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.




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.


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.


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.


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

What Sorcery Was This?

Hams as yet unborn will ask if we competed in the 2016 ARRL DX SSB 48-hour contest and we will say “yes yes we were there”.

It was a contest when even the little pistols ran with the big guns and the conditions kept getting better and better. When one band would close another would open.

Oh some who live high on a hill in their country estate might say what is the big deal but they don’t know the pain, even the shame of living, by circumstance or marriage, in the low country and even worse within town lines and all that that entails when it comes to lesser power and restricted antennasDSC_0003

For those on the hill weekends like this last one maybe common but for those of us mere mortals running with our ancient tube rigs and 100-watt PAs into dipoles and rusty verticals the ability to break pileups on 80 meters in Europe is unheard of and only happens in our deepest most secret dreams.

And yet it did happen and more.

Working an Italian station who was heard through the pileup isn’t unusual but when he claimed to be running 500-milliwatts then you know that something special is taking place.cco-1-37

Working Mozambique on several bands too rates as a notable moment for certain but actually hearing Europeans on 80 Saturday night was simply beyond belief. And then a tentative call made more out of curiosity than certainly resulted in an immediate reply was so surreal as cause one to check that they hadn’t fallen asleep at the keyboard (which has happened before more out of boredom than lack of sleep).

Gathering courage calls to Europeans calling CQ Contest into the face or a howling pileup on 80 were answered immediately.

What sorcery is this?

Who works Europe with a shortened 80/40 dipole at 25 feet? With 80 acting like 40 on a good night there was no expectation that more was to come but it was.

Getting up early on both mornings resulted in no special openings but Friday night the greyline DX resulted in signals from Japan peaking over S-9 and calls answered on the first try.

And the on Sunday morning 15 meters opened to the low country in Europe and calling CQ resulted in endless numbers of casual operators out for a go with their 100 modest stations running up the point total to astronomical heights.

Just for fun the occasional station out of the middle East would call and who knew there were so many Russian stations available in one contest? Typing became painful in attempts to keep up and an external voice keyer saved the vocal chords from failing from overuse.

When all was said and done conditions, while perhaps not as strong as in the glory days of the 80s, were more unpredictable, crazy and productive for those of us who were there.cqwwdx2007allcanadave3hg-thumb.jpg

For a few hours each day, we the owners of modest stations raged across the bands and we competed with the high-powered Titans and the multi-multi monsters who devour all that they can hear. For a few brief hours we too were heroes and warriors battling on the edges of solar terminator.

It was glorious and wonderful and perhaps the most exciting contest in my memory. I did better on SSB than in any previous contest in over 35 years.