Monday, May 24, 2021

6 Meters and the Mode Rut

Don't be surprised to see another article about 6 meters. It is my current focus and therefore it's what I am most likely to want to talk about. Actually, the topic of this article is not solely applicable to 6 meters, as you will see. Human nature being what it is the lessons are universal.

May 19 delivered an extraordinary opening between North America and Europe. With my improved station I exceeded my best ever day working Europe. Not a simple percentage increase, but 4× more QSOs. I also worked 5 new countries, bringing ever so close to 6 meter FT8 DXCC.

It was a busy day and I enjoyed every minute. From the few emails received afterwards there are quite a few Europeans who have yet to work Canada, or North America for that matter. One thanked me for being the "big gun" that made it possible for him. I was pleased to make it happen.

Here are my mode statistics for May 19. Please note that these are all on 6 meters, and all the QSOs are with Europe:

  • FT8: 202
  • FT4: 13
  • CW: 23
  • SSB: 0

I did not attempt to work Europe on SSB, which explains the zero. Signals at times were so strong I could have done so despite the 10:1 SNR challenge versus CW. This is important since those numbers are a rough indicator of what could be done and not what was possible. Momentum, activity level, QSO duration and SNR all figure into the statistics. 

By momentum I mean that while the pile up is ongoing it is difficult to pull back and switch modes, abandoning all those callers, or to switch modes when the spectrogram is enticingly lit up by countless DX signals.

Momentum can be temporary or it can be a regular characteristic of our on air preferences or beliefs. Why are there so few FT4 and CW QSOs listed? The signals were not there to be worked. By running and by calling others I soon ran out of stations to work on those modes. I would go back later to work a few more, who because of their own activity or propagation shifts were not there before.

When momentum becomes a habitual feature of our operating we are in danger of living in a rut of our own making. We dig the rut, jump in, like it and stay there. Hate digital? You stay in the SSB rut. You have a small station and can't work DX on SSB, and you don't know or like CW? You operate FT8. Repetition and time dig the rut, and soon our choices become habit. In time we forget that it was a choice and we rationalize our preference as the "best" mode.

Ruts are not only for modes. Far too many will not stray from 50.313 MHz. The 50.323 MHz intercontinental window is there for the taking. When the QRM is fierce on 313 it makes sense for the little pistols to try 323 so that their signals are not buried under others. The likelihood of success is higher on 323. However, most don't QSY, or they won't QSY. Humans are curious creatures.

I made a point of moving around during the opening. To me there was a price to sitting on 313: I might miss a new country. Let's say I'm having a good run on 313. While I'm doing that I worry that there might be a new country on 323, FT4 or CW. I tried not to deny any callers so I would delay moving until I had no callers. It doesn't take long to check the activity elsewhere and to call CQ a few times. There were a few pleasant surprises by doing so.

Since there is less activity outside the primary FT8 watering hole I was never away for long. I doubt I missed anything on 313 due to my frequent QSYs and mode changes. From the paucity of activity on FT4 in particular, and 323 to a lesser degree, too few are moving around. Why is it that so many find it easy to spin the VFO on HF and few will do the same on 6 meters? From the many recognizable call signs I know that they, like me, are active on both digital and traditional modes and know the value of a VFO.

FT8 is slow. It is so slow I can do other things while running a pile up. At least one ham I know has operated 6 meter FT8 while putting in a serious effort in an HF contest! Above is a picture of me working FT8 on 6 meters while adjusting my almost-complete switchable BPF (band pass filters) for HF contests. Being fleet of foot I have successfully operated FT8 while cooking meals, answering email, and doing a variety of tasks. You don't have time to do that on CW, SSB or FT4.

That's another thing that amazes me: why don't more use FT4? It's twice the speed of FT8 and only a little less sensitive. FT4 is fast enough that it almost feels like running stations on CW. So why don't more try it? During big 6 meter openings I can repeatedly call CQ on 50.318 MHz and have not one reply. Why not? It's those ruts we allow ourselves to fall into.

Can our tendency to fall into ruts be changed? Should it be changed? If hams are comfortable sitting full time on 50.313 MHz operating FT8, who am I to suggest they do otherwise? All I can do is point out the advantages of FT4 and jumping among the channels to improve the chance of success. 

For me, one forceful fact is the rapid QSB of sporadic E. I hate it when I fail to complete an FT8 QSO with a needed DX station because the opening is shorter than the time needed to complete the contact. By halving QSO duration with FT4 the 3 db sensitivity difference is near irrelevant. Compared to QSB of 10, 20 or more db it is clear that time is of the essence.

It is easy to QSY to 318: click FT4 in WSJT-X and there I am. I do so periodically in the hope that others will do the same. So far I've had few takers. Give it a try and we'll both have one more station to work. What was an amazing 200 Europe QSOs in the big opening could have been 300 or more using the much faster FT4. 

Typical FT4 activity level on 6 meters

Had there not been enough stations to make that possible (there were!) there would have been more time to monitor and react quickly when a rare one appeared. Instead I was more often locked into a slow FT8 QSO. It would have been rude to call some one else midstream. FT4 would allow me to both run the pile up and react quickly to call the rare ones between QSOs.

I'll end the article here. It seems a little curmudgeonly to complain when activity on the magic band is higher than ever. Now that sporadic E season is well underway there are signals to be found any time of day. Mostly these are tiny bursts of propagation -- whether by meteor reflection or E-layer scatter -- that are not workable on FT8 or FT4. Nevertheless it is comforting to see so many watching, waiting and calling.

Between openings I am keeping busy with various projects that I will be talking about in the coming months. One you can see in the picture above. You can also expect more 6 meter articles, inevitably.

Off air, I am waiting for local outlets to reopen from the latest lock down to order aluminum for antennas, doing tower maintenance and dragging my winter projects into the spring season. I might operate in the upcoming CQ WPX CW contest, and I've delayed rolling up the radials of my 160 meter antenna just in case I do get on. 

The warm weather is also drawing me outside to partake in non-ham activities. That is, when 6 meters isn't open and keeping me busy in the shack.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Troubleshooting Reversible Beverages

When I closed off the article on my latest reversible Beverage antenna it was working in one direction and not the other. It is now working. The problem was nothing profound and I had every confidence that I would find the fault and fix it. Beverages are really very simple antennas. Reversible Beverages, although they may seem magical, are uncomplicated as well.

The two challenges I face fixing Beverages are the tiny transformers and the trekking. Working with fine gauge coated wire and tiny (and abrasive) ferrite cores is a test of patience. Although I have more patience now than when I younger it is never enough for these confounding creatures. I get less frustrated soldering and de-soldering SMD components!

Following best practices on building Beverage transformers never seems to be enough. I get intermittent shorts, broken wires, confused windings and when I go to test them with an analyzer or VNA I am never quite sure that I understand what I'm seeing. The latter is especially true with tapped (balanced) transformers that are used on 2-wire Beverages. It is perhaps no surprise that most hams who build Beverages prefer to buy rather than build these transformers.

The trekking is due to the location and length of these antennas. From my house, the far end of this Beverage is perhaps 400 meters away. It is by no stretch a technical hike. However the fields and bush are bug infested, full of hazards that will catch the unwary, and are either wet or snow covered. Tools have to be carried in. Multiple trips to diagnose and repair the antennas are tedious. 

Offense is the best defense

Diligence during the design and construction of a Beverage will avoid many problems down the road, and many treks into the bush to correct mistakes. I test each component, each circuit, the antenna itself and I double check. Problems still arise despite that effort, though perhaps less than otherwise. Trusting to luck or believing that ignorance is bliss are poor strategies.

Diligence includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Clear all brush and trees that could fall onto or grow into the antenna
  • Follow best practices when winding transformers, then test and test them again
  • Measure impedance transformation and balance of transformers
  • Check RF and DC paths through the switching electronics
  • Test head end switching and transformers with a dummy load, and do it again at the antenna
  • Test continuity of the antenna wire(s), ground connections and coax

Problems can and still do occur, though hopefully fewer than the "hope and pray" style of construction practice.

Understand what you're building

It is very worthwhile to understand how Beverages of all types work. Without that understanding it can be quite difficult to interpret what you hear and what you measure. For that I will refer to the article where I described how reversible Beverages work, in a manner that I hoped would be helpful to those unfamiliar with these antennas. For reading convenience, the diagram I used and that I will refer to, is replicated below.

