This is a reprint of the article that appeared in the April 1997 CQ Contest Magazine

The VooDoo That We Do

Operating the 1996 CQWW DX Contest from


By The VooDoo Contest Group e-mail:

We landed in Abidjan and met Jean-Jacques, TU2OP,
president of Association des Radio Amateurs Ivoriens and a friend.


     Two days after our successful multi-multi operation from TY5A in the 1995 CQ Worldwide CW Contest1, we started planning for the 1996 CW Contest by stopping in Lome, Togo to visit three potential hotel sites. The planning and logistics finally came together 360 or so days later as 5V7A.

          However, we did hit some rough patches while scouting for a new site. We got kicked out of one hotel during our 3-hour reconnaissance mission in Lome, because we checked out the roof without asking permission from the hotel management first. Fortunately, before we left, we were able to smooth the staff’s ruffled feathers. Our most important accomplishment of the 3-hour stopover was our visit to the British School of Lome. Ian Sayer and his wife Jeni run the school, and Jeni also happens to be the British Consul in Togo. Thanks to Mrs. Sayer’s persistence with local officials, we finally received our licenses just two weeks before departure!

           Last year, we had 5 operators for our multi-multi operation. Rob Ferguson, GM3YTS, gets the credit for naming our team the "VooDoo Contest Group." He came up with the name as we were riding the bus back to Ghana and drinking beer last fall. The group meets every year in Dayton to start finalizing plans for the fall. In 1996, we decided to add 4 more operators to our group to build toward a world record attempt in a few years. We also invited a tower monkey to help us do all the work. Once we decided on the participants for the coming year’s effort, the planning took on a new meaning.

The Operators

            The VooDoo Contest Group consists of G3SXW, GM3YTS, G4FAM, K5VT, K7GE, K7PN, KC7V, N7BG, N7MB, and W6RGG. Members of our group have operated from well over 100 countries and most of us have been together for years. We get along famously, which is one reason for our success.

          We had ambitious plans for 1996. We left piles of equipment in Accra with 9G1RQ after last year’s contest. Then G3SXW, G4FAM, K7GE, K7PN, and N7BG operated as TU5A in the ARRL 1996 CW Contest in February and left a bunch more gear with TU5EX in Abidjan. Somehow we had to pick up the stuff in both Abidjan and Accra before heading to Lome. We also purchased 4 more antennas, 4 more rotators, 1000 feet of RG-213 coax, 500 feet of RG-8X coax, and 1000 feet of rotator cable. We took 6 Alpha amps, 3 Kenwood TS-930s, 3 Yaesu FT-990s, 7 laptop computers, and other miscellaneous gear to make the operation possible.

Getting to Africa

             Some of you may remember the story of our bus trip across pans of West Africa last year.   Well, we did it again in 1996, only the trip was longer. The USA contingent (except for Vince, K5VT) all decided to fly into New York. We took Air Afrique to Dakar and stopped in Accra before finally arriving in Abidj an. Roger, G3SXW, flew directly to Accra, and spent a couple of days there before flying to Abidjan to meet us. G4FAM and GM3YTA flew directly to Lome via Brussels. Vince first went to Burma as part of the XZ1N team, then came to Lome. Talk about a tough trip. Vince flew from Burma to Singapore to Johannesburg to Harare to Accra, and then got to Lome by car. WOW!

            Only one member of our team had never been to Africa. Bob Vallio, W6RGG, has operated from FO/C, XF4, KP2, VP5, 5W1, 6Y5, and 4U0ITU, but those trips were relatively easy compared to the trip we were facing to get to Lome. Bob was wired from the start. He even arrived at the Phoenix airport 6 hours before the flight to JFK. Fortunately, Mike, KC7V, was also flying out of Phoenix and got to the airport around 7:30 PM to keep him company for a while—even though their flight didn’t leave Phoenix until 11:30 PM. Our new nickname for Bob should be Valium Vallio, because we thought he’d need some by the time we arrived in Africa.

