A Broken Sky Continues – The Anomaly Project

A while ago I wrote about the propagation phenomenon I was seeing around the time Ida was hammering the gulf coast states– namely that there wasn’t much propagation to be had in the western states or east of the center of the country. Signals simply weren’t landing where they used to at all, and the whole area seems barren of propagation.

As Ida faded, the situation improved somewhat for a couple of weeks– I was able to start getting a few of the states in the west from time to time in the mornings.

But as time has passed, I’ve been seeing that huge hole in the propagation patterns get larger again. Ida is long gone, so I’m not sure what is causing the effect. But it’s getting harder and harder to reach anyone out west on most of the HF bands I typically work.

Now granted, my “long” history of watching the signal reports only tracks back to May of this year, but this is a far different pattern than what I’ve been looking at before Ida.

Investigating the Western Propagation Anomaly

I got curious whether it was only me having the issue with my less than optimal antenna situation, or if the same huge hole in the propagation patterns was being experienced by others in the western states also.

So I decided to go back to PSK Reporter and run a few searches to see where other hams in states like Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas etc. were seeing their signals land.

PSK Reporter offers searches per grid square, but they are limited to signals sent in the last 15 minutes. This means I’d be more likely to find someone transmitting in the last 15 minutes from a grid square with a big population.

So I pulled up Grid Tracker and turned on the grid square numbered overlay.

The Maidenhead Grid Squares over the Western USA.

By Zooming in, I could see the larger cities in the western states and pick out the grid squares they were located in for my search.

For instance, most of Las Vegas is in DM26.

Most of Las Vegas is in DM26, with a little bleeding over into DM25.

I chose 17m as the band because it’s a good daytime band.

San Diego, California Area Signal Report

San Diego Area – Grid DM14 -Sept 24th 2021 Mid-Afternoon

Salt Lake City, Utah Signal Report

Salt Lake City, Utah – Grid DN40 – Sept 24, 2021 – Mid Afternoon

Seattle Washington Area Signal Report

Seattle Washington – Grid CN87 – Sept 24, 20221 – Mid-Afternoon

Denver/Colorado Springs Area Signal Report

Denver/Colorado Springs – Grid DM78 – Sept 24, 2021 – Mid-Afternoon

Dallas Texas Signal Report

Dallas, Texas – Grid EM12 – Sept 24, 2021 – Mid-Afternoon

Las Vegas Nevada Signal Report

Las Vegas Nevada – Grid DM26 – Sept 24, 2021 – Mid-Afternoon

Patterns, Conjecture, Questions…

I know these are just one days worth of screenshots of where signals are being reported landing in a span of an hour or two, but they generally represent the same pattern I’ve been seeing since Hurricane Ida.

Namely, a HUGE skip distance around the point of origin, where there is almost nothing landing, and then a tight dense signalfall just beyond that margin all the way to the eastern seaboard. There are always a couple local signal reports, but then nothing for 1500-2000 miles!

I’ve spent a little time looking at various types of weather reports, looking for a matching visual pattern that might give me a clue what the cause of this very odd, unusual pattern is, but so far have not been able to find anything that screams, “It’s MEEeeeeee me me me!”

I’ve looked at barometric pressure, humidity, wind direction to name a few.

And I kinda wonder how many other hams are noticing it.

Propagation IS weird, but this seems a little too big a change to last so long without some sort of important factor causing it.

Nibbling at Africa

There is an award on QRZ that I’ve been on the verge of getting for a couple of months, but the final accomplishment on the list seemed nearly impossible with my current humble hamstick setup.

I needed to make confirmed contacts on at least SIX continents to get the Continents of the World Award, and the final hurdle was the African continent.

The closest I had ever really gotten was a signal report out of the Canary Islands, located off the coast of Morocco. But 17m really turns out to be a nice DX band.

I got a hint last week that I might be able to actually get the African Continent when I saw a signal report hit smack in the middle of that body– in Kenya.

Unfortunately, there were no stations that I could hear broadcasting at the time out of the area. But I chalked it up as an omen from the ionosphere that I could actually catch it someday.

And then I got a nibble the following week from a station in the Canary Islands– I had them by the toe! —but the communication dropped before it could be completed. OOh! So close!!

Today in the middle of the afternoon I started seeing a station from the Madiera Islands popping up on 17m in FT8. I had no idea where that actually was, but it sounded interesting.

