Posts Tagged ‘topband’

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!

160m FT8 – The End Of An Era?

If you follow any of the numerous ham radio-related discussion groups then you know that every once in awhile a thread pops up that triggers some extended and often heated chat.

One such thread on the Topband reflector, is now finally starting to gasp its final breath but not before running through several dozens of well-thought replies and opinions. I can easily imagine a similar thread, had the Internet been around, when SSB quickly began taking over the phone bands!

The thread began when veteran 160m DXer Steve, (VK6VZ) posted an observation that also hit home with me … the seemingly overnight disappearance of a huge percentage of CW / SSB activity on the HF bands.

Steve’s comments are directed towards 160m, where weak signal work has always been an enjoyable but challenging activity but I have noticed the same effect on my other favorite band, 50MHz. With the sudden popularity of the new FT8 weak-signal fast-mode, the bands have changed.

As I and others have often stated about Topband DXing, 6m weak-signal DX as well as EME, “if it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun” … perhaps that is what has now happened. Both Steve and myself see many of the things we have cherished and enjoyed about ham radio for so many years now harder to find and wonder … is it the end of an era or not?

G’day

As a committed (yeah, that’s probably the right word – complete with white
jacket that laces up at the back) topbander since 1970, I’ve never been so
intrigued and disturbed by anything on the band as the emergence of the
Franke-Taylor FT-8 digital mode.

For me, radio has always been all about what I audibly hear. I love all the
sounds that radio signals make – and even miss the comforting sound of Loran that I grew up with around 1930kHz as a teenager in south-east England. Yeah, I am one sick puppy.

With the emergence of high resolution bandscopes through SDR technology over the last decade, I embraced that as it meant that I could find what DX stations I wanted to hear and contact quicker and more easily (and, in particular, before those stations who didn’t have the same technology).

It was really exciting and enhanced the sensual experience of radio by being
able to see what I could hear (and no dinosaur me, I was an SDR fan boy!).

During this period, there has also been an extraordinary development in digital
radio modes, in particular by Joe Taylor K1JT.

As a topbander I could see that these modes in which you ‘saw’ signals through the medium of computer screen or window as being a remarkable technical achievement, but had relatively little to do what I and the vast majority of active radio amateurs practiced as radio on 160m, as it had nothing to do with the audible.

The good thing was that I could see that good old CW and Silly Slop Bucket (you can see where my prejudices lie) that I like to use were still the modes of choice for weak signal DX topband radio contact as these fancy digital modes were either very slow or, if they weren’t, were not good at dealing with signals that faded up and down or were covered in varying amounts of noise.

While some amateurs seemed to have lost the pleasure of actually hearing
signals in favour of viewing them on their computer screens, I felt secure that
these digital modes were just a minor annoyance and any serious DXer or
DXpedition was never going to seriously going to use them, particularly on my
first and all-time love topband, for other than experimentation.

Then, out of the blue, along comes FT-8. Joe and Steve Franke K9AN have quietly created the holy grail of digital operation with a mode that can have QSOs almost as fast as CW and SSB and over the last eight weeks 160m DXing has changed, perhaps for ever.

Where once there were a few weak CW and SSB signals (I am in VK6, which is a looong way from anywhere with a population so we only ever hear a few), I can see that the busiest part of the band is 1840 kHz – FT-8 central.  On some nights I can see FT-8 signals on the band but no CW or SSB.

There are countries I’ve dreamed for 20 years of hearing on 160m SSB/CW (for example, KG4) regularly appearing on DX clusters and I can see the heap of FT-8 activity on my band scope.

Frustration sets in and I even downloaded the FT-8 software but, when it comes down to it,  I just can’t use it. My heart isn’t in it.

My computer will be talking to someone else’s computer and there will be no
sense of either a particular person’s way of sending CW or the tone of their
voice (even the way some my SSB mates overdrive their transceivers is actually creating nostalgia in me). The human in radio has somehow been lost.

I think back to my best-ever 160m SSB contact with Pedro NP4A and I can still
hear the sound of his voice, his accent, when he came up out of the noise and
to my amazement answered me on my second call, with real excitement in his
voice. Pure radio magic!

So I am sitting here, feeling depressed and wondering if overnight I have
become a dinosaur and this is the beginning of the end of topband radio as I’ve
always enjoyed it.

