On the Air

QRP Dreaming

With no antenna in the air for more than a month I’m getting a little stir crazy. Sure, I played with the KX3 using the telescoping AX1 portable antenna from the kitchen table last month, but ain’t nothing like the real thing.

Having had all the radio silence I could stand, I strung a random wire up a 30-foot mast that’s still attached to the back of the house on Sunday morning. The AH-4 antenna tuner liked it well enough on 30 meters that I decided to try to make my first FT8 contact of the New Year.

Mission accomplished. A few watts to the (mostly) vertical wire using FT8 yielded more than a dozen contacts on 30 meters and another handful on 80. One of those contacts with fellow ham-blogger Steve, K9ZW who was enjoying a snowstorm in Wisconsin while I watched it rain here in Central Indiana.

I wasn’t surprised at this modest success. Having been a QRP-only operator from 1997 until 2015 I’ve worked more than enough DX with low-powered kits and oddball wire antennas to have long ago become a believer. Though after nearly 20 years of this kind of activity I found it difficult to not become jaded about the efficacy of five watts and a wire.

But lately I’ve been taking fresh inspiration from Rich, KY6R who has started making a habit of trolling the bands for DX at QRP, while experimenting with various oddball antenna designs, I find myself thinking about a return to the minimalist radio lifestyle…

I dream of an Inverted-L to best take advantage of the low-bands from my small lot and build around the fully loaded KX3. All the equipment is powered exclusively from batteries that are charged via the Sun. I chase the DX Marathon using QRP CW every year while riding out the balance of time remaining in my lifelong ham radio adventure.

I’d never tell anyone that whatever particular joy they take from this hobby is not real ham radio, but success, however you define it, with a minimal station is as real as ham radio ever gets.

On the Air

Goal Achieved

Following up from yesterday, I finally made enough contacts to match last years HF total. I did that by hanging out on 60 meters for a few more hours last night and another hour this morning. In the process, I worked stations in Belgium, England, Bolivia, Uruguay, Portugal, and several in Canada. Five new countries on a new band using FT8. And as usual with these digital contacts, almost all of them have already confirmed via LoTW.

Prior to this week, I had made exactly 14 contacts on 60 meters, all of them via CW. It was really a delight to find so much digital activity on a band that hasn’t been severely degraded by present solar conditions. I really don’t know why I hadn’t listened on 5MHz for digital traffic before, especially given FT8’s ubiquity.

I’ll crunch all the logging stats from 2019 over the next day or two. I already see that for a third year in a row, more than half the contacts made were via a digital mode, although this time it wasn’t due to FT8 but to my entry in several RTTY contests.

Even with my focus moving to VHF in the New Year, I expect the overall trend to continue to be even more digital work. And I think that accurately reflects what’s happening across all of hamdom.

On the Air

Leveling Up

I have a friend who has always been a confirmed low-power CW operator. But last summer he told me had started using digital modes while in the field. When I asked why, he explained that field organizations, like POTA and others, require a minimum number of contacts before an activation is considered valid. So when all the HF activity moved to FT8, many field operators started taking it along so they could be assured of making the minimum number of contacts before switching to a more favored mode.

That conversation came to mind a few days ago while compiling year-end statistics for my radio activity in 2019. Total contacts for this year lagged last year by a few hundred. With less than two-weeks to go before we roll over to the New Year, I figured I could easily match last year’s total if I spent a few evenings using FT8.

These kinds of metrics don’t normally motivate me, and there’s not much to be gained from making a few hundred more domestic contacts, I already have WAS via FT8. But this year was trending lower than last year and that was down from the previous year. No doubt a result of diminishing HF propagation on the way to the bottom. Still, seeing the numbers made me want to at least equal last years efforts.

So, on this day after Christmas, I need less than fifty contacts to match last year. Hitting that goal seems fairly certain. There’s seemingly unlimited FT8 activity on 80, 40, and 30 meters.

And then this morning, I made my very first digital contact on 60 meters and now it feels like another magic portal has opened…