This is my recollection of what occurred in the years from 1986 when the 50 MHz band was released to class A licensees in the UK to 1995, the bottom of the cycle, and what I believe will happen in the coming cycle. I feel that what occurred should be put in print for those that are fairly new to the band and whose expectations may be far higher than they realistically should be. I hope that the conclusion I reach is a fair and accurate prediction of what will occur in the coming few years. I have been known to be cagey about making predictions in the past - as with all other students of propagation - however as I have gotten older I have decided to cast off some of the mantle of caution.
I start by saying that I was unable to take up one of the 100 or so special permits that were issued prior to 1st February 1986. There were only G, GM, GD, GJ, GU, GI, LA and possibly EI on from EU - most QSOs took place after 2300 GMT and the most notable event and indeed discovery was the path to the US found in mid June/July.
I now list the new countries that I worked in order for each year - this is also a very accurate list of when each country appeared on the six metre band for us in the UK to work. There are only a few countries that I did not work for one reason or another - VS6 (heard many times), XX9 (heard), HC8 (beacon heard), 4J1 (heard), CO (heard), D6, FM, HP, HR, HZ, J3, J6, VP2M, 6Y - there may be a few more but this covers the bulk.
It would appear that 1989, 90, 91 and 92 were great years, but this is a bit misleading. I now examine each year in turn:
1986: There were only the UK countries and LA which had permits in Europe - the VE came from a summer Es event.
1987: The above countries were on regularly in this and succeeding years. The additions have, with the exception of YVØ also been on regularly.
1988: Now things are getting more interesting. PA, F, SV, OH, EI have been in regularly and added to the totals. ZS3 (V51), ZS, KP4, KP2, HC were on regularly from this year until about 1993 - the peak of the F cycle - these will no doubt return with the next cycle (already V51, ZS are back in) - FP was only in briefly and this looks likely to continue. ZB was in regularly but of late not seen - unreliable? ZD8 was in on a few occasions but nothing for a long time. TF, OX - in at odd times. J52 was in quite regularly but now requires an operator. PZ, TI again were in at odd times - future?
1989: Again much more of interest. Only SM is still regular! OHØ comes in with expeditions although now has residents. Only TR8 has reappeared. The rest all came in from time to time with no really regular activity. The bulk should appear gain at odd times during the next cycle but I feel that 5N, 5H, 7X, TK, Z23, EL, 9Q, ZC4, OA, 6W, FY, V47, PYØ, V29, D44, C56 will be very absent in the main. (6W now has an operator).
1990: OZ, OY, LX, ON, I, OE, D, ISØ, HB9, YO, CN have all been fully active, although LX and CN have dropped off a bit of late. 1AØ - no chance for a long time. CU, 4U, HBØ all depend on expeditions. A22, 7Q are in again. 3X, 9L, FR5 - who knows?
1991: EA,4X, YU, ES, are regular. HV - little chance for a long time. The rest will be in but hard to find or get.
1992: OK, SP, 9A, R, EA6, EA9, S5 are all regular. 8R1 little chance. The rest again will be in but again hard to find and get.
1993: OM, EA8, EU, OJØ are in regularly. 5T5, C31 look like no go and the rest are variable. JX may well appear later this year.
1994: Both additions will be hard to find.
1995: Again both will be hard to find
1996: 4L, CYØ, VP5 - expeditions. The remainder reasonably active
1997: JW - probably no chance for a while. 5A - expedition. SU - intermittent?
There is a core of countries that are very reliable (via Es) that now come to the UK - this numbers around 50 with a further 8 -15 depending on activity and expeditions. These are: 4X, 5B4, 9A, 9H, CN, CT, CT3, D, EH, EH6, EH8, EH9, EI, ES, F, G, GD, GI, GJ, GM, GU, GW, HB, I, ISØ, LA, LY, LZ, OE, OH, OHØ, OK, OM, ON, OY, OZ, PA, S5, SM, SP, SV, T9, UA1, UC2, UX, VE, W, YL, YO, YU, Z32, ZA . The following used to be active but just recently have declined greatly: 9K, C3, CU, ER, HA, KP2, KP4, LX, OD, SU, SV5, SV9, ZB . The following may again reappear due to odd activity or expeditions, but they offer very slim chances: 4J, 4K, 4U1, 5T, FP, HBØ, JY, OHØM, OX, T7, TA, TF, UA2, VP9 . There are of course many expeditions (such as J6/W6JKV) that will add odd ones from time to time. It is clear that in even a very good Es year it will be very hard going to find 60 countries and very much harder to find 66 let alone more - over a period of a few years it will be possible to achieve about 72/3.
There are couple of extras that will appear in the low cycle years due to Es / TEP link ups - 7Q7, TR8, V51, A22, being the main ones giving the chances of a couple more to the lucky few.
Now to go on to the last solar cycle high years. These added 3DA, 3X, 5H, 5N, 5V, 6W, 7P8, 7Q, 8R, 9J, 9L, 9Q, 9X, 9Y, A22, C5, C6, CE, CO, CX, D4, D6, DU, EL, FM, FR, FY, HC, HC8, HH, HI, HK, HP, HR, HZ, J3, J52, JA, KG4, KG6, KP2, KP4, LU, OA, P43, PJ2, PJ7, PY, PYØ, PZ, TI, TL, TU, UL7, V2, V3, V4, V51, VE, VK, VP2 E, VP2M, VP2V, VS6, XX, YN, YV, Z2, ZC, ZD8, ZF, ZP, ZS, ZS1. I have included some from the previous lists as they will be far more readily available via F layer than E layer (V51, KP2 etc.).
If one is lucky enough to find all of these then you can amass a great score, those of us who have been on since 1986 have managed this and some people have worked in excess of 135 countries or even more - but nobody has worked all of them.
From the latter list I believe we shall have little or no chance or the following appearing in the next cycle: 3DA, 5H, 5N, 5V, 7P8, 8R, 9L, 9Q, 9X, D4, D6, EL, FY, HZ, J52, OA, PYØ, UL7, V4, VP2M, VP2V, XX, Z2, ZC, ZD8 . Some are obvious due to silent key, war, expeditions or postings - Z2, EL, PYØ, J52 etc. The rest I base on what happened last cycle e.g. XX, 3DA, 7P8, 8R, 9Q, 9X, CE, D4, D6, FM, HC8, HP, HR, HZ, J3, PJ2, PJ7, TL, UL7, V2, V3, V4, YN, as being very hard to find and work.
The above list is not all full one but I believe is very representative of what occurred in the last 10 years or so.
As above I believe that newcomers to the band will be able to amass probably some 57 - 62 countries via E layer propagation. I further believe that a further 36 to 40 can be added relatively easily and perhaps a further 5 to 10 with expeditions and luck - giving a total of between 100 and 115 countries - if you have a great deal of luck and are home all day then perhaps up to 130 countries.
Now to the reasons why I believe that these figures will in fact be very much harder to obtain this coming cycle as against the last - in a couple of words - the attractiveness of the band!
It must be remembered that, as was shown early on in this article, in the beginning of the last cycle there were only a few countries around and that we in the UK were DX. As each couple of months went on a new country came on and, because there was so little competition around it was, relatively, so easy to find and work the new country. This also applied when the F layer countries came on - it wasnt till the cycle started to drop, in around 1992 that there was real competition and QRM to contend with. But by then most had been worked and only a few new countries or expeditions added to the score.
It is my belief that due to the massive increase in the amateur population in virtually the whole of Europe our chances in the UK of working the same number of countries, with the same ease as we did last cycle, is remote. I am sure that on many occasions when we had, for example, VK4 or 6 coming in at medium strengths the footprint was in fact better sited on PA or ON or OK, and that when they next come in the same we will have to battle through the very strong European stations to be heard or will have to wait for the few moments when the footprint sits on our own station - or make ourselves heard!
I will just look at a few countries in more detail to give better illustration of what I believe will occur.
JA: In the last cycle we only had two good openings that hit the UK - lots of people heard quite a few JAs but few made more than a couple of QSOs - just a couple such as GJ4ICD and G4CVI worked any quantity and strength - there were a few more off beam openings that did occur but again only a few had good propagation and worked more that a single QSO. This cycle, given the same conditions most of us in the UK will have even less chance to work them - again the vast amount of EU in the way which will probably have a much better path and even though we may hear them at good strength they will be better somewhere else.
VK: We had several very good openings to VK6, VK8 and VK4 (with others to VK3 / VK5) but again because there was little on from EU we in the UK didnt have to fight too much - again far less chance to work the same stations under the same conditions.
ZS6/5/2: We had many openings and were able to work the same stations many times. It should be not too hard to get a few stations but because the main TEP path will be to the Mediterranean guess what - lots of countries for the South of Africa to work. Lets face it, if you were in ZS or VK or many other countries round the world and an opening develops to EU what are you going to do - try and work all of the Stations in the UK or add between 12 and 30 new countries? What would you do? Also remember that we are most likely to hear (and therefore try to work ) the big stations that were on in the last cycle, who already have worked us or the various countries in the UK several if not many times and will probably not wish us to call them again. I have already had this comment passed as a general one from several of the big stations dotted around the world - they, as us will be looking to find new ground.
The only things that I can suggest to maximise your chances to:
hear the DX is a big antenna with a good receiver. The ant should be a minimum of 5 elements - 6 better and more the best. Yes, of course there will be tales of people with 2, 3, or 4 elements working good distances or reasonable country scores but if you want to maximise your chances then you must have a big antenna and the higher the better.
work the DX is of course also a big antenna but also with the legal limit. One should always use the lowest power one can for the conditions that prevail but in my honest opinion QRO with a big ant will be a must.
The other things that will be a requirement are:
skill - of knowing whats going on to be in the right place at the right and with the right equipment and to be in front of the pack, and
a fair bit of luck that the propagation footprint comes on you at the right time.
As a reasonable guide, try this out in the coming Es season. If you hear the stations around you giving S8 to another station and you can only give the same station S2 then your chances of being able to get through to a S2 VK etc are nil - everybody else will be six S points better. Dont even try it, use the time from the end of the season - or before preferably - to get your station up to a better state.
Over the last few months we have had a taste of the coming F season - the openings to S Africa have shown us what to expect. It was quite clear that it was a fight to get through to V51 because the main footprint was to Italy - until the extension moved out and settled on southern G land.
It would have been even harder with the ERPs that we had 10 years ago. This occurred on the openings to TR8 and 7Q7 - although the stations were heard at good strength only a relatively few stations (in the UK) managed to get through - many others heard them but were unlucky to mke a QSO.
It would seem that the coming cycle isnt taking off as quickly or as strongly as the last - if so then less openings and less chances of working DX stations. Also, after having now had a few good magnetic disturbances I noticed that the effect radio-wise wasnt so great in the Northern hemisphere as in the Southern.
I hope that readers dont take this to be a negative report but learn from it and prepare themselves for the coming F season, good luck to you all - see you in the pile ups!
The above was written towards the end of 1997 and I now add some comments after the UKSMG meeting at Sandown.
Little has happened except that the path from the Mediterranean has reopened down to Southern Africa - but not yet further north. Also as I indicated a couple of new countries in the form of 3CØ and 9G have appeared and HZ may well be active this year - another bonus.
It is also clear that things are going to be even harder for the UK (and EU ) to VK and also of course to ZL with the goings on there. It is becoming clearer by the day that we have been extremely lucky to get so much use for so long and with so much freedom on the band that we have perhaps lost sight of the fact that we have it by agreement and not as a right - we could lose part or all at any time for any number of reasons. Let us all remember that we should not do anything to jeopardise this situation - for ourselves or any other amateurs in another country.
It was also clear that we in the UK with our six or seven element yagis as the big guns are nothing compared to some others in the US etc, they have eight, nine element and bigger aerials. Also because of EMC problems they arent able to use much if any radio from their home QTH - so they use another elsewhere in the country - or move!
I was most impressed by Steve VK3OTs presentation at Sandown - the main point that came through was that just because it hasnt occurred yet, nor may it - keep trying and looking - if you dont look then you wont find.
If you are a beginner dont be disheartened, there is plenty out there to work even if it isnt quite as easy as it used to be. Kens article gives you some ideas on how to maximise your chances, but therell be more on this in future editions of Six News - Ed.
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