Rebuilding VE3HG Contest Station

It’s been over a year now since the VE3HG contest station in Oakville disappeared under the wreaker’s hammer when my wife Marion (VE3HEN in photo) and I started the process of building a new home and a new contest station here in Oakville Ontario.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the last year we lived in a small un air-conditioned two-bedroom apartment in Burlington, Ontario where we faced Lake Ontario and witnessed amazing sunrises almost daily.

But now with construction finished, we’re so happy to be in our new home. Since we back onto 14-Mile Creek it took us two years to get permits to build.

But now the work on our new contest station begins. And it began in a big way with a new FlexRadio 6600 replacing my old trusty FlexRadio 3000. What a radio the 6600 is for contesting. I got on with a very poorly erected 40-meter Windom I threw up in a tree during -5 degree C weather. I didn’t think the darn think would even load at 25′ up and the ends no higher than about 5′ off the ground.

Normally a new radio takes sometime to get used to but with my Flex 3000 experience it took about 15 minutes (and most of that dedicated to figuring out my own home network) and I was on the air and working into Europe.

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Once the snow stops it will be time to start the needed antenna work including replacing the 50′ tower that collapsed under mysterious circumstances when we were living in Burlington.

The new station might get a modest 500-watt amplifier despite the fact I like to think of myself as a QRP contester but during these days of zero sunspots contesting is a lot more fun when somebody can actually hear you.

I am making my “:wish” list for the annual trek to Dayton for the 2019 Hamvention.

 

 

FT8 and the AlexLoop

The AlexLoop is an amazing antenna. About the size of a Hula Hoop it can produce an almost perfect match on any band from 40 to 10 meters.IMG_1272

And yes it’s pricey and yes if you know what you’re doing you can build your own for a whole lot less (There was a guy at HamX in Brampton yesterday who claims he built his for $25 and it looked pretty good for home-brew.) but in places where you can’t get an antenna up or get one up that actually radiates as opposed to just hearing stuff then an AlexLoop can’t be beat.

In the photo here’s my AlexLoop on the fourth floor balcony oriented south where I found KB6C (DM04) on 18 MHz who is 3500 km away in Chatsworth California.

Considering I’m running 10 watts out of an Elecraft KX-2 this is an amazing display of what you can do on FT8 one of the new popular digital modes. IMG_1270

FT8 and along with the other digital modes are new to Ham Radio and somewhat controversial as there isn’t much human to human interaction.

Once you tap on your computer screen the call sign of the guy you want to work everything goes into automatic and the computer/radio combo takes over and either you work the guy or you don’t. If you do, you’re prompted to log the QSO.

Whether or not this is your favourite mode, it is a mode where a guy in a limited QTH like my temporary digs in Burlington can still play Ham Radio regardless of poor propagation, compromised location, QRP power and no place to setup an antenna in free space.

 

 

DMR VS. D-STAR

Thanks to John, VA3BL, for his mentoring I’m now active on DMR. 

I’ve programmed my TYT MD-380 to hear the DMR repeaters in Hamilton, Toronto and Niagara Falls. DMR is really simple to use. Once programmed with what’s essentially a word file, your DMR rig is ready to go. Most repeaters offer world-wide, North America, all Canada, local and specialized groupings like GHA on the Hamilton machine. Some of these talk groups are permanently linked on while others need to be “kerchunked” to create a timed (usually 15 minutes) link. On these talk groups it’s important to listen for a few minutes as the link doesn’t get established if there is an ongoing QSO until the next guy comes on. 

Then there is D-STAR. D-STAR is a lot busier than DMR. Google “last heard” on DMR or D-STAR and see for yourself. 

But this may change as more cheap DMR radios like the MD-380 ($165 CDN) come on market. Speaking of cheap but I bought my ID-31a for $199 (US) at Dayton several years ago.

DMR requires your ability to hit a local DMR repeater to reach the network. D-STAR can work through a local D-STAR repeater or via a computer dongle and headset or a DVAP and a D-STAR hand-held. Some guys even setup WiFi hotspots via their smart phones to connect their DVAPs to the D-STAR system.

DMR has an advantage in that it’s very robust and even hand-helds can work through repeaters some distance away. DMR is also either there or not there.  There’s not much in between.

D-STAR in comparison  can often be heard clearly but especially using a hand-held be unable to hold the repeater resulting in a garbled transmission that sounds like R2-D2 from Star Wars. 

With propagation on the HF bands ranging from poor to non-existent lots of hams from around the world (I’m listening to Jimmy in Dubia and another guy out of Hong Kong talking on D-STAR channel 1C.) are experimenting with digital modes. 

Amazing stuff. 

ZN-QRP Paddles

Thanks to Tony Baleno N3ZN  I won one of the grand prizes at the QRP-ARCI dinner which is part of Four Days In May which in turn is part of Hamvention held in Ohio.0000972_zn_qrp

The ZN-QRP paddles are a CW operator’s dream. They’re small (almost tiny), robust, with a light touch and attached to a very heavy base (so they don’t move as you use them).

I’ll do a proper review and compare them to my Bengali and March paddles (which are roughly equal in cost and quality) and put the post up on E-Ham Reviews.

