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The 2004 ARRL DX Contest

To borrow a line from an old Bob Dylan song - "The Times, They Are A-Changing." Yes, we definitely are not at a sunspot maximum any longer. That will be made clear in this report. I didn't set any goals before this contest as I usually do. I knew I would lose most of my Saturday on-air time to another project. The computer club to which I belong scheduled a workshop for Saturday the 21st and I definitely wanted to participate. We were going to refurbish some old computers which would then be donated to local charities. I thought that was a very worthwhile endeavor and more important than sitting at my rig chasing DX in the contest.

One thing overall about the contest this time was comparing conditions between the ARRL DX test and the CQWW test in November that I operated portable at my cousin's house. It drove home just how much of a difference there is between her QTH which is more or less up on the hills around Kittanning versus my QTH right down in the river valley. Her much quieter, higher location really made me realize that those fortunate folks who have a better location than mine really have a big advantage in contesting and hamming in general. But that doesn't mean that you can't succeed and have fun with a poor location like mine. That will be shown as you read on. I didn't do all that badly.

I started out shortly after 0000Z Saturday on 20M. TI5N was the first entry into the log at 0010Z, followed by several other Latin American stations on 20 and 40M. M6T put EU into my log on 40M at 0035Z, but it was mostly filled with NA and SA station for the start of the contest. I wasn't too fired up about the contest at that time and I quit at 0102Z after working IR4X on 40M. It sure was confusing working IR4X, IR4T, and IR4M on several different bands. I'm glad I was using CT with it's superb dupe checking methods or I would have been totally confused. Speaking of CT, it is now running on a 400MHz machine in the shack. I got a new computer for the main computer room on February 2nd, and retired the 400MHz one to the shack. It sure speeds things up compared to the old 66MHz computer I had in the shack before.

I didn't get back on the air again until 0515Z and then only for about 20 minutes or so. I went to bed with only 19 QSO's in the log, but that didn't concern me since I wasn't trying to win anything this year or even beat any personal records.

I thought I'd try to get in an hour or so before leaving for the computer workshop in the morning so I got on the bands at 1305Z and stayed on till I quit at 1420Z just long enough before leaving to have some breakfast. 15 meters was really good, and I spent all of my time there getting 53 QSO's in the hour and fifteen minutes of operating time. VP5M and VP5K were worked back to back in the same minute. Then a couple of QSO's later it was DF9ZP who sounded like he was operating from somewhere right here in town instead of a few thousand miles away. His signal was well over S9 on the 570 S meter and stayed that way for the whole time I was on the air.

I noticed I was working into Eastern Europe much easier than I had been for quite some time and stations like RW2F, ES5Q, RK4FF, YL9W, LY4A, LY2OX, RU1A, and RF3A were all logged easily. Another surprisingly easy catch was D4B although I did have to wait through several other stations to get him. Keep D4B in mind - you'll be hearing more about him as the story unfolds.

With my total at 72 QSO's I shut down, had my breakfast and headed off to the computer workshop. I spent about 5 1/2 enjoyable hours there with 7 other club members. We refurbished 8 computers that are now ready to be handed over to the various charities. Also we junked perhaps 20 more old computers that just weren't worth saving.

Anyway you're here to hear about the contest, not the computer club, so let me get back on track.

I returned to the battle at 2015Z and as I started out the contest with TI5N, I started out this so called second phase of the contest again with TI5N, this time on 15M which was closed to EU now but still good to the Caribbean, Central and South America. I also worked J7OJ at this time on 15M. I'd wind up getting J7OJ on all bands 80 through 10. Just like it was always easy to work the late K4OJ in contests, it was easy to work this station which was a tribute to his memory.

The bands weren't all that good late Saturday afternoon and evening. So I again took time off for other things around the house. At the end of the first half of the contest at 0000Z Sunday I had only 115 QSO's total, and was still two short of my contest WAC. There were no AS or OC stations among the 115. I never would work AS, and in fact only heard an H2 station and a few very weak fluttery JA's from that continent the whole weekend.

During the last part of that first day I did get D4B on 20M for a second band with that station. Nothing else really unusual in that time period except perhaps 4M4C for an unusual prefix. I found him lurking up around 14.105MHz and got him easily.

