Sunday, April 28, 2013

No-antenna DXCC

Since I returned to the air at the end of December 2012 I have been using QRP with a newly-purchased and assembled KX3. My antenna is not a real antenna, just an L-network tuner connected to the aluminum eaves trough (you might call it a rain gutter) on my 2-story house. The neighbours might notice a wire running the 1 meter from around the upper-floor window casement to the eaves trough, if they look very very carefully. This is a stealth antenna on steroids.

With my primary interest in DX it was only natural that I'd try to work some despite knowing that it would be difficult. Doable but difficult. Apart from one VE and several W/K stations all my contacts have been DX.

As I continued my casual operating with this minimalist station the countries slowly added up. As the total grew I began to wonder if I could reach 100, the threshold for DXCC. I was not obsessed by the idea, only curious if I could do it, at least before the warm weather arrived and I could proceed with building a real antenna. By "real" I mean an arrangement of conductors designed to effectively work as an antenna rather than a random conductor co-opted and coerced into behaving as one.

I am happy (and exhausted) to report that I have done it. Last week I logged country number 100 -- OA -- and so I have tentatively qualified for DXCC, assuming I actually go ahead and make an application using these criteria (NB: my actual total is over 300), which is not in my plans. It's enough to know I've done it. This goes to show that with a little perseverance, and luck, just how attainable DXCC can be. If I can do it in 4 months with QRP and a no-antenna antenna pretty much anyone can do so.

My most productive band was 20, closely followed by 30 and 15. Both 10 and 40 were well behind. The main reasons 10 was poor were the lower availability of openings and the need for a really low radiation angle. I also suspect, like many tuners, my little MFJ L-network is consuming most of the power, and on 10 meters that was usually 3 watts. Any more and the KX3 folded back due to the excessive RF getting into all the cables. It's due to pretty much having my temporary shack inside the antenna.During periods when conditions were poor (geomagnetic disturbance) I could work almost nothing.

Apart from the early days, the countries did not come easy. There were ample "VE3?" queries from some rare and not-so-rare DX that never did make it into the log. There were a few good catches, including: J5, A7, XT, RI (South Shetland). There are many more common ones I did not log, and these included KL7, ZL and JA. Then there are the frustratingly loud ones that never hear me, such as D3, 5N, and 5U. I did once get a "VE3?" from the D3. Most DXpeditions were out of the question since only rarely can I get through when even so much as one other station is calling. Pile-ups are a no-go. Yet I did occasionally try, sometimes for the practice and sometimes hoping to get lucky.

All 100 contacts were on CW. I did make a few SSB DX contacts. The wider bandwidth (and therefore 8 to 10 db lower SNR) was not friendly to my puny signal.

With this small victory I can proceed with a lighter heart to construct a proper station, including a room dedicated to the shack and actual antennas. My real objective in this DXCC pursuit had been whether the rekindling of my interest in hamming would last. It has.

How speedily station construction will go I am not sure since like for many hams the radio is more of a winter pursuit. Summer is for antenna raising and maintenance, but mostly for non-radio activities. As things stand, the new shack is drywalled and ready for painting. I have enough material on hand to put up simple masts and antennas. If I can pick up a few tower sections to ease construction and maintenance of suitable supports I will do so. One way or another I plan to be fully equipped by the fall.

I may stick with QRP for a while yet. At least it won't be so painful with a real antenna.

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