Monday, 18 October 2010

Moving To The East Coast

After living in the dreary North Midlands all my life, I finally managed to escape to the coast. I have never been a fan of the Midlands and have always wanted to live by the sea. 

In 2009 I met Jane, who also had the same long-standing ambition. We decided that the time was right to realise our dreams. 

There are some things we will miss, not least being so close to the Derbyshire Dales and the beautiful Peak District. It is also a shame to leave old friends behind, but the distance from Skegness to Nottinghamshire has not been so restrictive that our friends haven't come and stayed with us. The North Midlands has often been considered one of the friendliest places in the UK - a fact I wholeheartedly agree with. 

One thing is for certain, radio reception possibilities should dramatically increase by the sea. The east coast will be a perfect location for many forms of DX, especially on the FM broadcast band as it's almost empty! So I plan to continue my FM and MW broadcast DX hobby in earnest. Jane and I are looking forward to our new life by the sea and experiencing a new world of radio.

January 2011 Update

It's now been four months since our move and we are feeling very settled in our new home! 

Moving to the east coast has been one of the best things we did: The air quality is so much cleaner for starters. You can actually see the stars and the Milky Way in the night sky; We live within walking distance of the beach; We have some of the best beaches in the world too; We are a stone's throw from the Lincolnshire Wolds - a kind of mini Peak Ditrict and designated an "AONB" (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty); We have peace and quiet, living right in the edge of town, overlooking fields for miles;  We live close to some charming rural communities and country pubs (which serve a wealth of real ales) and we have several nature reserves close by, all natural habitats for some quite exotic wildlife, not to mention plenty of secluded areas suitable for beverage aerials! 

The weather has been far from what we expected too. Thankfully, we missed the severe winter chill which was experienced further inland and only had a few inches of snow which lasted for two to three weeks. It's the first time we have ever seen snow-covered beaches! 
The locals tell us it is almost unheard of to have lying snow on this coast as it usually melts the moment it lands. We also discovered that the east coast is recognised as being the sunniest part of England. After living here for only four months we can only agree with this. It is usually sunny, with cloudless skies, even when the weather forecast predicts cloud! Even on the colder days of mid-winter you can actually feel the warmth of the sun. beating down on you, something I have never noticed inland. 

The option to move to Skegness came quite unexpectedly. Personally, I had never considered Skegness as a town in which I wanted to live. My childhood memories of visits to this area were of endless amusement arcades with bingo callers, lots of noise, bright lights, overcrowded bars and fairground rides, but since living here and getting to know the place properly, I find it extremely pleasant and a hundred times better than my old location in Nottinghamshire. It has it's tacky side, but so do many UK holiday resorts. I actually find it a very pleasant, attractive town with plenty of open spaces and gardens. The surrounding countryside is beautiful. Just one thing, however, we are always amazed by the number of people who consider the nearby parish of Ingoldmells to be Skegness. While it might be classed as a suburb of Skegness, it is approximately four miles away and world's apart.

Did I mention radio? Ahem! Although we have only been here for a short time, several amazing DX possibilities have been realised. Medium wave has produced astonishing reception of broadcast stations from Japan, South Korea, India, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, the US state of Alaska, plus the Canadian North-West Territories and British Colombia! We will erect the amateur radio aerials asap! 

Broadcast DX on band 2 has also exceeded our expectations with a plethora of continental signals from France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and even Spain! All this at a time of year when conditions are probably at their poorest. Band 2 is almost devoid of local stations here! The nearby giant Belmont mast does not present any problems. Even Portugal has been received via tropo here! 

Monday, 11 October 2010

One Of The Best Tropos On Record?

Sunday 10th October 2010 saw an excellent spell of tropospheric DX on 2m. This was actually in the middle of a sustained period of exceptional tropospheric propagation which had affected most of Western Europe. Many long-standing European DXers considered this to be one of the best tropospheric events ever!

Many radio enthusiasts were blown away by the intensity of the signals and the distances worked during this period. 

This spell of propagation had been with us for a few days but the evening of 10-10-10 saw the peak for my location in the Midlands. The signals were so strong that I had to venture to the dizzy heights of the Axe Edge in Derbyshire to see how the conditions were over there. 

