[CQ-Contest] CQWW SSB 1999 -- A recap (long)

Fred Laun K3ZO aalaun at ibm.net
Mon Nov 1 11:12:10 EST 1999

Somewhere on the CQWW CD-ROM produced by K3EST which I have I guess there
is a historical recounting of how the founders of the CQWW Contest, W6QD,
W4KFC, et. al., decided to select the last weekend in October as the date
for what has turned out to be the premier phone DX contest of the year,
based on the observations of the sage DXers of that era, and the conditions
we experienced this year certainly validated their choice.  The predictions
for the weekend based on the 28-day cycle of the Sun's rotation had not
been all that great, but at this point in the sunspot cycle there are so
many spots forming and dying out seemingly at random that the
28-day-generated predictions are less valid than they would be for a
quieter Sun.  And that appears to be what happened this year.  The
unexpected disturbances of last weekend and earlier in the week had driven
up the solar flux to unexpectedly high levels and just as the CQWW
approached the background radiation from the Sun stabilized, allowing the K
and A indexes to drop, and bingo! we had superb conditions.  Not only that,
but the weather here in the mid-Atlantic was benign as well:  sunny days,
no wind, no storms, no QRN:  a perfect Halloween weekend.  

W3DQ had asked on our PVRC reflector prior to the contest that someone put
up an operating plan for the contest for small stations to help our club
members plan for the weekend.  After waiting a few hours to see if anyone
else took the bait, and seeing nothing, I jumped in with a plan.  I had
predicted that at the start of the contest 20 would be open to EA and CT
and perhaps Scandinavia.  I hadn't expected that it would be open to the
rest of Europe as well, but it was.  On 15 I had predicted that the contest
would begin with a good opening to East Asia, and it did. I started the
contest on 15 and indeed I got a good run of JAs going right off the bat,
but I certainly wasn't expecting to be called by OHs and R1MVZ as well,
which is what happened.  I realized right away that conditions at the
beginning of the contest were about as good as they ever get and I just
hoped they would last through the whole weekend.

After 15 died down and I went to 20, I had it in my mind that I should go
to the low bands as is customary during the hours of darkness and so even
though my rate on 20 was fine I broke away at about 0230 (all times in this
report are in GMT) to hit 80 first and then 40 with a bit of time spent on
160.  As things turned out this was probably the only mistake I made during
the contest.  The QRN was low and I could hear the Europeans just fine on
80, but there was no volume and my several attempts to get a run going with
my 3-el 80 meter Yagi were just not fruitful enough to make the effort
worthwhile.  I guess there just weren't enough people down there since
conditions on the higher bands were so good.  Forty meters was wide open
with booming European signals but again the rate I could muster there with
S&P and an occasional run was nothing compared to what I could garner on
the higher bands.  Fortunately I didn't waste much time on 160, going there
just once during the whole contest, and I decided early on that unless
conditions changed suddenly this would be primarily a "run" contest and S&P
and the low bands would necessarily have to take a back seat.  In
retrospect as a single operator I should have used 80 and 40 for S&P only
at different times of the night, retreating from 20 only long enough every
now and then  to take a quick run across those bands before quickly
returning to 20.  This contest was going to be about rate as opposed to
multipliers, and I better get used to that fact right away.  I have to say
that I was additionally influenced in this thinking by W1KM's first-rate
article in NCJ.  Find it and read it if you haven't already!  
After fooling around on 80 and 40 for a few hours I finally did get back to
20 and found the band wide open to Europe at around 0600.  The 20 meter
European sunrise opening that we have been accustomed to during the summer
months now exists even at this time of year if the K index is low.  I have
long since determined that I need a couple of hours' sleep the first night
in order to be sharp for the European runs Saturday morning.  With such
fine conditions it becomes harder to figure out how to take time off.
However the mechanics of the ionosphere are such that even with such great
conditions the 20 meter band will close to Europe for a couple of hours
just prior to our dawn.  Something about the D layer reforming and all of
that stuff.  So when the Europeans faded away around 0800 or so it wasn't
hard to convince myself that now was the time to get some shuteye.

