A Story Of A DXer

 

Background


I was born in 1965 in a town called Lahti and that makes me part of the first generation that started to play with personal computers in childhood in early 1980's. These were the times of Commodore Vic and Commodore 64. After finishing the senior high school my mother gave me a 64, as I didn't want a driving license, which would have been the other option. In retrospect that seems to have been a good choice as computers became my profession. I had a lucky timing. During the late 80's when I was a student in Helsinki University, people who knew anything about computers were almost literally pulled to working life. Many of us never graduated because the prospects looked so good. If you could do anything related to computers, you got a well paying job with car benefit. That all changed when the recession came 1991 or so, but luckily enough I had finished my computer science studies around these times and had more or less secure job during the difficult years. I was well in my way to fulfill my dream: a family, a house, and a tower. Quite a modest dream, really, but coming from a single parent working class family that was a big step ahead. It actually looked a bit far fetched considering the life in my neighborhood. 

Three band trap vertical in Lahti ca 1982


A tower as a dream? How come? Well, I had played with electronics almost as long as I remember. The early projects were crystal radios, audio amplifiers, and small gadgets like that. During my high school years I once visited the local radio club OH3AC. I was hooked once and for good. I got my novice license in 1981 and the world was my backyard. Or so it seemed at first. Operating a borrowed crystal controlled Heathkit HW-16 into a 20 meter long wire at the first floor of an apartment building quickly taught me the limitations of my setup. Reaching 53 DXCC countries was anyway a start. I got a used Heathkit HW-101 and started to wait for the mailman to bring my general class ticket. The wait felt eternal, but finally it came and the first of my three golden eras in ham radio begun.



The early years


I put up a three band trap vertical on the roof. That's seven floors higher than where I lived. To get the neighbors to approve me installing the cable right next to their balconies required some negotiation. But they did allow me to do it, so here we go for the new challenges. 100 watts was not much but having access to VFO and 14 MHz gave a boost to DXCC scores. I did have some BCI with an old radio of an old lady upstairs, but I fixed it and continued with my radios. First time in my life I felt connected to the big world outside there. I could talk to Japan and ask how's the life there, I could see their QSL cards filled with impressive antennas. This all helped at school, too. Some lucky ones had been exchange students in USA. I had never been abroad, but I could talk to America every day. That was exceptional. These were the days before public internet, you see. 

Having said that, I soon realized that 100 watts into a vertical won't really do it. OH3LJ lived in an apartment closeby and he had a three element trap yagi. That was mechanically too challenging for a young boy, so the only way forward was to get a linear amplifier. Spending all my money that I earned by delivering free papers and advertising brochures after the school bought me a Heathkit SB-200. The buying process took six months as Martti OH2BH was first about to sell it to Portugal and then to use it in his contest station in Åland island. And then he suddenly called that he will deliver the small amplifier to my friend's student apartment in Helsinki the very same day, please pick it up. What a glorious day. My DXCC scores climbed rapidly. The evenings I spent with Jari OH3OQ and other young ones around Lahti area rag chewing and watching TV the same time. I have never been too talented on the morse code. However, the sheer amount of time I spent with radios taught me enough to earn a membership in The Radio Telegraphy High Speed Club (HSC). I got three recommendations for VHSC, too. I also upgraded to Kenwood 599 line. 

I begun my studies in Helsinki and my radio activity level started to decline. I operated during those weekends when I came to Lahti to see my mother. At first, that was quite often, the DX News Sheet kept on coming to my mail and there was DX on the bands, and there was really nothing to keep me in Helsinki.

That era ended when I had to waste almost a year in the army signal corps. When I came back the sunspots had begun to fall and the social life at the university also took it's toll on the hobby. Due to losing part of my telegraphy skills I never got the fourth recommendation for VHSC. I was almost QRT. 