There are characteristics of reversible Beverages to keep in mind. Each direction must have a load. That load is either a dummy load (resistor) in the head end electronics or the receiver. Without the load the Beverage is bidirectional. The Beverage wires operate in both common mode -- as an antenna -- and in differential mode -- as a transmission line. The only difference in this respect between a coax and open wire Beverage is that in common mode there is just one wire: the outside of the coax shield. The inside of the shield is part of the transmission line.

Centre tapped transformers are used to combine and separate common mode and differential mode signals on open wire reversible Beverages. Read the above linked article to see how. Understanding is key to testing and repairing these antennas. 

I am also reproducing from that article the annotated diagram copied from ON4UN's Low-Band DXing book. It will come in handy for the following discussion about transformers and testing.


I don't enjoy winding Beverage transformers. The BN73-202 binocular ferrite cores are tiny (½" square), the holes are tinier (⅛") and fine enamel wire is fragile and hard to work with. 

After they're built they need to be tested, and they must be securely mounted in boxes or on PCBs to avoid stress and breakage. Clumsy handling can damage them. It is helpful to use long leads so that they can survive trimming when damage does occur. At low frequencies an extra centimeter (or inch) is inconsequential.

Mistakes are difficult to correct, and usually involve building a new one from scratch. The ferrite cores are robust and usually can be reused. In any case, they're inexpensive

On the left are a pair of Beverage transformers. The one with the enamel wire is the reflection transformer (T3) responsible for the malfunctioning east-west reversible Beverage. The secondary winding is tapped to pull off the common mode signal travelling from left to right (in the diagram above). 

This is not the first time I've had a faulty reflection transformer. Despite following good construction practices failure is not uncommon in my personal experience. Assuming I'm not a worse builder than others it is a task everyone should approach with care.

Too much tension when pulling the winding tight can cut through the teflon liners and abrade the enamel coating. Conductor contact with the core can result in poor performance or a short. But if you don't make the windings tight it will be difficult to fit the many turns in the holes despite the fine wire being employed. 

I did discover a short that was intermittent, which only occurred when one of the leads was under tension. I redid that winding and testing went well. Yet in the field it didn't work. The symptoms were different, as measured by an antenna analyzer, but still faulty.

I rebuilt the transformer from scratch. Plastic insulated wire is far less prone to shorts, and that is my preference. The problem is that it is thicker and few turns can be accommodated. The transformer on the left has 8 turns (2 + 6, for a 9:1 impedance transformation) of Cat5 wire (AWG 25). The one in the picture comes from my first Beverage.

Those 8 turns of insulated wire are about the best I can fit into these cores. During construction I have to tamp down the wires with a narrow jeweller's screwdriver to get that many turns. I doubt I could get 10 turns with my best efforts. Unfortunately the reflection transformer requires 11 turns (6 + 5).

I went with a hybrid design: the 6 turn winding with a centre tap made from Cat5 insulated wire and the 5 turn winding with the same small gauge enamel wire. Rather than teflon inserts I used the insulated wire winding as the protective bed for the enamel wire. I carefully tamped the insulated wire down, making sure the turns covered the inner hemispheres of the holes. The enamel wire was carefully placed on top of the other wires so that it never touched the abrasive ferrite -- ferrite is a hard ceramic.

This construction method worked out well. After testing it was reinstalled and the Beverage worked as it should in both directions.

Test before deployment

The head end with T1, T2 and the reversible electronics is quite simple to build. Testing can be tricky. You need the following:

  • A way to inject 12 VDC into the connector and block the DC from reaching the RF analyzer
  • Ohmmeter
  • Several resistors
  • Antenna analyzer or VNA -- the VNWA3 from SDR-Kits is great for plotting and measuring insertion loss

In the picture I am testing the failed reflection transformer. A small breadboard from an Arduino kit comes in handy. You must be careful not to bend or break the fine wire when inserting the winding tails. I use needle nose pliers close to the wire ends to push them in. You want no more than ⅛" of wire between the pliers and the bread board to avoid wire damage. Do it a bit at a time until the wire makes firm contact.