Now, over to you other topbanders, especially those who have dabbled with FT-8 and live in more populous areas. Has the world really turned upside down and what do you think the future holds?

Vy 73

Steve, VK6VZ/G3ZZD


Here are just a few of some of the comments elicited by Steve’s post:

… we are not forced to use the new modes. On the other hand, these new modes enable a whole new layer of operators. A new target rich environment for more opportunities to work new DX. The RF still has to go from A to B to be decoded 

I think the game changing aspect of FT8 is that many folks who would normally be available to work on CW or SSB  will now be on FT8.   The amount of activity on the FT8 frequency of any band is phenomenal.

… he was sending (me) a text message that he was sending me RRR and I needed to be sending him 73! Who needs a radio?

I turned off the radio and uninstalled WSJT-X.

Pure and simple —- No skill, no thrill.

I hear a lot of moaning that there is not any cw ……. well quit moaning and call CQ for a while … do it often, not just listen .

Stu W1BB had the attitude of do whatever you have to to make the DX contacts. There is no doubt in my mind that he would be using JT9, FT8, spark or whatever it took to make new country contacts.

FT8 is already falling victim of its own success. In my case, the number of incomplete QSOs is increasing, due to QRM caused by ‘over population’ in the FT8 segment.

There was a time when SSB was considered evil.

If using a digital mode keeps someone involved in ham radio or generates new interest, then I’m all for it.

On the other hand, these new modes enable a whole new layer of operators. A new target rich environment for more opportunities to work new DX. The RF still has to go from A to B to be decoded.

A similar situation regarding digital modes took place on 50 MHz this summer. In the case of 6 meters, JT65 and FT8 are now the predominant modes for DX work on 6 meters. During terrestrial sporadic-E openings, there are very few DX stations now operating CW or SSB on 6.  Meteor scatter is the realm of MSK144.  If you want to work DX on 6 meters now – digital is where it is at.

Like FT8 or dislike it, it’s really not the end of Ham Radio.

Technology is constantly changing. Get on the air.  Do your thing. Have fun.  When it ceases to be fun for me, then I know I’ll move onto something else.

I’ve been licensed for over 60 years, and have been a thankful participant in ham radio’s golden years, but if continuing on means having to make qso’s that I don’t hear and that I can’t understand without a computer, then it’s of no further interest.

I almost bought the new transceiver I’ve been wanting this year …. until I saw the reflector post about the gentleman who “worked 20 new ones this season, and I couldn’t hear any of them!” The new purchase is now on hold, until I see how this plays out. If there is a rapid change to digital only DXing on 160, I’m going to be happy I saved my money for one of my more interesting hobbies.

The problem is not the type of mode but the Internet. We’re spending too much time ragchewing on these groups instead of tickling the ether.

However, the trouble with the computer-based Digital modes is that there is no SKILL involved in having a contact – it’s your Computer having a contact!

You still need to set up a radio, antenna, and, of course, the computer and software to do the digital modes. Making QSOs after all of that is not a given. Different skills than CW or SSB I’ll grant you but skills none the less.

Put me in the group who of those who arrived kicking, screaming and being drug from Tubes to Solid state. From AM to SSB. From Analog to Digital. It is called advancements in technology. I still dislike cellphones. But I use them. And also all other forms of Ham Radio.

You guys should have been around for the AM versus SSB discussions/wars without the use of the instant communication internet.

VERY SORRY, BUT if 50 mc and also 1.8 mc is going to be the same this and coming 2018 season,  I stop my ham-radio and will do something else. I give it to end of 2018 to see if any changes will come.

Well said. . .I totally agree.

I’m sure there will be people who say FT8 is just “progress.”  But some psychologists divide people according to whether their preferred mode of experience is auditory, visual or kinesthetic (touch).  I think most of us who are addicted to radio are primarily auditory – on one level, that’s why we’re in this hobby.  So, no surprise that we find radio without the auditory component to be unfulfilling.

… let’s all maintain our ham licenses and continue using our favorites modes.

… don’t give up. There is still plenty of magic in ham radio.

I’m not knocking the guys using the digital modes. It’s obviously a new and interesting technology and they are having fun, which is the reason we do this, right? I just have ZERO interest in it all and still get my fun actually hearing and working another station.

