This is one of a series of “Notes” I published on Facebook. Since Facebook has discontinued the Notes feature, I am publishing that series here on my blog.
I could have titled this ‘Feast or Famine: What a Difference a Day Makes’. That’s how it is with VHF. Conditions can change quickly. If there is a secret to success, it lies in knowing the ups and downs of propagation – both short and long term – and developing operating techniques tailored to take advantage of opportunities. This is a very different world from HF.
Despite variable conditions, my final VHF contest with low power (barring unforeseen disaster) was the best yet. This contest saw a marked shift in conditions from well above average Saturday to well below average Sunday. My two meter station remains 25 watts to a very short seven element yagi. The boom length of this antenna is less than six feet. I am using low loss cable, but with 350 feet of feedline to the antenna, I lose at least three dB on transmit and receive.
Conditions Saturday were quite good. There was clearly some tropo, but not something I would characterize as a great opening. I would call it ‘high normal’ propagation. What is unusual is getting anything above average during a contest weekend! I worked 27 stations in 18 different grid squares between 2:00 pm contest start and 10:00 pm when I shut down for the night. I was not at it continuously. I took several breaks during this period. When I was operating I kept the VFO constantly moving, tuning 144.150 to 144.250. VHF contesters turn their antennas a lot, and propagation peaks play a significant role. Success requires vigilance in finding stations. You not only have to find them, but you have to find them at just the right moment. You can tune the band 10 times and hear nothing, and on the next pass find a booming signal (or several). I also worked two new states (New York and New Jersey), bringing my total in just over three months of rather casual operating to 13 states and four Canadian Provinces. The best peak was around sunset, when I worked three stations at about the 450 mile mark. Two of these were without any form of coordination or advance notice. I heard the stations calling CQ, called them, and worked them. What a thrill that was! I could hear several stations around 500 miles but was not successful in working them.
Sunday morning a cold front moved through the region, wiping out any remaining tropo. The band was noisy from lightning associated with storms along the frontal boundary. Nevertheless, with conditions now clearly below average I was still able to copy some big stations at and just beyond 500 mile range. QSOs Sunday were hard to come by but this does not mean nothing could be worked. Despite poor conditions, at times there were very good, workable signals to 300 miles or more. The trouble was I had worked those stations on Saturday. Winds associated with the storms and behind the front aggravated a source of power line noise to my southwest which I have not been able to track down. I spent much less time operating after that.
I ended up working 29 stations in 18 grid squares on two meters. Many operators thanked me for FN55, saying it was a new one for them in this contest.
I placed no emphasis on six meters. I only went there when asked to QSY by someone I worked on two meters. On six I worked 12 stations in nine grid squares. I was running 100 watts to a 7 element, 33 foot boom yagi on that band.