Sunday, January 11, 2009

The bands are better than you think

Ok, we all know that the bands have been in pretty poor shape for the last few years. Everyone is complaining about how there's nothing to work. At least some people who wanted to get into the hobby, or back into it, aren't bothering, as shown by this quote from the forum 

Two of my neighbors had talked of getting back in to Ham radio as they had done as kids, but their wives made them check out conditions first before they buy...and it looks like they are looking for a new hobby.

But are things really that bad? They are certainly worse than they were at the peak of the solar cycle, but I submit that there is still a lot to do on the radio. Better than just using my gut feeling, I took a look at my log starting about 18 months ago, in July 2007. I wanted to pick a starting point that was clearly close to the bottom of the the trough of Solar Cycle 23.

What I did was to configure my log as if I'd just gotten on the radio on the first of July, 2007, and pulled some reports for things like DXCC, WAZ, and WAS to see what I'd have if I'd only had these last 18 months on the air. I think that what I found may surprise you.

First, keep in mind that all my contacts have been made from my home station: An Icom 756 Pro II running 100 watts into a G5RV antenna up at about 35 feet (10.7 meters). No amps, no beams. Most of my operating is casually "chasing DX" or operating contests for fun. Because when I was working these stations, I wasn't explicitly trying to earn an award only from that point forward, so there are probably some "easy" countries that I haven't bothered to work during that period, since I'd already worked them prior to that time. Given all that, let's see what I've got.

First, we'll look at DXCC: Over the last 18 months, I've worked 168 DXCC entities as "mixed" (combined phone, CW, and digital), with 118 on phone, 131 CW, and 83 on digital (primarily RTTY, with a little PSK thrown in there and there.) Although the numbers on the higher bands (10m through 17m) aren't great, I worked 134 on 20m, 122 on 40m, and 59 on 75/80m. Here's something to think about: At this point in the solar cycle, working the lower bands, like 80m (and even 160m, though I don't work 160m much myself) is better than when the solar activity is better. Overall, I worked close to 500 "band/countries". (Each time you work a county on a different band, it counts as a "band/country", so, for instance, I've worked Laos on 3 different bands during this period, so that counts as 3 band/countries).

Perhaps what's even more interesting than just working the 168 entities is that there's a good number of what could be considered rare or semi-rare entities in there. I went through the list and wanted to mention some that I thought were interesting from my location on the east coast of the US.
1A0  Sov. Military Order of Malta
3B7  Agalega & St. Brandon
3V  Tunisia
3X  Guinea
5H  Tanzinia
5N  Nigeria
5T  Mauritania
6W  Senegal
7Q  Malawi
7X  Algeria
9L  Sierra Leone
9Q  Dem. Rep. of the Congo
9X  Rwanda
C3  Andorra
C5  Gambia
CE0Y  Easter Island
CY0  Sable Island
D2  Angola
E4  Palestine
EL  Liberia
FO/M  Marquesas Islands
FO0  Clipperton Island
FR  Reunion
FW  Wallis & Futuna Island
HK0  San Andres & Providencia
JX  Jan Mayen
OY  Faroe Islands
S7  Seychelles
TI9  Cocos Island
VK9W  Willis Island
VP6  Pitcairn Island
VP6/D  Ducie Island
XF4  Revilla Gigedo
XW  Laos
ZC4  UK Sovereign Bases on Cyrprus

The point here is that there has been plenty of not-just-routine DX to work over the last 18 months, despite the conditions.

Let's look at another award, the Worked All Zone (WAZ) award that depends on good conditions for DX. Over the same period of time, I worked 35 out of the available 40 zones, which are located all over the world.

Closer to home, over that same 18 month period, I worked all 50 US states, with 50 on phone, 49 on CW, and 50 on digital (again, mostly RTTY). Again, the lower bands have been best, with 42 states on 20m, 48 on 40m, and 43 on 75/80m. (I even worked 11 states on 160m!)  Again, the point is that there is plenty plenty to do.

My conclusion is that those two guys who didn't think that it was worth getting back into radio were wrong. There are still plenty of stations to work, and plenty to do on the radio. I've only touched the tip of the iceberg here. There are folks who try to work US counties, Islands, Lighthouses, museum ships, and much more. They are all on the air, making contacts every day. There's plenty to do on the air, but it does require that you turn on the radio. Stop complaining on the Internet. Use your radio. Trust me, you'll be a lot happier.

1 comment:

  1. Per Nielsen7:07 AM

    Hi DAvid,
    I do agree with you. I was very active in the teen years with a HW32 around the SS cycle peak in 1971. Then I left the hobby for many years but started again in October 2007, very similar to the time frame of your analysis. I only work SSB with my Drake C line, a SB200 amp end a miniyagi antenna only 30 ft above ground. During these 16 months I have worked 110 DX entities.

    Conditions are not as I remember from the peak around 1970, but if you take time to listen, there is a lot of stations to be worked. Still I am looking forward to better conditions for 15 and 10 meters.

    By the way, compared to the time 40 years ago it is considerably easier to work a certain number of entities as I think there are about twice as many today as 40 years ago.

    73 de OZ1DZ, Per