Posts Tagged ‘QSLs’

630m … The New ‘Magic Band’?



The 'magic band' has always been associated with 50 MHz and its amazing propagation ... usually unpredictable and often without logical explanation. This past summer saw an explosion of digital FT8 activity on 6m which has, for me (and for others I suspect), eliminated almost all of the enjoyment I have found every year on this band.


With so much of the previous CW and phone activity now gone to FT8, the 'feel' of the band is just not what it once was. What I find puzzling is that so many have embraced this weak signal mode yet most of the two-way QSOs seem to be made between stations that can easily hear each other ... often at the very strong levels produced by 6m sporadic-E!

With FT8's inability to chat about antennas, rigs, propagation, locations or simply to exchange names, for me the magic has gone. Being able to hear signals build, fade up and down, or to experience the sudden arrival of bone-crushing signals from the east coast where none had existed moments earlier, is all part of what attracted me to 6m decades ago. I spent only a few hours on the band last summer, working a number of JA stations on FT8. No particular sense of satisfaction was garnered ... working a JA opening on CW is just way more exciting!

For many, the arrival of FT8 to the magic band has opened a whole new world and from seeing so many unfamiliar call signs on 6m this summer, it seems that FT8 has brought a lot of newcomers to the band. Unlike the JAs' worked every summer on CW, almost all of the FT8 JAs' sent their QSL immediately, with almost all excitingly indicating "1st VE" ... so this has to be a good thing! I suspect, that unless the level of conventional-mode activity returns to previous levels on 6m (highly unlikely), my interest in 50MHz will slowly wane or vanish altogether ... but thankfully, there's still magic to be found elsewhere on the ham bands!

As solar Cycle 24 draws down into its final months, the deep lows that were experienced at the end of Cycle 23 are starting to develop once again. For the past few weeks, propagation below the broadcast band has been the best it has been since the previous solar quieting.

Being just below the bottom edge of the broadcast band, 630m (472-479 kHz) has seen some of the benefits of the recent round of stagnant geomagnetic activity.

While some transcontinental QSOs are regularly being made on CW, most contacts are being completed using the weak signal JT9 QSO mode. Contacts can often be completed just as the sun begins to set and staying up into the wee hours to catch east coast DX is not a requirement. Over the past few weeks my 'states worked' total has climbed to 30 and with a couple of holdouts, the QSLs have been steadily arriving.

My 630m states worked, shown in red. Map courtesy: https://mapchart.net/

Last month's arrivals, in spite of the Canada Post delivery disruptions, are shown below.




The recent great propagation on 630m is well-demonstrated by last Saturday night's activity. For the previous two evenings, my JT9 CQ's (as well as QSOs) were being decoded for hours at a time by Rolf, LA2XPA in Norway. He was also hearing Larry, W7IUV, located a few hundred miles to my southwest, on the other side of the Cascade mountains in Washington state. Both of our signals would fade and trade places in Norway but often reaching audible CW levels! The problem was that neither myself or Larry could see any of Rolf's replies to us ... disappointing to us and frustrating for Rolf.

After an hour of trying, I asked Rolf (via the ON4KST LF chat page) what he was using for a receive antenna. It turned out that his secret weapon was a 1000' beverage pointed this way ... no wonder he was hearing so well. Larry, who was using a shorter, easterly pointing BOG (Beverage On Ground) for 630m receive, commented that he also had a 1000' beverage pointed toward Europe but it was optimized for 160m and doubted that it would work on 630. Just to make sure, he plugged it into a second receiver and soon indicated that he 'might' have seen a weak JT9 trace on the waterfall, close to Rolf's frequency.

One minute later Larry's comment was just "wow!" and the following minute he explained what had occurred. It seems that the 'possible weak trace' had suddenly skyrocketed to a -16db signal ... right at the edge of audibility! Larry and Rolf quickly exchanged signal reports and "RRs" as the first Europe-West Coast 630m QSO went into the history books ... 'wow' indeed!

Rolf reported that at his end, Larry's already good signal suddenly shot up to -5db, an easily copied CW level, before fading away for the night. Larry was pretty shocked at how quickly this strong short enhancement had occurred and we all hoped that the oft observed 'spotlight' propagation seen on 630 would move further west to VE7 ... but for now, it was not to be.

Earlier in the evening I had commented to Larry about some previous quirky 630m propagation and had suggested to him that it was probably just due to "the magic of radio" ... to which he politely dismissed with "sorry no magic, just hard work and dumb luck". Looks like he was right on both accounts, but after Saturday's excitement I think he may now believe in a little magic as well!

Some Summer Short Wave Listening

courtesy:americanradiohistory



Over the past few months I’ve spent some time tuning around the international shortwave bands.


I vividly recall how jam-packed these bands were when I first discovered the magic of radio, back in the peak years of Solar Cycle 19. Much has changed in this part of the radio spectrum since then, but after having read so many dire comments describing the demise of international SW broadcasting, I was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered.



Although there are certainly not the large numbers of stations there once were, there is still a large amount of activity to be found throughout the various bands allocated to international SW broadcasting.


courtesy: https://communicationwhiz.com/short-wave-radios-guide/

Trying to keep track of station schedules and frequencies is a hobby unto itself but now made easier with the availability of so many online information sources. As when younger, I found the best way to stay organized was to keep a SW logbook, eventually settling on a simple ‘diary’ format which is still evolving.



Its next refinement will be an additional notebook having separate pages devoted to each individual frequency within a given SW band. This will allow for updating frequency information from various postings of the daily online ‘heard’ reports.

I’ve always had a great interest in QSLs and collecting cards was one of the things that initially attracted me to SW radio back as a pre-teenaged DXer. For me, not much has changed in the last several decades and I still enjoy QSLs ... the real, traditional cards, as opposed to the now popular e-card. For me, an e-card just doesn’t have much appeal for some reason but for many others, they work just fine.

As I slowly re-learn much of what I had forgotten about SWL’ing, I discovered that there are still many SW broadcasters that will acknowledge a reception report with a real paper card ... just like the good old days!

If you are keen on doing some serious listening, I cannot recommend the WRTH highly enough.





Studying the latest WRTH revealed the QSL policies of most international as well as domestic SW broadcasters as well as contact information. It is a superb annual reference and well worth the investment! With this information in hand, my listening has become more focused on recording and submitting reception reports to those stations still practicing the courtesy of acknowledging reports with a traditional QSL. Many stations also issue an e-card, but these are of little interest to me at present.




With a small amount of spring-summer time devoted to SW listening, I generated and submitted a few reception reports along with linked audio files on my website ... so far, the following QSLs have arrived:


Radio Exterior de Espana
15520 kHz - Noblejas, Spain

Radio Free Asia
9950 kHz - via IBB on Tinian Island, S. Pacific


All India Radio (AIR)

9865 kHz - Bengaluru, India

DX Clube Sem Fronteiras Broadcast via WRMI 7730 kHz, Miami

T8WH - 9965 kHz Palau, South Pacific

HSK9 - 5875 kHz Udon Thani, Thailand
Radio Liangyou - Hong Kong

9275 kHz via Bocaue, Philippines site

Radio Romania - 9730 kHz - Bucharest, Romania
Radio Nikkei 2
3935 kHz - Chiba, Japan

I’ll do an upcoming blog on some of the great information and online sites to support international SW listening activities.

Will The Sun Get Too Quiet For Topband DX?



Those of us that like to hunt European DX on 160m from the west coast know that the best time for this is during the 'solar low' years, those quiet periods between the end of one solar cycle and the beginning of the next.







From the west coast, openings to Europe on 160m are not something that happens with much regularity and, unlike the more frequent paths to Europe enjoyed from the east coast, are almost exclusively limited to this quieter part of the solar cycle. The weakening of the Sun's magnetic field at these times allows for less prop-killing D and E-layer signal absorption, particularly through the northern auroral zone path required from the west coast.

In his October, 2016, posting to the Topband reflector, propagation guru Carl Luetzelschwab, (K9LA), suggested that the coming years of solar lows may actually be too low and that because of the likely unprecedented low levels not seen in our lifetimes, the planet could receive higher cosmic-ray bombardment than normally associated with these periods.

