[VHFcontesting] New to VHF/UHF Contesting: Next Steps

nosigma at aol.com nosigma at aol.com
Wed Mar 30 21:32:43 EDT 2016

Looking for some advice on what to do next when it comes to improving my expedition type set up.  

I picked up my Technician and General license at Dayton in 2015.  Last fall I decided to combine my love of off roading (rock crawling) with amateur radio and take part in the January VHF/UHF contest.  I decided to enter the FM only category since it does not require a high level of sophistication or a huge investment in equipment.  Living in Northern Virginia I am near several large population centers.  Since FM range is LOS dependent and altitude is king I felt I might just have a big advantage in setting up my Jeep Cherokee to carry my radio gear up to 4,000+ feet in the dead of winter to either of two locations that would give me access to between 12-15 grid squares and hopefully 800-1200 points.  The big snow fall put 6-8 foot drifts on the trails I needed to use, I am OK with 3-4 feet but 6-8 feet just wasnt doable so I ended up in a highly compromised location with mountain tops 1000' above me on 3 sides. I did get a couple of 150+ mile FM contacts but I got totally shut out of major population centers.  As a result I got "smoked", around 100 QSO's but only 60 points worth of contest contacts.  June, September and especially next January beckon.

Current Set Up:
15 foot fold over mast mounted through roof that drops into a manual rotator attached to the cargo floor of the Cherokee.  Mast cross arm is 15 feet above the roof, 23 feet above ground level.  Cross arm support a Cushcraft A14810s for 2 meters, a Cushcraft A44911S for 70cm and a Diamond X-30A omni.  All antenna cabling is LMR-400.  Connectors are UHF.  Cables run inside the mast down into the vehicle.  Radio is a Yaesu FT-8800 (50W 2M, 35W 70cm) that is mast mounted inside the vehicle with the remote head on a work table for logging (all manual).  I was using a diplexer between the two Yagi's and a two position switch to select between the Yagi's and omni.  I have since deleted the diplexer due to losses and run the cables to an Alpha Delta 4 position switch.  I am adding 220MHz using an older Kenwood radio (35W 1.25M) and switching out the dual band monopole for a triband omni of higher gain.  I will probably modify the mast cross arm to add a 220MHz Yagi once I settle on a design for the cross arm and antenna locations that dont have interfering capture areas and decide if I want to phase in a second set of Yagi's.  I have spent quite a bit of time minimizing cable and connector losses (under a dB on all bands from radio to antenna connector and minimizing VSWR which is 1.2 or less at 144 & 220 and under 1.5 at 440. 

Here is is link to some photo's of the set up if you are interested:  http://s49.photobucket.com/user/nosigma/library/XJ%20Radio%20Rig?sort=3&page=1

Where should I go next for the next performance improvement for this FM only system?    
Phase a second Yagi at each band for 2-3 dB?  Add an RX pre amp on each band (if you cant hear them you cant work them)? Add a TX amplifier to get up to the allowed 100W for 3-4 dB?  If the answer is amps then should I mount them at the antenna for minimum loss or are my losses low enough at under 1dB that its not worth the extra set up hassle?  If the answer is RX/TX amps can I get away without having to run a sequencer? Am I missing something more basic, like the radio or driving up to north eastern PA for the next contest?   A KX3, transverters and amplifiers are NOT in the budget, maybe someday but I want to keep this as basic and as simple as possible for now.

Looking for some suggestions.


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