Tuesday, 24 November 2015

UK Amateur Radio licensing - what's wrong?

I have been a trainer and assessor under the UK licensing system for some years, and a holder of a licence for 40 years or so. It is difficult for me to understand what it must be like to be a new entrant to our hobby.

I have had discussions with many people about this, from those wishing to become licensed to those who have held licences for longer than me. There are a lot of opinions about what is wrong with it, and almost no common aspects to all the views about what to do.

From what I can see, decisions tend to be taken about these things during panics or when the licensing authorities are putting pressure to sort something or other out. There is not a lot of logical thinking. Instead of planning in advance, things tend to get left until it is too late to sort them out. I think we should have a plan now, discuss it with the authorities and be ready for when we next need to visit this thorny topic.

There are three classes of licence in the UK - Foundation, Intermediate and Full. There are three exams, Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced, and they give you access to the related class of licence. You have to take each one in turn (you cannot skip the lower ones).

I do not really have a problem with the three exam and three stage system - in theory. It is supposed to encourage people to learn about radio as they progress, and some of them do, while some do not progress beyond whatever level they are now. It is hardly surprising that many stop at Foundation level, as they are new entrants and may find amateur radio is not to their liking. But quite a few get to Intermediate and stop there, so they have been in the hobby and taken a second exam, but choose to go no further.

Recently I heard from a former work colleague of mine who has just become a radio amateur with a Foundation licence. I am really impressed with his enthusiasm. He does not have a radio technical background, he has just taken up a new hobby. I knew him 20 years ago as a respected colleague, and I would never have expected him to take up an interest in radio. So, good for him. He tells me that he wants to learn and progress through the exam stages as he learns more about the hobby. I do wish him well and I am very pleased that he has joined us.

So this brings me to wonder just how the current system encourages him. And I reckon it doesn't.

The basic difference between the levels in UK licensing is a series of power restrictions. So a new entrant to the hobby gets almost full access to the amateur spectrum, but is limited to unmodified commercial equipment and 10 watts (PEP at the antenna). Intermediate gives 50 watts and broadly the same bands, but they are also entitled to build and modify their own equipment. Full licence gives 400 watts and a few odd slices of bands, plus the ability to operate abroad under CEPT agreements, maritime mobile, etc.

We can think about the Foundation as being equivalent to a start-up amateur getting at least slightly better terms than someone starting out in CB radio. That was how it was put to me by an RSGB President. He said that Foundation entry was to make amateur radio as accessible as CB. The power level of 10 watts and the requirement for commercial equipment was a trade off to allow the licensing authorities to permit those with just a basic set of skills onto the bands (but from the RSGB's point of view, still be in a better position than going into CB).

I can see that argument. But those going into CB only get very limited VHF and 11 metres. So why do Foundation amateurs get almost every band? That RSGB President replied that to attract new entrants to amateur radio you need "the lure of 20m and worldwide DX".

At this stage it might be worth noting that that particular RSGB President (and this was a few years ago) was a DX-obsessed nutcase, and not all of us a quite so stirred by the idea that 20 metres is the biggest draw for the new entrant to the scene. Just for example, I haven't used 20m much for decades. In fact, I never have. In my day it took me 2 years before I was actually licensed to use it, and yes it was an issue, but not the only one for me. He seemed to be talking about a licensing system to attract people just like himself, whereas I am thinking about a wide range of people, technicians, earth scientists, Moon-bouncers, rag-chewers, data-nuts, UHF gurus, repeater junkies, antenna jugglers ...

Now here is the gaping hole in the system for me. Yes, I agree with him that for many the lure of world wide DX is useful. But do you need to get it all (in frequency terms) at Foundation level? From what I can see of progressive licensing levels in other countries (e.g. USA, Australia), those starting off at a "Foundation" or "Technician" level may get similar (or more!) power, but they are restricted in the bands they can use. Yep, sure the lure of worldwide DX on 20m is there for them, but not until they have progressed a bit further. And I think we should do the same in the UK.

I cannot believe that my friend would not have joined the hobby if he was offered 10 watts, all UHF and VHF bands, 10 metres (so far better than CB), and then maybe WARC bands, 80 metres and/ or Top Band. And with some of those higher bands, maybe I would offer even more power than 10W if the licensing authorities would allow it in certain bands. But the elusive HF "DX" bands would have to wait until they had progressed a bit further, and that would be a big encouragement to progress further.

I could have had a ball on those bands with a Foundation licence, and I would have had far more incentive to progress than the present system provides. Also, I think it would have wide appeal to those others not totally besotted with 20 metres as well as those poor souls who are. Enough to get you hooked, but not so much that you don't progress.

Then for Intermediate I would offer the same bands as Foundation, but add 40m, 15m, and more power (at least 50 watts). And now you would see the lure of worldwide DX becoming a spur to progressing even further. And I might offer Intermediate licences 100W on VHF and UHF, making this more like a technician level and something which is just fine for those who love the higher frequencies (and in doing so, maybe they will stop there if they choose).

Finally for the full licence I would leave things as they are. This would mean that Intermediate licensees would be bringing activity to 15m and 40m while they study for the Advanced exam, and at the same time realising that that lure of worldwide DX and full power is just around the corner. 15m and 40m would be a great apprenticeship for progressing 20m (just as much as 10m and Top Band would have been a great apprenticeship for them earlier in their career).

As to the exams, I would leave them much the same as they are. From my point of view, the leap from Intermediate to Advanced exam looks very daunting for anyone who does not have a background in the electronics industry - like myself and my friend. So I would tweak the exams to be more like the reality of the current situation. It now matters less that someone might not be able to open their rig and fix it, as very few of us do that any more. But there are lots of areas in which amateurs still make advances and are still experimenting --- but these areas are poorly covered in the exam. Areas like antennas and propagation.

Why should it be that an amateur needs to know how to build a rig (which almost nobody does) when they don't need to know about how to build an antenna or understand Sporadic E, which most of them have to deal with in ignorance of the basic principles.

But the major flaw in the current UK rules is a really glaring error in my view. At present the distinction between the grades is set in power terms, which is unenforceable. If you heard a Foundation licensee under my plan on 20m you would know they are cheating, whereas under the present system if you hear a M6 using 400 watts you would be none the wiser. We should not have set up a system which is impossible to enforce.

The Intermediate exam of today still requires candidates to understand a block diagram from a 1960s valve era superhet rig. With SDR rigs becoming more and more common, how can we persist with this? How can we pretend that knowledge of building a rig is necessary when many existing amateurs (including myself) cannot do it? Yet I can do useful research into other aspects of the hobby, and I am not alone.

So my plea for the future is this ... please bring in an enforceable system which offers the big prize at the end of your study rather than the start, and please make it obvious when someone is cheating.

By the way, the CB book in the picture has been loaned to me by Doug, GM6ZFI. It dates from 1977. It probably gives as much information about radio theory as most amateurs need, but rather a lot more about propagation and antennas than they seem to know at present.



Wednesday, 18 November 2015

What happened to the Leonid meteor shower?

Most meteor showers are leisurely affairs, with peaks lasting a day or two. Yes, there may be a sudden burst, but in general you get a reasonable period to enjoy them. Also, for a week or more on either side of the peak you get enhanced random meteor propagation.

Not so the Leonids. For an hour or two the Leonids can be spectacular, but usually that is it. After that you can pretty well sit down and await the Geminids, with a peak around 14 December.

This year the Leonids were expected on 17 November.

I spent a lot of time on 17 November waiting for something to happen. It didn't. The day looked like any day with reasonable random meteor activity, at least on the DX cluster. Here I saw a Serbian station on 2 metres (that would be a new DXCC for me) but it was just a single burst and I did not reply. I replied to a Polish station who did not hear me.

Of course, the exact timing of meteor showers is a bit hit-and-miss. The earth's rotation is not exactly 365 days, and the timing depends on the leap year, and on the effects of other planet's gravitation on the meteorites. Whilst the predictors try to estimate what effect all this may have, they cannot be too accurate. Also, we amateurs are inconveniently located all over the world, and we all have different angles on the shower. It might be good for some and bad for others.

Meteor showers have more effect if they strike the earth between late evening and early morning. This is simply due to the rotation of the earth and angles they arrive at. Put simply, the meteorites find it hard to catch the earth when it is moving away from them. Or harder to reach the day side of the earth when it is turning away from them. The night side is turning towards them (usually).

So maybe the shower is just late and it is still about to arrive. So on the morning of 18 November I tried again and this time I worked SP9HWY (JO90 1543km) on 70MHz and SM0EJY (JO89 1229km) on 144MHz. Very nice, and I can assure you that Poland and Sweden count as DX from here on VHF. However, these are stations I might work under random scatter conditions. I have not seen a meteor shower yet.

Neither has anyone else. There were two meteor scatter QSOs showing up on the DX cluster on 50MHz for the past day, and only one on 70MHz (mine!). On 144MHZ there were six excluding mine on the morning of 18 November, which is pretty much an ordinary day.