When it comes to actually making a QSOs, I really don’t know what you get out of the process where two computers communicate with each other using signals that are not audible.

The new digital mode is an evolution of doing nothing. Skype would be more fun … digital mode is boring and soon the FT8 user will feel that way too.

Call CQ 5 times and then turn your computer on, every day, if all of us do it once a day, the band will be fun again.

JT modes were originally designed for VHF. No reason to use them on HF and especially on Top Band.

I guess I don’t understand what makes the new Digital modes any different from old RTTY. There will always be a place for CW and voice modes in ham radio for those that want to practice those … and remember one of the major facets of ham radio is to “advance the state of the radio art” which surely describes the new digital modes.

People should be excited that there are now so many signals on 160!

It is allowing people who have smaller stations the opportunity to get on and use their radios and a computer to make contacts they never would have been able to make. This is great for ham radio!

Steve’s final comments summed-up his thoughts:

G’day

Thanks very much to all those who contributed to the thread following my ‘FT8 – the end of 160m old school DXing?’ post. Here is a summary of what appeared in my ‘In Box’.

First, special thanks to CJ Johnson WT2P for bravely giving the ‘new school’ perspective and actually taking radio, in FT-8 form, into his workplace . As CJ says, FT-8 is just another natural progression of the hobby, which actually appeals to the ‘20-somethings’ we need to join us (and who just happened to be brought up with lots of screens rather than cardboard loudspeakers and bakelite headphones). Vive la difference!

In regard to the emails received via the reflector  or privately, there were three things that came through very loud and clear (actually deafening).

1. There are lots of long-time, old-school topbanders (and 6m users) like me who enjoy chasing weak signal DX on CW and SSB and are now worried about the future of this activity because of the current high usage rates of FT-8 on those bands. Always better when you aren’t alone!
—————————————
2. We can band together and do something about this – the solution for us old school ops who want to keep CW and SSB vital on the two magic bands is to go back to first principles – lots of CQing, tuning the band regularly and answering CQs – rather than just watching our bandscopes and DX clusters.  We all know that only activity breeds more activity. Duuh! (I feel really stupid now).

As JC N4IS said:

”With the computer our habits are different. Nowadays we turn [to] the PC first and if we see a spot or a RBN entry we try to call…. We should [go] back to call[ing] CQ for the fun to work someone. Call CQ five times and then turn your computer on, every day. If all of us do it once a day, the band will be fun again.”

We’ve all got CW memory and/or voice keyers – if we don’t want to actually CQ manually, we can use them for lots of daily CQing and make sure we answer anyone who calls us.

We also need to answer those who we hear calling CQ to keep the band alive, even if we worked them the day before – as we did in the older, less hurried, more polite days of yore.
——————————————–
3. The ARRL could be encouraged to change the DXCC program and add a new mode-specific category for the evolving ‘new wave’ (i.e. WSJT) family of digital modes, where contacts can be made with stations that are basically inaudible (i.e. as Hans SM6CVX suggested, where the signal levels are –1dB or more below the noise).

To keep the peace with existing DXCC holders, one potential solution is those traditional modes which generally need audibility – typically CW, SSB, RTTY  and PSK-31 – would count for the long-standing Mixed mode, but the inaudible ‘new wave’ digi modes would not.

However, the growing and evolving family of inaudible ‘new wave’ digital modes could have a whole, bright, shiny new DXCC category to themselves, for which all the current WSJT modes and their evolving, successor modes would count.

This ‘new wave’ digital award could have a new cool, 21st century-looking certificate (are holograms 21st century?) , would give new wave digital operators the chance to be among the first to get this award and would also give the ARRL DXCC program the chance to potentially get some extra revenue in issuing these awards.  Of course, all the contacts would be submitted electronically. 😉

Another different but related idea came from Mark K3MSB  – why not ask the ARRL to consider awarding band-specific DXCC awards with mode endorsements (i.e. 160M DXCC-CW,  160M DXCC-FT8,  40M-Digital, 17M-SSB etc).

