Saturday, December 17, 2022

My 50,000th QSO - an extraordinary coincidence

I made my 50,000th QSO as a licenced radio amateur today. Recently, I had noticed that my QSO count was steadily increasing from 45,000, and then 46,000, and so on. As of Thursday, I had reached 49,990. Yesterday, I made another nine QSOs to bring the total to 49,999. I wanted to wait until something special came along for the 50,000th contact.

I was unable to spend long in the shack this morning as I was heading out to play music. In the ten minutes I was at the radio, I watched the DX clusters to see if there was anything interesting to work. Seeing nothing special, I decided to "spin the VFO" on my Icom IC-7300.

On the 12 metre band, I listened on the SSB portion and spun the dial to find out if I could hear anything that might make a good 50,000th QSO. I looked at the spectrum scope and could see some activity around 24.940Mhz. I tuned in to the station and could quickly hear that someone was calling CQ. But who?

"CQ CQ, CQ 12 metres, this is Echo Alpha Five Bravo Romeo Echo, Echo Alpha Five Bravo Romeo Echo, CQ, Q ..."

I recognised the callsign immediately. Luis, EA5BRE, gave me my very first QSO on HF the day I got my ham licence, way back in October 2009. On that day, I received my new callsign af around 4.45pm on what was a Friday evening. I had just left work and was heading home. I worked my good friend, the late EI4DIB (Tony) on the Dundalk 2m repeater (on 145.675) on the way home. My callsign back then was EI8GHB. When I got home, I found the higher bands all dead and there was very little activity on the phone sections of 40 metres and 80 metres. Back then, I did not know CW (something I learned in the winter of 2009-2010 and, having passed my morse test in February 2010, I got my new callsign EI2KC in early March 2010).


There are only two callsigns in my log for the evening of 30th October 2009, the day I got my licence. They are EI4DIB and EA5BRE. I worked Luis on 7.121 Mhz LSB, my first HF contact as a licenced ham! It was 23:17 UTC, so quite late in the evening.

Luis and I have had only one other QSO in the intervening years - a 17m SSB QSO in June 2017. Luis lives in Alicante and is an active DXer with 10-band DXCC. 

Today's QSO was very special, because of the way I unintentionally stumbled upon his CQ. I felt it was immensely coincidental and just HAD to work him as QSO #50,000, given that he had been my very first HF contact when I began my ham radio activity from this shack 13 years ago.

Here is a short video of some of my QSO with Luis today:

Sunday, July 4, 2021

My first QSO with Japan on 6 metres

Well it finally happened. After weeks of waiting, I managed to log two JA stations on 6 metres this morning. I got a message from Doug EI2CN saying he was decoding and working Japan. Now Doug has a much more substantial station than me, at a much higher elevation, just a few miles from here. He regularly sees and works stations that I cannot see/hear.

However, after waiting a little while I started to see decodes from Japan on FT8. I put out a CQ JA, and after a few minutes I was called by JG2BRI. He was at -15 and gave me a -18, but with heavy QSB on the band other EIs were reporting that they were having difficulty completing QSOs. 

I grabbed my smartphone and made a quick video. I hope you can forgive my excitement, but this was the moment of my first ever Japan QSO on 6m - one I have waited 11 years for. I think the "yeeehaa" was justified!

A few moments later, I was also called by JH4UYB and managed to complete with him too, with signal reports of -16 each way. After that the band closed up pretty quickly here, but I did not mind as I had finally achieved a QSO that I have been anticipating for years.

Needless to say I also worked two new squares with these JA QSOs - PM84 and PM86. Also, Japan becomes my 110th DXCC worked on 50 Mhz.

A screenshot of my first QSO with Japan on 6 metres.

A screenshot from showing some of my decodes in Japan.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

A major milestone: DXCC confirmed on 6 metres

At the beginning of June, I had 95 DXCC worked on 50Mhz (6 metres), of which 89 were confirmed. I am delighted to now report that I have reached 100 confirmations on the band and therefore have achieved the much-sought-after 100 DX entites confirmed via Logbook of the World.

On 1st June, I took down my storm-damaged hexbeam and erected in its place my old three-element 6m yagi. I was able to work a rake of new ones (exclusively on FT8) using this beam, but a couple of weeks ago I upgraded to a five-element LFA with folded driven element which I was very kindly offered on loan by Declan EI9HQ.

Last night, I logged HK3PJ, my first contact into Colombia on 6 metres, and my 109th DX entity logged.

Here's a quick list of all the new ones I have worked since 1st June:

7X2RF Algeria, worked on 1st June. DXCC #96 on 6m. 

