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[VHFcontesting] Where should we focus first on our station?

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Subject: [VHFcontesting] Where should we focus first on our station?
From: Sean Waite <waisean@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 2 Feb 2016 11:58:29 -0500
List-post: <vhfcontesting@contesting.com">mailto:vhfcontesting@contesting.com>
Hi everyone,

This weekend I was part of a new multi-op team running as K1SIG out of New
Hampshire. We had two ops at the station, myself (WA1TE) and Chris KG6CIH.
We were at the QTH of KG6CIH, and he's done some VHF contesting before but
my contest experience has been limited to a few HF contests here or there.
We have a few other members that may join us at times, but they were unable
to make it this weekend.

We chose to run as limited multiop, low power this weekend. The choice was
fairly simple, as we had no gear above 100W and only HTs above 70cm. We
realize that the biggest thing we can fix is location, we were kind of in a
hole surrounded by trees (New England!), but otherwise we had a lot of
downtime to discuss what we can do to improve the station.

Our station for the contest looked like this:

Yaesu FT857D for 2 and 70cm sideband and FM
Icom IC7000 for 6 sideband, we could have done FM but didn't
Alinco DR-235T for 222 (FM only)

These were fed to a set of beams on poles lashed to a porch - a 15el
Diamond A430S15 for 70cm, a 7el M2 2M7 for 2m, and a 5el beam for 6.
Including the height of the deck, the 2 and 6 meter beams were maybe 15-20'
off the ground, the 70cm beam was stacked over the 2m beam with another ~7'
of height.

On 220 we had a j-pole vertical in a tree about 70' off the ground.

The 2 and 70 beams were fed through a diplexer with a single piece of
LMR400 clone back to the 857, the 6m beam was a straight shot with LMR400
clone to the IC7000. I think the j-pole is also using the same LMR400 clone.

If we swung the beams more North we were aimed basically directly at the
house, so that's not ideal, but we'd need SIGNIFICANT height to get above
the trees, and even further height to get out of the valley. A different
operating location is definitely in the cards, we're just working on where.

I was running the 2/70 station, and KG6CIH was on the 6/222 station. He
would pick up most of the contacts on 6 and then punt them over to me to
work on 2 if possible, and 70 if we were extremely lucky (only made 4
contacts on 2 grids on 70). He would occasionally call on 222 and try and
move people there after making a contact on 2 or  6. I also would call on
2, and while it was a bit slower we did make contacts .I would sometimes
jump onto 146.52 and call to try and dig up a few more contacts. It was
definitely worth it.

We had a good bit of quiet time (had ~90 total contacts, 99 points with 13
band-grids for 1287 points claimed) over the weekend, so we were trying to
figure out what to improve beyond location.

The immediate, low effort wins we could come up with were bandpass filters
and low noise amps on the antennas. On 2 and 70 this would look like beam
-> bandpass filter -> LNA -> diplexer -> radio, similar on 6 without the
diplexer. While there were very few stations we could almost-but-not-quite
hear down in the mud, there were still a few.

Another win that we'll have shortly is a dedicated 2m FM radio, I purchased
a Yaesu FT2900R for my own use as well as to have dedicated to 2m FM during
these contests. It wasn't super active but it seemed worth it to be
monitoring as much as possible. We were polarized wrong with the 2m beam
for FM, but it still worked, we'll likely go with another J-pole or similar
unless we decide to get another beam for 2m FM - probably a long term thing.

We're also going to look into a 1.25m transverter to get us SSB on that

Is 6m FM worth investigating, or listening to?

The only other thing I can think of to improve our scores is maybe to toss
in CW. I'm a very raw CW operator, QRS PSE is my favorite set of letters,
but I'm improving so that might get us something. We didn't have a key this
weekend (of all the crap I drug along with me that we didn't end up using,
for some reason my paddles didn't cross my mind).

Other than location and height of antenna, is there anything else we can be
doing to improve our ability to make contacts? Right now we think it's best
to focus on the 4 lowest bands, at our current location even 70cm is rough
and we'd like to get the more common bands ironed out before opening
ourselves up to the unlimited category and more bands.

The immediate exposure for 900 and 1.2, if we went that way, would be
slapping beams on our Alinco HT's and trying to work those bands FM with
very little power. We're not concerned about those bands yet.

We also discovered things like the ON4KST and Ping Jockey chats after the
contest was over, so those may help in the future.

Sorry for the thesis, we're just excited from the contest this weekend and
are looking to improve some things before the September contest rolls
around. Any tips or pointers for how we could make our station better are
welcome, or any links to sites that give us similar pointers.

Thanks, 73 and good contesting
Sean Waite, WA1TE
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