Transit in Guam - KH2

by Roger G3SXW - Article written for CDXC Digest - Nov 2003

Nigel/G3TXF and I were putting together a trip to Micronesia, V6. We had also hankered after attending the big Ham Fair in Tokyo, which neither of us had been to before. So, we had the beginnings of an outline itinerary.

Micronesia is some 2,000 miles wide and to benefit from the best propagation to Europe (avoiding the auroral zone) we should stay as far West as possible. This meant staying in Yap Island. Nigel is a past-master at discovering the best airline connections. We needed a route from Tokyo to Yap and this was provided by the airline Continental Micronesia, flying Tokyo/Guam/Yap/Guam/Tokyo.

While rather hastily putting together the plan (we departed within less than three weeks of deciding to go) we already had enough on our plates to get the V6 DXpedition set up successfully and to dovetail the Tokyo Ham Fair, so at first we gave little thought to KH2. It was merely a place where we would change planes, and besides it was not particularly rare on the HF bands. But after we had the JA and V6 plans in place, and realising that our transit in Guam was an enforced 36 hours, we said what-the-heck we may as well operate from KH2 while we are there. The fact is that, when it comes down to it, we are not normal tourists - we are not very interested in the things which attract "normal" tourists and instead look to making CW contacts on the bands as our form of tourism.

KH2 licences

Guam belongs to USA. Only recently the USA joined CEPT. Ho-ho! We could operate from KH2 without going through the tiresome procedure of obtaining a local licence.

And so we did. We just showed up and operated. We do love CEPT! In fact, many countries have CEPT agreements these days and many of their colonial possessions are thereby covered. It could be that there are all sorts of rare and semi-rare (DXCC-wise) countries where you need no licensing-formalities at all. Our trip to ZL7 (September 2001) is a case in point. This may be an angle worth investigating. After all, licensing is one of the impediments to putting together a DXpedition, so if it is not required then this is one task which becomes redundant. Someone with spare time on his hands could undertake investigations and produce a list of DXCC entities (as opposed to countries) where CEPT works. Not all overseas territories are covered, for example we had to obtain licences in FW-land, even though France is a member of CEPT. Of course, this refers only to the transmitting-licence. Many rare spots on the globe require you to gain approval just for visiting.

Finding a QTH

Now, we soon realised that Guam is a tourist-resort, particularly popular with the Japanese, and that there are lots and lots of hotels. Therefore we were under no pressure to fix hotel-accommodation in advance. Instead, we just arrived and took it from there. It's sometimes quite difficult to pick a hotel-location which has good take-off to Europe; seldom do web-sites include information about space for antennas right beside a North-facing beach!

It was our bad luck to land at Guam airport at the same time as two other jumbo-jets and the queue for immigration was horrendous. We stood in line for an hour, then reached the magic yellow-line whereupon my immigration-officer disappeared for a ten-minute rest-break. Sod's law!

In the arrivals area there was, surprisingly, no hotel-desk or tourist-information desk so we took a taxi downtown (note my American-speak) to the Tourist Bureau in Tumon. They were great. We asked for a hotel on the West coast, right beside the sea and away from the main town. So they pointed us at the Inn on the Bay Hotel. Our waiting taxi was happy to take us there, about a 20 minute drive, just past a U.S. naval base and their show-submarine the USS Atlantis. This was all fine except that the taxi charged us $70 (£45) and had we been better organised the hotel had a free airport-transfer service!

Setting-Up

Before even the taxi had left us at the hotel I had dashed in to take a quick look around and was almost gobsmacked at what I saw. The location was absolutely ideal for our vertical antennas to be set up right beside the salt-water. I gave Nigel a big thumbs-up and we checked-in. It was late afternoon and it was very sweaty. As it turned out we were there in rainy season and they routinely experience heavy rainfall every late afternoon/early evening. Half-way through erecting the antennas the heavens opened.

We couldn't get rooms side-by-side but both were on the ocean-facing side, which was important for coax-runs. With only an hour or so to go before sunset we got to work to erect the two verticals. As it happens, the strip of grass between the hotel and the sea-shore where we were going to mount our verticals, about fifteen feet wide, was well-lit at night so this was not a problem. We were able to stand the two verticals about 150 feet apart, good for avoiding inter-station interference, right on a lip where the lagoon lapped. The tide dropped only a couple of feet and the beach that appeared was only a few feet wide, so we were transmitting right beside salt-water nearly the whole time. This was really ideal, and we had a clear take-off from South round to nearly North, via West - excellent for Europe.

We were quickly joined by a couple of curious Americans, who were staying in the hotel. They were contractors at the naval base and knew all about CB radio, so of course they became our lifelong-buddies.

Rare?

As our old friend Hugh Cassidy used to say in the West Coast DX Bulletin: "Everything is relative but some things are more so". (Think about it). Is KH2 rare? (in Europe, on CW). My own answer would be that it is about the least rare of all the Pacific islands, along with KH6. After all, it is only a stone's throw East of the Far East (Philippines etc) so it is a good path to Europe and it is a U.S. possession with all tourist facilities. It has been activated by many expeditions and big contest efforts, not to mention by permanent residents.