In doing my predictions for the club I had noticed that 10 meters was wide
open every day even when the K index was high and that it opened pretty
fast after sunrise.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I had recalled that
during the previous sunspot peak the highest run rate achieved in the USA
had been I believe by KC1F and that he did it on 10 meters on a frequency
of something like 28815, so I had already resolved to choose a run
frequency somewhere around 28650 on 10 meters.  For one thing, what little
line noise I had noticed on 10 seemed to have a null right around that part
of the band, and though I observed that the SSTVers are around there
somewhere, I hoped I could find a spot where I wouldn't bother them.  

Speaking of line noise, I should digress for a moment to say that for the
last several months PEPCO's RFI man K3RFI (yes he has a Vanity Call! -- his
original call was N3RWF) has really done a great job of attacking my
chronic line noise problems.  Nowadays the only noise problems I have are a
moderate noise to the South when it's raining or there is a heavy morning
dew, and a noise to the North that begins in the early afternoon on sunny
days, building to a peak just before the sun goes down and then rapidly
dissapating.  Indeed I was only bothered once during the contest by noise,
when I was running JAs on 10 late Saturday afternoon, and even then I
believe I copied most of the JAs that called me including JA6GCE/QRP.  Once
it got dark the noise quickly began to subside and was all gone even before
the JA run was over.  Speaking of JAs, it is a well-known fact that they
almost all begin S&P at the bottom of the band and tune up, so even though
it may be wise to run Europeans higher in the band, the place to run JAs is
the first clear spot above 28300.  

It is also true that once 20 opens back up to Europe just before sunrise,
the MUF rises very rapidly and it won't be long before 10 is open as well.
So after getting back on the bands at 1000 and doing a bit of S&P to Asia
and the Pacific on 40, it wasn't long before I settled in at about 28630
for a long, long European run.  As was very evident last year, it is
important to spend the first morning on 10 meters if it's open because if
disturbed conditions set in you might not have 10 meters the second day.
So I went merrily off to the races.  Never since I have owned the TR-LOG
program have I seen the rate meter reach such levels before.  For me any
time the rate meter shows anything over 100 I am doing well.  I couldn't
believe what I was seeing and at one point the rate meter actually got up
to 268!  I even had to shorten my technique, at times just letting my
carrier drop after a QSO and getting callers without giving my call, and at
other times, instead of saying: "Thank you, K3 Zulu Oscar, contest" just
saying: "Thank you, K3 Zulu Oscar."  My QSO total quickly built and by noon
the first day was already up to well over 1000.  

I probably wasted time doing S&P on 10 late in the afternoon when I could
have been running stations instead, because when I finally did begin to run
as the band opened to JA I got a lot of calls from LUs and PYs off the back
of the beam as well.  My marvellous K3TW-modified W6PU 4-element
dual-driven 10 meter quad at 78 feet played beautifully as always.  It
doesn't have the greatest front-to-back ratio in the world with the
180-degree phase shift between the two driven elements that Tom came up
with, but it sure has the forward gain and is nice and quiet on receive,
with an SWR of no more that 1.3:1 anywhere from 28300 to 28700, which
allows me to tune the amplifier up once around 28600 and forget it.  After
dark the higher Yagis can take me into Asia and the Pacific in pile-ups but
during the hours of daylight the 78 foot height seems almost perfect for
all-around general use.  While I have high multi-element monoband Yagis on
20 and 15 to complement my W6PU Quad on those bands, I have never felt the
need for a complementary Yagi on 10.  There has long been conventional
wisdom that a low Yagi is best for breaking pile-ups into the Caribbean but
with this quad I am almost always through to any Caribbean station on the
first call.  Indeed during my first S&P session through the 10 meter band
on Saturday afternoon my rate meter was above 100.     

Speaking of amplifiers, I made a change in the amplifier department this
year by acquiring yet another Titan 425 to go with the two Titans I already
own.  I bought my first Titan second-hand in about 1985 and bought my
second used Titan a couple of years later in order to have instant backup
in case of problems, and these two amps have made it possible for me to
cruise through a dozen almost trouble-free 40,000+ QSO years but finally
the original Titan got to the point where Chief Engineer N6CZG was having
trouble keeping it on line, so after toying with the idea of buying a new
Titan II, after finding out that Ten Tec had a reconditioned Titan 425 that
I could have shipped out immediately, I decided that for compatability's
sake (the Titan II uses a single 4CX1600 instead of the 425's pair of
3CX800's) I would get that one instead, and I saved myself a nice piece of
change in the process!  With this latest Titan I learned my lesson from the
other two and have pasted a tuning chart next to each knob on the front
panel so I can preset my controls when changing bands.  I never liked to
clutter up my amplifier's front panel with notes but the weak link in the
Titan is the bandswitch and it doesn't take much to have it arc over if the
amp is drawing a lot of current off-resonance, so I have found a way to
post my settings without being too visually challenged by them.

