Back to the Future

Somewhere back in my long ago the local ham radio group conducted a Sunday night 6-meter AM net. I joined the fray when I upgraded to Technician. That began a period of radio woes for me that included neighbors complaining to my Dad that my antennas were attracting lightning to the neighborhood, and that I interfered with their television programs when transmitting during the AM net. Fortunately, my Dad ignored the lightning nonsense, but I did have to curtail the 6M activity until after the TV stations went off the air around midnight. Yes, TV stations used to shut down after the late-night news and the national anthem.

Gonset G-50 6 Meter Communicator (1958)

It wasn’t long until the net moved to the new two-meter FM repeater and TVI complaints disappeared. Fast-forward forty-years and another local fellow and I were discussing the old 6-meter net and decided to do something about it. We’ve been meeting at 8pm local on 50.400 MHz AM for weeks now and have managed to attract a small following. Last night I counted eight total check-ins all from around town. A few weeks ago, we had two stations check-in from Indianapolis (50 miles).

Signal strength has been a bit of a problem because few of us have decent six-meter antennas. I’m just using a dipole that I had available. The tuner likes it well enough, but I can’t imagine it’s terribly efficient. A few of the guys have much better signals since adding new 50MHz antennas. The rest of us will likely suffer a little longer until the weather cheers up enough for some outdoor work. A three-element beam is typically a nice choice for this band, however, it’s directivity isn’t welcome when working others in the area who are scattered about town. An omni-directional would be a better choice for our net operation. One fellow recently installed this 6M horizontal antenna with great results and now we all want one.

One of the guys who checked in last night lives across town from me. He talked for a few minutes about the success he had the night before using meteor scatter on two-meters. This weekend was the big Geminids meteor shower and he reported contacts with stations in Texas, Florida, Michigan, Wyoming, and Canada. It was encouraging to hear from a local who was having success bouncing VHF radio signals off the ionized trails of falling rocks using a modest setup. I’m anxious to give that a try and pleased as punch to know there’s a local ham who can help me get started.

Tossed Salad

I was out of town all last week and suddenly, it’s Sunday and I’ll be back to work tomorrow. Time flies and apparently, so will the snow later tonight. Forecasts say 4-6 inches of snow so tomorrow’s commute will be an aggravation. It still doesn’t seem like a weather episode that would trigger a winter weather advisory. Guess we will find out soon enough.

Nothing happened in the shack during my absence though the Diamond X-6000A antenna did arrive. I’m still waiting on the cable and some assorted hardware, but the plan to install this over the long Christmas holiday break remains on target.

While I was away a few things dropped online, most notably the 25th episode of TX Factor. It’s always interesting but is published infrequently, so I set a reminder to myself to watch when it does appear only to forget it until the next episode hits the wire. I watched right away this time around and especially enjoyed the interview with Eric Swartz, WA6HHQ from Elecraft.

The December 2019 edition of the 432 and Above EME Newsletter by K2UYH also hit the Web, as did the the latest issue of the the 144 MHz EME NewsLetter by DF2ZC. About the time I got caught up with those, the December edition of Cheese Bits, the monthly publication of the Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club and another must read publication showed up too.

With the to-do list growing by the day, I hate to take on another project right now. But installing a sky camera to capture falling stars and joining the American Meteor Society volunteer network is bound to get added to my list eventually.

Last Call for ARRL EME Contest Logs

“K1DS asks everyone to please submit their ARRL EME Contest logs, no matter how big or small by the 16 Dec deadline. The number of logs submitted is continuing to grow and is an important indicator of our use of the VHF/UHF/microwave bands. There were well over 200 stations that were active in the contest. As of 1 Dec, there were 98 logs submitted.”

From the December 2019 edition of the 432 and Above EME News

Cycle 25

“Solar Cycle 25 may have a slow start, but is anticipated to peak with solar maximum occurring between 2023 and 2026, and a sunspot range of 95 to 130. This is well below the average number of sunspots”

NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel

The NOAA/NASA-co-chaired international Solar Cycle Prediction Panel has released its latest forecast for Cycle 25 and the panel’s consensus calls for a peak in July 2025 (±8 months), with a smoothed sunspot number of 115. The panel agreed that Cycle 25 will be of average intensity and similar to Cycle 24.

Similar to Cycle 24 isn’t good news for HF communications — unless you were expecting it to be much worse. The panel went out of its way to say there was no indication of an approaching “Maunder-type” minimum but did acknowledge that the new Cycle will be the fourth consecutive declining Solar Cycle.

Assuming the panel has read the tea leaves properly, the next opportunity for what most of us would consider a more “normal” solar maximum probably won’t arrive until around 2039 when I’m 80 years-old — assuming I’m still around.

