A quiet night at home

A tale of low power operation in the dark.

For the past couple weeks, we’ve been experiencing load-shedding that starts about an hour after sunset.  The capital region of Madagascar does not have enough electrical power production capacity at present to run everything at once, so there is a rotating blackout. Now that I’ve added some UPSes, this has minimal impact on my family because we have a back-up generator that comes online in under a minute — usually. Last week, the generator didn’t start rumbling and we sat in the dark [presumably] looking at each other.

While my wife called the generator technician, I headed immediately for the radio to see what local noise was like in the absence of power grid and generator. However, first I poked my head outside to check out the stars. Normally I can’t see anything because of the glow of security lights. Unfortunately, the night was overcast. Oh well, clouds won’t stop RF, so back to the shack.

Suddenly, I could hear. Forty and eighty meters are essentially non-existent for me most days with the S-meter pegged to full scale. The higher frequency bands also came alive – it was like putting on glasses and suddenly being able to see sharp details.

The station has a PowerGate that provides battery backup for when the power supply is offline, so I was running off the 7Ah SLA. I turned my power down from the usual 95W to 10W- not quite QRP, but what I thought was a reasonable level, particularly since I thought the generator would come back online soon.

My first shot was a West Malaysian station running a pile up – no problem, answered almost right away. Luckily, the hexbeam was pointed roughly eastward. After that, I worked a bunch of weaker Asia/Pacific stations that I don’t think I would have heard most days. I didn’t get many replies to CQs, but I did add a few new DXCC entities just cruising around the dial. Then the generator came up and the noise level rose. I broke off at that point because I had to dial into an evening teleconference, the bane of living 7-8 hours ahead of your main office.

The next night, although the generator was chugging away, I had good copy for US stations, I tried calling CQ. There was a good response and I went to split operation to help spread out the pack. After I had worked more than 70 stations, I face-palmed because I had forgot to change the power setting in my log and each entry just duplicated the previous one. I would have to manually change the entry from 10W to whatever I was set at. Wait a minute… my power was still set at 10W. What I had forgotten to do was to turn the dial on the radio back up. From my operating perspective (and apparently from the distant stations’ as well), 10W was doing fine.

As many have said, one element of successful low power operation is forgetting that you are at low power or at least pretending that you are not. In this case, the “double blind” assured that I was working as normal, completely oblivious to the power setting.

I think it also goes to show that propagation has the final say. Some days, I couldn’t reach the stations that I worked on 10W with a thousand watts, but on a favorable day, my signal can reach them and their signal reaches me with enough strength to surmount the electrical noise barrier around my house.

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