A61DD United Arab Emirates. Worked 3rd June. DXCC #97. Confirmed on LoTW.

HZ1SK Saudi Arabia. Worked 3rd June. DXCC #98. Confirmed on LoTW.

HC1BI Ecuador. Worked 3rd June. DXCC #99.

P43A Aruba. Worked 5th June. DXCC #100 worked - a landmark day!

A71AE Qatar. Worked 8th June. DXCC #101. Confirmed on LoTW.

OD5KU Lebanon. Worked 8th June. DXCC #102. Confirmed on LoTW.

5T5PA Mauritania. Worked 11th June. DXCC #103. Confirmed on LoTW.

J69DS St Lucia. Worked 14th June. DXCC #104. Confirmed on LoTW.

5el LFA yagi erected 16th June 2021.

XE1KK Mexico. Worked 18th June. DXCC #105. Confirmed via LoTW.

5Z4VJ Kenya. Worked 20th June. DXCC #106. Confirmed via LoTW.

TZ4AM Mali. Worked 20th June. DXCC #107. 

OX3LX Greenland. Worked 24th June. DXCC #108. Confirmed via LoTW.

HK3PJ Colombia. Worked 26th June. DXCC #109. Confirmed via LoTW.

HK3PJ from Colombia, my 109th DXCC worked and 100th confirmed on 6m.

I am extremely grateful to my fellow EI dxers who prompted some of these QSOs by alerting me to their presence on the band. There is a wonderful community of hams here and most are extremely helpful to other hams.

I began operating on 6 metres in the summer of 2010 using just a fixed dipole with no rotation. I was active for several summers until around 2015, with a 3el yagi, by which time I had worked around 90 DXCC. I was inactive for a while before grabbing some more new ones in 2018 with my six-band hexbeam which had two elements for 6m. After that antenna was badly damaged by a storm, I eventually removed it and re-erected the 3el beam on 1st June this year, and that's when the new ones started to roll in. 

Some of the DX stations worked above appeared only for a few minutes, while others such as 5T5PA have been seen regularly. That's the magic band!

Today, I am proud to be able to say I have worked and confirmed DXCC on NINE bands (80m through 6m), all via LoTW as I do not send out QSL cards except in reply to those sent to me.

Now for the next challenge! Is it possible to get DXCC on 160m from a postage-stamp garden, or should I aim for 100 countries on 2m using EME? :D

Sunday, June 6, 2021

A century worked on 50 Mhz (6 metres)

I don't blog about ham radio nearly as often as I would like to, but that's because I'm exceptionally busy with work and other writing projects. I have published two books so far in 2021 and am currently 90% through writing a third, which will hopefully be published in the next month or so.

I haven't been neglecting radio though, and have been QRV regularly. This being the summer season (with its attendant sporadic E propagation!), I recently decided to remove the wrecked hexbeam from the pole and put my three-element 50Mhz yagi up in its place. The hexbeam was wrecked in a storm a couple of years ago and due to radio inactivity and being busy with many other projects, I did not do anything about it.

However, when some of my local DXing friends were reporting good DX openings on 6 metres, I could not resist putting the yagi up to try to capture some action.

My total reach on 6 metres on Thursday 3rd June 2021, a memorable day on the band.

At the beginning of the 2021 6m season, I had 96 DXCC worked on 50Mhz and 89 confirmed.

I am glad to report that, thanks to a couple of really great openings during the past week, I now have 100 DXCC worked and 90 confirmed.

Thursday was a big day. After a slow start in the morning time, with few signals being decoded on FT8, the band opened up to the Middle East. At 11.23am local time (10.23UTC), I logged 9K2OW. I didn't immediately realise it, but I had 9K (Kuwait) worked and confirmed on 6 metres. But this was only the beginning of what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable radio days I've had since being licenced in October 2009.

Soon, I had A61DD from the United Arab Emirates in the log for a brand new DXCC on 6m, number #97. That was followed with another A6 QSO with A65BR, both later confirming via Logbook of the World.

I logged 9K2NO, the second Kuwaiti contact on the band. At that point, around 2pm or so in the afternoon, the band closed to the Middle East but there was still lots of propagation to Europe, before eventually some trans-Atlantic propagation began to appear.

I worked PV8DX in Brazil at 5.34pm local and at that stage had only the slightest hope of some action into the Caribbean. Soon I had HI8RD (Dominican Republic) in the log, and what followed was a fantastic evening of DX on the "Magic Band".

My three-element yagi on 6m has helped me get 100 DXCC on the band.

