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[CQ-Contest] Commentary on CQWW Phone 1998

Subject: [CQ-Contest] Commentary on CQWW Phone 1998
From: aalaun@ibm.net (Fred Laun K3ZO)
Date: Tue Oct 27 10:39:56 1998

A few people remarked during the contest that they were looking
forward to my write-up, so here it is.

First of all, I would like to set the scene for the propagation
observed by a few comments on the progress of Sunspot Cycle #23.
Certainly there has been a noticeable improvement in the higher
bands over the past two years.  In October of 1996 the average
observed solar flux was 69.2.  Last October it was 84.9.  This year
the solar flux hovered around 110 during the contest.  The
prinicipal reason 10 meters was much better this year than last (I
worked 106 countries on that band this year; only 64 last year) is
the cumulative effect the higher flux numbers have on the Earth's
Ionosphere;  that is, the daily bombardment of the Ionosphere by an
ever-strengthening solar wind gradually builds up the MUF over
time.  Therefore, the instantaneous solar flux at any given moment
is less important in analyzing conditions than is the fact that the
solar flux numbers have gradually been building over the past year.

This having been said, there is a growing feeling among most
observers that this cycle is not progressing upwards as rapidly as
you would expect.  As recently as last April some experts expected
Cycle 23 to be above normal.  When the flux hovered around 160 in
early September, many thought that the cycle had finally begun to
"take off", but it has since wandered back to the 110-120 area. 
Observers of past sunspot cycles have observed that the higher
cycles have been notable for the rapidity of their rise near the 
midpoint of the upward curve of the cycles in question.  Meanwhile,
Cycle 23's rise is coming in fits and starts.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that Cycle 23 has already
risen to the point where it makes 10 meters a very interesting
band.  The cycle in any event is not predicted to hit its peak
value until sometime in the year 2000, which should mean that
conditions will be even better on the higher bands over the next
two years.  Since 10 was already open to all areas of the world
during this year's contest, higher solar flux numbers will manifest
themselves principally in longer openings to distant areas and in
the band staying open for a longer time after sunset than it is
doing now.

I made an error in remarks I made a couple of weeks ago at a PVRC
Meeting, where I minimized the importance of the 27-day recurrence
of disturbed conditions.  The disturbed conditions we experienced
last month at this time were indeed back with us this month to some
extent.  The K-index, which is the most important of the WWV
numbers in predicting how the bands are doing in the short term,
was at 4 for several hours during the first 24 hours and flirted
with 3 for most of the rest of the contest.  The openings were
generally better on Saturday than they were on Sunday even though
the K index was higher on Saturday.  This is due to two things: the
higher K numbers gradually wore down the ionosphere the longer they
remained elevated, and higher K indices can sometimes
instantaneously cause the MUF to rise when they first hit, with
deterioration gradually setting in afterwards.

I have been asked by W4AN why I decided to run on 10 meters the
first day;  the most important answer is that you always try to get
maximum time in on the highest band open the first day because you
can never be sure you will have it the second day, which is exaclty
what happened this year.  Secondly, I tried running and it worked
so I stayed with it until it petered out.  

Ten meters has lots of room so it makes for QRM-free running
compared to the other bands.  Since our Novices populate 28300-
28500, I consider that area a place for the DX stations to be
running people, as knowledgable contesters overseas will know that
they can get higher volumes of U.S. stations in that part of the
band.  Therefore I always look for a running spot above 28500 on 10
meters.  This year I kept going higher until I found a place that
was perfectly free of QRM, and settled in there for the long haul. 
That having been said, the run was only a little over two hours
long, beginning at 1240 and ending at 1450.  Fifteen was by far the
volume band for me the first day.

But I digress.  As I prepared to enter the contest, I had a good
feeling about it.  Over the summer KC1XX & Co. had worked
dilingently on my antenna farm and for the first time in several
years all antennas and systems were working perfectly as the
contest began.  W3MC had installed a EWE for me the week before the
contest, and though 160 meters was nothing to write home about this
contest, the EWE allowed me to pick up at least one station -- CU2V
-- that I never could have copied without it.  The power company's
RFI man, N3RWF, had been really working on the line noises around
my place for the past few months and as a result I have had fewer
problems with noise recently even though we have had a long spell
of dry weather, which generally brings the noises out.   

