Saturday, December 26, 2009

But the bands are terrible! 

I don't currently have an HF station operational and when I mention this on any of the local VHF/UHF repeaters the response I often get is "Who cares, the bands are terrible anyway." from other hams.

Now I have to say that the current sun spot cycle has been very late in getting started and the results it has produced have been nothing to write home about so far. Yet despite all the doom and gloom from the DX crowd I have noticed that there are two groups that don't seem to be all that bothered by the lack of sun spots.

One local ham, Jack / W9UK, has been working numerous HF contacts with a number of them being pretty decent DX for the Pittsburgh area. Jack is not running a KW and doesn't have a beam up at the 75 foot level. He is running an Icom 756PRO barefoot with a simple wire antenna. Now let me explain that Jack has a microphone connected to this rig but I'll bet if you checked it out you just might find a few cob webs in it. He does make an SSB contact every once in a while just to make sure that the modulator is still working but the bulk of his contacts are achieved at the end of a paddle or straight key. Jack is part of the first group that I'm thinking of. All of the locals that I know that primarily work CW just don't seem to be complaining about the band conditions. Even those that do seem to shrug off that notion that they are so bad that there is no reason to fire up the rig.

The other group that I talk with that seems oblivious to poor band conditions are those that have gotten involved with the digital modes on HF. Even though Pittsburgh never seems to be on the cutting edge of technology when it comes to ham radio there seems to be a large number of operators that have married their computers to their HF rigs and are making numerous contacts with simple wire antennas and most running 50 watts or less of power. Running modes like PSK-31 and Olivia often with free Open Source software like FLDIGI which in many cases run on older slower computers that might other wise become door stops. These operators are making solid QSO's with hams across the country and around the world in many cases with signals that they can not discern with the human ear if they turn the speaker on and listen.

When you combine this with what I call the "No one is on syndrome" where hams go into the shack and spend an hour or so dialing up and down the bands listening for some one to call CQ only to shut the rig down and complain that there is never anyone on when I'm in the shack while hundreds if not thousands of other hams dial endlessly up and down the band waiting for "someone" to call CQ you can see why there may be a few folks out there complaining about the poor band conditions.

So while you won't find me answering you call on HF in the near future don't let that stop you. Dial down into the CW portions of the band and see how many signals you hear. Listen for those funny digital sounds that you find on almost all of the HF bands. If you know the code brush off that J-38 and try calling CQ in the novice portion of 80/40/15/10 meters. You will find the CW folks will welcome you and be more than willing to come down to your feeble copy rate in order to carry on a QSO. You might even find you enjoy it. If nothing else while you are dialing around looking for a contact key the mic every so often and call CQ. You just might be surprised who comes back to you. Ham radio is a hobby, have fun at it. That is my .183 cents worth feel free to comment.


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