roundtop at about 7pm local time.

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This is the sign at the entrance to the short trail leading to Roundtop.

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Here’s the KX3 with the S9 just beyond overlooking The Palouse on a beautiful Pacific Northwest evening.

Conditions at Gray Line time on 20m were very good. Lots of DX activity including Brazil, Russia and Sweden. I was able to work 2 Russian hams and another ham in Belarus. I was running about 3W on CW.

I was impressed considering the radials were, for the most part, not even touching the ground. Proving once again that it doesn’t always pay to get too hung up on all the technical details with antennas and radials.

The propagation gods were smiling down, no doubt!

Homebrew indoor loop antenna performs well!

I constructed a roughly 40 foot loop antenna of 14 gauge stranded wire fed with about 10 feet of homebrew twin lead and ran it up around the ceiling of a room in my home. It’s about 25 feet off the ground. The past few weeks propagation condx have been poor here on HF in the southern panhandle of Idaho. But this evening 20m opened up and I began hearing European stations which I had never heard previously on my larger dipole antenna.

Around 0600Z I was fortunate enough to work Frank, F2GL, near Paris, France as well as Wolf, DF2PY in Bingen, Germany and Jean, FG8NY, in Guadeloupe.

Also heard FJ/N5WR in Saint Barthelemy (French West Indies) but the pileup kept me out of a contact.  Also heard Hungarian and Latvian stations but was unable to connect.

Christmas Island DXpedition!

Patience and persistence paid off! After nearly an hour of calling the T32C DXpedition on CW on 20m I finally made contact. What a thrill to have done it with my OHR-100A QRP XCVR and my simple dipole wrapped around the house. The Great Circle distance is 3929.2 miles. I doubt my signal was more than 1 or 2 watts. Very exciting!

S9 v31 vs. a dipole at 20 feet

I set up the S9 for a nighttime test comparison with one of my dipoles mounted about 20 feet up and touching my house. I was running my NorCal 40a on battery power. Skies were clear at about 65 degrees F. There was a fair amount of activity on 40 meters, conditions were good for a test.

The result? The vertical was, at least this time out, a superior performer. There was no comparison. The ground-mounted S9 v31 was significantly quieter and heard more signals as well. The other thing about the S9 is that signals are so strong I typically have to reduce my RF gain by 25-50% so my eardrums don’t get blown out. It’s amazing how much louder many signals are on the vertical vs. the dipole.

While comparing the two antennas,I worked Kevin, K7KHC, in Aberdeen, Washington using the vertical. Had a nice QSO but discovered that trying to use my key mounted on a clipboard was a bit awkward. Still need to optimize that set-up.

After that experiment I moved my NorCal 40, power supply and cables up to my second floor outside porch to enjoy the night sky and see if I could catch any DX. Right around 0500Z I chanced on ZL2AGY, Tony in New Zealand! He was in a QSO so I waited till they finished, but was unable to contact him. Not sure if my signal was not getting out strongly enough or whether he had gone QRT. Anyway it was great to hear propagation working so well into Moscow, Idaho for my S9.

I hope to receive my new radial plate this coming week and am interested to learn whether it will improve the strength of my transmissions. My current radial plate is nothing more than a plumbing fixture with some paint scraped off so the screws and wires all make good contact. Not optimal.

It was great sitting out under the stars, tuning around just by feel. The NorCal 40a has no display so I was able to sit in total darkness, watch up at the sky and tune quietly around the CW portion of 40m. Any time I needed to write, I just clicked on my Petzl headlamp with the red filter on to minimize getting blinded. Worked great.

Looking forward to many more evening sessions like this.

40m opening today

1130Z: No 20m propagation this morning but there was light DX activity on 40m. Heard JA8BM and K2IX (NC).

Motorcycle battery is really inadequate for my station operation. Run time is just a couple hours, much less if transmitting, even at QRP. Time to upgrade to a power supply and keep a deep cycle battery for emergency.

Excellent 20m propagation today

Just a few days ago a new sunspot was announced and it already appears to be making its presence felt on 20m. Today from 2200-2300Z I heard strong CW signals from the following stations from my QTH in Moscow, ID:

  • JH9FNB (Ishiwaka, Japan)
  • JH8SLS (Sapporo, Japan)
  • RW0CR (Khabarousk, Russia)
  • K9KA (Tennessee)
  • K2VV (Missouri)
  • K3ZM (Virginia)
The antenna was a simple wire dipole lying mostly on the floor (not stretched straight) of my 2nd storey attic with the RG8X feedline center point at about 25 feet.
By 2300Z the band dropped out. Later, at about 0300Z November 1, propagation remained poor.
I plan to try again Nov 1 around 1200Z.