Submitted by Ward Silver (NØAX).
Technician licensees might be wondering about opportunities to get on HF and get in on some of the long-distance QSO action. Although some have taken up CW, required for using the 80, 40, and 15 meter allocations, most naturally prefer phone (short for “radiotelephone”) for their first forays below 30 MHz. At this point in the sunspot cycle, though, 10 meters isn’t exactly hopping with signals – what’s all the fuss about? Is it worth the trouble of getting active on 10?
First, while the band may be pretty quiet most days, when a big contest comes along, it’s amazing at how the band seems to open up. Just having stations available and calling CQ shows how the band works. Not only is there “skip” (reflections from the ionosphere’s F layers) that you learned about for your license exam, there are other interesting types of propagation.
Let’s start with ground wave. For a horizontally polarized antenna like a dipole and a 100-watt USB (upper sideband, one of the two types of single sideband or SSB) signal, ground wave on 10 meters can connect you with stations out to 20-25 miles. That covers most of the St Louis and St Charles areas with a lot of hams. 10 meters will sound a lot like 2 meters during the local simplex FM contest, just on a different mode. If you don’t have an HF radio, maybe you could borrow one or even go over to a friend’s station and give 10 meters a try.
Beyond ground wave range, you can make 10 meter QSOs by sporadic E propagation in which the signals are reflected by ionized patches about 50 miles up. Signals will be strong but from just one region – maximum range is about 1200-1500 miles. 10 meters also supports tropospheric (“tropo”) propagation along weather fronts and temperature inversions with ranges of a few hundred miles – there are a lot of hams within that range! Finally, you might hear South American stations via trans-equatorial propagation – stations from Argentina (LU) or Brazil (PY) or Chile (CE) can be quite strong and easy to work in the 10 Meter Contest. Hawaii (KH6 or KH7) also tends to be strong.
So what is the 10 Meter Contest? (see the full rules at arrl.org/10-meter) It is an “everybody works everybody” contest so you can contact any station you hear. It starts on Dec 14th at 0000 UTC (that’s 6 PM here in the Midwest on Friday, Dec 13th) and runs until 2359 UTC on Dec 15th (5:59 PM on Sunday). You’ll find a flurry of activity as the contest starts at 6 PM but in darkness the band will mostly be closed except for ground wave around the area. The real action begins an hour or so after full sunlight in the morning. It’s hard to tell where the signals will come from first so just keep tuning between 28.300 and 28.500 MHz to spot them. Be sure your radio is set to USB mode and have your logging pencil at the ready! (If you can work CW, this is a dual-mode contest and there will be plenty of CW action, too.)
In the contest, US, Canadian, and Mexican stations exchange a signal report (59 will do) and the state or province. SLSRC members will say “59 Missouri” (or whatever state you’re in). Abbreviations for logging are US postal codes or the abbreviations at the bottom of the rules page, Other stations – like those LUs I mentioned – send a signal report and the number of the contact in the contest for them (also called the “serial number”). For example, I might log “59 123” or “59 2875”. (See the rules page for paper logging forms and instructions.) Here are a couple of sample contacts:
(W4ABC is calling CQ) CQ Contest from W4ABC
(You respond with your call sign in phonetics) November Zero Alpha X-Ray
(W4ABC hears you and responds) NØAX Five Nine Florida
(You respond with) W4ABC Five Nine Missouri
(W4ABC acknowledges andresumes CQing) Thanks, CQ Contest from W4ABC
(LU5WW is calling CQ) CQ Contest from Lima United Five Whiskey Whiskey
(You respond) November Zero Alpha X-Ray
(LU5WW responds) NØAX Five Nine, Number Eight Hundred Twenty Two
(You respond) LU5WW, Roger Five Nine Missouri
and so forth.
Listen to a strong station calling CQ for a few minutes to get the general idea. You may not hear the stations responding if there’s no open path to their location but you’ll get the idea. When you think you’ve got the general idea, just jump in. Ask for help if you need it or for a repeat of their state or serial number. Just tell them you are a beginner and they’ll walk you through these simple contacts. Pretty soon, you’ll be sounding perfectly OK.
But you don’t have an antenna? That’s an easy problem to solve – a simple dipole makes a great antenna on 10 meters and they are easy to make as described in this article on the ARRL website: http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Technology/tis/info/pdf/9304064.pdf. All it takes is a little over 16 feet of wire and some coaxial cable to get to your radio. Gateway Electronics (https://www.gatewayelectronics.com/) in Chesterfield Mall has all the parts and pieces you need. Hang your dipole between trees from the end insulators as a horizontal wire or from the center insulator as an inverted Vee. The contest rules also have an article about making a 10 meter ground plane vertical antenna. 10 meter antennas don’t have to be that high above the ground. Just 15 feet is about half wavelength which is a good height for HF antennas.
I hope you’re thinking about giving 10 meters a try. It’s a great way for Technicians to get their feet wet on HF and make some contacts, even some DX. You might even start thinking about that General upgrade, too!