The DXCC Sleuth Rebooted!

I received enough cards, letters, faxes and telegrams to reboot and restart The DXCC Sleuth. You can find it here:

I will keep this topbandchordalhopper blog a meandering – technical leaning blog, and after some initial “tweaking” of the DXCC Sleuth format – will run with that for 3 years and then consider it my “trophy”. Its the perfect follow up to actually earning Honor Roll and Top of Honor Roll.

If it proves really popular, who knows, maybe I will have it printed book style – but I am very much an “Open Source” kind of guy. Years ago I looked into writing a book on the Perl dbd:dbi for O’Reilly, and I met with an agent who said unless the book sells at least 100,000 copies – you don’t make any money and you spend a ton of time on it. She said most people write technical books as a marketing tool for their consulting work. I’ve never needed to do that as a DBA and for the past 13 years – a Data Architect. I figure if its a vanity project – make it free and people will either like it and follow it – or not.

Maybe I will just print up some copies for my kids as a keepsake though – that would be worth it.

When Would I Recommend a SteppIR UrbanBeam on an ALM-31 Tower?

I received the question that you see in the Title today (from Chris, KJ7I), and realized its a great Blog topic. Thank you Chris! Lets start with how the antenna works:


These are wonderful animated EZNec plots that are featured on Dan, AC6LA’s phenominal web site

The reason I searched for EZNec plots for the UrbanBeam is that I did not really believe the specs when I first saw them. Like others I have heard on the air – I also thought it was some weird “bastardized” Moxon, and I figured it was nothing more than a fancy rotatable dipole on all but maybe 20M. I can say FOR SURE – with on the air testing that it is indeed a 2 element yagi on 20 – 6M and a rotatable dipole on 40 and 30M. This makes it (IMHO) the most innovative antenna I have ever seen or used.  It performs to SteppIR specs, and I congratulate them for a superbly engineered product. I had the 2 element SteppIR yagi years ago – and I can say from experience that this antenna does not feel like a compromise at all – regardless of specs.

Here is a list of when I would recommend such an antenna up “only” 30-ish feet (if you can get the antenna up 40′ or more that would make it excellent on 30 – 6M and quite decent on 40M):

  1. When you live on a hill with all ground sloping away from your QTH
  2. When you have antenna ordinance or HOA / CC&R restrictions with that height as a limit (I know some nearby towns with a 35′ height limit)
  3. When you want a simple looking, fairly unobtrusive antenna system that works on 40 – 6M
  4. When you know that on 40M even such a low dipole works great on the Long Path to AF

When would I NOT recommend such a system:

  1. If you live in a bowl like I do and want to earn DXCC Honor Roll – all ground slopes up from my QTH. Get something much bigger up much higher – like the N6BT DXU-32
  2. If you are in a hurry when building the antenna or are not mechanically inclined. Its not hard – but you really need to take your time and follow directions to the “T”
  3. You are nervous about moving parts in an antenna and worry that a SteppIR motor might fail

For my goals and where I am in ham radio – I wanted as few antennas up with as few guy ropes and large antennas up possible. But I still wanted to jump in the occasional pileup – and I also have a “Plan B” for when Bouvet and Glorioso are activated and when this antenna might be a bit low on 40 – 20M. My DX Engineering DV-40-P phased array will be what gets me those last two (Plan B), and if being in my bowl doesn’t cut the mustard – I can run over to W6NV’s QTH (Plan C).

That’s it – hope this helps!



Should I Revive The DXCC Sleuth?

I’ve had several people wish that I had kept doing a blog that I had a few years back called “The DXCC Sleuth”.

It became too much of a chore because I realized I’d have to keep it updated. I recently even discussed with others that it could possibly be a Wiki.

But now I realize that Clublog already does this – sort of, and that maybe my personal point of view is valid. I had abandoned The DXCC Sleuth because I guess I only had half a clue of what my intentions were.

Now that I am at the very end of DXCC, and now that I realize that some of the “Class of 1997” or VK0IR Team members (who went on to define the Ultra Mega DXpedition, with polar activations using big ships and even helicopters) are starting to retire, maybe writing a very personal DXCC story is OK.

Here’s the “Pitch”:

  • I would start each entity description with the QSL card I used to submit for my Honor Roll and Top of Honor Roll award (both Mixed)
  • I would include historical activations that I find interesting and significant
  • I would walk backward using Glorioso and Bouvet first (the two I haven’t worked) and then progress backward using my log and ATNO QSL Card Binder as my guide.
  • I would include rig and antenna used and any other interesting technical aspects, but overall, this is a walk through memory lane more than anything

Would you follow along if I decided to do this?

If I get 10 thumbs up, I’ll revive the DXCC Sleuth.

What’s He Building in There?

From the Tom Waits MTV Video of the title name

When I first moved to Orinda, I put down some radials, stapled to the grass, and put up a vertical. My next door neighbor came up to the fence (we have practically wooded lots) and asked if I was with the CIA. Another neighbor came from across the creek to mention he heard some Morse Code on his stereo. He uses a siphon pump to pump water from the creek to water his lawn.

