The first Saturday after Labor Day each year is the Ohio State Parks On The Air contest (OSPOTA). For me, 2022 has been a year of POTA and being as I’m really into it and it’s sponsored by my club, PCARS, I decided to pick a park and activate. I chose Salt Fork State Park (SFK) or K-1989. I booked a site for the camper and my wife decided to come along. She knew that I’d be “hamming” all day, so we brought the rottie as a hiking companion.
This was going to be a little different. The camper is a nice shelter and also has some very nice amenitites. For example, a table and power. Given that there would be shore power available, taking a powersupply and a powerpole distribution unit seemed wise. That would keep me from having to deal with batteries and if I wanted to dust off the Hardrock-50 there would be far less stress on reserves. The HR-50 didn’t make an appearance in my operations this time around, but it was there as an option.
All of the gear I took packed down nicely.
We arrived Friday afternoon and set up camp. After that 30 minute exercise (our camper still amazes me) I decided to deploy the antenna and get a quick activation in before I ran out of daytime (Zulu time, that is). I’ve had trouble with that whole Zulu thing before. Not again! I put up the antenna and fired up my FT8 setup. I was activated in no time flat. So hey, another activation of that park for me.
We enjoyed a nice dinner and despite the loud music of neighbors who couldn’t take a hint, we went to sleep.
Saturday was the big day. OSPOTA only runs for 8 hours. That’s my kind of contest! It’s SSB only and limited to 80m, 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m. No problem! I have the Chameleon and I brought along my end-fed that handles 40/20/10. It was looking good. I fired up the IC-705 and jumped to 40m. I got one contact and it was rough. I got a signal report that I was way in the noise. That’s not very optimisitc, is it? I kept calling and after an hour couldn’t make another contact. I took a bit of a break and thought about it.
I decided to put the end-fed into the tree conveniently located next to our camper. Second toss of the arborists weight got me exactly where I needed to be. I fired up the IC-705 again and…nothing.
I was frustrated. In moments like these, it’s important to remember that this is a hobby and is supposed to be fun. A contest is a challenge, but it’s not the end of the world.
I switched over to FT8 knowing that it wouldn’t get me any OSPOTA points but that it’d count for a POTA activation and it might help me assess my situation. All I got were great signal reports. Above the noise from quite a distance. So…maybe it wasn’t the antenna?
Something wasn’t right. There had to be a setting deep in the bowels of the IC-705 that I couldn’t recall. The manual isn’t useless, but it doesn’t do much to help troubleshoot something like “I can’t get SSB phone to work.” I poked at a lot of settings and didn’t get anywhere. It was time to take a pause again.
How about a digression?
About a month ago, I picked up a Xiegu X6100. Why? Because it looks like fun. It’s Linux based and that smells hackable to me. I’ve also been following along on the group based for the Al Peter AC8GY and Jack Purdum W8TEE book Software Defined Radio Transceiver about, oddly enough, building a software defined transceiver. I’d love to build one up from components like in the book, but the amount of time I have available is limited. So I was hoping the X6100 would scratch an itch by being a platform for experimentation. We’ll see about that. It’s a fun little rig although the thermal management is, well, awful. I will write up something of a review when I have more time in the field with it.
Why do I mention it? Well, I tossed it in the car for grins. It occured to me that since I wasn’t getting anywhere with my IC-705 maybe I could fire it up and call CQ. I did just that. I made over 50 contacts in an hour. Wow! That was a lot of fun! I even had a couple of pile-ups! Plenty of Park to Park contacts for both OSPOTA and POTA. It really was an experience for a guy who usually sticks to digital modes. I’ve gotta say I’m hooked.
After a while, 40 meters became less active. 20 meters was not great at all during that particular day due to another contest and 10 meters? Well, it was very, very lonely there. With the bands dropping out from under me I decided to give the X6100 a break. It was getting REALLY warm. I kicked back over to FT8 with the IC-705 and found myself rounding out the day with around 100 contacts. That’s exciting!
What did I learn?
First off, Know Thy Rig. I am still working through what’s keeping me from sending SSB from the IC-705. I am willing to bet that there is a setting somewhere that has it looking for a digital signal or has something routed in a weird way. I get great signal reports on the local repeater and I think I’ve ruled out a pile of things. But…there’s something in there that’s weird. I’ll find it and when I do I’ll post it here. Until then, I’m re-re-reading the manual and poking a lot of buttons.
Secondly, Mic Fright Is All In Your Head. This was my first phone contest. I’ve checked into local nets and chatted on D-STAR and DMR, but I’ve never been one to just get out and call CQ. I am very happy to say that everyone was friendly and patient as I worked my way through the pileups. I think the fear some of us have is that people will be almost hostile with those of us who have less experience. That’s not been my experience. After all, BOTH stations want the contact. We can do it slow and easy and not get all crazy about it. I know that part of my problem was watching too many videos of rare DX expeditions and seeing how fast people mow through those. Or even the stress at Field Day (which is most certainly NOT a contest despite the points) probably contributed a little bit. The truth of the matter is that people want to connect on the radio. It’s a hobby that can’t work if there aren’t others out there to complete the contact. So I’m going to call CQ more and work more phone in my POTA activations. It’s not scary anymore.
So what’s next? This week will be spent trying to figure out what I’ve got wrong in the IC-705 settings. I can see myself using the X6100 for phone but not for digital modes. The thermal management simply is not there. That box gets HOT when running FT8 and that’s not good. I’ll keep experimenting with it and certainly take it along if I do another activation like this again. Can’t hurt to have a tiny backup rig like that. More about the X6100 later.
Here’s what the map for the day of OSPOTA looks like. I’m really pleased with my performance and will be better prepared for next year.