Sunday, May 10, 2015

Listening in on the “M” Contest

This is kind of an example of a “ day project” in the shack here. The idea is to spend some time trolling through the ham bands during a particular contest, looking for participants from a particular country, or sometimes just finding what there is to find. The “M” contest involves mostly Russian stations trying to work each other and DX with others trying to work them.

This was not to be a full time effort as in the case of my SWL versions of other ham contests, but of some time spent through the day an hour or so at a time. Its not a matter of needing the countries or anything, though in this case I did pick up Kazahkstan on a new band, but of seeing what there is to hear and enjoying the thrill of the hunt.

The tools for this one were an Icom R-75 with dual 250 Hz filters ( one each in 9 mhz and 455 khz IF's) and an 80 meter top fed sloper facing east and up 45 feet.

Start time was Saturday morning, May 9, 2015, after making coffee and feeding the managerie, i.e. four dogs, three cats iside and filling the outside bird feeders, plus checking the front porch to see if either of two stray cats who come by for breakfast had shown up.

Sitting at the operating desk, full coffee cup in hand and slipping on my aircraft style headphones, I made a preliminary run through the WWV frequencies to get a feel for the prop. Thunderstorms elsewhere in the state made themselves well known on the lower frequencies, though 2500 and 5000 kHz WWV's were in strong, with WWVH slightly audible in the background. The 10000 khz frequency was marked by lots of QSB and WWVH being stronger than WWV. The 15000 khz frequency was really up and down, not strong at all with WWVH also almost as strong as WWV. For reference, the location here is Waco, Texas.

First stop was 20 meters, getting there about 1225 GMT. Things were not really very promising at all...there were not many signals to be heard and they were all really down in the grass. The only stateside call heard was KW4JA, and it was fluttery sounding, wildly varying in signal strength and marked with mild echo. He was calling CQ with no takers.

A sweep through the rest of the band turned up UW2M from Ukraine on 14023.1 just barely over the noise. Usually potent HG7T was on 14012.7 coming in about S-5, RJ4P on 14020.3 also at the noise level and R9FT about the same on 14027 and finally Belarus in the form of EU6AF. They appeared to be making contacts within Europe, but working few North Americans. They were the only ones heard on the band.

The move was made to 15 meters. This may sound strange, going to the higher band when the lower one was poor, but I have learned that strangely enough, sometimes 15 opens well to Europe more strongly earlier than does 20 meters at time. The sun has been up there much longer—it is midday, and the band will be open solidly there. Why this occurs is a little puzzling to me, but I have learned it often happens, so who is to question, just use the knowledge.

I got there at 1234 GMT, having spent only about ten minutes on 20 meters. I usually start at the bottom of a band and sweep upward. Signals were not strong, but there were more of them and the noise was lower on fifteen than it had been on twenty.

The first station identified was RV3AMU about S-3, just flirting with the noise level. However, the station he was working was considerably stronger: NP2X in the American Virgin Islands peaking about S-8. Right after that VE1DT called the NP2 at about S-7.

Tuning just a bit up turned up RC3W about S-5 only 400 Hz up. At 21007 I heard the familiar sound of K1ZZ holding forth well over S-9 and working a string of folks. For SWL's listening in the hambands for DX, a good tactic sometimes is to find a station “nearby” working a string and stay with him. Often the prop to you will be similar as the prop to him and you may hear a good string of DX stations working him. Sometimes the “nearby” station may be weak or maybe even inaudible, but it will bring a good run of good stuff into your log! In this case, I was able to hear him work S53F in Slovenia and EA1VT in Spain before his run broke.

Going up the band I noticed conditions were gradually improving, with signals going from just above the noise level to being comfortably copyable. UT1IM in Ukraine was working a string on 21010 and as I listened to him for about ten minutes beginning at 1244 GMT, he went from S-4 and marginal copy with fading to a solid S-7 in just that short time. Things were looking up!

Going up the band, I was somewhat surprised to hear the first of several Asiatic Russian stations, though with echos and flutters. The usual early morning fifteen meter openings don't usually turn up stations that far over from here. The first in the log was RU9WZ on 21011.7 at 1246 GMT. He was followed by OE8Q and UA6CC a minute later on 21012. With the narrow filters in the R-75 or in my old 75S3 in years past it was not unusual to log three stations within a 1 khz span during active contests. ( I wish I still had the old Collins!!!!)

Over the next half hour, DX stations were logged at a rate of one or two per minute. In rapid succession, RT9A, UA4W, R9DX, then a surprise 4L8A from Georgia on 21023. One of only a few Scandinavians of the morning came in with SK2T next, though it took some intensive listening to pull the call out with its deep fading, echo and flirting with the noise level on 21023.

A mere touch of the dial up brought in RC3W, SN7Q, R8TA,LZ2A, G3NYY and RC4SAA in just a couple of minutes!

A short break for coffee and an unusual callsign jumped into the log: RP70TM. This was a casual contest participation, so when breakfast called there was a short break, then a return at 1447 GMT

This started a quick run that included some stateside stations starting to show up with very strong signals as the day got lighter and lighter. In the log were another Ukraine station in the form of UX1HW, US station W0YWW at S-9+10 db, I6NO, K0DEQ, OE1PEW in Austria, DL8MLN in Germany, VA3DX in Canada, NN4K then N9BX at S-9+20 db.

Signal strengths from Europe were steadily climbing, with almost all signals S-7 and above by 1500 GMT. At 1501 there was a real surprise in the form of JW8DW from Svalbard on 21010 at S-7 with some flutter. While a good one, this was not a new one for me on this band ( new ones get harder and harder to come by the longer you play this game!) The next good string included R9AE, R7AW,WJ9B, VE1DT, RF9C, UT1IM again still going strong, UN8GD in Kazahkstan giving me that new one on 15 meters, RJ9A, HG5T at over S-9, OK1DOR. Through the rest of the day, coming and going from the radio, three log pages were filled, mostly with European Russian stations...well over a hundred for the day.

Its somewhat strange looking at the log and marveling at what I would have thought of logging these stations in my beginning days of DX-ing. It was not even imaginable. Why these things were not heard in those days is an open question, Certainly some of it was a lower skill in copying CW. Some was probably lower sensitivity of receivers, thought the NC-88 should not have been that bad. Maybe it was the poor selectivity ( probably 10 khz wide with no filters ) Some was not knowing when to listen. A lot was probably antenna, having a mostly horizontal antenna at a height that was not conducive to good low angle response.

This is more DX in a few hours than I logged in my first two years of listening. Hearing Russian amateurs in my early days was an extremely rare occurrence.

So does this mean I am getting jaded and losing interest at hearing this many good DX stations? No! For some reason, it never gets old. Even logging JA's is still new every time. If it ever does seem to be getting dull, I just turn the radio off and come back later. The magic of those signals leaping into space, bouncing off the ionospheric mirror and diving down to make little currents flow in my antenna as they zip by never seems to get old. As I get older, it seems the exotic sound of those weak, fluttery signals sitting on the antennas like butterflies on your arm is probably what keeps me young!

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