Let’s be honest. For the most part, HF propagation has been pretty miserable. Oh, there have been some good days but generally conditions are rotten. The noise is often horrendous. Some folks say we are somewhere around solar minimum but many have no clue as to how long it will last. The usual 11 year cycle seems to be obsolete. Sun spots are few and far between and that spells super poor propagation. There’s no shortage of professional and other web sites that explain what’s happening (or not happening) on the HF bands. But there’s some good news. Our hobby is wide-reaching and there are some great ways to enjoy ham radio during propagation dry spells. Here are just a few:
Ham radio fox hunts
Early in my ham radio life, while serving in the U.S. Air Force in the Philippines, I joined the base MARS* radio club and participated in their fox hunts. I had no idea how this odd sounding “sport” was done but I was assured that I would enjoy it. What fun! I got to see areas of the base that I would never have seen otherwise. It was also a great way to meet other hams of all ages, rank, and work areas.
Like any sport, fox hunting teaches you many skills that can be used in other endeavors. And I can tell you that advancing technology caught up with fox hunting as well! You can learn about this fascinating radiosport at our July 16 meeting when Jane Reed, K8JGR a member of the PRC and President of M2M Club in Medina will present a program on one of her favorite radio activities. The M2M Club has had several good “hunts” now and Jane’s eager to share her knowledge and experience. The program will be a consortium as Rich Nagel, W8KU will give a brief overview to a directional antenna that he devised fox hunting and other purposes.
If you have experience in fox hunting, don’t hold back share your knowledge with the group.
* In the mid 60’s the Philippine government and the U.S. and FCC did not have a reciprocal agreement. So U.S. hams were not permitted to use their call sign on the air in the Philippines. However the members of the M.A.R.S. program (Military Amateur Radio Service) were permitted to operate on assigned M.A.R.S. frequencies. So the “work around” was for U.S. hams to verify your Technician or better ham license when joining the M.A.R.S. Club, and then you became a M.A.R.S. operator. I was assigned the call sign AI4CMD, and still have the certificate. The M.A.R.S. club offered “loaner”6 meter Heath Kits, affectionately called 6’ers or “6 meter lunch boxes” and I checked into the nets from my Air Police barracks. Those were the days!
Good old fashioned CW
While the “dropping of the code requirement” in our hobby will long be controversial, I can say that if it were not for that simple skill to turn to I would find amateur radio very boring. Not that I’m an avid CW operator, but there are times when no other mode seems as gratifying. It’s like going into a quiet corner with a good book. And one observation I’ve had is that, while unsolicited QSL cards are losing popularity among the general ham population, very frequently an enjoyable CW chat is followed by a QSL card and personal “thank you” for the nice chat. My take is that a bonding occurs in this very personal mode of CW that happens no where else in the hobby.
Perhaps this down time in propagation is a good time for you to hone your skills at CW. Think about it. With only 26 letters in the alphabet, if you learned 1 letter a day you’d be off and running in a month. It doesn’t even require equipment. I practiced sending and receiving CW by just “sounding” out billboards and other printed material in my head.
I’d like to help you pick up or share this skill. Would you be interested in learning (or sharing) CW. You can learn CW with a simple free AP for Android like “Codeman” but sometimes it’s more fun in a group. Some groups meet in person on a Saturday morning, others on the air, I once found a group in India that practiced on Echolink. Let’s discuss this if you are interested in pursuing this terrific aspect of ham radio.
Then there’s the digital modes of RTTY (Radio Teletype), PSK31, MFSK, PACKET, THROB, OLIVIA and JT65. Use programs like WSJT, Fldigi, WSPR. A site that can provide a good overview is www.hfradio.org.uk and there are many such as www.arrl.org. Some of these mode provide amazing success under what would seem to be unusable conditions for other modes. Perhaps the digital modes have come along just at the right time!
Congratulations to Chuck Mehoznek, K8CVM who recently upgraded to General Class. Good job, Chuck! I also want to thank Chuck for taking a couple of the FM nets in July. Chuck is a busy guy but stepped up to help out as Net Control Operator on days he had available.
We have a couple NCO openings and need your help. If we don’t come up with NCOs the procedure will be quite simple — the repeater will remain silent while numerous folks just stare at their radio.
Hal Rogers, K8CMD President, Communications Director