It’s been a while since I posted, so I reckon I need to check in to let everyone know I’m still alive. I worked twenty-some stations this afternoon on FT-8. Around 1900Z I could hear signals on all the bands, 80 through 10. Went out to dinner with the wife and when we got back around 7:30 pm, 80-40-30 were pretty good, and twenty was marginal. It felt good to get on again this evening. I haven’t had much spare time for ham radio, and when I did, the bands were terrible.
I got on for a while last night, but didn’t have much luck. I did work a couple of stations on 80 meters, but although 40 and 20 were pretty active on FT8, I just couldn’t buy a contact. I was running 15 watts, but there were some humongous signals on the waterfall. Either they had multi-element beams or were running some serious power.
I tried to connect with a British station /portable on St. Pierre et Miquelon on CW. He was up and down in the noise, but on the peaks he was about S5. No luck there either. Ah, well … I can always talk about “the one that got away.” It’s like fishing … sometimes you get a bite … sometimes you don’t.
I tried a new mode last night … WSPR. Essentially a way of checking propagation. “WSPR implements a protocol designed for probing potential propagation paths with low-power transmissions. Normal transmissions carry a station’s callsign, Maidenhead grid locator, and transmitter power in dBm. The program can decode signals with S/N as low as -28 dB in a 2500 Hz bandwidth. Stations with internet access can automatically upload their reception reports to a central database called WSPRnet, which includes a mapping facility. To see a live version of the map pictured at top right, click here.”
Above you can see the results of my efforts. I was transmitting 5 watts with my 31-foot vertical on 20 meters and 40 meters (mostly 20 meters). It does give you a good idea where you’re being heard.
Got on 80 & 40 last night and worked about 15 stations around 2300/0000. Signals were pretty STRONG … some peaking well above S9. Most of the contacts were East Coast and Midwest. I did hear W6B in LA, but wasn’t able to get in. Eighty meters was the real workhorse, and that’s on my 31-ft vertical … not the most efficient of antennas.
The higher bands were crappy! Twenty was really bad here at my QTH. Usually, in the afternoon when I get home around 1430, there’s a few CW stations going, but all I could hear was the ARRL CW practice transmission and a few stations down in the mud.
Eighty meters was pretty good last night. I worked quite a few stations on FT8 mode … all of them North Americans. FT8 is still crowded, to the detriment of JT9 & JT65. I find it puzzling that JT65 seems to be the preferred mode, since JT9 is more bandwidth-efficient and a more robust mode. I usually don’t see many, if any, JT9 signals on the waterfall, so I resort to calling CQ. Sometimes I get a bite … sometimes I don’t.
I DO see the allure of FT8, though. It’s fast. True fact … JT65 & JT9 are like watching paint dry! But … I like being able to do radio while working on other things that have to get done. Hey … radio is radio … right?
Today is the Virginia Beach Hamfest, but I’ve decided to give it a pass this year. I’ve just got too much going on today that has to be done. I’m filling in for the Pastor at church tomorrow, and need to polish up my sermon and a few other things before then.
It looks like we have dodged the worst of Irma here on the Virginia coast. I really feel bad for Florida, though. This has the potential to devastate a lot of Florida. Our prayers are with the people of that state.
Even though the storm track is still unknown, our Emergency Operations Center here in Tidewater Virginia is already in storm preparation mode. Since I work for the city communications folks, we have started assessing our readiness. Right now, we’re charging up spare batteries from our stocks. What we’re looking at is mainly a rain event, with all the ensuing flooding. there’s one apartment complex here that usually has the ground floor under water after major rain events.
Our infrastructure should be OK. We just upgraded to the latest Motorola system version (R 7.17, if you’re interested), so everything has just been tested and is running fine. All sites have emergency power, so now we just wait …
The upcoming weekend is busy for me without all these complications. The XYL is having cataract surgery … it’s the Virginia Beach Hamfest on Saturday … I’m preaching Sunday at my church … lots going on. I will be on call as well.
Looks like solar activity is “heating” up a bit. Propagation has been erratic, but last night I got on for a while and was pleasantly surprised.
I didn’t work anything new or spectacular, but as you can see, I was certainly being heard all over.
According to the predictions, we’re due for a rocky time in the next few days from some pretty big solar storms. But … don’t rely on the predictions … turn on the radio … the bands are always open to somewhere.
Next item … a RANT! One thing I noticed last night was that some ops are running way too much power. A couple of stations were running so much power, they were distorted and you could actually hear it “crackling” in their audio. Luckily the JT modes are robust … you could copy in spite of the splatter. Please, watch your power!
The latest release candidate of the WSJT-X software incorporating FT-8 mode has been released (rc2), and it seems to have cured my power output problem. I worked several stations on 20, 17, and 15 meters this afternoon and everything looks ok — JT65, JT9, and FT8 all worked great.
The bands seem OK today … much better than the recent past. Hopefully I’ll be able to get on later this evening to see who’s about. It’s a dreary day outside with thunderstorms in the forecast so that might put a damper on later operations but hey … that’s ham radio, isn’t it?
Based on several good reviews, I’ve picked up a Silver Bullet 1000 Take-It-Along Antenna Kit from Wolf River Coils. It consists of 3 – 33-foot radials, a tripod, an adjustable coil, and a 120-inch adjustable whip. Works from 80 through 10 meters. Quick setup and reasonable performance.
They were out of stock when I checked, so I looked at the “Lite” model, which is the same without the adjustable whip (and cheaper), and that was in stock. Guess they’re out of whips! I ordered a whip from Buddipole, and all’s well now.
Yeah, I know an inverted-V or a dipole would be more efficient, BUT … if it pans out, it should be the perfect tool for rapid setup in parks and portable operations. As a bonus, I could use it on the truck as well with a mag mount.