I got on again briefly between 0045 and 0100Z and only got HC8L on 20M and V26G on 40M before getting frustrated and quitting again. I thought I'd come back around 0400Z or so and see if 40M was good to EU as it usually is around that time.

Actually I was back at it earlier than that. I see my first QSO around that time was at 0337Z in the form of T99W on 40M. EU was pretty good and I worked among others 9A1A, HA5A, HG1S, GI0KOW, and S57DX. I also got my OC station on 40M working KH7X. It never ceases to amaze me how KH7X and KH6R copy my minimal QRP signals so easily even when they are not that strong with their KW signals here.

Now we get to the real high point of the contest for me, and I'll slow down and spend some time telling you about it.

Around 0550Z I headed of to 80M to see if maybe I could catch a couple of the stronger Caribbean stations which was usually about the extent of what I can do on 80M with my minimal setup here. PJ2T was the first station worked - no surprise there. P40W and J7OJ followed quickly with all three QSO's coming very easily. Hmmmm, maybe with the lower sunspots now and the lower absorption of signals on 80M I can make 80 work for me a little better than usual. Oh yes, I'm right. There's D4B calling CQ. I think I'll just sit on his freq and call for as long as it takes to either get him or be convinced he is just not going to hear me at all. Well those of you familiar with my stories recognize the scenario. When I'm set up for a long wait, you know what happens. Right - D4B worked one other station, then I called and he came right back to me - K3WWP 599K - I send TU ENN PA and he says TU and moves on. It's almost too easy. That Cape Verde location must really be a quiet site with superb receiving antennas. D4B on three bands now and the 80M QSO was the easiest of the 3. Wow.

My thrills on 80M are not done yet. Next it's C6AKQ - well that's only like working Florida. After that though it's on to EU. G0IVZ is strong so I call him and work him easily. FM5BH is next, then NP4Z who is also QRP so that's a 2X QRP QSO there.

Now I hear a somewhat weak Polish station and with my new found confidence in 80M, I decide to try him anyway even though I've never worked that far into EU on 80M before. He is SP3GEM and although it's not an easy QSO and I must repeat my info and call several times, it finally is a good QSO and a real 'gem' for me. That means when conditions are right I just may be able to eventually get to 100 countries on 80M especially during the next few quiet sunspot years coming up.

I also almost made a QSO with two Italian stations, but just couldn't quite finish them off to be complete QSO's. I think there was also another EU country that I almost got, but I can't remember now.

I finished out that part of my 80M episode with FG5BG, OK1RF, DL5AWI, WP3R, CS6V, VP5K, FS5UQ, C6AWS, and VP9/K9CC. Then after a short sojourn to 40M where I worked D4B on a 4th band, RW2F, OH0R, LY7Z, and a couple others, I returned to 80M and added KP2CW, GI0KOW, T48K, 8P9JA, GM4YXI, and V26DX. Not a bad string of catches for 5 watts output into a random wire in the attic in my valley location. 24 QSO's in 22 different countries on 80M. Before this contest I had only worked 28 countries on 80M. Of the stations I mentioned those from GI, CM, VP9, CT, GM, FG, SP, D4, J7 turn out to be new 80M countries for me. Other new band countries in the contest were OH0 40M, GI 40M, J6 20M.

I should mention that I took a somewhat different approach to the contest this time. I often have stations send my call as something like K3WWG, K3WP, etc., then after I correct them and send my info, some do not send my correct call again and I have no way of knowing if they have it right or not. Well this time around I decided to make them send my correct call before I sent my exchange. So I didn't send TU ENN PA until they sent K3WWP correctly. Now I'm pretty sure they have my call correct in their logs. That's going to be my standard MO in all future contests.

It's now getting VERY late and after my busy day I think it's time to go to bed at 0730Z or 2:30 AM local time. I want to hit 15M hard in the morning since it was so very good in the hour I had there Saturday morning. With my total at 167 QSO's I QRT.

Up again bright and early (well early at least) at 1245Z and on to 15M. It's just waking up itself. EU is there, but only average strength and the first few stations I call don't hear me. That soon changes however and EU is booming in for the next several hours. 15M builds up to a peak with activity spreading all the way up to 21150 or higher. I just wish I had been able to work some of these stations yesterday because there is just not enough time to get them all today since many still have pileups that I must wait out or pass on and come back later.

