P40L-P49Y Contest Summary Information

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Well, the short report is that after a discouraging start Friday night, the pace picked up and the final score is 18.5% higher than last year.  This makes the third straight year the score has increased, but never so dramatically.  We had continued increase in RTTY contest participation, growth in prefixes and great 15 meter conditions.  Here’s the long report ...

The low bands are key in this contest and to that end, I do everything I can to maximize what I get on 80 and 40.  That includes starting on those bands at 00z, but that’s probably a mistake because I’ve never been able to get much rate going until about 02z on 80 even though the band is well open to Europe and NA.  I’d be better off doing a couple hours on 20 until 80 can develop higher rates.  In 2009, I had a relatively slow first hour with hardly any QSOs on 80.  This year I was determined to work more on 80, but once again it didn’t happen early.  In fact, I fell behind last year’s overall 80/40 pace and the gap widened as the first few hours unfolded.  The band conditions were el stinko with weak, watery, mushy, fluttery signals plus plenty of QRM.  The QRM doesn’t bother me much with the K3s, but I worry about others hearing me.  I got more and more discouraged and worked harder.  When I took my first break as the rate dropped toward 70/hour just after 09z, I was exhausted.  All I had to show for the evening’s work was that I had arduously worked my way back to being just below the same point in 2009.  I was down 50 QSOs, and 9 mults.

Based on point-rate, rather than QSO-rate, my prior year’s data showed that 14z would be a good time to resume my 30 hours, using 20 and 15.  Both bands seemed ready and I was eager to find out how the high bands would play after the disappointing previous evening on 80 and 40.  It took a couple minutes, probably the time of my first spot on 15 and 20, for the rate to jump up to a sustained 165/hour.  The 17z hour was 188 contacts, my highest in WPX RTTY.  (Previous high was 165/clock hour.)  The pace was steadily pulling away from last year’s hourly data which I had posted right in front of me between the two keyboards.  Qs were gaining as well as the prefix total.  I kept an eye on the bandscope and bandmap of the third radio on 10 meters (more about this later) and never saw anything to entice me to check out.  Mostly just regional spots and no blips above the background noise level on the scope.  I was too busy working stations to do much analysis real-time, but it was obvious that a big lead over 2009 was built during the day.  So, how would 80 and 40 play on Saturday night? ...

Mucho better.  The bands sounded good and signals were stronger and crisper.  The 80/40 combined rate was just below 100/hour compared to Friday night which averaged 110/hour.  This may not sound like much, but since the QSO points are doubled, it is equivalent to 200/hour on 20 and 15, which is hard to reach, let alone sustain in this contest right now.  The Asia/Oceania opening was even better on 40 and the Europe activity on both bands stayed up longer compared to previous years.  I nominally planned to take my second break between 06-07z but

let QSO rate drive the decision and didn’t pause until after 08z.  Mostly, Saturday night just wasn’t so fatiguing.  It also helped that the upward gap continued to increase relative to 2009 and raised my spirits.  At Saturday’s break, 27:45 hours had elapsed and the score was about 800K over last year’s final claimed score.  QSOs were only 14 less than the 2009 30-hour total and mults (prefixes) were already 45 higher the final 2009 count.  I was definitely in a better mood on this break!

