Sunday, August 30, 2020

Casual contesting is actually great fun

This weekend I decided to keep my CW contesting skills up to date by participating in the Romanian DX contest (YO DX). Although this is a mixed mode contest, I operated CW only. Since the Covid-19 lockdown, there has been no activity at the EI0R contest station where I regularly participate. So I felt it would be good to keep my contesting skills up to scratch, so to speak.

I used only my inverted V dipoles and my Antron 99 for this contest. The hexbeam is still down, pending repair, at the moment. Despite the limitation, I had great fun and worked 378 QSOs on the bands. My best band was 40 metres, where I managed 167 contacts. 20m was next with 89, then 80m with 60 QSOs, 15m with 37 and I was thrilled to be able to manage 23 contacts on 10 metres using the Antron vertical.

My claimed score is 142,754 but there were perhaps as many as ten or 12 QSOs where I had great difficulty copying the progressive number, especially on 15m and 10m where some of the signals were weak.

Notwithstanding the slight difficulties, overall the contest was very enjoyable. There were good run rates at times, and only a few lean periods. Most of the time it was possible to log QSOs without having to wait too long. I operated maybe 12 hours out of the 24-hour contesting period. I did not want to get too tired or stressed and only participated to have fun.

I certainly achieved that objective. I'm looking forward to further contesting coming into the winter.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The humble dipole is really a great antenna

Because my hexbeam is still down and awaiting repair, I have been using wire dipoles and my Antron 99 to make QSOs. But I had no resonant antenna on 20 metres and was badly missing the action on that "bread and butter" band.

The apex of my inverted vees. The short one is the new 20m dipole, with homebrew insulators made from PVC chopping board!

So I recently added a 20m dipole to my nest of inverted vees. Previously, I had three vees, one for 80m, one for 40m and one for 30m. When I added the 20m dipole, I was surprised and perhaps a little annoyed to find that it was not resonant. Its inclusion in the nest did not seem to upset the VSWR on the other bands too much, thankfully, but with an SWR of 7:1 on 14Mhz, it simply was not effective and not radiating efficiently at all.

Astonishingly, I did not have an antenna analyzer. It's a piece of equipment that every shack should have but it's something I had never invested in. During a conversation with some fellow DXers on a WhatsApp group, I got chatting with John EI3ISB, who kindly offered not only to give me a MINI60S analyzer which was surplus to his requirements, but also to come to my home and help me analyze the 20m dipole and either extend it or trim it to resonance.

A wider view of the inverted vee dipoles. 

Yesterday morning, Saturday, John arrived and within a short time we found that my 20m inverted vee dipole was resonant on 15.67Mhz – way above where it needed to be. I still do not know how this happened, except that I must have been using the wrong online dipole calculator or else I made a mistake in trimming the two legs. Either way, the antenna needed to be LENGTHENED. And not just by a few centimetres, but actually by about 50cm.

I lowered the dipoles down using the pulley rope and we quickly got to work on adding a piece to each leg before hoisting the whole lot back into the air again.

A quick check with the analyzer revealed that resonance was achieved towards the top of the 20 metre band, at around 14.300Mhz. I lowered the pulley rope again and added another 5cm or so (a couple of inches) on each leg and raised the dipoles again.

This time, resonance was around 14.100Mhz, which is pretty good. I do a lot of digital modes, and prefer CW to SSB, so this was a more than acceptable point of resonance.

John left and I was grateful for all his help. I was finally operating properly on 20 metres! I had a very rewarding day on the band, working DX on FT8 in most parts of the world.

A screenshot from showing where my 20m signal has been heard during the past 24 hours.

I hope you can see from the above screenshot that the dipole has been very effective in carrying my signal to various parts of the world. I see that I was heard in the Falkland Islands, in Alaska and in Kenya. In fact, I worked 5Z4VJ in Kenya using FT4 yesterday evening. Other DX stations worked included several JA ops, YB0MWM in Indonesia, BG0BBB and BD7BS in China, ZP9MCE in Paraguay, A45XR in Oman, LU8EKC in Argentina, 9Y4DG in Trinidad and Tobago, YV5JLO in Venezuela, along with several stations in the United States and Canada.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The global reach of a small ham radio station

I don't care what anybody says. FT8 is a wonderful mode for those with modest antenna systems. Again I looked at and again I find that the pursuit of DX stations has been fruitful with relatively low power (generally 20 to 50 watts) and wire and vertical antennas.

