Friday, April 3, 2009

40 meters...heterodyne free!

You non-hams who frequent this little blog may feel free to ignore this post. In the short time that I have become once again active in this wonderful hobby, I have been fortunate enough to witness two major changes in our bands. First there was the rather extensive readjustment of the 80/75 and 40 meter SSB allotments for those holding the Amateur Extra class license. I was on the first night, making contacts all the way down to 3.6 mHz and 7.125 mHz. I even had a nice chat on 80 with N4KZ up in Kentucky, a very good amateur op whose exploits I follow because of the similarities in our callsigns.

It was exhilirating! Even today, about two years later, vast areas of those two bands that are now available to SSBers is still open and uncrowded. It's a pleasure to operate there, and one can almost always conjure up a nice conversation by simply calling CQ.

There was one problem on 40, though. That section of band newly opened to voice operations was dominated in the western hemisphere by shortwave broadcasters, running vast amounts of power into extensive antenna systems. It was necessary to try to find an open spot amid the screaming heterodynes and tinkly splatter. Most simply gave up, especially after the sun went down. It just was not worth the headache, even though propagation can be quite exciting on 40. I stayed down on CW to take advantage of the friendly bounces of the ionosphere. Or listened to all the Europeans chatting with Canadians below that big, hairy shortwave broadcaster roaring away on 7.125.

That changed March 29. By international agreement, broadcasters were required to vacate the frequencies from 7.100 to 7.200, effective that date. The CQ WPX contest was in full bore that night so it was hard to tell exactly how different that 100 kilohertz sounded. I did work quite a few European stations, most on the first call.

On Sunday night, though, I tuned up and down the band and heard several strong signals and quite a few QSOs in progress. The band was wonderfully quiet, and offered a variety of propagation. I only took the time to work KI4NKA down in Jacksonville, Florida. He was in a camper with a dipole thrown over a tree limb, running 100 watts, but we had a solid half-hour chat. (I only run about 500 watts on 40 SSB to either a vertical, a horizontal loop, a G5RV, or a ladder-line-fed dipole...the dipole or vertical usually work best.)

Then tonight, with just a few minutes to play, I dropped down to 40 and listened to a few folks talking. Again, the band was very quiet. Then I happened upon what sounded like a pileup at about 7.150, another frequency that used to be occupied by a strong broadcast station. Everyone was trying to work A61AB in the United Arab Emirates, way over yonder in the Middle East. Many were calling and Hissam was not really very strong, but I joined the fray anyway. I got him on the second call and he gave me a "57."


Truth is, there would have been no way for me to have even heard A61AB if the broadcasters had still been there, much less had a brief but pleasant exchange. This could be my new favorite band!

There will be more and more changes to how the limited radio spectrum is divvied up and assigned. I can only hope those are as pleasant as the latest two developments.

73 (and see you on 40 meters!)

Don N4KC

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