FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
     (Designed to help encourage hams to use and enjoy this band!)
                         By Randall Rhea, KG0HW
                         Updated: February, 1997

  "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
                           - John F. Kennedy

  WHAT IS THE SIX-METER BAND? Kennedy may not have been talking about 
  the 6 meter band, but he might as well have been.  If you like a
  challenge, this is it!  If you want reliable, easy, worldwide
  ham radio communication, stick to 20 meters.  If you enjoy a 
  challenging band that changes moment to moment, 6m is for you!

  The 6 meter band is a portion of the radio spectrum around 50 MHz
  allocated to amateur radio.  What attracts hams to this unusual band?
  It is fascinating because just about all types of propagation pop up
  on 6m at one time or another: Sporadic E (Es), Tropospheric Ducting,
  Aurora, Meteors, even F2 skip like an HF band... they're all here.   
  6m is an acquired taste: a few hams work the band regularly, but many hams
  never work it at all. Once you acquire the taste, you tend to be
  hooked for life. The band has become more popular in recent years,
  thanks to several new 6m-capable radios. There two types of 6m
  operators: the ones who use FM or packet for local work, and ones
  who work DX with SSB. (Some like me even do both!)  

  WHAT ARE THE FREQUENCIES? In the U.S. and some other countries, the
  six-meter amateur radio band lies between 50 and 54 MHz, just below
  TV channel 2 in the U.S. In some other countries, 6m is allocated
  much less bandwidth. New Zealand's band starts at 51.0. Check your
  allocations for your particular country. They change pretty often as
  the band is becoming more popular.

  WAS 6M ONCE TV CHANNEL ONE? Televisions in the U.S. start at channel
  2. Some ham books say that 6m was once channel 1. This is not true.
  Just after WWII, Channel 1 in the U.S. was allocated 44 to 50 MHz,
  with 6m occupying the same spot as it does today. By 1948,
  interference from police radios and hams made channel 1 nearly
  unusable. Early TV sets had little or no RF shielding. The ARRL
  recommended that channel 2 (54-60 MHz) be eliminated, but the FCC
  decided to axe channel 1 instead.

  IS FM USED ON 6M? Yes, usually above 52 MHz. The level of activity
  varies with the area.  Its popularity is on the rise thanks to
  several new all-mode 6m rigs on the market.  The main FM simplex
  frequency is 52.525 MHz. Your local range is better on 6m than on 2m
  with the same power and a similar antenna. If 2m is too crowded in 
  your area, the FM portion of 6m may be just the solution you need. Most 
  6m enthusiasts, however, use only SSB or sometimes CW.

  ARE REPEATERS USED? There are a several 6m repeaters listed in the
  ARRL Repeater Directory, but some of them are not operational. This
  will depend on your area. The offset in the U.S. is usually one MHz.
  (e.g. 53.330 out, 52.330 in)  I would listen to the FM portion of 6m
  to check for activity in your area.

  HOW DO I KNOW IF THERE IS A DX OPENING? Of course, the best way is
  to check for an opening is to listen to 6m.  Many beacons operate
  around the world between 50.0 and 50.1 MHz; check the ARRL Repeater
  Directory.  Monitor 50.110 and 50.125 for SSB openings. You can also
  monitor 28.885 MHz, the "10 Meter VHF Liaison Frequency", where hams
  report VHF openings and schedule contacts. You'll hear some of those
  "pros" you see in QST with the huge antenna farms like W5UN (the first 
  ham to work 100 countries on 2m!) on that frequency.

  reserved for CW work in the U.S. Most operation is SSB. 50.110 is
  the most popular SSB DX frequency, and 50.100 to 50.124 should be
  used only for DX. Some hams tend to discourage (or flame) U.S.
  domestic stations from calling CQ in this "DX window".  The other
  popular frequencies tend to vary from area to area, so the following
  is only a general guide for beginners: 50.125 is the U.S. domestic
  calling frequency, and most domestic SSB is found between 50.125 and
  50.200. Only during hot F2 openings do you find SSB above 50.200.