Arriving at the Axe Edge shortly after 18:00 I erected my 2m HB9CV on a small mast at the side of the car, making it approximately 3-4m above the ground. Before firing up the IC7000 I had a tune across the FM broadcast band. I was stunned. Using only the small vertical telescopic whip on my car I discovered that the whole FM band was awash with German signals. This is surprising by itself since German FM broadcast stations transmit in horizontal polarisation. All signals were in fully quieting stereo! No English stations were audible because they had been wiped out by the strong German signals! I was almost convinced I was living in Germany! 

Quickly to 2m SSB where it was difficult to find an empty channel on which to call as the whole of Europe seemed to be exchanging signal reports, so I found a 'relatively' clear frequency and gave my first CQ. Instead of having to wait endlessly for a response, as can sometimes happen, I was bombarded with a pile-up of European stations responding to my call. It was difficult to pick out an individual callsign. 

First I exchanged a report with Martin, PE1BIW, however it was the second QSO which amazed me: LY2WR, a club radio station in Vilnius, Lithuania. The distance involved between their location and the Axe Edge was a staggering 1775km (1100 miles) and the signal reports were S7-9 making it an easy copy both ways. This is my personal record for tropospheric DX. 

After reading the accounts of other hams a few days later, I discovered that my signal had been heard at 5/9 by a DX listener in Latvia! 

I went on to work other stations in germany, Sweden and Poland. Admittedly I had a great advantage being so high in the Peak District and with an excellent take-off in the direction of mainland Europe, but it was not long before curiosity got the better of me again and I wondered if I would be able to achieve the same distances from home, so I quickly wound the aerial and headed back, where I continued to work stations in several European countries. 

Here is the log for the evening of the 10th October 2010 on the Axe Edge:
  Call   Grid  Snt Rcd
  PE1BIW JO32bt 5/7 5/8
  LY2WR  KO24fo 5/6 5/7
  SP1O   JO73gk 5/6 5/8
  PA3HEB JO22rm 5/7 5/7
  PA1MV  JO21ex 5/7 5/9
  DC2JWR JO31mf 5/7 5/9
  PE1LJS JO22oi 5/7 5/9
  DO9PL  JO31lg 5/7 5/7
  DL8YAU JO41hs 5/8 5/9
  DL1DBR JO41bn 5/9 5/9
  DK3WG  JO72gi 5/3 5/3>
  ON7CX  JO10nt 5/4 5/9+30!!
  DL9OLI JO51lx 5/1 5/5
  DL1OLI JO41bp 5/3 5/7
  DF5NK  JN59op 5/5 5/3
  SM7NR  JO76rc 5/5 5/7

Once I returned home I worked the following stations, all using a Cushcraft four element rooftop beam - exluding ON4HP which who was worked on the FM section of 2m using a roof-mounted Cushcraft VRX2 2x5/8 wave colinear. Further FM QSOs were made on the 11th into Germany. I hope it is not too long before such an intense tropospheric lift is experienced. 

  Call   Grid   Snt Rcd
  DL9YBZ JO31KU 3/1 5/1
  DF1AN  JO63SX 5/1 5/4
  DK5JM  JO43QS 3/1 5/5
  ON6SX  JO20HV 5/2 5/5
  PA3CUK JO22FB 5/5 5/9
  SP1FJZ JO84EE 5/1 5/5
  OZ1HXM JO45LT 5/3 5/3
  ON4HP  JO20QV 5/1 2/3

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Jane M6VVP Takes To The Airwaves!

Congratulations are in order to Jane, my girlfriend, on passing her amateur radio Foundation Licence. 

Not only did Jane pass her Foundation Licence, but she also achieved the maximum possible pass rate with all her answeres being correct! WELL DONE JANE! 

Although I have only known Jane since the end of 2009, I had kept my radio hobby well away from her because some consider it to be one of those 'geeky' hobbies. I have to agree it's not for everybody, but I remember the total surprise when Jane eventually caught sight of my IC7000, she actually seemed to be impressed and promptly suggested that we go out and do some 'hilltopping'! I don't have to tell you how surprised I was. Once I had come round, Jane told me that her father was a radio ham. She quickly wanted to become licenced so we could enjoy the hobby together. Amazing! 

