AA5AU Contest Notes – 2005 ARRL RTTY Roundup

Five days before the contest, I started getting a little nervous about the Roundup.  I rarely get nervous before a contest but the Roundup is a different.  The Roundup is my favorite contest.  I have more fun in the Roundup than I do any other contest.

I was a little nervous about using new radios in this contest.  Icom was generous enough to loan me a pair of new IC-756PROIII transceivers in mid-December to evaluate.  Having not used them in a contest made me a little uneasy.  The radios were simple to operate and I was able to get more comfortable with them each day I had them.  But I had no idea how they would perform in a contest.  (For my evaluation of the PRO III’s click here.)

I hadn’t put in an all-out SO2R RTTY contest since NAQP in July so I was a little worried about being rusty.  The Northern California Contest Club practices on Thursday and Friday before the contest helped tremendously (thanks NCCC!).

During the week of the contest, I wrote down a list of things which could fail.  Looking at the list, I was able to make a mental plan of what to do if anything failed except for two items – the 40 meter antenna and the 80 meter antenna.  I had a spare of everything else but if either of these antennas failed, I would be in trouble because I had no spare antennas for those two bands.  So I purchased a Butternut HF2V 40/80 meter vertical from HRO in Atlanta and it arrived at my office Thursday morning before the contest weekend.  I constructed part of the antenna that day at work.

I took the next day (Friday) off from work to install the vertical and complete final checks and testing of the station.  During the NCCC practice run Friday night I did antenna comparisons on both 40 and 80 meters between my existing antennas and the new vertical.  Signal were better on my regular antennas and reports from others were than the vertical put out a good signal but not as strong as my inverted vee on 80 and rotatable dipole (40M add-on kit to my A3S tribander).  But the vertical did work and I was satisfied that I had a good back-up antenna.  Also during the final NCCC run Friday night I found that if I changed profiles in MMTTY on the PC using the microHAM USB micro KEYER, the radio would key up unexpectedly and PTT was coming directly from the micro KEYER.  This wasn’t good.  I tried to figure out what was going on with it but couldn’t.  So I decided I would change from using the micro KEYER for FSK and PTT through a virtual COM port to using a physical COM port and a transistor interface on the Compaq Deskpro computer.

I tried to sleep in on Saturday morning to get as much rest as possible, but my biological clock wouldn’t allow me to sleep past 6:30 a.m. (1230Z).  I decided to have some quiet time in the shack and think about the contest.  I checked the WWV numbers and they were terrible.  With the solar flux at 84, the A at 40 and the K at 4, I knew conditions would be fair at best, but more than likely they would be poor.  From experience I knew 15M was going to be flat.  In the past few years, 15M had been my best band.  A bigger emphasis would need to be placed on 20, 40 and 80 meters.  Throwing around some numbers in my head, I came up with figure of 1500 contacts for the 24 hours.  This was far short of the 1800+ contacts I made last year, but it was realistic and I would use it as a goal.  After seeing the propagation numbers, I had to turn a negative into a positive.   I had to put my mind at ease and convince myself the contest would be fun despite what could be poor propagation.  So I would shoot for 1500 Q’s.  I imagined in my head it would be a fun-filled contest and I was instantly at ease.

I decided I would need 500 QSO’s on 20 meters, 400 QSO’s on 40 and 300 QSO’s on 80 meters.  This meant 10 & 15 meters would have to yield 300 QSO’s combined.  This would be my goal and I would concentrate hard to make this happen.  In my mind, I visualized this would happen and I was relaxed and ready to go.  One of the most difficult things to do in contesting is go into the event knowing you won’t do as well as you did the year before and still go out and perform your best.

In years past my strategy was to start the contest on 10 and 15 meters.  With the numbers as poor as they were, I made a change in strategy this year by starting on 15 and 20 meters.  I decided I would CQ alternately on both radios for at least one hour, then check for signals on 10 meters.  So at 1800Z, I was ready to go with Radio A on 15 meters and Radio B on 20 meters.  And I would gamble by trying to hold frequencies in prime locations in each band’s RTTY sub-band – 21081 and 14082 KHz.  This was a risky move on my part because I was low power.  I was able to stay on 14082 KHz for 31 minutes and 21081 KHz for only 4 minutes before QRM chased me away.  Sometimes you just can’t hang in that part of the band when low power.  But trying that strategy did not hurt me too much.  I got a good start and was able to make 102 QSO’s the first hour.  And I was happy.