Now you see them, now you don’t– we played hide and seek for around 2 hours as they popped up, vanished, popped up, disappeared… and I finally figured out where they heck they were– sitting just a little further west of the Canaries. Lo and behold, I had signals landing there off and on.

And then, in the late afternoon we finally met in the middle and completed a contact! Even better, the station confirmed almost immediately!

Worked All Continents Awarded

It almost feels like cheating, to count an island a few hundred miles off the coast as “Africa”. Really it’s just a nibble! But it counts! Bwahahaha!

Worked All Continents Awarded today, Sept 22nd, 2021!

Gloating aside, I guess they classify Madiera Island, which is an autonomous region belonging to Portugal, as Africa because it’s actually sitting on the same tectonic plate as the African Continent.

But it still feels a little like breaking a piece of gingerbread off the “house” in the forest and eating it, like Hansel and Gretel. πŸ™‚

A DX Kind of Day

DX seemed particularly easy today on 17 even beyond the exciting chase of “Africa”.

Today’s DX haul also included:

  • Belize (Been chasing this guy FOR-Ever.)
  • Chile (x2)
  • Venezuela
  • Japan (x2)
  • Canada (x4)
  • Spain
  • Us Virgin Islands

I had a total of 55 17m contacts today, including a bunch more states for WAS on 17m. (I currently have 32 states, plus 5 more worked but not confirmed.)

I also logged my 1600th contact in total today since starting on HF at the end of May. That’s a lot of radio time!

Discovering The Long Year Town

In public school for most kids, geography always comes off as a dull subject. One of memorizing states, and state capitols, and peering at a bland globe at far off places that never really captures the interest of most students. Yeah, that was me too–guilty as charged!

If public schools really wanted students to enjoy geography, they should sit students down with a ham radio and get them making contacts.

I’ve been relearning geography in a much more interesting way since I started DXing a bit, and even places closer to home become more interesting when you spot your signal landing there, or make a contact with a real person. I think this is because it gives the brain an extra little marker to hang the dry facts on so they become meaningful.

As I’ve witnessed with elderly relatives now passed on, who’s short term memory decays, but they still remember things with emotional attachment long into their decline, memory is in many ways an emotional activity.

Last night while working FT8 on 40m I ran into a fun little place off to the right of Greenland where my signal reports were landing for the first time.

I zoomed in, but it had no name on the map other than the name of one town, Longyearbyen. Huh.

So I sent my Elmer a screenshot. “Where in the WORLD is THIS?”

A 11pm query to my Elmer friend… what is THIS?!

A half hour or so later he sent back a reply. “That’s Svalbard”

Ah! I remembered he had mentioned a couple months earlier making a contact with a ham in a place by that name himself. So THAT is Svalbard!

Apparently this far north island is actually a part of Norway, though it looks to me like it’s closer to Greenland.

The Long Year Town

And the name of the town, Longyearbyen translates to the Long Year Town. It’s the most northern settlement of more than 1000 people in the world, and “enjoys” several months of solar darkness, as the tilt of the earth keeps it facing away from the sun part of the year.

Apparently it once was a coal mining town.

A tourist information page about the town proudly gives the following information about living in Longyearbyen:

  • There are separate β€œroads” in the town centre for snowmobiles
  • We only have one grocery store
  • We are used to living next door to reindeer
  • We still take off our shoes when we enter hotels and restaurants, a tradition that has arisen from the problem with coal dust in the old days.
  • All the mining infrastructure is protected and remains as surreal monuments in and around the settlement.
  • The streets in Longyearbyen have numbers instead of names.
  • Longyearbyen has a university centre with 300 students, all of whom must learn to use firearms.
  • Seeing whales swimming in the fjord from our lounge window is not an uncommon occurrence.
  • Polar bears roam the landscape so people always go armed when they leave the settlement.

The ham station there that I saw receiving my signal report is JW4PUA— have a look at that proper Norwegian face on his QRZ profile!

He’s conservator working in the Svalbard Museum, and lives in a cabin just outside town. From his comments he’s piled upon the second he sets foot on the air, because there aren’t many hams out there.

He reports a couple of other interesting facts. Not only do they have 4 months of total darkness, there is an opposing 4 months of midnight sun in Svalbard, and they are located halfway between Norway and the North Pole– a whopping 1000km away from mainland Norway.

There are around 2000 people total living and working in the town.

Another Round of 2am Japanese Takeout and Other Assorted Contacts

Other things I got up to last night on 40– (yawn, stayed up wayyyyy tooo late!)

