Sunday, May 11, 2014

Waking up May

A couple nights after the May-opening debacle, it was with some trepidation that I sat down in front of the radios. After months and months of poo-pooing those who said that the cycle was on the downslide and arguing that the bands were still hot, I had had my confidence in them shaken a bit. So instead of running back to find the goodies, it was time to sort of sneak up on it a bit.

To that end, as the dial lights came up on the R-75 with its memory taking it back to the 3 mHz range, I thought that would be a good place to start the WWV sweep to get a sense of what was going on. It was the night of May 2nd Central Daylight Time, just at dark, or 0200 GMT. As usual, all times are GMT.

0202 WWV 2500 S-9+20DB ( low bands OK!)
0203 WWV 5000 S-9+20DB
0204 WWV 10000 S-9+40 DB ( first hop very good!)
0205 WWV 15000 S-9+30DB (higher bands not struggling!)
0205 WWVH 15000 Strong behind WWV—not just a first hopper!
0206 WWV 20000 S-5 But steady...hope for the higher bands!
0206 WWV 25000 Inaudible, but might not be on the air this late

Well, let's just see if the Maximum Useable Frequency is lower or if WWV 25 mHz is just off the air! ( according to their website, WWV 25 was just on limited hours). Punch 24890 into the R-75's keypad and hit “ enter”. Well, there is some atmospheric noise when the antenna is connected, Tuning up from the bottom of the band with the bandwidth wide open...nothing. What's this? Are folks not expecting it to be open and just not here? Is the band open to some watery, unpopulated area of the Pacific? Cruising slowly up the band the noise starts dipping rhythmically.

Something is hitting the AGC on the edge of the passband. Anticipating leads to faster tuning and sure enough there are multiple stations dropping in callsigns. Something is in there. Some of the stations calling are JA's but can't break any callsigns out. Are they calling some North American station that I would not be able to hear? No! Under the pile was ZL3PAH on 24911.3. To coin a phrase, “the deaths of 10 and 12 were greatly exaggerated”! But there were not a lot of stations in there...I did pull out the callsign of JA2FJP, then WA7NBU came blasting in at RST599+10 DB. First hoppers were still stronger. But the main thing was, the band was still open even if folks weren't taking advantage.

Let's slip down to 15. Band noise is there but only one station head on CW: LU9MDH at 0215 on 21020, RST559 with lots of QSB. Not one to give up right away, I kept running up and down the band and did eventually find another station at 0218. Asiatic Russia in the form of RV9CX on 21027.5 with flutter calling CQ. No takers.

Well, maybe as dark progresses the band really is starting to tank. Let's drop to 17. Coming up from the bottom I hit a fair signal from RZ0AF on 18070, another Asiatic Russian, again with a fading, flutery signal. Is this the way its going to be? Band openings just to the west, toward the sun? Up just a bit at 0220 finds WA1EHV on 18072.6, very strong, very steady. So it looks like the first hop stuff is doing better than the DX. If the Asiatic Russians are weak will that be all there is? But wait! As he signs, the station he is working pops up with a lot of flutter at RST549. Drat! As luck would have it, he fades a bit just as he is signing and I miss the prefix, just getting the last part: “3DX”. But “ don't touch that dial!” If he was a US station too close or on backscatter, he will be gone. But if he was a DX station that held the frequency before working the WA1, one should wait. Maybe he will call CQ in search of another hunter. Wait, wait, wait...THERE HE IS! He is calling CQDX with a quick

turnaround and I missed the prefix again. Was it an EA? Wait, here he goes again. ES3DX! Estonia. Now the question is, was the band somehow open to Europe short path, or was this ES3 coming longpath?

Let's tune around a bit and see if we can figure it out. Up at 18087 there is another station calling CQDX. Is this another European, indicating maybe a shortpath opening? Nope. RU9HM, another Asiatic Russian. Moving up and down the band, nothing much else shows up except W1AW on 18097.5 at RST569. No other Europeans. Hmmmm, chalk this up as a good maybe at longpath!

OK, let's try 20 meters. By now its 0224. If this is a “sun only” opening, there should be only Asian stations, and maybe weak fluttering Europeans long path. But as you can see from the loggings below, its really ambiguous. All times GMT, all on R-75 and sloper:

0224 RA3RLP 14002 RST 539,flutter calling CQ Russia
0225 UA1APX 14003.13 RST579 qsb Russia
0225 K9LZJ 14003.3 RST539 flutter, backscatter? Working the UA1
0226 DL1NKS 14007 RST589 steady Germany
0226 K0DU/QRP 14007 RST569 working the DL1 USA
0228 W9FAM 14009.2 RST589 USA
0228 RU4HD 14009.2 RST569 working the W9 Russia
0230 VE7CP 14010.8 RST559 calling CQ BC, Canada
0231 UA6HX 14011.4 RST569 calling CQ Russia

 So, which is it, long or short path Goodness knows...but they are in the log! Getting late and time to shut down...quick check of 30 meters before having to walk the dogs. At 0233 GMT 10104.4, PZ5RA in Surinam RST 579. Maybe I should tune around just a few minutes more....

But, hark, hark, the dogs do bark...and there is the carpet to think about. Ok pups, lets go outside! Real life intrudes in the hobby yet again! :-)

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