Conjectural Chats

A recent e-mail in the AWA Group from Eddy, VE3CUI, elicited some intriguing comments which you may find of interest. Highlights from the exchanges have been selected for brevity:


Eddy VE3CUI – VE3XZ/3

I’m here at the summer cottage, gamely calling “CQ” with my trusty old Vibroplex Vibrokeyer on what sound like dead bands on 15- and 20-meters…yet, when I check the on-line DX Beacon, my quota of entries at 100 is exhausted from across the continent, and beyond, from monitoring stations that have clearly copied me.

All of a sudden, 15-meters just explodes with CW contestors in the middle of Wednesday afternoon with morse machines all honking out endless “CQ CWT” at some 30+ WPM. I snag some very easy quickie exchanges from “VE7” and “W6” from the west coast — and then just as suddenly, the contest is over and I’m right back to “CQ…CQ…CQ” in silence again, all in vain.

How very ironic that  self-professed “…devotees” of the CW art and craft — “CW Tops-Ops” — can all devote attention to the object of their affection for but one single hour, and in the middle of the week…! Shouldn’t they otherwise be gainfully fully employed earning a living, like all of the other non-retirees…?! Otherwise, why “…kiss and run” so, if they really and truly love the mode…?!

I just do not get it, I’m afraid…

Robert KG4KGL:

Well, as for the middle of the week timing, more people work from home now. I guess they stepped away from their work computer and spent an hours snagging some QSOs.