The second night I spent far less time on the low bands.  I have found that
I need to take two breaks the second night to keep myself reasonably sharp,
so after 15 closed to Asia Saturday night I went to bed for a couple of
hours, getting up in time for the European sunsrise openings on 80, 40 and
20.  Then at about 0600 I went back to bed for a full four hours, awakening
refreshed for a little multiplier S&P on 40 and 80 before hitting 15 at
about 1100.  I noticed on my computer screen that my QSO total on 15 up to
that point was only about 300, so I decided to hit 15 early and stay for a
while.  I found a nice clearing on 21207 and settled in for what turned out
to be a long run.  I was actually planning to go to 10 in a couple of hours
but the rate meter stayed around 150 and I worked fast enough to keep the
channel reasonably clear, so I didn't get back up to 10 until about 1700.
By that time the QSO total on 15 had climbed to about 1000 so it was time
well spent.  

Once I got back up on 10 I only had an hour of wide-open European run
before the band began to shut down in that direction.  I modified my
technique to go lower in the band and alternate S&P with short runs on
clear spots I happened across in my S&P, and I also did something which I
have found very useful at the end of S&P runs to Europe on the highest band
open to Europe at the time, and that is to begin turning my beam further to
the South as time goes on -- first to 75 degrees and then to 90 degrees.
For some reason as a band begins to close to Europe in the late afternoon
-- 10 at this point in the cycle and 15 or 20 at lower points in cycles --
there is a slight skewing of signals to the South of the true path.
Indeed, as I began to run Europeans with my beam at 90 degrees my run rate
picked up again and almost every European I worked at this point commented
on how strong my signal was.  Some of the stations I worked this way --
particularly the OHs and SMs -- had signs of side-scatter echo, but most
were booming in and sounded direct-path.  Here is the disadvantage of fixed
stacks in not being able to respond to this kind of opening, but I guess in
this age of rotating towers with slip-rings that is becoming less of a

Once the Europeans drained away on 10 I could see that my QSO total on 20
was decidedly anemic, amounting to only a little over 300 QSOs at that
point, so since I had had such success on 15 in the morning I decided to
skip that band altogether and go directly to 20, hopefully arriving in time
to stake out a good run spot before the multitude descended on that band.
I did so and settled in on 14161 for a nice long run.  

Now for a description of the final step in the three-pronged attack which
ultimately made this contest such a pleasure to operate:  as I have already
described, I had prevailed upon the power company to do something about my
line noise and I had acquired another amplifier.  Ever since W3ZZ convinced
my XYL that I needed a new rig to replace my beloved TS-830-S, and I got a
birthday present in the form of an FT-1000-MP, I had the impression that 20
meter SSB had become a lot less pleasant to operate during a major contest.
 I recalled how with the TS-830-S I was not really bothered by junk from
the sides and always seemed to be able to pull callers through despite the
signal jungle around me, but since I had acquired the FT-1000-MP, well, 20
meter SSB just wasn't fun any more, and my QSO totals on the band showed it.  

I got to talking with N6TV, an acknowledged expert on the FT-1000-MP,
during my annual West Coast forays to the DX Convention, and he was pretty
sure there was a way that you could use another radio as a receive-only
accessory with the 'MP.  So this summer I had Bob send me an e-mail with
step-by-step instructions for installing my TS-830-S as a receive-only
radio for use with the 'MP.  Bob was worried about only one thing:  that
there was no easy way to mute the '830 while transmitting on the 'MP, so I
might give my ears a bit of overload.  About a week before the contest I
finally got around to hooking up the '830 according to Bob's instructions,
and at first I thought he was right about the muting.  In fact the XYL came
down to the shack to ask why she was hearing me through my headphones all
the way upstairs, but then I discovered that the '830's 20-db pad had been
switched on my mistake.  With normal received signal levels on the '830,
Bob's modification works like a charm.  The '830's AGC takes care of any
audio level problems we might have been expecting. 

