Bernie van der Walt - ZS4TX

Hi topbanders,                                                     July 1999

I have received several requests to highlight a few points of my quest to complete WAZ on topband from South Africa.

  I am 33 years old, was licenced first in 1983 and spent most of my HAM career on CW and on the lower bands favouring 40 and 80. I completed most of my 5BWAS, 5BDXCC and 5BWAZ from an apartment building in the city with vertical antennas mounted on the 7th storey. Oh was the TV crowd happy when I left! I started my serious topband career in November 1996 after I moved to a 4 hectare smallholding on the Western outskirts of Bloemfontein. Always being limited by the constraints of city lots (size & neighbors!) and having to resort to magic to disguise a vertical and co-ax on an apartment building I now had the chance to put up something decent.

With "decent" being a relative concept I opted for a 30m guyed lattice mast with a 1m face from which I could hang antennas for 160 and later support my yagis for 80 and 40. I would have liked to go much more "indecent" but my wife (ZS4TZ) and the bank manager stopped me at 30m!

The first antenna I used for topband from here was a simple 1/4 wave sloper fed at 26m, sloping down at about 30 degrees from the tower and tied back with a rope at 30 feet from the ground where the remainder of the sloper wire was strung almost horizontal with the ground to a fence post. (Yes fences are that high in South Africa!)

This sloper proved to be a real performer and I used it to complete most of my 160DXCC as well as 160WAS which took about two years. The sloper must be the best value for money antenna to use on topband because it so inexpensive to construct and easy to tune - and it works! The horizontal section that my sloper had must have helped with the much debated sunrise tilt as well. After all, no one from Southern Africa dominated sunrise openings like 3DA0CA with his invisible-almost-at-ground-level dipole!

My best contacts on the sloper were with Kevin, AL7MX, freelance at my sunset, an unusual occurrence from here, and within the same week Dan KL7Y, was worked at my sunrise after a 3 week long sked! Zone 1 is one of the toughest places to work on the low bands and only a handful of ZS's has done it on 80 and 160. Being on the air everyday at my sunrise with the KL7Y sked attracted lots of attention and even though I worked split I could not hear Dan responding to me at 2UP where a pile up usually formed.

I arranged with Dan to call 4UP even if I said 2UP and on the 2nd of January 97 I heard his weak signal with polar flutter answering me! Dan had no QRN at all and I had to contend with S7-9 static all the time. I think Dan now knows what I had to listen to after he operated from QRN infested HS in 98!

I eventually shunt fed my tower and added 120 radials as a ground plane. Not being able to compare the 2 antennas at the same time I am unable to say which one is the best but they both provided me with super topband contacts. (In retrospect I may give the shunt fed tower with radials an edge over the sloper!) I added East West and North South Beverage RX antennas as well which helped tremendously - without them I would not have come close to WAZ.

Although the KL7's rank up there with the most difficult from here, the first ZL that I worked was very tough and memorable. Although South Africa and New Zealand has a love hate relationship because of Rugby rivalry (Rugby= real football without padded clothes & metal headgear!) it has always been a thrill to work ZL - ZS on any band. I actually thought they all had watery & fluttery voices until I visited ZL in '95! Also paid a visit to the late Peter Watson & his wife - he and Mairie had a lot of good things to say about people frequenting the low bands!

ZL - ZS being a polar path (much like W6 to Zone21) obviously makes things worse and I had to wait for the solar minimum in June 97 to start a sked with ZL2JR, at that stage the most active topbander in ZL. After 5 weeks of nothing my end and traces of a signal on their end Jim ZL2BCG heard me 449 on his shoulder height dipole and called me at 1AM on the phone to inform me! Obviously my wife did not share my or Jim's happiness of a 1 way QSO at 1 AM in the morning!

Two days after that (970624) I managed to pull ZL2JR through exactly at his sunrise with a 339 both ways! In the weeks after that ZL2BCG, ZL4WA and ZL2SQ also made it in the log. The strange thing about the ZL QSOs was a rapid QSB on all 4 stations that I worked. It was like a loose connection at one side with the signal appearing and disappearing at will - even on different RX antennas. I also heard the same QSB but not as rapid on VK9NS whom I worked later that season - also a polar path but less so than ZL. Jim Smith being in Zone 32 as well made it another memorable QSO. The Zone 32 "seasonal party" was topped when I worked KH8/N5OLS for a new one before he ate poisoned fish and had to QRT for a while.

My second last zone was Zone 34 when the OK DXers were visiting 5A1A on their last day! I arranged a sked at 22Z but managed to get in the log at 2150!

After my spell trying to convince Jim Dionne that Spratley 9M0S was actually in zone 27 failed, I knew I had to get someone else living/travelling in that zone interested in listening to QRN! DU9RG was away from home, DU7CC was back in Europe and the KH2/0/JA's on holiday mostly worked the higher bands. At last I "worked" KH2/K9AW and when the QSL came back "NIL" I knew someone must have gotten tired of me chasing Zone 27 and gave me a 599 report at my sked time with K9AW! That happens too!

At last Gus K4SXT landed on Guam and after he became active on topband I managed to work him at his sunrise for my last zone! I even asked him to send a QSL directly to Jim K1MEM as well to speed up my application but by that time Jim was already in hospital and I had to wait 10 months for confirmation.

Memorable QSOs were also Zone 2 with VE2QRZ (WB2K) and XE2/K4JT whose address I eventually got from Fred K6SSS after a 6 month search. His A5 size correspondence paper QSL is one of my favorites! KH6CC must also get special note as as Hawaii is the ZS antipode.

During my chase to obtain WAS I still needed Arkansas among a few others and this is how I got it: Knowing that the packet network in the USA is very efficient I just picked a frequency and started calling K5UR de ZS4TX. After 2 minutes there was K5UR coming back with a report! Apparently Rich was busy on 40m when someone alerted him that I was calling him on topband!

I use an Icom 781 with an SB1000 amp, 2 x Beverage RX antennas and a 30m shunt fed tower with 120 ground level radials.

It took me 14 months to complete 160WAZ. Zones 1, 2, 23, 32 and 34 were done with skeds, the rest were freelance contacts.

I hope this short write up did not bore you too much ( It took me 3 hrs to write!) If it stirs up some interest in the chasing of topband certificates it would have served a purpose. I am not a certificate hunter but chasing the "big six" certificates did force me to optimize all the available resources from a "propagation challenged" country like South Africa.

From my limited experience on topband I have gathered the following points that helped me achieve success:

  1.   Be on the air consistently - especially while running a sked.
  2.   Any beverage is better than no beverage ( I read this somewhere!)
  3.   Do put your radio in the RX mode every so often - you'll be surprised what you can hear.
  4.   Gather SWL beacon info - and use it.
  5.   Misuse contests to snag new ones.
  6.   Sleep during daytime!

Thanks for the opportunity to share some of what I have experienced during the chase.


Bernie,   ZS4TX