Top Band Whack a Mole

The elusive Top Band QSO Mole . . . 

I’ve been up early hoping to work VK9MA, and I have heard them each morning – the first morning quite well after sunrise, but I had an issue with my matching circuit. The next day I fixed that after work.

Right now I’m hoping their signal will come up some so I can have a clear QSO – the worst is to think you made a QSO but aren’t sure. If they do stay on the island as planned, I will have 6 or 7 more mornings to try to work them – so I’m not panicking, yet. This is still way better than VK9MT – who were chased off the island. I hope this team gets to stay for the duration.

We have rain static this morning (S9+ noise on my TX antenna, but RX antenna seems OK), but I still hear them. I can clearly hear “Up 3”, but if he came back to me I’d be lucky to hear my call. We are half way through grey line as I write this, and I can only hope that we get what we had a few days ago – where he was the strongest up to 1/2 hour after sunrise.

DXCC on 160M is a real accomplishment from the West Coast, but more importantly, from my QTH surrounded by hills. I do need to work every Top Band activation between now and KH1 to make DXCC and 9BDXCC.

Until then, I feel like I am playing Top Band Whack a Mole, and I’m wondering how the hell I even made it to 90 – hi hi

3Y0Z and Inverted L as an All Band Antenna

With the High Pass Tee tuner at the base, I can easily switch the tuning of the Inverted Vee to work on all bands. This is great because it gives me bands that I wasn’t bothering with with 3Y0Z. I have concentrated on 160 – 20M, and want ONE QSO with 3Y0Z. Once I’m in the log, I’m done. The 3Y0Z web site has nice propagation predictions, and while they hve to be taken with a grain of salt, its important to think in terms of probabilities.

The site shows 80, 40, 30, 20 open with 20M the best and 40M second best. I have two elements on each of these bands. I had been thinking anything above 20M would be a waste of time, given that we are almost at the bottom of the cycle, but the site says that 17 and 15 might have very short openings, but decent propagation.

The West Coast had a big advantage on Top Band for FT5ZM and VK0EK, but this time around, the West Coast will have very nice openings on 160M because we will both be in the grey line at the same time – but competition from the East Coast and EU will be fierce – much more than with the aforementioned.

The Inverted L wont be great above 30M, and because 20 and 40M will be the “money bands”, I can see me getting one QSO on 20M nd an insurance QSO on 40M.

The low bands will have a great grey line during our evening. Once EU and the East Coast gets theirs, we should be in great shape.

On 20M and above, the high bands will be dark when the US has daylight and at the end of daylight on Bouvet. Since the high bands go quiet just after sunset in the Northern Hemisphere and stays open longer in the southern hemisphere during their summer, we will have good conditions and probability to work them.



High Pass “Tee” Network

The new KY6R Inverted L matching unit at the base of the antenna. It is the Palstar AT5K High Pass “Tee” circuit, and being at the base – while the extra capacitor might introduce some loss, having the unit at the base of the antenna most likely makes up for that.

Larry Benko, W0QE, in his FB antenna coupler slide deck:

On page 39 tells the story, and I think answers my question that I posed yesterday. I think at high power, the stresses on my previous two component circuit were just too much. I tested on RBN, and the antenna was radiating and seemed to do well, but if the antenna coupler can’t handle a 160M pileup – you are forced to address this immediately.

Having the three components seems to alleviate the overloading of the components at high power. I will say it has to do with range and stresses imposed on the components – where either the voltage or current was too much for the single L and single C. I saw no signs of arcing – but its hard to examine the capacitor in the weatherproof enclosure, so I will guess that this circuit caused too much stress on the capacitor and the current choke took the brunt of that:

If you have a more technical or better answer – please let me know.

Palstar AT5K Equivalent at the Base of my Inverted L

I have all of the Palstar components now in this T configuration at the base of my Inverted L, and it did have the characteristic of a T tuner, which is the three controls reach a sharp V as far as where the SWR goes low.

This was my previous circuit, and it caused core saturation in my 5KW Balun Designs 1:1 Current Choke. When I first tested this – it was short enough of a test where the cores did not saturate. I have no idea if the new AT5K equivalent circuit will withstand transmitting for lengths of time in a pileup without saturating the core again.

If anyone out there knows why this circuit would stress a three core 5KW 1:1 current choke, please let me know. I can only guess it’s high voltage or high current.

I do know that it was “too good to be true” that the antenna had decent SWR in the CW portion of 160M and SSB portion of 75M. I have never seen that and the Palstar BT1500A showed that 160 and 80 require very different tuning.

The tuner at the base now behaves this way. You tune for 160M, and have to retune for 80M.

I will find out tomorrow morning when VK9MA is on 160M again and I’m battling in the pileups – unless I get a surprise and something is on that I need. Fingers crossed!

Matching 160M: The Challenge Continues

All of a sudden, in a CW pileup this morning, my amplifier kept faulting – the SWR started creeping up. Since I have all of the components to make the same T circuit as a Palstar AT5K, I might try this. I have the space in the cabinet and its an easy task, so I will try to get this done after work tonight.