Butternut HF5B in downtown of Helsinki 1990

 



The WARC bands


Sunspots go down, and then sunspots go up. I was living in a student apartment even though the action in work life was strong. I was preparing my master's thesis and I did that in a full-time job. For the first time in years it begun to look like I would have a reasonable amount of spare time. I had traveled a bit around the world, some trips with Tuula, some with university colleagues. That desire of my youth has been fulfilled enough so that nowadays I kind of almost dislike traveling. There had been a World Administrative Radio Conference that gave us some new frequency bands, the so called WARC bands. These had just become available in Finland so it it was time to come back to serious dxing. Thus, I bought an ICOM IC-751 and a tiny beam called Butternut HF5B. That was actually my first rotating beam ever and it works not only on the conventional high bands of 14, 21, and 28 MHz but also on 18 and 24 MHz. Earlier in Lahti I had had a two element phased vertical. Well, that worked somehow, too, even though my mechanical construction was not good enough.

So, the WARC bands. The big guns had not yet noticed the existence of those. It was the New World where there's space for everyone. I made a linear with a Philips YD-1130 tube. That is equivalent to the famous 3-500Z. My amplifier was really noisy but it gave 600 watts on all of the bands WARCs included. Then someone in the internet told that SB-200 works on the WARC bands quite ok if you just tune the input circuits a bit. I did that and sold away the home made amplifier half the price of the parts. 

It was time for action. The first time in my entire life I felt like a big gun. I worked everything that moved on 24 MHz. The big guns used to have only dipoles and such on the WARCs during these years, if they even bothered to operate there at all, so my feelings were not unfounded. I really was stronger than the most during those early years on these new bands. 

My uncle died and I moved to his old apartment in Pukinmäki in north Helsinki after buying the shares of other relatives. The sunspots were still numerous and the brand new Mosley TA-53M was better than what most of the people had on the WARCs. I earned WAZ on 24 MHz. Had I just received one QSL card two years earlier my serial number would have been below 10. Now it is 11. After a few mistakes with the knobs of my old work horse, the Heathkit SB-200, I decided to automate my station. So I got a TenTec Hercules II 550 watt solid state amplifier. I thought that loosing 50 watts of nominal power compared to Heathkit would be clearly outset by never having to worry about tuning the amplifier again. Probably that was right, though later when I already had the tower of my dreams the local telecommunication authorities measured only 450 watts output, so in reality I had lost 150 watts rather than only 50. Nevertheless, my DXCC scores rose well and I was happy. 

Mosley TA53 in Pukinmäki of Helsinki

Then the sunspots again begun to decline and some of the big guns found the WARC bands. There came cases when I could not break the pileups any more. Especially fatal was the 3Y0PI pedition to Peter 1 island in 1994. The pedition was big. They had several stations on the air most of the time. I heard them quite ok the very first day they started. First day pileups were clearly out of the reach of a little pistol like me, only a few Finns with six over six element beams made it through. Still, I felt confident that after a few days I would have my chances, too. This seemed to be a well-organized major operation. So wrong I was. The aurora came. It was no usual aurora. It was the worst aurora I had ever seen. It stood there two full weeks damping all signals from anywhere. Only the last two days of the pedition did it ease a bit. I could still have made a contact had the fellows continued to operate on 14 MHz. Unfortunately they did not. At that time I did not know that this particular DXCC country would be my Achilles heel. The last one for me to miss. 



The dreams coming true


The sunspots went down just at the right time. Tuula and I were planning to have a house of our own so I sold the apartment in Pukinmäki and went QRT for a while. We moved to a rented apartment while having our house being built. After moving to our brand new house I thought that the tower of my dreams would come true. So it did, but only after fighting for it at the Supreme Administrative Court. A few of our neighbors did not like the idea. My original childhood dream tower had been something like 15 to 20 meters tall. Pentti OH3TY living close to me had a crank up tower of 30 meters and at first I did not even dream of such a thing. However, during the years I saw that the standard big gun setup seemed to be more like 40 meters tall, so I upgraded the target to something around 30 meters in a city lot. Finally it became 24, so it should be close enough. One should be able to work everything with such a system. Well, one should, but it might not be easy. One should really appreciate the ones like Jarmo OH2BN who have worked them all with just a vertical. That takes more than what I can give to this hobby. 