For transformers with a low turns ratio, use resistors not too distant from 50 Ω for best accuracy. Analyzers and VNAs become increasingly inaccurate as the impedance deviates far from 50 Ω, whether lower or higher. Since the reflection transformer has a near unity 5:6 ratio I used a 75 Ω resistor on the 6 turn winding, which is near to 50 Ω on the 5 turn winding.

For high ratio transformers such as 9:1 connect the VNA to the low impedance winding and a suitable resistor on the high impedance winding. A 470 Ω works well in this instance, or 680 Ω if you are aiming for 75 Ω on the low impedance winding.

Insertion loss measurements with a VNA (S21) are more accurate with low ratio transformers. For high transformation ratio one VNA port will have to measure either a very high or very low impedance. Insertion loss is not critical for receive antennas and most of the time I don't bother measuring it. A single port antenna analyzer is therefore suitable.

For balanced transformers it is a good idea to do two further tests. Test each half of the tapped winding to check that the impedance transformations are identical. They won't be exactly identical but they should be very close. It is also a good idea to test for balance by connecting the VNA to the non-tapped winding and tying the centre tap on the second winding to one side of the first winding. When balance is good there will be almost no difference in the measured impedance.

The test works because the centre tap is "neutral". This is similar to a power transformer where the centre tap of the secondary can be grounded. Had I been more careful I would have noticed that this test failed: the impedance dropped to nearly 1 Ω. But I was in a hurry and thought that I'd accidentally shorted the wires during the test. Instead it was an internal short in the transformer, one that did not appear when measuring the transformation ratio, other than a somewhat higher X value than I expected.

I always sweep transformers from 1 to 10 MHz to uncover any anomalies. If you use long leads expect an increasing X value at the higher frequencies.

The head end is tested in a similar fashion, except that we must be careful to understand the common and differential modes that coexist on the two wires of the Beverage. We will use resistors to represent the antenna modes.

The diagram from ON4UN's book shows coax to both directional ports. The switched head ends I built have one coax port, for the selected direction, and the other port is connected to a 75 Ω resistor. Both directions need a 75 Ω load (resistor or coax + receiver) or the Beverage will be bidirectional, just as happens in a simple unidirectional Beverage.

I test the head end switching before T1 and T2 are installed. After the transformers are installed both ports are shorted to ground at DC and the switching cannot be tested with an ohmmeter. After the transformers are installed they are tested separately for continuity, and only then are T1 and T2 connected (see the earlier diagram).

You'll have to inject 12 VDC, as mentioned earlier, to test the non-default mode. In this antenna the west direction is more likely to be used so I made that the default mode (reverse, or differential mode) and east is the powered mode (normal, or common mode). The DPDT reed relays allow either direction to be wired as the default. I stuck temporary labels to the relays so I wouldn't make mistakes

Testing the differential mode (reverse direction) is quite easy. Place a resistor (red in the diagram) across the wire terminals of approximately 670 Ω (I used 470 Ω and 220 Ω resistors in series) and measure the impedance at the coax port across the frequency range of interest. The SWR should be a flat line close to 1.5, up to at least 10 MHz. At higher frequencies the sloppy internal wiring will exhibit an increasing inductive reactance and the SWR will rise.

Testing the common mode (normal direction) is less easy. I've never bothered. In principle you need to tie together the Beverage wire terminals -- there is no easy access to the centre tap of T2 -- put the resistor (as above, but green) between the wire terminals and the ground terminal. Since there is no effective antenna ground in the workshop setting it is most expedient to tie together coax and earth grounds. Well, that should work, I think. 

I prefer to do the common mode test in the field on the actual antenna. So let's do that.

In the field with an antenna analyzer

A VNA is inconvenient in the field so I rely on my Rig Expert AA54. It requires no computer, it has large keys you can punch wearing gloves and the plastic body withstands abuse. A single port analyzer is perfectly adequate for the following tests.

All tests are done from the head end. Since Beverage antennas are so long that can require walking back and forth a few times to diagnose and resolve problems. That trekking is inadvisable for my situation because the bush grows thick and the ticks and flies are everywhere and the uneven ground is a hazard because you can't see it through the high vegetation. I assigned a high priority to repairing the misbehaving antenna so that it would be complete before the work became hazardous. It was that or wait for September or October.

