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The 1999 SS Contest

This year my Sweepstakes was going to be quite different from previous years. Two months ago I purchased a Kenwood TS-570D(G) transceiver. This is the first transceiver I have ever owned in 36 years of being a ham. Before that I always used homebrew transmitters and a variety of commercial receivers, the latest of which was an ICOM R-71A.

With my previous setups, it was quite a task to switch bands. This would involve changing as many as 15 controls just to go from one band to another. Now with the transceiver, I can switch bands with a minimum of 1 control, and a maximum of 4 if my external antenna tuner has to be used. I do need the tuner on 30, 40, 80, and 160, while the built in antenna tuner on the Kenwood handles the other bands automatically.

Previously, every time I tuned in a station on the receiver I had to adjust my separate transmitter VFO to zero beat the station. Now of course, all that needs to be done is tune in the station on the transceiver and I'm all set to make the contact.

I knew these time saving steps would increase my QSO total even if I would do everything else the same. However, I also took a couple more steps to improve things this year. I downloaded a very good SS program for doing my computer logging. You can find this program listed in my software links.

I also installed a new 15M vertical dipole antenna. Actually I had planned to put up a 12M ground plane vertical, but over the past couple weeks my plans evolved through a 10M GP to a 12 or 10M vertical dipole, and finally to the 15M vertical dipole. As a side benefit, the dipole also tunes on 17 and 12M with the built in tuner on the Kenwood.

So with all those improvements, I decided to set my goals for the contest. Most of all I wanted to get 500 QSO's. This would be the first time I ever crossed the 500 QSO mark in a contest if I made it. Then as I've set as a goal in each of the past few years, I wanted to get a sweep of all sections (79 this year). I've come close each year, but my best effort was missing it by two sections. Next as a fall back goal, I wanted to get WAS in the contest if I couldn't get all 79 sections.

Now there was nothing left to do but wait for the contest to get started. 2100Z finally arrived and I set off to my task. The first few contacts came rather slowly, as the initial contacts were mostly the big contest stations working each other. My first 15 minutes only netted 5 contacts. The first two on 10M, the next three on 15M. The first contact was N5ZC in WTX, a somewhat hard to get section. The fourth QSO was NV for another rare one, although in recent SS contests, I've worked many NV's, so maybe it's not as rare as it once was.

As the initial surge of big stations working each other subsided, things started to pick up for me. By the time 2200Z came, I had 34 QSO's in the log. K0DI gave me NE, a hard one for me in previous SS. All QSO's were on 10 and 15M. The new 15M vertical seemed to be working just fine. I worked most everyone I called easily.

After two hours, I was at 60 QSO's. 30 per hour. Not bad considering my slow start. The second hour included a real surprise. I found VY1JA on 10M going begging for QSO's. The first time I've ever heard him without an attending pileup. Took a couple calls for him to hear me, but I got one of the really rare sections in my log quite early and quite easily. 4 contacts later I worked KL7J for Alaska. Maybe this was going to be my year for the sweep. Also in that 2200Z hour, I got KI6DY in KS, and W7GS in WY - two other moderately hard sections for me in past tests.

I kept up my 30 per hour rate until 0100Z when I took a short break. In fact my rate for the first 4 hours was 33.5. I hit 200 QSO's at 0253Z. Even with a couple of breaks thrown in, I was still over 33 QSO's per hour. I was feeling good about making my goal of 500 QSO's. Time now for a little longer break.

I started in again at 0343Z and continued till 0650Z. Again with some short breaks. Those three hours netted 86 more QSO's, mostly on 80M. One 80M QSO was with N0AH in Wyoming, a new band state for me bringing my 80M total to 47 states. That was another of my goals - to get a couple of the 9 band states I needed for 5B WAS.

Time now to get some sleep. With 286 QSO's in the log, I "only" needed 214 more during the day on Sunday to reach 500. Also I only needed 3 states for my contest WAS. Not yet worked were Hawaii, North Dakota, and Montana. I tried to work KH7R earlier but strangely, he couldn't hear me. I usually work him easily. As far as sections go, I needed 11 more for the sweep.

The only thing going against me was a prediction of unsettled ionospheric conditions on Sunday. I'd just have to wait and see.

I woke up just before 1300Z and started in on the contest right away. Conditions still seemed to be good as far as I could tell. A little over two hours brought 61 more QSO's, still nearly 30 per hour for my rate. Now I was constantly figuring out what rate I needed to have to reach my goal of 500 QSO's. At this point I figured I'd put in about 9 more hours in the contest so I only needed to have a rate of 17 or 18 per hour to make it. Not unreasonable although the supply of stations I hadn't yet worked was diminishing.

After my breakfast or brunch, It was back to the wars again. It was now almost 1600Z and I was concerned that 15 and 10 were still not very good with only a couple stations being heard on each band. So I stayed mostly with 20M which was open to most parts of the USA with strong CA stations being heard right alongside strong stations from my neighboring states of OH, NY, etc. I went up and down the band working as many stations as I could. Every now and then I checked to see if 15 or 10 was any better. 15M finally did become fairly good around 1700Z. So now with 4 bands to play with, I did a lot of band hopping among 40, 20, 15, and 10M.

