Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Challenging Topband

The 'Half-Sloper'
My recent 'topband' blog prompted me to think about some of the more interesting 160m contacts that I've made over the years. Although my first contacts were made just after getting my ticket in the early 60's, I really didn't have more than a couple of watts out of my modified Heathkit DX-20 ... coupled to a short 'longwire', each contact from my mid-Vancouver location was more of a miracle than anything else.

When I purchased my first house in the suburbs in '74, I was finally able to put up a real antenna ... a 'half-sloper', fed from the top of my new 48' tower, along with an extensive set of radials running along the perimeters of my yard. I also hung both 80 and 40m half-slopers from the same feedpoint, giving me coverage on all three of the low bands.

Once the Japanese manufacturers started adding 160m coverage to the various lines of transceivers, the band really started to get popular, as up until that time, very few commercial transmitters covered 160m. Most of the E.F. Johnsons, the DX-100, and some of the late Drake radios were doing the heavy-lifting unless one was enterprising enough to homebrew or modify a rig for 160.

I immediately set out to work all 50 states from my suburban location, running a pair of 6146's at around 150 watts input. It took me a few winters to get them all, with Rhode Island being the most difficult, at #50.
My 160m W.A.S. certificate was #264.

Conditions always varied with the solar cycle but a surprising amount of DX was worked at my low power level. A couple of the more memorable contacts from those days were with H44IA in the Solomons and with VK9NS, on Norfolk Island.

H44IA was worked at 0426 local time in February. I recall calling several JA stations that morning with no response (I always found difficulty working JA on 160) and was more than surprised when the H44 came right back to my response to his CQ.

Jim Smith, VK9NS (SK), seemingly spent more time at various exotic locations than at home. Over the years I was able to work him on a number of his Pacific-island expeditions, but it was gratifying to finally catch him from another rare spot ... his home! This contact was in mid-July, right at sunrise.

I've worked a number of island expeditions over the years on topband, but one of the rarest was in the mid-Indian Ocean, FT5ZM, on Amsterdam Island ... also right at sunrise.

Another 'closer' island has always been a bit rare on 160, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ... worked in mid- February, just after midnight.

In all of my years in the suburbs, I was never able to hear Europe on topband. It seemed that the noise-curtain surrounding my reasonably quiet location was still just too high for such 'over the pole' west coast treats. It wasn't until I moved to Mayne Island, off the SW coast of B.C., and re-installed my half-sloper, that the Europeans finally began to fill my log. Some nights, during solar-low years, the Europeans were workable before sunset ... on other nights, there were no signals other than Europeans, filling the band from 1800-1830, at times making the topband sound like 20m CW ... definitely not like the city.

4Z1UF was worked in February, just after 8PM local time while R1FJT in Franz Josef Land was worked right at sunset in late October.

Africa is always tough on the low bands but the solar-low years of Cycle 23 brought some amazingly good conditions to the west coast. The two new ones, below, were both worked in November of '08 at around 10PM local time, right at sunrise in Africa.

Learning the quirks of topband propagation is still an ongoing project but over the years, 160m has been my favorite wintertime hangout. With T2GC on Tuvalu Island, worked last week, my present 160m DXCC total stands at 156 worked and 155 confirmed.

If you're looking for something different, some new fun... a bit of an operating challenge ... I know you'll find it on topband!

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