"Since galactic cosmic rays are mostly *very energetic* protons, they can get down to low atmospheric altitudes, causing collisional ionization in the D region (and lower E region). A cursory estimate using cosmic ray ionization rates confirms more ionization in the lower atmosphere. 160m is not very tolerant of more absorption, so we may see an adverse effect of the weakened solar magnetic field."

K9LA's Topband comments  seems to have its roots in his May, 2015 article, "What's Going On With-160 Meters?", where he compares the solar minimum period between Cycles 22 and 23 to the minimum years between Cycles 23 and 24. Carl noted that the best 160m propagation period that he had seen in his lifetime was during the years between Cycle 22 and 23 and pondered why, during the even deeper prolonged low between Cycles 23 and 24, was it not producing the same levels of great propagation observed 11 years earlier. One possibility he puts forward was that ...
 
" ... it involves galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). At solar maximum, the Sun is more active, causing more geomagnetic field activity that is believed to be detrimental to 160-Meter propagation. Coupled with the Sun being more active is the fact that the Sun's magnetic field is stronger, which shields the Earth from galactic cosmic rays. Going the other way, when we're at solar minimum, the Sun's magnetic field is weakest, letting in more cosmic rays."

His graph shows the yearly trend of only the  low Ap index days (geomagnetically quiet) versus smoothed sunspot numbers for several recent cycles. The blue line plots the trend of low Ap index values with the black line showing the smoothed values; the red line indicates the smoothed sunspot number (solar activity levels).


source: http://k9la.us/May15_What_s_Going_On_with_160-Meters.pdf

Carl's earlier observations indicating that the best 160m propagation he had ever observed was during the low period between Cycle 22 and 23 and not during the much quieter low period between Cycle 23 and 24 are very much different than my own ... perhaps because of our different locations. 

From the west coast, the most challenging topband path is over the pole to Europe. This only occurs during 'best propagation' periods as this path will only open during prolonged periods of very low geomagnetic activity. Unlike Carl's path to Europe, west coast signals need to traverse the signal-killing auroral zone. 

During the first low period, I did experience several openings to Europe but nothing compared to what they were during the second low period, between Cycles 23 and 24, the one Carl did not experience propagation as good as the previous low. For several winters in a row, during the 23-24 low, I often found night after night of amazing propagation to Europe, the quality of which I had never heard before. Interestingly, on almost all of these nights, there were no other signals on the band but Europeans and nearby Washington or Oregon state W7s ... no signals at all from the rest of North America. At times it mimicked the sound of 20m CW to Europe, with signals often reaching S9 on my FT-1000 S-meter. I even worked one SM station on CW while running just 10W output!


With this long intense low, cosmic ray bombardment should have been at an all time high ... maybe it was, but it didn't seem to be bothering the west coast path to Europe, via the seemingly dormant auroral zone. 

I was prompted to address this topic after reading a recent report on the GeoSpace website, siting a new study  led by Nathan Schwadron, professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center. In the study, recently published in the journal Space Weather, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, the researchers found that large fluxes in Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) are rising faster and are on a path to exceed any other recorded time in the space age.

The author's study predicted a 20% increase in radiation bombardment but their newest research shows current conditions exceed their predictions by about 10 percent, showing the radiation environment is worsening even more than expected.

With cosmic ray levels now predicted to increase by a whopping 30%, Carl and the rest of us may soon get some clarity on his original postulation that "maybe a solar minimum can be too deep for 160 meters."

With the next few cycles expected to be even poorer than the present one, the large increase in radiation levels from space may have profound impacts on more than just propagation ... satellites and, with a new appetite to return human activity to the moon, astronauts could be exposed to much higher radiation levels than ever before.

The next few years of (ultra?) solar-quiet should be very interesting!

630m – Winter One

Although Canadian amateurs have had the 630m band for a few years now, the arrival of U.S. amateurs on the band last fall has been a game changer in terms of activity ... it's almost like starting fresh once again, hence the "Winter One" title!


The steady arrival of new stations on the band was exciting to see and the increase in activity made nightly band-checking mandatory in order to keep up with the new arrivals. Not totally unexpected, a high percentage of the new stations were located in the eastern part of the country where ham populations are higher, giving even more incentive to watch propagation trends for those 'special' nights to put some of the new arrivals in the log.

