Posts Tagged ‘Contesting’

Whats going on with Morse code?

   It would seem from the blog reading I have been doing that CW seems to be on the rise within our ranks. I am not sure what it has to do with but Parks on the air, summits on the air and so on are getting popular these days and maybe folks are realizing you may get more bang for your buck with CW. If you have read my blog for any amount of time you know that I am "into" CW. Way back CW was a must if you wanted your ham licence to get onto HF. At that time I forced myself to learn CW to get my licence and that was it. I hit the needed 12 wpm for advanced and then put CW on the sidelines. 

I moved into a townhome and had to operate stealthily as the HOA cops were always out and about and antennas were a BIG no no. I set up an antenna in the attic the Alpha Delta DX-EE and it worked great. I was operating SSB in the Canada Day contest and having a blast. Later that day my next-door neighbour said she could hear "CQ contest" from her speakers!!! If I wanted my love for ham radio to continue I had to change things up. I had to drop the power and in doing so SSB was going to be tough for contesting. It was then I decided to take up CW again and go QRP with it. 

This meant basically relearning the code, I did it before but this time it was for keeps! Below is my journey with the code and some of the pitfalls and joys. I found the second time around learning the code was not like the first. This time I wanted to learn it and not have to and that made a big difference. 

Certain letters came easy such as M, O, T, E, C, Q and then there was J, H, B, S, F, L. As I started out I thought my frustration would subside as I learn more of the code. It did but I found it reared its ugly head for various reasons. Frustration comes with most learning and is not specific to CW. Learning a language, playing an instrument, or driving a car they all come with frustration but we press on. When learning anything one must understand that you may not become a pro. You may not be Peter Frampton, Mario Andretti or top-end CW ops. We may not be wired that way but we have to be thrilled with where our ability, hard work, work and family constraints fit us onto the scale of skills. 

What is the best way to learn the code....well it's personal and the short answer is we have to ferrite out the method that works for us. Understand this can be one of the most frustrating parts and if you are not committed to learning the code this could be your excuse to give up. Through trial and error find the way that greases your wheels to learn the code. I tried code-learning CDs in the car at home and so on that was a flop for me. Getting on my laptop for short sessions and having the program throw letters at me and I had to type in the correct letter did it. 

Things you will run into while on the journey: 

- Moving 3 steps forward and sometimes 4 steps backwards. Get ready for it will happen and understand it will pass. 

- You feel there are certain characters you will never get. Hold on and I guarantee you will get them some just take longer than others. I see parents who are all concerned that their little one is not walking at the same age as everyone else. I tell them to look around and see how many adults are not walking but crawling ...some take longer than others but we all will get there. 

- Counting the dits and dahs, I found this more so with the numbers learning. Understand it will happen and later I will tell you what I did to break this habit.

- So you know all the letters and numbers but why then all of a sudden are you have issues with certain letters or numbers that you had mastered? Understand this is part of learning and will happen. Remember 3 steps forward and 4 steps back. As you increase your speed this for sure will happen. 

- As you begin to listen to words or QSOs's your going to hear a letter and not get what it is. You then will stop to think about it and then get behind in your coping and frustration. This happens to all of us you have to learn what they said in the movie The Goodfellas "forgetaboutit", It's time to train your brain to skip over it and move on.
- As your speed increases you will have a tendency to assume the next letter and when it's not that letter you will be thrown off. Guessing the next letter is normal and you are going to have to ignore it and wait and see. This is very true with copying call signs. For me, it was I hear V and I think VE and it's VK. I hear D and I think DL and it's DF. Guessing ahead with CW will get you further behind. Let me be clear thinking ahead is not the same as listening ahead. 

Ok, enough of that for now let me go back to counting the dits and dahs and how I overcame that. I increased the sending speed to a point where it was impossible to count any part of any letter or number. This trained me to listen to the complete sound of the letter or number. With this over time came instant character recognition. We all know CQ in Morse and most of us don't hear individual C and Q but we know the sound of it and know it's CQ. 

For me, morse code is an adventure and my understanding is to get to your happy place with it in regards to speed and understanding. Why are you learning the code POTA, SOTA, Contesting or general QSO's or a combination of them? Depending on what you will be doing with the code will determine your learning path. For example, I love contesting. So accuracy, speed, letter and number recognition and being able to keyboard without looking at the keyboard. Other Morse code adventures require word recognition, sending code via a key and adjusting to weather and operating.
Enjoy the journey, have fun and keep expanding on the art of Ham radio.


The Art of DX Pileup Busting


Recently, I came across some questions another amateur radio operator posed to a group of CW enthusiasts. Since I have an interest in Morse code, I thought I would explore these questions:

— begin quote —

1. When chasing some particular CW DX station needed for my DXCC punch-list, what are some things(s) that one can do to improve one’s chances of snagging that DX contact amidst a congested pileup? Is it truly the luck of the draw or roll of the dice? Or are there some time tested methods, less than obvious, that the experienced CW DX chasers have used that seem to improve one’s chances of snagging the DX contact? Yes, I’m aware that there are many variables to consider. I’m just looking for some general suggestions to improve my odds of success based on the experience of others.

2. If, let’s say, a DX station appends “UP 1” or “QSX 2” to his CQ call or just “UP” appears in a DX cluster spot listing, what is considered an acceptable amount of “UP”? I’m amazed sometimes at the amount of “UP” that I hear. LOL. Does a hefty amount of “UP” actually improve one’s chances? What does the DX op expect?

