Wednesday, March 22, 2017

EI call signs and the missing 'FU's

When licencing authorities in various countries are issuing amateur radio call signs, they tend to avoid ones that might be associated with bad language or any inappropriate word. These would usually be 3 letter words that would be part of the suffix after the number.

In Ireland, there is less of a chance of this happening as the Class A calls have just two letters and the Class B calls all end in B.

I heard of the following story some time back but I never knew if it was true or not.

Back in the mid 1980's, one person from Cork kept ringing the then Department of Communications about getting a licence once he had passed the 12 word per minute morse test. The Radio Experimenters licence as it was back then would have been a very small part of the workload for the staff in the Department and it probably got very annoying for someone there to have someone from Cork constantly ringing about his licence.

He was eventually issued the call sign EI3FU.

So back to the inappropriate calls. The suffix FU could also be seen as shorthand for 'F*** YOU'.....You can fill in the blanks yourself! :o)

It could be seen as someone in the Department sending a subtle message to the recipient,,,,,,and they even issued the number 3 to let the person know the number of letters missing ;o)

It was hard to know if the story was true as while the current call book only shows one FU suffix, others might have gone off the air in the meantime.

That was until recently! The IRTS published some old newsletters on their website in March of 2017 including an old EI call book from 1986. All of the late F call signs would have been new then so they would all be shown.

Upon examination, sure enough there is a pattern. From EI2 to EI9, all of the suffixes are listed... FQ, FR, FS, FT.......FV, FX, FY and FZ. All there except for FU......except of course for EI3FU! :o))

It seems as if there was someone with a mischievous sense of humour working in the Deptartment back in the 1980's.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

9N7EI (Nepal) worked on 30m & 40m

In mid-March of 2017, there was an Irish expedition to Nepal where the 12 man team operated as 9N7EI. They were on air from the 10th of March to the 19th of March with a stated objective of reaching 30,000 contacts. In the end, they managed 30,384 with 12,025 unique call signs.

This is a breakdown of their contacts by band...

With the Solar Flux down around 70 and with no sunspots on the sun, there were very poor conditions on 28MHz. The maximum number of contacts were logged on 18 MHz.

What's also noticeable was just how important CW is when the conditions are poor with the mode making up 57% of all contacts.

From my own experience, the signals from 9N7EI were pretty weak and the pile ups seemed huge. It might be fine for someone with a beam and an amplifier but it's another story with just an 80m dipole at a low height and 100 watts.

I listened on and off for them over the first week but I had no hope of cracking any pile up. I really didn't have any interest in sitting at the radio for an hour calling in the hope I'd be heard. It was more of a case that while it would be nice to work them, I wouldn't be too bothered if I didn't.

On the 17th of March, the conditions on the HF bands seemed above average. I had worked 5U5R on 17m and 9G5X on 12m during the afternoon and later that night, I came across 9N7EI on 30m calling CQ at 22:09 UTC. The CW signal was really weak and was dipping in and out of the noise. I put on the headphones, waited for their signal to come out of the noise and I got them first call.

Just after midnight, I came across them again on 40m. Again, weak and buried in the noise. I had noticed before that when I was doing ground wave experiments with EI6AK, my signal on 40m with a CB vertical half wave seemed to be reasonable. It seems to work as a short loaded vertical. So I tried it and 9N7EI seemed slightly stronger on receive. I matched it with the ATU and again, I played the waiting game and called them when they came out of the noise. It took a few calls but I got them eventually. I must have been really weak at their end so fair play to whoever was there for listening to signals buried in the noise.

I think that because the band was just about open, the signals were coming in at a low angle. The high angle of the 80m dipole wasn't great so the vertical CB antenna had the slight edge with the lower angle of radiation. The gain of the antenna must have been several dB down though on a proper 40m vertical. A quarter wave on 40m is 10m. The CB half wave vertical antenna is 5 metres in length and it has no ground plane system to speak of.

This is the VoaCap prediction for the band at the time of the contacts. Seems like the path between EI and 9N wasn't the best.

Three things struck me about the contact.

1) The signals were so weak that SSB would have been impossible. It was only possible by using CW.

2) The contacts were at 22:09 and 00:14. A lot of the Europeans might have gone to bed at that stage which helped.

3) I wonder if people are prepared to listen to a signal that is buried in the noise. Sometimes it seems as if people are just attracted to the strongest signals....a bit like moths to a flame. How many will sit and listen to a signal buried in the noise and wait for it to get strong enough? This thought struck me later that day when I noticed a EA9/DL... station with a huge pile up. A bit too big for just an EA9 station. The one thing that he had was a big signal.

In the end, a total of 71 EI stations managed to work 9N7RI with several on different bands and modes. They are shown below......