Meteor showers bring a few hours of intense activity which stands out from the occasional random contact which we scatterers all enjoy. Maybe it did happen but we in Europe missed it. There is no sign of that.

Anyway, I will try again later on the 18th. You never know.

I am not sure how to illustrate this so I am putting in a photo of a tram in St Etienne in France.
Why a tram and not a trolley bus, you ask? I stood around in the right places, but I saw no trolley buses. I suspect that St Etienne trolley buses are a bit like the Leonid meteor shower. Blink and you miss them.

I did see diesel buses in St Etienne, but you wouldn't expect me put a photo of a diesel bus on a radio blog, now would you?



Monday, 16 November 2015

6 metre band Bremi linear project

News of progress on this long-lived project.

A few years ago I bought a second hand (i.e. "used") Bremi linear. These valve linears were sold in the 1980s for use with SSB Citizen's Band radios. They use two 6JB6 valves. Theoretically they could produce about 200 watts peak of SSB on the "11 metre band". Or so the legend goes.

The initial plan was to convert it to 70 MHz operation. This hit a snag when the valves would not oscillate in a stable manner at that frequency. However, they would work happily at 50 MHz, so it became a 6 metre linear. This was an early sign that the valves in the linear when I bought it were shot. A sign I managed to miss.

Although it seemed to work happily with the FT-817, producing about 20 watts for 2 watts input, it was clearly getting pretty hot. Even though several people who have used these linears on 4m and 6m have commented that they fitted a fan, I just continued without one. After all, I was only running 20 watts, not 200. Oh, I can be so reckless.

Eventually it became harder and harder to get it to tune and I noticed that the HT choke, positioned between the two valves, was sagging. Closer examination noted heavy deposits on the inside of the valves and they seemed to have run very hot as the choke was scorched. Then I touched one of the valve caps and the valve shattered.

So the Bremi was sidelined for further work.
With some difficulty I located a new 6JB6 valve. "New" of course means unused for valves, as they are all pretty old now. Then I came across a section of circuit board on sale on eBay from the Netherlands, with two valves, an HT choke, plus a relay and some capacitors. I bought that too.
Here we can see one of the heavily scorched valves and the bent and scorched HT choke. The thing about the choke is that the sag in the former has allowed the wires to distort and overlap, making the tuning of the linear increasingly difficult to set.

With the help of John, G1VVU, the various items we needed were recovered from the donor board and installed in the Bremi. There are still a few goodies on the board should I ever need them.

John drilled some holes in the top panel for extra ventilation. I had intended to use a 80mm ex-computer fan, but it looked as if 70cm fans would be better. I ordered two 70mm fans, only to find that they caused a lot of electrical noise on 50MHz. They fit very neatly, but they are no use if they create interference, so for now I have gone back to an 80mm fan.
This photo shows the Bremi back in the shack. At the time I was trying the 70mm fans. I had organised the screws and nuts to fix them to the case, but just in time decided to try them first. Now I have just got a single 80mm fan sitting on top of the case and I may not fix it down at all. It seems to work. I can run it on the heater supply from the linear, but at present it is running on 6 volts, as do all my other fans.

The issue which arises here is - "is it better to suck or blow" on linear valves? In this case the air is being pulled over the valves from below, and blown out of the top. That seems to aid the general flow as hot air rises. However, I have seen several articles saying that you are better blowing cold air onto valves from above. I just don't know.

It has the two valves from the eBay board fitted. I still have the "new" one too.

I have now added four 10mm feet. The linear used to sit on tiny rubber bumps, close to the shelf it sat on. I felt that it needed better air flow, so it is now raised enough to let cooler air flow in from below.

When it came to trying it, the FT817 at 2 watts produces 20 watts out of the linear. It now runs cool like that all day, on WSPR, 2 minutes tx and 8 minutes rx. On JT6M I can get about 30 watts out of it fairly easily. I tried driving it with the FT-450. For 12 watts input it produces 120 watts output.I could probably get more out of it, if I want to try 6 metre meteor scatter.

So at last I have a fairly competent 6 metre linear.



Monday, 9 November 2015

Electret microphone project, 6m Sporadic E opening and 2m aurora

Some time ago I bought an electret microphone insert for the Yaesu MD-100 desk microphone. This was sold by W2ENY, who was offering them on eBay for a tiny sum. It arrived successfully, but the plan to install it got delayed behind various "more important" projects.

