GM3WOJ 6m DXing page

This page is a reprint of an information sheet I wrote in 1998 - I'm afraid that conditions on 6m here in Scotland are almost the same now (May 2000) as they were in May 1998 !   Still - think positively - the DX is coming !

6m DX Information Sheet - GM3WOJ - May 1998

History     Before World-War 2, many UK amateur stations operated on the 5 metre (56MHz) band, which was replaced by the present 2 metre (144MHz) band after the war. The Six Metre Band (50-54MHz) was first officially available to UK stations in February 1983, with the issue of 40 special permits to operate - the timing of this limited release of the band coincided with the end of f2 DX conditions for Sunspot Cycle 21, and several years of relatively empty band conditions followed. Band 1 TV stations closed down in early 1985 leaving the band free of local QRM.  Six Metres (50-52MHz only) is now available to all UK licence holders, including Novices, and is without a doubt one of the most exciting bands available to us - when it is open ! Unfortunately, at the time of writing the current sunspot cycle is still fairly 'low', and several of the types of propagation that 6m would normally allow us will not re-occur until 1999 or 2000. Manufacturers who state ‘Buy a 6m radio and work the world’ are being economical with the truth at the moment.

Allocation    Currently, about 180 countries allow operation on the 6m band - in Europe almost every country allows operation or has been activated at some time or other, so even using only Auroral (Ar) or Sporadic-E (Es) propagation, at least 60 countries can be worked from Scotland during 1998.

Propagation       6m is known as the ‘Magic Band’ - simply because you can never really predict what will happen at any given time. It is sandwiched between HF and VHF, and can display most of the propagation modes of both HF and VHF. The most useful for DX working are :-     F2 - for approximately 2 years either side of the sunspot maximum - i.e starting again in 1999 or 2000and lasting until 2004 or 2005. Max range 19800Km i.e. Work the world !        TEP - (with extra link via Es ) - from looking at established maps, Scotland is too far North for direct Trans-Equatorial Propagation (although it has reached here on several occasions) so most of our TEP QSOs are made with a link via Es to the Mediterranean, then TEP to southern Africa.      ES - up to 5000Km (if double-hop) - excellent loud sigs, openings lasting almost all day !   AR - up to 2400Km - auroral events usually fit in one of four types. I refer to these as :-    Type 0 - no amateur signals heard, only high-power video or FM stations - no QSOs made.       Type 1 - ‘northerly’ sigs only (eg LA/SM/OY/GM) - few QSOs made - boring !     Type 2 - greater range - e.g. ON/PA/DK - strong sigs - many QSOs made     Type 3 - rarer - long distances workable e.g. central France/OK/HB/S.W. G - widespread - many QSOs      Type 4 - extremely rare - link to f2 - at about 1700hrs, the f2 stops as if switched ‘off’ and the Ar starts - later the f2 and Ar may link to either S America or S Africa (beaming NE only)      AR ES - fairly common on 6m, but rather limited activity at other end - T9 sigs - use LA7SIX beacon        MS - very good on 6m, even outwith showers. Long bursts mean a good operator can complete many QSOs on 1 burst. Range similar to Ar. Often Es coincides with MS confusing the issue.     SCATTER - various modes now useable with higher power output permitted on 6m. FAI ? - maybe.       TROPO - 6m is not good for VHF ‘Tropo’ propagation - rather like a dead 10m band - easily workable range is really only 150-250Km.      EME - very difficult on 6m, but some QSOs have been made - needs a really good station e.g. K6QXY uses 2 x 8877 amplifier ( 4KW O/P) and 4 x 11ele long yagis (63'booms)   This year and next year are an ideal time for you to build our own 'super-station' !

Band Plan      The official Band-plan for 50MHz is widely available - where should we actually operate to work DX ? Well - ‘local’ DX can be worked on FM higher up the band, but all the long DX is worked on SSB and CW in the segment 50.100 - 50.250MHz - in a good opening 6m sounds more like 40m or 20m and people don’t want to spread out too far for fear of missing a DX call !  Some countries allow only limited frequency use e.g. in Italy the 6m allocation was from 50.151 to50.163 MHz - many Italian amateurs could not resist calling outside this segment when a DX station did not realise their restrictions. Now Italian stations can operate anywhere on 6m.  Try to find Novice/QRP etc stations who may be calling you or waiting patiently for you to move into their part of the band.