Over the winter DX season I worked 37 'new' U.S. stations in 23 different states. Of these 23 states, 11 were on CW while 12 were on JT9. Many of the JT9 contacts could have been made on CW at the time, had that been the operating mode chosen.


Hopefully the band will see an increase in CW activity next year as activity continues to grow. It is certainly much easier to get a capable CW signal on the air than a digital one and that is what many decided to do to get a quick start, while going the transverter route was the method chosen by most.

After being active all winter, the biggest surprise for me about 630m was just how little actual power is needed to exchange coast-to-coast signals, especially when using the weak-signal digital JT9 QSO mode.

Almost every new station that I worked was running less than 100 watts of total per output (TPO). A large number of these stations were in the 20 watt TPO range which I really found astounding, considering the relatively poor efficiencies of typical backyard antenna systems on this band. Propagation, always the great equalizer, was certainly playing a major role at times and watching conditions change from night to night was an education in itself.

K9MRI - 22W / 72' vertical wire / 140' tophat (72' x -140')

K9FD/KH6 - 100W / 70' x 70' inverted-L

K0KE (CW) - 75W / 70' x 50' inverted-L

WA9CGZ - 100W / base-loaded 160m inverted-L

N1BUG - 20W / inverted-L

KC3OL - 15W / base-loaded 'T'

K8TV - 3W eirp / 55' x 150' 'T'

K9KFR - 20W / 80' wire vertical

KA7OEI (CW) - 25W / 200' circular loop at 30'

K5DOG - 16W / 275' vertical loop

KC4SIT - 60W / inverted-L
As on most bands, allowable power is limited, but on LF and MF, the limits are stated in EIRP and not TPO. Hams are limited to 5W EIRP on 630m which may not sound like much but a large number of the stations worked this winter were worked while I was running around 2-3W EIRP which often seems to be plenty when using JT9.

Although Canada's west coast is now well-represented on 630m, it would be really great to see some interest and station building from provinces to the east ... VE6, VE5, VE4 ... The fast-approaching warmer weather should provide the ideal opportunity to get any needed antenna work squared away before the next DX season begins along with its anti-antenna building winter weather!

If you are one of many amateurs that may have been contemplating some 630m work but were discouraged about antenna sizes or having to generate gobs of power, hopefully the above information will encourage you to get on the band and join the fun.

You can find more information that may be helpful in your quest via the 630m links on the right side of my blog page or by clicking here.

YADD

Maritime Traffic - courtesy: www.marinetraffic.com/
When the HF maritime CW bands were shut down in the late 90's, one of my favorite pastimes also ended ... listening for and logging the various coastal stations as well as listening for the ships themselves.

Until very recently, I had believed that there were no longer any HF maritime operations left, other than various Coast Guard weather announcements and an emergency watch on certain USB frequencies.

Over the past week I have discovered that HF maritime activity is still alive and well, through the worldwide Digital Selective Calling (DSC) system, which has been around in one form or another since the early 90's as part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) ... I guess I was just asleep at the switch, having not been aware of the HF DSC activity!

Although it's not CW, there's still ample opportunity to hear and follow global shipping traffic as vessels of all types contact coastal land stations or call each other. One requirement that keeps the DSC frequencies busy is the requirement for vessels to test their systems at least once per week, providing many opportunities to log various coastal stations or add a new ship to your logbook. Ships can be heard calling coastals for a routine signal test, setting up an SSB phone QSO on a specified frequency or just calling another ship for a test or a phone sked. As well, DSC can be used to send a distress message alert in times of emergency.

Messages are sent in an error-correcting FSK mode, similar to the Navtex system, using the same speed and shift of 100 baud /170Hz. There are a few programs that can be used to decode the DSC messages but one of the best and most popular is the freely available "YADD", by Dirk Claessens .

YADD stands for "Yet Another DSC Decoder" and is an offshoot of Dirk's equally popular and effective "YAND", a free Navtex decoder.

YADD and several other software decoders can be downloaded from the NDB List Info site ... the best source of hands-on information for topics involving NDBs, Navtex, DGPS, DSC DXing and more.

After downloading and installing YADD and setting audio levels correctly, YADD began decoding signals with ease.