So after being on 20 meters for a while I began to notice the usual jungle
encroaching on my little patch of spectrum as more and more people began
arriving on the band.  Now's the time to switch to the '830, I thought, and
voila!, all of a sudden the jungle just cleared away and I could hear
callers again, nice and clear! 
At one point I was bothered slightly by a bit of splatter, not from the guy
right next to me but from further down the band, so I decided to go see who
it was and it turned out to be K1AR about 5 KHz away who was about 90 db
over 9.  Yes, the higher sunspot cycle does have the disadvantage of
shortening the skip distance so that New England is in here direct path on
20 at the beginning of the European run.  But I would almost swear that
John has Kenny's station wired so that on transmit he beams half of his
signal Southwest in order to help keep the jungle at bay!  Anyhow, it
wasn't an unsurmountable problem with the '830 although the 'MP would have
rolled over and played dead under the same set of circumstances.

I never like to use age as an excuse but as I approach the age of 62 I do
notice that the annual motoring trips to Dayton by W3ZZ and myself are
broken up by ever-more-frequent pit stops as our bladder capacities are
increasingly affected by an annoying appurtenance called the prostate gland
which I am told expands as you get older until it pushes into the bladder,
decreasing the latter's capacity.  Since I need a rather    constant supply
of grapefruit juice during a phone contest to keep the old voice tones
reasonably dulcet, my continued occupancy of 14161 was being threatened by
an urgent need to get away from the rig for a couple of minutes.  Alas my
trusty Nel-Tech DVK-100 voice keyer, which had a repeat function I could
use on such occasions,  died a couple of years ago and I shipped it back to
the factory but was told that they no longer stock the necessary
replacement parts so with my permission they trashed it.  So I have been
using the DVS-2 with the FT-1000-MP ever since.  So with great reluctance I
finally left someone with the gift of a nice clear channel at 14161 and
went off to take care of urgent business.

When I returned I had little hope of finding a clear run spot so imagine my
surprise when I happened across 14168.5 which seemed to be perfectly clear.
 A couple of tentative CQs produced no protest and I proceeded to run off
quite a few stations before it became apparent what had obviously happened
as K3LR suddenly appeared calling CQ, at first slightly off to the side and
then blatantly right on the frequency, but, hey, it's finders' keepers in
this game and if you go off to snag a mult that you see pop up on packet
there might be consequences.  I have learned that in late-afternoon
openings to Europe my W6PU quad at 78 feet is the perfect antenna for the
path and I knew I could hold my own.  We fought for a while but when DK9IP
came in and called me by name to make sure it was known who he was calling,
the operator at K3LR moved away a bit and things got back to normal.  I
hasten to add I hold no malice toward the op at K3LR and I know Tim runs a
first-class ship, and were I in his shoes I probably would have done the
same thing.  That's why it's called a contest.  As N6TR has remarked on
here so pointedly, it's a jungle out there and the "QRL?" conventions
invented by European rag chewers for less crowded band conditions cannot
possibly hold during the CQWW.  Can anyone honestly believe that there is a
single KHz anywhere in the relevant portion of the 20 meter band that is
NOT in use somewhere in the world during the CQWW?  So at times sheer
muscle must be used.  You don't see football players avoiding each other
and in the boxing ring the guy who spends all his time backing up is the
guy who loses the match on points, and so it is with radio contesting.  You
try to use common courtesies as much as you can, but occasionally you have
to stand and fight.

My long afternoon stay on 20 seems to have paid off.  I ended up there with
a total of 900+ QSOs and there is even a question as to whether I would
have had more mults on 20 if I had gone S&P'ing.  During this run I had
calls from HS0AC, 9V1RH, 9M2TO, 5A1A, VQ9CV, VK5GN, ZM2RR, ZS6K and CO8LY
among others, all with the quad beamed at Europe!  

In summary, a great contest, a bit light on the multiplier side, more than
made up for with QSO volume.  Who knows, if I hadn't fooled around so much
on the low bands the first night, I might even have broken the magical
4000-QSO barrier!  Oh well, there's always next year!

73, Fred                                                            

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