Spring Has Sprung!

I always love the vernal and autumnal equinox(es) – they offer fun DX conditions.

Tomorrow is my first year anniversary at Credit Karma, and its one of the best places I’ve ever worked. I still have lots of interesting things to at work – and my has the IT industry changed since 1981 – when I graduated from Lock Haven State College and was recruited to go work at Kodak in Rochester, NY. Hard to believe my first job out of school was DEC PDP-11 Octal Assembler!

I’ve now lost 7 pounds in 7 weeks, and lift weights 3 or 4 times a week, ride my bike to BART and eat well. Its been pretty easy, and I actually love weight lifting. I walk a mile each way to the gym too.

Charles Atlas, look out!


Confessions of a “Fair Weather Top Bander” . . .

All of a sudden I’m loving 80M – and this I never would have expected

Because making DXCC on 160M (without using remotes) from the West Coast is so hard, I fancied myself as a real DX “Scrapper” being able to do so. For sure, its a great accomplishment – and one that DXers on the East Coast (or those on the West Coast who use remotes for that “propagational advantage”) will never understand. Too bad for them – but if you are on the West Coast and in a hurry to make DXCC – use a remote. Just don’t look at the ON4KST Chat and their “wall of shame” regularly skewering remote Top Band users. They always know when a West Coast DXer is the only one from the West Coast who worked say all of those recent African DX-peditions on 160M – and they call these people out by name. (I personally find that kind of silly – but then again – I guess that proves that I was a Top Bander only long enough to make DXCC – and now I could care a less).

Yes, I’m a “Fair Weather Top Bander” . . .

One thing I will admit though – this Top Band feat takes almost too much time and patience – after making 8BDXCC – which was actually quite easy on the West Coast (I did it in 3 years)  – all of a sudden, 160M and 6M DXCC seems nearly impossible. I’m going to guess that 6M is even worse than 160M. Now that I have the SteppIR UrbanBeam, I’ll soon find out!

80M Spiderbeam fiberglass vertical – 60′ tall with Flexweave wire taped to it – and nearly invisible

For me, Top Band had a nostalgia that 80M never offered. Top Band is just above the AM Broadcast band – and is low enough to be “closer” to where the first radio inventors transmitted frequency wise. 80M wasn’t as “manly” a challenge as 160, and not open enough as 40M for long haul DX. Add in the jokers on 75M, and it was a band I’d rather overlook.

Well, now that we are where we are at in the cycle – I have seen days where 80M is as exciting as 40 and 30M, and where 160M was as dead as it usually is. And even better yet – putting up a pair of phased verticals using the Spiderbeam 18M (60′) fiberglass poles is something I thoroughly enjoyed and which makes me realize how much harder and frankly, a pain in the ass it is to put up something on Top Band from a small suburban lot on the West Coast.

Last night I had just one vertical wired up (and I heard 3C0W quite well but didn’t get through) – in the next day or so I will have the phased array on line. Then I will retry working 3C0W – it will be the best on air test I can think of. Also – the hornets are finally gone – they’ve moved on – but man, they took 4 or so hours to finally realize that “The Hive-ways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive” . . . 

In a word, 80M phased verticals using the Spiderbeam fiberglass and wire is MUCH easier and has a much bigger ROI than 160M on a small West Coast suburban lot. And that equates to more FUN!




The RSP2pro covers the radio spectrum from 1kHz (VLF) to 2GHz (Microwaves)

Now that I have traded my 160M Inverted L for phased 60′ verticals for 80M, and the UrbanBeam on 30M (a BIG improvement), I need to do something with the DX Engineering NCC-2 and two Wellbrook ALA1530LNP loops.

SDRUno for Windows 10 – a very nice looking upgrade over the previous SDRPlay RSP1 options

The answer? The SDRPlay RSP2Pro – its perfect for VLF, LF and MW SWL-ing, and the phased Wellbrook loops are an awesome combo – with and RDF of > 9 dB

Best yet – I did NOT want another piece of gear sitting on top of my K-Line. This is because I finally have a station and shack that is set up the best ergonomically. I find too much gear really causes a distraction – and want only what I absolutely need. The RDP2Pro can sit stashed away behind my laptop, and its powered by the USB cable. My laptop ($500 ASUSPro) has a great display and all the right input and output ports – its the best bang for the buck laptop I’ve ever owned.

Just for laughs, I will see if the phased Wellbrooks work in the Amateur VHF and UHF bands – and see if I can hear people on the local repeaters. I’ll also see if anyone is on the new VLF Ham Bands. This will be fun – and cause no shack clutter.



A “Hive” of 80M Activity and 3C0W on 30M

The Spiderbeam 80M vertical with wire taped to the top. Look carefully at the tall tree and you can see it

I was able to get one 60′ (18M) fiberglass pole up today. The second one is going on another post – but I had to remove a bird house that the hornets took over. I took a hammer knocked the birdhouse down into the creek with one sharp blow and ran for my life into the house.

The Spiderbeam fits perfectly in the “cradle” of these two redwood supports which are attached to a 4×4 cemented 4′ into the ground

I don’t know why I didn’t do this before. Its soooo much easier to use these Spiderbeam fiberglass poles and tape wire to them and then trim for best SWR. These poles probably could survive with no guy ropes, but I am using the thinnest Mastrant rope at the top and 3/16″ at the mid section, and it will stay up much better than when I tried to have a 60′ aluminum vertical before. These Spiderbeam poles are extremely well “balanced”.

On another note – I just worked 3C0W on 30M using the UrbanBeam. At 34-ish feet, this is a great antenna for 30M. It is MUCH better than my Inverted L – which is what I had been using on 30M.

My experience with this first 80M vertical is awesome – no tricks like top or bottom loading – just a 1/4 wl vertical – just like in my DX Engineering DV-40-P.

UrbanBeam on West Coast 40M Short and Long Path

This is a very interesting test. When I had the Cushcraft D40 up about 45 feet, on the morning Long Path, it beat the DX Engineering DV-40-P consistently to VK/ZL, ZS and all parts in between. During the night time Short Path, the 40M Phased Array always won. Last night – with the UrbanBeam up only 34-ish feet to ZS6CCY, this was certainly the case. Exactly what I had expected.

This morning, with the UrbanBeam it is about dead equal to the DV-40-P phased vertical array. This means that 10′ does make a big difference on 40M. I worked 3B8XF – Nigel on Mauritius easily with the DV-40-P phased array, and that was after he and I were struggling using the UrbanBeam. I did notice strange conditions where after my QSO – the UrbanBeam came into its own – even as low as it is. Andre – V51B in Namibia is the same story.

Because I have both vertical and horizontal antennas on 40M, this isn’t a problem, and because I have already made all of my DXCC goals, it doubly doesn’t matter – I can rely on the DV-40-P for low angle DX, and the UrbanBeam for higher angle DX. Many times there can be changing conditions and long QSB – so its actually great to have both antennas on 40M.

The bottom line, the UrbanBeam – is the equivalent of the DX Engineering DV-40-P phased vertical array on the morning Long Path, but it is not as good as the phased array on the evening Short Path. I fully expect that with the UrbanBeam up only as high as the ALM-31 plus a rotator and short mast – it will come into its own performance wise starting at 30M and up. I also think if the UrbanBeam were your only antenna on 40M – that you would do much better if you could get it up 50′ or more. So – this is the first limitation of the US Towers ALM-31 that I have seen.

I will repeat this test several more days because we are just getting over a solar storm, and the band is very strange today – so I need more data to see if today is an anomaly or the norm.

Gain on 80 – 6M . .

When I first moved into my Orinda house in 2006, I put up a simple 20M Moxon (orange circle). That was up only 30′ or so, but I worked lots of DX with it. A year before I made DXCC Honor Roll (New Years Eve 2012/13), I had hit a brick wall – I missed E4X and ST0R. I used HFTA and realized because of my surrounding hills and because we were at the bottom of the cycle, my high angle signal wasn’t cutting it on the Polar Path to the Middle East. I bought an AB-957 and put a 3 element Cushcraft A3S up at 40′, and that made a huge difference. To make Honor Roll, I had a 40M QSO with Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A – and using a dipole up in that 70′ tree (circled in Red because just a few months later it was cut down).

I made a few steps up, and had arrived at an AB-577 with a N6BT DXU-32, which had 3 elements on 20 and two on 40M. That was my biggest, highest (up 50′) and best antenna ever. I was shocked when I took it down – while Kurt, K7NV, assured me that the Military Mast was good enough, I didn’t realize just how big and heavy that antenna was until I tried to take it down. To be honest, I felt like I was lucky that it stayed up for a couple of years as it did. I had to take it down so I could put up 160M antennas – for RX and TX. Its was a hard decision, but it turned out well – because my “last” DXCC band – 160M gave me 9BDXCC, and that concluded my DXCC interest. Sure I have two more to work them all – but I actually have lost interest in DXCC.

Now I am back to an antenna (SteppIR UrbanBeam) up 34′, and its a light antenna on a very sturdy mast / tower – the US Towers ALM-31. The best thing – it covers 40 – 6M which is the only antenna of its kind with this footprint.

The best antenna for 40M evening Short Path . . .

The antenna that has stayed up longer than any – the DX Engineering DV-40-P phased array for 40M. I will be adding the same kind of DX Engineering phased array – but on 80M. The only thing that is the same since I moved here 12 years ago is that I have 2 elements on 20M up 30-ish feet. Back then – that Moxon was only 20M, and the A3S was only 20-15-10M. I am a lot more comfortable with a sturdy tower that can easily handle the load – and now I can have a rotator again! The DX-32 was way too heavy for a rotator – and trying to put one on top of the AB-577 would have been very dangerous – so I turned it with the “Armstrong Method” . .

Now I have 80 – 6M covered, and with gain on ALL of these bands! I cannot say that I have ever had antennas that had gain on so many bands.

UrbanBeam Up!

The UrbanBeam is up on the ALM-31 and everything works. I tested all bands and the SWR was 1.1:1 on the frequencies it tuned to. I made sure to put the KAT-500 on Standby.

I also got the two 60′ Spiderbeam Fiberglass poles set up with clamps (you have to put rubber and heat shrink tubing on hose clamps and heat the heat shrink tubing with a heat gun. I also took down my 160 / 80 / 30M Inverted L – good bye Top Band!

I’m using the excellent DX Engineering resin guy rings above the clamps and I am using Mastrant guy rope.

Tomorrow I will put the wire inside each vertical. I can’t wait to see how phased verticals on 80M play here at Chez KY6R.