Saturday, 13 August 2016

Analysis of a good day's radio

First of all, a credit to the female side of the operation who keep everything running ...
Mrs FVM and Katy are doing a bit of surfing on the net together, no doubt looking for things I never noticed we had run out of. This pair keep me in line and sometimes allow me a full day off to concentrate on radio. I owe it all to them.
If you ever come here expecting to be fed, you are taking a risk.

The FVM household is meat-less (except Katy who, despite being given meat, also catches her own supply).

Mrs FVM does not eat meat. I cannot eat high-iron food (at the extreme end of the scale - black pudding [blood pudding]), so I avoid red meat anyway. For different reasons I have to avoid dairy too, meaning no milk or cheese. I can manage a small amount each day which I reserve for a little ice cream or chocolate on special occasions. Most seafood is out for me. Highly acidic foods also cause me problems. Fish is pretty popular.

I am not a vegetarian although I do not generally eat meat here except on rare occasions, and then it would usually be chicken or turkey.

All this complex stuff caused my sister to ask a tricky questions "So, what do you eat?". I'll leave you to sort that out for yourselves. But in the days when I used to go to a radio club I used to be asked the question - "So what do you do on radio". In a similar sense, many amateurs who know I do mostly VHF cannot really conceive how I put the day in. They think I listen to scratchy FM stations, I suspect.

I thought that if they need an answer to that question and I no longer go to their meetings, I will try to explain it here instead.

A day in the life of Amateur Radio Station GM4FVM (9 August 2016 to be exact).

Firstly we note the date, late in the Es season here and in the general zone of the Perseids Meteor Shower. August 2016 is around the time of the first "spotless days" of the current Solar cycle. However, it turned out that 9 August 2016 was not spotless and the Solar Flux Index was 92 - quite good though I regard 100 as the trigger point for action on HF.

Secondly, I had more or less cleared the decks and this was a radio day. No interruptions were expected and I was in the house on my own.

Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I only worked on 3 bands at once. 10m, 6m and 4m. I did have some conversations on 2m FM but those don't count as proper amateur activity. I did keep a watch on 2m proper but nothing exciting happened, or I didn't see it, which amounts to the same thing.

All this scene setting is very good, but what about the actual radio?

On 10m, as usual I was using WSPR. As the sunspot activity is not great I have also been watching 12m using WSPR's band hopping settings. Here is the 12m result for the day:-
The pleasantly high solar flux index (well, for this point in the cycle) made the 10m activity look a lot more interesting than recently:-
Of course this is not the way I use these results. I do not wait until the end of the day and see what I have collected. I use WSPR dynamically to let me know where the Sporadic E openings are occurring. Once I get a picture from 10m I can go onto 6m and look there.

When thinking about what the day might bring I look at the geomagnetic sites to work out if a solar storm is underway and there might be some enhanced propagation. On this day there was some, but not enough to cause an aurora. However, therefore I could expect there to be enhanced Sporadic Es.

Looking at the air pressure charts suggested low pressure and no prospect of tropospheric enhancement.

So it seemed that, in the absence of Es, meteor scatter would be the way to go. I listened around the often used frequencies 50.230, 70.230 and 144.370. There were a couple of interesting stations spotted, but none could be worked.

Fiddling about on 6m I heard IS0AWZ (JM48ng 2024km) at 12:51. He was very strong and I quickly called him. He came back, first still calling CQ, and then he went back to a Scandinavian station. OK, I though I might just listen for a while. IS0AWZ had cleverly worked out that this was Es rather than meteor scatter. Therefore, when he did not get a reply from the other station he called me. We completed a very quick QSO which would have been 599++ using conventional reporting.

I was very pleased to work Sardinia on 6m at a great signal strength. This proves that there is always the chance of an Es contact while you are waiting for meteor scatter. Although the contact took place on JT6M meteor scatter mode, that mode works well on Es and is quicker than JT65 to complete a QSO. There was no other Es noted and the propagation quickly faded. I emailed Sergio to thank him for his quick wits and he wished me all the best for the Perseids meteor shower.

And that was it for the entire morning and afternoon from 10:00 to after 17:00. Yes, there are long pauses and times when conditions can suddenly recover ... or not.