            We got to JFK about 6 AM, but had a 7-hour layover before our flight left for Dakar. It’s a good thing Bob couldn’t sleep because the rest of us fell asleep with all our gear sitting on carts. The flight to Dakar was uneventful, but then the stress began. We had to depart the plane in Dakar with all our carry-ons. We had plenty of them, too. Two or three pieces per operator was standard. One piece was usually a radio and the other an Alpha transformer heavy—stuff. Of course, it was hot and humid. After going through the line to get our passports and boarding passes checked, we got back on the same plane. We had to take the bus 50 yards to the plane instead of walking. Seemed silly! KC7V says that’s when Bob started talking to himself. Three plus hours later we landed in Accra. We all thought about getting off then because we’d be driving by bus back to Accra the next day. Fortunately, it was a short stop; a link over an hour later we arrived in Abidjan.

            We were very concerned about getting all our gear through customs. We’d lots of help in Ghana the past couple years. but not much in Abidjan. The TU5A group experienced quite a hassle in February with customs with a lot less gear. We had packed everything in older boxes or ski bags, so nothing looked new. We had receipts for all major pieces of gear to prove they weren’t new. Fortunately, Roger, G3SXW, had arrived in Abidjan the day before. He got to the airport early and found the right guys (baksheesh) to let us through customs without any questions. Before any of you get upset, this is a way of life in West Africa. They want money and know we have it, so it’s all a matter of negotiation. Both parties go away happy, and no one is hurt. What a relief it was, though, because we were leaving at 6 AM the next morning for Accra and could ill afford to have any equipment impounded for a day or two. The saying is "WAWA" . . . West Africa Wins Always. You must have patience and perseverance—especially in putting up with border crossings and the various police, customs and military checkpoints.

Travels in West Africa

            Our first evening in Abidjan was spent entertaining the local TU club at dinner. We met about 8 local hams and had a nice time. The TU hams are a great bunch!

            We all agreed to be up at 6 AM the next morning to get started for Accra. We figured the trip would take nearly 10 hours. We had the same 30 seat bus as last year, plus a small van to help carry all of us and the gear (Photo C). As it turned out, the van had a starter problem and we had to push start it after every stop. At every stop, Bob needed his cigarette. It looked more like he was chewing it, rather than actually smoking, because he was so nervous.

            There are plenty of checkpoints throughout West Africa—police customs, military, local militia, etc. You can imagine the curiosity it creates when 10 foreigners come traveling down the road in a 30-foot bus with towers and antennas stacked on the roof and boxes of radios, amplifiers, miscellaneous gear, and a helium tank stashed in with us. Guaranteed to get us stopped every time. In some instances, like entering Togo, we were stopped by 3 different groups before we had traveled I mile. In most cases, though, our guide Richard was able to get us going again within moments. We just kept our cameras down and smiled and waved. There were no problems, except the time Jim Larson, K7GE, forgot and kept his video camera in sight at a military checkpoint The guard got just a lit-tie upset, and pulled Jim off the bus. It was kind of humorous watching Jim rewind the video and let the guard watch through the eyepiece and listen to Jim explain how he was only taking pictures of goats! Fortunately, Jim has the great gift of gab and talked himself out of trouble; we were once again on our merry way.

            We stopped a couple of times for beer or soda and, of course, for bathroom breaks. However, there are no bathrooms along the road, so it meant going in the weeds next to the bus. We got some funny looking shots of everyone lined up, but didn’t want to publish them here. Photography wasn’t permitted at checkpoints, bridge crossings, or border crossings, so we just waited until we were out of sight and snapped away. A few adventurous ones did stealth photography.

            We did make it to Accra, and on the second night we entertained GARS (Ghana Amateur Radio Society, Photo B). These guys have been a tremendous help to us over the past few years—especially Samir, 9G1NS, and Ralph, 9G1RQ. Samir handled all the customs paperwork and 9G licensing, while Ralph stored all our antennas from our 1995 operation. Ralph even acquired the helium tank for our planned 160-meter balloon antenna. We presented GARS with a brand new ETM9C keyer/paddle made by Herman, DJ2BW. The club station (9G0ARS) has an FT-990 and tribander, but had no keyer for guys like us who visit. Next time a ham decides to visit Accra, they won’t need anything but themselves to get on the air.