At 1709 I worked NH7A for Hawaii. And of course 5 QSO's later it was KH7R. They come in bunches. One section that eluded me was EWA. Finally worked W3AS. Thought at first he was EPA, but it was EWA. The very next QSO was K7IR in.... EWA. In between the 2 Hawaiins came KE0A in ND. Now where is MT. I thought for sure I'd snag K7BG somewhere, but I hadn't even heard him yet.

The 1600 hour brought 27 QSO's, the 1700 hour 22 so my rate was starting to slip now as I knew it would. Still QSO number 400 came at 1734Z. Shortly after # 400 came KS7T. As soon as I heard his call, something clicked in my mind. I thought I remembered him being from MT. I was right. So I had my contest WAS, the first time I had ever done so after coming so close a few times in previous contests. One goal down, and two to go.

Now it was just keep plugging away for those QSO's. I was beginning to see the sweep slipping out of my grasp. Montana was section number 73, leaving 6 to go, and I hadn't even heard a few of those. Of the six, I would only wind up working BC. I chased VO1MP several times, but could never break his big pileups for NL. That was one section I never would work. Also the other Canadian sections were very sparsely represented. I did hear all Canadian sections, but only one or two stations from each one, and some of those were S&Ping as I was doing most of the time.

I did try a few CQ's here and there. They brought me a few QSO's and a couple small pileups (2 or 3 stations), but all in all I wasn't happy with my CQ results and went back to S&P.

QSO # 451 came at 1951Z when I worked W8EAR. Now this became my 2nd best SS. When I hit # 465 with N6HC at 2129Z I had my best ever SS as far as number of QSO's. The QSO's were coming slowly now. The 2100Z hour brought 21 QSO's, the 2200Z hour only 16. I was getting a bit concerned about my reaching 500 QSO's. However at 2300 I only needed 8 more, and if I couldn't get 8 QSO's in 4 hours I didn't deserve to make my goal.

Finally at 2335 I was able to give out QSO # 500 for the first time in a contest when I gave 500 to K9CC on 40M. I went on to get 37 more QSO's before I quit about a half hour before the end of the contest. It just became too hard to find stations I hadn't already worked.

I made two goals out of 3. The sweep eluded me once again, this time by a sizeable margin. I missed NNY (never even heard that one), VI, QC (heard one S&P station in each), NL, and MB (heard one early in the contest - should have tried harder to work him then).

One thing I particularly like about the Kenwood is its 5 quick memory slots. As I'm tuning up the band, I can save a station in one of the quick memory slots if he is currently busy working someone. Then I continue up the band, checking the memory slot now and then to catch the stations just signing after finishing a QSO. That ploy helped me work extra stations here and there. At times I had 3 or 4 stations in the memories, and it was just a matter of switching back and forth till I cleaned out the bunch. Perhaps as I use the Kenwood more I'll learn even more useful tricks likes that.

I didn't hear any other WPA QRP stations, so I may have wound up winning QRP for WPA. I did hear via Email from W3BBO who is a QRPer here in WPA. He had 339 QSO's in 73 sections.

I'm still behind the QRPers with the better locations and bigger antenna systems, but I think finally using a transceiver has stepped up my contesting a bit. Next year I might shoot for 600 QSO's. I only operated 20 hours this year, so if I can go for 24 next year that in itself should give me 60-80 more QSO's assuming conditions are the same or better. Perhaps I should devote more time to calling CQ. Also conditions were poorer this Sunday than they were on Saturday. The Sunday K index ranged from 4-6. Perhaps that hurt my score somewhat although the bands sounded very good to me. Maybe had the K index stayed down around 0-2 I could have gotten some more QSO's. I'll never know.

Summing up, I feel very good about how things turned out. I'm not even that disappointed about missing the sweep. Perhaps if I had only missed it by 1 or 2, I'd be very upset, but missing by 5 is like a baseball team losing by 8 runs vs. losing a 1-0 ballgame.

Here's a list of my hourly totals. Hours marked with an * were partial hours.

Hour - Total - # That hour
2100 -  33 - 33
2200 -  60 - 27
2300 -  93 - 33
0000 - 134 - 41
0100 - 166 - 32
0200 - 200 - 34
0300 - 216 - 16*
0400 - 248 - 32
0500 - 263 - 15*
0600 - 286 - 23*
1200 - 289 -  3*
1300 - 316 - 27
1400 - 345 - 29
1500 - 358 - 13*
1600 - 385 - 27
1700 - 407 - 22
1800 - 428 - 21*
1900 - 451 - 23*
2000 - 455 -  4*
2100 - 476 - 21
2200 - 492 - 16
2300 - 509 - 17
0000 - 515 -  6*
0100 - 531 - 16*
0200 - 537 -  6*