February – A good month to play radio!
February is a fun month. It starts with Groundhog Day and ends with the South Carolina QSO Party. It has the Minnesota, Vermont and British Columbia QSO Parties in between. February also has a couple CW contests, RTTY contests, the School Club Roundup and many others, including some Special Event stations. This month I have spent more time than usual on the air.
While the bulk of my activity is VHF nets such as the Cumberland Amateur Radio Club two-meter net at 1900 EST on Sunday at 146.490 MHz and on HF nets such as the Virginia Fone Net on 3.947 MHz at 1600 and 1930 EST daily, this month I have spent a lot of time collecting grid squares, states and countries using the FT8 mode. I have tried Olivia (see the RESOURCES page: Operating Your Station for How Do I… articles on various modes) and actually made some PSK31 contacts.
My goal has been to experiment with something new every weekend. The last three weekends I have tried WeFax– (Weather Fax) downloading weather maps via radio. This has not gone well as either I was in the mood at nowhere near the published download times, or poor band conditions kept me from acquiring a signal. I have been trying to break my 2019 check-in record with the PANBEMS net Sunday mornings. So far either I haven’t been near the radio or band conditions were terrible. MKSK32 and THOR-22 are fairly robust modes, but not today! The net is on 80 meters and I could not tell when they were asking for check-ins. I have also tried JT65 digital mode and found some activity (rare these days) but again, band conditions kept me from completing any QSOs so far.
How are the bands? Different than they were a year ago. I seem to be making more DX QSOs. The 80 meter band and the 40 meter band has been especially productive some nights in the 1800-2000 EST time frame. The propagation distances on those bands seem to be “longer” this year. I am making contacts on 40 Meters that last year I needed 30 Meters or 20 Meters to travel that far and I have made a couple contacts on the 80 Meter band I didn’t think 80 Meters could do. I have also added a couple new states on the 160 Meter band. “Top Band”, as 160 Meters is affectionately called, is not used by many hams. To be successful most want a 160M dipole or similar wire and just don’t have the real estate space to put up such a large antenna. I have a vertical antenna. It doesn’t even claim to work on 160M. But over the past few years I have worked 14 states on phone or digital. Compared to what Glenn, K3SWZ does on 160M in a week or a day, my efforts are trivial. But at least I can get there. And because I have tried 160M and have an idea as to how much fun it is, I can strive towards a better antenna.