Traveling to 5V7A took us through 9G where we met with the Ghana Amateur Radio Society. L to R: 9G1NS, 9G1AJ, 9G1AJ, 9G1RL and 9G1PB.

Crossing Borders

            We were up early again the next day for another 6 AM departure. Travel time to the Ghana/Togo border is about 3 hours over some of the worst pothole-infested roads you can imagine. In some cases the road was dirt, as all the pavement had disappeared. The trip to the border was uneventful and we expected to be in Lome by 2 PM. We hoped to get some antenna work done that afternoon.

Our travel bus with all the towers and antennas strapped on top.

            Murphy had other plans, though. It took us 1.5 hours to clear customs and get out of Ghana, and another 2.5 hours to get into Togo. Our guide, Richard, did all the work, while the rest of us waited, bartered a little with the locals, and idled the time away. It was warm and humid, but there was a nice breeze as the border crossing is literally on the beach.

            Once, in Ghana, the customs people decided to take the bus to the warehouse for inspection. Mike, N7MB, Tony, N7BG, and Paul, K7PN, went with them. It ended up as a job justification, as they looked at nothing. While waiting for it all to end, Mike, N7MB, introduced Paul to one of the locals as the famous "Big Kahunda." Paul is about 6 feet 5 inches tall. That same local liked the name so much that he started calling himself "The Big Kahunda." It was so funny, we didn’t tell him he had the name wrong. The last 30 minutes waiting to depart Ghana were taken up by a customs official negotiating with Roger, G3SXW, for a deposit for our equipment and his asking Roger to help him with his weekly picks for the UK football pool (soccer to us Yanks). Of all things to delay our departure! But you do what you must to make it work. We hoped Roger picked well because we’d be making the same border crossing a week later. We finally arrived at the Sarakawa Hotel about 5 PM.

Arriving On Site

            Our plans were to take the gear off the bus on the side of the building and haul it to the roof (Photo D) by rope. The roof is approximately 60 to 70 feet high. The maintenance people, however, had other ideas. They ushered our bus around to the rear of the hotel. The rooms and patios on the back side are terraced. They rounded up a number of guys and a ladder and proceeded to send everything up to the roof by passing each piece of gear (except radios, etc.) to the next guy in line. They had all the heavy stuff on the roof in 30 minutes. We figured it saved us almost 2 hours of work. Roger negotiated a price for help for the next couple of days, which made our jobs easier.

            We got checked in and proceeded to bring all the radios, amps, and miscellaneous gear to the suite we rented for use as a shack. We noticed that every time we opened a patio door, the air conditioner would shut off. Not a good prospect while running 6 amplifiers during the contest! We found the engineer to ask him to run a ground for us and to see if we could add amps to the room. He asked how much we wanted. We sheepishly asked for 60 amps. No problem, he said, and sure enough, the next morning the ground wire and cable were added so we could run 6 Alphas at full power. When he saw we were running cables through the patio door, he volunteered to take out a small plate glass window and replace it with wood with round holes so we could bring all the cables in and keep the doors closed. How many hotels in the USA would even accommodate a request to put antennas on their roof?

Installing Antennas

            After the visit to Abidjan last February, the group decided to have nine 10-foot sections of tower fabricated at a local plant, so we could get three of the antennas 30 feet above the metal corrugated roof Paul, K7PN, runs a metal shop in Oregon. He fabricated guy anchor points that would fit over the existing roof-cladding bolts, so we wouldn’t have to do any drilling. They worked, too. We put the tower sections together on the roof, used rope for guys, and then pushed the towers up into place. Paul then climbed to point each antenna in the correct direction. The only antenna that needed to be trammed up in place was the 2-element Cushcraft 40-meter beam. We put the 30 feet of tower on top of the elevator shaft, making the height above ground for 40 meters just over 100 feet. Paul got the tram line and pulleys in place and we were ready to hoist the antenna. Good thing we decided to check the antenna with the RF analyzer first. It turned out the feedline got crushed when we were clamping down the element. We fixed that problem in a hurry. Five of us were pulling on the hoist line, when something at the top of the tower let go. We all thought the tower was coming down. We looked like the Three Stooges as all of us fell backwards on our butts at the same time. It turned out that the rotor bolts we used weren’t long enough. The rotor with the 2-foot mast came flying off the top of the tower, landing 2 feet from Paul. He was very lucky he didn’t get hit in the head. From that point on, Paul became known as "Rotator Head." We fixed the problem by getting longer bolts and using a back stay on the mast. After that, the antenna went up perfectly.