I logged no fewer than EIGHT Dominican Republic stations - HI8RD, HI3T, HI8T, HI8DL, HI3AA, HI8S, HI8PAP and HI8GSP. I also logged CU2AP in the Azores, who later confirmed the QSO on LoTW and although I had CU worked on 6m before, I had no confirmation, so it was a new one confirmed. I also worked CU3AC on 50.152Mhz using SSB – a rare mode for me these days!

Unbelievably, there were still reports from EI and UK of openings to the Middle East, so I swung the beam back and forth between west and east, and on the latter I soon bagged HZ1SK in Saudi Arabia, another new DXCC on 6m, no. #98!

Back looking/listening west, I logged WP4G in Puerto Rico (not a new one) and soon W4AS gave me my first North American QSO on 6m in 2021.

ZF1EJ in the Cayman Islands was worked, which was a nice one to get, although I had previously logged him in 2018 and the QSO was confirmed on LoTW. Several EI friends were decoding HC Ecuador and even HK Colombia. Could it be possible, I wondered?

Soon HC1BI was in the log, my first Ecuador and DXCC no. #99 on 6 metres. I was thrilled. Shortly thereafter I logged PJ4KY in Bonaire, and while not a new one it was a nice QSO anyway.

K0BZ was working from KP2 (US Virgin Islands) and I was getting occasional decodes of him on and off all evening, but eventually, with patience and perseverance, I logged him at 11.02pm local time. It was not a new DXCC but still a nice contact.

HC1HC gave me my second Ecuadorian DX of the day at 11.23pm and, after a few more contacts into both EU and NA, the band eventually faded.

Friday was another busy day on the band, but no Middle East this time, only EU. Later in the day the band opened to the USA and Canada and I bagged a heap of DX calls from eastern USA and Canada and some new squares.

Although Saturday (yesterday) was a quiet one on the band, there was a small opening in the evening time towards the Caribbean, and that's when history was made!

A screenshot of my historic QSO with my 100th DXCC entity on 6m with P43A.

I worked WP3R in Puerto Rico on FT8 and knew that I might have a chance with P43A in Aruba, who was active on the band and worked by some fellow EI ops. At 9.03pm local, I eventually got a QSO with P43A, giving me my 100th DXCC entity worked on 6 metres!

It has taken a long time to get to 100 entities worked. But there are many reasons for this. I first began 6m activity in summer 2010. For several years I used just a fixed aluminium dipole. Eventually I got the 3el yagi on a rotator but after just one season a storm broke the rotator and stub pole, so I was back to the dipole until a few years ago I got a six-band two-element hexbeam. That was also wrecked after just a couple of seasons in use, so I am now back to the 3el yagi again. 

All things considered, it's not bad. In order to take VHF seriously, I think one needs to focus on good antennas. It would have helped a lot if I had a 5el or 7el yagi on the band, but space, time and money are all considerations.

Now that I have 100 DXCC worked on 6m, the hope is to (a) work more DXCC and (b) get from 90 confirmed to 100 confirmed. To that end, I am making inquiries about acquiring a five-element yagi. I will keep you posted!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

JX2US Jan Mayen Island logged for my 200th country on 80 metres!

I just worked my 200th country on the 80 metre band. JX2US Erik is on Jan Mayen Island in the Arctic Circle, almost 2,000 kilometres north of Ireland. He is there until March 2021 and will be operating on the HF bands, primarily the low bands, during his spare time.

He was on 3.501 Mhz (CW/morse code) at 9.46pm local time and working a hefty (mostly EU) pile-up that was spread out between 1 and 4.5 Khz up from his transmit QRG.

Declan EI6FR and Don EI6IL had both logged him a short time before. Declan told me his operating pattern was to slowly move up in frequency from QSO to QSO, and then at a certain point he would sweep gradually back down. 

I got lucky.

I found the QRG of the previous QSO quickly, and turned the VFO to decrement or lower the frequency very slightly and called him with 400 watts through my homebrew inverted V dipole.

He came back quickly (through QRM on his TX QRG) with "EI2KC 5NN" and I replied with "RR DE EI2KC UR 5NN 5NN TU". He came back with the familiar "TU" (thank you) and that was the job done! I was in the log!

Jan Mayen Island is 1,919 kilometres (1,193 miles) north of Ireland.

I didn't know it until after I had logged him and used the 'recalculate statistics' feature of my logging software, Logger32, but he was my 200th country worked on 80 metres.

That is a very pleasurable number for me, because I have a small garden with extremely limited space for antennas. In fact, the 80m dipole is dog-legged and only 9m (about 30ft) at the apex. 

But it works, and is resonant. It might not radiate ideally, but it has done a sterling job here.

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.