We need to test both common mode (normal) and differential mode (reverse). These are east and west, respectively, for this antenna. In common mode both wires are in phase with the primary antenna current. The wires are tied together and terminated in the normal fashion with a resistor to ground on the other side of the transformer primary winding. The resistor for the test is the analyzer, on the transformer secondary winding.

Since the nominal impedance is over 600 Ω, it is a little high for accurate measurement with the antenna analyzer. I am using a 9:1 transformer to bring it down to about 75 Ω, which is an SWR of 1.5 on a 50 Ω analyzer. The container with the transformer and UHF connector was saved from an earlier Beverage project and conveniently saved for future use.

If you look closely at the left panel you can see the SWR plot oscillating around the 1.5 line. The oscillations are large because the far end is not terminated (wires shorted in this case, and no reflection transformer) making the Beverage bidirectional. Impedance oscillations are greater in bidirectional mode than in unidirectional mode for any Beverage. The test is successful.

For the differential mode test the open wire is a transmission line bringing the west common mode signal back to the head end via the reflection transformer. The SWR plot should look similar to that for the previous test since the common mode signal is not terminated at the analyzer, which again makes the antenna bidirectional during the test. For the two failed reflection transformer trials, in one case the impedance was very low and in the other it was too high.

It's amusing that this latest Beverage was completed right before the close of the 160 meter season. Although there is activity through our summer, it is a poor time for DX. For me the deadline is more concrete since the growing hay requires that the radials be rolled up in the next week or two. The short vertical will suffice until fall.

The growing hay is contrasted by the above picture taken the morning of May 1. Yes, snow in May. This is normal and the vegetation is well adapted to our climate. The flowers shake it off and continue their spring growth spurt. So does the rhubarb patch at the tower base. Rhubarb muffins were baking in the over soon after the May snowfall departed.

Soon the bush will soon be too wet and overgrown to traverse except for an emergency repair. I don't anticipate the need. With the new Beverage I have 6 receive directions, and it is very nice to have. They continue to be useful on 80 and 40 meters during the summer months when I am largely absent from top band.

With this article I am officially transitioning to summer mode. That means towers and high band antennas. Since summer is also a time to plan it is quite likely there will be an article or two about low band antennas.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Sporadic E Season Begins

Seven weeks before the 2021 peak of sporadic E propagation in the northern hemisphere the 6 meter band is hopping. There is lots of activity and DX contacts are in the log. Although nothing exotic what I have worked and heard wets the appetite. I see many others hungering for the DX as well. I know that I'm ready.

The DX I've worked so far is in the Caribbean, Central America and one in Europe. I have heard more, including several of the European big guns, the west coast (California), and north and central South America. Stations not far to the south have had more luck linking sporadic E to TEP to work South America. I'm a little too far north for those openings. Our time will come.

What is clear this early in the season is that the FT8 activity level on 6 meters is greater than I've seen before. There are many signals even when there is no sporadic E in evidence. These are paths of less than 1000 km, typically tropospheric and perhaps some E-layer scatter. There are lots of CQ'ers hoping to get lucky.

With so much excited anticipation of DX propagation there is little excuse to not work DX on 6 meters this year. As many old hands on the magic band have noted, FT8 has uncovered the existence of sporadic E propagation and TEP linkages that had previously gone unnoticed. The ability to monitor all activity without tedious dial spinning or monitoring beacons, data collection by PSK Reporter and the continuous CQ'ing by enthusiasts have highlighted numerous instances of unexpected propagation. This includes single decodes of distant stations, propagation at unusual times of day, polar paths and extremely long path DX. The latter includes VK/ZL and central Asia from here in eastern North America.

Despite my initial reticence to abandon CW and SSB on 6, I am now a believer. The reason is a simple one: FT8 delivers the goods. It isn't just "youngsters" like me who've gone digital. Octogenarians of my acquaintance have learned the digital modes and are having a blast on HF and on 6 meters as well. Old dogs can learn new tricks, and so can you.