The spectrum display at the top of YADD's screen shows the audio passband coming from the receiver. With the receiver in the CW mode, DSC signals will appear on the frequency that your receiver's BFO offset frequency is set for. I prefer an offset of 400Hz so the spectrum display shows the signal at 400Hz, with the tuning cursor centered on a signal. A narrow CW filter should also be selected but no narrower than 170Hz.

Each vessel using the system, as well as the coastal land stations, have a unique 9-digit MMSI number (Maritime Mobile Service Identity). Once the software detects the MMSI numbers being used, it can then display the vessel's name (or the coastal's location and distance) so you know who you are listening to ... it's all very slick!

After initially running my receiver for a few minutes on the 12MHz DSC channel, I decided to look up the location of the first two ships I had heard, using one of the Internet's marine traffic sites.

I was surprised to find that my first catch was a large tanker under way in Kola Bay, having just departed Murmansk, in the Russian Arctic. Vessel number two was also under way along the east coast of South Korea.

The YADD screen above is showing the large bulk carrier 'SALANDI' (3FEB9) calling Rio de Janeiro Radio (PWZ) today on 16804.5KHz.

Courtesy: Henk Guddee
 A quick position check shows the SALANDI at anchor awaiting docking in Santos, southwest of Rio.



I soon discovered an active group of DSC DXers in Yahoo Group's DSC List, which I quickly joined and started asking a lot of questions. The 'Files' section also contains the latest list of ship MMSI numbers so that your YADD look-up text file can be kept up-to-date.

One of the group members, GM4SLV, has set up a wonderful website called YaDDNet devoted to collecting and posting listener's decoded loggings in realtime. One of YADD's features is the ability to automatically upload decoded signals, similar to PSK Reporter. It's an easy 30-second job to configure YADD to upload your spots to the net. His site also contains the latest MMSI look-up file used by YADD which is updated in real time from the latest log postings ... presently at 34,566 vessels!

Clicking on any of the uploaded ship names displayed in the real time YaDDNet log, automatically takes you to an online vessel-tracking site which usually has a picture of the ship along with all of its information, including its present position.

If you set up YADD to do some listening, I'd strongly urge you to also set it up so that your decoded spots are uploaded to the YaDDNet page in real time. Configuring this capability is very simple. Your latest logs will also keep the MMSI database up-to-date for all YADD users.

If, like me, you have missed the maritime CW activity on HF, you may find monitoring DSC traffic of interest ... both ships and coastals. I may even try QSLing some of the coastals again, many of which will still issue a traditional card QSL, upholding a long standing shortwave radio tradition ... but grab them while you can!

From my collection. Heard 4349KHz CW Aug '96

YADD

Maritime Traffic - courtesy: www.marinetraffic.com/
When the HF maritime CW bands were shut down in the late 90's, one of my favorite pastimes also ended ... listening for and logging the various coastal stations as well as listening for the ships themselves.

Until very recently, I had believed that there were no longer any HF maritime operations left, other than various Coast Guard weather announcements and an emergency watch on certain USB frequencies.

Over the past week I have discovered that HF maritime activity is still alive and well, through the worldwide Digital Selective Calling (DSC) system, which has been around in one form or another since the early 90's as part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) ... I guess I was just asleep at the switch, having not been aware of the HF DSC activity!

Although it's not CW, there's still ample opportunity to hear and follow global shipping traffic as vessels of all types contact coastal land stations or call each other. One requirement that keeps the DSC frequencies busy is the requirement for vessels to test their systems at least once per week, providing many opportunities to log various coastal stations or add a new ship to your logbook. Ships can be heard calling coastals for a routine signal test, setting up an SSB phone QSO on a specified frequency or just calling another ship for a test or a phone sked. As well, DSC can be used to send a distress message alert in times of emergency.

Messages are sent in an error-correcting FSK mode, similar to the Navtex system, using the same speed and shift of 100 baud /170Hz. There are a few programs that can be used to decode the DSC messages but one of the best and most popular is the freely available "YADD", by Dirk Claessens .

YADD stands for "Yet Another DSC Decoder" and is an offshoot of Dirk's equally popular and effective "YAND", a free Navtex decoder.

YADD and several other software decoders can be downloaded from the NDB List Info site ... the best source of hands-on information for topics involving NDBs, Navtex, DGPS, DSC DXing and more.

