Friday, May 4, 2018

Rolling Up the Radials -- My 160 Meter Season

My 160 meter season is now at an end. The radials and coax have been rolled up and put away for at least the summer. The t-top vertical antenna itself will remain in the air for a few days until I have an opportunity to climb the tower. That'll be a multi-purpose trip since I do not like to climb 150' merely to untie a rope!

As you can see in the picture there's a lot of wire involved. That's 240 meters (8 x 30 meters) of AWG 18 insulated wire. If that seems like a large amount consider that I just picked up my order of another 1,000 meters of wire to make the radials for the 80 meter array I'm currently building. With the strength of the US dollar and the overall rise in metals prices I paid 10% more than I did 6 months ago.

When I opened the box housing the L-network all was perfectly clean and dry inside. The disk ceramic capacitor in the L-network looked good despite putting up with several months of 200 watts. I was also pleased to find that the galvanized framing nails I used to pin the far end of the radials did not rust through from spending a wet winter and spring buried in the soil.

In short, nothing went wrong. That kind of luck doesn't happen often enough. That's pretty good for a temporary antenna.

Why now?

With the hay beginning to grow and the rapidly increasing risk of ticks this is a good time to remove the antenna. Warm weather QRN is making DXing quite difficult and in any case there has been a sharp reduction in activity on top band over the past several weeks. I know that this tends to annoy our neighbours in the southern hemisphere since there is less DX for them to chase. You can't please everyone.

Unfortunately I will not have a 160 meter antenna for the CQ WPX CW contest coming up in a few weeks. I can live with that since CQ WPX is not my favourite contest and I have other priorities now that mild spring weather has arrived.


One of my operating objectives for this season was to achieve DXCC on top band. I didn't make it although I came close. My country count rose from 32 to 96 with 79 confirmed on LoTW. That's not too bad for a one season effort with a maximum of 200 watts (100 or 150 watts in most contests). I worked a surprising amount of DX using QRP, especially in the Stew Perry Top Band Challenge. The antenna obviously works.

I would have easily exceeded 100 countries had I been running a kilowatt. Many countries were nearly worked when the DX operator could not pull through my complete call, or I could not compete in the bigger pile ups. I'm okay with that. I enjoy the challenge of chasing DX on 160 meters with less than the legal limit, so some are destined to get away. If it were easy it would be less interesting and I would have less incentive to design and put up better antennas. For casual DXing the antenna is competitive, perhaps because most hams operate top band with compromise antennas.

I have little doubt I'll reach the DXCC threshold this fall soon after I have an antenna up again. Truth is that even with the power I have I could now be over 100 had I put in more effort. DXCC was a goal not an obsession.


Apart for general DXing I desperately needed more firepower on top band to add multipliers and contacts to boost my score potential. Having worked several major contests, and a few small ones, I can absolutely declare success. Although I am not in the same league as the big guns I compare very well to others in this part of North America who are in the same power category.

My one Beverage to the northeast did marvelously well towards Europe. This was especially evident after their local sunrise when they could hear my low power signal better (lower atmospheric QRN) and I could hear their attenuated signals just riding above the noise level. Switching to the transmit antenna I could not hear most of them at all. Many multipliers entered the log that way.

The lack of receiving antennas for the other directions is a problem. I failed to make sufficient progress on this item which I'd planned to do over the winter. I have most of the material needed, locations have been surveyed and marked but I ran into delays designing and building a custom remote switching system for a collection of unidirectional and reversible Beverages.

Poor listening ability in most directions hurt a little but not as much as expected. I don't believe I lost out on many QSOs during contests. Most often I was limited by the inability of other stations to hear me, either because of my power level or their lack of good (low noise, directional) reception. When I move to QRO it will be a problem. Beverages are an increasing priority, but it'll have to wait until next winter.

Future plan

Sitting here in early May I predict that I will not have the time or incentive to come up with a superior antenna for the upcoming fall/winter season. There just so much other higher priority tower and antenna work to be done. I expect that this antenna will be put back into service for at least one more winter season. That's not so bad since it does work very well indeed.

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