Chased and caught a station in Australia.

Chased and didn’t catch several stations in Costa Rica.

Chased and caught 6 stations in Japan, including several of the calling areas I didn’t already have.

Japan is divided into calling areas, and the number in the call sign seems to indicate which one they are in. I previously had four of them, but there is an eQSL award for snagging all ten that I am working on.

Chased and caught a few more grids– I just need 10 more grids for the Grid Squared Award on 40m now.

Completed and was awarded the eNorthAmerica award on eQSL.

Now it’s time for a nap. I really gotta quit staying up so late, but it’s hard when there are leaping hams everywhere. πŸ™‚

A Rush of Butterflies and 17m Results

I don’t know why I see these little stories in my head to explain how an experience “feels”, but I can only describe yesterday’s fun on 17 meters as a rush of butterflies and chasing a field full of them all over the place while laughing gleefully.

Which one to chase first?! Oh! that one is from New York, and that one is from Switzerland, and look at the one from Bolivia! There were just so many.

I detailed earlier the work I did to get the 17m hamstick to tune more or less properly on my new heavier quad-mount for the window.

But that work took me well into the evening and I was not able to test the propagation of that antenna till the following day.

So the following morning I completed the connections to the radio, hung out the counterpoise wire below the antenna, and got cringing, turned on the radio.

Oh. My. Word.

Now I like 20m generally, it’s busy, and easy to work when open. But I have NEVER seen as a much traffic from all over the world scrolling up the band activity screen in WSJT-X at once even on 20, as I saw when I tuned over to 17m for the first time.

I could hardly read the call signs before they scrolled up off the screen, there were so many.

It kept me glued to the laptop and radio for nearly the whole day!

My Butterfly Collection… er.. Results πŸ™‚

Over all, I got 45 contacts in one day– a personal best.

I contacted 17 states, 14 of which have confirmed already.

I cleared my 500th US county, and grabbed 24 grids on 17m, plus 19 confirmed towards the World Radio Friendship award for the 17m band.

It was a good day for DX for me also, including Alaska, Chile, Brazil, France, Canada, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

I also spent happy hours chasing New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Italy, Costa Rica, Belize, and Switzerland to name a few. Though the stars didn’t align to allow me to actually CATCH them yesterday, I have faith that will happen on 17m eventually (because you can’t catch stations you can’t hear, and I could finally hear them).

Anyway– let’s just say I had more fun than I can remember in a while. πŸ™‚

Square Foot Antenna Farming Part 1

Old Mc-Lisa had a farm, ee-eye-ee-eye-oooh!

Yet Another Antenna Project

As I have previously detailed, my 3rd floor apartment is pretty hard to ham from. I’ve hacked a few solutions that have allowed me to work about three bands so far, though I can only work two at a time due to space constraints.

It’s a bit of a pain in the neck to disconnect and haul in one antenna on it’s plank mount, so I can hang out another, or have to unscrew one hamstick from the mount just to swap bands.

I’d really like to spend more time operating on the air than constantly having to jimmy different rigs into place!

Antenna Farming for Small Spaces

With that concern in mind I’ve started work on another project– a “square foot antenna farm” of four hamstick mounts on one bracket, two closer to the building side by side, and two pushed another 6 inches further out.

My intention is to have four different hamsticks packed into a space that is about a foot square. I hope to have 40m, 30m, 20m, and 17m available at one time, though obviously only one will be transmitting at a time.

This creates new challenges–

  • For example, the mounting board needs to be wider, and thus heavier
  • The bracket hardware needed to hold four sockets are also heavier
  • All antennas are sharing a common ground, which could create loops or parasitic interaction between antennas
  • All of the above makes the whole assembly heavier to lift and place in the window
  • Different length radials needed for each antenna
  • Bigger mass of metal in the mounting hardware majorly changes the tuning of the antennas and may require a tuned counterpoise dropping down below the mount out the window.

So there’s a lot to work out.

Here are a few photos of the project in progress:

The four hamstick mounting sockets freshly installed on an 8″ wide poplar board.

The hardware above is built using a pair of L-brackets and a pair of flat strap hardware extension pieces from Lowes, and a pair of Workman dual antenna mounts, bolted across the L brackets. Washers are used under the top bolts to give the mount a little tilt to allow the antenna whips to clear the roofline of the building.

Side view of the freshly installed hardware with weather stripping added.