Pending some parts arriving for other projects, this one reached the top of the pile. It is not difficult to fit, you just have to be careful that your new insert does not move in the fitting and make a noise, or the leads do not have dry joints etc.

W2ENY gives an instruction sheet which takes a bit of figuring out. The mic base seems to have very complex wiring (for a lot of rather unnecessary switches). Basically you change over the inserts and use a dropper resistor to provide low voltage to one side of the new insert. Electrets need to be polarised.
Here we see the mike body, the top section removed on the left and the old insert on the right. I have just wired in the new, much smaller and lighter, insert. I fixed it into the mic body using double sided tape.

The alteration to the base allows the insert to receive a small voltage. I must put a label underneath it reminding me not to use the mic without the base. You could connect it directly and use it as a hand mic, or at least you could before I did this change. Now it will just convey silence if it is not connected via the base.

Electret mics are generally better than the dynamic ones (fitted by Yaesu in this case). Not only is the characteristic tone range closer to the sort of audio we want for DX, they are usually clearer and have higher output.

Initial results seem positive. Doug, GM6ZFI found it better than the supplied Yaesu handmic (which also has a dynamic insert). I can even see that the meters kick up a lot better with the new insert. I may even need to back off the mic gain. The ALC is reaching, but not passing, the end of it's "happy zone".

As luck would have it, the Sun fired out an X-Ray burst today, so I got a chance to try the new mic out on 6m. Well, as it is connected to the FT-450, that is the only band it is used for at present. As usual I was alerted by a burst of Sporadic E on 10m, showing up on WSPRnet as a band of spots from Europeans. What do I do when a band opens ???? - yes, I got to the next band up and try harder there.

The energetic burst triggered off some Sporadic E on 6m. At around 14:00 on SSB I worked IU1FRV, F1RHS, I0KIB and IK5YJY is quick succession. Then I turned on WSPR and heard IK1WVQ.
Those other stations are missing it entirely. Actually, WSPR is not so good for Sporadic E on 6m - as you can see no stations in Spain, Portugal, France and half a hundred other countries, which gives a very poor coverage.

Next stop was 2 metres where I hoped for an aurora. This duly came - at about 16:00. No contacts though, as my key stayed out of use. I heard several GMs working SMs, LAs, OHs and OZs, but it was all too fast for me. I think I heard the Faeroes beacon briefly on 4m, but that was it there.

During the aurora the 10m Sporadic E faded out. No doubt most of HF faded too. Now at 17:20 the 10m Es is back and the aurora has faded out. So I am going to leave it there and see if anything happens later.

I would guess that the X-rays came from a solar flare which might or might not send us some material over the next 36 hours or so. That might mean more fade outs and auroras ... or not as the case may be ...



Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Another 2 metre band tropo opening

Chris, GM4ZJI, warned me about the possibility that a tropo opening might be on the way after looking at the Hepburn maps (link to the Hepburn site on the sidebar).

I had trouble getting the link to Hepburn's site working, it should be here now as well as on the side bar..

This was the Hepburn map for1 October.
I was a bit dismissive, because I have seen Hepburn overplay high pressure systems before, only to reduce the prediction as it gets nearer. Chris agreed, but we promised to keep it under observation.

In fact nothing much happened here on 1 November, all the activity was further South, between G stations and PA and OZs.

As it turned out it was the 3 November picture which delivered results.
Hardly very prepossessing. You can see a pattern to the East of Scotland and a link to a more developed system over Denmark.

Things got underway at about 10:40, and between then and 11:45 we worked 3 x OZ, 3 x DL and two SPs. I have been trying a new mapping system and here is what I got:-
As usual, click to enlarge if you need to.

This is still experimental mapping and so far I have not put lines in between me and the stations (they would not be "great circle" lines so not very accurate). Anyway, the pattern looked like the Hepburn map. This version of the map also missed a few stations out for technical reasons which need not detain us here.

I said "we" worked these stations as for a long period Chris, GM4ZJI, joined me. Anybody who worked us worked both, so that was two squares for them (IO85 and 86). We were comparing new antennas and generally both performed fairly well. Chris has a better antenna than me, but then we have two different sites. I bet he will do better on meteor scatter for instance.

I came back to work another OZ at 13:47. The Nordic activity contest started at 18:00, so I came on and worked 4 OZs and 2 SMs. I went QRT at 18:36. The RSGB UK Activity Contest started at 20:00, by which time most of the good propagation had ended, so I left it until 20:48 to come back on and give away some points to local stations.

