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COMMUNICATIONS & TECHNOLOGY
M AY 2018
When N2QV decided to convert his basic HF station at his weekend
home to a competitive remotely-controllable contest station, he and his
friends, software engineer / antenna designer WU2X, and a top-flight
contester N5DX, put their heads together and designed, built, and now
operate a winning remote contest station. This is their story...

From Casual Weekend DX Station to


Remote Contesting Station
BY TARIQ MUNDIYA,* N2QV

A
bout six years ago, after using a
G5RV and a Yaesu FT-1000
Mark V at my weekend home sta-
tion 90 miles northwest of New York
City, I made the leap to make the sta-
tion remotely accessible and see if it
was capable of competitive contesting.
The story that follows is a remarkable
one that contains all the elements of
amateur radio: Friendship between
people of very different backgrounds
focused on one thing — the relentless
pursuit of excellence in amateur radio.
I connected with Scott McClements,
WU2X, a software engineer at IBM and
compulsive antenna designer, and
Kevin Stockton, N5DX, a world-class
third generation contester. (N5DX’s
father, Stan Stockton, K5GO, is a vet-
eran contester who frequently com-
petes from Cayman Brac as ZF9CW.
As a regular consultant to the team,
K5GO provided sage advice on anten-
na design and contesting strategy and
continues to do so.)
It was the beginning of a journey that
has now catapulted the station, piloted
by N5DX, to the coveted #1 USA spot
in the SOAB HP (Single Operator, All-
Band, High Power) category in each of
the CQWW 2015 (CW), 2016 (SSB),
2017 (CW) and WPX 2016 (CW) con-
tests. Plus, although the official scores
are not out yet, it appears, based on
claimed scores, that N5DX may have
taken the #1 U.S. spot in the 2018 CQ
160 CW contest as well. When he hasn’t
finished first, N5DX hasn’t done too
shabbily, achieving the #2 U.S. spot in
CQWW 2016 (CW), the 2017 CQ 160
CW contest, and the 2016 ARRL DX
CW contest. Photo A. The rack full of equipment and the local operating position at N2QV.
The station may be operated locally or by remote control over the internet. (Photos
* email: <n2qv@arrl.net> courtesy of the author)

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Photo C. The 180-foot tower complete with a 4/4 40-meter
stack, a two-high stack of six-banders, and the 30-meter
rotatable dipole.

Photo B. The four-band stack of tribanders at N2QV. See operating in person and operating remotely. When the sta-
text for details. tion is being used locally, no changeover is required in cabling
or setup, so the experience locally and remotely is the same.
(Photo A shows the inside of the shack and the rack-mount-
These results are all the more impressive because the most
ed hardware.)
recent #1 U.S. wins were operated remotely from N5DX’s
home in Arkansas. The 2017 CQWW win, which completed
N5DX’s SOAB HP hat trick in CQWW, was possibly the first The Shack Hardware
CQWW win by anybody operating remotely (There are no The shack, which is about 1,500 feet from the main house,
official records kept of remote operation. –ed.). is located in a clearing deep in the woods. Neither the shack
How did a station with an FT-1000 Mark V and a simple nor the antennas are clearly visible from any of the public
G5RV antenna strung in the trees transform itself so quick- roads, or the house itself. Fiber-optic cable in conduit is run
ly into a remote contesting behemoth? The short answer is from a router in the house to a router in the shack. Remote
through excellent station engineering and a significant contesting requires a reliable internet connection. In order to
investment of time and resources by WU2X, N5DX, and minimize audio drops, latency, and jitter we have experi-
N2QV. Over less than three years, the team, led by WU2X, mented with a number of audio setups. Most recently, WU2X
transformed a sleepy weekend DX station into a highly com- and N2QV have tested dedicated commercial hardware for
petitive world-class remote contesting station. the audio link. While we continue to experiment with various
The goal at N2QV was not just to create a remotely acces- audio solutions, our latency numbers are excellent and audio
sible station, but to design a station that could be operated drops have become very rare. The LAN routers have been
in SO2R (Single Operator Two Radios) mode, both locally optimized as well. The operation of an effective remote con-
and remotely, at the highest competitive levels. Because the test station requires as much skill in computers and net-
station is located on a weekend property of 90 acres within working as it does in setting up radio hardware.
a 90-minute drive from New York City, one key goal was to We have tried different radios, including experimenting with
ensure that the station was just as user-friendly in person as the latest generation of software defined radios. After much
it is remotely. An additional objective was to make sure the testing, a combination of the Elecraft K3 and Kenwood TS
setup was as simple as humanly possible to minimize sta- 590SG has proven to be the winning SO2R combination for
tion failures during high-pressure contesting. N5DX and us time after time. We use a single solid-state amplifier by
K5GO have used the station for contesting both in person SPE (the Expert 2K-FA), which works well for remote con-
and remotely, and there is practically no difference between testing. Because the 2K-FA has six antenna ports and two