I add the self-adhesive weather-stripping, which I get in rolls, to the vertical sides of the board to seal any gaps between the boards or the sliding window pane. It does a respectable job of forming around the jumper coax cables where they pass to the interior.

I added handles to the back of the antenna mounting plank to make it easier to handle.

As the mounting plank gets heavier with all the extra brackets and 4 times as many antennas, the risk of dropping the whole thing out of the window increases, so I added a pair of “gate handles”, also purchased at Lowes to the back.

I’ve actually considered this for the previous, smaller mounts– sometimes they are awkward to move, or pry sideways in the window frames channel so I can take one of them back out of the window or check the cables. I had one incident where I did nearly lose my grip on one of the antennas while putting it out which gave me a little mini-heart attack!

But this mount is just so heavy it’s a necessity.

I added a powerpole connector to the back for the radial wires.

Because I have radials actually taped to the inside of the wall running around part of the room, I needed the radials to be easy to connect and disconnect quickly.

Anderson Power Pole connectors accomplish this nicely, and connect to the antennas via one of the mounting bolts for the L-brackets.

Note how the cables pass between the weatherstripping on the boards easily. I’ve pretty much abandoned the use of the MFJ-Feedthrough panel as this works fine.

The cables are shown wrapped a few times in snap-on ferrites that act as chokes, but I have since move them a little closer to the antenna feedpoints, and outside of the window instead of inside.

Taming the Tuning of 17m

I admit I’ve been taking a break from this project for a couple of weeks, partly because the prospect of having toe go around in circles for hours, tuning and re-tuning four different antennas, all interacting with each other is a bit daunting.

I initially took my well tuned 20m hamstick from the original mounting plank and put it on the new quad mount to see what I had. The SWR on that was just ridiculous– somewhere between 20:1 and infinite! Yiikes!

All that extra metal on the quad-bracket definitely changed where resonance lands. I threw up my hands and put it back on the old mount for a while. Ugh.

A friend suggested adding a hanging counterpoise wire of 10 or so feet right at the feedpoint of each antenna might allow tuning to a more acceptable SWR.

So after installing the 17m hamstick I have onto the mount tonight, and working with adjusting the whip length, and adjusting the radial length till I got as low SWR as I could, I attached a counterpoise wire to the nearest bolt on the mount and tossed it out the window.

I played with the length by rolling up and unrolling the wire at the free end for a while, and eventually got the SWR down to just under 2:1 for 17m.

I’m not sure I can get it much better, but tomorrow, I’ll see what the Icom 7300’s antenna tuner can do with the antenna as is.

Interestingly, the really narrow, sharp dip you normally see with a hamstick in the SWR scan is now a very broad, shallow curve across the whole band.

It remains to be seen whether that’s a good thing, or not, but I guess I get to find out in the morning!

Radial Wrangling for Cliff Dwellers and Other Antenna Voodoo

To the ham friend who recently complained at lunch sitting beside me over a plate of breakfast, that I am writing too much and it takes too long to read, I apologize in advance for yet another blog post. πŸ™‚ Apparently I’m doing a good job of keeping you pinned in your seat, though!

Electromagnetic energy, as I have remarked before is a weird, spooky little beast. It has a desire to return home greater than any bug eyed extra-terrestrial. I mention this after another day of antenna radial wrangling, following some reading about radials and how they affect antenna directionality.

The point of adding radials to a vertical antenna, like a hamstick is to balance the circuit so that electricity can crawl back home more easily. If you were using a dipole, the two halves of the dipole do this fairly efficiently, but a 1/4 wave vertical is by it’s nature unbalanced and needs an assist.

Usually, if you’re setting up your vertical antenna in the back yard, you’d spread radials out as evenly as possible along the ground or just minimally buried, and have 8, 16, 32 or more radials.

These radials couple capacitively with the ground giving the electricity an easy path back to the antenna to complete it’s circuit.

The closer the radials are together, the less of a jump there is for the electricity to hop on the easy train back, and the more evenly the current circulates. And also, the more evenly the antenna radiates in all directions.

But when you’re an apartment dweller, with a tiny little floor space, room for radials is nearly as problematic as getting your rig grounded! So you end up with a pretty big compromise.

Radial Voodoo

In my 3rd floor apartment shack, I have a very minimal radial setup consisting of only ONE radial wire which I use for 20m and 30m, and ANOTHER longer wire for 40m. I have these taped to the apartment’s wall with blue painters tape, running north from the window to the room’s corner.