Expedition website...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Spanish Award...14th Antarctic Activity Week...February 2017

Back in late February, a bunch of Spanish special event stations popped up on the HF bands to mark the 14th Annual Antarctic Activity Week. It ran from the 18th to the 26th of the month. It seemed a bit strange that special event stations in Spain should be marking an Antarctic week. Perhaps it's because of the Spanish research stations located on the continent?

It really was very well organised with 9 stations on air and an excellent support website where logs were being constantly uploaded....

Of all the websites dedicated to radio awards, this one is certainly one of the best.

These were the 9 stations...

I like the one with the Polar Bear......especially as there are none in the Antarctic! :o))

The top award was the Platinum which required working all 9 stations which wasn't too difficult.

I worked all the stations on CW and made an effort to work them on as many bands as I could.

AO5ANT was one of the hardest to work as the DX cluster shows that there was little or no 80m CW activity and he only appeared on 30m for a few hours on the 17th. EH5ANT was only on 20m CW for 2 days.

One of the interesting results of chasing these stations was that I learnt something about propagation. Notice how there is almost a complete lack of stations on 17m (18 MHz). I could hear them sometimes but they were very weak.

The centre of Spain is about 1,500kms from the south coast of Ireland. 1,500kms seems to be fine for signals on 14MHz and below but too close for 18MHz and 21MHz.

This was the propagation prediction map at the time...

It clearly shows that while 20m (14 MHz) was open to Spain from Ireland, the distance was too short for 17 and 15m. I believe that EG5ANT may have been in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa so it's probably no suprise that he was the only one I worked on 17m. The distance in that case was close to 2,000kms.

On the top 100 lists on the website, I was the only EI listed. It's interesting that the many of those in the top 10 were far enough away (2000kms+) to make use of the openings on 17 and 15m. i.e. Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, etc.

Diplomas will be awarded in four different categories depending on the number of special stations contacted by the applicant (or received in case of SWLs)
BRONZE DIPLOMA... For contacts with 3 different Special Event stations, whatever the mode or band used.
SILVER DIPLOMA... For contacts with 5 different Special Event stations, whatever the mode/band.
GOLD DIPLOMA... For contacts with 7 different Special Event stations, whatever the mode/band.
PLATINUM DIPLOMA... For contacts with ALL 9 different Special Event stations, whatever the mode/band.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Solar Forecast...9th March 2017

Ever since the 1st of March, the conditions on the HF bands have been pretty poor. 21 MHz struggles to open and even the signals on 7 and 14 MHz have been weak. On several occasions, I've had to make sure I didn't have the attenuator switched in.

It looks as if a quiter side of the sun is coming into view which should improve things.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Results of the IRTS 80m Evening Counties Contest...Feb 2017

The IRTS 80 Metres Evening Counties contest was held on Tuesday the 21st of February. It was only one hour long and ran from 8pm to 9pm (20:00-21:00 UTC).

The results have just been HERE

A total of 35 station logs were submitted which accounted for 781 QSOs.

I stayed on cw for the duration of the contest and this was my result...

Results:  80 Metres Evening Counties Contest, 21st February 2017
Total Score calculation: Entrant in EI/GI
Total Valid QSOs: 16
CW QSOs with EI/GI stations: 10*8=80
CW QSOs with stations outside EI/GI: 6*2=12
QSO Points: 92, Multipliers: 6
Total Score: 552

Out of the 32 counties in Ireland, 11 were not in anyone's log...

Some are small counties and might be expected to be missing. But Galway and Limerick???

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

F2 Opening on 28 MHz to Africa on Wed 1st March 2017

With the Solar Flux Index down around 75, the 10 metre band is more or less dead every day at the moment. It was a bit of a suprise on the 1st of March 2017 when signals from Africa appeared on the band.

The first signal I heard was TR8CA in Gabon on 28 MHz SSB and later on 29 MHz FM. This was followed soon after by S01WS in the Western Sahara who I worked on cw.

I could hear these stations working plenty of Europeans and Americans so it was obviously a good opening. When I saw TR8CA being spotted by LA and SM stations in Norway and Sweden, then I knew something really unusual was happening. I suspected some sort of pre-auroral enhancement and the RSGB news a few days later confirmed this...

We were pleased to get the HF propagation prediction pretty much spot on last week. While Monday and Tuesday were reasonably settled, Wednesday saw the effects of solar material from a large coronal hole as it hit the Earth. The K-index leapt to five around lunchtime and there were reports of HF openings up to 10 metres. This was probably a pre-auroral enhancement, but it didn’t last too long.

This is what the K index looked like just before and after the event...

As you can see, nice and low early on the 1st of March and then the K index climbs to 7.

As is common with these type of events, the HF bands were very poor in the following days with 18 MHz just about open. 21 MHz and 28 MHz were dead.

The map below shows TR8CA and S01WS in relation to my location.

S01WS in the Western Sahara was about 2,900kms and the ideal distance for one hop F2 propagation on 28 MHz. TR8CA at about 6000kms was probably 2 x F2 layer hops so it was an interesting one to hear.