If we want to get this kind of change to the ARRL’s DXCC program, then as Mark suggests we need to make our voices heard. This could be simply done by creating an electronic petition to the ARRL signed by as many current members of the DXCC program as possible, clearly spelling out what sort of change the petitioners think is needed. There is a great website which can be used for this purpose –   see https://www.change.org/start-a-petition – and it should be easy to publicise a petition of this kind, using reflectors.

For many years I was involved in administrating amateur soccer and have experience of using electronic petitions as a means of showing an administrative body the level of support for specific changes to the way the game is run.  In my experience, electronic petitions are a viable way to get rules changed these days. Some people hate them, but BIG petitions actually do get results.

Hope the above summary of ideas was of interest. Please excuse me now and I’ll get along to the low end of 160m, start doing something practical like CQing and stop worrying about the demise of old school radio (which I’ve probably greatly exaggerated).

Vy 73

Steve, VK6VZ/G3ZZD

All-in-all, some food for thought! Personally I exploit the weak-signal properties of the WSJT JT9 mode on 630m, but only when conditions are too poor for CW. I dearly miss the drop-off of CW DX activity on Topband and on the magicband. For now anyway, I will continue to avoid the use of FT8 on the HF and 6m bands, keep flogging CW, and hope that things are not as dire as some have suggested. Times are indeed interesting and changing … and as always, eventually time will tell.

The JK BevFlex-4 Antenna



This past week, comments regarding an interesting new low-noise directionally-switched receive antenna popped-up on both the Topband reflector and the IRCA (BCB DXers) reflector.

The new JK BevFlex-4 is reported to work very well without requiring a lot of real estate for deployment. The antenna was designed by Geoff Mendenhall, W8GNM, and Ned Mountain, WC4X.

There are several things that make this package a little different. The antenna can be configured in four basic forms: CLASSIC BEVERAGE, BEVERAGE ON GROUND (BOG) / BEVERAGE IN SOD (BIS), INVERTED EWE, or as a FLAG. What is quite different however is its flexible feedpoint allowing the antenna to be fed at any point along its length when used in the BOG or BEVERAGE configuration. The antenna is completely passive and requires no preamplification although, in some configurations, it is suggested for use above 7MHz.

Full details can be found at the JK Antennas website, as well as the manual and a FAQ page.

The FAQ sheet indicates that it will perform from LW through to 10m but the most dramatic improvement in reception from users has been noted on the lower bands. It sounds like it might make an interesting antenna for NDB DXing as well.

In the BOG form, the antenna can lay right on the ground or be buried (BIS) just below the surface using RG-6 for the actual antenna element. Other configurations allow much smaller, stealth-sized wire to be employed.

An interesting YouTube video of the antenna in action as well as an in-depth description may be viewed here:


Here is one comment from an east coast topbander:

I also bought one this year....deployed it as an EWE, as that’s all the room
I have, small lot in a subdivision.....in order to work them you need to
hear them, and once I put that up, I could hear !!! first put up as EU/VK-ZL
and worked several in the DX contest, but when the african dxpedetions were on, moved it to due east/west., and worked all of them, S01, etc.....front to back is remarkable on 160, it works ok on 80, (mine was 10ft high and 38 ft long) but really rocks on 160 !!!!, and really cuts down the line noise/static I normally hear on my transmit Inv L.

Perhaps this may be your answer for a small effective receive antenna for LW and above but even if not, their website description makes for interesting reading.

The JK BevFlex-4 Antenna



This past week, comments regarding an interesting new low-noise directionally-switched receive antenna popped-up on both the Topband reflector and the IRCA (BCB DXers) reflector.

The new JK BevFlex-4 is reported to work very well without requiring a lot of real estate for deployment. The antenna was designed by Geoff Mendenhall, W8GNM, and Ned Mountain, WC4X.

There are several things that make this package a little different. The antenna can be configured in four basic forms: CLASSIC BEVERAGE, BEVERAGE ON GROUND (BOG) / BEVERAGE IN SOD (BIS), INVERTED EWE, or as a FLAG. What is quite different however is its flexible feedpoint allowing the antenna to be fed at any point along its length when used in the BOG or BEVERAGE configuration. The antenna is completely passive and requires no preamplification although, in some configurations, it is suggested for use above 7MHz.

Full details can be found at the JK Antennas website, as well as the manual and a FAQ page.

