In Contests, Seconds Count

I attended a Meeting and Food Fest at the NR4M “Goat Farm” today. This is the location of an incredible Multi-Multi ham Station like nothing I have ever seen before. It is one of the Flagship Stations of the Potomac Valley radio Club PVRC, which I joined last November. There was a great bunch of Hams there, great weather, lots of food, and drinks. Hard to beat that.

There were a couple SO2R Demonstrations provided. This was very interesting to me, as I have an SO2R station and have been trying to learn how to utilize it to advantage in Contests. One of the presenters started by saying “when you first start using SO2R it will REDUCE your scores”. That was certainly true for me. I think I am at the point where it is helping me, but I still have a long way to go to really benefit.

The presentations were eye-openers. Serious Contesters devote a great deal of effort to shaving seconds off of each QSO. In a contest where you might have 500 – 1000 QSOs (even more in some cases), the seconds add up. Bottom-line, if you want to be competitive in Ham Radio Contests, you have to be obsessed with those wasted seconds.

IC-7600 V2 Firmware Upgrade – FINALLY!

I have been complaining that ICOM has not provided any software upgrade for the IC-7600 in the three years I have owned mine. In the past year, they offered upgrades for both of the “bigger” transceivers in the family, the IC-7700 and IC-7800. So I was hoping they would give us something for our 7600 rigs,. We talked about it on the IC-7600 reflector and some even said “no way, the CPU and memory are full and they can’t do any more.” I wasn’t buying that. Working in hardware and software development for many years, I knew this was unlikely.

At the Dayton Hamvention a couple weeks ago, it finally happened. ICOM has announced a major upgrade for the IC-7600 including numerous features and improvements. You can read about it in their press release. The most notable of the upgrades is a large waterfall display with mouse control to point to a station and retune to decode the signal.

So after three years of questioning the support by ICOM, I have to now become silent about it. They have shown that they do support their product line, even when the model has been selling for several years.

My guess is that this will be followed soon by announcements of a new model, or an upgraded model. I don’t plan to replace this rig any time soon, but you never know…

VA QSO Party 2015 – Plaque Sponsorship

I have the opportunity this year, for the first time, to sponsor an award plaque for the 2015 VA QSO Party. The plaque I will be sponsoring is for the Single Operator Station that works the most VA Counties and Cities. This award is available to any station. I am especially happy to sponsor this award because I have always thought this is really what the VA QSO Party is all about.

Please join us in the 2015 VA QSO Party. It must be one of the best with a huge amount of activity and many awards including 26 plaques and many Certificates. The Contest is on the weekend of March 21-22 2015. You can also see some interesting information from past years and find several useful VAQP resources at VAQSOPARTY.COM

K2 Survives (apparently) the “Alpha Brick-on-the-Key” Test

You have probably seen that advertisement in the Ham magazines, where the Alpha Amp’s toughness is shown by a brick on a hand key. Well I did something close to that this weekend with my K2, by accident of course. I was getting a RTTY setup ready for the upcoming VAQP Contest. Everything was setup and I had made a couple of Test QSOs. Then I walked out of the room, to check on the day’s NHL activities. Little did I know that somehow I put the transmitter in a “keyed” mode, with about 50w out on RTTY. I suspect I hit the F10 key (which starts transmission) When I sat the keyboard on my desk.

About 20-30 minutes later, I came back into the room and I smelled something hot. It was the 100w watt amplifier section of my K2. Maybe lucky for me today that I have that Amp in a separate enclosure from the K2, on top of my external antenna tuner. The heatsink was extremely hot, I could just quickly touch it without getting burned. The side panels of the Amp/Tuner were very warm. I powered-down the rig and grabbed a small electric fan. I spent about 10 minutes doing everything I could to remove heat from the enclosure.

I am still testing, but it appears that all is OK with the Amp/Tuner unit and the K2 itself has no idea….. I normally have a three-minute runaway transmitter timer attached to the power for the K2, because I use it for remote operation, where you are required to do so (although I know many people ignore this FCC requirement). On my newer rigs I always activate their built-in timeout timer, just in case. Of course the one time something like this would happen has to be when I am configuring the rig for Mobile operation and I have the timer disconnected.

I guess I dodged a bullet (am I still allowed to say that? Better check today’s Executive Orders). The only apparent damage done was the interference this may have caused. I can only apologize for that and hope it did not cause any problem for any stations. That said, the K2 seems to have made it through one nasty test. Glad I had the power down to 50 watts or this could have been a different story.

ARRL DX CW Contest

Last weekend I worked the 2015 ARRL CW DX contest. I could not put in a full-time effort, so I entered in the “Assisted” category. This allows you to use a Telnet (or other) spotting service that provides a realtime list of active stations that you can work. It also highlights potential new multipliers. I would setup spotting and let the windows fill up with lists of stations. Then every hour or two, I would sit down and run the list of new calls. This seems like cheating, but everyone in this category has the same resources available. It does make me wonder how many people use spotting but do not enter as “Assisted.” Hopefully most operators still have a conscience, something that seems to be dwindling these days.

