Here is a brief description of the recent Baker Island (KH1/KH7Z) 160-meter operation.
Among the numerous limitations the USFWS placed on us, being only allowed on the island in June was the most onerous. A long way from ideal from a low-band point of view, but we were determined to make it work. The result was over 1500 QSOs on Top Band.

The location of the 160m TX antenna was close to the north-west corner of the island, but not as far north and clear of the land as we would have liked it. Also, we were not able to place our TX antenna fully in the water, due to the pounding surf. (Which did destroy our 80 m antenna the first night.) Instead, the 160m TX antenna stood just at the high tide water-line, with the metal base buried in wet sand. At low tide the antenna base was 30 feet from the water’s edge, but fortunately the sand below the antenna was always saturated with salt-water. Luckily, the tide was mostly up around the times we were working NA on TB. We were only allowed a maximum antenna height of 43 feet. To meet this requirement, we designed a “fat” 160m vertical, which had three vertical wires, two of them on spreaders to make the apparent diameter of the vertical conductor larger. The antenna also had two 12.5m top-loading wires, which sloped down at 45-degrees. The antenna had 8 radials of various lengths, with three of them going directly into the salt-water. Takeoff to the west and north-west was clear over open water, but to the north-east (towards NA) it was over land, with a 20’ high sand berm directly inthe way. The antenna was fed via a remote-controlled coupler. I want to point out that even this simple, and far less than ideal, arrangement took a tremendous effort to build, as we had to haul the all the gear for the CW tent about ¼ mile from the boat landing, working in 100 degree heat under the Equatorial sun. Transmitter power was around 800 W (but occasionally reduced 400 W to leave more generator power for the other bands). The radio was a K3S.

Receive Antenna: After the second night of operation we built a 60 foot long DHDL facing north-east. The antenna had a high-performance filter/pre-amplifier. After the fourth night we added a second DHDL that faced towards Europe. We were expecting easy conditions for JA (who were closer) and difficult for NA. We got the opposite.The band would open to NA soon after our sun-set (around 18:00 local time) with very little noise. NA callers were initially weak but easy copy. Noise would start rising about two hours after sun-set. Fortunately, that was about the time the gray-line was reaching the East Coast, which brought up the signals well above the noise. Some East Coast signals were quite loud. As the evening progressed, noise continued rising as more of the equatorial thunderstorms to our west came under darkness. By the time the JA-s would show up (about 5 hours after our sun-set) noise was way up, and receiving conditions were becoming difficult. Still, some West Coast stations kept coming in strong, well over the noise, and quite able to work among the numerous JA callers. Occasionally, we had to listen up for NA above 1825.00 to avoid the JA QRM, but on the long run that proved to be unnecessary. Overall, working NA was a pleasure, while working JA (and SE Asia) was a pain due to the noise. By midnight local timethe lightning crashes on the TX antenna were becoming painful. Later, the DHDLRX antennas would help, but even then, many signals were a better copy on the TX antenna.

Almost every call was different, some would be strong and clear on the TX antenna, while others could only be copied on the RX antenna. There was also a large variation in RX conditions from night to night. On our second night the noise was much higher than on the first night. Also, as we were working progressively weaker stations, things were getting harder. Although we knew that the chances for working western EU were basically nil, we made a big effort to work as far west possible. On most mornings the noise was just too much to copy anything below S7. A few nights, however, conditions were favorable, and we got as far as European Russia. Conditions were the best on our last night, when just at sunrise we got as far west as Serbia, with numerous Russian and Ukrainian stations also logged. (Remember, this was in July!) After operating 7 straight nights on 160, my ears were ready for a break. We switched to FT8 for about 5 hours, using the regular QSO mode (not hound-and-fox). With N1DG operating, we made about 120 NA QSO-s in about 5 hours! Just before midnight, we switched back to CW for the JA-s, who are not allowed to operate FT8 in the lower part of the band. The FT8 operation revealed three things: There is serious demand for FT8 on TB, the mode gets through the noise very well and gives modest stations a chance to work serious DX on TB, but it is easily dominated by the strong signals.

