Tuesday, 11 August 2020

An old man reflects on a tropo lift

It is, of course, a matter for each amateur to decide what to do in our hobby. I can hardly say otherwise when I pursue fairly narrow interests myself. I try, as far as possible, to avoid doing the same things over and over again.

I use my 2m/70cm radio, a Wouxun 950, to listen to what is going on in the general VHF spectrum. This is so that I can direct my listening to where the action is. If there is any action.
Wouxun 950 at GM4FVM
The Radio Society of Great Britain has changed the way amateur exams are conducted. As a response to the COVID-19 outbreak they have ended the monopoly of clubs and allowed remote invigilation of exams. Well, actually there never was a monopoly of clubs to carry out exams, that was just the way it worked out. That fact has not stopped some old duffers claiming that this has weakened the status of clubs in the community, even though our local club did more to prevent anyone sitting exams than help them.

So some new amateurs have arrived into the 2m FM madhouse. Well done. Freed from the need to find a club willing to help, they are now licensed. Well done. Proof indeed that the club system was actually holding things back, or it did that around here anyway.

Listening, as I do, to 2m FM I heard one of this new breed of amateur remarking "If I could get this antenna up a couple of feet I think maybe I could work up the coast as far as Montrose". I pondered over this for a few days before it dawned on me that he meant to work the GB3GN repeater near Montrose (it is actually nearer Banchory). Anyway, I also listen to that repeater, but I use it as a pointer to conditions. It sends the location "Banchory" in morse on a regular basis, which is a bit of a giveaway that it isn't in Montrose.

What he does is a matter for him. However, I did think that measuring your success by working a repeater on a superb site just 131km away is not exactly challenging. Sure I use repeaters myself, perhaps once a month or less. However, working any repeater is not exactly the pinnacle of my radio desires.
GM4FVM to GB3GN, not a difficult path.
No doubt when I was first licensed I had similar modest aims. People learn their trade in this hobby and move on from their initial fascination with just being able to "get on the radio".

Or do they?

Well some do. Others are content with the dream of working a (not very) distant repeater. The fact is that when they do eventually work some proper DX "through" the repeater, they are just working the repeater in the same way they always do.

I suppose it is the lack of ambition about all this which depresses me.

As I listened to GB3GN recently I heard people rather grumpily complain that "DX" is occupying their repeater which is surely for local use. I suppose they have a point. If the station local to me does indeed put his antenna up to reach GB3GN then at his spectacular 131km range he may not be welcome.

It is, of course, a matter for them. Did I say that before?

My FM radio scans away to itself. It is not really GB3GN that interests me but it's sister GB3NG near Fraserburgh. When I can hear that with no noise I know things are on the up, to the North anyway. At 197km I can guess that I might get across the North Sea to Norway or Denmark using a more efficient mode than FM.

For me, hearing a distant repeater is just a signpost of improved conditions. The local ones are a way of having very local contacts. They are not a DX aim for me in themselves, more like beacons you can easily scan for. And as the Wouxun scans I also listen to the coastguard:-
Aberdeen coastguard - conditions normal,
Humber coastguard - strong means slight lift,
Belfast or Stornoway coastguard - things are on the way up,
Coastguard from across the Heligoland Bight - wow!

Hearing local stations in the Baltic nattering on 2m FM during the 13 July 2020 opening was another sign that I needed to be ready for Sporadic E (see last posting). Of course they did not leave any gaps for anyone to break in, and maybe they didn't want to work any DX anyway. But it shows it is always worth scanning.

Plus during lulls I can listen to the doings of the Craster lifeboat. And there is drama like the endless procession of people and bodies being fished out of the sea at the bottom of the cliffs at nearby St Abbs and even occasionally divers being airlifted to Aberdeen hospital for treatment for "the bends". It amazes me how many people fall into Eyemouth harbour. Oh, it is exciting stuff you hear when you scan.

I had an interesting 2m FM QSO with Dave, GM4PKJ, who really is near Montrose. We discussed the Hepburn chart for the week ahead, and hoped for some tropo ducting. We were not disappointed. I am not "anti-FM" any more than I am "anti-repeater" (or "anti-contest" for that matter). I do all those things, but I try to keep my interests wider than just one of them.

It was great to have a long blether with Dave and get away from digital modes for a while - Warning - risk of getting narrow views if I stick with too many digital mode contacts.

And he sent me a QSL card which arrived next day!

So what did happen? There was a "tropospheric enhancement event", mostly on 9 August but also affecting the day on either side. This was caused by a small high pressure system in the North Sea which did not look very exciting when Kawser Quamer showed it on the BBC Scotland weather forecast. Luckily Hepburn warned me, Dave PJK, and lots of other people.

On 8 August I worked Jaap, PA0O, plus OZ1FDH and OZ7UV. This marked the start of the event.

