My commentary on this year's CQ WPX CW Contest has been delayed due
to seemingly endless efforts to clean up my paper files while
adjusting to a new computer, a new printer, Windows 95, Office 97,
etc. etc. There are plenty of things to keep a retiree busy these
days besides ham radio!
Though I have downloaded the other stories about this contest, I
have not read them yet, in the hopes that some of what I might read
there would not seep into my consciousness lest I unwittingly use
others' observations rather than my own. At my age the memory
plays tricks on one and things picked up from various sources all
blend together into one blob.
By the way, this will be my swansong on firstname.lastname@example.org on this
reflector, as tenant N6CZG, the owner of this account, is about to
receive his EE degree from the University of Maryland and return to
his beloved Silicon Valley. Therefore I am already available at
email@example.com and I urge my friends and contesting colleagues to
use this e-mail address henceforth.
For the reasons mentioned above I had been very inactive prior to
the contest, with the only ham radio activity being chasing Asians
on 20 meters early in the morning. Therefore the only antenna I
had used for weeks had been the 6-el 20 Meter Telrex at 150 feet.
Meanwhile we have had a cool, dry Spring season, and it has been as
windy as I can remember, with 30+ mph winds blowing all day long,
day after day. Though I knew the rotators had all survived (though
I still don't have indication on my prop pitch and have to count
seconds off my watch as it turns) I was not prepared for the
changes noted on the antennas.
The 40 meter 3-el Telrex at 94 feet, which is tuned to 7075 in
order to utilize the entire 40 meter band, normally shows an SWR of
1.5:1 on the CW end of the band (1.7:1 when the tree just under it
is in full bloom, as it is nowadays). Imagine my surpise on firing
up on 40 meters to find an absolutely flat SWR on the CW end. I
was worried that perhaps a piece had come off the director lowering
the resonant frequency of the whole antenna, but the pattern was
still there and the antenna played magnificently as usual, so I
guess it was something intermittent in the feed system, and once a
little rain fell the second day, the SWR was back to normal.
The 80 meter 3-el KLM at 140 feet also showed a lower resonant
frequency and a narrower bandwidth (which can actually be a sign of
greater effect by the parasitic elements), but, again, its pattern
on CW remained OK and I got everyone I called.
The contest opened with incredible signals from Europe and Siberia
on 20. As is customary in this contest, I do the first hour on 20
as conditions to Europe are superb at the beginning of the contest
this time of year, and I like to give the Europeans on 40 an hour
to work each other before I attempt to poke a signal through their
QRM curtain. With the ESDP on the FT-1000-MP in the second
position from fully counter-clockwise as usual, there was even
occasional random mixing of loud signals in the passband
characteristic of receiver overload, but I got used to it and ran
off 128 QSO's before switching to 40 at 0100 to take advantage of
the double point bonus there. Interestingly enough, the best
antenna on 20 -- and this was true all weekend except for JA runs -
- was my 4-el W6PU dual-driven quad at 78 feet (even with the
reflector wire still dangling down, having parted at one point).
This is the way things are at the higher points in the sunspot
cycles, so maybe this weekend was a preview of the type of
conditions we are to experience more and more in the coming years -
- let's hope so!
By the way, the most interesting presentation I heard at Dayton was
a brief discussion by propagation professional AA6DD -- (I hope I
got his call right) -- at the excellent VHF Dinner organized by
WA8WZG. This gentleman stated that during the year 2000 the
SUNSPOT NUMBERS (NOT the solar flux) will be over 200 for the
entire year, QSO's on 6 meters will be worldwide on a daily basis
etc. etc. So if all of the world's computers go haywire as their
clocks swing over to the year 2000 at least ham radio should be in
great shape that year.