In the previous three years, the peak daytime hour on 20/15 was 17z, so I started my last time segment at 1615z.  Instantly (thanks again to Packet, I’m sure), the rate jumped up to 130/hour which was down from Saturday’s high band rate, but still respectable.  It looked like I would just surpass 3500 contacts and 900 mults.  BUT â?¦ at 1750z, the rate dropped from 130/hour to zero immediately.  The 1750 minute had three QSOs and for the next five minutes there was not a single response to my two CQ streams.  After a quick tune across both bands, it was apparent that some sort of disturbance was occurring.  There would be an odd signal here and there, quite loud, but just spotlight propagation and not enough to sustain any rate. With 30 minutes remaining on my 30-hour SO clock, I decided to give it a rest and find a more productive half-hour later in the day.  I took the headphones off, stretched, and glanced over at the 10 meter bandscope ... that was hopping with signals in a 15 kHz segment centered on 28085.  And the 10-meter bandmap showed a string of SA stations.  Headphones back on and I discover they are all running at a respectable rate.  NA signals are loud.  Sounded like one of those 6-meter openings.  I decided to see what kind of rate I could develop.  Immediately jumped to 80/hour SO1R and I knocked off 43 Qs in that last 30 minutes.  My time ran out before the short opening reached the West Coast, but the Eastern and Mid-West regions from the Gulf up into Canada were plenty loud.  A bit of QSB at times, but every QSO printed perfect.  Getting a taste of some real 10-meter action after all these years of the doldrums got my adrenalin flowing!

In the end, I fell 13 Qs and 7 prefixes short of my 3500/900 bogey set late Saturday as the data continued their upward trend.  The first few 3830 postings show that others also had a good weekend, so I’m eager to see how the overall contest ends up.  It was great having VE3EJ, N2NL and (believe it or not!) N5RZ call in on RTTY.  EJ even moved to 20 for me and I’m guessing Gator used the CW-RTTY feature of his K3 to work me.  If so, his technique was outstanding as it was hardly noticeable.  I doubt if he has any further clues, though, as to why we do this mode!

SO3R.  I wanted to try some different things this year and so I set up SO3R knowing that if such nonsense would work at all, it would be less dangerous in the RTTY mode.  Extending my normal Multi-2 hardware configuration for SO2R RTTY was straight-forward.  For this initial experiment, I simplified things by dedicating the third radio to 10 meters.  Instead of a K3, I used an Icom Pro2 so that the bandscope was available to monitor activity at a glance.  I always had a third notebook PC networked in with the two main SO2R computers (one dedicated to each K3 along with its own UI: LCD, keyboard, trackball), as a backup.  So, it was a snap to interface it to the Pro2.  I further simplified things by only using the MMTTY decoder, dispensing with the parallel hardware decoder (DXP38) on this third radio.  The audio was handled by using low tones (1275/1445 Hz) in the two main radios and high tones (2125/2295) in the Pro2.  For the headphones, I simply mixed the Pro2 audio with the right K3 using the “MFJ-640 hamProAudio - 2 Radio Selector/Mixer” box.  It was located just between the two main LCDs above the K3s so it was convenient with the DX Doubler SO2R control box.  For the right ear, then, the MFJ box provides a switch for Radio 1/Radio 2/Mix/Stereo with a Balance control.  Using the low tones/high tones technique made it easy to keep the two radios separate in my right ear.  The hardware and software setup is easy.

Using SO3R, even for RTTY, is not so easy to learn.  It feels like starting all over again with SO2R except that there is more distraction.  Sorta like adding a third object after you’ve learned to juggle two.  I did manage some pre-contest QSOs, and during the contest, P43A moved from 20 to 15 to 10 and became my first 5-band call sign in this contest.  The only change I made to the messages (macros) on the three computers was to add a second QRV message so that I could instantly announce my other two QRV frequencies.  I could just integrate that into one message, but it would take longer to send the two frequencies and typically I only want to send one.  Plus, two different QRV frequencies at once will confuse a lot of people.

I toyed with trying to run on 20/15/10 during that last half-hour, but I was too excited about having a 10-meter opening to slow it down by interleaving the other radios.  I was also pretty tired at that point and might have hurt myself!

Thanks again to all the participants, the vast majority of whom are only interested in this contest to play radio and work some RTTY.  And, of course, to John (W6LD/P40L) and Andy (AE6Y/P49Y) who continue to share this fun station with me.  Look for John and me in ARRL DX CW next weekend, probably as P40L in the MS category.  Now, I’ve got to extract all the RTTY parts of the system and get setup for CW.

Ed - P49X (W0YK)