The FAQ sheet indicates that it will perform from LW through to 10m but the most dramatic improvement in reception from users has been noted on the lower bands. It sounds like it might make an interesting antenna for NDB DXing as well.

In the BOG form, the antenna can lay right on the ground or be buried (BIS) just below the surface using RG-6 for the actual antenna element. Other configurations allow much smaller, stealth-sized wire to be employed.

An interesting YouTube video of the antenna in action as well as an in-depth description may be viewed here:


Here is one comment from an east coast topbander:

I also bought one this year....deployed it as an EWE, as that’s all the room
I have, small lot in a subdivision.....in order to work them you need to
hear them, and once I put that up, I could hear !!! first put up as EU/VK-ZL
and worked several in the DX contest, but when the african dxpedetions were on, moved it to due east/west., and worked all of them, S01, etc.....front to back is remarkable on 160, it works ok on 80, (mine was 10ft high and 38 ft long) but really rocks on 160 !!!!, and really cuts down the line noise/static I normally hear on my transmit Inv L.

Perhaps this may be your answer for a small effective receive antenna for LW and above but even if not, their website description makes for interesting reading.

Topband Trifecta


It was a week of 'threes' when it comes to the 'gentleman's band'. The first was last weekend's CQ 160m CW Contest ... exciting as always, with propagation from VE7 land favoring the southeast. At times, signals from the Caribbean were exceptionally strong while it was a struggle on both nights to work eastern W1's. As usual, I entered in the low power division with a power limit of 150 watts, spending 8 hours in total and finishing with 249 contacts in 51 sections / 8 countries. Other than the odd State QSO Party, the 160m contests are about the only ones I enter these days.

The mail brought my next two Topband delights. The first being a copy of Jeff Brigg's (K1ZM / VY2ZM) spanking new "DXing on the Edge - The Thrill of 160 Meters". This is the second edition of Jeff's original classic which was published twenty years ago in 1997.

The new second edition carries all of the original content (except for the CD) along with four new added chapters. Although the original material is dated, it is still just as valuable and informative as it was when first published. Highlights of the book include chapters on:

  • Propagation
  • The Stew Perry Era (1930-1982)
  • 160m DX Chronology 1930 - Present (8 Chapters)
  • Notable Achievements
  • Simple and Effective DX Transmitting Antennas
  • Simple and Effective Receiving Antennas
  • Tips From DXers
  • Photographic Potpourri
  • Off-The-Shelf Transmitting Antenna Solutions (new)
  • Modern RX Solutions For Small Properties (new)
  • Cycle 24 & A View Forward (new)
  • 160m Achievement Levels As Of 2016 (new)

If you have any serious interest in DXing on 160m, you will find much inspiration in Jeff's book. The descriptions of many stations, from the simple to the extreme, highlight the fact that almost anyone can achieve DX success on the 'Topband' with a little perseverance and some thoughtful station design.

When it comes to Topband DXing, things have changed a lot since 1997 ... as Jeff indicates in the new section, his main reason for releasing a second updated version:

" ... was to publicly review the technical advances that are now available to the modern 160M DX'er. In this way, everyone - old timers and newcomers alike - would have the time to "get ready" for some great years that will be coming soon on Topband. So get going ... gear up ... start making plans now to be part of the action. It is probably going to be a wild ride ahead and a lot of DX'citement for those who are up to the challenge!"

If the coming solar low years are anything like the last previous low, we are indeed in for some fun times!

Jeff's book can be purchased through numerous outlets including Amazon and Chapters, often with free-delivery.

The third Topband event, again via the mail, was the arrival a new 160m QSL.



The sunrise 160m CW contact with H4ØGC, Temotu, was confirmed country #159 for me on Topband, with most of these being worked from here on Mayne Island using a half-sloper and an aging 500 watt amplifier with a pair of original 572Bs.

If you've not been on 160m and are keen on new operating challenges, Topband may be the place to begin ... along with a copy of Jeff's inspirational 'Topband handbook'.

Topband Trifecta


It was a week of 'threes' when it comes to the 'gentleman's band'. The first was last weekend's CQ 160m CW Contest ... exciting as always, with propagation from VE7 land favoring the southeast. At times, signals from the Caribbean were exceptionally strong while it was a struggle on both nights to work eastern W1's. As usual, I entered in the low power division with a power limit of 150 watts, spending 8 hours in total and finishing with 249 contacts in 51 sections / 8 countries. Other than the odd State QSO Party, the 160m contests are about the only ones I enter these days.