Many thanks to Tony N3ZN for supporting the QRP-ARCI event.

Dayton Review

I’ve got video and stills from my new GoPro camera to process but for now let me say that Hamvention 2017 held at the new site of the Greene County Fair Grounds was a huge success.

Ticket sales suggest as many as 30,000 Hams attended and despite scattered rain and thunder, I think we all had a great time.

Free transport in and out of the site from the remote parking areas worked perfectly. The  newer buildings compared to the old Hara site were super and air conditioned!

The flea market was muddy thanks to the rain but its what it is. Bring boots next year.

The Branch Manager

Finally found a guy to do my tree trimming in the backyard. The trees were encroaching on my antenna so I couldn’t rotate the beam anymore.michelle-4

Solution came in the person of Louis Stroud (louisstroud@gmail.com) and his company The Branch Managers.

Louis is a great guy. Works fast and is very economical. I can highly recommend him if you need some trees trimmed or removed.

As you can see in the photo of Louis and his chainsaw I’ve got 10 years of tree clearance now.

 

RAC Tower Sanity

As most of you know I have been very critical of the leadership of Radio Amateurs of Canada for a long time now but there are signs that things have changed and changed for the better.

My first indication is the leadership being offered by RAC president Glenn MacDonell, VE3XRA. I don’t know how Glenn and his executive team and the RAC board of directors are getting along but I’m not hearing anything that concerns me so far and that’s a huge improvement from past years where internecine warfare between members was common.

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Second, and very close to my heart, is the sage advice being offered in The Canadian Amateur when it comes to erecting your antenna tower. This was the issue that got me into RAC when neighbours took the nuclear option in opposition to my 15 meter tower on my 80′ X 180′ lot in Oakville, Ontario.

RAC was there with good advice and support based on the rules and regulations of the day which forced amateurs to consult with neighbours. I also wanted an exemption to put the tower up to 20 meters or so and I consulted with our town engineer who essentially told me that wasn’t going to happen and if I stuck to 15 meters the Town would have no interest in my tower.  Good to their word, the Town eventually sent a cease and desist letter to one of my neighbours who – brace yourself – 10 years later has made up with us saying he wanted “bygones to be bygones”. I was gobsmacked and still think there was an invasion of the body snatchers next door. We’ve taken this guy to court to stop his continuous harassment over the years. Maybe he got religion or joined a 12-Step group. I don’t care and I’m thrilled to have a new friendly neighbour just so long as he doesn’t get interested in getting his own ticket!Cover_September_2014_large

Back to the future and here’s Marcel Mongeon, VA3DDD, RAC honorary legal council writing in The Canadian Amateur saying he is advising amateurs across Canada to proceed without consultation if your tower is 15 meters or under and does not encroach on a neighbouring properties.

He is especially adamant that you should NOT contact your town officials as this can be construed to constitute a “consultation” and create issues for you with your municipality and even with Industry Canada.

Regulations regarding towers in Canada can be found on the Industry Canada site. Look for CPC-2-0-03.

If you are reading this post and you are an amateur radio operator in Canada or interested in Canadian amateur radio issues then please join RAC and do it right now. Amateur radio in Canada needs your support.

CCO BBQ & AGM

Around 75 of the world’s top contesters showed up for Contest Club Ontario‘s annual meeting and BBQ held at the magnificent contesting station of John VE3EJ.P8270169-Edit.jpg

Celebrating 15 years as one of the world’s premier contesting clubs, CCO boasts a membership just shy of 300. The annual BBQ and AGM is the highlight and marker of the end of summer and the beginning of a new contesting season.

At the gathering SCCORE plaques and endorsements were handed out to contesters whose accumulated points totalled from the year’s worth of contesting made them eligible for the prestigious honours. As well the attendees benefitted from the generosity of CCO’s supporters in the Amateur Radio community.

New members are always welcome. Membership is free and the club is supported by donations and door prize ticket sales. For more information contact the club secretary at ve3cwu@rac.ca

Photos from this year’s event are available for downloading in any size from small (ok of online) right on up to original (big for editing and printing) from my two online galleries at Peter West Photography and Peter West Photos.

Enjoy.

CQ Canada

Just a quick note to my regular readers. I’ve been off the site drawn away by my new road cycling hobby.

But there’s too much going on in Ham Radio and I’ll be back soon.  🙂

BTW I stole the title for this blog from our old friend John, HK3C who is very active on the bands now that he’s been bitten by the contesting bug.

Peashooter Contest Stations

Think you can’t contest because you don’t have room for a beam? Maybe you’re limited to a vertical or low dipole. Just because you’re not running a kilowatt is no reason not to contest.

Checkout the excellent article on contesting for the peashooter contester in the February 2016 newsletter of the Northern California Contest Club. Lots of tips on how you too can win some wallpaper with a minimal station.

As someone who has edited club newsletters before I can say with some authority that this is a pretty nice newsletter that any club would be proud to publish. Nice work guys.

Speaking of nice work I just checked my scores for the 50th running of the California QSO Party last Oct. 3-4. Seems I won my class of single-operator limited in Ontario and number five in Canada. Thanks NCCC.

2010 Participation Certificate