An interesting lesson from what happened to our 80 meter antenna. Initially, it stood on a sturdy metal base in the water. During the first night we had a storm and the surf broke up the base (snapping ¼” bolts like they were matchsticks). The surf knocked the antenna down and soaked the tuner with salt-water. The next morning, we rebuilt the antenna further up the beach, but without the metal base which originally connected it to the salt-water ground. Although we added a good number of radials, performance was poor, especially when compared to the 160 m antenna,whose metal base was in contact with the salt-water below.

The key lessons learned:
1. 160 m DX is morethan possible in June and July.
2. For good results, you must be on the band every night, otherwise you may miss that special night when the conditions line up just perfectly.
3. A salt-water ground helps, and where possible, vertical antennas should stand in the water. Being up the beach is not the same.
4. RX antennas are needed to work the weaker stations.
5. DXpeditions should have a station dedicated to 160 m (at night) with operators who want to work 160.
6. FT8 is now part of Amateur Radio, even on TB.

Happy DX-ing and 73,
George, KH1/KH7Z (AA7JV)

28 COMMENTS

  1. “6. FT8 is now part of Amateur Radio, even on TB.”
    That’s why I don’t bother anymore on 160.

  2. “6. FT8 is now part of Amateur Radio, even on TB.”

    so…I’ll be no more part of Radio Amateurs

    thanks to JT.
    73 Gerardo it9tjh

  3. You guys really believe, that without common darkness 160m Eu was legit? Check QSO time, bright day in EU and you log them on 160m.

  4. FT8 is when one machine talks to another…… is not Amateur Radio.
    If you have no skills you must go FT8
    73 es cwfe Ron

  5. Thumbs up for your operation and TB activities.
    Nummer six worries me a bit though.
    I understand FT8 as a mode is part of the operating strategy.
    Like it or don’t. I don’t. I applaud to the developers. The software is amazing.
    It should not be a major part of a DXpedition however.
    Somedays, the DXcluster is only showing FT8 spots. Some DXers in rare countries operate mainly FT8 nowadays.
    That takes the fun out the hobby. Hopefully just for awhile.
    I like to make the comparison between Rock and digital music.
    Digital music has it’s followers, but it is the rock bands that still headline the bigger festivals.
    Led Zeppelin, Hendricks, CCR and alike are still topping the all time favourite charts.

    So, keep on rockin’, enjoy DX.

    Martin PA4WM

  6. Gust, no one cares.
    Take a look also to 40m QSO’s.
    Do you believe, that Zone 14 could make a QSO with KH1 12-13UTC?

  7. Where is this miraculous Serbian Topband QSO? It does not even appear in the dxpeditions own clublog?
    Will any checking be done to check the veracity of these EU low band qsos?
    e74aw in nearby Bosnia has a full size 4 square on topband and a big Yagi on 80 metres and he could not make the low band log.
    We here in VKZL had a similar situation with the recent VP8 expeditions logging VKs on 80 metres – an impossible qso – but despite pointing this out to the Dxped leaders the qsos remain valid and will sit up on LOTW forever.
    Frankly, FT8 is the least of our problems. The chronic level of cheating is the bigger issue and more so the absolute reluctance by dxpeditioners and the ARRL to do anything about it.
    Paul – vk4ma

  8. Not related to TB or KH1/KH7Z directly, but I regularly check my SSTV signal on local SDR web receivers in Asia. Many times when I log in, the receiver is already logged in by radio hams in EU, monitoring the FT8 frequencies. Every time I log in, it is the same radio ham….

    Are they cheating with QSOs? I have absolutely no doubt that they are….

  9. Thanks George! Bad timing for us but was happy to work Tomi on 30 m CW for a new band . 73 Rag

  10. Hello George,
    thanks for the exciting, interesting report about the last expedition.
    I did not try 160m QSO, but it was good to read this article.
    Hope, you’re well!

    73, Peter HA8RM

  11. The ARRL should never have placed FT8 into the mixed DXCC because it is sub-audible & must be seen & not heard. All of the other modes were always “heard.” Even RTTY. Because of that, FT8 & other future sub-audible modes will now become mainstream in chasing all of the ARRL DXCC Award programs & force the decline of “heard” modes in future years. It’s really quite sad because in the history of Radio, it has always been a medium that was listened to; not seen.

