Monday, July 14, 2014

Wake Me When the Band Opens

Wake Me When the band Opens
Sometimes we need to be awakened when the bands are open. It might not seem there is much there and it becomes easy to doze at the controls and just go off and do something else. Maybe we are just hearing the same old stations or maybe we get a little jaded and long for the “real DX” when there is still plenty to be had right in front of us. Maybe we just need to listen a little deeper into the noise. Sometimes it can be a matter of looking back over old waters that we thought had been fished out.

Such was the case this past weekend when C1AT, my second op, found the bands a little boring. The past several days—in fact most of the past week—had seen the low frequencies clobbered with QRN. Static crashes from thunderstorms had entered the headphones and were like a hammer that delivered well directed blows to the head.

So when the weekend came, C1AT suggested starting at mid day with a WWV sweep to see if the higher bands held promise. There was supposed to be a high level of solar activity toward the end of the week and if there were indeed blackouts perhaps the residual ionization might make the high bands better a few days later.

Starting the sweep at 25 MHz was not promising. WWV was a just audible carrier and no signs of WWVH. The 20 MHz stop showed a very strong WWV at S-9+ and very steady, indicative of good short skip. At that point C1AT yawned. OK, lets check 15 MHz. Hmm, S-9 +20DB with WWV on top and WWVH just barely audible behind. At this point C1AT put her head on her paws and uttered tose words,

“Wake me up when the bands open.”

Of course for real DX at midday in Central Texas ( 1700 GMT) it was hardly worth checking 10 MHZ, but I gave it a whirl: WWV was along at S-9+20 DB and steady, and just barely audible at 5 MHz, inaudible at 2.5.

A quick check of 6 meters, looking for some Sporadic E almost woke the cat up. There did not appear to be any activity to speak of and one beacon came through: W3DOG/B on 50017. As soon as she heard that call sign, she cafe a sniff and dropped back off. A swing though the phone band found one station calling CQ on 50135. A little adrenalin pumped when I heard “ Kilo papa 4” a few times with an incomplete call. Turned out to be a KP4/W3. Still DX by 6-meter standards, but short of entering the “ countries” column. And he faded quickly and disappeared, leaving a sea of white noise very conducive to snoozing.

A sweep of 10 meters saw little activity. Many beacons were there, but most operators must have been lulled to sleep by DX boredom. How could they? The band was obviously open to much of the US and the XE1RCS beacon on 28183.4 was quite strong. The somewhat chirpy but very familiar sound of the PY2WFG beacon was there on 29203.3. The West Coast was represented by K6LLL/B on 28203.5 almost colliding with him. And YV5LIX was very strong on 28215. There were other beacons audible from various call areas of the US, at least one other XE a VE7 and a few other Brazilians. Where were the “ live operators”?

Snoozing, I guess.

A trip to 12 meters found no signals at all. None! Fifteen was pretty light. A “7” on SSB along with a TG9 from Guatemala. Slipping down to the cw portion, at 1732 found a station involved in an obvious rag chew style contact, very strong, very steady. Was this another Stateside short skip station? Probably. C1AT snoozed on. But wait! When he signed, it was F6FPU! France with a good, strong, steady signal into Texas. The W3 station he was working was weak and warbly, sure signs of the band being very, very long.

But that was all. Further up the band, there were numerous strong US stations around 21050 taking part in the Weekend Sprint contest for straight key operators. NC1M was 599+20 DB! Maybe the W3 above had just had his beam turned toward Europe and had little signal toward Texas. Maybe C1AT was right. The eyelids were getting a little heavy from hearing the steady “ hiss” from the receiver undisturbed by DX dits and dahs.

Lets check 17 meters. A little excitement when an EA9 showed up with a little pileup on 18070.6, then CT8/DL5NUA on 18075.2 with a fair signal, followed by DL1MD...but then not much.

When one pond shows no fish, try something else. Lets go looking for SWBC stations. Its been awhile since we had done a good sweep of the higher SWBC bands in mid day.

Thirteen meters is the first stop. Will anything be there?

1758 GMT RNE 21610 S-9 Noblejas, Spain
1800 GMT WHRI 21600 S-7 Cypress Creek USA

And that was that! OK, lets look at 16 meters:

1804 (All GMT) VOA 17895 S-9+20db Greenville USA
1805 BBCWS(FR) 17885 S-9 QSB Ascension
1806 RNE 17850 S-9+10DB Noblejas, Spain
1807 WRMI 17790 S-9+30 DB Okeechobee, USA
1809 RNE 17755 S-6 Noblejas, Spain
1810 RNE 17715 S-9 QSB Noblejas, Spain
1812 AIR (!!) 17670 S-5 QSB Dehli, India

Ah, one little jewel. The lists show this last one to be a non directional service. Maybe a yawner to some, but it made at least an interesting entry. The rest of the session was spent with a sweep of 19 meters that did not turn up anything earth shattering, but was still useful to stay familiar with the band. There was one nice logging at 1818 on 15650 from Greece and another of the VOA station in Botswana at 1820 on 15580 that took a little digging to hear well enough to ID, peakinga bout S-5. The rest were routine except for Radio Sultanate of Oman at 1835 on 15140 with a very nice signal.

Not earth shattering DX, but still a fun couple hours in front of the radio. And yet another lesson in finding DX when the band does not appear to be exactly hopping. Even afer all these years, signals from Botswana and Oman are still pretty exciting.

And C1AT? She said to wake her up when Masterpiece Theater came on...

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