Field Day 2012

Just damn.

This one never even got off to a good start.  Last year was my first FD by myself, operating QRP in class 1B-battery.  I ended up in ninth place, which I was fairly happy with considering my apartment location and smallish 50-foot doublet.  So, this year I decided to revive my goal of making top-5 in my class, and planned on putting up a full 80m doublet at our new home out in the country, and possibly even a couple more antennas for switching directions on 20m and up and such.

Instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour on Friday and getting up Saturday morning like I'd "planned", I stayed up late and slept in on Saturday.  Around about noon (that's T-minus 2 hours to the start of FD here), I went out to the shop and started looking for stuff to build my antennas and get them up.  Let's just say it wasn't all exactly where I thought it would be!  As a result, I got a later start this year than last year - it was 37 minutes into the contest before I got on.  Dang.

The weather was miserably hot and humid, in the 90s here in Georgia...and in all that time, I only got up the one antenna:  an 80m doublet with the feedpoint up about 25 or 30 feet.  Not great, but still better than I had last year.  Unfortunately, the solar flux was in the mid 80s and the sunspot number was in the mid teens, with higher band propagation forecast as "poor" and 20 meters only "fair".  Well, at least I won't miss those other 20m and up antennas I wanted to put up.  And, luckily, I'll have a workable antenna on 80m, in contrast to last year, and a better antenna on 40.

So, I'm off to the races and yes, the bands suck.  So much so that I'm easily distracted and my butt-in-chair factor suffers.  I never get any runs going and spend most of my time search and pounce.  Finally things settle down a bit, but it definitely feels slower than it did last year.  I guess I should have printed out some rate sheets to compare...maybe I'll do that later...

I take a little nap or two, get something to eat, look at the Dish Network receiver when Mrs. AA4GA tells me it died, etc.  I'm sitting back at the rig around 9pm when a storm comes through - a good bit of rain, and a lot of wind - probably gusting over 40 knots...the wind kept up for a half hour and the rain about an hour or hour and a half.  It was so bad at one point, I thought about tearing the computer and rig down and hauling them back inside the house, but since there was no apparent lightning, I kept at it.

I decided this year to actually try some SSB contacts for two reasons:  one was to fill in some of the slower times when the CW band seemed worked out, and the other was to work my local club - I figured since I was not joining them for FD, I should probably make an effort to work them - they were at W4G, a multi-club effort, and only about 5 miles from here, but I never heard them.  So I made a few SSB contacts, but when I moved to 75m late in the evening, lots of loud stations were CQing in my face.  Oh, and the little SSB operating I did mostly served to remind me why I'm almost exclusively a CW operator...I know it's got a lot to do with it being Field Day, but most of the operating procedure I heard made my skin crawl like fingernails on a chalkboard.  I doubt I'll take a mic to FD next year...

Around midnight, I needed a nap, even though I knew it was probably prime time on 80 and I set a clock for an hour and a half.  I finally got up about 3:15 am.  Par for the course.  I operated for about three hours, knowing my wife would be up at 7 and that would get me back at the rig again...which it did...around 8 or 8:30 when Anna left the house.  She stuck her head back in the door as she was leaving:  "hey, you sure do have a lot of wires out here".  "Yes, I do...they're just temporary!"  I figured she was talking about the 2nd and 3rd antennas I'd just left in the yard and not put up at the beginning of FD.

So I slogged through the rest of the contest, but it was really slower than I'd figured it would be based on yesterday's condx.  Oh well, the propagation's got to be bad for everyone.  With my distraction and bad condx, my score was over 25% off last year's, and I was looking to improve...ugh.  As it ended up, I had 329 QSOs this year compared to 449 last year...and I was hoping for 500 plus.  I got the same 250 bonus points as last year, and this year's score would have placed 14th last year, so with worse condx, maybe still in the top points this year:  3,500.

So I come in the house to chillax after the contest and look out the front door and see my antenna...which I should not be able to see!  The feed point is at the grand height of three feet!  No wonder no one was answering me on 75m last night!  No wonder so many of my QSOs were like pulling teeth!  I figure the antenna had loosened up in the storm last night, so I operated 75% of the contest with the antenna almost on the ground!  So, chalk this one up to lesson learned...I hope!

Next year...don't stay up late on Friday.  Get up early on Saturday to put up the antennas - and have the antennas built ahead of time!!  Get done hanging the antennas before the WX gets unbearably hot.  Go inside into the air conditioning and nap after getting everything set up.  Start on time - when 2pm Sunday arrives, even though some folks can continue operating, the bands really empty out and that's wasted time.  Oh, check every once in a while to make sure the antenna's still up!  As long as I've been doing this, you'd think most of this would be second nature, eh?

What I did do new this year that I like was set up on a north-facing porch on the side of the house - it's covered and never gets hit with direct sunlight, so it's relatively cool.  I'm likely to operate there again next time.

Last year I did a basic analysis of battery used and used a total of 8.6 amp-hours.  This year, I used the same equipment exactly (FT817ND at 5 watts), and total battery consumption was just under 8 amp-hours, so I'm sure I operated less this year...without analyzing the logs, I'd guess 16 hours total.

Here are the band totals:

  Band CW Qs  Ph Qs 
   80:   42     2
   40:  153     4
   20:   67     0
   15:   59     2
Total:  321     8  

With bonus points and power multiplier, Total Score = 3,500.

See you in FD 2013!

Kenwood TS-440

From Universal Radio
I got a TS-440 way back in the 1980s - it was my first solid-state, no-tune-final rig.  It had an automatic antenna tuner.  It was amazing.  Later on, I upgraded it so it would talk to my computer.  I did other mods too:  I added the ability to use a separate RX antenna, installed International 2.1 kHz and 400 Hz filters, and added a board that let me monitor my SSB transmissions (that was back when I operated a lot of phone contests).  For a TS-440, it was pretty tricked out.  I worked a lot of contests and DX with that radio.

Then, in the 90s, I got a pair of FT-990s and the '440 went on the shelf.  It stayed there for a few years until one day I decided to hook it up and blow out the cobwebs...but the old faithful '440 just showed dots on the display.  Dang.  So, I put it back on  the shelf, where it stayed a few more years.  I probably would have sold it, except I knew no one would give me what the upgrades were worth...and it was a radio I had a history with and didn't really want to sell.

I eventually surfed up info on the "dots" problem and decided I'd try to get the rig going again...a couple years later (last week!) I finally got around to checking it out.  I hooked the '440 to a 12 volt supply and hit the power switch - I was amazed when the rig powered up on a frequency and not with dots displayed.  But every few seconds, the display would flicker to dots, but would come back on frequency - not as bad as I'd remembered, but still not usable.  I had discovered over the years that the dot display was an indication that one of the PLLs in the rig had lost its lock. The primary culprit was some rubber potting compound that Kenwood used that goes bad over the years and becomes conductive.  There are several other potential causes, but a cleanup of VCO-5 is the best place to start.

The other tell-tale sign of a problem with VCO-5 is rough audio - which I discovered I had.  The QRG was a bit jumpy as well.  So, I dug into the rig and popped the top off the VCO-5 shield.  Sure enough, there was some "Evil Brown Goo" - I measured about 300-500 mV between the EBG and ground so I knew it had gone bad.  There was one spot that seemed worse than the others, so I took some tweezers and pulled a bit of it out and powered the rig back up - and with that little bit of effort, I noticed an improvement - much less dot display.  I still had bad RX audio, so I decided to pull the PLL board and dig out all the EBG I could.

At first, I thought I could leave the shield in place, but decided I needed better access so I removed it.  I was also going to try to tweeze out all the goo without removing any parts, but there were some parts I couldn't do that for, so I ended up removing a couple caps, a transistor and the varactor, which was a bit stressful, as it's now unobtanium.  I also broke a disk ceramic cap and decided to replace a resistor that had gotten a bit beaten up in the de-gooing process.

So after several hours I decided VCO-5 was as clean as I could get it and put the rig back together to see if I needed to dig any deeper.  Amazingly, the rig now sounds great and no indication of PLL unlock on any band.  So, it looks like it was a relatively easy repair as far as the dots go.  I haven't actually put the rig on the air yet, but I'm enjoying listening to it!

There are a lot of online pages devoted to the repair of the dots problem:  this one by OZ1BXM was my main reference....that and a lot of info included on the TS-440 Yahoo Group.  Thanks to everyone that has documented working on this allowed even a hack like me to get my old rig going after about 15 years in mothballs!

I'm looking forward to using this one again!