FT8 Blarp!

Today was very hot and miserable. A day that makes one very thankful for the invention of air conditioning. My wife was gone for the day so that made it an all day radio day. I started out by making another attempt to try and like a magnetic loop antenna that I bought a few years ago. It’s an Alpha Magnetic Loop Jr that I purchased used at a hamfest. The price was right and it was in great condition so the impulse to buy was triggered and I came home with a magnetic loop antenna that has largely sat in its bag since the day I bought it. I’ve read about them but never used one. Over the past few years I’ve purchased a length of LMR400 and a very nice vacuum variable capacitor with the intent to build one but the build\buy decision tree flipped to buy that day as it sat staring at me from the table at the hamfest. It’s supposed to cover 10-40M at 25 watts.

Alpha Magloop Jr.

(It got a formal picture today in the music room as it was so humid out my camera lens kept fogging over.) The antenna is well made and seems to work but it is extremely touchy. I get that narrow bandwidth is a feature of magloops but after a while of fiddling it gets kind of old having to constantly re-tune the antenna. I’m not sure that my experience today endeared me to this antenna. I’ll keep it as an option but honestly my Par End-Fed antennas will see much more portable usage than this thing. So it went back in its bag. Perhaps age will improve it like fine wine or I’ll grow some patience. We’ll see which happens first.

After that less than satisfying experience I moved on to looking at a friend’s (Josh, KD9DZP) Yaesu VX-3R. For some reason it had stopped functioning and would not power up. He figured that it was bricked but asked me to take a look at it. I’m not much for troubleshooting micro mini electronic devices. I think they are made that small with the intent that they are disposable. Anyways, I endeavored to take a look. Not far into the troubleshooting process “BLAM,” the dreaded magic smoke release occurred. It was quite an event for such a small device and not one I’ve caused in quite some time. Those electrons pack a wallop no matter how small they are. Well, if it wasn’t a brick before it was now. I felt bad for blowing the thing up so I found a nice used replacement and bought it for him. He doesn’t know that yet so don’t tell him.

After that inverse Midas Touch experience I went upstairs to eat some lunch. No flames were involved. After lunch I decided to relax on the sunporch and tune around the HF bands a bit with my IC-7100. The bands seemed rather slow so I hauled out my notebook to check FT8 activity. There was a reasonable amount of activity on 20M and 40M and I made a handful or two of contacts. Then I went up to 10M and found a fair amount of activity. I made some more contacts and as I was in the middle of finishing up a contact with KC3BVL I got a “BLARP” from some oddball stations.

QP32 anyone?

The calls aren’t real and the grid square is deep in Western Siberia. Maybe it’s someone with a KX2 that is taking this International Grid Chase a bit too serious. Or maybe it was just a spurious decode. In the tradition of Don Martin (MAD magazine) “BLARP” was the first word that came to mind. Don Martin always had the perfect word for the sound of his cartoons. I checked the official Don Martin Dictionary (http://www.madcoversite.com/dmd-alphabetical.html) and oddly, “BLARP” isn’t on it. It sure seems like a word that he would have needed at some point.

After making some more contacts on 10M I decided to check the activity on 17M. For no real reason I don’t operate on 17M all that often. There was a fair amount of activity on 17M and a fair amount of it was DX. I made some US contacts while I continued to watch the DX roll by, attempting to get a sense of which were the most constant signals as opposed to those that fade out as fast as they fade in. One station that I was consistently decoding was ZB2R in Gibraltar. After watching him make a handful of contacts I decided to respond to his CQ call. I responded to his call below his transmit frequency and after a few calls I was rewarded with:

ZB2R

Thankfully we were able to complete the contact in the usual crowded conditions.

ZB2R 73!

That makes ZB2R my first 17M DX contact with FT8. (Setting aside the fact that this was the first time I’ve operated FT8 on 17M.) What makes this contact even more interesting is that the antenna I used was 17M add-on that DX Engineering used to produce and sell. I bought it shortly after I bought the 4-BTV and figured it would give me some options. I’ve only used it a few times. It’s a horizontally oriented coil with some short wire radiators that clamps onto the 10M trap of the 4-BTV.

4-BTV with 17M add-on

17M add-on

Is it the finest 17M antenna known to man? Nope. Did it allow me to make a contact with a station in Gibraltar? Yup.

While I went on to make a few more contacts I savored the ZB2R contact for the rest of afternoon. I’ll likely even savor it for a bit this week. It’s fun to pull one out with less than the best setup and it sure beats the sound of the magic smoke release playing over and over in my head. For a day that started out marginal and then got worse, it ended on a very good note.

 

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