Re: Sept VHF

WB2FKO
 

It was an interesting September VHF contest here.  Although participation is nothing like the summer contests, there was plenty to keep me busy trying to manufacture points.  For better or worse, activity has indeed migrated towards digital.  It was amazing to see short-lived 6m Es throughout the contest, as stations from almost every direction would pop in on FT8 long enough to decode and then disappear into the noise -- too short for FT8 and too weak for ssb or cw.  I benefited greatly from the WSJT-X automatic uploads to pskreporter, which provides a real-time reverse beacon, propagation, and activity map.  I did manage to snag W5PR in EL29 on FT8, but he was my only Es QSO.  I was surprised to see that W9RM did not make any Es contacts, as his callsign appeared prolifically in the FT8 spots, especially from midwest stations.  East of the Mississippi seemed to be lit up with FT8 spots for most of the contest, but spots don't necessarily mean a QSO took place.

There were about 5-6 stations at direct meteor scatter distance from me that were likely doing unattended monitoring of 50.260 and uploading spots.  To test conditions, I would fire off some CQs in their direction and watch the spots pop up about a minute later.  I can confidently claim that 6m meteors were there all weekend.  Many ops still seem riveted to FT8, despite the obvious pings they must see coming in that are far too short to decode.  A QSO might only be a mouse-click away on MSK144.  I made two dozen meteor scatter QSOs on 6m MSK144.  Also got one logged on 2m towards the end of the contest, when there wasn't much of anything else going on.  The points incentive on 2m does not warrant spending the better part of 30 minutes chasing a multiplier for a single-op.  There are well understood physical principles in play that make meteor scatter much harder on 2m than 6.  Under-appreciated and underutilized is 6m meteor backscatter.  This is a great way to work those miserable grids that are too far for tropo and too close for direct meteor scatter.  I heard many Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico stations on backscatter and even worked some of them.

I worked Arizona stations AI1K and N1RWY direct on 2m FT8.  The latter took two tries.  The first attempt he decoded me easily yet I saw not a trace.  We tried again a few hours later and he was loud enough to work ssb.  He has a 5000 ft mountain directly in front of him, so maybe there's some weird diffraction effect happening.

W0AMT/R covered the 90-mile path from DM55 to DM65 on 446.0 FM. That one is going into the NMVHF DX database.  Think I got Duffey from every grid except one.  Sorry I missed the El Paso guys; wanted to thank K5LA for elmering me on the superflex feedline replacement project.

On the digital controversy...  I think there are valid arguments on both sides.  WSJT was not designed to replace analog radio but to complement it.  I use it to great advantage for weak signal VHF and want to mention a few things that seem to get overlooked.  First, it's not plug-and-play radio like packet or D-star, for example.  Considerable skill and experience is required to use it to maximum effect.  Second, it allows QSOs to happen on otherwise dead bands, pretty much the situation we encounter every September on 6m.  Third, this software represents an extraordinary advancement of technology.  The cost to develop something like this commercially would be many millions of dollars, yet ham radio gets it for free.  I feel thoroughly honored and privileged to have the opportunity.  Finally, I find that making a difficult digital QSO is every bit as exciting and compelling as the traditional modes.  Try it yourself or at least get a demo before dismissing it.

73 Mike WB2FKO



On 09/10/2018 03:58 PM, Keith Morehouse wrote:
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 !

-W9RM


Keith J Morehouse
Managing Partner
Calmesa Partners G.P.
Olathe, CO

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