I work 12 hours, two days for one week and five days the following week, then rinse, lather, and repeat. So on my off days, I am on all the bands looking for QSOs and I hear the silence you speak of, all while registering on various beacons.
Eddy VE3CUI – VE3XZ/3
I guess that I especially noted the AWOL ops on the CW sub-bands about 3 years ago, or so…about the time that FT8 became all the rage, I s’pose.
But there’s a decided absence on the phone bands, too.
I can appreciate demographics having a hand in our diminished numbers, but this is all akin to outright extinction…! So many times I feel just like “…the last man standing”…
Steve VE7SL:
I think most of these CW guys you hear during sprints and weekend contests are guys that love contesting more than love CW….making CW music with their laptops, copying and entering the exchange info and then on to the next guy … kind of like a long action-filled video game. In fact I suspect that many of these modern CW sprinters and weekend CW flash-crowd participants were probably weened on video games as there’s a lot in common with those things and watching a scrolling vibrant waterfall of signals, especially if the rest of their week is spent on FT8. I agree with Eddy that the emergence of FT8 coincided perfectly with the sudden demise of CW (and phone) activity that now seems the new normal. It’s boring as hell but seems to mesh nicely with the present generation of no-code hams and those living in condos and apartments with no room for antennas and a ton of noise to contend with.
Eddy VE3CUI – VE3XZ/3
Can you recall — nostalgically, of course — reading those QST features on the crucial need of Q-multipliers & crystal lattice filters in our receivers to “…help combat the crowded congestion on our Ham bands”…?!
I sure do. It all seems so very quaint & innocent from the standpoint of to-day, doesn’t it…? “The Lost World”.
Steve VE7SL:
Indeed things have changed Eddy and seemingly very quickly. When I was first licenced and up until just a few years ago, a CQ on 7030 at ANY time of the day or night would guarantee an immediate response. Now you can CQ until the cows come home with nary a peep.
Something has also changed with the ionosphere as well over the past decade and I’m not sure why. Are we just seeing the long term effects of a terribly poor solar cycle (24) in spite of the newest one struggling to gain serious momentum? We’ve maybe just been spoiled by a series of above average strength cycles our whole lives up until Cycle 24 but something has changed. Both 40 and 80 go completely silent now on most winter nights, shortly after sunset. What happened to the awakening of the band at sunset? I’ve seen only enough of those the past two winters to count on one hand. It’s all very odd. Thankfully we experienced those bands at their very best, years ago. Hopefully the new cycle will pump them back up again, if that’s the problem. I dare not mention global-warming but it seems to have widespread consequences in the upper atmosphere so one has to wonder … the ionosphere as well?
Eddy VE3CUI – VE3XZ/3
Wow, that’s how long I’ve been AWOL myself from 40- & 80-meters at home — I had absolutely no idea that both bands were now dead at & after sunset like that…not so much as even a clue. And I’m old enough here to recall getting peeved-off about all of the foreign BC stations that routinely crowded-out SSB QSO’s on 40 as it grew dark here.
Like you & so very many others, I too expected the bands in general to “…shape-up back to normal” with the new sunspot cycle — & I’ve been waiting now for so very many years that even I’ve actually forgotten their number…! It just never seems to happen. Is it that oft-cited “Maunder Effect” that we all heard so much about a coupla years ago that’s responsible…? And as for global warming’s influence, who knows…? We’re all still wrapping our heads around how it might affect the climate on the planet, never-mind what might be happening hundreds of miles above its surface. All bets are off in that regard, I think…! But again, who knows, right…?
Anyway, I have the ICOM 751A & groundplane verticals at the ready here at the cottage, & we spend a lotta time here in the summer, too — so do listen for me in the CW sub-bands, on 40- straight to 10-meters, & all of the WARC bands in between. You can’t miss me — I’ll be the guy calling “CQ”, with zero takers in response…!
Jim AJ8S:
Here’s an article about changes to the upper atmosphere which might or might not have an impact on ionospheric propagation:
I too have noticed a distinct decline in CQ ops except for the contests.
Steve VE7SL:
That’s a great and somewhat troubling read Jim. Thanks for the link. Although the ionosphere was not singled out, the regions containing it all seem to be getting thinner which might certainly affect propagation behaviours as we’ve come to expect over the past few decades … which seems to be exactly what is happening, at least on the lower bands. In actuality, the amateur radio community might be one of the first to notice any long term changes not particularly explainable by solar activity.
Eddy VE3CUI – VE3XZ/3
A most interesting read, indeed. Does it partially explain, somehow, the state of Ham radio conditions to-day…? Could be…I just dunno. But does anyone else “…get it”, for that matter…?
I liken the situation of to-day to that proverbial Monarch butterfly that just alighted onto the bough of that maple tree in your yard: to the insect, that tree has always been there, unquestionably, throughout its lifespan. Which is true — for its lifespan.
But the reality of it is, that convenient resting spot is in reality a dynamic one, & not a static one. It wasn’t there maybe 15 years ago, & it might not be there after the next 30, or so. But the butterfly cares not a whit — that tree was always, and is always, there. Its limited lifespan will not afford it any other conclusion (assuming that insects can even actually derive any…!). Ditto our human lifespans. Maybe the current environmental trends are all otherwise “…normal” somehow & fit into some sorta pattern that goes well beyond our limited number of years of observation…?
