Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On The Cover of Rolling Stone (or QST at least)

The results were published today for the June 2009 VHF QSO Party in QST Magazine. My paltry efforts in the Unlimited Rover category resulted in a 3rd Place finish in that category and a listing of my name and callsign in the hallowed pages of QST.

Now, the league has lost some of it's luster since I was first licensed decades ago, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't still get excited to see my name in the magazine, work W1AW on the air, or get a contest certificate in the mail. The years have made be wiser, and perhaps a bit more of a cynic, but there is enough romance left in these old bones to still get a warm feeling for these things.

In truth, my score of 24,000 was nothing to write home to mom about. And if the "Unlimited" category of Rover didn't exist, I wouldn't have placed in the Top 20 for Rovers. But for someone who operates with indoor antennas 90% of the time, and is always playing second fiddle to other stations, it was a nice morale boost.

Even this minimal showing would not have been possible without a lot of help from my VHF Elmers. First among them would have to be Jimmy Long, W4ZRZ. Jimmy not only loaned me equipment for my rover effort, but also provided a lot of training, set up support, and encouragement along the way. He always seems to be there with a pat on the back or a kick in the backside (whichever is needed) at just the right time to keep me motivated.

He's also one of the best VHF operators that you'll ever meet, and a heck of a contester. I've learned so much from him, and couldn't begin to repay him.

Bill Capps, AF4OD loaned me his 5Ghz and 10Ghz equipment for the contest when he saw that work would prevent him from making a major effort. He also has provided some valuable intel about good operating locations, and roving in general. Thanks Bill!

And lastly Jack, WA5UUD has indulged my endless questions about all things VHF---and is the first to call me on the one to alert me to openings. He also hung with me during my journey into EM61 where VHF operators are rare, and warned me of an approaching storm. Jack is one in a million, and I'm proud to call him friend. Thanks for staying with me Jack!

There are many more VHF Men who've helped out too---Marshall, K5QR comes to mind, and Bill Olson, and well, pretty much everyone on the VHF Reflectors, and e-mail lists. 

If I haven't said "Thank you" or told you that I'm grateful before, please let me do so now. It's quite a special fraternity that I've been allowed to join here. "VHF Man" is one of the best things that an amateur can be.



Grid #73 & The Jig To Come

Tropical Storm Ida and a cold front have put an end to the tropo for now, so what's a grid chaser with indoor antennas to do? Turn your eyes to the skies!

The Leonids Meteor shower will peak on November 17th, but even now the daily rates are starting to rise. Last night I had some limited operating time, but jumped on Ping Jockey to try a few contacts. My first attempt was with Terry Bess, K8JX in EN64, and we managed to pull off the 770 mile contact in a little over 15 minutes using WSJT software. This is Grid #73 on 2 Meters for me, and was a nice contact indeed.

Dan, VE2DSB monitored our QSO and decoded a couple of pings from me, and even managed to decode several from Terry off the back of the beam. After completing with Terry, Dan and I attempted a QSO for what must be the 30th time or so. Alas, no joy in Mudville. Dan and I were still not able to complete our QSO despite a half hour long attempt.

The ironic thing is that Dan was actually my first ever contact using the WSJT mode, but the QSO did not count because he walked me through it using the Ping Jockey Internet reflector. On that initial attempt, we completed in about 20 minutes, with Dan providing guidance and tips on operating the mode via the Internet logger. At the time, I think we both thought that we'd simply "do it again" for credit without the aid of the reflector later on.

Hours after the first contact (with three completed QSO's under my belt) we tried again without success. It's now turned into a running joke between the two of us. At 1,200 + miles it's no piece of cake for a meteor scatter contact, but both of us have completed longer ones.

Still the effort and the goal give us a glimpse into what the early VHF Men had to endure. Endless schedules in an attempt to complete a QSO, and seemingly endless disappointment. Dan and I are resolved to try around the 17th of this month during the shower peak to see if we can finally bag that elusive QSO.

I've got a bottle of bubbly chilling in the shack fridge to mark the event, when it finally happens, and have promised to dance a jig too. My wife is looking forward to that---you see, I can't dance, and all attempts to do so have become the stuff of legends in our family.

For those out there struggling with less than perfect antenna situations, hang in there, and remember that getting there isn't half the fun, it's all of it.



Scaring Up a Good Time-Halloween Tropo

Forgive my excitement---because I'm sure that this week's tropo openings in the Southeast and Midwest are not exactly the stuff of legends to most VHF men. But to a newcomer like me, it seems like the opening of a lifetime. Despite having only limited time to spend at the radio, I got all treats and no tricks!
On Wednesday night, I managed to work five new grids and dozens of stations that had previously only been worked via WSJT meteor scatter. The band was literally filled with signals, as I tuned across the band hearing QSO's in progress from 144.170 all the way up to 144.220. It was hard for me to believe!
I'm sure that this has something to do with the veil between ourselves and the spirit world being thinnest at this time of year, and all that. But be in voodoo, hoodoo, or just that Old Black Magic, I'll certainly take some of this witchcraft!
I worked stations from Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Arkansas, all in one magical evening!
You may say that these conditions were caused by atmospheric conditions, related to a pressure boundary, and all that scientific mumbo-jumbo, but you guys can't kid me. This was black magic! How else can you explain someone over 900 miles away telling a station with a 6 element indoor beam that his signal was "So loud, literally booming in!" Or reports from three states away of "S-9 +, you're the loudest signal on the band!"
Nah, I was married on Halloween, 27 years ago---so I know a thing or two about this darkest of holidays. You can try to feed someone else your lies about this tropo stuff. You guys should just come clean and admit that you've made a deal with the devil.
Regardless, as they say in Texas Hold 'Em...I'm all in! Now at 70 grids worked on 2 Meters with my indoor antennas, I'll gladly make a bargain with Lucifer for the next 30 grids!
Happy Halloween, indeed!