With my moderate station and antennas including only one ZS6BKW at 40′ and one ground mounted vertical with 4 radials over the Chesapeake Bay, I couldn’t believe the level of activity. There were as many QSOs available as you cared to work. I mostly used Search and Pounce mode, but one time I decided to Run on 40m and I had a constant stream of response for about an hour.

The Bands were great for this Contest. I operated 10 through 80 meters. I am generally not a huge DX’er but I do enjoy seeing what my station can do. One day I need to add a rotatable antenna, but for now I can’t complain. The highlight was logging China and Thailand. Overall I made about 525 QSOs and booked about 525,000 points. That sounds like a big score, but the big guns will have 2M or more.

This was a great contest for brushing up on CW and my contest operating station which always uses N1MM software. If you don’t know about N1MM and you operate (or plan to operate) in any Ham Radio contests, you need to know what you are missing.

Don’t Ever Do this – Flaming Someone that asks a question to an email reflector

Here is a response I got when I asked a question on a Ham Radio Forum about people’s experience using RF Sensing External Antenna Tuners with a particular radio:


Let’s play a game: It is called… “Find the Provision.”
Here is how it works:

1 Start a stopwatch.
2 Do a Web search to find a relevant document.
3 Then skim through it to find the salient instruction.
4 Stop the watch when you locate a provision that clearly
answers your question.

OK… I will go first…

I started my watch, opened a browser, and performed web search. My
search string was simply your MFJ model number. I clicked on a direct
link to the MFJ product page, and I downloaded the only available file,
which is the MFJ product manual. In a daring and reckless move, I
skipped the Table of Contents, and went directly to Page 1, and
immediately hit pay dirt… as it says “maximum SWR tuning accuracy
occurs when one uses between 10 and 20 watts.” But wait… not yet
satisfied, I continued to scroll through the document, until I found, on
SHOULD ONLY TUNE USING 10 to 20 WATTS… only THEN, did I stop the
watch, and record my time:

First Round Time: 3 Min 12 seconds.

OK… Now it is YOUR TURN!

Let us know your score!


I won’t put out the guy’s callsign, but I think this is a great example of why I rarely frequent email Forums on the ‘Net. If I had asked how to plug in the radio, I might expect this kind of response. But I was asking about others’ experience, which can not often be found in a manual. In fact if I consult the manual for my Radio, it doubtless tells me not to use any external tuner not made by the manufacturer. By the way – I never actually told this guy what particular Tuner model I was going to be using.

Comparing the ICOM IC-7600 and the Yeasu FTDX-3000

Happy New Year! Here is an email that I sent on the FTDX-3000 reflector. It was in response to questions about the Yeasu FTDX-3000 vs. the ICOM IC-7600. I happen to have both radios and here are my thoughts on a comparison between them. I did not even mention the DSP, as they both do a good job there, but I am still evaluating that on the FTDX-3000. Initial look at its DSP functions have left me very impressed. One other thing I forgot to mention is QSK mode. The FTDX-3000 has a relay you hear on QSK keying. That bugs me. The IC-7600 has very quiet QSK switching, which I prefer. Bottom-line, you can’t go wrong with either of these. Here are my comparisons:

USB interface, especially for digital modes – FTDX3K has better integration. You can have true FSK TX/RX with only the USB cable. Yaesu has done a great job here. The USB driver creates 2 ports: one for normal computer control (CAT) and the other for PTT or CW/FSK keying

Display – IC-7600 is a little bigger and I would say better, but not my much. The band scope display on the IC-7600 is better but Yaesu seems to be making improvements on the FTDX-3K display.

IC-7600 has the dual-watch receiver function. That allows you to listen to two freqs on the same Band at once. I hardly ever use that feature as I prefer an SO2R setup. My “second receiver:” is my second radio

Receivers – I can not recommend one over the other in y limited A/B comparisons. Both seem sensitive. The FTDX-3000 receiver just seems to be very quiet, maybe due to a lower noise floor and/or roofing filter differences.

External IF output – only available on the FTDX-3000. Great foresight by them. If you really want a big, fancy spectral display, you can’t beat that. A good external display is going to be better than any internal display, in my opinion.

Firmware updates – I like to complain about ICOM not doing a firmware upgrade for the IC-7600 in 3 years. Some dismiss this and the radio is great, but nothing is perfect. Yeasu seems to being more proactive about this, but I  must admit the FTDX-3000 is also a newer radio.

External receive accessories – IC7600 has the ability to switch in a receive filter/preamp external to the unit. I have not used that yet, but I really like the feature.
Manuals – I am still reading the Yeasu manual for the first time. The manuals in both radios cover everything, but I think the ICOM manual does a better job of explaining some features. Of course that is why we have this Reflector – great help can be found here.
Rig Tuning – IC-7600 is better here, but this is something that could be improved on the FTDX-3000. The IC-7600 has the ability to do a “normal” Tune cycle where the power is reduced and the Mode changes to CW temporarily. There is also a feature that automatically retunes the antenna tuner if the SWR increases to a certain point. I use my rig remotely and always have this feature enabled.
Mode selection – you will see a lot of complaining that the FTDX-3000 does not have a button for each Mode. I agree that this is a bit annoying, but hardly a deal breaker. The IC-7600 does have individual Mode buttons.
Price – last time I looked, there was still a pretty big difference here, in favor of the FTDX-3000. You can decide about the value comparison.
So if you are agonizing over which one to get, just make a move. You won’t regret it.

