Pete Soper psoper at encore.com
Mon Nov 24 16:04:16 EST 1997

     Call used: KS4XG
     Category: Single Operator High Power
     Mode: SSB  
     Power: 700
     Exchanged Information: # B KS4XG 95 NC
     Hours of Operation: 24

      160        0        0        -
       80      426      852       35
       40      226      452        8
       20      145      290       19
       15       72      144       16
       10        5       10        0
     Totals    874     1748       78

     Score:  136,344

Equipment Description: TS830S (first hour), IC735(rest of test), SB200,
  20/15/10 2el Gem Quad @ 72', one dipole for 80 at 63', two for 40 at 45'.

Club Affiliation: Potomac Valley Radio Club

Comments: This one was more fun and satisfying than last year despite a 
critical mistake. I'd kick in a few bucks to help subsidize a good Alaskan 
expedition for next year :-)

This is to certify that in this contest I have operated
my transmitter within the limitations of my license and have
observed fully the rules and regulations of the contest.

        Signature Peter J. Soper

- --Long winded story------------

	About a year's worth of station building came together on the day of 
the SS phone contest, so I was using lots of new stuff that tickled me pink 
with its performance while I worried about infant mortality and design errors.
Luckily the new antennas, tower, underground feedlines and remote switch
boxes all performed flawlessly the whole weekend. 
	I wasn't as lucky with hardware in the shack. First a 6146 failed
while I was working out tuneup settings for a borrowed TS830 Friday night. I
was running with low screen voltage ("tune") so it was very surprising to 
smell something and then get a flash and pop as the rig's fuse blew in concert
with the 6146 letting go. The side of the tube was concave. This created a
scramble to borrow tubes. With them in hand I couldn't get power out, then 
remembered to turn the neutralization switch back off (duh) and everything 
seemed OK again.
	An hour before the contest I got on the air with N4AF, K4HA and a 
helpful ham in Chicago and we got mike and processor setting sorted out.
Reports from Chicago were S9+20 to S9 from both the N4AF station and mine as
we swung our antennas around. I got an estimate of 20db F/B with the quad on 
20 meters and it was clear that with the linear this was a potent setup 
compared to anything I'd had at home before. I don't believe for a second that 
my quad is equal to N4AF's KT34XA but for that particular test the ham in 
Chicago found them comparable, a very flattering result.
	As the contest approached I was loaded for bear. I had short QSOs with
some guys on 20 meters and pulled the trigger at the exact starting time with
a great run frequency. After two instant contacts I couldn't get a caller on a 
bet. Then I noticed that the noise floor was at about S8.5 and only the other 
runners were audible with S9 or better signals, so I was a total alligator. I 
searched and pounced on 20 and 15 meters while staring stupidly at the 830, 
trying to understand what the problem was as every frequency was awash with
scratchy splattery signals that I couldn't copy.
	About this time moment I spotted my wife approaching the shack and 
knew there was only one thing that would bring her. She reported that a 
neighbor could hear my speech very clearly from their phone answering machine. 
My neck muscles relaxed again when she said their solution was to yank the cord
for the weekend and they said not to worry about it. Between this neighbor and 
the one on the other side who said if they ever had a problem she'd just get 
her buddies at the cable TV company to fix them, I feel like a very blessed man!
	At one point I became convinced that the quad was so much higher than 
my previous antennas that I could finally get a clear view of the AA4NC 
contest station close by and Will's signal was somehow overloading the 830 
across the bands. I even babbled something about this to Will when I found him 
running as W4MR on 15 meters. A few more minutes of thought made it clear that 
the 830 couldn't be that subject to overload and surely not on 20 meters while 
Will was running on 15. So I switched to silly conclusion #2 which was that 
something in one of the IF stages had failed, destroying the rig's 
selectivity. Meanwhile I had an absurd number of contacts in the log from 
the first hour instead of the 100+ that I should have had by then. I never 
made them up and this fiasco prevented me from my primary goal of 1000+
contacts and a doubling of last year's score.
	The extreme urgency of the contest made me stop trying to figure out
the problem but get some means of getting back on the air immediately. I wish
now that I'd called on N4AF for help! Instead I switched back to my Icom 735
which has no decent SSB filters and ineffective speech processing. I used the
735 for the rest of the test, even after WB4HFL called me on 10 meters and 
Henry instantly diagnosed my problem: I'd hit the NB button, apparently while 
fooling with the processor levels one last time a moment before the contest
started. This shows how much the demands of pulling everything together for 
the contest had drained all reasoning power from my head! I of course feel 
like a total dope and this would ordinarily bug me a lot for weeks. But the 
relief of finishing the contest without the quad's switch box blowing up or 
some equivalent disaster makes the cockpit error seem OK to just forget. 
	Oh, a power meter burned up before my eyes, the SB200's main
fan failed after I turned it on after my nap, the amp relay became dirty 
causing me to go deaf on receive, and I found four bad coax patch cables
during setup (crummy plated PL259s: "never again"). But each of these 
incidents only cost a few minutes and I was positively cheerful dealing with 
	But with the 735 I couldn't hold a run frequency on 20 meters for
more than an hour. Two or three times I found a hole that would be big enough 
for a radio with filters but close-in QRM made it impossible to hear anything 
but the loudest stations and I couldn't establish any rate, eeking out 60-70 
contacts in an hour on Sunday as my best high band stretch. So I searched and 
