Oh Thomas! Really?
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, you know! The low-frequency part of the SW spectrum is proving very good value at the moment. And the mediumwave guys are telling me that there’s plenty of DX to be had in that part of the RF spectrum.
And yesterday, I had some FT8 success!
From southeastern Australia on a dipole with 5w getting into Plymouth, Minnesota on 14mHz in the mid-afternoon here. Not bad at all for the bottom of the sunspot cycle!
Ha ha! Thanks for your reply, Rob! Honestly, I wasn’t trying to spread doom-and-gloom, rather I was pointing out how low this sunspot cycle has gone. (Okay, so perhaps I was also shaking my fist at our local star!)
I completely agree with you Rob. It’s not all doom-and-gloom! Here are a few strategies for working DX during sunspot lows:
Sunspots really enhance propagation on the higher HF bands: especially 17 meters and higher. Without supspots, you’re not going to reliably snag serious DX on 10 meters, for example–there will be the occasional opening, but it might not last long. During sunspot cycle peaks, the higher bands provide outstanding DX opportunities even with a modest setup.
During one peak, I’ll never forget sitting in my car in North Carolina, with a RadioShack 10 meter mobile radio connected to a mag mount antenna, and having a three way chat with a ham in Sandiego, CA and one in Glasgow, Scotland.
With that said, even this year I’ve snagged some excellent DX on 17 meters (my favorite HF band). And, as you point out Rob, 20 meters is a great band for snagging serious DX even with no sunspots giving you a boost.
Openings between the US and Australia happen routinely on the 40 meter band as well, although some of us might have to wake up early or go to bed late to participate.
Of course all of this same advice applies for SWLing. Most of the DX I snag these days is found on the 25 meter band and lower. I’ve also been using this opportunity to explore Mediumwave DXing.
Kim Elliott and I had an exchange about this yesterday on Twitter. Some digital modes are so robust they seem to work regardless of propagation.
Kim knows this well as he receives reception reports from Shortwave Radiogram listeners across the globe each week.
If you’re a ham radio operator, I strongly encourage you to check out the latest “weak signal” digital modes: JT65 and, especially, FT8.
Robert and I talk about the FT8 mode frequently. Since I discovered this mode at the 2017 W4DXCC conference, I’ve been hooked. Sure–it lacks the nuances of phone and CW, but it’s incredibly fun to watch my flea-powered signal acknowledged by someone on the other side of the planet with a flea-powered signal.
As Robert will tell you, FT8 seems to defy propagation theory. I agree wholeheartedly.
I’ve worked some of my best DX with this mode during the sunspot low and have never used more than 15 watts out of my Elecraft KX3 and KX2.
Don’t give up!
Although propagation was poor, I worked more stations during National Parks On The Air than I had worked the entire time I’ve been a ham radio operator. All in the field with modest portable antennas and 15 watts or less.
Use the sunspot low as an excuse to explore frequencies and modes you’ve never used before. Use this as an opportunity to improve your listening skills and the most important part of your listening post or ham station–your antenna system!
I regularly get email from people who’ve found the SWLing Post and take the time to write a message to me complaining about the death of shortwave radio: the lack of broadcasters, the prevalence of radio interference and the crummy propagation.
“Hey…sounds like radio’s not your thing!”
While this same person is moaning and complaining, I’ll be on the radio logging South American, Asian and African broadcast stations.
I’ll be working DX with QRP power, even though everyone tells me that’s not possible right now.
I’ll be improving my skill set and trying new aspects of our vast radio world.
You see: I’ve learned that the complainers aren’t actually on the air. They gave up many moons ago because someone told them it wasn’t worth it, or they simply lost interest. That’s okay…but why waste time complaining? Go find something else that lights your fire!
While these folks are complaining, I’ll be on the air doing all of the things they tell me I can’t do.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ivan Cholakov (NO2CW), who writes:
My 11 year old son Tommy (N1SPY) completed a project where he compared a 1W lightbulb to a .25 W radio beacon that he put together and bet that the radio beacon can be heard around the world. I asked him to document his activities as he went along. The project took a couple of months but is now complete and we stitched together a video of his activities.
My buddy, Skip Arey (N2EI), shared the following poem on his Facebook page and has kindly allowed me to post it here!
“I originally published this in the NASWA “FRENDX” club journal in 1987 and later in the December 1992 issue of Monitoring Times magazine. Many thanks to Steven K. Roberts for recovering the text for me as it never stuck to my hard drive. Enjoy.”
A DXer’s Christmas
(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house The “Harmonics” were sleeping, and so was the spouse; The antennas were hung from the chimney with care in hopes that some signals would come through the air; The receivers were nestled all neat in a row, With filters and tuners all ready to go; With a strong cup of coffee, sitting at my right hand, I had just settled in to some radio band, When out of my headphones there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, To determine the cause of this odd static crash. The Moon on the breast of the new -fallen snow, Gave my antenna wires an unusual glow; When what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a weird little sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. With a strange little driver, who looked like a “Hippie,” I though for a moment my brain had gone dippy. More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he wheezed, and he cursed, as he called them by name: “Now Ten-Tec! Now Icom! Now Yaesu and Philips! On Grundig! On Sony! On Kenwood and Collins! Watch out for the porch! Watch out for the wall! Stay out of the way, and don’t let me fall!” As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane ride, When they met with an obstacle, they kicked it aside. So up to the house -top the coursers they flew, And got tangled in wire; the old Hippie did too. And then, in a twinkling I heard through the ceiling, a great deal of cursing, and swearing, and squealing. As I shook my head, and hollered out “Stop!” Down the chimney the bearded one fell with a plop. He was dressed all in denim, from his headphones to tail, His clothes smelled like sweatsocks, and his breath like cheap ale; The stump of a stogie he held tight in his teeth. And the rancid smoke circled his head like a wreath; He had a fat face and a great big beer -belly, That shook when he burped, like a bowlful of jelly. He spoke not a word but went straight to his work, Opened up my receiver, and tuned with a jerk. Then sticking a finger inside of his nose, And giving a burp, up the chimney he rose. The receiver it squealed, and gave out a whistle, And the stations I heard that night, would fill an epistle. And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, “Happy DX, Old Man, next time, leave on a light!”