They say a picture paints a thousand words. Above is a map from PSKreporter showing where my FT8 signal has been decoded around the world in the last 24 hours. I am impressed. Now I do love a CW QSO, and I am also fond of phone/SSB contacts, but FT8 is convenient, quiet and you can be running QSOs while doing other things in the shack.

Most of the action today was on 17 metres, using my Antron 99 vertical antenna and 40 to 50 watts output. The best of the DX there were several JA stations who answered my CQ, a HS (Thailand) station, A65DR in the UAE, and two VU (India) stations along with a clatter of callers from the USA.

Just to demonstrate that I do not spend my whole time on the air using FT8, I did have a couple of CW QSOs. One, with Hans DL8MCG near Munich, was recorded on my smartphone. You can view the entire QSO on YouTube here:

In this video, I was running 100 watts from the radio.

By the way, I should finish by saying that I was not decoded in Australia today. In fact, it's been a while since my last QSO with VK, so I am looking forward to hearing the VK (or indeed ZL / New Zealand) call coming through at some point, hopefully soon.

PS: I have been uploading my log to Logbook of the World every two to three days. I was delighted to see that a contact I made with a station in China (BG0CAB) late last night was confirmed this morning.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Heard in almost every part of the world in 24 hours

Digital modes, and FT8 in particular, are a fascinating way to find out just how far your signal can be heard or decoded. Admittedly FT8 can do things that the likes of CW can only dream of, with the ability to decode signals as faint as -24dB. Yesterday, I had fun on different bands at different stages, using FT8 and about 15 to 50 watts depending on band. On the high bands, I used my Antron 99 vertical antenna. On the lower bands, I used the nested inverted V antennas for 80m, 40m, 30m and 20m.

My FT8 signal was picked up as far away as Alaska, Tasmania, China and South Africa.

Looking at the map (thanks to, it is nice to see that my signal was heard on pretty much every continent, with the exception perhaps of Antarctica where monitoring stations are few and far between. I was heard in south America, Alaska, Tasmania, South Africa, China, Japan and Malaysia. I worked some nice DX too, including 9M2TO in West Malaysia on 40 metres (using a simple inverted v dipole), some South American and Caribbean stations on the same band, and China on 17m.

Both 17 metres and 30 metres have proven to be excellent bands for surprise DX. Last week, using just 20 watts and my Antron 99 vertical antenna, my CQ on FT8 was answered by two JA stations. Both were logged and later confirmed on Logbook of the World.

The huge amount of FT8 activity (seen on all the bands from 80m through 6m) is occurring, it would seem, to the detriment of other modes, especially phone and CW. There is much less activity on phone and CW since I was last "very" active, about two years ago. Perhaps everyone is using FT8 because of the sunspot minimum. With the solar flux index hovering around 70, we won't be seeing any spectacular openings on the higher bands just yet. But as sunspot cycle 25 has begun, there are signs that things could be about to turn a corner.

While I love FT8 and the possibilities it brings, I am also a major fan of CW and I do like SBB too. So let's hope that FT8 hasn't stolen all the action and that as the months progress I will start to log far-distant DX stations using CW and phone as well as FT8.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The annual Perseid meteor shower brings an opportunity for some fun!

The Perseid meteor shower has been reaching its peak during the past 24 hours and this has provided an opportunity for some fun using the MSK144 mode, more commonly known as "meteor scatter".

The stations who picked up my MSK144 signal on 50Mhz, from

I managed to have my signal heard in Europe last night on the 50Mhz (6 metre) band, although I did not make a QSO. This morning though, things were better. Several bursts were heard, and replied to, and I managed to log four stations in Europe using MSK144. They were in Italy, Hungary, Austria and Germany. One or two of those might have been propagated using sporadic E, but certainly there were some that came from distinct meteor events.

