AA5AU Contest Notes – 2006 ARRL RTTY Roundup

This year’s RTTY Roundup will always to special to me.  When Hurricane Katrina destroyed my antennas, I made a goal to have something decent back up in time so I could compete in earnest.  Since I have operated all previous 17 Roundups, I was obsessed with being there once again.  It’s a tradition and I wasn’t going to let Katrina change that.  Luckily I finished the towers and antennas two weeks ahead of schedule which gave me plenty of time to prepare for this premier RTTY event.  In those two weeks I spent just about every spare minute in the shack making sure everything was ready for 1800Z January 7th.

When the big day finally came, I actually slept in a couple hours later than I normally do and didn’t have that feeling of anxiety that normally comes over me before such a big contest.  I was pretty subdued.  I came into the shack for final station checks and decided I had already checked it a hundred times before.  So as I sat in front of the radios I closed my eyes and visualized what was about to take place.  I ran the contest through my head and decided on a goal.  Since I was short of 1500 QSO’s last year I decided 1500 would be my number.  After all, it is the low end of the sun spot cycle and if conditions weren’t good, 1500 could be difficult to do.  I didn’t look at past scores or statistics from previous years.  I wasn’t looking to break records or achieve any personal bests.  I was just thankful and happy to be there.  I felt blessed that I had the opportunity to do what I love most.  I felt very lucky and an eerie calm came over me.

OK, yeah, there’s the streak – 11 low power Roundup wins in a row.  Sure, I thought about it but I didn’t dwell on it.  It’s just something that happened.  I didn’t sit down one day and say “Hey I’m going to win the next 25 Roundups in a row”.  The streak is going to come to an end one year and I’ll be thankful for it.  But it won’t come to an end because I wasn’t there.  It will come to an end when someone goes out and does better than me.  If this is the year someone does it, so be it.  I have given everyone all the information I know about RTTY contesting and it’s up to them to use it.  But I’m not going down without a fight.  There are lots operators that have the ability, location and hardware to win low power – W2UP, K3MM, K4GMH, P43P, 8P2K, PJ2T (WB9Z) to name a few.  Ed, W0YK, working from P49X this weekend had the perfect opportunity but he told me beforehand he was definitely going high power.  If I was operating from Aruba, I’d go high power too!  So I have to think there is always someone out there gunning for me.  But I wasn’t concerned about that this year.  I was only concerned with one thing – having fun.  After all I’d gone through in the past four months, I needed 24 hours of pure RTTY euphoria and the Roundup can give you this.

My wife Shay wasn’t feeling well that morning so I went to the store for chicken soup.  It was a beautiful sunny and calm winter morning in southeast Louisiana.  The temperature was in the upper 40’s.  It was perfect for contesting and the forecast was for clear weather all weekend.  After filling my ice chest with Cokes and ice, I didn’t come back into the shack until 10 minutes before the start.

My only plan was to start with one radio on 15 and the other on 20 and to go to 40 meters early but at no particular time.  I didn’t schedule my off time.  I would just do whatever I felt like at the time.  I checked WWV and found the SFI at 82, the A was 9 and the K was 1.  The K factor is what I was most interested in and 1 was good.  With good weather but a low flux, I figured 20, 40 and 80 would be the big bands.  I figured I would check 10 occasionally but didn’t figure much, if anything, to be there.  Fifteen meters would be the big question mark.  If 15 wasn’t good, I’d have to hit 40 very early and I was willing to do that.

I started the contest on 14080 and 21081 Khz respectively.  It took two minutes to log the first two contacts but in the 3rd minute I worked five stations and all hell broke loose – I had a huge pileup on 20 meters.  15 was only about half as good.  As fact, it was exactly half as good as I worked 84 stations on 20 and 42 on 15 for 126 contacts that first hour.  This is a personal best for me in any contest.  That first hour I had 51 multipliers which was phenomenal and included rare North Dakota.  My previous best first hour for multipliers was 39 in 2004.  So it was an excellent start.  The next hour found 120 more contacts and 107 QSO’s the third hour.  The rate dropped dramatically the in the next two hours to 79 and 80 respectively but this was still good rate at an overall average well over a hundred per hour.

I ran WriteLog’s rate meter and used it to push for more contacts.  15 meters proved to be mediocre, so I did a lot of S&P on that band.  The PRO III is my 15 meter radio and I was so pumped up that I had problems tuning in signals because I was moving the VFO too fast.  I tried using the 1/4 turn function in the radio but that was too slow for tuning.  I had to make a mental adjustment and slow my left hand down a bit as I was flying past the signals instead of tuning them right in as I always remember doing.  For some reason I didn’t have this problem on the TS-870.  I know the Icom will change the tuning ratio when you move the VFO faster, but I wasn’t doing that.  It wasn’t a big problem, but it did bother me slightly as I attempted to S&P as fast as possible.  Anyway, after a couple of hours I was able to zero right in on signals on the Icom.  S&P is an important part of my strategy.  In recent times, I’ve determined that S&P can yield as many and sometimes more contacts than running.  In theory, if you run on both radios and one band isn’t producing a constant stream of contacts, there is more off time between CQ stops and starts.  I don’t like this.  I believe it’s important that you leave just enough time between your CQ messages to see if anyone comes right back.  If not, the CQ should start right up again.  With more and more stations running narrow filters, it’s too easy for someone to pass over you between your CQ messages.  I try not to let that happen.

The problem with running one radio and S&P on the other is that there is a tendency to get lazy on the S&P radio if you have a good run going on the other radio.  It takes discipline to be aggressive in going after that next contact while S&P.  George, W1ZT, in one our many conversations, once told me he uses a note posted at the operating position to “go get that next contact”.  For some strange reason, I thought about that constantly this year.  I kept saying to myself “go get that next contact” on the S&P radio.  I did it all weekend long, over and over “go get that next contact”.  It was a powerful tool that apparently worked.

Importantly, I had gotten into a rhythm quickly.  Once I got the tuning down on the Icom, I felt very comfortable and the interaction between both radios, keyboards and monitors was crisp and precise.  I was doing all the right things at the right time and not making mistakes.  I was having a blast!

With 15 not being that great, I checked 10 and 40 a few times but 10 was dead and there were only a couple of RTTY signals on 40 and they were on the low end.  When operating 20 and 40 at the same time, I’m forced to stay on the high side of 40 because of the 2nd harmonic interfering with the 20 meter radio when transmitting on the low end of 40.  So I stayed with 15 until 2245Z when I moved to 40 meters for good on that radio.  Forty was starting to gather steam and I could see more and more signals pop up on the Icom’s band scope as I ran 7080 Khz for 30 minutes. The move to 40 helped push the rate meter higher and resulted in 105 contacts between 2300-2400Z.  This increase in rate was also assisted by moving from 20 to 80 on the other radio when 20 started going away at sunset.  I wasn’t worried about missing DX multipliers at sunset on 20, I was more interested in rate.

At 2330Z I worked AL1G on 20 meters and then moved that radio to 80.  40 and 80 were both in excellent shape Saturday evening.  80 was not yielding any great runs so I did mostly S&P while I ran 40 meters.  To see the RTTY signals all across the 40 meter band that night brought a smile to my face.  There were RTTY signals from 7025 all the way to 7100 Khz.  The CW and SSB guys must have thought there had been a RTTY invasion from hell on 40 meters that night.  It would take a good 30 minutes just to do one S&P pass from one end of the band to the other!

Around 0100Z I noticed the rate meter going higher and higher.  I was averaging well over a hundred contacts an hour.  I wondered how long it would last.  Could I sustain this rate until I took a break?  Between 0200 and 0300Z I worked 117 stations and did the same thing the next hour.  This was unbelievable.  If I had looked at previous year rate sheets I would have known that I was on pace with my 2004 effort when I ended up with 1827 total contacts.  But I didn’t know.  Ironically, the first 12 hours of this year’s contest is almost a mirror of the first 12 hours of 2004.  Not even when I set the low power record in 2003, did I have this kind of rate for the first half of the contest.  All I know was that it felt fantastic and I was having a great deal of fun on the low bands.

At 0530Z I started thinking about when I should take my break when I started making minor mistakes like hitting the wrong key here and there.  My actions weren’t as fluid as earlier.  I was sliding out my groove as the rate meter started to drop.  I didn’t feel tired but maybe I was.  I was thinking I should stop at 0600Z and restart at 1200Z on 40 and 80 again to pick up those stations that weren’t able to operate that night.  They’d be on in the morning and I needed to get them in the log.  So at 0559Z I worked KH6FI on 40 meters and pulled the plug.  I had 1206 valid contacts which I would find out later was ahead of my 2004 pace by 21 QSO’s.  I saved the logs, turned off the radios and went straight to bed after readjusting my goal to 1800!

Break times are always a gamble.  In years past I’d taken my break from 0700-1300Z and restarted on 15 and 20 meters.  But in this part of the sunspot cycle, I’ve adjusted to 0600-1200Z and restarting on 40 and 80.  This seems to work well for me.  As always, it’s extremely important to take all six hours of off-time at once to get the maximum amount of rest.  The second half of the Roundup is always slower than the first and you have to be sharp to chase down every possible contact.  Running low power means S&P is more important in the second half.  You have to find all those ops that show up on Sunday to run the big pileups.  0600Z is midnight local time.  The rate always starts falling off on 40 and 80 as the East Coast goes to bed.  Restarting at 1200Z, which is 6 a.m. local time, you have to think it’s 4 a.m. on the West Coast and those guys are still sleeping.  I can only guess that there are more stations in the Eastern and Central time zones than there are in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.  So 1200-1300Z should be better than 0600-0700Z.  It’s only a guess, but it sounds logical to me.

Sometimes I have trouble sleeping after such a productive day, but I slept very well that night and the alarm woke me up at 5:15 a.m. the next morning.  I took a shower and made coffee.  I came into the shack, turned on the radios and checked WWV numbers.  They were 79, 6 and 2.  That told me there should be a short opening to EU on 15 meters and I needed to keep an eye out on that band after the sun came up.  I restarted at 1200Z on 40 and 80 meters.  Since I had readjusted my goal to 1800 contacts, I needed to maintain an average rate of 50 per hour for the next 12 hours to do achieve that number.  So when the first hour back was 67, I thought that was good considering it was still on 40, some on 80 and a move to 20 at 1250Z.  I lost some time (and contacts) going back and forth between 40 and 15 in the next hour waiting on 15 to open and also S&P on 20 because it was too early to CQ.  With my thinking that 15 would only have a short EU opening, I needed to fill the log with as many EU multipliers on 20 when the path is best just after my sunrise.  Unlike the East Coast who can work EU all day on 20, I have to concentrate on getting them in the morning because I just don’t have a good path midday.  So when the rate dropped to 56 between 1300-1400Z, I was not all that concerned.  As 20 opened stateside and 15 hopefully would come alive, the rate would increase.  And it did to 66 between 1400-1500Z.  But 15 was slow to open and I was still going back and forth between 15 and 40 in the same time period.  By 1420Z I was off 40 and on 15 for good (or at least a few hours).  I concentrated on finding those EU mults on 15 but luckily I had worked many of them already on 20 meters.

20 meters was working extremely well and I ran 14087 Khz for a good hour from 1355-1455Z.  I did a short 20 minute CQ stint on 15 and did S&P on 20.  But it was apparent 15 was not good enough to run so at 1515Z I went back to running 20 and S&P on 15.  At 1530Z I tried running 15 and 20 at the same time and had good success as the opening to EU was decent on 15 and the rate was 71 between 1500-1600Z.

But as the sun set in EU and the path went away, so did the rate on 15.  The band was open to W1 and W6 at the same time but new activity was low.  I tried using the higher tribander on 15 but it was way too noisy (so was the D40).  The lower tribander was better on 15 that day so I aimed it due north to catch both coasts.  When the rate dropped to 56 between 1600-1700 I wasn’t overly concerned.  I usually have my lowest rates between 1700-2100Z in the Roundup.  After 2100Z, my signal is usually pretty strong on 20 meters to stateside and that is what I have to wait for.  When the rate started to fall I checked ten meters with AD1C but I couldn’t hear him and there were no signals present on the band scope (the TS-870 on 20 meters is usually my 10 meter radio, but I switched the Icom from 15 to 10 to use the band scope to check for signals).  I went back to 15, and 20 got real good to stateside on the other radio and I was able to raise the rate to 68 from 1800-1900Z.

Fifteen meters really sucked after 1900Z with the same big signals from the west coast but no one news.  I checked 40 and there were a few signals on the lower end but nothing new.  I was in a gambling mood and wanted to try something different.  So I did something I normally don’t do.  I put the 15 meter radio on 10 meters and started calling CQ on 28089 Khz at 1920Z.  At the same time I put the 20 meter radio on 15 meters.  Four minutes later ND2T (from CA) about blew me out of my seat when he answered me on 10 meters with a 30 over nine signal – wow!  A big signal popped up at 28090, so I jumped over and worked KM6Z then went immediately back to CQ on 28089.  In the next 5 minutes I ran seven west coast stations on 10.  Eventually, using the band scope to find new signals popping up on 10 while I was CQ’ing on 28089, I was able to work 27 west coast stations on ten until I lost the path at 2000Z.  In the meantime I switched the other radio back and forth between 15 and 20 to accumulate 30 additional contacts to bring the rate to 57 between 1900-2000Z.  This was good stuff and I needed it.

Unfortunately, when 10 meters went dead , so went my rate as it fell to 46 between 2000-2100Z.  During that time 15 was going south in hurry and I jumped to 40 for a couple of contacts but there wasn’t really anything going on there yet.  I did CQ on 7083 and K3MQ answered to give me Delaware for my last state!  He was weak in the noise and I had to ask him to confirm DE which he did.  Around 2100Z I looked at my score.  I had 1766 valid contacts and 119 total multipliers (210,154 pts) and a thought came into my head that I was doing pretty damn good.  I wondered what the record was so I quickly jumped on the Internet and looked at the ARRL RTTY Roundup records page on rttycontesting.com to see that the record I set in 2003 was 219,234 pts (1797 Q’s & 122 multipliers).  With 3 hours left I was only 31 Q’s and 3 mults away from the record.  Was this possible?  Was I friggin’ dreaming?  The possibility of a new record brought about a feeling I cannot describe.  It clicked something in my brain and I contested the next three hours as if this were the last contest I would ever operate.  I kept saying “go get that next contact” over and over in my head but now with an exclamation point.  The record would be broken, but I had to distance my final score well ahead of the old record just in case the log checkers dinged my log.  I was on a mission and loving every bit of it.

There were still strong west coast signals on 15 meters but no one new, so while running on 20 meters, I went S&P between 15 and 40 meters on the other radio and ended up with 53 contacts between 2100-2200Z.  Some time in that hour I surpassed the world record but I wasn’t looking at the summary score when it happened because I was too preoccupied with “go get that next contact”.

At 2200Z my signal must have been large on 20 meters as it should have been and I was able to run 39 stations in the next hour while I switched the Icom between 10, 15, 40 and 80 meters S&P which yielded 27 additional Q’s for a total of 66 total contacts between 2200-2300Z.  At 2210Z, CO2IZ called me on 20 meters for multiplier #120.  The next hour was push, push, push and I attempted to get any QSO I could find.  Shay walked into the shack to check on me and at the time I was thinking about what multipliers might be out there that I hadn’t worked.  I said to her “You know, this would be a good time to find a UA0 on 20 meters”.  Of course she didn’t have a clue as to what I was telling her, but it was true.  I had no UA9 or UA0 in the log yet and it was just past sunset local time.  At about the same time the JA’s showed up on 15 and 20 meters in the last 30 minutes.  So I called CQ on 15 meters while looking for new stations on 20.  At 2345Z I came upon a very weak and watery signal at 14095 Khz.  I listened for a minute or two and it was a UA0 calling CQ but he was so weak I couldn’t capture the call.  I could tell he was calling CQ and working an occasional JA.  Finally UA0LH came across the screen clearly and I started calling him.  He was going in and out and I couldn’t tell if he had come back to me so I kept calling.  Eventually his signal rose out of the noise and I saw my call and his report clearly!  I came back with my report sending LA several times and saw my call clearly in his confirmation message.  I threw both fists into air and yelled “Oh yeah!”.  I’m not sure it was the new multiplier that set it off or the culmination of pent up emotions being released – but I was really happy.  I had reached the end of a long road back to RTTY contesting.  I worked 7 stations in the last five minutes of the contest while celebrating another successful Roundup.  KC4SAW was my last contact on 40M at 2359Z.  It was over.

I wasn’t tired, but should I have been?  I remember seeing something on TV one day about how athletes should be exhausted after their event to prove they left nothing on the table at the end.  RTTY contesting is not athletics but it does take a high degree of mental and physical energy.  Despite not being tired, I felt as if I had given everything I had to this Roundup.  I had gotten the most out of my experience, equipment and antennas.  I shut everything down and immediately left the shack, had dinner with Shay and retired early to bed.  I slept well knowing I had accomplished what I set out to do and dreamed of next year’s Roundup.


2006 ARRL RTTY Roundup Claimed Score

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

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

Band QSOs
80: 269
40: 583
20: 731
15: 329
10: 27
Total: 1939 State/Prov = 57 Countries = 64 Total Score = 234,619

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 version 10.55D
MMTTY Plug-in for WriteLog in the main Rttyrite window
HAL DXP-38 in a cloned Rttyrite window for receive only
Icom PS-60 power supply
RigRunner DC power distribution panel

Station B:
Kenwood TS-870 transceiver
JPS NIR-12 Dual DSP audio filter
Compaq DeskPro Pentium II running WriteLog for Windows under Windows 98se
WriteLog for Windows version 10.55D
MMTTY Plug-in for WriteLog in the main Rttyrite window
HAL DXP-38 in a cloned Rttyrite window for receive only
Astron PR-40 power supply
RigRunner DC power distribution panel

Cushcraft A3S triband yagi at 66′ controlled by an M2 2800 positioner and RC2800P-A controller
Cushcraft rotable D40 dipole at 72′
Cushcraft A3S triband yagi @ 45′ controlled by a Yaesu G-800S rotator
80 meter inverted vee with apex at 60′
Butternut HF2V 40/80 meter vertical ground-mounted in a swamp with eight 40′ radials