The Two Rivers Contest Club had very humble beginnings. The first seed was planted just over a decade ago. In late 2003, Rich Strand KL7RA was disassembling
his multi-multi station and had his spacious, split-level log home for sale. KL7RA had stood as a beacon for many years heating up the airwaves from about 20
miles east of Fairbanks. Rich was finally executing his post-retirement plan to move to Kenai, Alaska, where propagation promised to be far superior to the
ionospheric conditions under Fairbanks’ aurora. I had been a member of the KL7RA team for several years. Due to a change in family circumstances, my XYL Connie
KL1BE and I needed a place more suitable than our tiny cabin. Soon a deal was struck, and in April 2004 the five-acre property changed hands.
More space for antennas and larger living quarters were both on my mind but a serious contest station was not part of the plan. As Rich and I were taking down
the last 190-foot tower in June 2004, I proposed that he should sell me part of it.
After a lot of sweat taking off the 40m beam and removing the top 50 feet, we reached an agreement and left 140 feet of the Rohn 55 and 45 still standing.
Then I began to see the potential for a nice personal station, but I knew building out a decent HF operation would be a long-term process. I had some basic
radio equipment and wire antennas but nothing else.
Over the next year I laid out some initial plans to populate the tower. I’m an engineer by trade, so I evaluated a lot of different antenna options. Rotators
are expensive, slow, and any breakage during the deep freeze of winter could be problematic. I settled on fixed antennas with a switch at the base of the tower.
From Fairbanks, reaching out to the rest of the world is pretty simple. North/South America are roughly east to southeast, Japan is west, Europe north, and the
Pacific is more or less due south. After evaluating tri-banders with a combination of modest gain and relatively low front-to-back ratio, I concluded I could
work the world with two fix-mounted antennas on the tower, which fit nicely into a modest budget.
One evening in 2006 during dinner with KL1JP, KL1SE, KL1Y, and N1CKM, we conceived of the Two Rivers Contest Club. Our objective became to build a station where
members could come and explore different modes, try their hand at various contests, and overall just improve their own operating skills.
I set about applying for a club license. The original call granted was WL7CWF, and I soon changed it to KL2R, as in Two Rivers. Two Rivers, Alaska, is a rural
community with a large dog-mushing demographic living side-by-side with eccentrics of all types, including several ham radio operators. It is roughly 20 miles
east of Fairbanks on the way to Chena Hot Springs.
In 2006, CQWW proved to be some of the greatest challenges. In the SSB contest, KL1Y, KL1SE, and N1TX worked hard for contacts. KL1JP took ill but provided a
badly needed multiplier from his home QTH. The CW effort was SO1R by N1TX. 100 watts, one tri-bander, and the Super Loop 80 made for tough going but KL2R was
finally into the contest fray. The 2007 ARRL DX contests were fun and really two events for which KL2R was designed. Alaska is considered DX here.
We took Multi-Single in Alaska for both 2007 events without much cooperation on the low bands.
Most of the original founders have since moved on. However, Dan Wietchy KL1JP and I remain principals and continue to improve the capabilities at KL2R. Today
the tower sports two Force12 C3 tri-banders, one at 55 feet (North America/JA) and another at 75 feet (Europe/Pacific). We also have a Force12 EF-140 40m dipole
at 120 feet optimized for east-west, a “vertical L” 80m dipole, and a Radio Works
Super Loop 80 for
80-10, including WARC. These are tied together through a 6x2 matrix switch at the tower base
(Array Solutions SixPak
The Cushcraft MA-160V
top band vertical feeds
directly into the shack. Also, we have a rotatable HEX-BEAM
erected on a short mast at
the shack, but this will soon move to a new location in the woods. Ground mounts have been installed for 40 and 80 vertical arrays as well, and we hope to put up
at least a 40m array in the summer of 2014.
By late 2012, a solid multi-2 configuration was achieved with the addition of an Alpha 89 to complement the other amplifier, an
1010. The shack features two
Yaesu FT-950s, Microham Microkeyer IIs
Microham Station Masters
. The Station Masters handle band decoding as well
as antenna and accessory switching. Bandpass filtering is automated with a set of W3NQN filters connected through an Array Solutions FM-6 switch, and a
system takes care of the BPF needs at
the second position.
