Not too much excitement during the September VHF test this year. Conditions on pretty much every band/mode I have up seemed average to poor. Maybe some of these comments will help someone.
Meteors were pretty poor after about 1300Z Sunday, although, a few hours earlier, they seemed to start well. I was able to call CQ on 50.260, running split-mode and work a slow, steady stream of callers for about 45 minutes. 2M rocks didn't produce well, but I didn't really go at them aggressively or get too pushy on PingJockey, since I was mostly 'playing contester' instead of contesting.
Being September, there were no sporadic E openings on 6 that I noticed and even the be-all-end-all miracle mode of FT8 didn't produce any long-haul stuff. Funny - I can recall working several stations in the 900-1100 miles range on ionoscatter using SSB or CW almost every contest. One would think FT8 would be even better at that but there was seldom 'anybody home' on 50.313. Hard to figure out what's really going on in the minds of the majority of FT8 mode users. Also, meteor pings just play holy havoc with FT8 decodes - not as miracle as some make it out to be, 'eh ?. My 6M go-to mode of choice for years in these conditions was always CW (you remember that mode, right ?) I don't think that would get you too far now, unfortunately.
2M tropospheric conditions (if you can call them that in this part of the world) were average. The rovers with decent antennas who got far enough east of the front-range foothills were easily workable. Those that stayed close to I-25 ? Not so easy. I was able to work into DM89 and DN81 with good signals - both rover and fixed station. The DM/DN-70's were not so easy. Sunday mornings 2M "tropo" conditions were above average, with WE7L in over S9. Unfortunately, there was hardly anybody else around. Thanks to K0UK, who got on as promised, for the DM59 mult on 6 & 2, another hard to get one.
Rover station KK6MC once again showed how it's done. I was able to work Duffy with relative ease on 2M from 5 of his 7 New Mexico grid stops and even a few on 6. These Qs were 250-300 miles across a 14,000' mountain range 50 miles south of my QTH. All but one QSO was on CW (you remember that mode, right ?) Some 2M attempts were met with very bad QSB, but just sticking with it for a few minutes and waiting out the fade cycle, usually brought the signal back up to Q5 from in the noise. This is a good point to remember if you're new to VHF or attempting a higher frequency band like 432 for the first time. Stick with it - deep cyclic QSB is normal and what goes into the noise usually comes right back out again, although on 432, the cycle MAY take a few minutes (or longer). This is not a western phenomenon - back in W9-land, it was very common for a long-haul attempt (400+ miles) on 432 to take 15-20 minutes and ultimately end up with Q5 signals both ways. Whether the time spent is worth it or not in a contest situation is up to you, although the rules now allow even single op's to transmit on multiple bands at the same time. That's something to think about when planning station architecture.
A new local showed up on 2M from about 3 miles south of me and proceeded to call CQ a bunch on 144.200, sometimes on top of the few front-range guys who were workable. I worked him, thanked him for being on from my home grid, which is usually impossible to work and then we had a frank discussion on the why's and when's of 2M from the west slope. Somebody gave him a 2M all-mode radio and antenna, then a few days before the contest, he caught one of those 'big' mornings into the front-range and worked WE7L at over S9 - then, he worked a guy up on Grand Mesa with a big signal (line-of-sight, of course). So, armed with that 'knowledge', he was all ready to tear up the state on 2M SSB ! Hopefully, in the future, he will be more 'ear' then 'mouth', seeing he's down in the bottom of a canyon with 25W and a short beam fixed east. Not much, but enough to be 40-over in MY receiver. I guess I'm spoiled from having the valley pretty much to myself for the last 7-8 years :)
I worked George, AB0YM/R several times, including answering his FT8 CQ from DM89 on 6M for a new mult. I again caution those who sign 'slash-R' with FT8. What you think the program is sending might not be what actually goes over the air - I'll leave it at that as it will probably get fixed with the release of WSJT-X Ver 2. George, if you read this, be advised you were S9 at the start of the contest on 2M, calling CQ in my face for 5 minutes when I was calling you. I'm running considerably more power then you in your rover. All I can figure is you were in motion and must have had a very high noise floor, either from the urban crud or from your own vehicle. It Was VERY Frustrating :)
The biggest news is that the trash covering the entire 6M band, emanating from a local FM broadcast station, has been cleared up after a lot of tough work. Many thanks to the responsible parties !
Keith J Morehouse
Calmesa Partners G.P.