Again, I dunno — what I DO know after some 10 years of very serious CW DX pursuit on160-meters, is this: up until about the 2010 winter DX “season” on Top Band, there was always a path, more open than not, to Europe well into the month of March, & beyond. But in the 2010-2011 season, the band essentially slammed shut for regular DX contacts across the Atlantic in February…in the 2011-2012 season it closed its doors in January…& in the 2012-2013 season (when an ice storm here rendered me QRT) the band simply folded for regular trans-Atlantic DX  in December…!
How it has been at any time during the past 9 years, I have no idea. But I definitely witnessed & experienced a creeping steady trend there.
And now I’m witnessing a variation of this same “AWOL”-type stuff on all of the other bands, that started some 3 years ago, & which hows no sign of abating.
What an awful uninspiring time for any newbie to take-up an interest in SWL’ing, or Hamming. There is nothing whatsoever to aspire to — literally…!
Steve VE7SL:
You haven’t missed much Eddy and like you, the last ‘great’ topband conditions here were the winter of ‘09-‘10. This coincided with the longest and deepest quiet-period from the Sun in as long as they have been keeping records. From the west coast, EU on topband has always been a rare short-lived treat but that winter had me questioning everything I thought I knew about the band. There were several weeks of nightly openings from here to Europe that would often start before my local sunset but the strangest thing was that during this extended period of transpolar activity there were no signals from the USA at all! It was nothing but EU CW from 1840 down to 1800, wall-to-wall and night after night. Signals were of the level often heard on 20m and if I had been tuning around blindfolded I would have guessed that I was listening to 20! I recall calling one exceptionally loud UA1 while running only 10W out and he came right back.
Sadly the following winter saw none of that propagation repeated as Cycle 24 had started to come to life. Even the bottom of Cycle 24 had nothing similar although there were a few good nights where I managed Cyprus, Mauritania and South Africa all on topband. It’s been terrible ever since as have been condx for our beloved ‘29 BK for the past several years, so much to the point where I had decided last year to forgo the work involved in setting-up the ‘29 station and give it a pass. However at the last minute, Lou convinced me to give it another shot. It turned out to be my worst BK ever (!) and what really proves it is that not only did I not work Lou (a first) but I didn’t even hear him, also a first!
[Lou is VE3AWA and the ‘BK’ is the annual AWA 1929 Style QSO Party]
I don’t know what’s going on with the bands either Eddy but as you say, in our own short lifetime of observation’s perhaps what we are seeing is more like the norm and we were just lucky enough to see several decades of abnormal (great) conditions! It’s all part of the magic of radio in the long run.
BTW, our chat here inspired me to spark-up on 20 CW this afternoon and my first CQ was answered by a 5W mobile down near San Francisco. After him and just to test my theory, I went to 7030 at 2PM and called CQ on 7030 and just about fell off my chair when my first CQ got a Washington state reply! I guess everyone just needs to get on the air and make some CW music rather than sending e-mail :-))
Don VE3LYX: 
Lots of cw activity. NRR group is one very active group. Every monday night. over 2500 members. Straight Key club is another … U can talk about it or get on the air . Make a sked with a friend BUT IF YOU DO honour Your commitment.  I operate cw sometime every week usually on 40m.
I think the last comment can go a long way to making the bands busier but with so many distractions that we have in today’s world compared with a few decades ago, it’s often difficult to squeeze-in some air time … even when retired!
I found the article regarding the physical changes noted in the upper atmosphere of great interest. My speculation regarding the ionosphere and global-warming may not be so far-fetched after all.
Another propagation oddity that is new (along the lines of my “something has changed” comment) is the annual summer sporadic-e season on 6m. I have been very active every summer on this band since the early 70’s but something peculiar began happening in the summer of 2001. In the middle of the ARRL VHF Contest, the band suddenly opened to Europe! This had NEVER happened before from the west coast and a number of ‘firsts’ were made that morning.
Since then, 50MHz has opened to Europe at least once per summer with these ‘over-the-pole’ openings becoming somewhat ‘normal’. What changed? Some summers will see polar openings for several days in a row, often lasting for several hours as the propagation bounces from one European region to another every minute or (often) less.
For some years now, it has been speculated that this over-the-pole summer propagation is somehow correlated with the formation of Noctilucent Clouds. Interestingly, these clouds follow the same yearly time slot as sporadic-e, almost to the day, with their seasons beginning and ending at the same time each summer! Do the NLCs form the reflective medium needed for 6m propagation between EU and NA or does the same phenomenon that causes polar-e also cause the NLCs? The NLCs usually form in the high Arctic regions, directly associated with our over-the-pole 6m paths.
This summer however, the polar path has been largely non-existent, with just one good polar opening (June 12) so far. Interestingly, a recent newspot in the Spaceweather website pointed out the fact that, this summer, the NLCs have been largely missing in action (!) adding further evidence to their possible link with the polar-e openings. There is still much to be learned about the magic band and its special propagation!
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

One Response to “Conjectural Chats”

  • Martin, PE1EEC:

    “Eddy VE3CUI – VE3XZ/3:

    Shouldn’t they otherwise be gainfully fully employed earning a living, like all of the other non-retirees…?!”

    Participate in a contest where age is part of the exchange and you’ll find out most CW-operators are 60+. So from that you could conclude a lot of the participants are retired and have the time to participate in a 1 hour contest in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.

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