Wednesday, February 19, 2014


In my 2013 summary I said that one reason to quickly repair the mast for the multi-band inverted vee was to be ready for the ARRL DX CW contest in February. That weekend event has now come and gone. Although this is not an antenna article it is relevant since, after all, what is the use of antenna if not to make lots of contacts? This article is one ham's perspective on the DX contest possibilities with 5 watts and a few wire antennas at a modest height.

Unlike the CQ Worldwide CW contest in the fall, I decided to get beyond casual and dedicate the weekend to the contest. I took many breaks and got plenty of sleep so this was hardly a hard core effort. That would in any case have made little difference since when conditions were unfavourable to my little pistol station there was no benefit to continue sitting in front of the radio.

My objectives for the contest:
  • Top ten in the unassisted QRP all-bands North America category.
  • Finally cross the 100 countries mark on 40 meters with my current QRP station.
  • Work as many new band-countries as possible.
  • Have fun.
To my surprise I may have achieved the first objective, the second I definitely met and I had good success with the third and fourth.

The generally good conditions were a tremendous help of course, though the unsettled geomagnetic conditions from Saturday late afternoon onward negatively impacted my results on 40 and 10 meters. Since at best my signal is marginal on the other side of each QSO even a small increase in ionospheric absorption causes extreme difficulty.

Competition in the QRP category is less than in most others. It is therefore not that noteworthy an achievement to place highly: this speaks to the parable of a big fish in a small pond. That my claimed score in CQ WW CW placed me in the top ten with only a modest effort gave me the confidence to think I could do the same in the ARRL DX CW contest. However it will likely be months until I know. If I go by last year's results I have a reasonable shot.

My choice of contest logging software is N1MM. I like its uncluttered user interface and reliability. However I use only a fraction of its features. For example I do not yet use its programmable CW memories feature, which requires a PC-to-rig interface that I don't have. Instead I used my trusty 30-year old keyer that served me well in contests long past.

The score summary produced by the software is shown adjacent. The claimed score is exaggerated by 2,000 to 4,000 points due to one miscounted multiplier on 10 meters and a small number of suspect QSOs. This is not unusual. The score will be lowered by the log checkers after I submit the log. I had more country errors to correct when I imported the contest log into my old version of HRD 5 (Ham Radio Deluxe).

Unlike CQ WW the ARRL DX is more like a QSO party. For Canadians, that means we cannot work VE and continental US stations. That is, every QSO is DX, and there is no temptation to spend time hunting or running US stations. If your objective is purely DX, this can be an excellent opportunity to add to your band-countries totals. If you live outside of W/VE this is not a real DX contest since you are only allowed to work W/VE. That is why the ARRL DX contests are less popular than CQ WW.

On 40 meters I worked 7 new countries to raise my DXCC count from 95 to 102. That brings me to the bottom rung of DXCC award status with only a little over 4 months of operating. I am pleased with this achievement since it is with a maximum power of 10 watts (5 watts during contests) and a delta loop. The new ones I worked included 3V, FP and ZL, but also more common entities such as OE and a few in the Caribbean region.

On 10 meters I managed to squeak out 12 new countries, though nothing rare. On 15 and 20 the additions to my countries worked were less, but enough to put me within reach of 150 on 20 meters.

I had my best QSO productivity on 15 meters. Once the geomagnetic conditions worsened late on Saturday, the signals on 10 meters were only mediocre on Sunday. So I focussed on 15 where I got good results. When I exhausted the possibilities there I searched for new multipliers on 10 and ran up QSO totals on 20. I had poor luck on the north polar path on 20, not managing to work even a single JA.

Unfortunately this time around I worked no new countries. I heard a few but could not get through with my small station. My DXCC total sits at 190, and slowly inching toward 200. This is my total since the beginning of 2013 with my current QRP station, not my all time count which is well over 300.

I've included a picture of my temporary set-up in my not-yet-completed basement shack. The KX3 transceiver is the smallest item! I didn't plan my station around contests so there are some ergonomic problems with the pictured arrangement. In particular the paddles and keyboard are too far apart.

The reason for the two sets of paddles was due to expediency: only my 40-year old Brown Brothers paddles had the proper connecter to plug into my 30-year old keyer. The keyer is homebrew, built from an article in October 1981 QST: The CMOS Super Keyer. I jammed the Brown Brothers paddle between the rig and Bencher paddles since the base is light enough that it slides around a bit on the plastic tabletop.

The antenna switch selects between the TH1vn (favours north & south), the multi-band inverted vee (favours east & west) and the delta loop. I did a lot of switching of antennas while operating 20, 15 and 10 meters to get the best signal on many QSOs. The path often didn't agree with the predicted great circle route, especially around sunrise and after sunset. Although neither high-bands antenna has the performance of a yagi I do have better agility than other stations since I can switch antenna heading instantly.

And with that I'll close off this article. I hope I succeeded in communicating the message that you can have tremendous success as a DXer with QRP and simple wire antennas. You should stick to CW and jump into contests to work lots of DX, including rare ones (stations that will work hard to pull you through for the points!) in a short period of time.

You don't have to be a contester or even enjoy contests. If the wanted DX is in a contest that's where you need to be. Who knows, you might learn to enjoy contests. When DX no longer motivates as it once did, contests may be the stimulus you need to build bigger and better antennas.

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