The reason that the current cycle seems so slow on the uptake,
according to him, is that the observers had erred in predicting the
minimum, which actually occurred in December 1996 or January 1997
instead of in July 1996 as the current models assume. Indeed, the
uptick during CQWW CW in November 1996 was all due to old cycle
spots, sort of the last gasp of that cycle -- like at the fireworks
show at the end, when they set off everything that's left in one
I hit 40 at 0103 in full stride and ran off consecutive hours of
96, 104, 83, 88, 80 and 52 before heading off to bed. Remember,
due to the double points on 40 this is the equivalent of running
off hours of 192, 208, 166, 160 and 104, so being on 40 definitely
paid off, at least for me. I got on again at 0900 and made another
57 QSO's on 40 -- a combination of VK's, JA's and UA0's -- before
going to 20. People on the East Coast often think 40 is no good to
East Asia this time of year, but actually conditions to JA were
above average considering the full year, and I even managed a brief
run of JA's in addition to the ones I S&P'ed.
I finally hit 20 at 1024 GMT with the high 6-element Yagi pointed
to Japan, but the Asian run was so-so, with JA signals exhibiting
a rapid QSB making me think that a disturbance might be setting in.
There were also a few VK's and lots of loud Scandinavians mixed in.
After 81 QSO's, at 1140 I decided to look at 15 an immediately
heard and worked 4X/OK1JR. I decided to stay on 15 in case it
never opened again after this and though I could get almost every
station I S&P'ed, it was difficult to get a run going even though
N2NL at N2RM was running them fine. Another reason that I hope
during the summer to get the Telrex 8-el 15 meter Yagi up at 160
feet to compliment the existing W6PU dual-driven 4-el quad at 78
feet. On 15 at this point in the cycle height can be very
Although signals on 15 at this point were not strong it was
interesting to see that the opening went deep into Western Asia and
the Middle East. 7Z5OO, HZ1AB and EX9A went into the log without
much difficulty, and the loudest signals on the band were the OH's.
But at 1343, having worked only 79 stations on 15 in two hours, I
decided to beat a retreat to 20. The rates on 20 were not much
better and at 1500 I began my second off-period. Yes, with the sun
high over the North Pole at this time of year the mid-day
absorption on 20 meters can be strong, and this is a good candidate
The choice of off-times is among the key strategic decisions to be
made in this contest, and I can't help thinking that some of those
who want to change the weekend to April simply want to avoid having
to deal with a different set of propagation principles than those
present in other contests. Actually I think late May is an
interesting time of year for an HF contest: the seasonal presence
of sporadic ionozation often makes the higher bands unpredictable
and therefore more interesting. What makes ham radio fun, after
all? Why, the fact that you never know what will be logged from
one minute to the next. That's why I have always resisted using
packet spots and moving stations to other bands. The fun in the
contest for me is that I don't know who I will be running into
next. No, I'm not anti-packet; I use it all the time for DX'ing.
But contesting is different...
So if the bands open at crazy times to unpredictable locations,
that makes the contest more interesting and challenging for me --
to have to pay attention to what is happening at all times and make
decisions based on my own observations rather than those of
somebody else -- what could be more satisfying? No thanks, you can
have your pre-programmed contesting plan all you want; I'll take
my seat-of-the-pants approach any day.
Last year I went up to an airshow at a small airport in
Westminster, MD, and enjoyed myself immensely. Here you have
airline pilots who during the workday fly modern jets equipped with
the latest in computer technology, and on weekends they get into an
old bi-plane and make loop after loop in front of awe-struck
crowds. Now which of the two flying experiences do you think they
enjoy most? Is there a nugget of relevance about ham radio
contesting in all of this somewhere?
Anyway, back on 15 at 1800, the band was still wide open to Western
Europe and it was possible to run the few stations there that were
on the band, but by then most had moved to 40 where the points were
greater and 20 which was wider open. So I went to 20 myself and
back-to-back hours of 82 and 86 at 1900 and 2000 were not too bad
for this point in the contest. I also noticed that I had now
fallen well behind KQ2M (at K1TTT [KY1H]) and N2NL, a situation
that would prevail through the end of the contest.
