Amateur radio: ARRL DX contest

This post is rather belated, but I thought I would finally write about the ARRL International DX Phone Contest, the weekend of March 4th.  Basically, as a U.S. mainland station the goal was to contact as many people outside the U.S. mainland in as many countries as possible, and for non-mainland the goal was to contact as many people as possible in the lower 48 states.

I used two different home-brew magnetic loops, one for 80-20 meters, and the smaller one for 20-10 meters.  I ran my full 100 watts and managed to work stations on all 5 available contest bands.  The magnetic loops require rotating the capacitor shaft for tuning due to the small bandwidth, which I accomplish with wires running from my 13.8V supply, through a switch, and out to the small 12V motor connected to the shaft.  This requires about a minute to get between adjacent 80, 40, 20 meter bands on the larger loop, and less than that between 20, 15, and 10 on the small loop with a smaller range capacitor.

The contest began at 5pm local time on Friday (0000UT on Saturday), and I managed to get home from work in time for that.  I started off on 20 meters, and within 10 minutes I had my first-ever QSO with Japan!  That was to be the 1st of 28 “entities” (countries plus isolated islands and such) I worked, 23 of which were new.  Someone with a combination of great antennas, good location, appropriate power, and experience can work 100+ entities just that weekend.  With luck, a person can have 100 of those entities confirmed and qualify for the DX Century Club just from the contest!  That’s never going to happen with my setup at my location, though.

I didn’t have any goals as far as entities, but my fantasy goal was 100 total QSOs.  Every once in a while, I would get a cluster of several QSOs in a short period of time and would think about that goal, but in reality I was happy with the 70 QSOs (plus one duplicate) I actually made.  Particularly since all the QSOs were more than a thousand miles and all were using the “search and pounce” technique rather than calling “CQ”.

After sunset, I switched to 40 meters and mostly worked Caribbean stations.  My “nighttime” 5-foot diameter loop should only be a few percent efficient on 75/80 meters but after running out of targets on 40 meters, I gave it a shot.  Surprisingly, I was able to finally work Hawaii after missing out in several non-contest situations.

As would also be the case during the next overnight, I did well with Japanese stations, getting 4 each night on 40 meters.  The non-mainland stations have to give an indication of their operating power during the contest exchange, and one of the Japanese stations gave “100”, so I was pretty happy with that.  (Most stations gave “K” for one kilowatt-ish, but I also got several more “100” reports, a few “200” reports, and a “400” report from Australia where that is the maximum allowed power without special dispensation.  There’s no guarantee that everyone was telling truth, but I imagine an overwhelming majority are in the ballpark.)

Although I didn’t get mainland Africa, I did manage to work the Canary Islands, which counts for the continent.  Since Antarctica traditionally doesn’t count as a 7th radio continent, I managed to work all 6 radio continents during the contest.

I wasn’t able to work the daytime hours on Saturday, but Sunday morning/afternoon I was able to do fairly well on 15 meters.  I was also able to pick up two QSOs on 10 meters a little before 2200UT (3pm local time), in Chile and Venezuela.  I finished off the contest at 2355UT by finally picking up PX2B out of Brazil on 15 after trying numerous times during the day.  It didn’t count for a multiplier but I was glad to finally get through with just a few minutes left in the contest.

So…the first time I can say that I really tried to work a contest.  Within the limits of my setup, I guess I did okay, but never really heard very many stations at any given time that I could work.  But, one has to keep in mind that when most people talk about “modest antennas”, they are often still including beams and dipoles 30-foot in the air.  So, having trouble finding stations to work isn’t too surprising.  It was definitely nice to finally make some good progress towards the ARRL DX Century Club, but now in late April I know that is going to be a big challenge.

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