Ken Harker WM5R
2003 IARU HF World Championship SOAB Phone (@ W5KFT)

Thanks to Bryan W5KFT for letting me use the Ranch this weekend for the IARU contest. Robert K5PI got things mostly set up for me out there, even though he himself was operating from N3BB, over 50 miles away.

Things didn't go as well as I could have hoped. Getting laid off from my job on Thursday didn't exactly lift my spirits. I get to keep working through August, but after that, I'm out of a job. News like that sort of inhibits the "conquer the world" feeling I like to have in big contests.

I have very limited experience as a single-operator in big HF contests, but I feel like each time I do one of these I learn a little more. I've only ever tried SO2R once before, in an NAQP a few years ago, and I was looking forward to trying it this weekend.

I headed out for Ranch Friday after work, and got there around 7:30. I've operated from the Ranch many times, and even as a single-op, but I've never actually been in charge of station set-up before, and trying to figure out how everything interconnects. Fortunately, Robert K5PI has written a station manual that is very useful for guest operators, and it helped a lot. The first order of business was to hook up all the coax and power connections. I didn't realize it at the time, but I never hooked up the 40M stack coax. I didn't discover this until Saturday night, when the SWR on 40M was out of sight in certain combinations on the StackMatch. For some reason, it never occured to me to look and see if I'd forgotten to screw in all the coax feeds - I just assumed that something was wrong with the stack and instead used the single rotatable 40M yagi on another tower. I discovered my mistake Sunday morning after concluding a post-contest chat with K5TR on 3830 kHz. I don't think I'll make that mistake again. I also realize that I should have checked the SWR on all antenna combinations on each band before I went to sleep Friday night.

The rest of the set-up time was spent in frustration trying to get a Top Ten DXDoubler SO2R switch on load from N3BB (who uses NA and Yaesu FT-1000MPs) going with TR Log and Kenwood TS-850s. All I could ever get it to do was switch headphone audio - nothing I did would get it to switch the mic audio. And the PTT out lines for both radios were keyed all the time. I'm sure if I had more time to fiddle with it, I could have gotten it to work, but around 10:45 PM, I decided that I needed sleep if I wanted to survive the contest intact, so I cabled it up to use as a headphone audio switch only. This way, I could listen to the second radio and make band change decisions - I just couldn't transmit on the second radio. I got almost seven hours of sleep, which together with a two-hour nap on Friday afternoon wasn't too bad.

I guess conditions weren't so good, but I don't really have much of a frame of reference to know. Twenty meters was the only open band at the start of the contest, and in fact would be the only open band for several hours. Maybe a hint of how tough things would be: W1AW/3 calls me just 37 minutes into the contest! The QSOs were almost entirely from North America, with a few exceptions in the Pacific. The 1300 hour was especially tough - I only worked 81 QSOs after dupes. Maybe I should have taken breaks from CQing to S&P, but I wasn't expecting the number of callers to fall off like that. VK3ADW was a nice catch at 1400 UTC for the special mult. It was 1302 UTC before I even heard a signal on 15 meters, and I only made the move to 15 meters at 1507 UTC, over three hours into the contest, when I began to work my first Europeans (although the vast majority of QSOs are still in North America.) The rate kicked up with a 113 hour, the second and final 100+ hour of the contest for me.

I made the switch to ten meters 1613 UTC, after hearing enough signals there on the second radio to feel like I could run a little. Unfortunately, there was a little line noise on 10, expecially to the NW, that got worse as the day warmed up. After 13 QSOs, though, I decided to go back to 15 meters, as the rate just wasn't there yet. As the day went on, the line noise came up on 15 meters as well, but never as bad as it was on 10 meters, and once 15 closed, it became a non-issue. My next try at 10 meters was from 1758 UTC to 1829 UTC, and all the QSOs were with U.S. stations. I wasn't even working Canada. PJ2HQ was a nice find, and the only Caribbean station I worked on 10 meters. I had no trouble getting his exchange to fit in my contest logging software!

A quick trip to 20 meters, where I hadn't been in a while, was one of the highlights of the weekend. I heard W4RA call NU1AW, received NU1AW's exchange, and send "59 AC." The op at NU1AW then asked him what "AC" was and did he know his ITU zone? W4RA asked what station this was that he was working, was it really NU1AW? There was a long pause from NU1AW. I ended up working both W4RA and NU1AW on frequency, and I'm sure the NU1AW operator now knows what an "AC" exchange in the IARU means!