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inputs, it eliminates the need for additional switching mech- rotating tower, are the main antennas for the 10/15/20 bands
anisms and complicated band data tracking. The 2K-FA (see Photo B). The configuration of 68 elements is 4/4/4/4
allows N5DX to do SO2R operation, as well as dueling CQs, on 20 meters, 6/6/6/6 on 15 meters and 7/7/7/7 on 10 meters
i.e., interleaved CQing on different bands. A YCCC SO2R at 60/90/120/150-foot heights. In order to minimize coaxial
box is used locally to switch between radios. While conven- loss, the tower is just 50 feet from the shack and is fed by 1-
tional SO2R uses two amplifiers, after much experimentation 5/8-inch hardline. With all four antennas, the gain numbers,
and a couple of nasty failures, we now use a single amplifi- including ground reflection, are 18.37dBi @ 8° on 20 meters;
er with a sequencing mechanism to allow for fast switching 20.29 dBi @ 6° on 15 meters, and 21.5 dBi @ 4° on 10 meters.
with no harmful effects to the amplifier. F/R has been optimized to remain above 20dB across all the
All equipment, except the radios, is rack-mounted, which bands. SWR remains below 1:5:1 across all three bands as
allows easy access to the gear and eliminates desk clutter. well. Any possible combination of stack selection is available,
including out-of-phase configurations. This stack has been
The Antennas able to receive its own echoes off the moon when the moon
Much work has gone into the design, manufacture, and instal- is on the horizon, on 10, 15, and 20 meters.
lation of the antenna system. WU2X and N5DX collaborated On 40 meters, there is a stack of two full-size 4-element
for several years through their respective antenna compa- antennas at 180 feet and 110 feet on a rotating 180-foot
nies (2X Arrays and Cycle 24) on the TX38 tribander that was KØXG tower. Again, to minimize coaxial losses, the tower is
designed specifically for the WRTC 2014 event. WU2X’s approximately 200 feet from the shack and the antennas are
work on the WRTC 2014 TX38 tribander made clear that he fed by 7/8-inch hardline. There is an additional stack of two
was changing the game in triband antenna design. six-band antennas, at 75 and 45 feet respectively, allowing
Tribanders have had a reputation as inferior antennas com- a 2/2 configuration on 20/17/15/12/10 and 6 meters. A cus-
pared with monobanders, and for good reason. Lossy traps tom rotatable 30-meter dipole at 145 feet completes the
and poor electrical design ended up compromising the anten- antenna configuration on the 180-foot tower. (Photo C).
na across the three major HF bands. WU2X’s use of custom In preparing for the declining sunspots, the low band anten-
software led him to design triband Yagis that in every way nas at N2QV have received special attention. In a project that
are on a par with monoband Yagis of the same boom length. took over a year, WU2X designed and manufactured a 4-
Neither Cycle 24 nor 2X Arrays is currently in business, but square for 160 meters using four freestanding 100-foot alu-
anybody lucky enough to have an antenna made by either of minum towers (Photo D). The tower insulators, radial attach-
them should hold onto it for dear life. ment, feed system and top loading all had to be custom-
A four-stack of WU2X’s custom-designed tribanders, each made. The radial system (Photo E) was carefully designed
having 17 elements on a 36-foot boom on a 150-foot KØXG and consists of busbars with 72,000 feet of 14-gauge strand-

Photo D. The four-square transmit array for 160 meters. There are Beverages and other antennas dedicated to
low-band receiving.

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ed copper wire and 144 radials per ver- Everywhere. Switching between anten- contest debates, analyzing the infer-
tical. As noted above, N5DX used this nas on the triband four-high stack is ences and conclusions from the data.
160-meter 4-square remotely from possible using a controller manufac-
Arkansas (Photo F) to achieve the high- tured by K7MI and shackLan software. Maintenance and Design
est claimed score in the U.S. in the 2018 After all CW contests, deep Reverse Like any station, the N2QV station
CQWW 160 Meter Contest. Beacon Network (RBN) analysis written requires constant maintenance. One
On 80 meters, the station uses a con- by WU2X (inspired by contester KØDQ) local neighbor has become thoroughly
ventional 4-square made of heavy-duty, processes the raw RBN data from the versed in station mechanics and can
quarter-wave verticals by DX Engi- European beacons, comparing a num- jump into action at a moment’s notice.
neering, with 64 radials per antenna. ber of competitive stations in the U.S. to Any reliable remote station likely needs
A collection of Beverages and other determine if lessons can be learned, and such a person, even though WU2X and
dedicated receiving antennas traverse whether improvements can be made to N2QV can reach the station in 90 min-
the property for receiving on all bands. the N2QV station to enhance its perfor- utes. Cameras provide the necessary
Wherever possible, coax and control mance. WU2X, N5DX, K5GO, and security. Every USB connection has a
lines have been placed in conduit to N2QV often engage in extensive post- USB surge protector before it enters the
minimize damage by rodents and other
small animals. Because the locations of
the TX and RX antennas have been
planned carefully, there is very limited
in-band and crossband interference,
thus eliminating the need for lossy
bandpass filters.