Like the day follows the night, so did the sunspots go high again. We were living my dream in our house, almost at the country side but still quite close to our work offices, Anna was born 1998, Pinja was born 2003, Antti was born 2005, and the bands were full of DX. I worked most everything with relative ease. Some worrying signs there were, though. The big guns had finally discovered the WARC bands. I begun to feel weak on the bands I had earlier felt strong. 28 MHz was never really good. A 50 meter high hill towards the Pacific direction takes it's toll. And last but not least, there seemed to be nothing new available on the high bands any more, only the really tough ones. At one point of time I needed only Bouvet and Peter 1. When N4BQW went to Bouvet for three months I thought that this one I shoot like a fish in a barrel. Wrong again. I tried several tricks and chased that one for two months before finally getting 3Y0C into my log. That was on 24 MHz SSB and surprisingly enough long path through Pacific which is my most difficult direction. Just a few minutes earlier I had heard Hans OH2EA to celebrate having worked Bouvet as his last one. I could hear the joy in his voice. He had missed Bouvet three times due to work assignments so it really had been a tough one for him. If I had to nominate top three DXers I've ever met, OH2EA would easily qualify. Look at his scores in the OH DX Foundation home pages. Look at them again. He has made them with a small tribander up two or three meters from the roof of a three floor apartment building, and some wires. Raimo OH2BGD also qualifies, he has made most of his scores with pretty similar setup. Now he has pretty similar system to mine in his summer cottage. He just hears so much better as there is no city made noise around.

OH3BU QTH in Espoo 2006

This brings me to my current operational mode. Acknowledging the fact that there is not much to be done on the high bands any more, it is quite natural that I have begun to operate the low bands. My weak bands are 1.8, 3.5, and 7 MHz. Especially the top band is quite difficult beast in a city lot. After various experiments I now shunt feed the tower and run a homemade automatic kilowatt amplifier. With 42 radials it transmits quite well, though occasionally time limitations make me lose some points I would have expected to work, like Greenland that I missed because a taxi was waiting to take me to the airport for a work-trip (I got that one later). Receiving is completely another thing. Using 250 Hz filters and MFJ-1062 to phase a fish rod vertical with the tower sometimes brings me new ones on this band, but still the limiting factor is the capability to hear. 

For nine years I owned a part of a summer cottage in Simpsiö mountain in Lapua. This taught me how huge the difference is between a quiet location and a city lot. The other owners of the cottage with an amateur radio license were Maukka OH2BYS, Markku OH6MF, and Martti OH6SM. Then there are owners who are not radio amateurs at all. Simpsiö is some 400 kilometers away from my home, so it was not a practical solution to every day operating. In fact, after some years it became more like a family skiing resort rather than a place for serious DX. Well, it was good that the family found something there, too, as it allowed me to visit Simpsiö more often than if I had had to do it all by myself. Eventually, despite of some remote operation trials, I gave up the idea of having a station that far away. It was fun as long as it lasted. Currently, I boost my low band scores by operating a remote station that I have set up with OH2RA in summer 2008. This is pretty much all I can do to enhance my score at the moment, as I don't want to borrow money to build a really big station only for myself. Besides, our children are getting to such age that it is unlikely that they would want to spend all summers somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I am pretty sure they want to stay in the city or travel abroad, instead.  

Oh, and the big question about the last one, Peter 1 island. Finally came February 2006 and 3Y0X operation that had been postponed already twice. I had booked my winter holidays for the expected operating dates and I also had reserved the Simpsiö cottage for my own use. This time there were no nasty surprises. They started on the air roughly on schedule. Propagation was reasonable considering the sunspots, no aurora at all, that's the main thing really. The first pileups were enormous as expected. But I did manage to get a contact already when still at home and strangely enough on 1.8 MHz. I drove to Simpsiö mountain with my family without any pressures whatsoever. During that very, very relaxed holiday I made it on seven bands. The DXCC adventure that begun some 25 years ago was complete. DX IS.

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