We are always experimenting with different hardware configurations to boost operator efficiency as well as situational awareness. The original FT-950 included a
DMU-2000 data management unit. As one might expect, the most-used feature on the DMU-2000 is the RF band scope. Most recently, the second FT-950 got a significant
upgrade with an RF Space IF-2000 board, which provides 10.55 MHz IF output from the radio. To that we added an inexpensive FiFi software-defined radio.
The combination of the FiFi and HDSDR software now provides a very effective band scope with point-and-click tuning ability. Having a second in-band receiver is
very handy, too. The FiFi can also drive skimmer software for CW and RTTY station identification. During non-contest times and availability permits, the FiFi
remains on and sends HF spots to the Reverse Beacon Network
. It is
the only skimmer in Alaska to date.
Along with N1TX and KL1JP, Carl Horn WL7BDO and Elaine Meindl KL6C make up the remaining core of multi-op teams. During ARRL DX SSB 2014, new ham Wes Worker
KL3UI distinguished himself alongside Bill Lippert AC0W, our long-distance guest op up from Minnesota. Elaine had to sit this one out for another obligation.
In the end, 3000 QSOs and nearly 1.5 million points landed in the log despite virtually no contacts on the low bands.
The DX contest demonstrated some very key differences in propagation between our 65-degree north location and more southern sites like Anchorage and Kenai.
Low-bands were quite active for them, and the other bands may open an hour earlier. HF propagation in the very high latitudes is fickle. Fairbanks sits under
an active auroral zone. At times, it’s like being inside a box. We might work an OH or UA0, whereas reaching to W7 is nearly impossible. The geomagnetic
field and ionosphere are tilted dramatically near the poles.
The conventional wisdom about HF propagation repeated in countless books and learned at lower latitudes simply does not apply. Paths are frequently non-reciprocal
and skewed. A Kp of three or greater will manifest like a door flopping open in the wind as the geomagnetic field alternatively twists, expands, and compresses.
Absorption on the southbound link is much greater. Digital contacts like JT65-A show the station receiving our call will send a 8 to 16 dB worse signal report
compared to our report to him.
A number of years using 100 watts in these conditions have helped hone operating techniques. Search and pounce was essential in those days, finding key
multipliers is high on our priority list. Now we can easily generate good run rates on 20-10.
Occasionally, 40m cooperates with some good worldwide openings. Gray line enhancement is almost a given, but the duration varies from 30 minutes to a couple of hours.
The MA-160V has yielded some surprising top band contacts, but the band now suffers from S9+10 dB power line noise after a series of recent winter storms. Eighty meters
is almost always a light band. We can work into W6 and W7, but anything beyond is difficult. In short, the low bands are our weakest link. On the other hand, if the
sun blesses us then 10m can be open 24 hours a day worldwide. Those European three point contacts and multipliers give us a leg up. A contest station generates some pretty
big logs. Effective management and comprehensive QSL functions are essential.
I spent quite a while looking at alternatives for software. I went through many trial copies of commercial products as well as freebies. It turned into a playoff
between Ham Radio Deluxe and DXLab Suite, and I finally settled on the latter. DXKeeper, the logbook module, has some very powerful features using simple SQL queries.
DXSuite has a number of other useful modules for more casual operating. It can also integrate into many other programs.
KL2R participates in LoTW, eQSL and Clublog. Hams can use the online QSL request system at Clublog or from our web site at
All bureau cards (free) go via GlobalQSL. Processing contest logs for LoTW and eQSL
may take a week. Clublog is updated about once a month, depending on activity. We have a strict policy about QSLing to personal calls when you worked us
from a special event or club station. Unless your callsign is in the log, no QSL. Early on we were inundated with such requests, most people seem to have
gotten the message now.
The ten year journey to this point with KL2R has been an interesting trek for many people. At times, it has proven to be a “you’d better be careful what you
wish for” project. Antenna improvements are always on the drawing board. Much of the technology has been mastered to date, but developing a local cadre for
CW and RTTY contests will be a high priority. Future operating plans include the W1AW/KL7 activity in June and October 2014.