Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Get Busy Living

I try to eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise. I quit smoking years ago and drink in moderation. I follow news on longevity and try to stay out of the sun. The reason is simple: I want to get my 5-Band DXCC award before I die. At the rate I have been going, to work 100 countries on the 80-meter band from this far North, I will need to live to the ripe old age of 122 years.

Aside from the usual issues everyone has with the lower bands (room for large antennas, noise, etc.) I have a few things that make working 80m from up here particularly difficult. The first is the aurora, or more specifically, the absorption caused by geomagnetic activity.

Since the auroral oval is directly overhead it absorbs signals in all directions!

It takes at least two days with little or no geomagnetic activity before the absorption decreases enough to make DX on 80m possible. That limits the opportunities to only once or twice a month during the bottom half of the solar cycle. The second issue is the ground. At this latitude, the ground is permanently frozen. Only the top few feet thaws in the summer. It also doesn't get dark here during the summer so most of our nightime 80m operating is during the winter months when the ground is completely frozen and blanketed with snow. This makes for very high ground resistance and lousy fresnel zone reflectivity. Antenna ground radials will help with the near-field ground losses but there is nothing you can do about the far-field losses except try to operate when they are minimized by the ground being wet. The only time that coincides with darkness here is in the late fall right before the surface freezes again. The third problem is lack of 80m activity. It takes a decent station, usually working CW, to be able to push through the absorption and it seems the only time the "big guns" get on 80m is during contests. Having long since worked their fill of 80m, the old-timers seem to spend most of their nights obsessing over the 160-meter "top-band". On the other hand, DXPeditions will be active on 80m, just not very often at times that are convenient for a station like mine that, in addition to being quite far North, is also significantly far West (almost on the border with KL7).

So, DX can be worked on 80m from here, but for the most part only during a contest or DXpedition that happens to occur in the late fall, at the bottom half of the solar cycle, during exceptionally quiet geomagnetic conditions. With only 35 countries confirmed so far on 80m, picking up one or maybe two new ones every year will take me a very, very long time to earn 5-Band DXCC...

There are, however, a couple of things that might allow me to possibly eat a hamburger and skip a workout once in a while. My 80m half-sloper antenna on the new tower seems to work OK. I've been trying hard to reduce common-mode noise and the investment in ferrite is starting to pay off. A planned pennant receiving antenna will also help but the biggest cause for optimism is the new FT8 digital mode. Introduced a few months ago as a much faster version of JT65, this new digital mode has taken the HF bands by storm. Every band has a segment with FT8 activity and more and more stations are joining the fun every day. This past weekend was one of those rare "sweet spots" for Arctic low-band propagation. Very little geomagnetic activity for several days in a row, darkness during "prime-time" operating hours, soaking wet not-quite-frozen ground, and lots of activity on 80-meters. Friday night saw good 80m conditions and in addition to working VK, JA, and LA on FT8 I also picked up the RI1F expedition on several bands, including 80m. I have Franz Josef Land worked and confirmed on several bands from many years ago but never thought to get a QSL for 80m. RI1F says they will upload to LoTW so hopefully that one is now in the bag. Conditions were even better on Saturday night. I was thrilled to work F5UKW on FT8 for a new one (and a new zone for him!). Once I made it over the pole the FT8 window had my full and undivided attention. With France coming through I knew that probably every one of the 65 more countries I needed were within range. What happened next, though, was not even within the realm of what I thought possible. Not too long after working F5UKW, I saw a KL7 station calling ZS1A. I laughed out loud and said "good luck, buddy!". Most of the active KL7 stations are a thousand miles south of me and I will often hear them calling stations that I can't hear. It looked like he didn't get an answer from the South African station and a few minutes later I saw a QSO sequence on the screen with someone else working ZS1A. That's when I did a double-take because the callsign on the right hand side of the sequence was ZS1A. In other words, I wasn't hearing someone else working him, I was receiving his signal directly! Not strong, only -22dB SNR on the display, but the next sequence came through as well. I switched the amplifier to full afterburner and as soon as he finished his QSO I double-clicked on his callsign. I was wide-eyed when I first started receiving his transmissions but nearly fell out of my chair when he answered my call! We completed the QSO and I sat back to ponder what that meant. Looking at my grey-line display I could see it was sunrise at his QTH near the West coast of South Africa. I've worked Argentina on 80m before and recently I've been working Australia more-or-less regularly. The addition of South Africa means that when conditions are right I must be able to work pretty much anywhere in the world on 80-meters. That might seem like a no-brainer to some but from up here it never seemed possible before. The farthest I had ever been able to reach over the top on 80m was Azores and Cape Verde which are both paths that skirt quite far to the south of the pole. 




With the addition of H40GC last week that makes FOUR new ones on 80m. At this rate, maybe I won't have to save quite so much for retirement now...

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