The 40m radial also turns the corner and runs a few more feet to the west, where I have it rolled up and slid onto a shelf when not in use. When in use, I unroll it across the bed to get a better signal out!

You wouldn’t think it would make that much difference, but a look at my 40m propagation reports with the radial rolled out and without it rolled out that last few feet across the bed has me convinced otherwise.

In any case, it’s a pretty unbalanced setup, and it’s surprising that I get the signals out as far as they do go.

Dipole Antenna Directionality… Hmmm..

In earlier reading regarding dipole antennas in different configurations– standard horizontal, vs. V and inverted V, and L-configurations, (which I arrived at after buying a Wolf River Otophone), I learned that an L-configuration Dipole (one leg vertical, one leg horizontal) creates an antenna that is directional in the direction of the horizonal leg, instead of broadside to the horizontal leg.

This got me wondering if the same applied to a single radial– did the single horizontal radial with a 1/4w vertical, which on paper looks an awful lot like a L-dipole, create propagation more in one direction than in others?

Looking around my room, there was one more place I could put a radial in another direction, mostly perpendicular to the north-south radial, and that was east-west along the back of the pony wall of the loft staircase.

I was a little leery of this location however, because it runs right behind the TV, and I suspected there would be more RFI issues introduced if I put a radial there.

Plus, it’s only viable on 20-30m because the wall is too short for a 40m radial.

The Results of the Perpendicular Radial

After thinking about this for a while I got out my roll of wire and cut a ~16ft piece, attached a power pole connector to the end, plugged it into the connector on the antenna bracket, and taped it to the back of the pony wall.

In the early afternoon I fired up the Icom-7300 on 20m and started transmitting.

I had been transmitting just an hour or two earlier and was seeing a familiar pattern in the morning with the single radial installation.

Usually on 20m, (when there isn’t a huge anomaly disrupting the band like last week) I see a pattern of signal propagation that includes most of the West Coast, Texas, intermittent Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, lots of Texas, some of the eastern states, a few drops of Canada and Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico, with a smattering of Australia.

I see very little of the top of the country in the Midwest–Wyoming Montana, and the Dakotas are just random luck to catch.

But with the second radial installed, what I immediately saw on PSK Reporter was a beautiful dense upward fan pattern from coast to coast.

Note the upward fan formation of signals with the second radial, like a pair of wings overlapping at the tips in Canada.

I lost some of my reach into Mexico, and towards South America– but gained most of the eastern states all the way to Maine, and a huge swath of Canada, including Prince Edward Island, which I had never ever seen a signal into, or out of. And then there were easy, and multiple contacts into former black holes of Montana and Wyoming.

I also saw a LOT of signals bouncing over to Europe, and picked up a lot more incoming signals from DX sources than normal.

Signal reports all up and down Europe, plus super dense signals over the USA

So over all, from one day’s testing (I spent about 7 hours working 20m today) I would say the second radial resulted in a much different, and mostly better radiation/receiving pattern that was denser and more plentiful than with only one radial.

But Then There Were the Television Poltergeists…

Remember my concern about the second radial running right behind the TV along the pony wall?

As soon as I started transmitting, RFI reared it’s roaring head like a malevolent ghost in the machine.

The TV turned off. Then On. Then Off. Then On. Stopped responding to the remote, and eventually I had to unplug it to even get it to stay off.

I’m sure this is because of the way many electronics are never quite off to enable them to start and boot quickly. Obviously, I’m going to have to go on another ferrite installing spree that includes the TV if I hope to keep using the second radial.

The kicker was when I finally quit working the radio, and plugged the TV back in, it came back on with the volume turned all the way up to 100!

Electrical Poltergeist syndrome was alive and well! Yikes! But at least the remote is now working.

There may be days I want the old antenna radiation pattern back. Sometimes it’s nice to hit Brazil, Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico!

Fortunately, with the Anderson Power Pole connectors attached, I can just unplug the second radial– or the first, if I want to try a different configuration.

Weird Incoming Storm Shape on Radar

One last weird thing.. when deciding on whether to bring the antennas in for the night because I could hear the windows rattling, I saw THIS developing on radar over my area.

Look at the cloud ring formation in the middle and the rays converging towards the middle!

I brought the antennas in. Nuff said.

Radio SIM Syndrome and a Huge Hole in the Sky

“It’s addictive”, he said.

