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TopBand Disease

A cut down version of a great write-up on this subject by Larry "Tree" Tyree N6TR & K7RAT

Full unedited version can be read at

The "TopBand" Disease

Hello - I have TopBand disease.

It has been 14 hours since I have last worked DX on TopBand.

Yes folks, some of my close friends and family members know this, but to the rest of you, this might be a surprise...

I have the TopBand disease, and it is a bad case.

I have had this disease for about 25 years now. At times it appears to be in remission, but then it comes back strong

(this appears to be related to sunspots).

For those of you not familar with Amateur Radio, some background information will help you fully understand this condition.

Some people in Amateur Radio call themselves "DXers".

DX is a term used to indicate "far away".

This manifests itself as a strong desire to "work" as many different countries as possible.

After working a new country, the patient will experience a "high" similar to the one experienced by a sport fisherman when he actuallly catches a fish.

However, after a few hours, this high is replaced with anxiety while waiting for the "QSL card" from the station worked.

These QSL cards are proof that the contact took place, look great on the wall, and are used to apply for various awards.

Sometimes this anxiety can last for months.

I remember having to wait EIGHT YEARS for my card from China to finally arrive.

DXing is the general strain of this disease. Many people have had terminal cases of it.

One of three people get at the top of the "DXCC Honor Role" list.

The Honor Roll is reserved for people who have worked the most countries.

Being on this list generally requires a lifetime of effort.

TopBand is a night time band and because of this, the activity peaks during the times of year when darkness is more prevelant (winter).

Radio hams can only run up to 1,500. You have seen the size of AM broadcast towers.

They are typically a collection of 3 or 4 towers, each over 200 feet tall, sitting in a 20 acre lot.

Radio hams who operate TopBand always drool when driving by one of these stations.

The infected operator will spend all of his mental energy figuring out how to put up an antenna system as similar as possible

to the commercial AM station on their own property.

Some of them actually succeed, but few of us have the resources.

Because of this, there is a lot of experimentation with different antennas, much more so than on some of the other bands. Many TopBand operators use wires hanging in trees - which is how ham radio was supposed to be.

As you can imagine, we are at a significant disadvantage compared to the average AM broadcast station. However, with enough patience and lack of sleep, we have been able to work around the world on TopBand.

Since the number of people who can put up an antenna for topband is limited, there is a feeling of fraternity among the people who you talk to.

This was very strong 20 years ago, and has been diluted only a little with increased activity.

You can sample the flavor of the band by reading some of the recent posts made to the topband mail reflector.

This is where we boast to each other about what things were worked the night before.

Perhaps I should now explain the symptoms of the disease. They are as follows:

  • Desire to be on the radio at sunrise.

  • Desire to be on the radio at sunset.

  • Desire to be on the radio at all times in between Sunset and Sunrise.

  • Desire to struggle for months to work a single station in a new country. In extreme cases, this might go on for more than a year.

  • Never being satisfied with the antenna system and constantly trying new ones.

  • Only comes down to see the family after working a new country (to gloat). During the rare fantastic opening, will come down after each new country and hold up fingers indicating how many new countries were worked so far. These events are equivalent to multiple orgasms, and occur about once or twice in a century.

  • Drinks lots of water before going to bed with the sole purpose of waking up in the wee hours of the morning to see if a new country can be found.

  • Has problems getting to work on time during the winter months.

  • Sends equipment and wire to people in unworked countries, hoping that the end result will be their QSL card on the wall.

  • Spends thousand of pounds going to rare countries just so other people can work it. This is a problem, as they don't get credit for the country themselves!!

If these symptoms persist for more than one sunspot cycle (every 11 years), then you should strongly suspect TopBand disease.

Currently, the only known cure for symptoms of the disease is exposure to lots of sunspots.

This increases the absorption of TopBand signals in the ionosphere, and also makes the higher bands more attractive. Most people (except those with very bad cases) will spend time on the less masochistic bands when high sunspots are present.

Please understand, this only treats the symptoms, not the root cause. It is possible for the disease to go into hiding for a number of years.

Earl, K6SE, had the symptoms really bad in the 1970's. Then he was not heard from for almost 15 years.

I had thought about looking him up to see if he had found a cure, but I heard him just a couple of nights ago trying to work a station in Sweden.

If you know someone who has this disease, don't invite them over to any dinner parties during the months of December or January.

They will constantly be looking at their watch, and using your computer to log into the packet cluster to see what stations have been reported on the band.

If you know someone married to a person who has the disease, it is okay to invite them over (alone).

This will be greatly appreciated by the TopBand addict and will be repaid during the summertime with equal kindness.

There are other strains of the disease which I should mention. The symptoms are equally devastating:

  • Moon bounce - communicating by bouncing signals off the moon.

  • VHF/UHF DXing - using frequencies similar to your TV.

  • QRP - limiting your output power so people can't hear you very well - good for sadists too.

If you are thinking of exposing yourself to TopBand, you should be aware of the risks. You might find yourself only valuing your 40 meter beam as top loading for your tower.

Thanks for listening.

Larry "Tree" Tyree N6TR


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Radio 1933 Last modified: 7 Jan, 2010