Unnecessary, but I’d say that vindicates my decision to migrate from HF in search of new radio adventure at much higher frequencies.

Falling Rocks

Coming up this weekend is the Geminids, the most dependable of all meteor showers. With this one taking place in December, temperatures are generally cold and skies cloudy in the northern hemisphere. 

NASA ScienceCasts: Enjoying the Geminids From Above and Below

This year, there will be a nearly full moon in the sky as the Geminids peak on the night of December 13/14. The fainter meteors will be obscured by the bright moonlight reducing total counts drastically.

But this won’t have a negative impact on radio communication via meteor scatter. Pity I don’t have the station ready to play in this one, but soon!

Getting Started

End of the year is always busy what with trying to wrap things up at work and getting ready for Christmas and New Year’s. And it’s all crammed into a short time for me as I’ll be on vacation for a few weeks so you can see that time is short. Carving out time to build the new station has been a challenge but there has been some progress.

My first goal with the new transceiver is to get it on the air on FM. That probably seems simple enough but I haven’t had a VHF antenna on the house in more than twenty years so this is a bigger deal than you might imagine. It’s starting from scratch.

I ordered a Diamond X-6000A antenna, a vertical that covers 2M, 440, and 1.2GHz. At the same time I ordered the Diamond MX3000N tri-plexer to handle the intermediate connection with the three radio antenna ports.

There just happened to have been a review on this hardware in the December QST (pages 38-40). I doubt that was fate, the IC-9700 is already a popular transceiver and the publishing team at ARRL is simply on top of sharing the best way to get started with a new tri-band transceiver with its readers.

Specs on the antenna and the tri-plexer were more than adequate for how I intend to use them though seasoned VHF operators may have opted for something different. I intend to mount the antenna at one corner of the house and use a short run of LMR400 cable from there, through the attic, and into the shack. I’ll install it on a 30-foot mast and after grounding and adding lightning protection I’ll call this simple first step, “done”.

Easy as that sounds, within hours of placing my order I got a note from Ham Radio Outlet that the tri-plexer isn’t available at any of their locations and will have to be shipped “later”. Meanwhile, the antenna has already shipped.

That’s not such bad news since the installation of the antenna and running new feed line is the real work. I hope the wait for the tri-plexer will be a short one. I still need to order the LMR400 and a collection of connectors and hardware.

Assuming all that can be installed over the long holiday break, I’ll move ahead with acquiring Yagis for 6, 2, and 440. But having all that in place and functional in time for the January VHF contest is, I’m afraid, just wishful thinking.

Along the way I’m also remodeling the shack. Gone is the big desk as I intend to install a single workbench to serve as the center of operation. That will require a little drywall work to route new power feeds along with antenna and rotor cables in an alternate configuration.

Lots to do and little free time to do it but progress continues, even if it’s difficult to measure.

I did update the firmware on the 9700 to the latest v1.20. That task couldn’t have been easier but it does require reading the instructions. I’m on one mailing list for that transceiver where some have had minor problems with this task, but in the end, that was all operator error due to failure to carefully read the fine manual.

Havent Got Time For The Pain

Having suffered through solar cycle 24 with its deep and extended minimum that resulted in lousy HF band conditions for what seems like forever, we now await the next cycle (25) that’s expected to be every bit as bad. It’s enough to make a shortwave enthusiast consider how many cycles remain to enjoy the hobby.

I turned 60 this year and can’t help but notice that many of the long-ignored activities on my ham radio bucket list take place at VHF and higher – frequencies where the Sun doesn’t dictate all the action. 

Satellites, EME, meteor scatter, and VHF contesting are but a few of the things firmly stamped on my list of radio things that I want to explore before concluding my ham radio life. The way I see it, I’ve been licensed and on the air continuously since 1977 and have spent almost all of that time at HF and forty-plus years is enough. 

I recently purchased a new ICOM IC-9700 around which I intend to assemble a new station. It’s useless to me at the moment because I don’t even have an antenna to use with it but that will be quickly remedied. 

Most of my HF equipment will be sold though I intend to keep the IC-7300 for its 6 meter capability. In fact, the first antenna I plan to install will be for 6M. That will probably be followed by a LEO pack for satellite work. There’s no script for where to go after that but I expect to find as much joy in the pursuit of radio adventure at these higher frequencies as I enjoyed at HF.

There’s much to learn and experience. In many ways, this will be akin to starting over from the very beginning. I’ve resumed blogging because I think chronicling this transition might be interesting. Plus, I’d really like to leave a record of this final journey.