The setup here for MSK144 is the Icom IC-7300, running 50w to max. 100w into a dipole antenna. I have a beam for 6 metres but it is not in the air at the moment. I run WSJT-X with mode set to MSK144 and frequency on the radio is 50.280 Mhz.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The trusty Antron 99 is a much-underestimated antenna

My Antron 99 is a wonder. It's a simple vertical, designed to operate on the citizens band, but has effective performance on the 17 metres, 12 metres and 10 metres amateur bands. I have used it for years for the higher bands, often as an alternative to the hexbeam. It has worked wonders for me. On 28 Mhz, when the sunspot numbers were really good, I worked DXCC and much more in about six weeks during the solar peak. Many of those contacts were made using the Antron.

The reach of my signal today on FT8 using between 15 watts and 75 watts and the Antron.

It is a half wave over quarter wave variable mutual transductance tuned antenna and is rated for 2,000 watts (I assume that's PEP). It doesn't claim to be anything special, and I have heard several hams saying that it isn't, and that by virtue of its design it shouldn't be anything special. But it works, and works well.

I have recently been enjoying using the Antron for some FT8 activity on 17 metres. A couple of days ago, while calling CQ with just 20 watts, I was answered by two Japanese (JA) stations and successfully logged them. Today, I decided to increase the power a bit and was delighted to see the great reach of my humble station. My signal has been decoded as far east as Japan and as far west as California. Not bad for a CB antenna!

A new rig and a much changed shack

It's difficult to believe that it has been almost four years since my last blog post. Some of you could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I had given up the hobby of amateur radio. But no. I just got busy with other things, mainly with Mythical Ireland, which is my one-man organisation dedicated to the ancient history, mythology and archaeology of Ireland. 

In fact, since my last blog post here, I have published TWO books and written another one and a half! I have been busy writing another, which will be my eighth book (that's the "half"!). Six have been published so far. One, written between 2018 and 2019, is awaiting publication. 

My new Icom IC-7300 on the shack desk with Sheunemann Morse key and LDG autotuner.

My website, Mythical Ireland, was relaunched in late 2017. In July of 2018, I discovered a huge late Neolithic henge monument close to Newgrange in the famous Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site here in the Boyne Valley. So as you can imagine, things were very busy. That discovery, dubbed 'Dronehenge', was featured in news reports all over the world. I was in the New York Times and Washington Post, the story was on the BBC and in newspapers all over Europe. I appeared on television on National Geographic, Channel 4 and RTÉ. 

There was less time for radio, and although I maintained small levels of activity over the past few years, I did not have the time nor the energy for those big dxpedition pile-ups! Besides, I have 323 current entities worked in a decade on the air, and am very happy with that.

Recent radio activity has been much more relaxed. I greatly enjoy using FT8, and with my small antenna farm this mode is ideal for making long-distance QSOs with modest antennas and low power. But I also very much love to use CW and enjoy a bit of casual ragchewing when I get the opportunity. Phone contacts are few and far between these days, but mainly because the sunspot numbers are low and there is not much voice activity on the HF bands.

The new-look shack. There are fewer radios, but it's tidier and nicer!

The hexbeam was damaged in a storm over a year ago and I have postponed repairing it because I did not have the time or commitment for it. However, I am hoping to get it back in the air soon.

As a result of a major library/office/shack renovation, I had to downsize the radio shack. So I removed some VHF radios and sold my Icom IC-756PRO which I replaced with an Icom IC-7300. This radio is a work of beauty and fits on the desk just nicely. I have enjoyed using it so far. The Acom 1000 hadn't been used in a long number of months and I was glad today to find that it is working!

At the weekend, I added a 20m dipole to my nested vees. So now I have dipoles for 80m, 40m, 30m and 20m. The Antron 99 works very well on 17m, 12m and 10m. On FT8 last week, I was called by two Japanese stations while CQing on 17 metres with 20 watts.

I am not planning to update this blog too regularly, simply because of time restraints. I work full-time (based at home because of Covid-19, which suits fine because I don't have to commute to Dublin!) and Mythical Ireland activities are keeping me very busy outside of that.

But I wanted to let you know that I have not quit the hobby. As with all hobbies, sometimes life gets in the way. And that's fine. I consider myself privileged to hold an amateur radio licence and I love the hobby. 

Hopefully I might work you on the bands soon!