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Weak Signal VHF by Tim Marek - K7XC

On The Rove Again...

In the history of VHF contesting nothing has increased activity more than the creation of the ROVER category, nor as much controversy. Regardless of how it all got started, The new class of contester known as ROVER has sure proven
its worth - especially in the West. I for one would not have worked so many grids if it were not for the efforts of several competent Rover operators. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Lets start at the beginning...


Simply stated, A Rover is one who during VHF contests travels from Grid to Grid making contacts as he goes. Not an easy task I assure you. Much thought, planning, and preparation are involved in a successful trip.


Why do we do it? If you have ever wanted to be on the receiving end of a DX pileup, imagine traveling to a new country every hour or so during a HF DX contest and you'll start to understand. Some Rover to help out fellow club
members, others just to get out of the house for a while! What ever the reason, Rover is FUN!


Probably the most essential tool for a successful Rover trip is to thoroughly plan your trip well before the contest. Define your goal for the contest. How many and which grids would you like to visit, The best route and stops throughout each Grid, what bands to operate, When and Where to spend the night, How many miles you feel comfortable driving, mounting antennas for use while mobile, etc. All your time spent planning will save you countless hours of aggravation once the contest begins. Here, the use of travel planning software such as "Map N Go" by Delorme is extremely useful. I cant stress enough the importance of owning this software. It has shaved time and miles off of each route. Well worth the purchase price.


After all this time organizing the trip, current conditions may warrant changing your plans on the fly... The Pass might be snowed in, Someone may have beat you to that favorite spot, Wind and Rain are forecast where you planned to go but will be clear elsewhere, Forest Rangers become unreasonable, etc... Be able to think on your feet and react as things happen. I carry all my planning aids with me everywhere I go. If something does force a change in my itinerary I can make informed decisions.


What can you do to make your score stand out from the next guy? The ideas are endless! More bands, Bigger antennas, slick ways to quickly erect mast and antennas without using guys, MORE POWER, Travel through more grids, operate
while in motion, use HF liaison to set skeds, etc...


Which contest you are entering will determine the choice of gear. Take the June contest for example. Here 6M is THE band of choice followed by 2M and 432. Whereas in Sept. 2M is the most important then 432 and 6M. Regardless of what bands you chose, the ability to operate while mobile is paramount. In the January 1994 contest I was Rover through 13 grids in CA and NV. Over half of my Qs were worked while flying down the highway. In only 6 grids did I stop to set up any antennas, the rest were operated with a dipole for 2M 8FT. above the rear bumper and a mag mount vertical on six. I can hear you now, "So what, I bet he never worked any DX with those whimpy antennas". Don't be so sure! From a turnout atop a hill in CM97 I worked WB6FCS in DM14, 400 miles South on 2M with only a 80W brick and the Horiz Dipole. 300 mile contacts were not uncommon with this setup. Sunday morning while parked on I-80 outside of Sacramento, CA I worked W7FI on 6M Meteor scatter with the Vertical and 100W!

A couple of definite DOs and Don'ts I've figured out along the way are...

1> The platform on which you travel must be up to the challenge. I drove 1053.4 miles for the JAN. 94' contest. Because my plans were so ambitious I left my aging 72 Dodge D100 at home and borrowed my brothers 87' Ford Ranger. His vehicle gets twice the mileage at much higher comfort levels than my old beast.

2> All rigs and amplifiers MUST be on a separate power source from the car ignition system. Whether its a separate deep cycle (while in motion) or a generator w/AC supply (while stopped) or solar cells (Either), Don't make the same mistake as I and drain the battery so flat it wont keep the engine running with EVERYTHING else off! For the finish of the January 94 contest I flew up snow covered roads to the top of Peavine Mtn here in DM09. Winds were 70MPH+ with snow starting to fall. Using only the dipole I worked the last 60 minutes of the contest. Fortunately I parked the truck facing downhill and coasted halfway down the Mtn with only moonlight and brakes! Once in a sheltered area I raised the hood, fired off the generator and plugged in the battery charger. (NOTE: Prior planning had the generator and charger with me just in case I did something so dumb)

3> Bring as many bands as possible, even if its only FM. Though I went through 13 grids, WB9AJZ/6 handily beat my score hitting 7 grids. He had a second op but more importantly, he brought 432 (2 point Qs). I left it at home due to logistical reasons (Not enough room in the truck I borrowed). My only UHF Qs were with AJZ on FM when we met in the 4 grid corners of CM96 95 & DM06 05.

4> You must be able to operate while mobile on as many bands as possible. This take some effort. When was the last time you tried to run stations, log, tune a VFO, and drive 70MPH down the road all at the same time? I found that 8 1/2 x 11 yellow legal tablets on a 14" clipboard work well for logging as you can write as BIG or small as conditions dictate. Remember to pull over if you get involved in any runs longer then 2 minutes. Safety of you and others must be always on your mind.

5> The ability to temporarily set up yagis without guys is imperative. A guyed mast takes forever to install alone! Be creative! Have a bag full of assorted hose and muffler clamps to take advantage of whatever you may find along the road. My favorite is the pipe in the road marker trick. Here in N. NV we have steel "U" channel road markers everywhere. A 1" mast will fit perfectly and hold up a moderate 2M yagi with no guys! Cops kind of frown on this behavior but you wont be there that long and in most cases it's in better shape than when I found it! (IE: its now straight not bent over) Nowadays I have evolved into running yagis and loops mounted on the truck while in motion. It's just a simple matter to switch between omni and yagi while traveling with a coax switch mounted near the radio. This way I point the truck/yagi to peak a signal or flip over to omni if I cant point the truck right then. It work beautifully and has yielded some Qs of amazing distances.

6> Before loading the truck to leave, contact the most active VHFers in the areas you plan to visit and let them in on your plans. It can never hurt to advertise long and hard before your trip so folks will actively seek you out as you run from grid to grid.

7> Radios, Amps, Preamps etc... should all be thoroughly tested in the vehicle several weeks before the contest. This gives you time to fix any problems like RF feedback on SSB, RF driving your keyer nuts, etc. Take a short trip and give it a try. Its amazing what you will find after you thought you were done!

8> Listen to your instincts. Your first impression of how good a spot is to operate from is usually correct.

9> Well before deadline, make your Rover plans know to all the VHF related newsletters and columnists you can. In the June 92 through 94 issues of The West Coast VHFer I published a 4pg article detailing all the grids west of the Mississippi that were QRV for the contest. Now I use the VHF Email reflector and my webpage to spread the word.

10> Try REAL hard to find a second operator to go with you. Two people can do in 1/4 the time what it takes one person to do alone. Not to mention the companionship and help with the driving!

11> I start CQing on the calling frequencies for each band, announce my "Run" frequency and immeadiately QSY there to answer calls. This technique is extremely effective at keeping the congestion on the calling frequencies to a minimum.

12> ABOVE ALL... Remember... " Its ONLY A HOBBY " and don't take it all too seriously. Safety first... Life's to short.

See you on the Bands!

Tim - K7XC/R - DM09ol... sk