In the space of three or four months, Jane studied for her Foundation Licence at the Worksop Amateur Radio Society. I remember her first mock exam, which did not go at all well. The reason I mention this is because, in that short space of time, she studied hard and flew through her exam in such a short space of time, that only somebody as dedicated as Jane could have done this in such a short space of time. Of course thanks are due to the brilliant work of the tutors at the Worksop group, without whom, etc. but what an achievement Jane! 

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

My First SOTA Activation: G/WB-005 Long Mynd - Pole Bank, Shropshire

As a keen hilltopper, I thought it would be a good idea to join the SOTA programme. I always find it interesting to climb the dizzy heights of a substantial Derbyshire hill, purely to see how far the signals will travel. 

In a spur-of-the-moment decision this week I decided to make my first 'activation', although there was no planning and I did not post an alert to the SOTA groups as this was going to be more of a trial. The weather seemed reasonable if a little on the cold side. At least the sun was shining and since the Met Office were forecasting cloudier, colder, dull and wet conditions over the next few days I opted for an immediate excursion rather than wait until the following week in the hope that the weather might improve. So, on Tuesday May 5th, 2010 at 2pm local time, I got in the car with my YL Jane and headed for the Long Mynd in Shropshire, some 110 miles away.

Driving towards Pole Bank

I have only known Jane for a few months but I quickly discovered that some of her family had been involved with amateur radio over the years and she too had a keen interest. She is currently waiting to take her Foundation Licence exam. Jane has been with me on several of my hilltopping extravaganzas recently and has even encouraged me to do so. It's nice when your partner shares the same interest. 

The journey was fairly straight-forward, despite a couple of minor hold-ups along the way around the Cannock/Wolverhampton areas. We also couoldn't resist having a quick look around the village of Church Stretton before taking the high road to the Long Mynd. We arrived close to the summit shortly after 6pm (17:00 GMT), with the short remainder of the journey being on foot. It took about ten to fifteen minutes to reach the summit at "Pole Bank", the highest point of the long Mynd. 

More views from the ascent

My equipment consisted of a Yaesu FT817, an HB9CV, a small tripod, a fibreglass fishing rod and some good old 'gaffa' tape, which usually solves most problems. It took only a few minutes to get everything set up, ready for my first CQ call. In an attempt to set things rolling I telephoned my friend Patrick, G1HEW in South Yorkshire to have the first QSO so I could test the setup. Patrick became my first and furthest contact and thus my first SOTA activation was underway! The first two QSOs took place on the SSB part of 2m. No sooner had I spoken to Patrick I had a nice chat with G4ENZ near Gloucester. 

No further stations were worked on SSB so I quickly moved to the FM part of 2m, changing the polarity of the HB9CV from horizontal to vertical. Calling on 145.500 I quickly established a further three QSOs which took me over the minimum requirements for my first SOTA activation. 

The exercise took less than an hour in total and we would have stayed to work more stations but the weather was beginning to get the better of us. Although we were both well wrapped up, it would have been wise to carry an extra layer of clothing. It's surprising how different the weather feels when you are in an exposed location up in the hills. You can easily knock three to five degrees centigrade off the temperature compared to lower altitudes a few hundred feet below. Those winds really penetrate. 

Church Stretton, seen from half way up the ascent to the Long Mynd

After taking down the aerial it was time to walk back down the hill towards the car. Then the short drive into the village allowed the opportunity to take a few photograph. We ended our day driving a little further afield into North Wales for the evening. 

The whole experience was most enjoyable and we are looking forward to another activation in the near future. 

As expected, our trial run taught us a few things: Firstly, we could do with taking some gloves next time; Also some method of guying the makeshift mast would have been useful. 

Here is the brief log from our excursion. This log also appears on the SOTA website 

  04/05/10    17:15z    G1HEW     144MHz    SSB    My first SOTA activation!
  04/05/10    17:20z    G4ENZ       144MHz    SSB
  04/05/10    17:32z    2E0OWH/M    144MHz    FM
  04/05/10    17:36z    G7OMN/M     144MHz    FM
  04/05/10    17:42z    G3ZKN       144MHz    FM

John G1VVP & Jane.