I started on 15 with the beam on Asia as I had expected, but there
was enough line noise in that direction so that I didn't feel
comfortable trying to run people and went up the band S&P'ing
mostly JA's at the beginning.  But the opening was not as good as
I expected and by 0015 I was S&P'ing South Americans instead and by 
0030 I was already S&P'ing South Americans and Africans on 20
meters.  At 0100 I tried the Pacific on 15 but aside from ZM2K and
KH7R there was nothing there so I went back to 20 and at 0200 I was
already going to 80 meters, having skipped 40 for the moment on
purpose.  Even though there was obviously high absorption on 80
thanks to the relatively high K levels, KC1XX really did a great
job working on the 80 meter beam over the summer.  No more relay
bounce and crackling on receive, a very nice pattern and a low
noise level on the band made it possible to run off some 80
stations on that band, working split, until 0330 when I went to

160 was not productive, so seven QSO's and 20 minutes later I tried
40 for the first time, getting a small run going.  The heavy
flutter on OH2HE was the first clue I had that we were really in a
disturbance, and after 45 minutes on the band I decided that 80 was
the better band for volume and returned there, alternating
thereafter between 160, 80 and 40 until about 0815 when, with 352
QSO's logged, I decided to look at 20.  Before the contest, 20 had
been opening to Europe as early as 0800, so I wanted to see if that
was still happening.  It wasn't, but I did find an interesting
opening over the South Pole to East Asia; 7L1GVE was an honest S9
and among others I also worked B1A.  The band was also open to
VK/ZL as one would expect so I worked a few of those.  

In order to keep going during the day on Saturday I find I must get
a little shut-eye the first night, so at 0845 I went to bed,
returning to the rig at 1010.  80 was fun and I worked both VK3DZM
and JF1IST before going to 40 where I found the direct path open to
Japan and got all of the JA's I called.  But it was really a
mistake on my part to spend so much time there;  I should really
have taken my nap when the European sunrise opening ended on 80 at
0700 and by 0830 I should have been back on the bands, by 1000
running Europeans on 20, because by 1100 15 meters was already in
good shape and I practically skipped 20 on my way up there.  In
preparing for the contest I decided to look higher in the bands for
run frequencies this year and I found a good one on 15 around 21310
which gave me a decent 174 QSO's between 1113 and 1238 when I went
to 10.

By 1500 I was back on 15 and it was a good volume band until 1800
when I went back to 10 to S&P to the south.  I ran off a few
Europeans on 20 but the disturbed conditions made that band close
early to Europe and after doing a bit more S&P on 15 I felt I just
had to get a bit of shut-eye so after taking a half-hour nap I was
back on 10 at 2130 looking at Asia and the Pacific.  The 4-el dual-
driven quad on a 33 foot boom was working well as always and while
the JA's were not runnable they were workable and multipliers like
WH0V, T88X and AH2R also went into my log.  At 2300 I was able to
get a small run of JA's going on 15 after first finding 9M8R and
VR98BG on that band, then worked Asians on 20 from 0000 to 0100
before going to 40 and then rather quickly settling down on 80 to
a nice run of Europeans.  At 0315 I took another nap until 0430
when 80 again became the band of choice until 0730 when I decided
to knock off again for my final nap.  

In preparation for the 20 meter European run which I planned to
begin at about 1000 after napping, I attempted to turn the 6-el 20
meter Telrex Yagi toward Europe before going to bed, only to find
out that my M-Squared Prop Pitch "smart" rotor control had gone
"brain dead" and so my 20 and 15 meter high Yagis remained South
for the duration of the contest.  While I still had the lower 4-el
quad on those two bands, I have to admit that when this happened it
took something out of me, since the higher Yagis are always
superior into Europe at the beginning of the band openings.  The 8-
el 15 meter Telrex at 155 feet in fact is always better than the
lower quad and really punches a nice hole in the band when I am
running stations on 15.  Interestingly enough, at a PVRC meeting
the week before the contest W8ZA had described to me precisely this
problem with the M-Squared contollers, and I had replied that
though I had had the controller for about a year I had never had
this problem with it.

As others have already said 10 was not as good the second morning
though some Southern Europeans were nice and loud.  There were good
multipliers on the band such as ZA1KP, 9G1BJ, E31AA and 3V8BB, but
it wasn't really possible to get a decent run going.  Later in the
afternoon my 20 meter quad produced decent rates toward Europe from
time to time, but my heart wasn't really in it any more and so when
my Green Bay Packers showed up live on TV (they were playing
Baltimore so we got to see them for a change) I admit I spent more
time watching that game than I did on the bands.  With about an
hour to go in the contest I tried 40, but with the high absorption
on the bands signals at this time of day from Europe were not
nearly as good as last year, so a quick return to 20 was dictated. 

I ended up with only about 300,000 more points and 50 more QSOs
than last year.  The first 30 hours were enjoyable, as was 10
meters at times the second day, but the loss of the rotor really
killed my game plan and my competitive spirit.                    
73, Fred, K3ZO

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