Sim Syndrome

Back in my younger days, when I played video games a whole lot more there was a very popular PC game called The SIMS. It’s still around, in some form, or many forms as there were a lot of add-on packs you could get.

The point of this game on the surface, was to play a simulated person, including eating, sleeping, dressing, going to work, practicing social skills, making and entertaining friends, feeding pets and practically every aspect of real life.

But I quickly figured out that the actual goal was for this game to completely dominate your real life with the game to the point that you became a junkie, spending all your time at the computer trying to keep up with all of the needs of your Sim’s virtual life.

You would obsess over the game, buy every game pack and upgrade, and hardly find time to eat or sleep in your real life or go to work,

It was ingenious, druglike, and practically malevolent.

Once I figured out the REAL goal of the game was not actually for you to have fun and relax, but for you to spend all your time and money working, running on a hamster wheel for the game company and getting nothing of real value, I was OUT of there like a shot.

Radio Addiction

Some days, Ham Radio can be almost that addicting and I have to remind myself to stop and eat, feed the cat, and do the laundry.

The big difference however, with radio, is that there are real people at the other end of the QSO, and they are much more interesting to interact with than simulated characters with needlessly detailed and laborious lives.

This explains why I spent about 6 hours on the radio today!

In that time I made 39 contacts (Number 40 got away, unfortunately!)

Every time I was tempted to get up and go make dinner, fetch the mail, or do something else, just one more station from a state I rarely would pop up for me to chase. It’s SIM syndrome all over again– but substantially more satisfying.

The QSL cards and emails and awards leave me with meaningful memories of people I encountered, discovery of the places they live and the hobbies they enjoy, the professions they have followed and their adorable pets.

Not to mention the observations of the atmosphere and propagation in various circumstances and extremely interesting to a science lover.

No video game can ever have enough detail to provide that kind of satisfaction.

Ida, Sucking all the Electrical Potential Out of The Western Sky

The last two days working radio has been interesting in another way.

As Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to differing degrees, I expected to see no signal propagation into those states at all.

But quite the opposite happened.

For two days on 20m there has been a strange hole in the sky on the whole western side of the United States where hardly a signal has touched down, at least from me.

Normally California, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and even Arizona all propagate, at least sporadically. I usually hear those states fairly well, and they can hear me too.

But the last two days there has been silence, hours of it, from the western skies on 20m.

All the signals I can hear, and the stations that can hear me are now east of the center of the country.

August 30, 2021 – 20m Propagation map – Look at the huge hole in my incoming and outgoing radio signal propagation on the western half of the US!
August 31, 2021 – Second day of almost no propagation on the entire western half of the country on 20m band. I can’t hear any signals out of those states either!
A little later on the second day of the western radio propagation black hole – I turned the radar overlay on. You can see where the remnants of Ida are sitting, right in the middle of the area of the country with good propagation.

I don’t know what causes this specifically, but I suspect that it’s Ida, changing the propagation over huge areas, and hundreds of miles further than it’s winds and rain’s destructive influence.

It’s as if the storm gathered up all of the electrical potential from the atmosphere and sucked it all towards itself, leaving the west with none.

Electricity has a magnetic quality about it and attracts itself– or maybe it’s some other phenomenon I don’t know anything about.

It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen, and completely the reverse of what I expected to happen.

Eye in the Sky – Storm Spotting Ida At a Safe Distance

I was on HF last night, working a little 40m FT8 when I occurred to me I might want to look at the radar overlay in Grid Tracker (One of the programs I run alongside WSJT-X for additional information about where my signals are going.)

My neighbor and I had been chatting earlier in the day about the behavior I was seeing with signals rapidly fading and coming back around both sides of the greyline on 40m and she asked me if I’d ever looked at the radar at the same time as my signal reports.

Well.. no! Smacking my forehead! Doh!

So I looked to see if Grid Tracker had that function, and yes it does!

Click!

This is what I saw:

I was initially interested in the small spots of thunderstorm activity directly over Phoenix, but then said.. WHAT is THAT down in the bottom right…?!

If ever there was a perfect picture of an “Eye in the Sky”, that is it! Hurricane Ida, there you are in all your fury.

And I didn’t have to risk being hit by a flying cow or bus to see it!

Just wow. Ham radio tools today are amazing.

2AM Tokyo Takeout (Holy Leaping Hams, Batman!)

