Lately, there have been two auspicious signs pointing towards better HF conditions and the beginning of the Top Band Season (160M). First, we are benefitting from a large cluster of fairly strong sunspots, something not seen for several years, that has enabled a huge increase in the number of stations on the upper HF bands, namely 10M, 12M, and 15M. While long-haul paths (>7,500 miles or so) have not returned, there are strong signals from the Pacific, Europe, South America and Africa on the above-mentioned bands. Here is a screen of GridTracker software – I use this to watch for needed grids or other stations that I’d like to try and work. Here, I am watching for Jan Mayen Island, a rare entity northeast of Iceland. I am hoping he comes on 20M FT8. But as you can see from the band activity graph (red vertical bars) there is plenty of activity on 10M, 12M, 15M, 17M, 40M and of course 20M.
The second favorable activity is the start of the Top Band Season (October through March here in the northern Hemisphere). With the increase in darkness, the D layer fades away and the absence of thunderstorm activity around the US yielding low noise levels, 160M comes to life. As you will recall from some of my antenna presentations, antennas for the low bands can be problematic. Luckily, I am able to erect a compromise inverted L over some radials with really good ground conditions, so my signal is around ‘average’. My QTH is relatively quiet (all underground utilities), so I can hear relatively well on 160M with the inverted L.
FT8 has been my choice of late for DX’ing. I often use QRP (less than 5 watts), but for 160M I need to use 100+ watts. Often at sunset or sunrise the chance of snagging your DX increases:
Above is a FT8 screenshot (using the JTDX software package) from a morning session last week. You will notice it took me several calls to finally contact the VK5 station and he was about the same signal strength as what I was to him. Additionally, 3D2AG (Fiji) was also on at that time, unfortunately too weak for me to work.
During optimum conditions for Top Band (usually Jan and Feb), a modest station can usually work VK or ZLs fairly easily. The key is using an antenna system that enables you to both hear the DX and to propagate a signal of sufficient strength to make the long-haul.
If you are interested in operating on 160M or would like to know more about low band DX’ing, drop me an email. 73, Rich, K3VAT