Objectives for 2021

At the end of sporadic E season in 2020 I stated that my DX goal this year is to surpass 100 DXCC countries on 6 meters FT8 this year, and I've since made the promised station improvements to make it possible. With 90 countries worked and 81 confirmed it would seem that this is low-hanging fruit. It isn't. 

I am at the stage where additional countries are increasingly difficult to work. They are farther away, rely on rare multi-hop opening, and many operators in those distant locales have small stations or deal with pervasive man-made QRN. The station improvements will help, especially the kilowatt amplifier. Barring disasters I fully expect to reach this milestone in the next few months.

My other objectives are closely related. I want to explore more polar path opportunities to work west, central and east Asia. Some of these can occur at odd hours so I will more often leave the station monitoring overnight for hints of polar propagation (I already monitor activity during the day when I'm busy elsewhere). The north polar region is in full daylight at the sporadic E season peak and the terminator is enticingly just out of reach from my QTH. This is one of those times I wish that I lived further north!

OH, LA and SM stations occasionally appear in our late evening, and central Asians such as UN can appear after sunrise in the very early morning (5:00 to 7:00 AM local time). If I see these signals in my overnight monitoring I will make a point of being in the shack at likely hours during the weeks bracketing the summer solstice.

Other objectives include KL7, ZL, HL, LU, CE, Middle East, Russia, TZ among other Africans, and other known active countries that I've heard but have not been able to work. It's a matter of luck and, yes, power. All are possible. There are also numerous European countries that I've been unlucky with. You would think with so much within reach that another 10 countries would be easy, but it really isn't. My stretch objective is 100 countries confirmed on LOTW, which will likely require working 20 to 25 new countries. Not everyone uses LOTW and I no longer use paper QSL cards.

Using a kilowatt

FT8 is not a low power mode. For digital, as it is for traditional modes, many times low power is sufficient and other times no amount of power is enough. Sporadic E gives few gifts and you do what you must to meet your operating objectives. My objectives are challenging enough without a power handicap.

The ACOM A1500 works very well on 6 meters. Tuning and high power behaviour are not noticably different than when used on HF. For the time being I am being cautious about the power level in case of splatter/distortion and overheating. At approximately 900 to 1000 watts of average SSB power -- our legal limit is 2250 watts PEP -- there are no problems. 

A nearby friend confirms that my signal is clean. Temperature for continuous FT8 operation is fairly high but within the amplifier's comfort zone. After several minutes the temperature plateaus during transmissions. It drops during receive periods. For FT8 and similar modes the duty cycle is a little below 50%. While similar to CW and SSB during transmission, it is closer to 25% during a QSO since half the time is spent listening. So do watch your amplifier closely if you are new to digital modes.

Not surprisingly my QRO CQs get more replies. When I call a big gun with a weak signal there is a good probability that I will be copied. Several DX stations have answered my CQs, and that's a promising indicator. Of course when conditions are good the same happens when I run 10 db less power.

Despite the QRO there are stations that give a signal report lower than the one I give them. This may be due to QRN or other problems at the other end in comparison to my typically very quiet rural QTH. The SNR calculation by WSJT-X provides relative rather than absolute signal reports so puzzling disparities are common.

I don't use the amp at all times. I will turn it on when DX is likely, spotted or heard and I need it to get through. PSK Reporter is used to monitor whether my high power CQs can open the band. Once the amp is on I tend to leave it on since tube life is negatively impacted by power cycling. 

Focussed on DX

When there is a DX opening or an opening is likely I focus almost exclusively on that. Single hop signals (within a radius of 1000 to 1500 km) are ignored other than to see what they're working so that I can predict the progression of the opening. 

This creates a dilemma when close stations call me when I am focussed on DX. At those times I almost never reply. FT8 is slow enough that I will not take 1 or 2 minutes of precious time to work them. This may seem impolite to some. It mostly seems to be stations that do not or cannot hear the DX and are eager for what contacts they can make. Some may want my grid, and there are Americans who consider Canada to be DX.

