Six Meters Is the New VHF On-Ramp
Many hams start out with ham radio by using FM on the 2-meter band (and maybe the 70 cm band). Clearly, the Technician license privileges are focused on VHF with 2 meters (146 MHz) being the most popular band. I wrote about common types of equipment that hams choose to support their operating habits here: Your First (and Second) Ham Transceiver.
Some hams get interested in the other modes on VHF, with 2m SSB being one of the most popular. The wavelength is a convenient size such that mobile antennas (with either vertical or horizontal polarization) are possible. For a home station, a decent 2m yagi antenna can easily be installed. With even a modest antenna, hams routinely work hundreds of miles using SSB or CW on 2 meters. It used to be that you could purchase an all-mode 2m transceiver to get into working weak-signal VHF. Because of these things, I always considered 2 meters to be the starter band for serious VHF operating.
Six Meters – The Magic Band
While operating the ARRL June VHF Contest, I noticed a trend with activity on six meters (50 MHz). There were quite a few stations on the air that appeared to be new to VHF contesting. For whatever reason, they took advantage of the sporadic-e propagation during the contest to make VHF contacts.
There are two driving factors for this: the inclusion of 50 MHz capability on many HF transceivers and the emergence of the FT8 mode. The inclusion of 50 MHz on HF radios has been going on for some time now and hams can “try out 6 meters” by just tuning up one of their HF antennas. It may not work great, but it will usually work. Another option is to put up a simple wire antenna tuned for 6m, such as a halfwave dipole or an end-fed wire. Using FT8 is a great way to squeeze out contacts when signals are poor, so it can help compensate for the suboptimal antenna. Once the operator gets a taste of 6m operating, upgrading the antenna is a modest step that can improve their station without buying any new equipment.
This means that 6 meters has become the on-ramp to (more) serious VHF operating. This is probably been happening for a few years now and it is just taking me a while to notice it.
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FWIW, I sometimes will use my 40/15 dipole on 6M. If you do the math, just like 15 meters works because each side of the antenna is 3/4 waves, on 6M, each side of the dipole is 7/4 waves. Below 2:1 VSWR from 50 to 51 MHz, with 1.5:1 at 50.4. The pattern probably looks like a Rorschach blob, but it works, I make contacts with it.
I’m back on 6 meters SSB after a multi-year absence. Glad to be back! Bands not open every day, but when it is… it’s a free-for-all! Purchased a simple 6 meter dipole from Arrow, which uses a driven element. If you get one, be sure to silicone around the gab in the driven element. Since I mounted mine horizontally, rain water decided to find it’s way into both layers of the driven element. I used thread to absorb the water out. Tedious, but it worked. Sealed it up and have been enjoying 6 meters all summer long. Besides the summer e-skip, I am hoping for some aurora contacts this winter.
Buying a new 6M rig these days pretty much requires investing in gear that a VHF/UHF operator has very little interest in, since 6M SSB is only available via HF rigs. I’d love to see someone offer a 6M all mode radio, either mono-band, or a 6m/2m all mode dual bander, for less than $400.