Strangely the first station I work is UU7J. He was very strong yesterday, but I couldn't get him. That signals the fact that Eastern Europe is again good today and I get many YL, LY, etc. stations. I stick with 15M almost exclusively until 1800Z or so with only a couple side trips to 10M. It sure is disappointing to not hear 10M full of signals as it had been up until a year or so ago. The Caribbean, Central and South American stations are quite good, but not a sign of EU. Well, not yet anyway. More on that later.

My first little side trip to 10M yields J7OJ, CS6V for at least the SE corner of EU, and 3 other Caribbean stations before returning to 15M. The second trip yields ZD8Z and then D4B to complete a 5 band sweep of Cape Verde. I'm proud of making D4B a 5 band station and raise my fist in the air and shout "Yes!!!" Still no sign of EU though.

My next journey to 10M at 1545Z and hey, someone did something to the band. As soon as I push the 10M button there's 9A1A booming in. I work him easily. In fact every time on 10M in the early part of the day stations are easy to work. It's like it is my own private playground and I can do as I please. With hardly any effort I add 9A3TR, OM0M, IQ2CJ, TI5N, IR4X, V26G, FS5UQ, IR4M, I3MLU, IR2Y, WP3R, and CS6T to the log. However despite EU being strong, there's not much EU activity. I guess they haven't noticed the band is open or perhaps there are only selective openings here and there. 10M remains open to EU until around 1700Z, then closes down again. Typical 10M behavior in declining sunspot years. Still good openings here and there, but quite short lived.

The rest of the day I spent hopping between 20, 15, and 10. Sort of a mopping up operation - working stations I couldn't work earlier because of pileups, etc. and trying to catch the stations just starting up in the contest before the whole pack finds them.

I notice that working SA stations seems easier now than in recent times. For example I easily worked many Brazil stations, mostly on 15M. Perhaps that's another effect of the declining solar activity.

I wound up with 367 QSO's and 184 band countries or multipliers worked. Far short of my previous best 633 QSO's, but close to what I expected to get. I did try to hang around until the CT score meter went above 200,000 points and I did make that about a half hour before the end of the contest, winding up with 202,584 points.

There are several stations that I worked on all bands from 80 through 10M and I want to list them here to say great job and thanks. It's not easy pulling out my minimal QRP signals, especially on 80 and 40M. Also I want to list a breakdown of QSO's and countries by band and present some other statistics as well, so here goes.

Band     QSO's     Countries
 80        24         22
 40        40         31
 20        85         46
 15       181         62
 10        37         23
total     367        184
Interesting that the 80M countries are only one below 10M. That speaks volumes about the stage of the sunspot cycle we are in now.

These stations worked me on 5 bands (80-10) - 8P9JA, D4B, FM5BH, FS5UQ, J7OJ, P40W, PJ2T, WP3R. Many stations were worked on a combination of 4 of the 5 bands.

Overall I wound up with 71 countries worked which is in my top 5 total countries worked in a contest.

Finally let's take a look at the table I started in the 2003 report:

Year  QSO   Mul    Points   Hours   Rate
1994   17    11       561    2.25    7.6
1995  104    70    21,840   13.00    8.0
1996   57    41     7,011    9.50    6.0
1997   91    64    17,472   10.25    8.9
1998  178   106    56,604   17.50   10.2
1999  291   141   123,093   19.50   14.9
2000  512   182   279,552   23.50   21.8
2001  558   200   334,800   24.25   23.0
2002  633   203   385,497   22.75   27.8
2003  312   151   141,336   14.25   21.9
2004  367   184   202,584   16.00   22.9
So my 2004 results were slightly better than 2003 thanks largely to the extra band countries worked on 80M plus a little more operating time this year.

I think this report makes it clear that contesting for the next few years will be somewhat different as the sunspots decline. However no matter what the situation, it will still be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to increased success on 80 and 160M. I'll miss those fantastic openings on 10M, but they will be back again in a few years when the sun finishes its latest nap and re-awakens.

Don't forsake your contesting until the next sunspot maximum. Adapt and enjoy the trip down through the minimum also.