The mail brought my next two Topband delights. The first being a copy of Jeff Brigg's (K1ZM / VY2ZM) spanking new "DXing on the Edge - The Thrill of 160 Meters". This is the second edition of Jeff's original classic which was published twenty years ago in 1997.

The new second edition carries all of the original content (except for the CD) along with four new added chapters. Although the original material is dated, it is still just as valuable and informative as it was when first published. Highlights of the book include chapters on:

  • Propagation
  • The Stew Perry Era (1930-1982)
  • 160m DX Chronology 1930 - Present (8 Chapters)
  • Notable Achievements
  • Simple and Effective DX Transmitting Antennas
  • Simple and Effective Receiving Antennas
  • Tips From DXers
  • Photographic Potpourri
  • Off-The-Shelf Transmitting Antenna Solutions (new)
  • Modern RX Solutions For Small Properties (new)
  • Cycle 24 & A View Forward (new)
  • 160m Achievement Levels As Of 2016 (new)

If you have any serious interest in DXing on 160m, you will find much inspiration in Jeff's book. The descriptions of many stations, from the simple to the extreme, highlight the fact that almost anyone can achieve DX success on the 'Topband' with a little perseverance and some thoughtful station design.

When it comes to Topband DXing, things have changed a lot since 1997 ... as Jeff indicates in the new section, his main reason for releasing a second updated version:

" ... was to publicly review the technical advances that are now available to the modern 160M DX'er. In this way, everyone - old timers and newcomers alike - would have the time to "get ready" for some great years that will be coming soon on Topband. So get going ... gear up ... start making plans now to be part of the action. It is probably going to be a wild ride ahead and a lot of DX'citement for those who are up to the challenge!"

If the coming solar low years are anything like the last previous low, we are indeed in for some fun times!

Jeff's book can be purchased through numerous outlets including Amazon and Chapters, often with free-delivery.

The third Topband event, again via the mail, was the arrival a new 160m QSL.



The sunrise 160m CW contact with H4ØGC, Temotu, was confirmed country #159 for me on Topband, with most of these being worked from here on Mayne Island using a half-sloper and an aging 500 watt amplifier with a pair of original 572Bs.

If you've not been on 160m and are keen on new operating challenges, Topband may be the place to begin ... along with a copy of Jeff's inspirational 'Topband handbook'.

My Favorite Contest



A few blogs back, I briefly touched upon my favorite contest of the year ... the 160m Stew Perry Contest, or more affectionately noted as the 'Stew' or 'SP'.



The contest is named in honor of W1BB, one of the earliest and most dedicated proponents of 160m in its earlier days, as well as being the first amateur to earn 160m DXCC #1, in 1976.

courtesy: http://www.k1zm.com/w1bb
Stew published a regular '160m News' bulletin, lovingly cranked out on his old Gestetner (remember those messy things?), which was mailed free of charge upon request.

These bulletins were chalk-full of DX reports, station information, and antenna-building hints. It was hard not to get excited about the Topband after reading one of Stew's bulletins!


This was largely back in the day when very few commercial transmitters had a 160m position on the bandswitch. If it did, it was most likely a hernia-making DX-100 or a similar E.F. Johnson biggy ... seems most 160m ops were he-men back in the early days.

Heathkit DX-100
To make things even messier, the band was covered with horrendous Loran QRM, much more devastating then anything the Russian 'Woodpeckers' could throw at us ... working anyone on 160, let alone DXCC, was a challenge and probably the main reason why so many found the band fascinating.

The 'Stew' is just a short 24 hour affair but often packs the CW band from end to end with a ton of activity, including lots of DX. It seems that most 160m diehards will jump at any opportunity to get on their favorite band, especially when conditions are as good as they have been of late.

The 'SP' is somewhat unique in that its system of scoring is probably the fairest of any contest around. The number of points earned for any QSO is determined by the distance between the two stations, with your computer contesting software dutifully making the needed calculations automatically from the exchange of Grid Square information, rather than the ubiquitous  '599'.

