The International DX Convention is held every
April in Visalia, California. In odd
numbered years like 2013, a team of volunteers from the Northern California DX
Club organizes the convention. In 2011
and 2013 two friends of mine (John K6MM and Kevin K6TD) were the event
co-chairs and asked me to be responsible for the Convention Special Event
A very well attended event, the Convention
attracts heavy duty DX’ers and Contester’s from around the world so N6V isn’t a
light weight station… legal limit and a good antenna are expected – as is
really good radio!
N6V is fortunate to be well supported by a
number of key vendors and I am personally very grateful to the following folks
who helped me put on N6V in 2011 and 2013.
- US Tower brings along a heavy
duty mobile tower (55’)
- SteppIR supplies and assembles
the antenna on site (DB-18E)
- M2 Antenna Systems
supplied the rotor (Orion 2800) and cables
- RF Concepts supplied an Alpha
- FlexRadio Systems supplies the
radio (2011 was a FlexRadio 5000)
The 2011 station was a great success – it
opened a lot of eyes since this was the first opportunity many people had to
operate a FlexRadio transceiver.
Everything performed as expected and many contacts made around the
So when I was asked to assemble N6V for 2013
late summer last year… you can imagine what I wanted to do. 2013 N6V was just crying out for a FlexRadio
6000 series radio!
I called Gerald and Greg last October and
told them what I was thinking – were they game for it? But of COURSE was the swift reply.
My 2011 experience was good but had
highlighted the challenges of assembling a high performance station in half a
day. We had integrated everything
together on site for 2011 and this time planned to pre-integrate before the
With the great cooperation of all the vendors
we quickly had a plan in place. Molly
and Joe at RFConcepts agreed to ship the 9500 to Austin so that 9500 support
could be integrated into SmartSDR.
FlexRadio already had a SteppIR at their offices in Austin together with
the SDA100 controller to help integrate support for it into SmartSDR as well.
Think legal limit transceiver with a resonant
antenna from 40 through 10m – no configuration required… change band, change frequency and the
amplifier and antenna follow the radio.
Here’s a block diagram of the 2013 N6V
We knew that timing would be tight – the
FlexRadio 6700 is a sophisticated product and Gerald’s team was determined to
build the best product possible. Like
making fine wine, building robust software that can be built on for the long
term (as new features are added) can’t be rushed. You have to get it right from the beginning.
We had agreed to arrive the day before the
Convention opened so that we could assemble the station. In addition to Greg and Don who manned the
booth in the vendor area, Steve Hicks N5AC (VP of Engineering) and Jim Reese
WD5IYT came to Visalia to assemble the station and look after the 6700.
FlexRadio delivered! We had a 6700 with support for CW (semi-break
in at that time) and SSB with integrated support for the Alpha 9500 and SteppIR
antenna! The 6700 drove the Alpha 9500
to legal limit with about 40 watts or so of input power.
Some things to keep in mind… this was alpha level software with support
for receive (which I’d had for some weeks prior to Visalia) and transmit (which
was hot off the press). Alpha software
in this case means that not all features were yet implemented and that not all
the SmartSDR controls were hooked to the radio.
For example, in the release of the radio software we used at Visalia,
the MIC Gain control wasn’t hooked into the radio – Steve and Jim preset the
audio level and we used the power output control to keep within legal limits
driving the amplifier.
We didn’t have any shortage of
operators! Here’s a picture we grabbed
of some of them:
To me as a contester and semi-serious DX’er,
the proof of a radio is its receiver and how it is to operate (workflow and
usability). I expect a transmitter to
transmit – do it cleanly, not get hot and bothered and sound good. The receiver I expect to perform miracles –
it has to handle weak signals right next to monster signals, have killer
filters and have audio that I can listen to for hours on end.
I’ve used every major brand of radio in the
40 years I’ve been licensed and a large number of commercial service radios
well beyond my check book.
The 6700 is the best receiver I have ever used.
It’s a FlexRadio Systems SDR so by now, while
I don’t take them for granted, I expect the filters to be brick wall, no
ringing and all the configurability at my finger tips. Here’s a screen shot from SmartSDR of
adjusting a SSB filter on the fly…
The filters perform! You can pull signals out of a busy band that
are really weak – even when parked next to a very strong station.
It’s not “just” the filters, it’s also about
FlexRadio hasn’t released the dynamic range
figure for the 6700 yet but from real world listening, it’s good – very good. As an engineer and VC I deal with
quantifiable objectives – so you may have some idea about how much it pains me
to make a qualitative statement.
The 6700 is simply the clearest radio I’ve heard.
During the CQ WPX SSB event in late March, I
took some time during one of my break periods to compare my 5000 with the
6700. The 5000 is a great transceiver
with an awesome receiver –the 6700 just sounds clearer – same station, same
noisy band conditions (40m at 9pm PDT) but clearer. I don’t yet have a good explanation for this
but when you use this radio, you will hear what I mean!
I’m really looking forward to using the 6700
in a contest. I think it will be less
fatiguing over a contest weekend and I’m guessing my QSO rate will benefit
Another comment about the receiver – it
handles local high power stations VERY well!
Greg had a 6700 on the FlexRadio Systems booth that was hooked up to a
broadband active antenna on the roof of the convention center… maybe 100’ from
the tower with the SteppIR and legal limit from N6V. Greg and Don often had that 6700 tuned to the
same band as N6V was operating and only a few KHz away… monitoring a weak
signal. I’ve been at contest stations
with brand X (X something other than FlexRadio) where you couldn’t do this
because when the transmitter in brand X keyed up, the whole noise floor rose
and obliterated the weak.
Transmit wise at Visalia the radio performed
well and did its job quietly, no muss, no fuss.
We even had the GPSDO option installed and with the antenna taped to the
sidewalk just outside the door, had solid lock.
For the most part we got good audio reports –
we had a lot of different operators and a couple of different microphones. Some operator’s voices together with a flat
response studio microphone could have benefited from the TX equalizer but… that
wasn’t implemented at the time of Visalia.
Over the course of the convention we made
over 500 contacts – all of the QSOs that got logged will receive an N6V QSL
card via the BURO.
Sincere thanks to US Tower, Steppir, M2,
RF Concepts and especially FlexRadio Systems for their support of N6V.
My personal thanks also go to Gerald and
FlexRadio Systems – they generously donated a FlexRadio 6700 as the major price
for Sunday mornings wrap up event. Another
Gerald, K0JJ, won the certificate for the 6700 in the breakfast raffle draw. He is going to be a VERY HAPPY Ham when his
radio is shipped (after all the pre-orders!).
The FlexRadio 6700 made the day!