Sunday, May 9, 2010

Twin Peaks

I was enjoying the twin peaks this weekend. No, not some late season skiing. No, I’m not talking about that 1990 TV mini-series….which I really liked BTW. I tend to take to television shows that are a little, well, let’s say off-beat. I also enjoyed Picket Fences and the series Northern Exposure….but I digress. The twin peaks I'm referring to is the image you see on RTTY software, the result of RF energy that manifests itself into Radio Teletype. This weekend the Volta contest took place and RTTY sub-bands, at least on 20 and 40 where I hung out, were chattering with activity.
This contest has been around 44 years and is named in honour of Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist who died back in 1827 but is credited with developing the first electric cell in 1800.

There are a number of RTTY contests throughout the year, and I try to dabble in as many as possible. I’m still a neophyte in this mode, having sent my first ‘ritty’ signal maybe five years ago. As with many of the digital modes tough, I find the operating quite pleasurable, primarily because these modes are well suited to modest stations with lower power. I’m able to make decent contacts, across North America or across the oceans without too much trouble. Running between 60 and 80 watts into my simple windom, I was able to work some decent Dog-Xray from the Hawaiian Islands (KH6GMP) to Poland (SP3GHX), the latter on 40 meters, where I find it difficult to make a DX-haul on phone. I even managed a contact with a station in Sardinia, which according to my logging software is a separate DXCC entity from Italy, so I also got to chalk up a new country (better dust off the QSL cards!).

I always get excited about working KH6-land, regardless of mode. I think it’s the mental image I have of the ham there operating from a little grass shack while being served an exotic drink in a carved-out coconut by a lovely Polynesian woman doing the Hula while Don Ho plays the ukulele. (Sorry about the stereotype….I’m sure there are some hams in far off lands who have a mental picture of the VE operator they’re working squatting in an igloo chewing on raw seal meat).
Back to the Volta contest….truthfully, I didn’t work that many stations, due to the usual time constraints of the weekend, but the short time spent was well worth the effort.
Prior to the personal computer becoming a common accessory in the ham shack, operating RTTY involved some pretty heavy-duty hardware that, when operating, could shake your foundation loose or at least send the dog into a barking frenzy. Of course, modern software applications have made this wonderful mode accessible to anyone who can jam an interface between their rig and USB port (or sound card). If you want more info about RTTY, check out this great primer by AA5AU.

I also love operating PSK31, which was the first digital mode I dabbled in a few years back. The incredibly efficient use of spectrum and, again, relatively low power you’re able to use make it the perfect match for the average ham who is not a ‘big gun’. So if you’re an amateur radio operator whose power is the stock “full half-pint” (100 watts) with a basic antenna and are frustrated by trying to be heard on SSB, give the digital modes a shot. Most of the basic software is available as free downloads. And……let’s not forget that original digital mode, CW. Still one of the best ways to punch through a signal with low, or even very little power. But, if your CW skills are just not there, no fears….there’s software for that too! (Insert shriek of horror from the CW purists). I do my best to manually transmit CW with my paddles, but I do admit, I’m usually running the receive software as insurance for times when the QRM interferes with my
brain trying to concentrate on that one signal, especially in contest situations.

Hey, I just received two packs of QSL cards via the bureau this past week. Perhaps we’ll chat about that next time.

‘til then 73 & keep the RF pumping.

No comments:

Post a Comment