My interest in contests goes back some forty years. With a modest station in a suburban location, I was able to win, or almost win, some of the RSGB contests of
those days. But of course, things have changed. Over those forty years, beam antennas have become the “norm”, towers are much more easily obtained and big linears
are commonplace. And so my contesting aspirations changed as well.
In the 1990’s, with a slightly less modest station in a semi-rural village location, I began to build a multi-single capability. We formed a contest club
(at a time when only clubs could be allocated short contest calls) and acquired the rights to what would eventually settle down as G5W. In the 90’s, however,
the year influenced the call – so I have operated as G6W, G7W etc etc. Eventually, our regulator took a progressive attitude towards contest calls, “froze”
the number (we could choose which) and opened the short contest calls to everyone who had a genuine interest in serious contesting.
Initially there was only one tower and beam, backed up with dipoles and verticals. Even then, we began to feature in leading positions in the UK in multi-operator
categories. But work at the salt mine prevented any serious optimisation of the station and it all took a back seat until I was able to retire some fourteen
We then took a decision to have a lifestyle change, and move to the country. We moved out of the South-East of England, and bought a house on the border of
England and Wales, on a windy hilltop near a small hamlet called Woolston, in the county of Shropshire.
Shropshire is one of the less developed areas of England and the Southern part, where we now live, is mainly hilly and given over to sheep farming. It is a
particularly pretty part of England, and the house we bought is in an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” – a landscape categorisation which means that planning
(zoning) laws are more stringent than elsewhere.
Given that one of the reasons for moving to the country was to develop the radio station an antenna farm, I took care to discuss my intentions with the local planners.
After a short while in the discussion, the officer I met said “Ah yes…..amateur radio – we’ve had one or two of those before. But you take the towers with you when you
move, don’t you?” I confirmed that I would not leave them after we moved on. “Oh well, I don’t see a problem” was the response. Good news indeed, for in parts of the
UK, other amateurs have great problems gaining approval for even modest antennas.
And so the slow process started of rebuilding the station at the new location. By US and other standards, it remains modest. The main tower is 80ft, with a ten
element Force 12 yagi for 40-10. That tower also supports the centre of 80 and 160m dipoles. A Titanex 90ft vertical provides some capability on 160, 80 and 40.
And a second tower with a SteppIR at 60ft gives a second HF capability. Both towers are on the top edge of a downward slope, in the direction of the US. This
appears to give a pleasingly low angle in that direction. All antennas have to have high wind tolerance – 90 mph (145 kph) is not an unknown wind strength here.
For LF receive, I started with a K9AY steerable loop, but have since added two beverages, the whole receive antenna system being fitted with 80 and 160m bandpass
filters and preamplifiers, so that when operating multi single, the receive antennas can be shared with no interaction problems from the other transmitter.
I should say at this stage that we live in a very low noise environment. Because of the AONB categorisation, there are no overhead high voltage lines, and electrical
noise is (almost) unheard of. A couple of instances when the local low voltage power line developed a fault were quickly cleared by the power company, who seem very
keen to help.
Of course it would be nice to have a really big tower – say 150ft. But the AONB restrictions would then kick in, I feel, and also there are access issues for a big
crane. So I am happy with the current installation, although I do have a 100ft tower lying in sections in the long grass…..I wonder?
For RF equipment, I use two FTdx5000 transceivers, normally configured for SO2R, but easily re-set for multi-single or M2.The transceivers drive two linears – both
auto-tuned. There is a Microham SO2R controller and of course auto-switched bandpass filters on each transceiver. All antenna selection is automatic, although I
have an unusual arrangement with the two feed lines to the antenna field. I have two LDF feeds to remote switches. Let’s call them line A and line B.
Line A: 10-40m yagi (Force 12) alternatively switchable to three element tri band yagi fixed to Europe, 80m dipole, 160m dipole
Line B: 10-20m SteppIR yagi, 90ft Titanex for 40-80-160 with a big earth mat.
The unusual aspect is that I can switch lines A and B between transceiver/linear 1 or 2. Whilst this may sound strange, in fact it offers great flexibility. All
band data and filters/antennas change in accordance with the band in use, so the A-B changeover is seamless.
For MS or M2 contests, I can add a third work station using an Elecraft K3 (which I normally use for globe-trotting) and KPA500 linear, into whatever antenna seems
sensible for what will be a multiplier spotting station. Normally I erect a simple vertical for one or more bands.
I have several networked computers running Win-Test, a program that has never let me down. I evaluated a number of contest logging programmes some years ago, and
decided that Win-Test with its bomb-proof networking, was the one for me. I’ve not regretted that decision. In multi-op contests, we’re connected to RBN and cluster,
of course, and I also run a local skimmer here.
Hilary, who shares my life with me, is also licensed (G4JKS) and so I am fortunate in getting great support from her when the house gets filled with contesters for
one of the “big ones”.
I still get a real kick out of operating in contests. Whilst this far north in Europe will never get a top place in the big contests, I do like to try to perform
well against others at these latitudes.
At the time of writing we hold several UK records for the CQ contests, a first place (Europe) in the Stew Perry and numerous wins in domestic RSGB contests.
But I’m never satisfied, and I’m sure tomorrow I’ll have another idea for that extra 0.25 dB.