This is not meant to be a technical article by any means. It is mainly the thoughts and ideas from the most dedicated (addicted?) SV 6~ operators, who have decided to combat the boredom and 1055 of interest, by keeping the 6m spirit alive, instead of listening pathetically to white noise for the next 3-4 years. Well, we all. know that the sun has come to the age, where it is no longer in its teen's anymore and is spotless again! All these facts are well documented and explained in the magazines elsewhere. We also know that except for the Es season, we face weeks or months of no activity, with all those magic early morning F2 or midday LP openings to exotic places far behind us. These stories become tales that "old" tell to the frustrated newcomers in the long cold evenings sitting by .110. Many people claim things are not so bad, and we still have things to do on 6m. They are right, but somehow not convincing. Here I will list a few things that are possible, hoping you can find one or two suitable for you. We can categorise such activities in four main groups: Operational, Technical, Organisational and Social. Remember that all are there to help us to a: enjoy our hobby and the magic band and b: get ready for the next solar peak when it comes (which might not be so far away!).
F2 is out, but certainly other modes are available, which some
of us overlooked in the past. Depending on
geographical and seasonal parameters, TEP, auroral and scatter modes can be utilised and experimented with. The and auroral modes are a privilege to only some of us lucky to live in suitable areas, but forward and back-scatter as well as MS can bring fruitful and interesting results and many hours of pleasant operating.
Es is certainly the best and most popular mode in its season and is a unique opportunity to work many stations within range. It raises country, county and "square" counts, and is an easy mode for the newcomers to work on 6m, but it is also a nice change too, for the "older" operators to find and chat to old friends, get that new county that they missed last year or have the pleasure of giving a new one to someone that still needs it. (I have 133 countries worked and still need over 5 European ones). DXpeditions do trigger things a lot and I know of some that put their old beam back on the tower just to work JY7SIX last year.
Contests are a different story. I have been away from the HF contests for over 20 years and I really enjoy the UKSMG contest, where I have found proof that ethics are still different among 6m operators. Being a "rare-one", I find only good, disciplined, operators in the pile-ups, all are having fun and time is available for a short chat or comment when others are not waiting. This is the good thing about our "small" family, where more or less everyone is known and sportsmanship rules apply (I don't terribly mind that 9Hs beat me up every year - they are just lucky!).
Being a radio amateur for 25 years, and a communications engineer for almost 20 years, I have learned to respect Murphy's law. As soon as my 6m gear was built, aligned and put into service in 1989 it was never again tampered with (or even dusted!) despite a few minor problems like frequency drift, slight loss in power etc. All remedies taken were external to the equipment, knowing (?) that any attempt at perfection could easily end up with a deaf front end or final transistor of the type that just became discontinued or not available a day before an opening to the Caribbean or a one day operation from HV!
Now is the time that equipment can be taken to the bench for replacing those diodes at the front end that cause crossing, adjust or replace the aging crystal, restore sensitivity, improve switching, increase output or integrate that filter that has been hanging outside the box for many years. If all these tasks are to be completed with patience and plenty of time, before one is worried about missing the next days openings, they should be done now.
Now is also the best time to service or rearrange aerial systems. Rotators do need periodic service that usually takes aerials off the tower for a couple of days. This time can't be spared when the band is open. My rotator seized in February 1992, when we had the last good openings to S. America and Oceania. It had to be replaced within one day, something I do not wish on anyone (not even the 9Hs). Aerials also need to be cleaned and checked in order to keep their best performance, especially if you live in a polluted city area (as I do) or by the sea.
The best time for evaluating, buying or building new equipment is now. In our area almost all of the "hard core" 6m enthusiasts are building, modifying or testing new equipment. Power amplifiers, preamplifiers, filters and other gadgets of good design are published and they can be utilised to make your signal sound better or improve your reception (the "QRM eliminator" published in "Six News" by G3ZYY is a perfect example).
Here in Athens, a few group projects are also under way, including servicing the two SV beacons, and designing remote RX sites as an "early warning system" for operating etc. (For other group activities see the next two sections).
