In last month’s Tech Net, we talked quite a bit about the fact that 10 Meters has been open. In fact, Jack, W6KRK, told us that he had been able to check into a 10 Meter net being held by the Utah County hams earlier that evening, covering a distance of about 850 miles.
10 Meters is typically described as a daylight-only band that is more often than not closed. If we stop right there, we may not realize that we’re missing out on some big fun and possibly some very interesting contacts.
Another thing of great interest is that 10 Meters contains the only sub-band that allows Novice and Technician licensees to transmit data and SSB voice signals. This gives Techs a good chance to experience the fun and technical challenges of operating on the HF bands. Technicians have unlimited operation on 6 Meters and higher, but most of the time, those high-frequency signals behave more like a beam of light, where contacts can be made locally as long as antennas can “see” each other. There is more to it than that, but I’ll leave that description to be expanded upon in another post.
Being able to get a taste of HF operation, meaning operating in the shortwave bands from about 1.8 to 30 MHz, can be both exciting and challenging to a Tech who has not had any previous experience. When I say “challenging”, I don’t mean that it represents an unpleasant or insurmountable task, only one that is new and unfamiliar. You’ll have to decide on an antenna and transceiver to use, and also learn a bit about how signals on 10 Meters behave so that you don’t waste lots of time trying to make contacts when the band is not open.
Before we talk about antennas, radios and how signals bounce around the globe, let me briefly mention some of my own experiences with the 10 Meter band. On the net, I mentioned one of my favorites being a station from French Polynesia that came on 28.410 MHz, as I recall. I had a mobile station then (about 2010), and I was on 10 Meters only because I was checking the SWR of my antenna, a Lil’ Tarheel HP “screwdriver” antenna. This antenna covers 40 through 6 meters, and uses a motor to expose more or less of the internal inductor coil, tuning it to a particular frequency. In the earliest versions of these antennas, the motor from a battery-operated electric screwdriver was used because it was cylindrically-shaped and had high torque, hence the name “scredriver” applying to all motor-tuned mobile antennas.
Anyway, as I was checking my SWR on 10 Meters in the early evening, I heard this very strong S9+10 signal that I found was from French Polynesia. Interestingly, I couldn’t hear any of the stations calling him, but he was very strong. I gave him a call on my 100-watt Yaesu FT-857 transceiver, and he answered me on my first call with an S9 report! Cool! Interestingly, his signal persisted strong and clear until he finally said he was closing down for the night, at about 9:15 PM California time. Wow! That’s unusual, but not unheard of.
I can give you many examples of contacts I’ve made on 10 Meters when the band appeared to be shut down. The usual thing to do is to tune around, and if you don’t hear anyone, set your dial to 28.400 MHz, the SSB calling frequency, and call CQ. Like me, you might be surprised to get someone calling you back! If I had just listened instead of calling CQ, I might have not made any contacts because everyone else was just listening also. So by all means, get on the mike and call if you don’t hear much.
Even in “down” times, when the 11-year sunspot cycle is at a low ebb, there are contacts to be made. Each year, from about May through September in the Northern Hemisphere, the band tends to open up, sometimes allowing even daily contacts. This will happen mostly from late morning through to early evening, but there are plenty of exceptions to that timetable as well, such as my hours-long connection to French Polynesia.
As we are now climbing up the 11-year sunspot cycle roller coaster, things are heating up on 6 and 10 meters. Especially if you are a Technician class ham with a shiny new HF transceiver, this is your moment! You can work the world when these two bands are open. 10 meters should be your “go-to” band right now, as it will open more reliably, possibly on a daily basis. 6 meters is a bit more tricky, relying most on what’s called E-Skip propagation. But when it’s open, fun things can happen as well.
Something else to listen for on both bands are the beacons. Hams have put up simple CW beacons all over the world, and they provide an easy means of telling when the band is open. Have a look at these two links to get you started with understanding how to listen for and identify what frequencies to use, and where the beacons are calling from: