The radio wonks (and they have a lot of science on their side) say radio propagation is very poor. This means skyward radio signals aren’t getting the bounce back to earth but are being absorbed in the ionosphere. This is a varying condition and apparently subject to eleven year solar cycles. I’ve been waiting three years, with no improvements noted.
Ham radio operators keep making contacts anyway. Today was a really great day for me on ham radio. I made five good contacts today on amateur radio on 20 meters, connecting with operators in Mexico City, Mexico, The Azores; Caracas, Venezuela; Houston, TX; Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles.
In all five cases I was scanning the band and heard someone calling CQ, or “calling all stations”. In several cases I easily established contact with the other station. For the Caracas, Azores, and Mexico City contacts I did a lot of listening and stated my call sign once or twice each time the operator finished another conversation.
Finally, in each case, my signal and call sign stood out in the pile-up of other operators trying to reach these few strong-signal operators. For me reaching a distant station is like earning a gold star, whether the station is in the U.S.A. or another country. Several stations I tried to reach were unobtainable for me today.
I wanted, and missed, a station I heard so vividly in Northern Ireland and another in Murcia, Spain (near Cartagena). I couldn’t compete with stronger stations — they have bigger signals from more wattage or bigger antennas or both. I only get the contact when I’m first or somehow get heard between the bigger signals.
Today was the first day in almost a week I browsed the radio waves. We’ve had so much else to do throughout the past week. We watched the men’s basketball ACC tournament, we went to the beach, I played golf and worked out a few times, and just had plenty else to do. My other tasks today were in and around our Airstream and didn’t require much time, so I had time to experiment with my radio’s sound. I’ve been having problems using headphones with the ham radio in our Airstream.
A loud hum in the headphones has been interfering with the sound from my radio’s speaker. I started today trying to connect the headphones to a an audio jack directly on the radio instead of to a remote audio jack on the faceplate. The hum abated significantly so I could use the headphones to bother Debbie less by reducing the radio noise in the Airstream.
I usually make one long-distance two-way radio contact every several days. Today I hit Texas, (it’s a country, right?) Central America, South America, The Dutch Antilles, and the Azores, 1,500 km west of Lisbon, Portugal. All this is with generally very poor conditions for radio signal propagation.
Debbie and I studied, obtained our licenses, and started in amateur radio as a safety net in case other communications means failed. Then, as I kept practicing to gain skill in using the radios, I started getting hooked on the fun of listening and talking to other hams not only across North America but also in other countries. The entire three years we’ve been in amateur radio have been in the bottom of cycle 23, an abysmally poor period of propagation for radio signals. Just wait until the sunspots routinely increase with solar cycle 24! (See http://www.wm7d.net/hamradio/solar/k7ra.shtml for lots more info on sunspots forecasts.)