Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Band WAS Open! Saturday Night February 22

With a break in the cold weather, the only equipment I found myself behind earlier today was a lawn mower! Fresh oil, new spark plug, cleaned the air filter and it was almost as good as bagging some new DX when the little Briggs & Stratton started on the second pull after a long winter's nap. With the blade set low to scalp the winter rye that has come up and mulch the remaining leaves, it was a bit of a long job.  As usual, it gave me time to think about DX projects while trying not to think about whether the spring crop of St. Augustine grass will fill in the blank spaces were the lawn was dug up for sewer line repairs last year!

After cleaning the mower, putting everything away and contemplating whether to try to buy a new blade or sharpen the old one another time, there was a little while to sit down in front of the radios before dinner.

It was still an hour or so before dark. Local time here in Central Texas was 5:10 PM or 2310 GMT. For no apparent reason, I tuned up first on the 30 meter amateur band.  I didn't even make a WWV sweep, just started in, knowing time would be limited. The ever present RTTY signal was present just inside the lower end of the band, so I knew something would be there.  I ran into a weak signal at 10103 who was working a strong stateside station. The "local" was W3QZ and was almost S-9 on the R-75 and sloper. He turned it back to the other station which had not identified earlier with a "BK" so I still did not know who he was at the turnover. The other guy did ID right away and it was Switzerland, HB9LCW coming in 559 still an hour before sunset.

A small pileup was up about 1, with HK3/AL4Q at the bottom of things coming in at 569 from Colombia.  The only other activity on the band were ARRL anniversary stations W1AW/4  on 10107.3 and W1AW/8 on 10114, both every strong here.

Lets jump up to 20 meters. It's not a contest weekend, so things are not very crowded at all.  In fact, at first, I thought perhaps there was not much going on. K4VV was calling CQ on 14005 at 2321 GMT at 10 DB over S-9.  A couple minutes later I ran across special call station ZZ80AL calling CQ on 14019.3 with a strong (589) but very fluttery signal from Brazil, and W3BEE calling CQ with no takers at 14022.5. Hmm, this was not very promising.

At 2326 ran up on a really strong signal from W1AW/8, another anniversary station, calling CQ and listening up on 14035. Well, let's see whose going after him. Tuned up to 14036.5 and there was a pretty good pile of US stations calling.  But what was that weaker one ending in "WB" I kept hearing after the rumble from the US stations ceased with each round of calling? A surprise reminder that just because a band sounds unexciting, one should not give up on it...Vainly trying to get past the "locals" was ZS6WB from South Africa!

Well, perhaps there will be some morsels here after all! I found ZX7T vainly calling CQ on 14055 with a good but again fluttery signal.  I think this one is an expedition to a lighthouse. Then swung back to the bottom of the band for an upward sweep and at 2336 GMT heard another plaintive CQ on 14014. The signal was up and down from S-5 and I missed the call the first time around. Good one! 9L1A from Sierra Leone!  He must have called CQ ten times with no takers! Was no one going to notice him at all? Finally, not a stateside station, but Panama  HP1A with a thundering signal into Texas called and got him on the first shout. A few more calls then PY2DS noticed him.  By then he was posted on DX Summit and the gates opened.

Another good example of how a quick tune across the band and snap judgment that things aren't worth the time is not a good thing.  Always give it time and turn over all the rocks!

Wondering if the MUF was just low, I ran up to 17 meters.  Another ARRL anniversary station signing W1AW/4 was on 18075.8 and doing some business. A few stations were calling CQDX and VP9/G3ZAY in Bermuda was having a little fun working stations  on 18078.  Tuning into the pile I found JH0HVJ and JA1PNA from Japan, not real strong but certainly readable and an indication the band was open.

Going up to fifteen meters, I found stateside stations very weak including another version of W1AW/4 only S-6 at 0000 GMT as we slipped into the morning of  February 23 on the world's clock.
Things were obviously open to Asia with JA4CYZ with a nice signal on 21011 and R0FA from Asiatic Russia calling CQ with a nice signal on 21020.1.  He soon had a little business going. Things were not quite so good for a couple others I heard calling:  7N1PRD/0 on 21027 and an unidentifiable PY2 calling a little higher whose signal was so mangled by flutter I could not copy it.

The aroma from the kitchen was wafting in and I knew there was not much more time ( there are priorities, after all!) so I made the jump to 12 meters.  One signal, at 0016 GMT in the form of JH0INP calling CQ DX with no takers on 24903.2.  Would ten even be worth trying?  Always look. There were indications these other bands were open but just without a lot of activity.

Just before moving to the most important room of the house to check those aromas, I ran across a fluttery LW1EUD  ( Argentina) calling CQDX on 28005. Again the flutter was heavy enough to make copying the signal difficult despite the fair S-6 signal.  Up a bit at 28008.2 was JI3BFC calling CQDX with an easily readable signal.  Time for one more check at the bottom of the band and a prize was found with DS2XUM on 28003.1.  The DS prefix is an alternate for South Korea. 

Not bad for a little over an hour as the sun was nearing setting time.  The bands did not show the real enhancement from solar activity we saw the two weekends before,  but there was also not the contest activity to spur things on, either.  ( I wonder if anyone has done any real studies on the effects on the ionosphere of all those signals that appear on the big contest weekends)

A repeat lesson here for those times when the bands do not appear open.  There just might be something lurking there.  Spend a little time digging.  If you are a ham, calling CQ might be a good thing.  You might be howling at the moon, but then, you never know who else might be out there tuning wondering if the bands were truly dead.  If everyone listens and no one calls we don't get anywhere ( if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there ...well you know the rest of that one!) If you're an SWL, don't just make a quick pass and give it up.  Tune slowly and carefully, please.( a variation on a reminder from the guy playing music at the skating rink many years ago from days of my youth!)

Well, gotta go.  There are fresh chocolate brownies coming out of the oven! ( like I said, there ARE priorities!)

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