What makes a good propagation beacon? (21 June 2017 update)
ANSWER: When the beacon does what it was intended to do…. serve as an indicator of directional band openings and to provide data for propagation studies……
Which message characteristics have an effect on how well the beacon operation accomplishes the objective? ( band openings & propagation study data )
ANSWER: All of them……. But more specifically……. WPM & MESSAGE COMPOSITION .
WPM…….. Too fast or too slow……. What’s about right?....
If band conditions are marginal the speed should be sufficient to hear the complete call on the “peaks” between the deep fades or noise. …. Requiring a somewhat faster WPM .
WPM too fast and the listeners with limited CW copy ability will be left out….Too slow causes the message to be too long and can be missed by experienced listeners or during deep QSB. See "long time listener" below
COMPOSITION….. The Call should be repeated often enough that a person is able to mentally re-construct the message amid marginal conditions, backscatter or aural propagation “flutter”.
Key down between messages…. ......Beacon messages with long "key down" conditions are easily missed because the signal is often mistaken as from an "intruder" AM heterodyne
The most important part of the message is the call sign of the beacon operator. If the Call can be copied correctly all other information can be obtained via call books or the internet.
Location identifier……included for quickly determining the direction of the propagation. …... It should be short like either the State abbreviation or the four digit grid square. During this low between cycles I do not recommend using the Grid Square. I like the 2 letter State abbreviation as the identifier....... Field day Ops, mobile or camper/ hikers rarely have access to a grid square map..... and with marginal conditions additional numbers in the message can be confusing.
The FCC part 97 no longer requires that a “slash B” or a “slash BCN” be included with the Call……. But, I find it very helpful. See 97.119 Station Identification.
Long messages with extraneous information should be avoided ….. This is very important during periods of low sunspots.
As a long time listener:
I have found it helpful to include both the “DE” and “/B or /BCN” in the message…. This makes identifying the Call much easier by hearing both the beginning and end of that part of the message. Kinda like providing "brackets" around the call.
The “gap” between message repeats should be no more than 4 or 5 seconds…. This is long enough that another beacon that was unheard before can be heard within the gap space…… still short enough that a person tuning the frequencies slowly will not miss the message. This is especially important as the "automatic control" segment of the beacon band has become more crowded. Currently there are several beacons that have message gaps of near a minute.
A WPM speed of 10 to 13 WPM seems to be the best for all around copying of the message.
What seems the easiest for Me to log is a message typically like the following : ADDED 20 AUGUST 2015
With the downside of cycle 24 and the resulting marginal
conditions a very easy to identify beacon is a must......Something to alert the
listener that a call sign is coming next....whether the two letter State
abbreviation or other like a series of "V"s, spaced dits or dahs but, not a key
down......followed by the call sign at least three times...... No other numbers
to be confused with the call area......followed by an approximate 5 second gap
before repeating. (this allows nearby frequency weak beacon signals to be heard)
Milli Watt signals are power disadvantaged to start with and for at least the next 6 years or so ten meters will be marginal at best.....A very concise message will help......I use "AL AL AL DE WJ5O/B WJ5O/B WJ5O/B (5 second gap then repeat).......