But I will try one thing that I did before. I found with the Mod Bob that if I had my 160 and 40M antennas plugged in to adjacent ports on my Array Solutions Ratpack switch that I’d get SWR faults. I’ll have them as far physically apart as I can, so hopefully that’s all it is.

VK9MA was pretty strong after sunrise for a half hour, so I have to get a circuit that behaves better.

160M November Possibilities

Its the possibility of working a new one on 160M right now that keeps me going in ham radio. So, what will be activated this month that I need:

  1. VK9MA – Mellish Reef – they started today on 160M, but are just below the noise – popping up every now and then. I do expect that there will be time to work them – and might have to happen at my sunrise. (UPDATE: they are still weak at our SR, but he was pretty strong up to 1/2 hour after sunrise)
  2. J5T – Guinea Bissau – the Italian Team is quite amazing – they gave me 3X last year, one of only 3 African stations I’ve worked on Top Band. Fingers crossed – but conditions seem to be improving on 160M
  3. YJ0JA – Vanuatu – close to VK9MA – this will be interesting
  4. TO2SP – St. Barts – very possible
  5. 9G5W – Ghana – possible
  6. CQ WW CW – there are about 4 that I need that should be on 160M, possibly more

Last night, many were working Scandinavian and Northern EU on 160M. There was one CA station – N6ED who worked a few, but the opening was north and east of here. I did hear a few beeps and boops – so the progression toward good 160M conditions is surely underway – its more than just a freak occurrence – I have now seen enough days with great openings, its only a matter of time when I will work my first EU on 160M. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens this month – so this is a very, very exciting possibility. This is my wildcard that could blow the whole thing open. My RX antenna is really awesome, and now so is my TX antenna. I couldn’t be in a more better place.

There are enough being activated on 160M to almost get to DXCC, but its not easy in any case. However, this Winter could very well be my Big Year on Top Band. I am starting to think I can have this wrapped up by the time KH1 – Baker is on the air.

DX-pedition Trends in 2017 and Beyond

The venerable Ten Tec Orion II, one of my all time favorite ham radio rigs

People and radio gear have changed quite a bit since 2001 (when I got back into ham radio after a lengthy absence) – we have lost both as they have gone SK, and we remember them fondly. I’m glad that I was part of Ten Tec’s zenith, and also got to meet OT DX-ers like Chuck, K6RK, Earl, K6SE at a Visalia Top Band Dinner. There are many others, but these two stand out. When I was a teenager, it was Heathkit and I got to meet Bob, W2LV, who worked on the first antenna system installed on the Empire State Building in NYC. Bob worked with Major Armstrong and even knew Marconi – so that was pretty neat.

Anyway, looking forward, after VK0EK, (which happened in what will go down as perhaps the most amazing quarter in the history of DX-ing – when 5 of the Top Ten Most Wanted entities were activated) – and funded with large grants from the NCDXF and many other clubs and foundations – I don’t think we will ever see that again. That was “the perfect storm” in many ways. I’m also very glad that I was part of that.

2017 has proven to be a much “quieter” time for Mega DX-peditions, and I am sure that 3Y0Z will end up with some “changing of the guard”. I also think that 3Y0Z and the KH1 DX-pedition – which have received $100K and $75K grants respectively prove a trend that I expect is happening right before our eyes:

  1. There are few mega DX-peditions because places are getting much harder to activate – due to cost and just plain old access
  2. Some of the well known DX-peditioners have retired from DX-peditioning, and more will follow soon
  3. There is still exciting activations – by smaller teams (less than 10 people), and some just a few operators

I think if someone were starting in the DXCC program today that Honor Roll #1 would be nearly impossible. But I also see very few young people getting into DX-ing anyway, so I do think DXCC is an anachronism. I expect that I will be one of the last to make Honor Roll #1, and that those close will also make it in the next 10 years. After that, I think even making Honor Roll will be a trick – for anyone starting DXCC now.

I have read about one ham making Honor Roll in 7 years – but he started in 1957, and had those amazing high sunspot years – including 1959, the year I was born. It took me 11 years starting in 2001 – and I really don’t think this will be possible in that amount of time – that I might also be one of the last to do that – and even if you have a much better station than mine – what governs this is cost and access to activate so many that seem all but off limits. I feel like I’m lucky to have a shot at Bouvet with 3Y0Z, and I expect that Glorioso will be tough to get access by the French Team. I think their priority was Crozet – and they couldn’t get access, so they settled on St. Brandon.

As far as DX-pedition of the year goes, my money is on 3Y0Z for this next cycle, and the French Team vs. the KH1 Team for the next cycle. What’s interesting is that 3Y0Z is so “epic” of an activation – as long as they pull it off as they have so many others, they are a “shoe in”.


One trend for sure – there will be a migration to the low bands – I know this just from the response I received at my Pacificon 2017 Antenna Forum presentation on Lowband Antennas. I expect there are a lot of people like myself – where the final DXCC pursuits are taking place on 160M and other low bands.

I’m very glad that I did jump into DX-ing in 2001 – and “Made Hay While the Sun Shone” . . . I feel like Im at the tail end of something that has been in play since 1930 or so – with a break during WWII, but I do feel like I have been part of a fun era in the history of radio – one that “kids these days” will never know or understand.