    Steve K2FW

  12. Steve, I simply fully agree.
    it’s time to change my hobby.

    ps
    ft8 killed also my loved 6m band (it was magic…)

  13. Hi Gerardo!
    As everyone knows, these new sub-audible modes will only be improved upon in the future years. And their advantage over CW will continue to grow. What is now about 10 to 15db will grow large. The incentive to use CW for the new Dxer has now disappeared. The ARRL has erased all standards for their awards, as they care more about money then they did about the dignity & respect of the operators working toward their achievements. Radio & DXing as we’ve all known it for the last 70 years will continue to disappear along with speakers & headphones. It seems the future of DXing will be looking at a computer screen.

    Steve K2FW

  14. I was amazed at the FT8 Operation and Q count, throughput seemed to rival that of RTTY and even CW at times. Congrats to the team. I did not make a Q on TB with FT8 but did manage to get through on CW. Thanks guys for the effort and Q’s.

    Terry, N5TF

  15. Terry N5TF
    Reading the sour comments about FT8 and whether its a legit mode or not, is entertaining but sad. Some of our fellow amateurs only have a chance to operate digital modes due to impaired abilities, etc. I have such a friend, almost deaf. Since American Amateurs no longer have to know CW the mode has already been in a death spiral. How many of you actually complained as they were watering down our code requirements from 20 to 13 to 5 to nil? Not enough. Now we have SSB equivalent to CB operations. I have no issue with FT8 as a mode, for you that say you can’t hear it, I am not sure what radio you are using. Certainly on some of the very weak signals its hard to hear but there was no issue hearing KH1/KH7 from my QTH…So if the validity of a mode is hearing it, not sure you make a valid point…I heard it the tones just as easy as any other digital mode to include RTTY…

  16. Agree with Terry N5TF

    Critics of FT8 who say they cannot hear the tones are either deaf or have never used FT8. There is absolutely no difference between FT8 and other digital modes other than it is efficient and popular.

    As for killing ham radio……I think the opposite is probably true right now. The only place where I hear decent activity is on the FT8 frequencies. To suggest that if FT8 did not exist that this activity would be on ssb or cw instead is probably delusional. It is more likely that the bands would be empty.

    There are a variety of reasons why FT8 is popular right now – we are at the low of the sunspot cycle and conditions are poor, many hams no longer have the real estate for putting up decent antennas, many new hams lack expertise in cw, many dxers have worked all the DX that is available on CW and are now chasing the new DX available on FT8, particularly on the lowbands.
    Some of these factors are temporary and I would expect ssb in particular to come roaring back when propagation improves at the next solar peak.

    As for the claim that FT8 has destroyed 6 metres well that very much depends where you live. Down here in VK where the band would otherwise be dead during the solar minima, the digital modes have breathed new life into the band as new paths and modes of propagation are discovered. Activity is higher than in any previous minima.

    The only valid reason for not using FT8 that I have seen put forward is that some guys simply don’t like it – they find it boring, impersonal, don’t like computers etc. Thats fine, nobody is forcing you to use it – all these other claims about silent PC to PC stealth contacts are simply garbage.

    Ham radio has been impersonal since the exchange of 59 (599) was deemed a QSO.

    I still prefer to make an ssb or CW QSO but I still get excited when I see a new one decoded on 6m or 160m FT8.

    Cheers
    Paul – vk4ma

  17. Congratulations to the KH1/KH7Z team for their good work, for me it is ATNO it was easy to work it.
    All those who do not like FT8, are waterfall callingor looking for a qso that will make you feel better, who understands you?

  18. Thanks and congratulations to the entire KH1/KH7Z team for an outstanding job. Did manage to get an ATNO on 20 and 30 CW. Only regret is not working them on 40 CW which is my favorite band/mode.

  19. You guys did an awesome job despite limitations imposed by the USFWS. I say FT8 works really well in an DXpedition and should be part of every one and substitute PSK/RTTY for FT8 from now on.

  20. i wonder why fixed frequency, odd or even and synchronized time, i also wonder how’s possible….multiple answer if ft8 is an audible emission. 🙂
    73 Gerardo it9tjh

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