Sunday, May 4, 2014

April Goes Out with Near Prop Flop

The last full weekend in April was not a red letter one for the log here. There had been a big X-Flare during the week, and while the Charged Mass Ejection was not expected to hit the Earth, there did appear to be some impact.

I have grown to expect first a blackout, then an actual improvement or enhancement of prop on the higher bands as the ionosphere “settles down” following such a flare. Either I missed it, or it just did not happen.

There was no time to get in front of the radios the day of the flare itself, but I did manage to get into the glow of the dials Friday night about 8 P.M. ( 0100 April 26 GMT). The WWV sweep did give some indication that the high bands should be in good shape ( times GMT):

0119 WWV 2500 S-9+10 DB
0120 WWV 5000 S-9+20 DB
0121 WWV 10000 S-9+30 DB
0122 WWV 15000 S-9+20 DB
0122 WWVH 15000 Easily audible behind WWV
0123 WWV 20000 S-5 with QSB
0124 WWV 25000 S-4 rapid, deep QSB

Getting to the bands themselves, the only audible signal on the ten meter band was the VY0SNO beacon on 28182. It did have a fairly nice signal, 579, but there appeared to just be no activity in North America to be heard. ( this often seems to happen on ten. There will be good prop as indicated by the presence of beacon signals, but no one on the air to take advantage of it) There were, however, no signs of beacon signals from Central or South America.

There were a few signals on 12 meters, but mostly on SSB and mostly US stations in ragchews. A move down to 17 meters brought the first DX of the evening with JN1NOM calling CQ at 0129 on 18076 logged with a 549 signal. He seemed to be getting no takers. Just up one click at 18077 was RU9NC at 559 with lots of flutter. US stations from the New England area had good signals that were strong and steady, but Midwest and West Coast stations were weak and fluttery. On to 20 meters.

First tuning did not bode well. There was nothing at the bottom or the band but OK1HB on 14007 calling CQ at 0132 and not finding any company. Further up the band, US stations were working each other with nice, strong, steady signals, a sign of good short skip. The band appeared very short. I did find a pile up uncharacteristically high in the band at 14028, but it turned out to be on W1AW/1, the centennial ARRL station down one, listening up. All were near local strength. This was not looking good.

As I tuned the edges of the pileup I heard a weak, fluttery signal about 14029. the rhythm of his calling did not match those of the pileup, so tightening up the selectivity and working the passband tuning on the R-75 a bit, I was able to tell he was not trying to work W1AW, but seemed to be working his own pile. After about five minutes of getting one letter at a time when he did sign his call every few contacts, I found the jewel of the evening: A65CA in the United Arab Emirates! He was really down in the grass with echo and flutter.

It had been a long stressful day at work and the eyelids were getting heavy. Its funny how concentrating on CW can lead to the forehead clunking down on the table if you don't watch it! So it would be one more sweep of the band to see if any other Middle East stuff would come through.

It may be “cheating” a little to check DX Summit to some, but if you can't hear them what does it matter...and if you do, well you just saved a little time. The “cheating” would come if you heard the signal and just assumed it was the target and logged it in the SWL column.  So when I use DX Summit, I force myself to fully copy the callsign and at least one callsign of stations he is working to get it in the “heard” column.

There was a spot for TA3AX on 14010. Tuning down there, sure enough I found him, but closer to 14009.9 by my accounting ( with the 250 Hz dual filters, that distinction IS important!) He was in pretty steady at 559. This made me wonder if the A65 I had heard earlier had his beam pointed another direction and I had been hearing him perhaps on backscatter or multi path and the TA3 had his pointed more my way. He was calling CQ when I heard him and I got no clues to that from stations he was working, so that is just a guess.

By now the sleepies were really attacking hard, so one more quick sweep up the band turned up more strong US stations including W1AW/2 on 14027.3 with the strongest, steadiest signal of the evening, pushing the R-75 s-meter to + 20 db. The only European heard in the evening was found on 14037 at 0144 in the form of IZ8EFD coming in 559. I caught him signing with another station who was quite strong when he came back. A bit of a surprise when he identified showed him to be from Venezuelan using the special call 4M5M, logged at 589. This sort of confirmed to me that the band was fairly short. It was also time for Lights Out”!

A bit of a reflection here: I remember the earlier years of DX-ing where nothing would keep me away from the glowing dials. Sleep could be easily pushed back, either with coffee or a Coke or just sheer will. Age has brought on a more clearly defined “wall”.  Either that or the Sandman has a bigger shovel these days!

In the perfect DX-ers world, I would have been up before sunrise checking the post flare prop. But in the real world of older age, lack of endurance I have noticed following cancer treatments a few years ago ( not sure what it did, but there has been an effect from the chemo and radiation that has been noticeable even now—but, cancer free eight years now!! No complaints!) and our Saturday morning ritual of a leisurely breakfast with the wife and I, on the weekend mornings if I sleep in, it is usually mid morning or later before the radios light up. ( It is JUST a hobby, isn't it! )

As it was, it was almost 10:00 A.M. Texas time before the tubes lit up. My old friend Drake 2B was lit this morning alongside the R-75.

This was the weekend for a Swiss contest so I anticipated a lot of European activity on 20 meters. Wrong! It was like the night before. US stations were very strong and steady, as if first hop prop was relatively short. At 1455 GMT, the pileup on W1AW/1 was deep and strong, with the Drake analog S-meter staying above +20 db most of the time.

I still prefer the mechanical S-meters. On the Drake, in the Fast AVC mode, the needle bounces around a lot, while in the Slow mode it sort of floats around. On the old Hallicrafters SX-111 it really bounces around with each dit and dah on cw and flies around vigorously on SSB or fading AM stations.