  DO I NEED A BEAM ANTENNA? If you want to win contests, yes. You can have
  fun with a vertical during openings, (I do with an Icom 706 in my
  car) but the pros use beams. Most serious operators are horizontally 
  polarized, but cross-polarization does not matter for Es, F2, or Aurora. 
  A few stations use 3-element beams, but a 4 or 5 element beam is so small
  that a LOT of people use them. Quite a few people have Cushcraft 6-
  element "Boomers". There are a few other big beams, and the lunatic
  fringe stacks them. For example, K6QXY has a stack of 4 six-meter
  beams, each with a 50ft (15m) boom.

  HOW HIGH SHOULD MY ANTENNA BE?  For sporadic E (Es) openings, a
  height of about 30 feet is optimum according to studies.  For tropo
  and other modes, the higher the tower the better!  Some people have
  multiple antennas at multiple heights to work different kinds of
  propagation modes.  I live in subdivision where no outdoor antennas
  are allowed, so I use a 2-element beam in the attic, and it works
  pretty well. I also use a vertical for local FM work. RG8 or RG213 is 
  plenty good enough cable for most people. Antenna-mounted preamps are never

  IS 6M NOISY? External noise is fairly high at 50 MHz. It overrides
  the front-end noise figure on about all the rigs on the market today
  unless you have a LOT of cable loss or a VERY quiet location.

  IS THERE PACKET WORK ON 6M? It depends on the area. Local packet
  work can be found in the higher frequency portions of the band.
  There has been very little DX packet work.

  U.S. for licensed hams.  Check the ARRL Repeater Directory for
  suggested frequencies.

  WHAT ARE "GRID SQUARES"? On VHF and up bands, the world has been
  divided in 1-degree latitude x 2-degree longitude "squares" which 
  start at the south pole and date line and "read right up". SSB stations 
  will always identify their grid square along with their call sign, e.g.
  "KK6MY DM87". Each square is also divided into sub-squares. European
  stations like the subsquares; most US stations don't even know their
  own. In any case, the "squares" and their VUCC awards have been a
  wonderful interest builder, and have kept the QSL printers in
  business! Check the ARRL Operating Manual for a map of the grid

  WHAT RIGS ARE USED?   The rig selection has improved significantly
  in recent years.  After the golden years of 6m AM radios in the
  60's, the market dried up in the 70's.  Today, several manufacturers
  offer excellent 6m rigs.  Probably 50% of the active stations have
  80 to 150 W output, either from old Icom 551D s (the 551 is 10W), or
  from solid-state (brick) amplifiers following the many types of 10W
  rigs, such as the Yaesu Ft-620B or the Kenwood TS-600. The Icom 575H
  is very popular, as it has an excellent receiver and 100 watts (the
  575A is 10 watts). HF rigs that add 6m (such as the Icom 726 or 706)
  can be effective but usually lack receiver sensitivity. Perhaps 40%
  of the stations run just 10 to 20 W, but most serious operators run
  higher power.  The remaining 10% have tube rigs such as the Drake
  TR-6. Good 6m rigs tend to be expensive, even on the used market.
  Swan and Heathkit tube rigs are the least expensive and can be quite
  usable, but you will run into problems typical of older rigs, such
  as drift (especially on the Swan).  The kilowatt is rare on 6m: such
  high power sometimes does not help and causes terrible TVI.  The
  norm for serious stations is 100 to 150 watts, but you can have a
  lot of fun with a lot less power.  Expect to see inexpensive SSB 6m
  rigs from companies like MFJ as we approach the next sunspot peak,
  which is due around 1999.