That is why we did not at first pay it much attention when putting together our itinerary. Our single-minded intention is to travel to and operate from places that have pile-up potential, the bigger the better. But even if it were to be a day of playing around on the bands then why not? We were there in transit anyway and making a few QSOs beats touristing!

So we got set up and started operating with low expectations. We did not expect large pile-ups - but that was exactly what we got! Within just 30 hours we made 2,200 contacts on all bands, 80 to 12 metres, signing KH2/G3TXF and KH2/G3SXW:

As is our usual way of operating Nigel (KH2/G3TXF) did all the WARC-bands activity and Roger (KH2/G3SXW) did the "traditional" bands. With the low sunspots we found that the higher bands (12/10 metres) were a wash-out and at this time of year (August) the low bands were similarly useless so activity was concentrated on the five bands 40-15 metres. All of those 22 contacts on 80 metres were with JA/Far East stations except one with XQ6ET. QSL cards were printed and all despatched for this operation within three weeks of getting home. This includes quite a few requested by e-mail, to be sent via bureau. A new syndrome is quite a few e-mail servers rejecting my messages as possible spam, so I have no way of confirming to some DXers that their card is wending its way to them through the slow bureau system.

Five-Enn-Enn

So here we have proof yet again, as if it were needed, that pile-ups can be generated from even semi-rare (DXCC-wise) locations. The pile-ups that we enjoyed were not enormous and they undoubtedly did not address the rarified needs of the Honour-Roll chasers, but they were quite substantial nonetheless.

How big is a pile-up? Number of stations calling, width of pile-up, strength of signals, rarity of DX station - all these factors may be taken into account. What is often forgotten is LENGTH of pile-up expressed in number of days. From GJ or LX the pile-up may die after 2-3 days. Our trip to Guam was so short, less than two days, that this hypothesis can't be proved except to say that for the first day or two the pile-ups were large.

If you operate Five-Enn-Enn style with a slightly odd call-sign you will generate a pile-up which may last at least a day or two. It's almost as if (maybe it is) there is a small number of a few hundreds of DXers out there who want to work any new, slightly-odd, slightly-rare call-sign and who enjoy joining in the thrill of the DX-pile-up chase. Therefore, you can raise such a pile-up for a day or two from literally any unusual call-sign, even from unrare countries. We have even noticed this when operating with Special Event prefixes from UK.

Pins Dropping

When operating temporarily from an untested location you never know how electrically-quiet or -noisy it may be, until you have set up the antenna and station and listened to the bands. When planning a large operation a recce to check this out, amongst other things, is to be highly recommended.

The rule-of-thumb is that the more dense the population the more man-made noise there will be. I?m really referring here to the general, ambient noise-level, not caused by any one source. Single-source noises can be very bothersome. For example, at XT2DX the elevator gives off shocking electronic-hash. And at V63SXW my radials could not be stretched out in one direction because they came too close to local power-lines. Any power-line gives off horrendous hash for a few feet either side.

By far the more common experience is to find that the DXpedition location is super-quiet compared to what most of us have at home. You'll hear stories of DXpeditioners thinking that their antenna is disconnected because they can hear nothing but the hiss of the receiver-floor. Then folks sometimes say "You have great ears, I must have been S3 at best". The fact is that with no hash to contend with all signals can be copied much more easily.

This is really a comment about the sad state of affairs at home. Gradually over the years the level of man-made noise has increased. Someone returning to the hobby after a break of twenty years is shocked by it. Those who operate regularly simply "get used" to it over time. There are just so many sources of electronic-pollution around us these days, from dimmer-switches and energy-saving light-bulbs, to computers and microprocessors in just about every corner of the house. My fear of PLT is that it will creep up on us over time. In five years time we will all have learned to "live with" S9+ noise. The short-wave bands are already dramatically harder to use these days than just a few years ago and we are reminded of this each time we operate from a remote location which is electrically-quiet.

The location at Guam was moderately quiet. Not quite "pin-dropping" quality but a big improvement on what I have at home. Next time you have the chance to visit a radio amateur in a rural area take the opportunity to remind yourself how quiet the bands used to be.

About Guam

It's about 50 miles long, orientated North-South, but the Northern part is off-limits, being a U.S. military area (Andersen Air Force Base). It feels entirely like being in USA except that pretty well all tourists are from Japan and many local residents are Philippino. Indigenous folks are quite dark-skinned. They speak English. It is located at 14 degrees North of the equator and 145 East. It lies about 1,000 miles due East of the Philippines and 1,800 miles South of Tokyo.

The airport is really big, with capacity for about 20 boarding-gates. You need to go through U.S. immigration formalities and typical U.S.-style security-checks. We had to remove our shoes for separate screening and they were wiping all our equipment very carefully with a pad that was then passed through an analyser, presumably checking for explosives.

The food is a mixture of oriental, Pacific Ocean and American. We enjoyed a great Chinese meal but noted that we were the last customers at 9.30pm. Most things shut down earlier in USA than in Europe. The check-in lady at the hotel was Japanese - much head-bowing in evidence.

A lively place. It could even be a great tourist destination - but we wouldn't really know about that!