Category Archives: Amateur radio

Transequatorial propagation on four metres

I mentioned in a previous post that I had a brief chat with Dick ZS6BUN over dinner at the RSGB Convention. He talked about VHF activity in South Africa and we each have an IC-9700. QRZ.com informs us that he is interested in weak signal work at VHF. Dick touched on the subject of TEP on six metres. Of course, not everyone at the table was into VHF so it was only a brief conversation on the subject.

In one of the 70 MHz groups to which I belong, someone drew our attention to a quote from the RSGB website:

“For some years stations in South Africa (ZS) have had a 70MHz allocation. The 9000km path between the UK and South Africa is particularly interesting as both ends lie at the extremity of the trans-equatorial zones. A contact over this TEP path is quite possible around Sunspot maximum and should take place when conditions are particularly good on the 50MHz band. Possible openings between the UK and South Africa will probably occur during the month of October.”

I am a newcomer or at least very late returner to 4 metres; I have limited experience and 50 watts to a quarter-wave vertical. However, I am very much interested in VHF propagation and was surprised by the comment about TEP on 70 MHz as far as the UK is concerned.

I emailed Dick in South Africa to ask him if he had any knowledge about this. He replied that he worked TEP on 50 MHz but was not equipped for 70 MHz However his friend Willem ZS6WAB is active on four metres TEP and has been for quite a long time. This was useful information and set me on the trail to find out more.

It turns out that Willem has worked into Europe on 4 metres and it looks as though he is the SSB record holder for distance although there is one longer into Italy via ISCAT. So there have been TEP QSOs between South Africa and Rome and to Mallorca.

What I cannot find is any reference to 70 MHz TEP QSOs further north in Europe, and apparently not to UK.

I would welcome any additional information. It is just conceivable that UK – South Africa contacts at 70 MHz could be made via TEP and some other mode of propagation, maybe very enhanced tropo, even Sporadic E, but both SpE and TEP are seasonal (SpE around the solstices and TEP around the equinoxes) so they may not coincide. TEP is apparently via chordal hop relying on two reflections via the F layer without an intervening ground reflection. One of my correspondents has suggested that the “geometry” may not be right for contacts beyond around 7,500 km on four metres. Has that distance been exceeded? I do not know.

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Those were the days

I passed the Morse test and obtained my Class A licence in 1981 in order to operate meteor scatter on 2 metres using a high speed keyer, which sent code at 1000 lpm or equivalent to 200 words a minute. Like many others I used a cassette tape recorder with suitable pot to slow the tape down so that I could decipher what was being sent in response from the other end. We used to set up skeds on 20 metres (14 MHz) and that was the other reason I had to pass the Morse test; to be allowed to go on any frequency below 144 MHz in the first place. Incidentally my Yaesu FT221R handled 1000 lpm well without any mods.

We used to alternately transmit and receive in five minute periods and for that reason needed a very accurate clock. My then shack clock is pictured. It kept very precise time to the second once set against the pips on the BBC or the speaking clock on the telephone. This clock did a few years as the shack clock, and then thirty years as the kitchen clock (because that is what it is) and now as we have a new kitchen and new kitchen clock it is back as the shack clock. It has worked faithfully all these years and still keeps very good time. It is a very good example of older technology which just worked!

What helped me most to pass the Morse test in 1981? Well, I had my Datong Morse Tutor. I have never checked how accurate the speed calibration is, but it is supposed to be 6.5 to 37 wpm. I have no reason to doubt that, and it sounds about right, quite literally, as the Tutor still works well after at least 41 years.

I still have the FT221R but have not fired it up recently. On the subject of old technology from the Eighties my original FT290R works well but has needed repairs, and I like FT290Rs so much I have another two available for transverting, or operating on two metres in addition to my modern rigs.

But I just love the way the old clock and the Morse Tutor still work as they always did and I will be using the Tutor for practice as I return to active CW.

RSGB Convention 2022 dining companions

Inside Kent Hills Park

When I was in business I always believed in networking and it seemed to work best when sharing meals. I ran a breakfast networking group for quite a while.

Anyway, here is a summary of my Convention mealtime networking, or at least of my fellow diners.

Dinner Friday

ZS6BUN Dick SSB operation on the HF bands and weak signal working on the VHF bands. Dick had flown all Thursday night Friday morning and come to Milton Keynes, rather short of sleep I think.

