Tuesday, June 8, 2010

T Minus Nine & Counting

June 2, 2010 brought a sustained Sporadic E-Skip opening to the Southeastern United States. Six Meters opened early in the morning to the Caribbean, and then to Mexico. Several times during the morning, the band grew "short" here with nearby grids like EM48 being worked on 6 Meters via E-Skip. 

For those new to VHF, E-Skip paths typically cover 600-1100 miles, with longer paths being worked via "double hop" propagation. When these events become intense on 6 Meters, the distance to stations being worked grows shorter, with contacts of less than 300 miles becoming possible. As this happens, the Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF) climbs higher. 

Many hard core DX'ers will track the MUF using a variety of indicators. One of those is when you start to see 6 Meters "go short". Other good things to check are listening for E-Skip on local FM channels that are "empty". 

During this opening, my local channels were being overwhelmed with stations from Houston, Dallas, and Kansas City. These E-skip openings happened first on 88.5, then 101.1, finally reaching above 107.5. 

A quick check of the NOAA Weather Radio frequencies at 162Mhz revealed only the "usual suspects"...so I knew the MUF was somewhere between 108 and 162. I sent several CQ's on 144.200, hoping for rare 2 Meter E-Skip, but nothing was heard. 

As the afternoon, progressed, this cycle repeated itself. E Skip on 6 Meters would build to a frenzy, and Mexican TV stations would fill  the screen of my old B&W set in my shack. First TV channel 2, then 3, then 4....The FM dial would fill up too, but nothing on 2 Meters. Drat! 

 I started catching up on some e-mails in our home office, and an hour passed.  I drifted back into the shack, to see a crystal clear picture on Channel 5 from Mexico. Wow. The bands must be jumping. I spun to the NOAA Weather Radio channels and heard strong signals on the two vacant channels in my area! The MUF must be above 162 MHz! 

Quickly, I spun the dial to 144.200 and heard KA0JGH calling CQ from Nebraska with no takers. I called him, and he came right back with a 59+ signal report. Wow! A new grid and a new state. I moved up and down the band listening for other calls. 

Managed to work W0NRW from EN11 for another new grid, and then AE0G in EN10. Then disaster struck...my wife tapped me on the shoulder, pointed towards her watch, and reminded me that we had a date for dinner with another couple. But....but....

Common sense prevailed. A contest weekend is coming, with the CQ WW to follow soon after that. I'd spent almost the whole day in the shack on 6 Meters, and DXing TV stations. Trying to get out of this dinner would be a suicide mission. I switched off the rig, and went to freshen up before dinner. 

As we drove, David Benton, WA4JGG called my cell phone to tell me that 2 Meters was open. My wife listened on our Bluetooth speaker, and said, "Honey, why didn't you say so? We could have canceled". After 28 years of marriage, I know better than to take bait like that. I just smiled, and said, "I'm sure the band will be open again soon". 

I hated to miss most of that opening, but EN10 and EN11 put me at 91 grids on 2 Meters with the indoor antennas. And I live to fight another day. Hoping that I'll pick up at least one or two more this weekend....

Great opening, and lots of fun. Thanks to my new friends in Nebraska, and the world's best XYL. She's even worth passing up a 2 Meter E-Skip opening for...how many men can say that? 


