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The 2009 ARRL DX Contest

My gosh, the last one of these stories I've written was from the 2007 ARRL 160M contest. I just haven't had the time to do much serious contesting to produce results worth writing about. In fact with the exception of a few QSO's I'd like to talk about, I didn't really do that much in this contest either that is worth documenting - except for a couple QSO's here and there.

I started off knowing I was only going to fool around for a few hours in the contest and didn't really set any goals other than I did want to hit 80 meters since it is generally at its best for DX at or near the bottom of a sunspot cycle. That's definitely where we are at now, although there were some indications in the contest that we may just be starting to creep upward towards that next maximum.

The main indication was that I heard a couple of good signals from Japan late Saturday afternoon on 20 meters. I didn't work them, but still it was nice to hear them. I hadn't been doing that, although it could be because of my lessened activity the past couple years, and not an improvement in propagation. I also hear a few KL7 stations as well, and the same holds true with them.

There was also one point for about 15-20 minutes where I was going up and down 20 meters working just about every EU station I was hearing quite easily. That hasn't happened much of late either, and it didn't last very long, but again perhaps an indication of better propagation?

Let's get now to what I did work. My very first QSO was CT9L on 40M. Nothing new or too exciting, but it's always nice to work that part of the world - Madeira Islands off the coast of Africa for anyone reading this who is completely new to DX. That was followed by FM5KC, also on 40M. Then I called it quits for Friday evening as it was just too hard making QSO's with the huge pileups always present at the beginning of these big contests.

I started in again around 11:40 AM (EST) Saturday morning to see what was on 20 meters. I stayed about an hour working stations like VP2VVA, TM6M, CS2C, IR4M, DP4K, 6Y1LZ, CT9L, CT7A, and J7N. A couple of those may be new prefixes, but no new countries or even band-countries.

I returned around 3:50 PM and stayed about an hour and a half this time. It was sometime during this period I was working the EU stations up and down the band easily. To mention a few - E70T (new prefix, I believe, but haven't checked my list yet), LZ9W whom I sometimes have trouble working despite him being about the strongest signal on the band, EF8M going his usual QRQ at 50 WPM for parts of the exchange, E74A another possible new prefix, LZ1JR with the 'R' completing my NAQCC challenge for February, LZ6W, OG8X right after my friend Don W2JEK worked him. Switching now over to 15 meters for PJ2T, KP2M, KH6FI, P40LE, 6Y1LZ, and KH6ZM. Those were the first Hawaiians I've worked in a while, and I'm mentioning them as a hint of things to come later in the contest.

My next period of about a half hour came around 8 PM. It included one memorable QSO among about a half dozen. Stations worked were: 40M - VP5DF, NP3U, PJ2T, IR1Y. 80M - VP9/W6PH and the memorable CT9L for my first Madeira Islands QSO on 80M and country #41 on that band with my (of course) QRP/CW and simple wire antennas. And it was an easy QSO to boot.

Another off period until I returned to the shack at 12:25 AM. A couple of good QSO's ensued along with some common ones. Not that I don't enjoy each and every QSO, but some are more important and exciting to me like a new country, state, prefix, or just a QSO I feel good about because of the distance, part of the world, ease of working, working an old friend, and other such reasons.

My first 4 QSO's represented 4 different continents - CT1ILT for EU, J88DR NA, P40LE SA, and a goodie for AF: D4C on 80M. Not quite as exciting as the first Cape Verde I worked on 80 a few years ago, but still it stirred my emotions. 21 minutes later I worked D4C again, this time on 40M. In between the two QSO's came my most distant QSO of the contest - ZM3A in New Zealand on 40M which was a fairly easy QSO. C6APG on 80M closed out that half hour and I went to bed.

I awoke around 5AM, and decided I'd see what was going on in the contest. I thought if the DX stations were still on, a lot of my USA competition might be in bed at that hour. It turns out there wasn't a whole lot of DX to be heard but.... Let's flash back now to December 14, 1963. I was 18 years old, and had been a ham for a little over 8 months, about 4 months each as a Novice and a General. I was eagerly working on my WAS award and didn't need too many more states to finish it. I was a QRP station even back then although the definition of QRP was different. Namely running 100 watts or less INPUT power to the final amp was considered QRP. I ran 75 watts input which resulted in probably around 50 watts output. It was a little past midnight and I was on 80 meters trying to get some of the western states I still needed. It was easy to work W7 land around that hour and unlike nowadays, there was a lot of activity on the bands at that time. I heard a somewhat weak station signing K4HSB/KH6 on 3.510. Generals could operate CW all the way down to the bottom of the bands before incentive licensing came along in 1968, so I gave him a call and he came back to me with a 539 RST. I gave him a 549. I worked Hawaii!!! Even though it was the middle of the night I ran to my parents' bedroom and woke them up to tell them of my accomplishment. I don't recall what they said, but they weren't quite as excited as I was about the whole thing, especially since my dad had to get up around 4:30 AM for his mail route.

Let's get in the time machine and come back to the present now. It's 5:06 AM, and I hear this station with a call of KH6MB fairly strong on 80 meters, and give a call. I can't remember exactly now, but I think I got a K3??, sent my call a few more times and finally made the QSO. My first QRP (by today's standards) QSO on 80 meters with Hawaii!!! That one QSO gave me a new 80M state (#49, lacking only KL7), a new 80M country (#41), a new 80M continent (I need only AS on 80 and 40 now for an 8 band - 80 through 10 - WAC), and my 13th 80M zone. A very memorable QSO.

Those of you who read these contest stories know a favorite saying in them goes something like this - "as soon as you work something new, very often you work the same thing again within the next couple hours."

Son of a gun, it's true again. Just 13 minutes later I worked KH6LC on 80M. Perhaps even more surprising I heard two more KH6's and almost worked one of them - NH7O, but couldn't quite finish the QSO with him. And strangely, KH7X whom I work a lot on other bands, never heard me calling him at all.

All in all a very exciting time and those two QSO's overshadowed some other nice ones on 80M - YN2DD, PJ2T, KP2/K3MD, 6Y1LZ, J7N, and V31TP. 6Y1LZ asked me to QSY to 160. I did and was hearing him quite well, but he never heard me answer him. Overall I worked 14 countries on 5 continents on 80M, missing only Asia. My second best DX contest effort on 80M. In 2004 I had 24 QSO's in 22 countries in the same ARRL DX test.

After working V26G, V49A, and YN2DD on 40M it was back to bed around 6:10 AM.

I'm writing this first part about 1:30 PM Sunday. Later I'll recap what I worked this morning and hopefully have more to add to that from further efforts in the contest later this afternoon and early evening.

Right now I just want to share a thought I had sitting at the rig this morning. It's somewhat of a magical feeling spinning the dial listening for little bursts of sound, and mentally translating those bursts into meaningful info. When they translate to 'k' or 'kw' at the end of an exchange, you stop the spinning and see who the DX station is who sent those letters, hoping it's someone you haven't worked before. Likewise when you hear 'CQ', you listen and hope the same thing. As soon as you translate those sounds to W3, K9, VE4 or something else that means the station is in the USA or Canada and not for you to work, you go back to spinning the dial again looking for DX. All in all, just a delightful experience, and I don't think I will ever get tired of it, even though other activities of late are limiting my time in contests. And now I'm signing off the story for a bit although when you read it, you won't even know I've been gone. HI.

I'm back. Bet you didn't even miss me. Let's see now, where are we? Oh yes, I went back to bed after my 5 AM hour activities. Didn't get back to the radio until 9 AM. I started off with some EU and Caribbean stations on 20M, then went to 15 and worked the only station I heard there - F6HKA - easily. He was quite strong, but either no one else knew the band was open or it was some localized propagation anomaly. After working him, I QRT for a while to get some brunch and to take Joe for his morning walk. What? Oh, you don't know who Joe is. He's my neighbor's dog, and I'm helping to take care of him.

I got back to the shack just about 11:30 AM and worked SP9PRO, GM3W, OH0PM, ES5RR, EI4CF, DQ4W, and OQ5M on 20 meters to mention a few of the EU stations. I also worked yet another Hawaiian - KH7XS, and an Alaskan - KL7RA on 20 meters. OQ5M was being operated by my friend Franki ON5ZO and he greeted me by name. That's his contest call. Like many countries, Belgium allows its hams to have separate shorter calls for contest operation.

That session lasted about an hour and a half, after which I took a 3 hour break as conditions didn't seem as good in mid afternoon. I figured they'd pick up later on in the afternoon as they usually seem to do. I got back in the test at 3:50 PM and finally worked a Spanish station. I hadn't been able to connect with Spain previously although Portugal and France were easy to work. I believe EF7R might be a new prefix for me also. That was on 20 meters, then I went to 15 meters to work VP2E and NP3U. Next back to 20 where I worked V31WO. After that, lo and behold, there was JA3YBK booming in with virtually no flutter. I worked him easily with just a couple repeats. Without checking, I can't recall my last JA QSO, but it has been some time.

To prove it wasn't a fluke, about a half hour later I worked JA7BME, and then 11 minutes later, JH4UYB. Three JA's in an hour. It's definitely been a long time since I've done that, and may be another sign that propagation is on the upswing.

I stayed on 20 meters and didn't work a lot besides the JA's. I did get another Alaska in KL7AF, but couldn't get KL8DX and AL1G which I'm pretty sure would have been new prefixes.

At 5:41 PM I went to 40 meters and bang, bang, worked TM6M and HG1S. Conditions to EU were the best I've seen them since the time I operated portable from my cousin's house in a CQWWDX contest a few years ago. Most of the EU signals were comparable to the USA signals in strength. I went up and down the band having a ball. Oh, I didn't get everyone I heard by any means, but did close out the last hour and 15 minutes working 12 European countries from 21 QSO's. Just to list a few of what I think are the better QSO's - HE8FAP, SO8A, OK5R, LY9Y. Over half of the 21 QSO's were easily made, a few wih no repeats necessary at all. I couldn't work into Russia or into SE EU though. I came close when UU0JJ (if I remember the call correctly) got as far as K3W?, but no further.

This was definitely the most fun I've had in a big DX contest in probably 5 or 6 years now.

Let's look at some stats:

Number of countries worked per band:
80 - 14
40 - 27
20 - 40
15 - 8

Total multipliers: 87
Total QSO's: 126
Hours operated: 9.75
Rate: 12.9/hr

Made my weekend and contest WAC when I worked JA3YBK.
I did get WAC on 20 meters. Worked 5 continents on 80 meters and 40 meters.

I hope this story convinces you that you can have fun working DX even near a sunspot minimum. It's just a little harder and you can't work quite as much. However the Hawaiian QSO's on 80 and the JA's on 20 certainly made up for the lower overall number of QSO's to my way of thinking.