The thing about the 10 metre band is that you can never be too sure when it will open. When the Solar Flux Index is down around 70-80, it should be closed but then events like this allow the band to open, especially on North-South paths.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

UKEICC 80m SSB Contest...Wed 1st March 2017

The UKEICC run short one hour contests on 80m which are ideal as they don't take up much time.

Back at the start of February, I was on for one of the SSB legs and I managed to work 8 stations with my 5 watts into an 80m dipole. At the time, I wasn't set up properly to log stations and submit an entry within the space of an hour. In hindsight, this was a pity as there is a multiplication factor of 4 for anyone working a QRP station on 5 watts or less.

The next SSB leg was on the 1st of March 2017 and I worked 18 stations this time around, again with 5 watts. Even though I started 10 minutes late, conditions seemed much better than last time and the map below shows the locators worked...

I tried calling CQ a few times but it's hard to have much of a presence on the band with 5 watts. Instead, all of the stations I worked were as a result of calling them.

The two furthest stations that I worked were PE4BAS in JO33 and SM5CSS in JO89. I was also their best DX and the multiplication factor of 4 for them for working a QRP station would have given them a good few extra points. As can be seen below, they finished 2nd and 3rd out of 44 entries in the Low Power (100w or less) Unconnected section.

Low Power - Unconnected

  Call Pwr Grid Raw Dupe Bust NIL Good Total -- Best DX --
  QSOs QSOs Pts Call Km
1 SO7BIT L JO91 47 0 2 0 45 209 EI5KF 1915
2 SM5CSS L JO89 36 0 0 0 36 202 EI7GL 1853
3 PE4BAS L JO33 61 2 0 0 59 187 EI7GL 1107

I heard several strong French stations but none calling CQ. I got an 'EI7??' back from DL8UD in JO43 but I was just too weak to complete a QSO. Strangely enough, I don't remember hearing any GM stations from maybe it was just chance?

All in all, it was really interesting to see just how far 5 watts can go.

Results on UKEICC website.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Entry for the French HF SSB Championships

Back at the end of January 2017, I put in an entry to support the French HF CW Championships. That time, I managed 138 QSO's spread out from 80m to 15m.

The SSB leg of the French HF Championships were held last weekend so I decided to concentrate on 80m only. This has the advantage that the band would only be open to France at certain times so it wouldn't take up the whole weekend.

France from my location is between 500kms and 1500kms. That's close enough to make contacts possible on 80m SSB but far enough away that making contacts can still be a challenge. I guess I really just wanted to see what could I work on 80m SSB with 100 watts into a half wave dipole about 5 to 7 metres above ground level.

Some observations.....

1) Many of the French stations struggled to hear my 100 watts. I have no doubt that some were using amplifiers and using a lot more power than me. I think another major factor though was that the French stations would have much higher interference levels than me. Signals from other stations on adjacent frequencies would be much stronger for them because of the shorter range. They also have signals arriving from all directions where as I have nothing from the West and only have to cope with interference from signals in the UK and the near continent.

2) I expected to make around 40-50 SSB contacts on 80m. In the end, I managed 111 which was nice.

3) I expected that the bulk of contacts would be in the 500km to 1000km distance. In fact, I managed to work most of  France. These are the departments that I worked....

While the majority of missing departments were in the 1000km to 1500km range, I still got a good spread.

4) The strongest signal was F5MUX in Brittany. This was no doubt due to the 500km distance and the sea path for reflections.

5) It's only when I checked the distances on the map that it became obvious what a big country France really is. It seems odd how someone in Brittany can be only 500kms from Ireland and still be 1000kms from the South-East of France.

6) The path to France on 80m was open from about 30-45 minutes before sunset. Any earlier and the signals were too weak as the D layer in the ionosphere absorbed too much of the signal. It might be possible to work someone earlier on say a quiet band but not in a contest....not with my set up anyway. The same applied 30-45 minutes after sunrise.

7) In contrast to the CW contest, I used the SD contest logging programme for the SSB contest. It made things so much easier as it makes checking for potential duplicate contacts so much faster. The only problem I had with it was that it wouldn't accept TK5KP in Corsica as a valid contact with points and multiplier. After the contest, I tried closing and re-opening the programme and editing that contact but to no avail. When I put in a dummy French QSO in its place, it worked ok. I then replaced the dummy French callsign with the TK5KP qso, it accepted it fine. I'm not sure what was wrong but it worked out in the end.

8) Post contest, I had to edit the Cabrillo log file like I did for the CW contest so that the French website would accept it. Other than that, the entry process was simple.

Overall, the 'Coupe de REF' French HF Championships contest seemed to be a pretty good one as contests go. It was also my first SSB contest in about 15 years ;o)

Additional info...
1) French HF Contest website