Tidying up the shack for me is one of the most difficult tasks! Being of the "bombed scrap yard" type, you will be surprised what can be found! From the once much needed V73AT address to the various pieces of equipment and notes of possible forgotten origin or of great sentimental value i.e. absolutely useless! Believe me, dusting and tidying up the shack once every solar cycle, besides keeping one busy for a couple of days (or weeks), will make you and the XYL feel better. It doesn't last long I am afraid, but it's worth it.
I was always good at the QSL card chasing, but I know many prefer operating rather than digging up the callbook. If you still need confirmations for your DXCC, latter is better than never, although the job is much harder. Success rates are lower as many DX stations have changed address or manager. They can also loose interest and run out of cards, not to mention some unfortunate events where obtaining a card is simply just not humanly possible any more..
Organising and computerising of logs and awards is a worth while exercise. Last year I asked Neil, G0JHC for a copy of I0XGR's FASTLOG program for a preview. I was really impressed because it looked (and was) written with 6m/VHF operators in mind, with many facilities for field/square, DXCC etc. easily accessible, plus easy data entry and compatibility. To be honest it took me some time before I started to import data, but now - after a short illness when I had to stay at home for a couple of days - I have all 6m QSOs entered since 1989 and I will soon start going backwards to the day I was licensed (estimated 10,000 QSOs). Data entry is not as boring as you might think, as you get a positive feedback every time you enter a QSO that you remember or a new country. You can of course review your progress as you go on. After this, QSL tracking is the game and many awards become worth trying for. I have finally got rid of my continuously undated DXCC worked, confirmed and needed list, as well as taking a new look at my 6 x 6 award, which I had left to one side. Although I am not an awards chaser, I found it possible for the fist time to have a reliable up to date list of fields and squares at my finger tips. Investing some time in such a system, will not only give you useful information (e.g. how many times you worked JN33 last summer!) but it will provide you with a powerful tool for analysing propagation during the cycle and planning your moves for the coming one (not to mention that you will have a pool of information on names, locators etc. of the stations you have worked in the past). Last but not least such programs speed up a lot of contest logging and QSL writing.
Besides getting organised yourself, group organisation is something we tried and found useful. Monitoring 6m, especially nowadays, can be extremely boring, so we have set up between us a "shift" basis in order to free people and enjoy other activities (see section 4). UHF/VHF links have been set up, fixed and cellular telephone and page number lists are just next to the equipment of all involved, in an attempt to have everyone informed as soon as possible, no matter where they are. This worked fine during the past peak, and it will further improve things next time. For those who don't want to loose even the two minute openings, sleeping with the headphones on is still a solution!
Having the band in such shape, means less hours in the shack. Well don't feel guilty about it! We can use this time to catch up with things we missed during the past few years and make some good public relations: See how the kids have been growing up, admire the XYL's new dress, have lunch with the rest of the family, mow the garden or meet the new neighbours that moved next door last year and are still wondering why those aerials are rotating from time to time. You can even spend holidays with the family (outside the Es season). Keep in mind one vital piece of strategy: Also advertise to those around you that your new social behaviour is due to the sun, but it is not pathological. It is only a temporary change and things will return to "normal" when, "you have to be locked in the shack again" in a few years time! If you miss this strategy, you face the danger of being escorted into custody by the people in white, or even worse your shack will be taken over as obsolete, in order to make room for mother, the cat or plants (I like them all but...).
Other social activities that can prove enjoyable and fruitful, include meeting fellow 6m operators for an eyeball QSO, preferably over a pint or two. Our group meets now almost once or twice a month, at our homes or in town. Besides meeting people you have not seen for years, it is where most of the ambitious and peculiar ideas and projects are born and bloom. Bringing XYL's along usually helps them not to feel like outcasts. Meeting one another helps them to appreciate they are not the only one who lives with a madman. They even organise socials on their own sometimes.
Concluding, I want to apologise for the rather crooked use of English and stress again that all the above are just my thoughts and illustrate what is happening over here.
Possible offending comments about XYL's (or the 9Hs!) should not be taken seriously, as my aim was to entertain rather than give "expert" advise. Have fun and hope to hear you on 6m!
73 es DX Nick SVlEN.
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