FTDX3000 USB Virtual COM Ports

Setup of the USB interface with the FTDX3000 is very simple but it can seem confusing. It is only confusing because people may not be familiar with the idea of a Virtual COM Port, which only exists inside the USB connection between the FTDX3000 and the PC.

Yeasu has done a nice job of implementing the USB interface. It is explained in their USB Driver Instructions.  When you install the driver it creates 2 COM Ports. One is called “Enhanced” and is used for the normal interface for CAT communications with your PC applications. The other “Standard” Port provides an Application Interface for CW keying, PTT, and FSK keying. You can see these COM Ports in the Device Manager and tweak their settings. Here is what mine looks like after installation:


I use COM6 for the CAT interface and COM5 for CW, PTT, or FSK keying. I use N1MM as my main PC Application, and use the MMTTY RTTY software which is called from N1MM. MMTTY has the ability to interface to the Virtual COM Port using something they call EXTFSK for specifying where to get the FSK binary keying signal.

You can read all about how this works with N1MM, my favorite Contesting software, in the N1MM documentation on RTTY and MMTTY. You can also get more of the details in the MMTTY documentation.

FTDX3000 USB Interface with N1MM+

This note is to help you setup your FTDX3000 with N1MM+ using WINDOWS (I am using WINDOWS 7). I am using only the USB interface. So the Radio has one cable to the PC, the USB cable.

BEFORE YOU CONNECT THE USB CABLE, install the FTDX3000 USB Driver from Yaesu using the instructions that come with the Driver. Once you have done that, you should be able to identify the correct COM port in the WINDOWS Device Manager. Two COM ports are created when the Driver is installed. The one you will use for the PC interface will say “Enhanced.”

The first thing to do is to make sure the “CAT” MENU selections on the FTDX3000 are correct. These should be set as follows:

  1. Menu # 037 CAT SELECT –  USB
  2. Menu # 038 CAt RATE – 38400 bps
  3. Menu # 039 CAT TIMEOUT TIMER – 1000 msec
  4. Menu # 040 CAT RTS – DISABLE

It is very easy to get this setup. It is just a matter of loading the USB Driver, connecting the USB cable, then getting 3 things in sync; N1MM Port settings, FTDX3000 Menu Settings, and PC Port Settings.

I recommend using the suggested settings from N1MM. When N1MM suggests a configuration, it is usually safe to use it. The screenshot below displays the Port settings from the N1MM Config Menu. This is the screen you see when you select SET next to the COM Port which has been connected to the FTDX3000 N1MM Port Setting FTDX3000 This shows the N1MM Port settings (the first 6 boxes). I am using a 2-radio setup, That is why you see “Right Window” and “Radio Nr2” here. The last thing to do is to get the PC Port settings correct for the COM Port you are using,

The values of all three (CAT MENU settings, N1MM Port settings and PC Port settings) must match for any communication to take place between the PC and the Radio. Finally, go into the Device Manager in the WINDOWS Control Panel and find the COM Port you will be using. It should be under COM and LPT Ports. Right-click “Properties” and you should see a screen like the one below: USB PC Settings FTDX3000

The settings shown should work. Hope this all works out for you. If this helped you, please let me know. If it did not help, please let me know why.

2014 ARRL Sweepsatakes – Much Fun but no Sweeps

I enjoyed working the ARRL Sweepstakes again this year. I operated in both CW and Phone this year. My major effort was in CW, where I managed a personal high score, finally breaking the 100K point barrier. For several years I have been wishing I was involved with a Club that could use my scores to help their totals. After receiving an invitation, I joined the Potomac Valley Radio Club (PVRC) the week before ARRLSS. So I was happy to give them my scores. Hopefully they will be a small contribution to a winning PVRC effort.

In addition to CW, I also put in a reduced-hours effort for Phone. I did enjoy it but it is just not as much fun to operate a modest 100w station in a Phone contest. You get very little traction when trying to “RUN” on the higher Bands unless you have a superior antenna. My wires and one ground-mounted vertical do not stand out against the beams and towers. I ended up with around 340 QSOs.

Once again – no Sweep. In each of the two weekends I ended up with 82 of 83 Sections worked, lacking VE8 in both CW and Phone. In the CW contest, I only heard a VE8 working other stations in S&P Mode. I tried every trick I could think of, but he never found me. I operated with spotting assistance during the Phone weekend. With about 2 hours remaining, I saw a spot for a VE8. I went to find him and encountered an unbelievable pileup. I probably spent close to an hour trying to get through, but finally gave up. In the end, I think I am better off without getting the Sweep using Spotting. I think I want my first Sweep to be Unassisted. I just think the satisfaction will be much greater.

Maybe next year…


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