Do Prefectures have Prefects?

Location: The Study in Laguna Beach, California

Contest: Japanese International DX Contest, ~2 hours over November 10/11, 2018

Contest Software Used: N1MM

Portable operation: No

Radio: Elecraft K3S  operating at 25-500 watts

Antenna: Cushcraft R6000 vertical 20m-10m

Bands used: 20m and 17m

Modes used: FT8 and SSB

Hike:  None….I sat for few hours each afternoon spread out over Thursday thru Saturday

Solo operation: Just me operating as W6PNG

Recommend: Yes

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2018

A blue sky and warm wafting air is one part of what makes this place so wonderful.

We’re back in Laguna Beach. We love the Scottish Borders but this is just different and it’s hard to beat low 70s temperatures and blue skies.

Laguna Beach
End of my street and enjoying another hobby
Sunset looking toward my Prefectures, 6,000 miles across the Pacific
It’s a bit like being on the Mediterranean
Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 8.44.47 AM
Laguna Beach tucked away in Southern California half way between LA and San Diego

Either love it or hate it, it’s undeniable that this new digital communication mode has taken the ham radio world by storm. At some level it’s hard to believe that shortening the time between messages from 1 minute (JT65) to 15 seconds (FT8) is what did it but it has. It’s a classic tipping point.

The work of the devil

Some claim it’s all the work of the devil and single handily has killed of old school morse code never to be heard on the air waves again, while others proclaim it to be the new Messiah, saving us from obscurity and rescuing the lost ham radio masses trapped in pesky HOA land. Somewhere between these is the truth and FT8 is certainly different.

Beyond being able to communicate much further afield for a given power level versus say voice, it doesn’t require such intense concentration as a computer program is doing much of the heavy lifting for the operator including auto sequencing the next message. Select, click and sit back.

A computer program, the cockpit of FT8. Select, click and sit back…..

In truth I enjoy FT8, fully recognize its upside in making it easier to communicate and especially love the ability to see in near real time where my little signal has wondered globally and been heard by whom. That alone is quite ground breaking and provides a ton of insight, much of which we don’t fully understand as a community. On the plus side literally 100s millions of “who heard whom where” records are being accumulated and make for a treasure trove of information for someone to mine, who’s into the black art and mysterious science of signal propagation. Truth is we don’t really fully know how signals propagate and our predictions of what will happen tomorrow  are a little like the UK weather forecast; generally inaccurate and revised often.

And so I set to last Wednesday and Thursday to see what 20m and 17m yielded.

17m FT8 W6PNG DM13 Nov 7 2018
Real time summary of who heard my 40 watts. Japan, China, Aus, Chile, Argentina and of course the Good Ole USA
Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 1.54.39 PM
19 confirmed contacts with Japan out of 26 contacts for a few hours investment – GREAT!

Clearly propagation was cooperating and a chance conversation with Mat K0BBC tipped me off to what I should have know; contest time!! The weekend would undoubtedly have the airwaves filled with Japanese participants in the Japan International DX contest.

500 watts of pure contest power

I’m ready, size counts and I have my 500 watt linear amp ready to launch my voice 6,000 miles westward. As I only have 20-10m bands on my antenna my participation Saturday is during daylight. Sadly propagation wasn’t that good and while I’m thrilled that I heard many of the callers first (it’s an advantage the west coast has relative to the mid west or east coast) and better still that pretty much all got my callsign first time I transmitted. Power counts but still all I netted was 9 voice contacts. It’s a bust and I headed into the garage to continue work on an Elecraft kit.

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 2.03.15 PM


Contest was a bust, so I headed back into the garage to work on my Elecraft KRC2


Prefects and Prefectures

Like an Oblast, a Prefecture is an administrative region just Japan and not the Ukraine. As its our translation I suspect each doesn’t have a prefect but it does immediately make me think of English school days when prefects were best avoided.

So why the interest in Prefectures? Like any self respecting radio community, the Japanese have awards for collecting not so rare Penny Blacks in the form of one contact with each of the 47 Prefectures. I’m not sure how many I have confirmed but 19 FT8 contacts, a couple of voice plus what I’ve nabbed in the past year or so suggest this could be a fun little California project.

It will be virtual travel to all the prefectures beyond the one that I visited countless times in the late 90s. No regrets but I wish I had spent the time to venture beyond Tokyo and not be in such a rush to get back to Laguna Beach. Then again its clearly a spectacular place to come home to again and again and again.

Welcome home, me!


47 Prefectures and despite countless visits to Japan I only managed one


As a by-note, my R6000 needs a little maintenance!!



  1. Nice pictures and narrative once again. As I live in a strict HOA I do not have an HF antenna up, but clearly I am missing all the fun. Need to figure out how to sneak an antenna up somewhere.


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