Update: First place! [[2016 Harry Angel Sprint SWL First Place]]
Sometimes circumstances lead us down strange paths, and the 7th May was no exception for me. I saw that the Harry Angel Memorial 80m Sprint was coming up, and I thought would be a good chance to exercise my radio sport muscles, and I put to together a plan as fallible as it was.
My home location is bad for 80m, really bad. With a cross between modern houses with cheap electronics, industrial level noise from shops a few hundred meters away and limited space for antennas, running 80m from home was not going to be good plan. So let’s go portable.
My wife was arriving back on a plane at 1pm on Saturday, we’d go home, have a rest. I’d get my stuff together, FT-817, EFHW tuner and 42m of wire, my wife would drop me off at a local park and she would head off for hockey in the evening and by the time she was came to get me the contest would be over.
But Friday night I checked the weather, rain, lots of rain. Not great. Time to set up and pull down a tent or shelter would be as long as the contest. Maybe I can still do this from home, even as an SWL.
Then the next nail in the coffin, I get a text message in the morning, I’ll need to drive my wife to hockey and home as she only got about two hours sleep and wasn’t up for driving.
OK, this is just a problem to be solved, could I set up the radio near the hockey ground? Chucked the 817 in the car. But the game would finish an hour before the contest ended and the grounds would be locked before 9pm. But I’m still not going to give up!
What about entering as an SWL? A ~WebSDR? I checked online, and there is one on 80m in Victoria, awesome! Is using a ~WebSDR in the rules? I couldn’t see any problems. Great!
For those that don’t know what a “~WebSDR” is, it’s a digital receiver (SDR) hooked up to a computer and made available for anyone to listen online. As these SDR’s are wideband receivers they don’t need to be tuned for one user, which means that several users can be listening to the SDR simultaneously and independently, and as many as the internet connection and computer can handle. I can digitally extract the frequency I want to listen to from the receiver, and so can several other people, listening to their own frequency without other users having any affect on each other.
I could spend the whole contest darting up and down in frequency, using a virtual presence of sorts in south east Victoria. Alright, that part is solved. Now I have another logistical issue, I’m going to be stuck in a car and the only alternative is in the stands in the rain.
I elected to listen on my phone, this is not an easy task. The ~WebSDR I was listening to did not have an interface compatible with a phone screen. The only real solution here was to zoom into the section of the web page to change frequency, and ignore the band scope that would have been extremely helpful.
[img[http://img.mabsoft.org/m/WebSDR-HASprint.png]] //~WebSDR running in the browser on my phone//
I have my big headphones plugged in and ready to go, load up the web page and have a listen… And it works, awesome! I can hear a couple of guys rag chewing around VK3, so at least that much works and I’ll be able to hear VK3 stations.
I checked the rules to find out what was needed for a valid score for an SWL. Just the calling station, the station being communicated too and the signal report & serial sent. I was worried that not being able to get both sides of a QSO might hurt me depending on the antenna set up on the SDR.
So here I am, in the dark car park of a hockey ground 5km from the centre of Adelaide, headphones on and intently listening for anything. Madly scribbling on a bit of paper in a notebook. I was able to transcribe the callsigns I heard, struggling a few times, but the QSB was relatively good.
Throughout the contest I had no issues using the ~WebSDR. I wasn’t able to change frequency quickly, simply due to the way the web page works on a phone. But being able to change the filter digitally helped a lot and I stayed in LSB narrow for the whole contest. When the contest started off I was able to hear VK4 stations and by the end propagation had moved on with some VK3 and even VK5 being a difficult copy. VK2SR was by far the strongest signal heard and VK2KDP also consistent at about 53.
The only real issue encountered was not being able to ask for a signal report or callsign a second time if noise spikes, fading or my local environment interrupted me. The only recommendation to help out SWLers, is to relax the rules slightly and allow them to have three out of four details for each QSO to be correct to get the contact point.
All up I heard roughly 47 unique callsigns making up an estimated score of 84. Of course I couldn’t hear both sides of every QSO, but still a relatively healthy score. The last time I entered a contest as an SWL was the 1993 RD contest, a few months before passing full theory for my Limited licence.
If you’ve ever considered contesting, but don’t have the space for antennas, equipment, feel you don’t have the experience or even a licence; this is definitely an option, and with ~WebSDR’s all over the world, you could even enter an international contest as an SWL.