Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Magic Time on the Radio

This last Friday night –May 15, 2015 Texas time—was one of those truly magical times in front of the radio. It was one of those days like I had imagined shortwave listening to be when I was a kid, times when it seemed all bands were open to the entire world all at one time.

The impression probably came from reading the short wave listening columns and articles in the magazines. I just did not realize at the time that those columns and articles often contained an entire month's worth of “ best of “ listening reports from the contributors to the columns. I did not thik that all those reports were just funneled down into one or two pages of the Popular Electronics or Electronics Illustrated that I was reading in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Every once in awhile, everything will line up just right to make that imagined scenario a reality. This past Friday night was one of those- a veritable “perfect storm” of conditions.

The previous ten days or so had been pretty poor for listening here. There had been terrible thunderstorms almost daily. One nearby area got ten inches of rain in one afternoon leading to flooding. We did not have that much at my QTH, but there was enough to have everything a bright green. However, the lightning had been so intense as to lead to not only unplugging the radios and disconnecting the antennas, but to also throwing the feedline out the window!

Friday was a little different. We got about six-tenths of an inch of rain Friday morning, but the sun peeked out Friday afternoon. After dinner, I decided to dare checking the bands. I reeled the RG8X back into the shack, shook the water out of the PL-259 and decided to start the evening listening on the FT-757GX. It was just before 9 PM my local time, or 0200 Saturday morning May 16 GMT. I plugged the headphones in and slowly, gingerly brought the AF gain up. I was being careful because earlier in the week the static crashes had been so bad that with the headphones on, each crash would be like a well delivered hammer blow to the temple.

But this was different. No only were there no audible crashes on 20 meters, the sometimes irking power line leakage noise was totally absent. Other atmospheric noise was almost non existant. Was the antenna really connected? Yes it was! The band was just that quiet.

The FT-757-GX had been tuned to 20 meter phone when last used and came up on 14205 in the upper sideband mode. After a moment of relative quiet, the sounds of a nearby pileup became audible. A light touch of the dial found it centered on 14204. A Canadian station was clearing with the guy he had snagged in the pileup and the DX station came back on stronger than the Canadian. There he was...well above the noise with that floating, airy sound DX stations sometimes have...and identified himself as A92HK in Bahrain!! The S-meter showed about S-5, but the band was so quiet that he really sounded strong.

Listening over the next quarter hour was amazing. I could hear all the stations calling him. On that one frequency were US stations, stations from all over Europe, most areas of Russia and Asiatic Russia and South America all audible at once. Some of the Europeans were over S-9. The Asiatic Russians had that characteristic fast QSB, almost fluttery and echoey sound. The US stations were weakest of the bunch. It was as if almost the entire world was being funneled into my little radio in Waco, Texas!

After about a quarter hour of amazing listening, I finally brought myself to tune up the band a little bit and found another pileup on 14214. At the bottom of this one was 9K2UU in Kuwait, also with a good signal and also with stations from all over the world calling. And on up at 14270 was 4Z5PJ from Israel. All of these stations and their respective pileups were heard in a twenty minute period from 0200-0220 GMT.

With all this going on, why change bands and look elsewhere? I don't know. It might be like the question in an old joke: “ Why did the chicken cross the road?” I made a quick foray to fifteen meters, and started at bottom of the cw band as is my usual method. The band was also quiet, but obviously not dead. I don't know how scientific it is, but I can sort of tell if a band is open even if no signals are present. Its something about what the background noise sounds like. Not the static or line noise, but the overall atmospheric noise that is probably made up of an aggregation of local noises that somehow get propagated.

Anyway, the band sounded like it was worth more than just a quick check, so I spent some time slowly tuning across the cw portion. I usually do this with the bandwidth wide open, tightening it down if I run across a cluster of stations that need separating. There was a weak station on 21025 signing off with someone, then signing his call. I missed it but stayed there. Experience has taught that if a DX station clears with someone and no one calls immediately, he will often call CQ after awhile. Its not good to quickly tune away just because the QSO ends. A little patience pays off.

Such was the case here, because about a minute later he was back calling CQ. DS5DNO from South Korea. Not extremely rare, but not every day either. A good one for the log. I heard him work a few, then moved on, this time to 17 meters.

This was where the gem of the evening was found. It wasn't that it was rare DX for me, but because it was hearing a really good QSO for someone else. I found HA9FTA on cw on 18073.5 working a small pileup. HA from Hungary is not that rare at all here in the States, but he had attracted attention because of his signal strength: a very solid, steady S-9 peaking at 10 DB over S-9 frequently. Once again he was working lots of stuff from all over. While many of his contacts were US stations, I could hear many Europeans calling him.

The fun came when I heard one station low in the pile calling him. ZL4AS. Now New Zealand is a long haul from HA. Given where the sun line was at the time, I am not sure which way the signal was going from New Zealand to Hungary, but either way was a LONG way. The first couple times he called, I am sure the HA could not hear him through the deep pileup. But then something interesting happened. Many other US stations must have heard him and STOPPED CALLING! It was like a parting of the waters to let him through! Now that is radio sportsmanship. One more call, and the contact was made.

Its not often that one gets to hear both sides of a great DX QSO but this was one of them....and with good sportsmanship thrown in for good measure.

Of course as soon as the US stations heard that the stations were safely in each other's respective logs, the pileup resumed with great enthusiasm. But it was a great moment to hear!

A quick run up to the phone band found another gem, again not super rare but certainly not to be passed up. SV5CVY from Crete was in at over S-8 completely in the clear. This while just down the band, a ZL had been coming in well from the opposite side of the world!

Back to 17 meter CW led to RA9YN, UA9FGO and RG0A all from Asiatic Russia coming in well with flutter and echo. All of this in just over a half hour of listening. It was as if DX Kharma was making up for the lousy listening earlier in the week.

A quick run back to 20 meters turned up strong signals from an LZ ( Bulgaria), F6( France), RA6( Central Russia) and a particularly good signal from LY2J in Lithuania. All were S-7 to S-8 with the LY2 at 10 db over S-9. Interestingly a VE2 ( Quebec province, Canada) was only S-3. But that could have been either prop or because of a highly directional antenna pointed at Europe.

Well lets check some of the lower bands and see what is happening there. Whoa...down on 30 meters, there were still some static crashes heard peaking at S-9. Maybe not local, but perhaps they were propping in from somewhere else. They skip just like anything else! ( I can remember times in the past when car ignition systems were much noisier hearing spark plug noise propping in on ten meters into East Africa!!) One good DX station was heard above the noise: OK1AMA from Czech Republic on 10111.3 though it took some repeat listening to get his call sign pulled out through the noise.

Eyelids were getting heavy about this time after a full day of work and getting up about 4 AM that morning...but still time to check 40 meters. From the static on 30, I figured the noise on 40 would be worse and it was. But the signals were quite strong. The first QSO I ran across was on 7012.1 with the station signing being K3STX, very strong above the crashes. But then the station he was working was strong too. Turns out to be a station heard and worked here many times: F5IN with an S-9 plus signal into Texas from France on 40 meters. Up the band a ways I find a pileup about 7015 and figuring the target may be listening up from his frequency, I check down one and find TA3D from Turkey coming in on 7014..also S-9. What are those guys running??!! They are always strong here!!

By now the sleepies are catching up with me. Perhaps in the morning this trend will continue, but for now its time for an emergency nap ( or more) after a long day.

As I shut down the FT-757-GX, turn off the Astron power supply and disconnect the antenna ( I never leave an antenna connected on any of my radios when not in use!) it strikes me that all this adventure took place in just about an hour. Its 0253 GMT. Good stuff in the log. Almost thirty log entries and among them some really good stuff coming in from all over the world at the same time. Truly a magic that lived up to all the daydreams while reading the magazines in 1958!

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