The roof of the building upon our arrival.

Here's K7PN installing another antenna.

Creating a Shack

            Fortunately for us, the "flying rotator" was the only problem we experienced while putting 8 antennas in the air off the roof However, Murphy wasn’t quite through with us. Mike, KC7V, was prepared to put the W1WEF LPT CE interface from the "y" adapter on the back of the 990 to the LPT port of his laptop. When he started to plug in the interface, there was a very loud bang and smoke came from the computer and AC adapter. Mike didn’t get fried as he wasn’t touching anything but the plastic on the interface with one hand. However, it did look like his shorts sustained some damage. Unfortunately, when the engineer ran the extra cable, he didn’t put in a neutral line. They aren’t used in Togo. Mike caused a second big bang while preparing the null modem cables for installation. One touched the equipment, burning a small hold in the plastic metallized case of the 9-pin plug. After getting out a meter, we discovered a 200-volt potential between the equipment! Mike was using a step-down transformer to a 110-volt outlet strip. He had brought 2 laptops, so we weren’t going to be short. We ended up using the second laptop by plugging in the AC adapter directly to 220 volts. Mike became very gunshy about touching any-thing after those episodes. We were careful when finishing up the rest of the station interfaces and had no more problems.

            Finally, around 3 PM Friday afternoon everything was ready to go. We still had to fill the helium balloon, but would do so just before the contest started. We had some time to shop. There’s a small arts and crafts market in downtown Lome. We bargained our way through it buying jewelry items for wives and/or girlfriends and other knickknacks to take home. We bought a new supply of beer, cokes, and food to last us the weekend.

Antenna Farm

            The shack was set up so 80/160 could share beverages. We used 3 TS-930s, 3 FT-990s, 4 Alpha 78s and 2 Alpha 78s as well as 6 laptop computers using CT v9.27 in the loop configuration. Each station has an ICE bandpass filter in line after the transceiver, as well as a coaxial stub filter on the amplifier output. Band-to-band interference was kept to a minimum.

Antennas 10m 15m 20m 40m 80m 160m
Beam 4el Force 12 @ 90 ft. 3 el Force 12 @ 90 ft. 3 el Force 12 @ 90 ft. 2 el Cushcraft @ 100 ft.    
Vertical         Force 12 Force 12 & 1/4 wave balloon
Wire         Sloper Dipole & Beverages
Tribander Force 12 C3 Cushcraft A4        

The Contest

            The contest starts at midnight in Lome. We had the best start ever for our group, averaging nearly 500 QSOs per hour for the first 4 hours! Things were rolling smoothly. At 9G5AA in 1994, we managed only 95 QSOs on topband and again only 95 QSOs on topband from TY5A in 1996. We made a big effort to improve our transmit signal on 160 meters. We took a 160-meter balloon kit vertical made by WA7UQV and fed it about 6 feet off the roof. We strung out the 4 radials by just laying them on top of the corrugated roof. We then tied the braid of the coax to the ground rod used by the hotel. It worked well as we ended up with 520 QSOs on topband. We even had 24 JA QSOs. In fact, had it been a single band effort, our 160 meter score would have set a new African record (Photo E)! Winds caused us problems, though. We refilled the balloon on the second night and all worked okay, but by Sunday evening the winds increased and we found the balloon was getting tangled up in the C3 tribander. The vertical wire actually broke once because the fishing line got wrapped around the wire and cut through it. We tried to fill the balloon a little more and guess what happened...boom! It blew up in Paul, K7PN, and Mike’s, N7MB faces. Fortunately, they weren’t hurt—except for small heart palpitations. We tried another balloon, and sometime in the dark, it disappeared. Never figured out what happened to it. Anyway, we plan to use the balloon kit again next year, but will move the placement of the 160 antenna so it can be guyed better.