As an aside, in addition to being great on the ham bands, the SX-111 is really great for for broadcast DX-ing on the 41 meter broadcast band and on 31 meters, too. Even though it is a ham bands only receiver, the WWV bandswitch position allowing reception of the 10 mHz WWV allows enough tuning range to get fairly far down into 31 meters and the 50 kHz IF provides excellent selectivity on AM in the wider bandwidth positions that provides quite pleasant AM reception. There is no actual calibration for the 31 meter band, but as one who developed methods of determining frequency long before accurately calibrated dials or digital readouts I have my ways of knowing where I am!!! Just ask any other old time DX-er! ( Maybe that should be the subject of a future blog entry!)

The mechanical S-meter on my old SX-96 is much larger and seems more damped than the 111's. The '96 might have different AVC characteristics as well, having been designed more as an SWL receiver than as an amateur receiver. The digital bar type S-meters just are not the same! But back to the subject at hand.

After noting several stations from the “4” and “7” call districts pounding into Central Texas, tuning down the band showed almost nothing below 14025. Finally one weak signal was heard calling “ CQ Test” around 14030 with lots of QSB. It was the first station heard working the Swiss contest: HB9CA, working mostly fairly close in European stations with few of them audible here at all, and the ones that were, too weak to ID. Over the next few minutes, only three other HB's were found. One unusual thing for this time of the morning on 20 was noted: a South American, PT5WF, was trying to work some of the Swiss stations in the contest. He was weak and fluttery, probably aggravated by the fact that he certainly had his beam pointed away from me and toward his would-be targets. Or perhas it was backscatter.

 It was time for a WWV sweep to get an idea of what's happening. It was time to use the R-75 for this because of the keypad frequency entry making it quick work. Besides the Drake was not crystalled up for other than the 5, 10 and 15 mHz WWV's Again, times are GMT. ( 1500 GMT is 10:00 A.M. Local time here...CDT)

1507 WWV 2500 Inaudible
1507 WWV 5000 Inaudible
1508 WWV 10000 S-9+ 20 DB
1509 WWV 15000 S-9+ 20 DB
1509 WWVH 15000 Well audible behind WWV
1510 WWV 20000 Carrier Just audible
1511 WWV 25000 Carrier Just audible

It appears the higher bands are not being helped out much by the earlier flare, and, in fact, seem a bit depressed from their usual activity.  A check of ten meters showed just a few beacons. Those beacons are a really good indicator of band activity and no matter where in the world you may be, there should be some of these little low power stations pumping out 1 to 5 watts 24 hours a day. One really good list can be found on one of the pages on

This particular morning, pickin's were rather slim. Once again, times are GMT for these beacon loggings:

1514 WA4ROX/B 28285.9 RST559 C ( “c” in RST reports indicates a chirping signal)
1519 LU2ERC 28193 RST339 Argentina
1520 LU2FB 28197 RST339 Argentina
1521 PY2WFG 28203.3 RST449 Brazil
1525 NP2SH 28275 RST559 QSB Virgin Islands

After only a few South Americans were heard calling CQ endlessly without response, as is my habit, I began working my way down toward the lower bands. The stop in twelve meters was not long with one station, K5XB, heard on backscatter, again heard calling CQ with no takers. The only other CW station on the band was from Madeira, CT3HF. 

Once again, I fear that people are giving up on the bands too easily.It appears that some may make a quick tune through and if they do not hear a gaggle of stations, go on somewhere else. It may be that two things could help this situation out. One would be for those working stations to post them on DX Summit or other spotting networks and for others to spend some time calling CQ. Checking the beacons on ten meters should be a “given”. And again, the clue of atmospheric noise other than static crashes or local man manmade noise should be an indicator that more time should be spent trolling the waters. So many times I have heard DX stations, sometimes quasi-rare ones even, calling CQ to no avail!

It might be that DX-ers of today are missing a bet in not making use of some of the patience of our forebears. It may be a clue to our changing culture that we all look for instant gratification even in our DX-ing!

A jump down to 15 meters did result in finding some of the activity in the Swiss Contest. Several HB9 stations were heard with moderately strong signals from 1515 to about 1700 GMT. Interestingly enough, many of them were working South American rather than North American stations, while most were working other Europeans on single hop prop.

A check back up on ten meters at 1700 ( noon local time) showed some of the South American beacons a little stronger, but not much activity. Two big surprises came, however, while listening on 28200. On this frequency a network of beacons around the world transmit in turn, so it takes listening on the frequency several minutes for the cycle to complete. While there was no ham activity at all noted in the cw part of the band one one SSB QSO noted in the phone band, beacons from South Africa and Hawaii were heard! ZS6DN was heard at 1705 GMT with a good RST569 signal, and KH6WO heard at 1707 GMT with an RST559 signal. This is very early for hearing KH6 signals here on ten meters.

After a break for a few hours, a trip back to the radio saw a number of South American beacons coming in much better than in the morning, along with some strong signals from Florida beacons. Once again, there were few actual QSO's heard...mostly South American stations. But one jewel was there lurking, once again indicating that the band was open but either no one was home or it was open to an area where little people live. At 2158GMT, down on 28006.25, up popped FK8DD in New Caledonia calling CQ!

Hence the day went. The Saturday of the last weekend in April would not go down in the annals of DX history was being all that great. One last check of twelve meters was worth the stop however, at 2237GMT there was 3D2RH on 24894.1 on Rotuma. Not a new one for my overall country count but a new one for twelve meters! Listening for a while when the band does not immediately serve up something is, indeed, worth it.

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