Software
A computer running Windows® serves
as the main server. Logging software
has always been the outstanding
N1MM Logger+. Rotors and antenna
switches are controlled by Green Heron

what’s new
SteppIR Insider Club
SteppIR Communications Systems has
begun an Insider Club that offers sev-
eral benefits to its membership such as
special seasonal discounts on its prod-
ucts and a 35% discount on repairs and
extended warranty purchases. Photo E. Detail view of the grounding system at the base of one of the 160-meter
4-square antennas.

In addition, membership in SteppIR’s


Insider Club also grants access to hos-
pitality suites at major ham radio shows
that SteppIR attends, as well as oppor-
tunities to be a paid SteppIR ambas-
sador at trade shows. If you like getting
paid, membership also will pay you
SteppIR Cash for every customer refer-
ral that you can then use to purchase
promotional gear.
You will also be the first to know about
any new SteppIR product and you will
receive a hat or T-shirt with all renewals.
Membership in SteppIR’s Insider Club
is $249 per year. If you would like to join, Photo F. Station co-designer Kevin Stockton, N5DX, operating N2QV remotely
contact SteppIR at (425) 453-1910 or from his home in Arkansas.
visit <www.steppir.com>.

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computer. Every control line or rotor confirm that propagation, operator skill, at each end is of decent quality. If
cable goes through a surge arrestor and excellent station design are just as remote technology reduces the burden
located in the large outdoor enclosure important, if not more so, than simple and expense of travel by operators, it
attached to the side of the shack. Each geography. Just being a coastal station will likely attract more contesters to our
tower is grounded with an abundance in Prince Edward Island, Maine, or hobby, and that can only be a good
of 3-inch-wide copper straps, copper Massachusetts and a single hop to thing for the contesting community and
wire, and ground rods. All station equip- Europe is no guarantee of success. amateur radio generally.
ment runs off fully regulated, surge-pro- The contest results by N5DX also
tected, uninterruptible power supplies confirm that a well-designed remote (I gratefully acknowledge the com-
to ensure that there are no drops to any station has no competitive disadvan- ments to an early draft of this article by
of the station equipment while operat- tage vs. a station being operated local- my friends, Scott, WU2X; Kevin, N5DX;
ing. A 20-kilowatt Briggs & Stratton gen- ly, so long as the network connection and Stan, K5GO)
erator automatically kicks in upon a
power outage.
Despite these precautionary mea-
sures, we have had our fair share of
lightning strikes, rodents cutting into
cable (conduit is the answer!), branch-
es falling onto Beverages, elements
catching on bobbing guy wires, and
amplifier failures at the most inconve-
nient times. Sometimes it seems only
the power of prayer keeps Murphy away
during a contest.
One lesson we have learned, though,
is that sacrificing good engineering and
design in the interest of speed is almost
always a mistake. If you can build some-
thing significant in a week, the chances
are it will last about a week and/or not
perform as expected. For example,
securing the precise location of the 160-
meter 4-square on the property took
over two months, and ensuring that the
four 100-foot aluminum towers were in
the optimum position required use of
laser distance finders and repeated
location confirmations with a Brunton
compass. There is zero imperfection in
our 160 meter 4-square over the quar-
ter-wave distance of 134 feet, 8 inches,
between each antenna. At each point,
the goal of the fieldwork is to ensure that
the actual performance replicates
WU2X’s NEC4 antenna modeling.

Conclusion
While the N2QV station truly comes alive
during contest weekends, it also gets
daily use for general DXing and
ragchewing. It is active on 160 through
6 meters, using almost all modes, includ-
ing the exciting FT8 mode. N2QV and
WU2X can be heard on many evenings
on 160, 80, and 40 meters.
The station could not be maintained
at this level of preparedness and com-
petitiveness without the commitment to
excellence by WU2X, N5DX and the
one or two local residents who keep the
station maintained and secure. It is
important to note that the station is
located inland, just 90 miles from New
York City. While it may be obvious to
many, it does bear repeating that
N5DX’s outstanding contest results

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