            The combination of Force 12 antennas and a good rare location created huge pileups. None of us wanted to operate split during the contest, but we were forced to do so many times. We tried to keep the split to 1 kc. The constant calling on top of each other buried our signal at times, and severely reduced our rate. We went split so all could hear us and to better control the rate and pileup. Our apologies to anyone we may have QRM’ed. We paid a lot more attention this year to moving multipliers from band to band earlier in the contest. The effort really paid off, as our multiplier total was much higher this year Many thanks to those of you who moved for us.

The author, KC7V mans the 160M position of 5V7A.

Solving Problems

            We ran into a problem with two of the amplifiers. They refused to key properly after a while. Our resident genius Paul, K7PN, fixed the problem with two kitchen spoons and duct tape. He created two foot switches using the spoons, and our key problems disappeared (Photo F). KC7V declared them the smoothest foot switches he’d every used! Paul ought to patent his invention. Mike, N7MB, was all over the place fixing all the little connection and electrical problems that kept coming up. His help was invaluable in keeping us on the air When you have a great group of guys all pitching in, you create great teamwork.

            Other than the amplifier glitches, the contest flew by. We lost QSOs in the network, but nothing that merging the files didn’t fix. Our 20-meter ops, Vince, K5VT, Bob, W6RGG, and Tony, N7BG, ended up with the highest number of QSOs on 20 meters ever recorded in the CQWW CW Contest—4,307 QSOs. As a team, we finished with 12.954 QSOs before dupes and netted 12,227 QSOs. Table 2 shows our submitted score. We squeaked out 454 QSOs on 10 meters, but we mainly worked Europeans.

The famous spoon foot switch by K7PN.

The Results

Call: Country: Mode: Category:
5V7A Togo CW Multi-Multi
Band QSO QSO PTS PTS/QSO Zones Countries
160 520 1535 2.95 17 60
80 1088 3239 2.98 21 77
40 2565 7649 2.98 33 108
20 4307 12852 2.98 39 148
15 3293 9816 2.98 37 139
10 454 1307 2.98 19 79
Totals 12,227 36,398 2.98 166 611

Final Score =


CQ Worldwide DX Contest — 1996

            We hope our score of approximately 28 million is good enough to win the world the 3rd straight year! Bill, GM4AGL. graciously agreed to handle the QSL chores again. Rob’s (GM3YTS) company furnished the SV7A cards for us, so we actually had our cards printed before we left for Togo.

Tearing Down

            We spent Monday morning after the contest tearing down and loading the equipment. We decided to make 1997 easier for ourselves. We asked Mr. Sayer if he could store our equipment at the British School in Lome for a return trip next year. He agreed, so 5 amplifiers along with the rest of the gear were left with him. We now had to drive one day back to Accra and another day to Abidjan. The whole trip turned out to be 7 days of travel, 3 days of antenna work, and 2 days of contesting. Next year, we’ll have more time on site to operate before the contest and relax.

            Two members of the group—Paul, K7PN, and Mike, N7MB had the chance to visit the VooDoo Fetish market. It was filled with all kinds of interesting stuff, including some dead things. Paul and Mike bought some supposedly good luck VooDoo juju. We’ll invoke those powers on our next trip.

            Bob, W6RGG, eventually mellowed out—although he did consume a large quantity of beer on the road trip back. We were stopped 11 times between the Ivory Coast border and Abidjan, which really slowed us down. We were smart on the way back. We told Richard we were willing to pay a little extra if we could cut down the amount of time at border crossings. It worked and cost us about $5 per person—a good investment.

            Thanks to America West and Air Afrique Airlines for their support in providing excess baggage waivers and upgraded seating. Both are great airlines. Without their support, the cost of the trip would have probably been double. Our thanks, also, to Tom Schiller, N6BT, at Force 12 for his help with antennas. We’ve won three times using his antennas.

See You Next Year

            We hope we made many of you happy by putting SV in your logs. We had a great time doing it! The logistical challenges of such a major operation is something to behold. E-mail flew between the group for a full 12 months and has already started for the 1997 trip. Our group enjoys the challenge, and looks forward to seeing you in the 1997 CQWW CQ Contest!

                                                                   73, from the VooDoo Contest Group


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