By 9 August the "above 70cms" map was looking more like 2m usually does:
DX Maps on 9 August 2020. Coloured by band. Red 23cm, blue 9cm, green 6cm

I have some sympathy for the view that DX is not the only thing to be measured. After all, if my world stopped at the Montrose repeater (which, by the way, is in Banchory) I would still get a lot of satisfaction from the contacts I might have with locals. So I must rate the voice contacts as more worthy than data. The other standard I might apply is the frequency band. I have said before that a contact on a higher band counts for double points. And what do points make? Prizes of course. Also, multiple bands mean multiple prizes.

So during this opening I worked the following stations on multiple bands:-

2m and 70cm:
OZ1AXL, OZ5AGJ, OV3T, PE0DNY and OZ1JMN. Probably OZ1IEP too but the 2m contact was a bit scratchy.

Then on 70cm and 23cm (for more points):
SM6CEN. The contact on 23cms was a rather scratchy SSB affair.

And finally on 2m, 70cms and 23cms (for maximum points)
OZ2ND and OZ7MHZ. Almost made it to OZ1AXL as well.

Bonus points too for OZ2ND for SSB on both 70cms and 23cms which included a long blether on 23cms about 1970s VHF valve transmitters.

Plus the "merit award" which was won by SM6VTZ for working me on 23cms CW. This was awarded both for a new country on that band and raising my 23cms ODX from  689km to 880km. Even getting me on to CW deserves a medal at least.

Now let me just think about this. A ragchew with OZ2ND on 1296MHz. One part of the rather long discussion was about how we never expected this to happen when we were first licensed. Back then it was 6 or 8 watts of AM on 2m. Indeed, back then working Montrose on 2m would have been amazing.

Maybe I have been a bit hard on the current crop of FM-ers. Maybe they too will be chatting with an OZ at 689km on 23cms in 40 years time. Or having an easy CW contact at 880km into a new country (Sweden).

I suppose I think they should be doing it now while they can, but I guess they have to make all the mistakes along the way before it dawns on them to challenge themselves a bit more.

Somehow I never expected to have a long chat on microwaves using an antenna that hardly ranks much above the TV aerial most people have on their gable end.
The lower antenna (just 1.5m long) just worked 880km
This was not moon bounce or anything very technical, not high powered (just 50 watts each way) and not some funny mode (it was SSB and CW).

For years I have not been not much better than those who settle for an easy life on FM. The simple fact was that the 1296MHz band has for years been beyond where I was comfortable. In fact, for a long time 432MHz was my "Montrose". If only I put an antenna up I could work something, but why bother? I mean, why not stick on FM? I am quite pleased I was not dreaming of working Montrose and made the leap into something rather more rewarding. Not just rewarding but surprising too really.

As for the usual analysis of DX rather than chatting potential, here it comes (click to enlarge if you need to) ...
144MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 9 to 11 August 2020
35 QSOs, 21 squares, 9 DXCC, Best DX DL1RWN (JO46) 973km.

432MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 9 to 11 August 2020

20 QSOs, 10 squares, 5 DXCC, Best DX SM6CEN (JO67) 882km
1296MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 9 to 11 August 2020
4 QSOs, 3 squares, 2 countries. Best DX SM6VTZ (JO58) 880km.
I really should be pleased with the 2m results, including as they do a new country (OY), new squares (such as my first contact with G7RAU in IN79), more QSOs than any other band, more squares, greater distance. And it certainly is great. But so is 70cms. As for 23cms, well not many contacts, but all of them great.

OK, I know working greater distance is not everything. I know a good old ragchew is often what is needed. It was doing both at the same time that surprised me.

At this stage in the year I am often on 4m or 6m doing some meteor scatter. This year I seem to be distracted.

Are other amateurs being too easily pleased with simple FM contacts?

Or am I getting old?




  1. Hello Jim . Your last weeks story makes me regret I pulled down the 2m and 70cm antennes in favour of 4 and 6meter arrays.... Ik hope to catch you soon again here in JO32.
    Best wishes grom Anthonie Swl NL8992

  2. Anthonie.
    Hi. Yes, we all need all the antennas up all the time, at great height, and hopefully longer with more elements. But life is not like that. We must pick between what we can do, and make the best of our choice.
    I have also been wondering if it is possible to change things. However I am a multi-band man. Not the biggest antenna on each band, but more bands means more things happening. Multi-band antennas and data modes make it possible for me.
    It is perhaps a rule in ham radio and in life: when we take down an antenna then that band will be next to open.
    But enough philosophy. Great to hear from you and please keep the radio turned on. Stay safe. Jim

  3. Ah yes. I am not too hard n the FM people, although I always tell them that the strong signals in the 100 - 200km range is what I consider "local tropo".
    Good to see you had some fun. The tropo to you did not extend to my place, but one day....
    Also on 2m I just have a "Big Wheel" omni for horizontal work. Nothing horizontal on 70cm yet (or even on 4/6m)
    Vy 73 de Jan, OZ9QV