When I ended my 20 year hiatus from amateur radio at the end of 2012 I did so in a very low-impact manner. I had no idea if the rekindling of my interest would be sustained, so I took things one step at a time. There was a necessary expenditure of time and money, in particular the purchase of a new rig (KX3). QRP and minimalist antennas with no permanent structures were my chosen path.
One year later I can say with some confidence that I will stick around for a while. However it is unlikely that I will grow my station to more than 100 watts and, perhaps, a small yagi for the high bands. Even that might not happen in 2014. Other than that my antennas will remain wires. As should be apparent from the dozens of articles I've posted on this blog there will be a continuing interest in antenna experimentation. Some I will build though most will go no further than computer models.
The purpose of this blog is not about ego. Even if no one else reads it a blog is a useful personal diary to document objectives set and met, antenna designs and so forth. Simply put, this is a great way for me to organize an important part of my life as a ham. As long as I continue with the hobby I plan to contribute to this blog. I expect that over time the volume of posts will decline since there is no need to rehash earlier topics (the blog is searchable). There is little incremental value in updates.
There are readers out there. Most of the traffic comes from search engines, from searches on specific antennas and antenna topics. To give you some idea of who comes here the most popular search terms are on the topics of short/small antennas for 40 meters, delta loops and QRP. There are few regular readers.
With that out of the way the following is my summary of 2013:
After my report on the contribution of CQ WW to my 2013 DX totals I worked only a couple of more countries. Both of those were made using techniques I earlier suggested. VQ9 (Chagos) was worked on 17 meters, during the ARRL 10 Meters Contest. All the big guns were contesting, while I was only playing around in the contest. VU7AG (Lakshadweep) was worked about 24 hours before the end of the DXpedition, after most everyone else had worked them. Even so I was surprised to get through.
I therefore end 2013 with 182 countries worked, and 135 confirmed on LoTW. I have at least 100 countries worked on 20, 15 and 10 meters, and I have 80+ countries on each of 40, 30 and 17 meters. Although I have added numerous band-countries in the last month my progress on working new ones was slow, as was my progress on 40 meters. My progress on 30 meters stopped when my multi-band inverted vee came down.
All of these numbers are for 2013 alone. I decided to restart my DXCC count with my return to the air as a measure of what I can accomplish with my present station. My actual totals with my current call are around 325 countries mixed and 300 CW.
I played around in a few contests this year, primarily out of an interest in adding to my DX totals. That proved successful. What I didn't expect was that contesting would reassert itself as an interest. I only submitted an official entry to 2 contests (CQ WW CW and RAC Winter Contest, in the QRP category) but did make contacts in others on a more casual basis.
Working QRP is easy. Yes, seriously. All I have to do is call a station and let them do the work of pulling my weak signal out of the noise. While I may get a bit frustrated when I (often) fail to be heard or complete a contact it is not due to the effort expended. My half of the QSO is not difficult; I just transmit, repeatedly, and wait for the other operator to successfully copy my call and report.
There is also no great incentive to call CQ DX since it elicits few QSOs. So even that effort is eliminated.
It does take longer to add up those countries and contest contacts, but not more effort. So, yes, for the QRP operator QRP is easy. Don't let any QRP operator tell you otherwise. Pity the QRO operator instead.
The delta loop is working well on 40 meters. However there is only so much it accomplish with 5 or 10 watts. Even so I am approaching the DXCC threshold with 84 countries worked. As readers may have noticed from a number of recent articles I am planning for a more effective antenna on 40 meters.
With the multi-band inverted vee down since the beginning of December my results on 30 meters and up have been lagging. This antenna not only favoured the important east-northeast path to Europe, west Asia and Africa, plus Oceania, its greater apex height helped on long path DX. Apart from being noisy due to proximity to the lighting and electronics of my own house and that of my neighbours it worked really well.
The (so-called) TH1vn dipole for 20, 17, 15 and 10 currently favours north and south due to a wind storm a few weeks back. I decided to leave it there since many of the countries that are now workable with the higher solar flux are on the polar path to east Asia. Although I've heard lots of new ones from that part of the world I have worked little of note. Low height, zero gain and QRP make this difficult path a challenge.
Looking ahead to 2014
December has been very snowy and bitterly cold. It has not been possible to do any work on the roof to replace the broken antenna mast for the multi-band inverted vee. I have completed fabrication of its replacement, replacing all fibreglass with steel parts. If we get a 3-day midwinter thaw I'll be able to (safely) get up on the roof and install the new mast. I would like to get it installed by the end of the month.
I cannot do much better for antennas with the small tower and mast that I currently use. My options are to replace the small tower with one that is sufficiently robust to support at least a small yagi for the high bands or to install a self-supporting tower with a concrete base. The latter has implications that I am not sure I want to deal with this year. I will need to decide by the spring.
With a tower (either of the above options) I will at the least install a rotatable yagi for 20, 17, 15 and 10 meters. A small yagi for 6 would also be nice, which could be cobbled together from the old long-boom yagi I have in the garage. The boom of that antenna is currently the mast for the multi-band inverted vee.
My venerable TH6DXX can serve for 20, 15 and 10, but probably not for a small guyed tower since the wind load of this yagi is only suited for a more robust structure. I might instead design and construct something more modest, which I would do in any case to add 17 meters. The modified driven-element of the TH6DXX which is now the 4-band TH1vn would have to be returned to its original condition for use in the TH6DXX.
Commercial alternatives are plentiful, including the Spiderbeam which is performing well for many people. However I do have concerns with the Spiderbeam's mechanical design that I may discuss in a future article.
With a tower I have more options for the lower bands. A wire yagi and/or a rotatable dipole for 40 meters are high on the priority list. A fixed or rotatable dipole for 30 meters is desirable. Although there are commercial 30/40 rotatable dipoles I might opt for something that I can design and build myself.
For 80 meters I will keep it simple, such as a half-sloper. If the tower is limited to 15 meters height it will have to be loaded in some fashion. For now it will be enough if I can occasionally work DX and make more contacts and multipliers in contests I choose to enter.
I had intended to refurbish my ancient FT-102 as my path to 100 watts. That is still a possibility. However I am leaning more towards purchase of a new rig despite the added expense. I will only buy a rig if I put up a tower. Otherwise I'll keep my station small and learn to live with 10 watts. QRP is more fun than I expected so this is not so terrible a fate.
To more aggressively pursue DX will require more power. There is no kilowatt in my future so 100 watts will be my self-imposed limit. The noisiness of my neighbourhood makes it likely that I would attract stations with a kilowatt that I cannot hear. There is also my unwillingness to deal with the inevitable EMI, just like I had when I ran QRO years ago.