After 17:00 10m WSPR started to pick up, with stations in HB9 and OE appearing. That got me calling on 6m and at 17:19 I worked Italy on 6m (IZ6FXP JN62 1841km). Signal strengths were good at -05 dB. That sends me scuttling for 4m to find some OIRT broadcast stations. Maybe I should point East.

At 17:50 there was a 20 minute opening to the East on 4m. I worked SP6MLK (JO80 1387), OM5KM (JN98 1612), OK2BRD (JN99 1524) and SP2MKO (JO93 1345). Mostly S9 and easy to work. That is how Es usually is, first nothing, then suddenly strong signals, then nothing again.

This time, although the pace lessened, I kept hopping up and down between 4m and 6m, picking off interesting contacts. First at 18:22 was HA5CD (KN07 1838) on 6m JT65. Then back to 4m SSB for SP7BUZ (KO00 1600) at 18:28. 19:10 found me back on 6m working EA4GPZ (IN80 1706). All 57 to 59 reports.

Back to 6m at 19:34 to try IZ2DMV but the propagation was unstable and he disappeared. I always give two or three more calls in case it is QSB, but in reality at this time of night it is probably the band beginning to close.

I know that there can often be a DX opportunity just as the bands are closing. As the ionisation fades there are often DX paths which become workable - briefly. Es (and all ionisation really) is at its best in DX terms when it is weakest in strength terms.

So I hung on just to see. I was calling on 70.230 on meteor scatter when I noticed something on the display of the IC-7300. I could see some CW which appeared to be on 70.200. So I moved down but by the time I got there I could just hear some very fast weak CW. I decided to take a chance - just sending a question mark and my callsign - once. I heard more of the fast CW and thought that it had nothing to do with me. Then I picked out my callsign, my report (559) and what appeared to be Ivan (S51DI's) callsign. So I felt that I had no option but to go back on CW, but at my standard 10 wpm plodding speed. Ivan just pressed on at his speed, no doubt knowing that the band was about to close. I was stuck with it. I just had to go on and try to keep up. Anyway, I completed the QSO on CW into square JN76 at 1618km.

I was a bit shaken by my first CW QSO for ages, and an unexpected one too. I knew that once 4m closes, 6m often has a bit to go. This last gasp can also be the best DX of the day. Right at the end of the day is my favourite DX window. Well, first thing  could be too, but I am asleep then. DX is important but not worth getting out of bed for. Anyway, after 21:30 local time in August is time for a CW on 6m JT65.

First I worked SV3BSF in Patras (KM08 2640) at 20:32 and a new square. Then even better was SV9CVY in Rethymno (KM25 3092) at 20:46, bringing a new DXCC and a new square. 3000+km on VHF is not a bad result, especially as I finished just short of 22:00 local time (and local midnight at his end). I gave them -05 and -01 signal reports, so good signals even then.

So what do we draw from all this? For anyone wondering what I do on VHF, this day's diary shows that although I was sitting here all day, I only worked one station until 17:00. Meteor scatter, right in the Perseids season, produced nothing at all. Every QSO was on Es. Every QSO has good signals. There was no scratching about in the noise. After a very long wait, there was plenty of action when the band did open.

Key points:-
1) I would suggest you don't take up VHF unless you are ready to wait for ages between openings
2) When the openings come they can be fast and furious
3) 12 QSOs, 6 DXCC on 6m (Sardinia, Italy, Hungary, Spain Greece, Crete), 4 DXCC on 4m (Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia)
4) Best DX 3092km - average 1852km
5) Still going at 21:50 local time
6) Everyone was good signal strength
7) All the 10m operation was WSPR, all the 6m operation was JT65 or JT6M, and all the 4m operation was SSB or CW. That is my system of working on three bands. If I had a microphone for each band I would keep pressing the wrong buttons. This way one produces a map, one produces a readout and the other one makes a noise, so I can distinguish which one is which.

Not bad compared to what I might have done on 40m or 80m in 4 hours of operation. I had to wait all day for it, and it might not have happened at all. Then again, that is the joy of it for me.

I do not have a fancy station, no "competition grade" rigs, no kilowatt linears, and on 10m it is a simple vertical. On 6m just two elements. So I am pleased with that for a day's radio.

So that bring us a bit nearer the answer as to "what do I do on the radio". As to "what do I eat", well I manage to eat enough to be a bit overweight.

As I write this the Perseids meteor shower is doing fairly well so I hope to have something to report on that soon.



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