I moved VE1JX from 15 meters to 10 meters for the mult at 1858 UTC, and bounced back and forth between 10 meters and 15 meters, resulting in only a half-dozen more 10 meter QSOs, with almost all of the VE zones unworked. I spent most of the 2000 hour on 20 meters, not getting very many callers, but forays into 15 meters didn't seem to produce much either. By 2110 UTC, as the band was opening up just a little to Europe, it became evident to me that I was on the same frequency as an EU HQ station, so I decided to S&P and find a new frequency. I ended up CQing on 14153 kHz, and it was a great, clear run frequency, but I still wasn't getting many callers. A short move up to 15 meters from 2121 UTC to 2137 UTC was frustrating, as P40HQ was obviously ignoring several stateside callers. I never did work them. It turned out to be my last trip to 15 meters. That was probably a mistake. The balance of the 2100 hour was on 20 meters. In the early 2200 hour I had another frustrating experience of having the band opening to Europe slowly, painfully reveal that an EU contester on the same frequency as me was also calling CQ.

As usual in a phone contest, I had some amount of harassment on frequency. Something I'd heard about but never actually experienced before occurred at 2332 UTC. I'd been on 14228 kHz for about five minutes, and someone who failed to identify himself came on frequency and told me I was on top of the slow scan frequency. I replied that I asked if the frequency was in use, nobody answered, and that I hadn't heard any SSTV on the band at all that afternoon. I got no reply, but a few minutes later, they recorded one of my DVK CQs and began replaying it on frequency non-stop. After about three minutes, I decided I needed to move. I found a new run frequency on 14285.5 kHz, and a couple of minutes later checked to see what was happening on 14228 kHz, and they were still playing the recording there.

In the next hour, I had an even worse jammer problem. I'd been on 14285.5 kHz for about 45 minutes when a really loud, broad multi-tone signal came up on my frequency at 0015 UTC. It peaked at about 90 degrees, or the direction of W4, and it was S9+40. To the northwest or southwest, it was only S9. This was by far the loudest jammer I've heard in a LONG time. The jamming signal slowly decreased in frequency through my passband until at 0017 UTC it was almost inaudible. At this point, someone came up on 14285.0 kHz and began calling someone. I moved down to 14285.0 kHz, said "The frequency is in use. This is W5KFT," waited a moment, and moved back up to 14285.5 kHz to call CQ again. It was kind of hard to make out exactly what this guy was saying, but he began talking (or pretending to talk) to his buddy, and I heard snippets like "...contesters... we'll see who lasts longer." I go down and again tell him that the frequency is in use and give my callsign. I've not heard him ID. He stops talking, and the loud jamming device is turned on again, coming into my audio passband from the high side and slowly decreasing in frequency. It is maybe three or four kHz wide. I'm still working stations through it at a rate of 70+ an hour, even though it's REALLY REALLY loud, so I stick with it. I really hate it when I have a nice, good run frequency and someone who thinks it's theirs because they have a net there or they made a schedule decides to jam me to get me to move. It would be one thing if they came on frequency and politely asked me to accommodate them, but when they start out with the jamming tactics, it really pisses me off, and I can get very stubborn. A carrier joins the jamming signal at 0020 UTC. The big jamming signal and the carrier both stop briefly at 0023 UTC, and I hear the guy on 14285.0 kHz say about three sentences to his buddy, still not IDing, and I think maybe he's giving up. The entire time, I'm keeping up a 70+ QSO/hour rate. At 0027 UTC, a carrier comes up on frequency, and stays there until 0030 UTC. It goes away. Two carriers come up at 0032 UTC and stay there until 0037 UTC, when the guy is back on 14285.0 kHz calling his buddy again. The big signal jamming device is turned on again at 0046 UTC and left on until some time after 0052 UTC, when I decide to try to work some of the European HQ stations on 40M. I can't remember the last time I've operated an HF phone contest and not had an episode of attempted jamming, but this was by far the worst example I've experienced in several years.

The 0100 hour is split between 20 meters (stateside, some EU) and 40 meters (EU, mostly HQ stations.) Among the EU stations on 40 meters was VA3RAC, calling CQ, getting no answers, but not listening up for U.S. stations. I never did hear them again on 40 meters. The 0200 hour starts off kind of slow, with some 40 meters to Europe, and some 20 meters stateside.