It soon became apparent how poor 15 meters was.  I could not get a good run going despite moving up to 21097 KHz and into a relative clear space on the band.  I spent most of the afternoon S&P on 15 meters.  Big signals were coming out of the west coast on 15 and the band was open to New England but signals were not as strong from the east and there was nothing being heard from the midwest.  I was able to check 10 meters at 1900Z and could see no signals at all on the PRO III spectrum scope so immediately went back to 20 meters.  At 1928Z, I checked 10 meters again and saw several signals across the spectrum scope.  I found KD7GTI for my first contact on 10 meters at 1929Z.  I then worked W7PAQ, NC6P, K7OVG, W7ZR, WW7OR, KH6GMP and W6RLL.  The band was open to the west and the signals were huge but unfortunately, that’s all I found.  I tried CQ’ing on 10 but no one answered.   So at 1944Z, I put the B radio back on 20.  But it was good to get KH6 in the log.  At the end of the first two hours of the contest, I had 180 QSO’s and 52 multipliers.  So nearly half of all the multipliers worked for the entire contest were worked in the first two hours (I ended up with 111 mults total).

I was CQ on 21092 KHz and S&P on 20 for about 20 minutes but 15 was too slow so I switched and CQ’d on 14092 KHz and went S&P on 15.  I had a good run on 14092 KHz from 1958-2054Z.  When the rate fell on 20, I looked at 10 meters and found a few signals across the bands like KJ7NO, AD6KA, ZL2AMI, P43P and PJ2T.  The band was open to the west and Caribbean but there wasn’t much there.  I went back to 20 meters at 2106Z and starting running 14092 KHz again for a few minutes until I sent S&P on 20 at 2115Z.  During this time I was running 21082 KHz on 15 meters but it was real slow.  At 2035Z I found KL7CQ on 21104 KHz.  They were very weak but I was able to work them.  So now I had Hawaii and Alaska in the log.  The stateside multipliers were adding up nicely and even though 15 was slow, I was pretty content with the way the station was working.  And I was having fun with the PRO III’s.

At 2139Z, I checked ten meters again and only found three stations I hadn’t already worked – N6HC, ZX2B & LU6ETB.  Again, the band was open to the west and to South America but there wasn’t much else there.  I went back to 20 on the B radio and I alternated CQ and S&P on both 15 and 20 meters.  I could not get any big runs going by running both bands.  It just wasn’t working.  It the the low sunspot cycle blues.  But I wasn’t blue, I was actually having fun playing with the PRO III’s.  The relatively slow rates allowed me to experiment with the radios and it was interesting fun.

My strategy this year was to go to 40 meters early.  So at 2201Z, I checked 40 and saw signals on the high end of the band across the PRO III’s spectrum scope.  I worked KI8U, W0MA, NA5Q, W4UEF and KF2QS in eight minutes but there wasn’t anything else down there so I went back to 15 meters where the band was beginning to go away (as if it wasn’t bad already).  I worked only six stations on 15 in the next 30 minutes which included a backscatter contact with WX4TM in AL and a new multiplier with JF1PJK.  During all that time I was running 14099 KHz.  Finally at 2235Z, I left 15 meters and went to 40 on the A radio for good.

40 meters is almost always the same every year in the Roundup with wall-to-wall signals on both the upper and lower ends and sometimes all across the band.  In the NCCC practice run Friday night, the band was noisy due to thunderstorms that had passed earlier in the day.  But on Saturday night, the band was quiet.  When I went to 40 meters, I was anticipating a fun run all the way to 0700Z.  The band was starting to get real active and signals were popping up from all over the USA and Canada.  I CQ’d on 7092 KHz at 2311Z and had a short run going while alternating CQ’s on 14080 Khz.  The rate was slow though.  I eventually moved to 7079 KHz and more and more stations started showing up on 40.  I went S&P on 20 and found EM1HO for a new multiplier.  But at 0001Z, I realized something was wrong with 40 meters.  The signals were not what they should have been.  I knew it wasn’t an antenna problem because I kept switching back and forth between my rotatable dipole and the vertical.  Signals were not as strong as they should have been.  The band was broken!