  WHAT ABOUT THE NEW ICOM 706?  Icom, Alinco, and Kenwood now offer
  small 6m all-mode rigs designed for the mobile ham.  I have an Icom
  706 in my car, and I love it.  I can now monitor and work 6m
  whenever I drive.  The 706 is quite an amazing rig, considering it
  has 100 watts for 6m and also covers HF and 2m.  Although it has
  weaknesses (intermod, dynamic range, phase noise) typical of its
  price class, its receiver is surprisingly good for a radio of its
  size and price.  It is not a main rig for the "pro" 6m operator, but
  a great mobile companion to your base station.

  transverter allows you to use an HF rig on 6m (or other VHF/UHF
  bands).  Many 6m operators swear by the transverter + HF rig + brick
  amplifier setup.  Keep in mind, however, that some of the
  transverters are kits, and most HF rigs must be modified to support
  transverters.  In these cases, some experience with electronics is
  necessary.  The results are well worth it.  The top-of-the-line
  transverters are from a German company called SSB Electronics.  They
  outperform 6m rigs but are expensive.  Down East Microwave and Ten
  Tec also sell very popular assembled and kit units. If you already
  have an excellent HF rig, the transverter is a great way to go.
  Keep in mind that mediocre HF rigs may produce mediocre results.

  are rare, especially during low points in the sunspot cycle. For
  hams in far northern latitudes (say 50 degrees and above), aurora
  openings are common. The most common openings in middle and southern
  latitudes are a result of sporadic E (Es), which occurs most often
  in June. F2 openings occur only when the solar flux is high. The
  frequency where you are most likely to hear someone is 50.125 USB.
  An explanation of the many types of propagation on 6m follows.

  HOW OFTEN ARE THERE F2 OPENINGS? F2 propagation, the kind that we
  know and love on 20 meters, occurs rarely on 6m. Only at the peak
  times of the sunspot cycle, a few years out of each eleven, does the
  band open up for F2. When it does happen, the band becomes a frenzy
  of activity, and behaves similar to 10 meters. In the last cycle,
  there were many openings in 1989 through 1991, but that cycle had an
  unusually long period of peak activity.  Cycles average 11 years,
  but the last peak happened only 8 years after the previous one.
  Openings occur most often in Autumn during the daytime. A few
  stations have worked 100 or more countries, but they have been
  patiently working the fleeting openings for many years. The March,
  1993 QST magazine has an excellent article on 6m propagation that
  shows a correlation between solar flux and openings.

  HOW IS TROPO PROPAGATION ON 6M? The ordinary ground-wave
  tropospheric ducting range on six isn't quite as great as on 2m.
  There are a number of reasons. Since there are so many other
  propagation modes on six, people don't try very hard on tropo. Antenna
  gain often is higher on two. Noise is lower on two. At least in the
  summer, stations like W3BWU (Pittsburgh), W3IDZ (northern NJ) are
  easily worked from Maryland with the beam pointing at them, and can
  be heard at almost any pointing. They are in the 150-W class.

  HOW IS METEOR PROPAGATION? Any area workable by meteors can be
  worked more easily by Es or aurora.  Even though meteor bursts are
  much stronger and longer on six than on two, little use has been made
  of them. There has been a VERY little meteor-burst packet work on
  six. W3OTC had the first such contact (with W0RPK). W3XO worked him
  a few years later.

  WHAT ABOUT IONOSCATTER? Some people think it's really meteors, but
  every weekend morning there are a number of nearly- kilowatt
  stations working each other on SSB at distances of about 600 - 1000
  miles by ionospheric scatter. Sigs are weak, and it takes good
  beams, height, and power, but it is very reliable. See the old NBS
  papers by Bailey, Bateman and Kirby, et al. Bateman and Kirby
  were/are hams. Ross Bateman recently died. Dick Kirby continues as
  head of ITU in Geneva.

  HOW IS AURORA? It is much easier than on two. SSB is usually
  intelligible, but CW is easier to work.  Point north about dusk,
  most commonly in March and October/November.  (In northern Europe,
  hams report Aurora peaks around dusk and again around midnight.)
  Lots of people in the far northern latitudes work this mode when it
  happens.   Aurora can occur as far south as the mid-U.S. during bad
  solar storms.  The March, 1989 storm was so powerful that Aurora was
  visible in San Francisco and power was knocked out all over Canada.