Around 0230, though, I start working some Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and other Europeans, mostly from east Europe and Russia. The opening wasn't really strong, though, and I felt that I'd worked through a lot of it by 0300. I took a quick trip to 80 meters, a quick S&P pass through 40 meters to pick up some more HQ mults, and was back on 20 meters at 0322 UTC. In retrospect, I should never have left, as more eastern Europeans were on the band, and I was able to run them again. I worked 9K2K at 0323 UTC for a nice mult, and picked up five European HQ mults on the band in the next fifteen minutes. KL7AC called in at 0341 for another mult, one of only three Alaskan stations I heard on the air all weekend. The opening got really good. By 0345, I had the rate meter at 192! And they were mostly 5-pointers! I worked Europe all through the rest of the 0300 hour, until it finally died completely around 0410 UTC. I ended up with an 88 hour after dupes, but I know that had I not forayed down to 80 and 40, I could have had a 100+ hour. I really wish I had had a second radio to go down and pick up mults on 40 and 80 instead of having to commit to a complete band change.

In the middle of the 0400 hour, I go to 40 meters and then my second band change to 80 meters, working an S&P pass and calling CQ again. I don't really know what I'm doing on the low bands, especially when it comes to working DX there. Most of my contesting experience to date has focused on learning running skills, mainly on the high bands in multi-ops. At the top of the 0500 hour, I go to 160 meters for the first time for four QSOs and three mults. Back on 20 meters, it's really hard to find a run frequency, so I bounce down to 40 meters and run stateside, even though I also have a good listening frequency down low. I was never called by a single European. At 0539 UTC, I switch to 80 meters, run stateside as best I can, switch back to 40 meters 0550 UTC and work another 16 U.S. stations.

The 0600, 0700, 0800, and 0900 hours are all very similar to one another. Change to a band, do an S&P pass, find a run frequency, and when the callers dry up, switch to the next band. I tried to be on 160 meters at the top of each hour. I never did find NU1AW on 160 meters. I know they didn't have a station there the whole time like W1AW/3 did, but they were never there at the top of the hours. Around 0650 UTC, I start feeling really tired, and switch to the non-caffeine-free soda. I should have done that about half an hour before I did. Around 0830 UTC, I find NU1AW on 80 meters and get them to work me on 40 meters and then 160 meters. Around 0900 UTC was a frustrating time on 40 meters as HK6ISX and 8N2JHQ were both LOUD, but not listening up for stateside. I eventually worked 8N2JHQ at 0916 UTC, when they had finally decided to listen up. In all, I worked 13 JAs on 40 meters, which is more JA QSOs than I worked on any other band. I had the same 40 meter split frustration at 1111 UTC with BD5RI, who was also LOUD and not listening up for stateside. When I checked in on him again at 1135 UTC, he was listening up, but his signal was much weaker and he couldn't copy me. The 1100 hour was by far the slowest - it felt like there was nobody left to work. I did, however, work 7 Europeans that hour, the first European QSOs I'd had on that band since 0516 UTC. But, I finished with a 17 hour, which is pretty lousy.

During the contest, I kept track, though notes in my log, of every QSO made with an obviously YL voice. Of 1,423 QSOs, 16 QSOs (1.12% of the total) were with YLs. The ARRL is spending a lot of recruiting money on the 8-14 year old crowd, most of whom have no way of doing anything related to ham radio outside of the classroom, and the vast majority of which will drop any interest they might have now when they get to high school and college. But, they make for cute, feel-good publicity. The ARRL is spending a lot of money on kids, but there is no organized effort for getting women interested in ham radio. Hell, even 10% of physics PhDs go to women - how can we have only 1.12% female participation in ham radio?

I have a lot to learn about being a single-operator in HF contesting. For one thing, I have to stop being a lid when it comes to station setup. I also need to experience more DX and multi-band contests as a single-op. Being a single-op is more difficult than I imagined it would be. To those who do it well, "chapeau!"


Category : Single Operator All Band High Power, Phone Only, Unassisted

Band QSOs Points HQ Stations ITU Zones
Totals 1383 4025 67 81

Claimed score595,700

Contest Logging was done with TR LOG contest logging software. The following reports and log were created using TR LOG's post-contest processor.

Last Updated 14 April 2016