Breakfast Saturday

MM0TMZ Tony

Dinner Saturday

G0CKV Olof Presenting “Dxpeditions to 3B8”

M0OHV Piet

G3VKW Keith

M0IFT Dave

Breakfast Sunday

GM3SEK Ian Well known radio designer, constructor and contester whom I had never met and I just happened to grab a space on the table where he was sitting. To date I have worked him 24 times on 144 and 432. And of course also at the breakfast table…

MM0WNW Nadine, Ian’s wife.

Apologies to anyone else I might have eaten with but whose name and callsign I failed to write down. It was a pleasure to meet everyone.

My take on the RSGB Convention lectures and the event 2022.

Kent Hills Park reception and the radio van on the air

I attended nine lectures over the two days, five on Saturday and four on Sunday. My main interest in radio is propagation, especially VHF, but I am always willing to add to my knowledge regarding the lower frequencies.

I started on Saturday with “Building a VHF/UHF contest station” with Alwyn Seeds G8DOH. Contests are not really my thing but there were some useful tips on setting up a station. In the afternoon John Regnault G4SWX presented “Using the right tools to work more 144MHz DX, which was fascinating to hear how he does it very successfully. Next on was James Stevens M0JCQ with “VHF Equipment to start you going” which would have been particularly useful for VHF beginners and is something James has written about in RadCom.

Following on was John Petters G3YPZ “Getting ready for Cycle 25 – What to expect on the HF bands” which was interesting for me as I may return to the lower frequencies. John promotes the use of AM, which may not result in the best communication, but I am sure it is fun. I have worked John often on 2 metres but never on HF.

I finished the day with Nick Totterdall G4FAL’s Transatlantic Tests, which was a history of the early years of radio from around 1920.

On Sunday morning Brian Coleman G4NNS introduced us to the UK Meteor Beacon Project which was interesting but technical. I then attended Steve Nichols G0KYA, talk on “RadCom HF predictions – now and in the future”. Yes, lower frequency stuff, but good to know they do it.

In 2019 I did not stay until the end, going home early Sunday afternoon. This year I attended two after lunch lectures as I felt they would be unmissable. The first was a fascinating talk by Dr Colin Forsyth of UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory about Space Weather which is very relevant to amateur radio both for HF folk and us VHF people. It was very technical at times, but I think I got the gist.

The second talk on Sunday afternoon was entitled “What have the 2020s told us about Sporadic E?” by our old “weather friend” Jim Bacon, G3YLA. A good deal of Jim’s material was also quite technical and was remarkably interesting, but we still do not fully understand why Sporadic E propagation happens or how it can be predicted. It was very worthwhile staying for the afternoon sessions.

I thought the event was excellent, the content of the lectures was of a high standard and kept me more engaged even on subjects outside my main interests in amateur radio. I hope I learned quite a lot. I would certainly recommend to anyone who has not been to an RSGB Convention to consider attending in 2023.

Many of the lectures were livestreamed but also recorded so in due course they will be available on YouTube. Well worth watching and revisiting.

RSGB Convention 2022 – the venue

Inside the sloping courtyard at Kent Hills

The Convention was held as previously at the Kent Hills Park Conference and Training Centre in Milton Keynes on 8th to 10th October. I had attended my first Convention in 2019, which I enjoyed and due to Covid there was none in either 2020 or 2021, though the RSGB managed virtual conventions with live streams and recordings of the presentations by the chosen speakers. This had worked well, but of course the social aspect was very much missing. That is why I felt I must do my best to attend in 2022, which I did.

The accommodation at Kent Hills as of a reasonable standard as one would expect at a conference centre, but mostly single rooms with ensuite bathrooms. As some of you may know, I have had recent health issues which have affected my mobility. I found that with the arrangement of furniture it was difficult for me to manoeuvre myself in and out of bed, and in the bathroom, there was a shower over the bath, rather than a walk-shower, and again this caused me difficulty. If you have similar issues like me, you should ask for a more suitable room if going next time, which I understand from a staff member would be available.

The accommodation in general is three hundred rooms spread out in separate buildings over two floors, but all connected with covered passages to the conference rooms, bar, and restaurant etc, so no need to face the weather if it is poor. During the 2019 Conference it rained most of the time on all three days.

So that is mainly about the venue. I will tell you about the lectures shortly.

G1NOX – SK

I learned yesterday that Mal Guthrie, G1NOX, Dartford, had gone Silent Key. I never met Mal in person but since my return to radio four years ago we had many contacts, and he came across as a very caring and interesting guy. I know he enjoyed dancing (jiving) and liked old cars, but we discussed so many things.

Mal had OFCOM withhold his details and you would not find him on QRZ.com, yet he was a stalwart on 2 metres SSB, calling CQ pretty much every day on 144.30 SSB. He worked us locals, and up and down the country with a decent set-up and was also on 70 cms. I know he enjoyed working serious VHF DX too, though I think he did not keep much of a log as many of us do.

There will be many people throughout most of the UK who will remember Mal, mostly for 2 metres, and he will be much missed, and certainly very much by me. RIP Mal, a really nice chap.

Sporadic E and a tale of the unexpected

MOONRAKER 70MHz Base Vertical Antenna

An exciting couple of days after my previous post about working the Spanish station on 4 metres!

Yesterday things started to happen on 144 MHz and in just over 20 minutes from 1510z I worked IK0FTA, IK0SMG, IK0RMR, and IK0BZY all in JN61, all 59. I did not hear anything else in terms of DX on the band though some other stations did. I felt pretty pleased with this “haul.”

Then, much to my surprise (again) having gone back to 70 MHz for a look just after 1800z I worked 9A2SB (JN95) and 9A1Z (JN86). My 50 watts SSB and small Moonraker vertical are doing well, far better than I hoped. I think I rather like 4 metres. I certainly did not expect this sort of DX on 4 with the antenna I have, but this is terrific! I have worked just four squares and three of them are rather distant, and 9A2SB is nearly 1,500 km away.

One giant leap on 70 MHz

Moonraker vertical antenna SQBM412

As I mentioned last time, I purchased a small vertical antenna for four metres. It is the Moonraker SQBM412. A friend of mine, Mike, G8EFG kindly installed it on my garage roof a couple of weeks ago, and it is only less than four metres above ground, although my QTH is quite decent for VHF.

Activity is lower than I had hoped on 70 MHz and I had managed to find just one station which was an FM contact. Then last Friday, 3rd June I heard a station on SSB calling CQ at about 30 miles distant. He was very weak. I called him but he either did not hear me or he was looking for DX as there seemed a possibility of Sporadic E propagation for better appointed stations than mine.

Then tuning around I heard EA4CZV calling CQ DX and I called him more in hope than expectation. After some persistence on both sides we completed the SSB contact and I have IN80 as a new square and actually only my second one as the other is the guy down the road I worked on FM.

Of course, with a vertical and not a yagi I have little or no antenna gain but maybe the polarisation factor is less critical at this sort of distance, which was 1280 km, not to be sniffed at.

I am therefore very pleased with the antenna and have said so in my review. Maybe I can work some more DX with it on four metres. It is going to be fun trying!

Progress re 70 MHz

I have put my money where my mouth is as they say and have purchased a small vertical antenna for four metres, or 70 MHz if you prefer. I have also acquired a stand to put it on, with a short pole to which to clamp it. I just need some help to put it where I want it, so that is the next step.

Of course, a small vertical is quite modest as opposed to a yagi for 4, but with the Sporadic E season coming up I might work a little DX, especially as polarisation may not be critical over the long paths of Es propagation. I hope I will be on the air in time to find out, with my IC-7100, which is still in the box it came in. I shall see…

I also look forward to working stations in the UK too. I gather activity is not high, but there are apparently pockets of amateurs active in various localities. I certainly want to give 70 MHz a good go and will put on my thinking cap about 50 MHz too.

Explanations

My antennas

It is another fifteen months since my last post here. In all I was away from amateur radio for seven and a half months from November 2020 until mid-June 2021.

My interest has always been VHF, so I missed the first half of the 2020 Sporadic E season and did not catch much of the second half as it took me a while to get going. I did work an EA6 on 2 in June. I had some nice tropo QSO into Sweden on 70 cms in July, OZ on 2 and 70 in September and OK1GTH on 2 in November. All stations worked with SSB. That is about it as there has been little decent tropo over the whole period since June 2021.

Being currently not as able as I used to be, although I hope for some more improvement, I have some projects on the backburner. I would really like to put up a couple of antennas for four metres and maybe six metres (70 and 50 MHz) but need to enlist some help as the Sporadic E season is almost here again.