At 2130 I looked at 15 again and much to my surprise it was still
wide open to Europe. The occasional ZL and VK would call in off
the back of the antenna as I was running Europe. Had I known the
band would be this good now I wouldn't have stayed on 15 as much
earlier in the morning -- but you never know! At 2230 I made my
only excursion to 10 of the entire contest and worked 12 South
Americans who were loud plus VE3EJ and VE3HX on backscatter; W3PP
told me after the contest that he worked Europeans on 10 but I
guess that's when I was busy on other bands -- good to know it
At 2300 I was back on 40 to maximize my point totals and during
that hour 47 stations, mostly Europeans, went into the log.
Remember this is like working 94 stations on 20, something I hadn't
done in one hour all day long. At 0030 I went to 80, something I
didn't do the first night because the rates on 40 made it unwise
for me to break away to 80 the first night, since multipliers count
only once and not per-band. I went to 80 relatively early this
second night because areas of Eastern and Northern Europe are
already in daylight at 0030 this time of year.
I planned only to S&P on 80, which was actually not in bad shape --
among the stations I worked during the two-plus hours I spent on
the band were JY9QJ, OH0E, 3V8BB and H22A. After hearing KQ2M
running Europe, I did run off about 10 stations but the bulk of my
113 QSO's on the band were S&P. Back on 40 at 0245 I ran off 58
QSO's in the 0300 hour but the band was not giving me rates
comparable with the first night so I went back and forth between
80, 40 and 20 until 0700 when I took another time out. Between
0630 and 0700 I did note that the JA's were already workable on 20,
but there was no volume there.
Back on the air at 1000 I hit 40 as always and found BV7FC as well
as a number of JA's but only 17 stations went into the log up to
1040 so I went to 20 and after working a few Europeans I note that
the band opened to Asia in earnest at 1108 and with the high 6-el
Yagi I had a good run of JA's plus the occasional VS97, HL and BV
until 1315 at which point about 100 Asians had gone into the log.
The doldrums hit again at 1330 so I took two hours off, coming back
up at 1530. Fifteen didn't open Sunday like it had on Saturday and
I added only 4 QSO's to my 15 meter total the whole day, all Latin
>From 1530 to 1730 it was just slogging through on 20 trying to keep
making a few QSO's with the antennas on Europe, and I took another
hour off from 1738 to 1838. When I came back at 1838 things had
improved and I averaged about 65 an hour until 2153 when I had to
take my final hour off. It was probably a mistake to save time off
until a time when the band was so wide open -- I should have taken
more time earlier. Back on at 2253 I stayed on 40 for the
remainder of the contest and worked 42 QSO's there until the end.
Comparing band-by-band results with the USA SOMB/HP leaders I came
up with the following table:
Band 80 40 20 15 10 TOTAL
N2NL 157 686 1411 482 17 2753
KQ2M 218 722 1509 308 2757
K3ZO 113 852 988 176 12 2141
Well, at least I was ahead on 40 meters!
Compared with last year, my QSO total was up by more than 200, and
even with all of the vanity calls having slimmed down the
multipliers available out there in the intervening year, I still
managed one more multiplier than last year, so it can be seen that
conditions were definitely better this year. My score went up
almost one million points.
Have you ever been called by yourself in a contest? A couple of
times I was called by HI8XAL, my old call from the 60's when I was
working in Santo Domingo. I didn't bite, but somebody has a long
Most of the contest is just a blur after it's over, but I do
remember a few jocular "QRL?s" by friends who know how I feel about
this particular practice, a frequency fight with KQ2M which was
resolved when we switched so he was on the high side and I was on
the low side, and a KP3 that fired up right on top of the frequency
I had been using for a couple of hours, no doubt because I was
pretty weak to him off the side of my antenna. This latter
situation was resolved by my turning the beam towards him for a
while, which also garnered surprise answers from YL3IZ/mm off the
South American coast and a long path JA8!
Bring on the IARU Contest!
Fred Laun, K3ZO
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