European SOTA Activity Day 2020

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The European SOTA Activity Day 2020 took place on Saturday, 19th September 2020. It developed out of the OE5 SOTA Day which usually takes place in the middle of September. OE5 SOTA Day was initially created to bring together SOTA activators and activate as many summits as possible within a predefined region in OE5. The activations are followed by a social get-together at a local restaurant. Due to a ever-increasing number of activators a OE SOTA Day has been held in parallel with the the OE5 SOTA Day since a couple of years.

FT-817ND portable ham radio station for participation in EU SOTA Activity Day 2020
Portable ham radio station set up for participation in EU SOTA Activity Day 2020

European SOTA Activity Day 2020

Given the restrictions of meeting in person due the Corona virus outbreak Jürgen HB9BIN who is a regular guest at the OE5 SOTA Day conceived the idea of extending the already existing OE/OE5 SOTA Day to include all Europe. After conferring with Sylvia OE5YYN (SOTA Association Manager OE) the European SOTA Activity Day 2020 was proposed on the SOTA Reflector. After a rather chilly initial reception in the end a large amount of local SOTA associations (even from other continents) declared their participation in this shared event.

Christoph OE5CBN checking activity on the 80m band during EU SOTA Activity Day 2020
Christoph OE5CBN checking activity on the 80m band during EU SOTA Activity Day 2020

My initial plan was to only activate OE/OO-084 „Eiskogel“ during the EU SOTA Activity Day 2020. I also invited my former work colleague Christoph OE5CBN who shares my passion for portable ham radio and hiking in the mountains. A couple of weeks before the event Gerhard OE6PGM and Simon OE3SDE (Head of OEVSV Referat Jugend) reached out to me if I’d be willing to take a couple of freshly licensed hams along on my activation in order to demonstrate SOTA to them. I readily agreed and ultimately the following group scaled „Eiskogel“ on 19th September 2020: Gerhard OE6PGM, Maximilian OE5NRF, Florian (full CEPT license, but no call yet), Ruth (SWL), Christoph OE5CBN and myself (Alex OE5LXR).

OE5CBN, OE5NRF, OE6PGM, Florian and OE5LXR on top of OE/OO-084 "Eiskogel" during european sota activity day 2020
Christoph, Maximilian, Gerhard, Florian and Alex on top of OE/OO-084 „Eiskogel“ during EU SOTA Activity Day 2020
(Photo courtesy of Gerhard OE6PGM)

Our fine group diligently walked the short path up the summit and set up portable ham radio stations on its top. It was only after my complete HF station had been set up that I found out that the microphone of my trusted FT-817ND was broken. Consequently I was not able to get any signal out!

It would have been already quite an frustrating experience if it would have happened while I would have been alone in my activation. Unfortunately I also had a group with me and I felt extremely embarrassed to disappoint them since I could not demonstrate them SOTA as I had promised. Furthermore I lost the chance for many continental summit-to-summit QSOs which would have been a given otherwise. Ultimately I was left with no other choice but to make the most out of the dire situation and activate the summit via my 2m FM handheld radio.

Florian (full CEPT license, no call yet) and Alex OE5LXR setting up the portable ham radio station on top of „Eiskogel“

After suffering this hard blow Christoph and I decided to activate another summit to make up for the lost S2S connections. Our choice fell on OE/OO-083 „Hirschwaldstein“ which is located opposite of Eiskogel with the city of Kirchdorf a.d. Krems in the valley between them. Burg Altpernstein sits at the base of the Hirschwaldstein hiking path where we had a reception committee of very curious mountain goats!

Curious mountain goats at the base of OE/OO-083 „Hirschwaldstein“

After an ascend of about 30 minutes we reached the summit cross. The peak is a very small clearing within the forest and the view can’t be compared with the one from Eiskogel. VHF propagation from Hirschwaldstein is also far from optimal and can’t be compared to Eiskogel. However, after a short while I managed to obtain 4 QSOs in order to achieve a valid activation.

OE5LXR and OE5CBN on top of OE/OO0-083 "Hirschwaldstein" during european sota activity day 2020
Alex OE5LXR and Christoph OE5CBN on top of OE/OO-083 „Hirschwaldstein“

Although a broken microphone prohibited me from doing any international S2S QSOs I was still able to collect a couple of local S2S connections. Furthermore I was able to explain how SOTA works and how to set up a portable ham radio stations and hopefully ignited the SOTA spark in the next ham generation.

Fixing the broken microphone

Once I was back at home and all the gear was safely stored away I started to think about how I could confirm that indeed the microphone was the cause for me not able to get any signal out of the FT-817ND. I set up a test harness connecting the antenna output of the radio with TX connector of a Diamond SX-100 SWR/PWR meter. Furthermore I connected a dummy load with the ANT connector of the SX-100.

test setup to determine root cause of broken microphone during european sota activity day 2020
Test setup to verify the hypothesis of a broken microphone as source for my FT-817ND transmission problems during EU SOTA Activity Day 2020

Upon pressing the transmit button on my microphone and whistling with full power into the microphone I could see that the needle wasn’t even moving one tiny bit. After replacing the microphone with a new Yaesu MH-31A8J I repeated the test. Unsurprisingly the SX-100 now showed an output power of approximately 5W.

Comparison of FT-817ND output power measured by SX-100 with broken microphone (left) and working microphone (right)

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