At 0002Z, I finally left 20 meters and went to 80 on the B radio.  I was able to get a run on both 7091 and 3591 KHz at the same time for 30 minutes, but the rate was still slow and I had to go S&P on 40 while moving the 80 meter run frequency to 3588.  80 was starting to pick up very nicely and I was working more stations on 80 than I was on 40.  80 was also quiet with low noise and signals were strong.  Rate on 80 was better than 40.  And as time went on I found that signals on 40 were only coming in from the west.  The eastern midwest (IN, IL, OH, MI, etc.) or US east coast was not coming in at all on 40.  This was great cause for concern.  My goal for 0700Z was to have 950 QSO’s in the log.  It was not going to happen at this rate.  I was getting better rate CQ’ing on one band and S&P on the other, so that is what I did.  Back and forth on 40 and 80 meters – CQ and S&P.  And I watched as my 80 meter QSO total for the evening kept pace with my 40 meter total.  At 0425Z I came across S54E CQ’ing on 3584 Khz.  He was weak on the inverted vee, so I switched to the vertical and he was solid copy like a local.  I was dumbfounded.  I called on the vertical and he came right back to me..  Three minutes later I found 9A5W on 3581 KHz and the same thing happened.  The vertical works for DX on 80!!!

And at 0538Z, I work K0IDT in Nebraska on 80 meters for my last state.  He called me and I sent him a special thank you.  I had now worked all 48 continental states, DC, Alaska and Hawaii.  That was a good feeling.  To top it off that evening, I worked G6PZ on 3609 KHz at 0544Z for another multiplier.

Despite these nice new mults, it finally occurred to me that I was not having a good night on the low bands.  40 meters was flat broke.  And I knew what I had to do about it.  Every year I go until 0700Z on 40 and 80 before my rest period.  But this year I knew I had to quit early and go back to 40 and 80 in the morning.  So that is what I did.  I worked HI3TEJ on 40 meters at 0558Z and shut it down for the night.  I had only 908 QSO’s.

Even with only 908 Q’s at 0600Z, I felt good.  When I set the record in 2003, I had only 935 Q’s at 0700Z, but I had 10 meters to look forward to.  But last year I was well over 1000 Q’s at the same time.  I knew I wouldn’t have ten meters this year, but I still felt I did well despite a flat 40 meters.  I will never forget just how bad 40 meters was that night.  I have never seen it this slow in a Roundup in recent years.  It was some kind of very strange long skip that did not allow me to work the midwest or east coast late into the night – the band was very long.  I knew 40 would be better in the morning so it didn’t bother me a whole lot to quit early.

I rested for 6 hours and restarted the contest at 1159Z by working W3OA on 7048 KHz.  Sunday morning, 40 meters was wide open to the USA (like it should have been the previous night).  And 80 was good too.  I was running 7046 KHz and S&P on 80 when I came across a station on 80 meters I had been trying to work for many years – VK6HD on 3573 KHz.   There were several stations calling him and it was just getting light outside so it was at least 30 minutes before sunrise.  I was copying him well on the inverted vee.  I switched to the vertical and he was slightly weaker so I went back to the inverted vee.  Because there were several US stations calling, it took at least 5 minutes or longer for him to hear me then I made one of the best 80 meter QSO’s of my life – VK6HD on low power RTTY at 1248Z on my inverted vee – grey line DX’ing at it’s best.

My rate for the first 30 minutes on 40 and 80 that morning was well over 100/hr, but it slowed fast and I ended up with only 57 Q’s that first hour.  At 1259Z I moved from 80 to 20 meters on the B radio and worked WN1GIV in FL, then YV5KAJ.  I went S&P on 20 working several stations including new mults RD3A, US0MM, IQ2CJ, EU1MM, VO1HP, OZ2MO, DJ3NG, ON6OM and YU1RH.  In all that time I worked only WX4TM on 40 meters and at 1330Z I moved the A radio to 15 meters when I heard P43P blasting away.  But I did not work anyone on 15 until F6BUM at 1338Z for a new multiplier.  I was CQ on 14106 KHz and S&P on 15.  It was a very slow morning and I prepared myself for a slow day on 15 and 20.

I worked ZC4LI on 15 at 21082 KHz at 1400Z for my 101st multiplier (he called me).  While CQ on 15, I picked up new mults TG9/N0AT, YO9HP and YL3FW.  Then I was then able to get a small run going on 14073 KHz while S&P on 15.  But 15 was not good.  During the next hour I was called my IS0HQJ on 15 and found LX9SW on 20 meters for mults 105 and 106.  Occasionally I’d check 10 meters but there was nothing there.  I continued with slow rates on 15 and 20 meters throughout the day (finding CX7BF at 1846Z on 21076 KHz for mult 107).  It was slow work and even though the rate was slow, it was steady until finally at 2000Z I found signals on 10 meters.

So I worked 10 and 15 meters for an hour but it was slow.  There were good signals from the west on 10 and it was a little better than the previous day but not much.  At 2100Z, I left 10 for 20 meters on the B radio.

At this time, I felt rate was not important.  I had to improve my score by trying to find multipliers.  I went to 40 meters where I found HG05HNY at 2133Z (mult 108).  CT3IA called me on 20 meters for mult 109.  At this time I was switching both radios to any band looking for new multipliers.  I was able to get a good run going on 14089 KHz on the B radio while I switched through 10, 15 and 40 meters on the A radio.  Eventually I just started switching either radio to any band.  It was weird working both 40 and 10 meters at the same time.  But because the vertical was working, I was able to use band combinations I normally couldn’t before because of intra-station QRM.  It was kind of fun and I was glad I had installed the vertical.  It probably contributed a small bit to my score.

At 2255, W2TGP/HK4 called me on 20 meters for multiplier #110.  And eventually I found ZF2NT on 40 meters at 2347Z for my last multiplier (111).  At 2358Z I worked W8HCS on 80 meters and could not find another contact in the last two minutes.  At 0000Z, I shut everything down.  When I saw I had 1463 QSO’s, I was kind of happy that I came close to my 1500 QSO goal.  After all, conditions had been pretty miserable.

I was pleased at the way everything went.  Everything worked to perfection but I did have my first ever visit from Murphy in a Roundup.  With just under 2 hours to go, the “Network cable disconnected” message showed up on my XP machine.  Yikes!!!  I got up from the chair and walked around to the back of my desk where I could see my network equipment.  Everything was powered down – router & hub!  I looked over to the fold-down desk top that hides the back of my left-hand desk to see my cat, Katarina sitting there.  That is directly above where the AC plug is for the network equipment.  I moved her off the fold down piece desk piece, lifted it and found the AC power plug half way unplugged from the receptacle.  I plugged it back in to get the network equipment back up but had to reboot both computers to re-register them back into the network.  It all took about 15 minutes.  Since it was toward the end of the contest, I didn’t lose that much time and don’t believe it significantly affected my score.

I know what happened.  When I installed the HF2V vertical on Friday, I had to run the cable down the wall and into a hole in the shack wall adjacent to where the network AC barrier strip is plugged in.  I must have bumped it and the plug partially came out of receptacle.  When Katarina jumped up on the fold over extension of the desk (which I built to hide the cables coming into the shack), she must have put enough weight onto the board to cause the plug to come out.  It was all my fault, but it didn’t really bother me at this point.  I got back running quickly and that’s what counts.

All in all I am quite happy with my performance, the excellent performance of the station including the PRO III radios and my score.  I feel I couldn’t have done much better.  I felt like I had won the Daytona 500 even though there were a record number of caution flags.  I knew that records can’t fall every year.

I will never forget how slow this Roundup was.  And I will never forget the wonderful experience it was to operate two great radios.  The PRO III’s are probably the best RTTY radios I’ve ever used for RTTY contesting.  I can’t wait to use them again in the next RTTY contest!  And I can’t wait until next year’s Roundup.

Special thanks to George, W1ZT, for loaning me a homebrew CI-V interface for the B radio and to all stations for the QSO’s.  LET’S DO IT AGAIN NEXT YEAR!!!


2005 ARRL RTTY Roundup

Call: AA5AU
Operator(s): AA5AU
Station: AA5AU

Class: Single Op LP
Operating Time (hrs): 24
Radios: SO2R

Band QSOs
80: 262
40: 323
20: 541
15: 294
10: 43
Total: 1463 State/Prov = 59 Countries = 52 Total Score = 162,393

Station A:
Icom IC-756 PRO III transceiver w/Icom CT-14 CI-V interface
JPS NIR-12 Dual DSP audio filter
Dell 2.66 GHz Pentium 4 running WriteLog for Windows under Windows XP Pro
WriteLog for Windows 10.52F
MMTTY Plug-in for WriteLog in the main Rttyrite window
HAL DXP-38 in a cloned Rttyrite window for receive only

Station B:
Icom IC-756 PRO III transceiver w/W1ZT homebrew interface
JPS NIR-12 Dual DSP audio filter
Compaq DeskPro Pentium II running WriteLog for Windows under Windows 98se
WriteLog for Windows 10.52F
MMTTY Plug-in for WriteLog in the main Rttyrite window
HAL DXP-38 in a cloned Rttyrite window for receive only

Cushcraft A3S triband yagi with 40M add-on kit @ 62′ controlled by a Yaesu SDX-800 rotor
Cushcraft A3S triband yagi @ 55′ controlled by a Yaesu SDX-800 rotor
80 meter inverted vee with apex at 60′
Butternut HF2V 40/80 meter vertical ground-mounted in a swamp with eight 40′ radials