The Bands are Dead! Well NO, they aren’t!
I know you’ve all heard it. We’re near the bottom of the sun cycle. The bands are dead. Why bother trying to make contacts when the propagation is so bad? I’ve tried but noone can hear me…
Well, it’s easy to fall prey to those sorts of thoughts. I think I had too, and I hadn’t tried much of anything on HF at all. Then I thought I’d give something new (to me, anyway) a try. I’d heard a lot about digital modes on HF but had never even given a thought to doing it myself.
So, in the last few days, I’ve been playing with FT-8. If you are unfamiliar, FT-8 is a digital weak signal mode used predominantly on the HF bands. I started out thinking that if I had trouble with regular, higher power phone contacts, then I SURELY wasn’t going to be successful with a weak signal mode. Well, I was wrong. Not just a little bit wrong, but LOT wrong. It’s very easy to learn, and thought I struggled making some QSOs, I realized that I am mostly using “less than optimal” antennas. But I digress.
What kind of story would this be if I ended up telling you that I failed miserably? Well, I didn’t! I succeeded! I struggled a bit because I truly DO need better antennas, but my best success was on the 40 meter dipole that I constructed and put up well over a year ago. It hadn’t had much use since it was raised, but I have a feeling it will get a lot more now. FT-8 is very easy to learn. Two YouTube videos and I think I know most of what’s needed to be effective. In a few hours spread over a few days, I collected more than 30 new QSOs spread mostly across the US. But to me, that wasn’t the most amazing part.
As I struggled to make QSOs that I thought I should be able to make, I began to wonder if I was even being heard. Attached at he end of this post is a snapshot from a website called pskreporter.info. On it, you can find a map of reports of who operators have heard using WSJT-X and some other programs. Enter your call sign and a mode and time frame and it will show you how many other stations have heard your signal.
Needless to say, I was shocked! I reached 20 countries spread all over the globe in the last 24 hours. Realize that that map doesn’t doesn’t represent QSOs, but I couldn’t wrap my head around how many stations out there had heard me. And just or a bit of context, all of those “sightings” were with me transmitting under 40 watts, with most under 20.
So, if you want to do HF, get out there and try. People can hear you, even with less than a kilowatt and a beam at 60 feet. My homemade dipole and 40 watts even reached to Antarctica!!! Get out there and have some fun!!! And if phone intimidates you, give FT-8 a try! It’s a blast!