  WHAT ABOUT SPORADIC E (Es)? Es is the most common propagation mode
  on 6m. The term "sporadic" is accurate: stations can pop in and out
  and then fade quickly. Studies (see March, 1993 -QST- Magazine) have
  shown that Es has nothing to do with the sunspot cycle; it is much
  more a function of the time of year. Es can occur anytime, but is
  most common around the solstices (June 21 and December 21).  In the
  southern latitudes, the peak occurs around Christmas with a minor
  peak in June.  The northern latitudes find peak times in June and
  July with a minor peak at Christmas.  February is the low point, but
  this year (1996), we even had a good opening then.  In addition to
  the common single-hop range of 500 - 1500 miles, there are quite a
  few double- and-more hop contacts on 6m. Now that a number of
  Europeans are on six, we find that they can be worked from the US
  east coast each summer. Likewise the Caribbean stations work all
  over the US. The US west coast can work Hawaii, Alaska, and Mexico.
  You will also hear some hams on June DXPedition trips to Mexico and
  the Caribbean; they are easy to work in the late afternoon or early
  evening, even with 10W and a vertical. The VHF contest in the middle
  of June is also a good time to work Es.

  HOW SHOULD I LOOK FOR SPORADIC E (Es)?  Within two weeks of the
  Winter and Summer Solstice (June 21 and December 21), you should be
  monitoring 50.125 as often as possible; this is the most common time
  and frequency for Es. I would also check 50.110, 28.885 MHz, and CW
  beacons between 50.00 and 50.100.  10 meters and the 27 MHz
  Citizen's Band are good indicators of 6m Es: If you hear Es on 10m
  and the stations are less than 1000 miles away, it's time to check
  for Es on 6m.  If the stations on 10m are 500 miles away, you can be
  virtually certain that 6m is open.  Likewise, a station on 6m from
  500 miles away means Es on 2m is possible.

  number of openings to South America by some kind of
  ionospherically-ducted propagation. The stations are generally about
  equidistant either side of the magnetic equator. Given exceptional
  luck, an Es opening linked into this mode can make it available to
  more northern stations. This mode has bad flutter fading and a touch
  of the auroral spectrum spreading. This mode also works sometimes on
  two meters if you use CW and really good gear. It has been worked on
  432 MHz.

  ANY MOONBOUNCE (EME)? - There have been a few EME contacts on six,
  but the required antenna size and high background noise makes it out
  of the reach of most people.

  WHAT ABOUT TVI PROBLEMS? There is no doubt about it, six has TVI
  troubles. You don't find a lot of people on 6m in channel 2 areas
  unless cable is widely used. VCRs are very prone to 6m pickup. Some 
  cordless phones, baby monitors, and kiddle walkie-talkies
  operate on 49 MHz. Most consumer electronic equipment has poor RFI
  shielding. The common connecting or power cable is a quarter-wave
  antenna for six. The TV owners have their revenge since the 13th
  harmonic of the color subcarrier, or something, of TV sets and TV
  games puts out a birdy at 50.113 MHz to bother the 6m operators in
  return. There is also quite a bit of trouble from noisy power
  distribution lines if they aren't buried (usually bad insulators or
  poor guy bonding). I would get a book on curing TVI.  Often, using
  snap-on ferrite filters on any cables (patch cords, power cords) of
  home electronics equipment can help, and these are inexpensive and 
  available at Radio Shack. 

  6m web site I know about is the UK Six Meter Group:


  2m: The Two Meter Band (144 MHz)
  6m: The Six Meter Band (50 Mhz)
  10m: The Ten Meter Band (28 MHz)
  ARRL: American Radio Relay League
  CW: Continuous Wave (Morse Code)
  DX: Long-distance communication, usually with another country
  EME: Earth-Moon-Earth (bouncing signals off of the moon)
  Es: Sporadic E Propagation
  MHz: Megahertz (1,000,000 cycles per second)
  SSB: Single Sideband, a form of AM voice communication
  TVI: Television interference
  VCR: Video Cassette Recorder
  USB: Upper Sideband, a form of SSB
  VHF: Very High Frequency (30 MHz to about 200 MHz)

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