There is a lot of debate/argument about using the frequency 50.110MHz as a calling frequency -many amateurs new to 6m think this is where all calls should be made - it is actually rarely necessary to call on 50.110MHz, and especially not if the band is open. Most DX stations leave their rig monitoring 50.110, but QSY after a few QSOs once the band opens. It's easy to get a reputation for poor operating unless you use 50.110 sensibly. QSY at least 30kHz away. Generally speaking, try to avoid using CW below 50.090 to avoid QRM to Beacons.

Equipment     There are really 3 options - money usually determines what most of us use on 6m :-  (a) HF Radio which includes 6m coverage - usually also receives e.g. 30-60MHz which is excellent for monitoring Video etc and getting advance warning of openings. Make sure that this type of radio has a separate Antenna socket for your 6m antenna - some of the earlier models do not.       (b) HF Radio (or 2m radio) with 6m Transverter - possibly better electrical performance than (a), but will almost certainly require some sort of external switching box.   (c) 6m radio - these are still expensive, but usually now cover other bands as well. The best way to monitor 6m continuously when you are in the shack, which is essential if you want to avoid missing an opening.      A masthead preamp is usually not necessary on 6m - the band noise is usually high anyway.     For DX working, probably 100W O/P is really the minimum if you are impatient - however many stations have worked good DX with 10W or less. On 6m Ar, even 2W can give results.

Antennas/Feeders    Have a go at making your own antenna - save a lot of money ! 6m antennas can be fairly small ( the minimum for DX working is a 3-ele Yagi mounted outdoors at about 6m above ground ) and can be turned by hand or with the smaller rotators.   As with the other amateur bands, the more effort you put into your antenna system, the better the results will be. Although most of us are subject to planning restrictions, a small 6m antenna can give excellent results.   SPEND AS MUCH ON YOUR ANTENNA AS YOU SPEND IN THE SHACK !  Always try to use horizontally polarised antennas, and use the best feeder you can buy -never use the ‘thin’ coaxes i.e. RG58, UR76 - the loss will probably be greater than the gain of the antenna !   Never use one of the ‘dual-band’ yagis - they are almost impossible to resonate on the correct frequencies - likewise never use any ‘multiband’ HF/VHF antennas which include 6m - their performance on 6m is generally useless.     Purchase the latest ARRL Antenna Handbook, and construct one of the ‘YO’ computer-designed yagis (all dimensions are given in the book) - they really work well !  ( Note - modern 'computer-optimised' yagis rely on close-coupling between R-DE-D1 and on low contact resistances on all elements i.e. clean all joints periodically to maintain performance - these designs can also be difficult to match - usually a 'hairpin' match + current balun is used)

Operating    We all have different operating habits - however, if you want to work DX on 6m, you generally have to do much more listening than transmitting. In Scotland, 6m often opens before the rest of Europe  e.g. most Ar, and many Es and TEP openings, so you cannot rely on the Packet Cluster entirely to let you know when 6m is open -you have to listen continuously and give occasional calls.   In a good opening, every few minutes you will hear a station come up on 50.110MHz and call ‘CQ DX” with about 3 DX stations in the background ! Obviously they have just come into the shack, switched straight on and called without listening - usually no-one replies to them and they go QRT again just as quickly, maybe never realising that the band was open !  On 6m, openings and opportunities to work DX can be very brief - don't waste your own time and the DX station's time with woffle - in a real pile-up the DX station will be annoyed if you send anything else other than your callsign and his report (quickly!) Woffle on your QSL card !

Beacons   There are beacons all over the world, which provide clear pointers to band conditions.  During a band opening, however, most people are too busy working stations to listen for beacons, but they can provide valuable information as to the geographical progress of an opening.

Information     The DX Cluster/DX Bulletins etc are a major source of up-to-date information on what conditions are like and what DX-peditions are active - however 6m operators also use 28.885MHz USB as a 'talkback' frequency world-wide at the peak of the sunspot cycle. Remember that many other countries do not have the DX Cluster so 28.885 is their only link to the rest of the world. The VHF NET on 14.345MHz does not carry much 6m traffic.

The UK Six Metre Group (UKSMG) has members all round the world and publishes an excellent newsletter 'Six News' - about 6 times per year, as well as organising expeditions/beacons/contests.     The UKSMG web-pages are very good.     TRY 6m - YOU'LL ENJOY IT - BUT DON'T EXPECT INSTANT RESULTS !!