I’ve been at a bit of an impass on 40m lately. All of the states that it was easy for me to get I already have claimed towards Worked All States on that band, and while I can often hear a variety of juicy stations in the DX-Sphere, I just couldn’t hit most of them.

In the evenings, say around 7-9PM local time, my signal floats on the west, and southern ends of the United States and not much else.

The few stations that I can hear from other parts of the country I’m still trying to get confirmed seem to be the same ones night after night, and I’ve chased those stations fruitlessly over and over without making any gains.

So it’s been a little bit frustrating to get on and work several hours FT8 digital for a single needed contact. Or sometimes none!

But a sleepless night last evening had me getting up at 2am, and turning on the radio while I waited to get sleepy.

Holy Leaping Japanese Hams, Batman!!

The first signals decoded on FT8 at 2AM were a literal WALL of solid Japanese stations busily working digital from end to end of their tiny island country!

I really have never seen so many “J” prefix callsigns in one place, ever.

Even better, they could actually hear me.

I know Japan has a very high density of amateur radio operators for such a small country. I heard one estimate that there were a couple million hams in Japan, and that their antennas are quite close to one another.

But seeing the 2AM 40m band activity wall to wall standing room only with Japanese stations really drives that home.

I made four contacts to Japan, while I was up, in spite of the propagation fluctuations being fairly rowdy.

Entertainingly, when one Japanese station sees you making a contact with another Japanese station, they pile on you rapidly one after another. It was Glorious!

I also encountered stations from South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Venezuela, Columbia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Asiatic Russia, Panama, Belize to name a few.

East Coast 40m Alive and Answering

As an added bonus, the half of the country that can’t hear me at a more civilized time of night was copying me loud and clear. I was able to grab THREE needed states in that short window before the approach of daylight on the east coast seemed to perturb the band till it fell off.

Temperature Fluctuations and Band Fading/Disruption

I have a theory that changes in the temperature of the atmosphere ahead of the approach of sunlight, or the ebbing of sunlight create significant churn in the ionosphere, that make the signals fluctuate wildly till a new equilibrium is reached and the layer is re-established and settled.

At least that’s what it looks like to me, as I see a margin of no signal reports on both side of the grayline which seems to move with the grayline. This has seemed more influential and obvious on 40m than other bands I’ve worked.

I went back to bed at 4am, happy, and having learned something new about 40m.

So if you’re having trouble making specific state or DX contacts at one time of day, try a different time slot. You might have to get up in the middle of the night a few times to do it, but for me at least, it was worth it.

Now I’m off for a nap πŸ™‚

73, and see you on the air!

Shack RFI Adventures Part 3 – 40m

Every time I think I have the RFI problem ironed out, I move to another band, and have to chase it all over again.

Sauntering my way over to 40m recently gave me a repeat of the RFI gremlins vexing my laptop, and thwarting my rig control and laptop USB communications, similar to the chase I already had with 20m and 30m. I guess this is where it really gets driven home that radio frequencies are electrical creatures that behave differently as the frequencies change.

On 20m, I was able to suppress these issues using ferrite beads on all the cables to the radio, and from the radio to laptop and my SignaLink.

On 30m, I had to play with radials, and switch USB cables among other things on top of the 20m “interventions”.

On 40m I started with adding a commercial choke by LDG just inside the feedthrough panel, and a longer radial wire.

But that still wasn’t enough.

I could only get about 10-12watts forward power out of the radio before the RFI backlash started to wreak havoc on the rig control!

I started wondering if this could be a side effect of my lack of grounding connections on the radio.

Since I live in an apartment on the third floor, I don’t have a way to get a cable and grounding rod all the way down to the ground along the outer wall. And no, I don’t have a metal water pipe close enough to make the connection.

So I’ve been running without a ground connection.

That seemed to work okay with a lower power radio. The G90’s 20watts was pretty easy to handle without one.

But using a radio with a lot more wattage like the Icom 7300 really seems to need the RF ground.

So what’s a ham to do?

On a forum I found a feasible suggestion that I was able to implement this evening.

And the answer is……

Add another 1/4wl radial– but connect it to the radio’s ground lug, instead of to the antenna, and run it down the back of the desk, down the table leg, and from there around the baseboards in the room.

TaDa!!!

Now I can push the radio up to about 40watts digital on 40m.

It still freezes the laptop trackpad during transmission, but doesn’t wreak havoc on the rig control anymore, requiring a reboot of laptop or radio to get back on the air.

Forty meters is a lot more fun when you can actually use enough power to be heard!