In total the results outside the UK were like this:-
As you can see, the new mapping can also feature the stations as squares without callsigns, which is clearer in some ways. However, the squares are not "Maidenhead" locator squares, they are centred on the station by their 6-figure locator grid.

More work to do on the mapping, but it might have its uses. You can find it at www.mapability.com/ei8ic/gom/intro.php. It is free to test and costs $15 after the 30 day trial period.

Of the 14 stations worked outside the UK, all but one was over 700km. Only OZ3MC (JO46) was 694km. Best DX was SP1MWK in JO74 square - 1138km, not bad for VHF. It was all on 2m. I tried 4m several times but with no success.

I spoke the GM4GUF who went portable on the cliff tops at St Abb's Head, about 4 miles from here - he worked 1800 km into Russia and Belarus, but of course that was on CW. Do I regret my lack of CW ability? Not really.

I cannot say that tropo openings really thrill me. Yes, they are great for amassing squares and so forth, but they lack the excitement of short-duration openings. Something that lasts 10 hours does not grip me the way half an hour of sporadic E or aurora does. With the other modes you need to make the contacts quick and effective. After a short opening they are gone. With tropo you often have all day.

Anyway, there were auroral conditions about, as the coronal hole which caused the opening I posted about in early October has travelled round the Sun and is back facing us again.

If anything comes of that I will be back to talk about it. Otherwise it is another "might have been".



Sunday, 1 November 2015

Getting started on VHF DX

This is a basic introduction for those who are interested in what happens at VHF but who have yet to take the plunge.

It assumes that you have already dipped your toe into VHF via some FM operation, and you have a VHF rig or might buy one which has VHF bands.

It used to be so easy. In my day, my licence only allowed me to operate on 144MHz and above, so I had to. And then to begin with, there was only one rig - the "Belcom Liner 2". Before the Liner 2 you could use an HF rig with a transverter, a complex and expensive solution. Then in about 1973 the Liner 2 appeared which offered 2m SSB in a single, dumpy, heavy, awkward box. It also did CW, but the "Class B" licence did not allow me to use CW (and no doubt created my life-long fear of the CW mode).

There was this large pool of enthusiastic Class B licencees, and suddenly there was this rig. So hundreds bought Liner 2s and went up hills. And as the Liner 2 was awful (it has been called the worst rig ever sold) things were a bit fraught, especially when people started trying to increase its 7 watts or feed amplifiers.

After a while the big three manufacturers followed suit. I bought the Kenwood offering - the Trio TR-7010, which had the SSB bits from the (about to be released) TS-700 multi-mode 2m rig. Yaesu had the FT-290 and Icom the IC-202. These rigs were all aimed at different segments, but the one thing they all had in common was that people took them and went up hills, or worked with good antennas from their homes. VHF, or at least 2m, was transformed into a band where you could get good long distance DX contacts almost all the time.

It isn't like that now. There are no "Class B" licences in the UK any more, as they were all converted into Class A. There seems to be a lot less enthusiasm for 2m portable work, and we now have 4m and 6m to compete for our attention. There are no 2m only SSB rigs either.

We now have an exam syllabus that barely mentions VHF, and quite a few pass their exams unaware than VHF is very well suited to DX working. VHF does not mean "FM". OK, there is a lot of FM on VHF, but there is also lots of CW, SSB, data modes and so forth. And VHF is no longer just 2m in Europe, but is now 4m and 6m too.

So this posting is realistic enough to accept that you are not likely to find the same heights of activity as people fondly remember from the last three decades of the last century. But what you will find is a lot more, better equipped, well located stations, usually working from home, and a lot of keen contest operators. And of course some of the most astounding propagation you could imagine. The scene may have changed, but the bands are still as good as ever.

So let us assume that you have a rig which covers VHF. Plenty of folks do. They have a rigs which they use for HF, like the FT-897, the FT857, the IC-7000 or the TS-2000. These are fine equipment for VHF. Having said that, a lot of operators never use them on VHF, but stick to HF. And a few have rigs like the FT-817, often kept as an HF standby, which could well be used for VHF DX.

What would be needed to get this equipment going on VHF so that some DX could be worked? Not much actually. If you want to try 6m (50MHz), you may already have an HF antenna which would do some service. I have a G4MH mini-beam. OK, it does not work very well on 6m, but well enough to bring me summer Sporadic E (don't worry about the propagation modes, more of that in a later posting). Summer is a great time for VHF DX, but there is always something happening.

