Two Months and Eleven States: My Experience With ‘Small Station’ DXing on Two Meters

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.

Not long ago I wrote a primer on VHF and UHF DXing. In it I outlined what one could expect using a 50 to 100 watt station and 8 element or larger yagi on the two meter band. Since then I have been operating with 25 watts to a seven element yagi with interesting results. This isn’t even an optimized seven element antenna; it is on a very short boom for this number of elements, about six feet long. Performance is about on par with most four or five element yagis. I would like to share my experience.

I operated the June VHF Contest with the little yagi at a height of 27 feet, just below my six meter yagi. I had a very high noise level and the yagi exhibited minimal directivity. I would later discover this was caused by proximity to the much larger six meter yagi. I was able to work five states: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut. The longest distance worked was 345 miles. Tropo was typical of “every day” conditions, nothing special. The weather was somewhat windy across New England, which prevents significant tropospheric propagation enhancement over average daily levels.

Not long after that contest, I moved the yagi to the top of my main tower at 105 feet above ground. It is still near a large antenna, in this case being just five feet above my TH-11DX five band HF beam. Nevertheless, reception was much less affected by local noise and the little two meter yagi exhibited better directivity, indicating it was not as disturbed by its neighboring antenna. In the CQ VHF contest I was able to work most of the New England states again, with the longest distance again being 345 miles. That is about the limit for this size antenna and 25 watts without some serious tropospheric propagation enhancement or other propagation mechanisms. The notable difference is that now I was hearing stations out to 450 miles, which did not happen with the antenna in its former location.

In July I caught two sporadic E openings, working Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia with best distance being 1200 miles. No one can say for certain, but given the distances and nature of sporadic E it is quite likely I could have worked all of the stations with the antenna at much lower height.

Taking advantage of the Perseids meteor shower, special operating techniques and the FSK441 fast digital mode designed specifically for VHF meteor scatter I was able two work two more states: Virginia and Wisconsin, with best distance 1013 miles. This is not an easy game with a station of this small size, but I proved it can be done if one has patience and persistence. One of the hardest things is getting stations to try to work you. Most are afraid they won’t be able to hear such a low power signal, and random operating (eg. calling CQ vs. having a pre-arranged schedule with a particular station) is not going to work at this power level. My antenna was probably too high for optimum results on meteor scatter. I might have done better with stations in the 700 to 1100 mile range had it been lower, where it could offer a bit more relatively high angle radiation.

In two months of mostly casual operation, being aware and mindful of VHF propagation I was able to work 11 states on two meters. Given a couple of years, a bit of luck with propagation and some effort, another 11 or 12 states are definitely within reach. If sporadic E were to be very cooperative or there were to be a massive aurora which spawned auroral E, another three or four states are possible. I believe my experience demonstrates that VHF DX is not beyond the reach of modest stations. My results were probably better than those of a newcomer to the game, since a previous 20 year period of working two meters has made me a savvy operator, very aware of propagation mechanisms and how to spot opportunities. Propagation awareness is critical for success on VHF.

There was no aurora during this period, but contacts to at least 900 miles on that mode are definitely possible with a station of this size. However, CW is a requirement for aurora.

It should be noted that graduating to the 100-150 watt class, easily within reach of most with a modern transceiver or solid state “brick” amplifier, will greatly enhance results. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to be serious about VHF “DXing”, though obviously it makes sense to start out with whatever power one has and upgrade once the desire for better results sets in. A larger antenna is always better, but even a very short yagi can provide interesting results. If erecting a long yagi is not practical, consider two or four short yagis properly stacked and phased. It’s not as difficult as it may sound, and you will find experienced VHF operators happy to assist.

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