My amateur radio review of 2011

I’ll post the full stats for QSO365 in a few days once the project has finished but in the meantime I wanted to get some notes made regarding amateur radio in 2011 as it relates to me.

To put it simply, I’ve had a great year!

The QSO365 project has given me the opportunity to learn so much about this fantastic hobby of ours.  By operating every day of the year I’ve learned an awful lot about the HF bands such as when they’ll open and (hopefully) to what parts of the world.  I’ve learned about HF aerials, I’ve learned about interference, I’ve learned about planning regulations and I’ve learned that I have a great bunch of friends who will help out at a moments notice.  (I also learned that I still have a lot to learn)

I came into the QSO365 project with some trepidation but a lot of enthusiasm.  Some people joked and laughed at the start of the year and said that it wasn’t really much of a challenge and that it’s easy to have a contact every day.  Clearly this is all down to personal circumstances but in my case, it’s been a genuine challenge and I’ve come close to failing a few times because all it takes is for the sun to ‘fart’ and the HF bands can die.  That’s happened a few times this year and it’s been a struggle to make my daily contact when it’s occurred.

One of my unwritten rules for the year was that I wanted to ensure I had a ‘unique’ QSO every day.  It would be easy enough to get involved with nets on the lower bands and just call into those whenever things looked difficult but I’ve avoided that and every day has seen a unique contact.

One of the things that’s kept me going is the fact that I’ve shouted loudly about the QSO365 project.  It’s not been something that’s been kept a secret, I’ve talked about it a lot to anyone who will listen.  I’ve used social networking to announce what I’m doing and early in the year I had articles published in the amateur radio press.

I said I’ve learned a lot this year, that’s true.  I’m still not an expert on many of those things though but I do feel as though I’ve gained a lot this year.  As someone who had never really touched the HF bands until about eighteen months ago, the whole experience has been a huge learning curve and that learning will continue.

If my QSO365 project has tempted you into doing something similar, I can only say that you should go for it. It’s an ambitious project to undertake but it’s been a lot of fun, at least most of the time.  Be aware though that it’s very demanding on your time.  During the winter months when the bands are closed at night time, it’s difficult to make the daily QSOs if you’re out at work during the day.  It’s not just a walk in the park.

Moving away from QSO365, I’ve had a number of amateur radio highlights of the year which I’d like to share.

Rediscovering the data modes.
The data modes have kept me going this year.  I’ve operated RTTY, PSK and JT65A along with some of the less well known modes.  Out of all the data modes I’ve used, I’ve enjoyed JT65A the most as I really like the structured QSO format and it has suited my operating times.  I can use JT65A when I’m getting ready for work in the morning and also late at night.  It’s silent in the shack although I often have the volume slightly up as just the sound of it relaxes me.  I also love the way that I can work DX stations with just low power and an inefficient aerial as was proven earlier in the year when I had my first QSO to Australia using low power on 40m with a random length wire thrown down the garden.

What a band this has been!  Solar Cycle 24 really ramped up a couple of months ago and 28MHz has been wide open during the day (and even sometimes into the evening) ever since.  I’ve worked a load of new countries on 10m and it’s been a whole load of fun.  I’d been told that once 10m opened that the rest of the bands would be neglected and looking at my log, it’s fair to say that it’s true.  I have pages and pages of QSOs on 10m with nothing much on the other bands.

My aerial system(s)
One of the things I said at the start of the year was that I needed to improve my aerial system here.  I’d originally planned on a doublet but somehow that got forgotten and I moved from a random wire to a horizontal delta loop cut for 40m.  After that I then ended up with a 10m mast with a Cushcraft MA5B on the top (all this is well documented in the blog) and it made such a difference from the wire.  All I’m lacking now is a decent aerial for the lower bands and I’ll put that right next year.

I mentioned above that I have a great bunch of friends and I’d just like to re-iterate that here.  The local amateurs who have helped out with my aerial system and when I had the lightning strike are just great.  It’s an honour to know you guys, you all know who you are.

The RSGB Convention
This was a superb weekend away, one of the real social highlights of the year.  It gave me a chance to meet people who I’d been ‘speaking’ to for months via social networking and to get to know them better.  The lecture streams were very interesting and the whole weekend was an experience I’m keen to repeat.

Home construction
This year I’ve built stuff.  Not as much as I’d like but it’s a start.  I’ve built a number of QRSS transmitters which work, I’ve built a couple of clocks using nixie tubes which work and I’ve built a homebrew aerial for 6m which sits in my loft and works.  I’ve had QSOs out to 2600km using it which is great.  I’ve also put together a portable aerial system using a 10m pole and lengths of wire and various other projects including a dummy load in a paint tin.  Next year I’ll try and do more.

This year I’ve joined the DX Century Club.

I could go on with my list of highlights but then it becomes just as though I’m repeating the blog so I’ll stop here.  I’ve not really discussed the lightning strike we had here earlier in the year because that’s been very well documented within the blog.  Suffice it to say that although it was a nightmare at the time, the end results have been that I now have a significantly better station than I had before.

I’ve been asked what I’m doing for 2012.  I won’t be doing QSO365 again but if you were to ask whether I’ll be on the air on January 1st 2012, the answer will probably be ‘yes’ 🙂  I’m still as enthusiastic about amateur radio as I was when I was first licensed back in 1982.

Keith, G6NHU

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