If you already have a "white stick" vertically polarised VHF antenna and use FM, you are only seeing a very small part of what 2m can do. VHF DX is mostly sent with horizontal polarisation, and if you are working on the wrong polarisation your losses are huge. Yes, you can listen about on your FT-817 or whatever using a vertical, but you will not get much in the way of results.

So the solutions I am going to suggest are for simple horizontally polarised antennas which will certainly get you going.

Antenna 1 - the 2m band Diamond A144S10R (not to be confused with their 10 ele 70cms antenna!).
This is a compact (2.13m boom) yagi-type beam which offers 11.6 dBi gain (which is about 9dB gain over a dipole). It is light (just over 1Kg) and small enough to look pretty inconspicuous. It looks a bit like a TV antenna and the neighbours will hardly notice. Of course with a directional antenna you will need some sort of a rotator, but this one can be turned by a light duty "TV" rotator. Or you can slip it onto the pole above your HF antenna if that already has a rotator. The only reall snag with this antenna is that the maximum mast diameter is 47mm which is too small for most "2 inch" poles. I just drilled another hole in the boom and fitted a larger mount, or you can use any general "boom to mast" clamp, but be careful not to over-tighten it and squash the boom flat. Presently available, on eBay, this Diamond antenna can be bought for £90.

Antenna 2 - the 6m band Diamond A502HB
Another compact from Diamond, this one offers about 6.3dBi gain (or about 4dB over a dipole). It is small and light with a very short boom (0.75m). This antenna is often described as a yagi, but actually it is more like an HB9CV antenna. It has two driven elements with a phase matching connection running along the boom. Of course it is a lot wider (3m) than the 2m antenna listed above, but it still looks very inconspicuous. It could easily sit above an HF beam and be hardly noticeable. And despite the weather here, I have mounted it above a "TV" rotator. This is an effective 6m antenna and capable of working modes like aurora and meteor scatter. For sale as I write, on eBay, for £93.

The photo above shows a Diamond A502HB on a Conrad TV rotator. The common Hy-Gain TV rotator is similar.

So these two Diamond antennas are recommended by me after having used them for several years. They are NOT the best DX antenna, but they are the sort of thing you can put up to try out VHF and see how you get on. Both would fit above an HF beam, and either could go above a lightweight rotator.

I might add that Comet make an antenna very like the 6m Diamond one, but over the years I have found Diamond construction to be better than Comet (just my personal view). And then others make HB9CVs too, but I have not tried them out.

So we have two antennas which remove the idea that VHF antennas have to be expensive, bulky and difficult to get. Then there is the co-ax. By all means try cheap co-ax, but RG-213 is really the place to start for higher VHF. RG-213 is thicker and more difficult to work with than normal HF co-ax, but it offers many advantages.
On top is RG8 (mini) which I often use for HF. Below is RG-213, which I use for VHF. Obviously the 213 is thicker, but the key advantage is that the losses caused by attenuation at VHF are much lower with 213. At 100MHz, on a run of 100m of co-ax, 213 will have about 10dB less attenuation than normal HF co-ax. Even at my lengths (30 metres or so) at 2m the result of using 213 is to just about double the power reaching the antenna, and also to double the signal on reception. Worth having.

Actually, for 2m I use Ecoflex 10 co-ax for even better results than 213. At 50MHz, where standard HF co-ax could be used, I also use 213, which some would view as a bit over the top. OK, but I am a bit of a VHF enthusiast. For general use, RG-213 would be the standard for 2metres around here, though most people use standard HF co-ax for 6m.

What could you hear with these antennas and this co-ax? Answer: a lot further than you can with FM and a vertical white stick. 150km on 2m should be possible under flat conditions. If there was any tropospheric propagation then up to 1000km should be possible. With sporadic E I have worked as far as Belarus on 2m - though that is reasonably rare on 2m. I have often worked 1500 km on 2m meteor scatter using the Diamond. For 6m, I have worked all over Europe on meteor scatter, and likewise all over Europe on summer Sporadic E. Best dx from here on 6m so far is Puerto Rico. Remember this was worked on a simple Diamond 2 element and 100 watts.

Maybe now I have moved up a step with better 2m antennas and better co-ax. But I still did amazingly well with just the Diamond and RG-213. And for a rig I also have the FT-817, plus a little RM linear which boosts my power by a useful amount. On 6m  I still use the Diamond. Yes, I have made life a lot more complex but it does not need to be. Certainly for starting off, these simple antennas are very effective.

There you are really. Why not try VHF DX? With a rig you probably already have, some co-ax, and a fairly lightweight antenna, you can make a start.