VUCC #1,712 On Indoor Antennas

The US Postal Service delivered a welcome surprise in today's mail. A beautiful certificate from the ARRL for 6 Meter VUCC # 1,712. I don't think I've been that excited to open something since Christmas morning 1966, when Santa brought  me Major Matt Mason, his Space Station, and Moon Crawler!
I made my first VHF+ contact in December of 2008 on 2 Meter SSB, using a four element Yagi that was mounted in that attic in my deed restricted home. After another afternoon of struggling to work a net on 80 Meters using the disguised antennas in my backyard, I thought maybe I could finally try weak signal VHF stuff. The antenna was already mounted on a small rotor, and I used it for ARES work on distant repeaters. A quick flip turned it "Horizontal" and that was that.
That brief contact started a passion for a whole new area of amateur radio, after being licensed for decades. I'd always been into "weak signals" but spent most of my time on 160 Meter CW, and doing cutting edge homebrew stuff on the 1750 Meter "Lowfer" band.
My only VHF experience had been serious TV DXing, but it was nothing like this!
Despite the handicap of indoor antennas, I was lucky to find a group of VHF Men who took me under their wings, and encouraged my interest. Jimmy Long, W4ZRZ has done more than anyone could ask of an Elmer or a friend. Patient, generous, and encouraging. He's also not beyond giving you a quick kick in the pants if your efforts are slacking. Thank you Jimmy!
Jack, WA5UUD answered an unending series of stupid questions, and made an effort to alert me to every band opening on 6 &2 since. I wouldn't be able to work out beyond 50 miles without the help Jack has provided.
Marshall Williams, K5QE has really encouraged my efforts on all fronts, and helped me optimize my rover station this year. Still a thrill for me to even hear the Mighty K5QE on these indoor sticks! Thank you Marshall.
David Hines, N3ZBK handled my QSL chores when work started to overwhelm me, allowing me to complete the first band in my quest. He's also become my new EME guru, trying to get me started on a new adventure.
Bill, AF4OD, the SE Rover King-has donated microwave gear for my efforts, took me to his secret "sweet spots", and encouraged me to get out of the house and try my hand at roving. Neil, N4ION donated gear to get me started on 222---and now it's my favorite band! Thanks Neil for introducing me to the "Forgotten Band". Sean at the ARRL who encouraged me to become addicted to VHF Contesting (Like any good narcotics dealer, the first one is always free!)
JD, N0IRS and the "Grid Bandits" who took me under their wing. How cool is it to be Grid Bandit #222! Bill Olson, K1DY who has tried patiently to explain antennas to the village idiot. Thanks, Bill for all you've done too. Ben, K4QF who taught me the three rules of VHF, "Be On. Be Horizontal. Be Loud." Or has he likes to add, "In your case, two out three ain't bad".
Judge Van Deacon & The gang at the Ocoee Amateur Radio Club from my hometown of Cleveland, TN who stopped their contest efforts to help repair my rover in the rain last year. You guys rock! Marcus, KF4YHP, who helped engineer the rover antenna system, and kept my spirits up when I got down on the handicap of indoor antennas.
Gene, W3ZZ has challenged me and chided me too on occasion...thanks for your patience and inspiration Gene. The gang on "Ping Jockey" for giving me the thrill of working the "Rox" which became my secret weapon. And all the VHF Men on these lists who have endured my endless stories, mindless questions, and often ill informed opinions. I've learned so much from you all!
Lastly, I have to thank two really special people. Rex, W5RCI, who told me only days before he fell ill that my 222 signal was so loud, he might consider passing the mantle of "Mr. 222" on to me. What a thrill it was to work him on CW on 432 and 1.2 Ghz. It's not often one gets a chance to play baseball with a Hank Aaron, or Babe Ruth, but I can truly say that I worked the legend. Rex is still missed every morning here on .200.
And my XYL, Abby Rayburn, who has endured being a ham's wife for 28 years. She's also been my faithful rover partner, designed and built a custom PVC rack for my rover, and generally encouraged me to follow this silly dream. I love you, Miss Abby...
I'm proudest of all that I confirmed 121 grids for the award, and 112 of those were made using only the indoor antenna. My initial goal is complete...but the journey has just become. I still want VUCC on 2, 222, 432, 902, 1.2 GHz, and maybe even higher.
Listen, I know I'm rambling on---but I can't help it. I'm excited, and thrilled---and just damn proud to be one of you, the Lords of Light, a VHF Man. I've said it before, but it bears repeating:
I wasted almost 40 years on HF. All the fun truly is in the "World Above 50 Mhz". My sincere thanks to all who have helped along the way, and strained their ears to copy this weak, indoor signal. I'm forever in your debt.
Les Rayburn, N1LF
VUCC 6M # 1,712
Grid Bandit #222