After downloading and installing YADD and setting audio levels correctly, YADD began decoding signals with ease.


The spectrum display at the top of YADD's screen shows the audio passband coming from the receiver. With the receiver in the CW mode, DSC signals will appear on the frequency that your receiver's BFO offset frequency is set for. I prefer an offset of 400Hz so the spectrum display shows the signal at 400Hz, with the tuning cursor centered on a signal. A narrow CW filter should also be selected but no narrower than 170Hz.

Each vessel using the system, as well as the coastal land stations, have a unique 9-digit MMSI number (Maritime Mobile Service Identity). Once the software detects the MMSI numbers being used, it can then display the vessel's name (or the coastal's location and distance) so you know who you are listening to ... it's all very slick!

After initially running my receiver for a few minutes on the 12MHz DSC channel, I decided to look up the location of the first two ships I had heard, using one of the Internet's marine traffic sites.

I was surprised to find that my first catch was a large tanker under way in Kola Bay, having just departed Murmansk, in the Russian Arctic. Vessel number two was also under way along the east coast of South Korea.

The YADD screen above is showing the large bulk carrier 'SALANDI' (3FEB9) calling Rio de Janeiro Radio (PWZ) today on 16804.5KHz.

Courtesy: Henk Guddee
 A quick position check shows the SALANDI at anchor awaiting docking in Santos, southwest of Rio.



I soon discovered an active group of DSC DXers in Yahoo Group's DSC List, which I quickly joined and started asking a lot of questions. The 'Files' section also contains the latest list of ship MMSI numbers so that your YADD look-up text file can be kept up-to-date.

One of the group members, GM4SLV, has set up a wonderful website called YaDDNet devoted to collecting and posting listener's decoded loggings in realtime. One of YADD's features is the ability to automatically upload decoded signals, similar to PSK Reporter. It's an easy 30-second job to configure YADD to upload your spots to the net. His site also contains the latest MMSI look-up file used by YADD which is updated in real time from the latest log postings ... presently at 34,566 vessels!

Clicking on any of the uploaded ship names displayed in the real time YaDDNet log, automatically takes you to an online vessel-tracking site which usually has a picture of the ship along with all of its information, including its present position.

If you set up YADD to do some listening, I'd strongly urge you to also set it up so that your decoded spots are uploaded to the YaDDNet page in real time. Configuring this capability is very simple. Your latest logs will also keep the MMSI database up-to-date for all YADD users.

If, like me, you have missed the maritime CW activity on HF, you may find monitoring DSC traffic of interest ... both ships and coastals. I may even try QSLing some of the coastals again, many of which will still issue a traditional card QSL, upholding a long standing shortwave radio tradition ... but grab them while you can!

From my collection. Heard 4349KHz CW Aug '96

July’s EME Window

With QSLs still arriving from previous 2m EME action, I was looking extra forward to late July's very short window.

When last month's activity was interrupted by my 140W brick amplifier catching fire, I was anxious to see if my repairs and homebrew RFC would still allow me to play on the moon. With July's best-positioned moonrises being too close to the sun (which was also rising at the same time), I was only able to spend a short time over two days before the moon travelled too far to the south and into my neighbour's trees.






Luckily I was rewarded with what seemed like very good lunar conditions, enabling me to easily work six different stations ... three of them being all-time new ones and boosting my EME initials total to 112.

I2FAK Franco / 16x19 el array
RK3FG Anatoly / 4x15 el array
G4SWX John / 4x16 el array
F4DJK Paul / 4x11 el array / #110
F5AQX Andre / 4x11 el array / #111
DL9DBJ Hartmut / 4x10 el array / #112


In addition, DL1VPL told me that he was able to copy me with his single 12el Yagi during the QSO with I2FAK! Needless to say, a contact between two single Yagi stations would be truly remarkable. I've only been able to copy a single Yagi station once over the years.

F4DJK's 4x11 el array

F5AQX's 4x11 el array

DJ9DBJ's 4x10 el array

I was gratified to see that letting the smoke out of my little amplifier last month apparently caused no permanent damage and the repair seems to be holding up ... but I'll leave the bottom off for now just in case it gets any more crazy ideas.

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