Ever since Linda and I brought our first carload of possessions to our new Virginia home early last year, my 25-year-old Kenwood TS-950SDX and a 40-y/o Heath SB-220 amplifier have formed the basis of my primary station down here. Later, as the first of two “real” operating desks became reality (thanks to the conceptual and construction talents of Colden and Ryan in my absence) and a 40-foot tower with a Cushcraft A-3 tri-bander was erected, I added some remote manual switching for the TX antennas (160 inverted-L, 80 & 40 dipoles, Cushcraft A-3) and for the 4-way DXEngineering Beverage system so generously donated by Bill. Thanks to shoulder pain caused by my neck problems that were first diagnosed earlier this year, I’ve ended up with a “boat anchor” manual band-switching operating position that has all the important controls directly in front me. When I sit at the desk, I feel like I’m living an ad from the front pages of a 1950s-era QST.
And while Bill has not exactly been overjoyed at having to make SkookumLogger work with such an obsolete beast as the 950SDX, he has been “tolerant” of my having only that rig at my disposal for contesting in VA for the past 18 months. With his perseverance, and thanks to some productive debugging-at-a-distance sessions, we have gotten most of the bugs out of SkookumLogger’s communications with the rig — a pretty amazing feat, considering he has never had an actual TS-950SDX at hand to work with.
In recent weeks I had every intention of getting the W2BC automatic bandswitching station relocated, installed, and working in time for the 2014 CW SS. But at the same time I was bringing the 87A, K3/P3 combo, and all the Ameritron RCS-12/10 antenna switching gear south in my car a week ago, my VA neighbor Tim was driving a 24-foot rental truck filled with some of our “other” stuff from Old Forge to Circle Creek for us. As a result, getting the truck unloaded and most of its contents properly dispersed throughout the house during the first half of this past week left me little time or enthusiasm for setting up the better station by Saturday.
Another reason I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for SS preparations this year was that I am now (at least temporarily) in the “wire & tri-bander” set for the first time in many decades, and I was not looking forward to the “come-down” in response rate to my CQs that would likely mean. A side bet on a “bottle of fine wine” with WA1Z briefly buoyed my spirits (oh, stop it, Bud) but no sooner had we made the bet than Bob and I both started back-pedaling from _any_ commitment, no matter how small.
Some time Friday morning I began to reconsider my decision to run (or S&P) with my boat anchors and manual band-switching back-up station, and I began assembling the W2BC configuration of K3, P3, 87A, and an Ameritron RCS-12 (or RCS-10, I’m never sure which) automatic antenna bandswitching system. I installed the power transformer in the 87A, unpacked and interconnected the K3 and P3, and began to think about what I needed to do to get the Ameritron bandswitching stuff set up. At that point, I gave up dreams of an automatically bandswitched station, since to do that I would have to disconnect or dismantle many parts of my manual station and irrevocably switch to the “primary” station with zero spare time for fixing any problems that might crop up and zero ability to go back to the boat anchors.
With that as prologue, I operated for 10 of the first 10-½ hours of the contest, taking a single 35-minute time out in mid-evening. I didn’t go near the rig again until some time late Sunday afternoon. SkookumLogger says I logged a total of 15-½ hours on-air time. I worked about 780 stations in all 83 sections. My last three sections were VI, WVA (!!!), and NT. I used up a bunch of time Sunday evening “trolling” on 10 and 15 meters for VY1EI, only to be called by VE8EV. My sole WVA QSO was with Pete, N4ZR, who had a grand total of 10K points! I feel honored that he found me during his brief S&P sojourn on whatever band I was on at the time.
Although it is one of the few high-end transceivers never tested by Rob Sherwood, the SDX’s Main Receiver is pretty decent. In addition, mine has been enhanced with the addition of an IRCI (?) roofing filter that I installed some years back. In contrast, the rig’s Sub Receiver was sub-par even when it was fairly new, back in 1990! It uses a single-conversion scheme with a 10.7-MHz i.f. and a very sloppy 500-Hz crystal filter at that frequency. It suffers badly from intermod on active bands, such as 40 meters was on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Audio Gain for the Main and Sub receivers is handled with two completely separate front panel pots on the right-hand side of the transceiver front panel, one pot above the other. (i.e., there is no Balance control option.) There may be multiple ways of handling split frequency control on this ancient rig, but the only one I’ve spent any time with — and the only one that Bill has implemented for my SO2V fantasies — puts my Run frequency on VFO A with the “big” knob, and lets me tune the Sub Receiver with the small “Tx VFO / Sub" knob to the right of the Main Tuning knob.
Nonetheless, I have become moderately adept at using SO2V on the Kenwood. I’m probably better at it on the Kenwood than on the K3 at this point — mostly because I haven’t used my K3 in a contest in many, many months! Which only confirms what we all know: When the contest starts, stick with what’s familiar.
Here’s what I do for UNassisted SO2V:
The biggest fault I found with SO2V operation of the TS-950SDX this weekend was the extreme variability in the response of the Kenwood to tapping the F12 (S vs. P) key. As Bill has come to believe, the Kenwood computer interface is a bit unpredictable. Interestingly, RIT (or XIT) Up / Down commands execute flawlessly from the keyboard, with only tiny delays when I’m transmitting … but F12 commands seem to send the 950SDX into a tizzy. When they are responding properly and promptly, however, SO2V on this boat anchor is a joy — and one of the miracles of the modern world.
The Kenwood TS-950SDX has a “Swap” button (not its real name) that allows you to swap certain _knobs_ on the rig; in particular, I believe it may be possible to tune the SubRx with the Main Tuning knob. But I didn’t dare try it, in fear of upsetting the apple cart.
I’ve probably left out a detail or two, but I’ve tried to think the process through as it occurred this weekend. Very seldom did I lose my (carefully chosen) Run frequency — probably because of the relative dearth of low-band activity that has been previously hashed over.
Post Script: Since the bet I had with Bob for a bottle of fine wine went by the boards prior to the start of the contest, when I was in town today getting my annual flu shot I stopped at one of the grocery stores and used the same money I was going to use on Bob’s bottle of wine for six bottles of not-so-fine-wine to be consumed in Bob’s honor, right here at home in VA! (Not all at once, of course …)