pounced a lot on the high bands and enjoyed the fact that it rarely took two 
calls to make each contact. My letter to Santa contains an order for IRCI
filters for both IF stages of the 735 so I probably won't be able to use this
selectivity excuse in the future.
	After thrashing around a bit during the early evening on Saturday I 
found a run frequency at 3811 and settled down to a moderate but steady rate. 
It became clear during the test that I should have an alternative antenna for
80 meters. The inverted V with its apex at 63 feet really pounded out the RF 
for close in work (I got reports of S meters pinned, S9+30, etc over and over 
again as far out as NY). But beyond the 500 mile circle I couldn't hear well 
and probably wasn't very loud. Being able to switch back and forth between the 
dipole and a vertical antenna with a little gain (a halfsquare perhaps) might 
have helped. Maybe this winter with the leaves off the trees I can try this out.
Another thing I want to explore is a 260 foot long Beverage (the longest I can
	PVRC/NC buddy W2CS called me on 80 and his serial number was 347 to my 
167. This was humbling and as I worked the next batch of callers I thought
about just how significant operator experience and skill really is. I also 
knew that Gary was very, very motivated by the challenges issued by the PVRC 
for our big shootout with NCCC. The W4ATC M/S station at NC State 
called on 40 meters eight hours later and I was well ahead of them, making me 
wonder if they had equipment problems as their antenna setup and power level
was as good or better than mine.
	Switching to 40 meters around 0700 I got a string of multipliers as
my signal seemed strong to the West. I realized that having a decent signal had 
removed almost all anxiety about chasing multipliers. When VY1JA called in on 
20m later that day I was totally delighted and stopped all worry about falling 
short on mults as I had done last year. If you're reading this, K6LA: you are 
a class act!
	I was desperate for sleep after a few hours on 40 meters Sunday 
morning when the BC stations went off the air, but I kept plugging away. I 
should have gone to bed at 0800 and gotten up at 1100 but instead I slept from 
1030 to 1330. When I got back on, low and behold I found myself camped out 
at 7153.5 with almost no QRM at all above me. Perfection! The only problem was 
that my rate was terrible. I just wasn't loud into Michigan like last year and 
the big load of 40m contacts I had expected to make never materialized. Since 
my antennas on 40m were similar to last year and I had probably 9-10db more 
signal because of the amp, decent feedline and no tuner, I think it's safe to 
say that 40 meter conditions sucked. Antenna project number two for next
year's SS is a wire beam for 40 meters to try to add another few db of punch 
to the North.
	The other thing I noticed and confirmed with reports from multiple
contacts is that my two 40m dipoles (aimed N/S and E/W) were omnidirectional
for close in contacts and equally ineffective for far-north destinations. So
the N/S 40m dipole was a complete waste. I wondered if this is due to the fact
that I have no baluns on either one (the 80m dipole has a very good current
balun). One experiment on the list while I have these antennas up is to add
coil baluns and see if the patterns become more distinct and the range to the
north improves.
	W4ATC (N3QYE operating) contacted me a while later and we compared 
numbers: they were ahead of me by a few dozen Qs, so they had made out like 
bandits while I snoozed. Dang. I was happy to hear Jim say their homebrew 
amp was still alive and well and they were having a lot of fun. 
	Later on Sunday, apart from the hour or so run on 20 meters the 
results on the high bands were the pits and my desire sagged badly. Fifteen 
meters was open again but I couldn't attract any significant number of callers.
I found no sign of Alaska on either 15 or 20. I fooled around on 10 meters for 
a few minutes out of boredom and made four quick contacts into LAX and STX but 
couldn't get any other takers except for Henry. I found W4MR blasting away 
around 28480 with an S9+20 signal but I wasn't fooled (he was really on 14240 
and punching through the 735's front end).
	After more disappointment on 40 meters I found an empty slot around
3845 and that's where I finished. I was pleased to discover that although they
could annoy me with their long carriers and obnoxious noises I was apparently
too loud for the pig farmers to blow me off their god given frequency as they
had done so many times in the past. They just held my rate to 50-60 per hour
but what else was new? It was interesting to watch the noise floor go from S3 
to S9 as the idiots turned on white noise generators. I just kept calling CQ 
and refused to get upset. Monday night while cleaning up the shack I listened 
to some guys on 3845. They kept saying "CQ, CQ contest" to each other as an 
inside joke and I couldn't help chuckling myself as I remembered thinking I
sounded like a voice keyer gone nuts Sunday evening.
	As my 24 hour limit approached I had resigned myself to missing NL
when a VO1 callsign came through, about .1db above the noise. That gentleman 
went to a lot of trouble to give me his #4 and I suddenly realized I wanted to 
look for Alaska. So I gave myself 5 minutes to scan 20 meters in case I could 
find a pileup but no luck. "Next year" :-)
	I noticed around one contact out of 15-20 apparently couldn't deal with
me giving a serial number without any preamble ("please copy..."). A larger 
fraction couldn't get my check if I didn't say "check" before the number. I
didn't change my exchange for serial numbers but did say "check" for the last
part of the test. When I was on the S&P side of the fence and I came across a
really hot operator I gave my exchange without the hems and haws as fast as I
could speak. They never flubbed, ever. I'm really in awe of the mental skills
of the top operators.
	Last year I was #77 out of 800 class A entries. My score this year 
would have rated #78 out of 306 class B entries. So I went from the top 10%
to about the top quarter in terms of last year's conditions. Plenty of room for
improvement next year!


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