12 years passed without a peep. Until a month ago. Then, the water pumpers wife stopped by to ask if I could fix the stereo RFI. You see, I had just put up the 60′ 80M vertical and was testing it. The last time I had a resonant 80M antenna was in Lafayette! I have only been on 80M these past 12 years to check into The Mission Trail Net which takes about 10 seconds total. It was always with some inadequate non resonant antenna. You see, I never liked 80 or 75M, but lately decided at the bottom of the cycle to try liking it. I had earned DXCC Honor Roll and 160M DXCC here in Orinda. I had already earned 8BDXCC in my old Lafayette QTH, including 80M.

At my DXCC peak, I even had a 28′ boom 45′ wingspan N6BT DXU-32 up 50′ and ran 1500 watts on 40 and 20M

It’s amazing that I (by total coincidence), stayed off 80M for all these years. The last 3 weeks I stayed off 80M. I had given the lady my phone number and email and told her to let me know if I interfered again.

Total silence…

I learned that it’s best to give your phone and email and do what I did. I also learned not to say or do too much – no one wants to hear explanations these days. Oddly enough, the woman said her father used to do the same “tap tap tap” thing, with an annoyance in her voice like it brought back bad memories. She was very confused and couldn’t explain her father being a ham or even her husband very well. I was just as nice and understanding that I could be and economized on my words.

I realized I must look like a weirdo with antennas and using Morse Code! Anyway, in this case, (even though I did buy a Bencher YA-1 Low Pass Filter), abstinence from 80M might be the best solution. I also learned they only play their stereo near dinner time, so early mornings would be a safe bet for 80M DXing.

Summer DX Patterns

Tonight, 40M sounds a lot like mid summer conditions – when EU fades (F5IN – a veritable beacon on CW during the Winter and Equinoxes is not heard as usual tonight). Dany, ZS3D was weak – but he is always weaker than Bill, ZS6CCY – whom I haven’t seen spotted for a while now. I need to check the morning Long Path to see how that is doing.

There is some lightning in Colorado and Florida, but I don’t hear any real crashes. The aurora is weak, and I do hear what I think is 9A2AJ – but in the noise. I2VRN is S9 tonight – so whatever he does, he’s the best DX on the band.

I plan on mostly monitoring 40M this Summer – and perhaps we will get something at night on 20M. But my bets are more on 40M.

SteppIR UrbanBeam Testing

Yesterday, solar conditions were quite good, so I jumped from band to band playing with the UrbanBeam.

These days will become fewer and far between. Expect about 2 years of days where the MUF will be lower than 30M. Your “saving grace” will be 40 Meters.

My UrbanBeam is only up 32-ish feet. It’s low for 40M, almost good for 30M, but plenty fine for 20M and above. I worked 3B7A on 40M with the UrbanBeam, which is a surprise – but I am very glad that I also have the DX Engineering DV-40-P.

Its hard to say if and when Bouvet will be activated, and I know that Glorioso is the French equivalent of the US F&W Navassa situation. I also know that the French team activates a new place every 2 years, so I don’t expect Glorioso or Bouvet to be activated until 2020 – ish. This is a good thing – since we might be coming out of a deep null sunspot wise – but even if we are still in the dregs, 40M will be it for sure.

3Y0I still states that they will activate Bouvet at the end of 2018 – but I can only hope. The Bouvet path is easier than the Glorioso path, Bouvet will be workable on more bands too.

You know – it is actually good to have these last two DXCC ATNO’s that I need. And its also nice to know that there is no rush at all. I have to admit – the lead up to these epic DXpeditions is always more exciting than after all is said and done – so to have a carrot or two dangling out there is good for the DX soul.

DXCC on Top Band is Rare

Lately I’ve downplayed my DXCC achievement on 160M because one night I made one QSO from an East Coast(ish) remote. I have atoned for my sins and redacted that QSO from my award points (I didn’t send that card to the ARRL to have it checked).  The remote heard so much more 160M DX in Tennessee than anything I’ve ever heard on the West Coast. That’s when I realized just making 100 on 160M on the West Coast is indeed a big deal. I received the little 160M plate the other day and added it to my 5BDXCC plaque, bringing the total up to 9BDXCC.

Almost by accident, I looked at this DXCC certificate, and holy smokes, not many have made DXCC on Top Band on either coasts. Statistics wise, this might just end up being a bigger deal than my Honor Roll or 9BDXCC award. I know for a fact that 160M on the West Coast is very hard to do when it’s 100% from your own back yard. A nice surprise for a gorgeous spring day here in the East Bay near San Francisco.

I wonder if any news will come out of IDXC – things have been quite boring since the first quarter in 2016, when 5 out of 10 top 10 Most Wanted were activated. I think that quarter was a record. What a time!