When the rate is slow I may take the time to reply, but not otherwise. However, one rule I live by is that when I make a directed CQ -- CQ DX, CQ EU, CQ SA, etc. -- and a nearby station calls my on my transmit frequency I almost never work them. It is very impolite for them to do that since if a weak DX station replies on my transmit frequency I might not be able to decode them. Most operators know that a transmit frequency is chosen because it is quiet and will reply there for the best chance of a QSO.

I wish that automatic reply on the called station frequency was not a feature of WSJT-X. It is and we must deal with those who use that feature, appropriately or otherwise. So if I call CQ EU or CQ DX and you are not in Europe or DX, respectively, and you want a QSO with me do not call on my transmit frequency. Transmit elsewhere and I may reply.

A few go so far as to stalk me. To escape their unwanted calls on my transmit frequency I QSY. They follow. I continue to ignore them. You would think after 5, 10 or more attempts to work me they'd give up. I have to wonder whether it's a deliberate tactic to punish me for not working them. My memory is good and I usually remember their calls. I am therefore more likely to ignore them in future when I am not focussed on DX.

Those using JTDX software have another way of dealing with non-DX callers. There is a feature to filter callers that are not in the target region, and there are other helpful feature. The price is that you may miss some stations that you might otherwise want to work. Since I use WSJT-X my approach is to disable the "Call 1st" feature and choose who I reply to, or no one at all. Many big guns on 6 use JTDX and I may eventually do the same.

Perpetual CQ'ers

There are some hams who seem to CQ on FT8 for hours on end. I think that's odd behaviour but they seem to like it. For my style of operating it is a nuisance since they fill the monitoring pane with their transmissions and during busy openings it adds to the QRM. Those within ground or tropo range are inescapable unless, by chance, the DX opening is in a direction that puts them in a pattern null.

The perpetual CQ'ers from last year are already active. I don't understand them and I don't think I want to! As a friend of mine is wont to say: "it takes all types!" They're present on HF and 160 as well.

Dealing with more activity

It is wonderful to see increasing activity on 6 meters. My subjective impression from activity so far is that activity will be higher than last year, and almost all of it will be on FT8. With 3 kHz of spectrum used by the vast majority there will be QRM. Due to the nature of the mode there is a strong incentive for everyone to congregate on one channel.

Alternatives include the intercontinental window at 50.323 MHz and FT4 at 50.318 MHz. I wish more DXers used the intercontinental window since that would benefit those of us focussed on long haul contacts. This has not worked too well since most hams are glued to 50.313, and since this is as true of those far afield as those in NA, the majority of DX can only be worked there.

I did work a few new ones on 50.323 MHz in 2020. This year I hope that more DXers will QSY when the QRM grows intense. My observation is that use of the intercontinental window declined in 2019 and rose in 2020. Many don't experience as much QRM on 50.313 MHz as those of us with quiet locations and good antennas and so may see the need to QSY. However, I am merely speculating.

QRM gets so bad at times that I have failed to complete DX QSOs due to a North American stations jumping on the frequency and obliterating the weaker signal that they probably aren't seeing. This was common for Pacific openings since I must contend with QRM from across North America. Local QRM is less of a problem when pointing northeast to Europe. WSJT-X is very good at decoding more than one signal at the same frequency (audio offset) but there are limits. The software can't perform magic.

I am also hoping for more FT4 activity this year. QSOs are twice as fast as FT8 and thus can put more DX in the log during the usually brief openings. I tried 50.318 MHz a few times last year during DX openings and only heard North American stations. The majority of the time FT4 works as well as FT8 since its SNR performance is nearly as good. 


I am monitoring 50.313 MHz as I type these words, and all I see is a few nearby stations. DX is uncommon this early in the season but you never know. There are hams who want to tell them when DX openings are expected. It comes from an HF mindset with its more predictable daily and annual cycles. Sporadic E propagation patterns are suggestions and probabilities, and not dependable predictions.

Regular monitoring of 6 meters is required. Alert tools are available that can help but it's really requires making the effort to monitor. The unpredictability is both aggravating and a challenge.

I hope to see you on 6 meters this season. If you're not DX and I don't reply please don't be offended. It's nothing personal. There are many DX-free days when I am happy to spend an hour or more working single hop openings. Although not alone in FN24 I appear to be the best equipped, which may explain the attention while I focussed on DX.