3. After a DX station sends their callsign how long should one wait to reply with one’s callsign? I hear stations respond immediately. But sometimes I hear others wait just a “bit”, and then respond to DX. And sometimes when the DX station is responding to a chosen station, other callers are STILL calling the DX op. What do most DX operators expect with regard to the response of a reply? Immediate? One-Mississippi …?

4. I hear stations reply to DX with their callsign once. Others sometimes twice. If I send my callsign twice I run the risk that the DX station has already begun his reply back to me with my sig-report while I’m still in the midst of sending my 2nd callsign reply. So … I should send my call just once?

— end quote–

Great questions!  And, the answers translate over to working DX pileups on voice, too.

Waterfall with split operation displayed.

Here are some of my off-the-cuff remarks, based on my limited experience DXing since 1990:
(I am an avid DXer, with 8BDXCC, etc.)

1. Listen, Listen, Listen: The DX station typically does work split – the DX station on, say, 14.023 MHz, and the DX station is listening anywhere from 14.028 to 14.033 (up 5 to 10). You first, of course, need to listen to the DX station, but, also to hear the stations that are calling the DX station! The trick is to be able to hear some of the stations that are piling up on the DX, and to determine if the DX is working a station, then tunes up a little, or down a little, from the frequency on which the last caller was chosen.

Once you know this, you want to position your signal so that the DX operator tunes to or very near where you are transmitting your signal. If the DX station does not call you but continues in the same tuning direction, you reposition your transmit frequency (always in the pileup window) and try again. If you do not know where the DX station is listening next, and especially if you cannot HEAR the DX station, you are calling blind and are in for a long effort.

If you have a way to see the waterfall at and around the DX frequency, you can often see the general spread of “UP” where the callers congregate. When listening (and, let me tell you, listening is key) to the DX station, watch the waterfall for the responding caller (the station in the pile-up calling the DX), as sometimes it is very obvious who is answering the DX. Watch this exchange for a number of new callers – and get a sense of HOW the DX operator is moving through the pile-up. Anticipate where the DX might listen next. Choose that “next frequency in the pattern of movement” and use that as your calling frequency.

2. Timing your call: this takes a bit of effort. I typically listen to my chosen transmit frequency, trying to call never at the exact same time as others, on or near my calling frequency.

3. I always send my callsign TWICE… something like this:


There are some fine CW-oriented DXing books, PDFs, and websites that talk about this. For instance:

I hope this personal observation of mine about working a Morse code pileup is helpful in some way.

73 de NW7US


Chances like this only come now and then……….

The bands will come alive


This weekend is the running of the CQ World Wide DX CW contest that runs for the entire weekend. Now those of you who are not into contesting then it's off the SSB portion, digi portion or the WARC band. But you don't have to be a contesting nut like me to be excited about this contest. This is a chance to find and make contact with some very decent DX. It will give you a chance to line your DXCC pockets, work all states award, work all zones award, place your rig in QRP or QRPp power and see how many miles per watt you can do and the list goes on. Not too great at CW you say, well there are some very decent code reader software out there that also send code as well. Chances like this only come now and then.

As for me I am going to be for the weekend and hope to do well and have a lot of fun while I am at it. Cheers and have a good weekend for those in the U.S. Happy Thanksgiving!

The morning MST mini contest


Each Monday morning at 1300Z and 1900z I take part in the 1-hour medium-speed CW contest or MST as it is called. Medium speed is 25wpm or less and the exchange is your name and progressive contact number or serial number as they call it in contesting. During the mini contest this morning I was calling "CQ MST" and as always I also have loaded on my PC screen the reverse beacon network website as seen in the picture above. This allows me to see how my signal of 100 watts is getting out. This morning as I was calling on 20m I was shocked to see my signal strength into ZL4YL New Zealand and MM0ZBH Scotland.

Taking the side road……

This weekend the LZ dx contest was up and running, I have never taken part in this contest and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of activity. It's a 24-hour contest that started at 8 am out my way and it gave me a nice workout for the upcoming weekend for the CQ World Wide DX CW contest. I took part for about a total of 4 hours and made 120 contacts for a score of 13,110. 

Midway into the contest I was taken down a side road for a pleasant surprise. At some point on Saturday afternoon calling CQ contest was slowing down on 20m. I decided to make a left turn and head down the 10m side road. There were very few LZ contesters there but I did notice a commotion on the waterfall. When I went to investigate it was H44WA DXpedition in the Soloman islands calling CQ North America (CQ NA) and he was all alone. I put the Icom 7610 in split and dual mode (hearing both VFOA and VFOB) and made the mental change from CW contesting to CW DXpedition. After a few short tries, I was in the log. I was glad I made a left turn and took a side road from the contest.

Reverse Beacon Network surprises

 Last weekend I took part in the WAE DX CW contest and most of the time when I calling "CQ contest" on my second monitor I have the RBN or reverse beacon network up and running. The main reason for doing this to see where my signal is reaching and if it is targeting in the case of the WAE contest Europe. Now and then I see my signal has been spotted in both interesting places and far away places. This contest was no different, on Sunday morning I was spotted in New Zealand by ZL3X multiple times from 4dB to 11dB, VY0ERC in Eureka in Nunavut at 7dB and finally 5W1SA in Samoa at 8dB. Nice to know my 100 watts are getting out there!

A nice surprise in the mail today.


 I wanted to thank the Dutch PACC contest committee for a nice participation ribbon that arrived today. It was the first time I took part in this contest and it was well-attended and fun. When I looked up my log results I was not able to find them at first. I later clued in that I entered as SOAB low-power MIXED! I have to pay closer attention as I was and always am CW and not mixed.

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