We moved to Glade Park, Colorado last November and, unusual for me, I’ve been planning my new QTH before commencing construction (QTH = ham radio ‘Q code’ for ‘location’ which hams use to as a catch all term for their home and ham station). I’ve had pretty big ‘antenna farms’ over the years in Malibu, California, Tiffany, Colorado and East Topsham, Vermont. Each time my enthusiasm to get back on air led me to ‘plan’ as I built. Although each of these stations performed very well on the air, I eventually realized that each station could have been better. So this time, it’s different…
My inspiration to be patient and plan has been the detailed and thoughtful strategic planning that my friend Tom Taormina, K5RC, is employing in the updating of his potent ‘contest station’ (a ham radio station optimized for radio contesting a/k/a ‘radio sport’) near Reno NV. Tom has a club callsign that he uses in contests, W7RN. If you’re a radio contester you no doubt recognize this callsign.
Tom was a NASA executive during the Project Apollo glory days and today is an author and ‘Forensic Business Pathologist’ using his NASA expertise to advise corporations on employing rocket science – literally – to operate their businesses better. Tom’s contest station planning is extraordinary in scope and detail. (Tom’s business Website is www.itwasrocketscience.com and you can learn more about his contest station at www.w7rn.com.)
Since re-entering the amateur radio hobby in 1989 I have spent most of my ‘on air’ time operating radio contests on the HF bands (HF is technically ‘High Frequency’ 3 to 30-Mhz, but most hams consider the Medium Frequency 1.8-MHz ham band to also be part of the HF spectrum) and in between contests making contact with as many countries as I could on each different amateur radio band between 1-MHz (’16o meters’) and 50-Mhz (’6 meters’).
By 2003 I passed 2,800 total ‘band-countries’ (total number of countries contacted on each band added together). 2003 was the year my daughter was born and also when my professional responsibilities – then in the music business – multiplied. Fatherhood and career conspired to soak up my ham radio time and my station, we were living in Vermont at the time, gathered dust for 8 years by which time I had changed careers and moved the family back west.
Most mornings I wake up and gaze at the sun rising east of our 35 high desert acres in Glade Park CO, where we moved late last year. Glade Park is a small community perched on a high plateau west of Grand Junction. Its rural, scenic, private, dry, sunny and as far as I can tell, a great place to ‘grow some aluminum’ and ‘work the world.’ Sipping my morning coffee I frequently wonder what signals are being refracted down all around me from the solar energized ionosphere and ponder what antennas I should build to find out. I’ve also been taking careful of the moon as it traverses the sky above our property, especially moonrises (more on that later). Gradually, day by day as the sun and moon rise and fall, a station plan has come into focus.
The first step in the planning process was taking inventory of my evolving ham radio interests. This hobby is a big tent with close to a million licensees in the U.S.A. alone. Some hams enjoy providing communications as a public service during natural (and man made) disasters – ‘when all else fails amateur radio gets through,’ others enjoy long, ‘rag chew’ conversations with friends old and new around the world, some enjoy building and tinkering with gear, some ‘chase DX’ (make contact with odd bits of geography, the further away and more obscure the better), and some focus their energy on radio contesting.
In the past radio contests and DXing motivated me to get on the air. My years away from operating my station have given me time and space to meditate on exactly why I love this hobby. I eventually realized that it wasn’t so much the contest scores or the growing list of countries contacted, although there was pleasure in these accomplishments, my core interest is my fascination with the physics of what makes a radio signal propagate around the world. Take the energy used by a common household lightbulb, push it down a coax cable connected to a bit of aluminum and, voila! electromagnetic waves are launched into the ether coming back to earth thousands of miles away. This has intrigued me since I was a teen age ham radio operator in the 1960s.
DXing and contesting activities tend to reveal the most extraordinary radiowave propagation; this I have come to realize is why I enjoy DXing and contesting and why I will continue to contest and chase DX but with changed focus – some of the most extraordinary propagation modes and paths are revealed during radio contests and while chasing DX.
My passion for antennas is direct by product of my passion for propagation. Better antennas allow you to explore more exotic propagation modes and paths. At this point perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I became a partner in an antenna company last year – InnovAntennas, Ltd. of Canvey Island, England – after becoming enthralled by the groundbreaking antenna designs company founder Justin Johnson (also a ham, callsign G0KSC) was creating. My passion now = my career. (More info: www.InnovAntennas.us for North America and www.InnovAntennas.com for Europe and ROW.)
I’ll now steer this blog entry back to my station planning. The ham radio band with the most exotic propagation is the 50-MHz (6 meter) band. This is adjacent in the electromagnetic spectrum to TV Ch. 2. Can you imagine tuning into 100+ countries and all continents on your living TV set via its rooftop antenna? Well, that’s the challenge of 50-MHz. Most of the time radio waves on this band propagate ground wave, maybe 100 miles, and not much further. Whereas other ham allocations such at the 14-MHz (’20 meter’) band routinely offer up global contacts, long distance contacts on 50-MHz are always special and much of the propagation at this part of the spectrum is not well understood.
There have been midsummer 50-MHz contacts between Japan and the southern USA – nearly half-way around the globe – in recent years and the propagation mechanism for these contacts is not well explained by the known physics of the ionosphere, yet these contacts are real and happening. My friend Dr. Lew Sayre, W7EW, made over a hundred contracts all across Europe on 50-Mhz from Oregon late last June. This is a long, long way and traverses the northern polar regions – usually death for such high frequency radiowaves – how did those radiowaves take that trip? Incredible! Dr. Jim Kennedy, KH6/K6MIO, a physicist and a ham, has been presenting papers on ‘extreme’ 50-MHz propagation at ham radio conventions in recent years which are utterly fascinating due to both what is explained and what remains mysterious.
Thus, my new station will be well-equipped with antennas for 50-MHz. I want to have the capability to access exotic propagation modes that a pedestrian system would never detect. My friend Dennis Motschenbacher, K7BV is building a MASSIVE 50-MHz antenna system at his Turkey, NC home: a stack of six ’11 element LFA Yagi’ antennas (InnovAntennas models, thanks Dennis!) nearly 70-feet long apiece spread across a nearly 200-foot tall radio tower. Dennis and I, it should be obvious, are lucky to married to women who in addition to being beautiful are tolerant of our hobbies. I am thinking about building something similar.
I’m splitting this blog entry into three parts. This first missive shows how I put a big 50-MHz antenna system on the top of my priority list. The next two parts will cover (a) why the new Flex-Radio 6700 transceiver (a device that transmits and receives radio signals) has caused me to put all of my other ham radio transcievers – except for my beloved Elecrafts – for sale and motivated my business partner Justin Johnson to develop a new antenna design which will find a home at my station, and (b) why I have become so interested in the moon and why I will be building at least four antennas systems which will be aimed at our planet’s lone natural satellite.