Such a system gives stations in the western half of North America a chance to compete, on equal grounds, with the much higher activity levels found back east. With most contests awarding fixed points per QSO, it is much easier for eastern stations to rack-up big scores by working the multitude of other easterners ... this is just not possible out west where activity levels, and population densities, are so much smaller.

Contest PR-man ... Lew, W7EW, on behalf of the Boring (Oregon) Amateur Radio Club sponsorship, has sent a heads-up via the Topband reflector, which is reproduced below in case you wish to learn more.

Greetings Radio Ruffians with a TopBand Bent,
The anticipation is palpable as time draws near for the
start of the 21st Running of The Stew Perry TopBand DX
Challenge sponsored by the multitude of Amateurs who
make up The Boring Amateur Radio Club. The contest is Dec
17/18. That is this weekend coming up, for those of you
that need reminders like to remember an anniversary, put
gas in the vehicle or to breathe.
The rules for this contest are different. Please navigate to
http://www.kkn.net/stew/ and see how they are different.
Another unique aspect of The Stew is that The Boring
Amateur Radio Club does not specify categories to win
handsome plaques. You, the combatants do that. Yes,
anyone who thinks up a stellar category and remits $60 or
$63 to us will join the radio stalwarts listed below who are
stoking the fires of competition.

KL7RA Top # of QSOs by a S/O
N0TT Top Score, S/O, <21Y/O, > 200 QSOs
K7CA Longest DX, S/O, Low Power from Zone 3
K7CA Top Score S/O CQ Zone 19,24,25,27,28 or China
KH6LC VK/ZL Challenge- Top S/O VK-ZL
AA6VB Top Score Big City >50K, Little Pistol <100W
AA6VB Top Score Base Loaded Vertical < 60' tall
N6TQ/A25TQ California Dreaming- Top # of QSOs with Cal
VK0EK Stations by a non-California station
Rochester DX Assoc Top Score,S/O, L-P, Outside N. America
UX1UA Top # NA + SA QSOs by Zone 16 station
K7FL Top Score 100% Search and Pounce
K9JWV/WC7S Top QRP Score,West of Mississippi,wire antennas
Dr. Beldar-L1AR Top Score,S/O, Temporary Antenna erected > Dec.3
(All parts of temporary antenna including radials must be
installed after Dec. 3, 2016. This antenna must be the only antenna
for TopBand at the station and may be left erected because as we
all know "temporary" means "until I die")
KR2Q Golden Log Award
K2PO Top Score, S/O, Low Power, Zone 3
N6TR Top Score,S/O, Hi Power from CN Grid Field
W2GD Team Top # QSOs, NA/SA by EU Station
K6ND K6SE Memorial- Top Score, S/O, World
WA6CDR N5IA Memorial- Top # of Grids Worked
WA8WZG Top Score, S/O, by a 6 character call (Example- KA2BFD
or WD6XYZ)
W7RH Top Score, Low Power Asia
K1EP Top Score (>100QSOs) by YL or XYL
VE9AA Yr Trees Ants? If you have your TX wires in the trees or even
attached to 1 tree and your adjudicated score is closest one to
tree tree tree tree (3,333), then you win this plaque
VK6VZ VK6HD Memorial- Top Score by N. hemisphere station working S.
hemisphere stations.

Winner gets a new, fresh Flying Doctors of VK baseball hat

This list grows but will become even longer after you dream up a
contesting category. Just email me with the particulars so we may flesh it
out as some prior plaque proposals were too obtuse, couldn't be performed
by any one of our species or just a tad obscene.
There will be one or two more postings of the categories and sponsors
right up until and through the start of The Stew so don't delay! Also those
who haven't sent off their check or PayPals for their plaque sponsorship yet should not delay either.

Also follow Stalwart's VK6VZ's example and go fire up your system
tonight so you won't be modally morose when the only thing that happens
when you call CQ is that you open and close the neighbor's garage door
with a distinctive cadence.

73 and I remain,
Lew w7ew
The Boring Amateur Radio Club Committee on Participation
[email protected]

If you have a few hours of free time this Saturday night, why not give the 'Stew' a look, especially if you've never operated on the Topband. If you can load-up that old longwire on 160, I'll guarantee you'll have fun as well as be surprised at what you can work ... hopefully I'll see many of you this weekend in the best contest of the year!

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