N6ZE/Rover in the January VHF Contest

Woodie-WA6WDY listens for stations on 135 cm (222.1 MHz SSB). Pete-N6ZE uses a 33 cm (927.5 MHz) yagi and ALINCO 33 cm FM handi-talkie to make a contact on that band. Using the ALINCO handheld provided 4 contacts on that frequency band from the Mountains and from Palos Verdes.

By Pete Heins-N6ZE

The ARRL January 2020 VHF Contest was held on January 18 – 19, 2020. N6ZE/R, operated by Pete Heins-N6ZE and Woodie Woodward-WA6WDY, made just over 250 QSOs on 6 bands from activating four Ventura and Los Angeles county grids. Our 7-hour stint at our Saturday location in the Santa Monica mountains (DM04qb) yielded 150 QSOs.

On Saturday, we noticed lots of activity with quite strong signals from the San Diego (DM12) area. We made 25 FM and SSB QSOs: three on 6 meters, 16 on 2 meters, one on 135 cm and 5 on 70 cm. Sixteen different unique callsigns were worked. I think that is the biggest turnout we have ever noted from DM12. Most, if not all contacts, were made with roof mounted verticals on the pickup truck.

Looking South toward San Diego, the pale tan/amber skies provide visual evidence that there was enhanced vhf/uhf propagation to San Diego caused by a temperature inversion. Lots of low power stations with vertical whips were worked in the San Diego area. Lots of tourists stopped by on Saturday and Woodie-WA6WDY acted as Public Information Officer to answers questions about what we were doing: Were we counting birds? Was this a government vehicle? Who do you talk with?

For most of Saturday, our location in the Santa Monica mountains experienced a cold Santa Ana wind. However, when looking southward, we could visually see light brownish color over the Santa Monica Bay. This typically indicates a temperature inversion. This was borne out by SkewT – log P plots provided to us after the contest by NWS Oxnard/LAX.  There appeared to be a temperature inversion some 2800’ thick.

The solid red line on the chart shows graphically that the temperature DECREASED normally as the airplane climbed from the surface (sea level) to about 3000 ft; then the air temperature INCREASED until about 5000 ft above the surface; then the air temperature continued to DECREASE normally up to 30,000 ft. above the ground. That area of the atmosphere between sea level and 3000 ft is called a “temperature inversion” and can trap VHF/UHF/Microwave signals and permit communication over distances far beyond line of sight, as occurred on Saturday of the ARRL VHF Contest between Malibu and San Diego. From N6ZE’s Santa Monica mountains vantage point, the visual view toward San Diego was tinged in very light brown/beige color, which typically indicates that a temperature inversion is in effect. (Thanks to NWS Oxnard/Los Angeles for providing this chart.)

On Sunday, we activated DM14, DM13, DM03 and DM04. We did very little transmitting when in motion due to maintaining LA Freeway safety. While driving eastbound early in the morning at 65 mph, with very strong, gusty NE winds, we heard a very loud bang, but could see that nothing had blown out of the bed of the pickup. It turned out that the 6 meter mag-mount vertical had briefly encountered a gust of over 100 mph (65 mph ground speed plus 40 mph wind) which dislodged the mag mount and subsequently broke the magnetic bonding of the other 2 verticals. They all ended up in the bed of the truck. Phew!

N6ZE operated SSB on 135 cm, 70 cm and 23 cm with an ancient FT736 on the tailgate of the truck. The FT736 is temperamental when operated from 12VDC, so N6ZE typically uses a Honda 2K generator for power. Cold Santa Ana winds made the use of a red knitted hat necessary on Saturday! The rotatable 3 band yagi assembly worked nicely. About 150 QSOs on 6 bands were made from here on Saturday. Best DX was with K6MYC, to the North of Fresno (Grid DM07) on 2 meters, 135 cm and 70 cm. Many San Diego Stations in Grid DM12 were also worked.

Despite the Topa Topa Mountain Range to our North, best DX for the weekend was with K6MYC. SSB contacts were made on 2m, 135cm and 70 cm at a distance of 217 statute miles.

In the words of WA6WDY, some of our roving station activity was akin to a monkey chasing a football. An FT857 mounted in the cab of the truck was used for 6 meter SSB, 2 meter FM, 2 meter SSB and 70 cm FM and some SSB. For 135 cm, a Kenwood TM331 was utilized. We used a ¼ wavelength vertical for 6 m, a small dual band 2m/70cm vertical and a ½ wavelength vertical for 135 cm. For long haul comms on 2 meters, 135 cm, 70 cm, and 23 cm we used an elderly barefoot FT-736 sitting on the tailgate of the pickup truck along with a rotor and small yagis for those bands. On 33 cm, we utilized an Alinco handheld with a hand-held yagi. Band changing speed varied from 10 seconds to a couple of minutes!

Woodie-WA6WDY assembles a two meter yagi. Pete-N6ZE and Woodie-WA6WDY used yagis for the 2 meter, 135 cm and 70 cm bands. N6ZE/R used a drive over mount under a truck tire and a small rotor to turn the yagis. Mag mount verticals on the truck roof were used for the 6 meter, 2 meter, 135 cm and 70 cm bands. A very convenient way to carry equipment for the 6 band operation was to borrow the XYL’s laundry baskets for the weekend. On the first day of the contest N6ZE/Rover operated from Grid DM04qb in the Santa Monica mountains.

During the weekend, N6ZE/R had from 1 to 14 QSOs with 7 other Rovers who participated:  N6GP/R, K6JEY/R, K6LMN/R, N6MI/R, KK6WLD/R, NQ6X/R and KM6ZJK/R.

Contacts were made with several members of Conejo Valley Amateur Radio Club, Ventura County Amateur Radio Society, and other non-club affiliated Ventura County Stations, including AG6AG, KM6ZJK, WA6EJO, N7WLC, AI6YR, NQ6X/R, AB6ET, W0UFC and AE6JR.

From our operating location in Palos Verdes, Woodie-WA6WDY aims the 23 cm (1296 MHz) yagi toward Signal Hill in Long Beach to pick up another few points. N6ZE/R operated from locations in the Santa Monica mountains, Thousand Oaks, Duarte, Raging Waters, Palos Verdes and Santa Monica. N6ZE/R drove more than 250 miles, but very few contacts were made while in motion to provide us with a safe operation.

Please help to show evidence of ham radio operators’ utilization of our frequencies by submitting your contest info to the 3830 Contest Score Rumor Page. Also please submit your contest log to ARRL. The Cabrillo forms at cabforms are very easy to use:

Thanks to the ARRL for sponsoring the event and to those who participated this year.


Pete Heins, N6ZE@aol.com


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *