Touring the HF (and MF) Bands - Keynote # 10, 2002
One of the questions I am frequently asked is "Which band is the best band for QRP?" Often someone considering a single band QRP rig will ask the question. Also someone who has limited space for antennas with room for only one antenna will ask it.
I love many different facets of ham radio, as long as they deal with CW and QRP. Therefore I feel the best option is to have a rig that operates all 9 HF bands. I'll refer to 160M as HF, even though it is technically MF. Until recently, there were no good dedicated QRP rigs that fit that category. Now there are several including the K2 and FT-817, which seem to be the best of the bunch. I probably would be using one of them today had they been available at the time I upgraded to my Kenwood TS-570D. It's not a dedicated CW/QRP rig as you know, but I use it as one.
Because of the above info, I always suggest getting an all band rig when someone asks me to recommend one. However that is not always possible because of budget or other considerations. Study my band descriptions a little later in the article to help you decide on a one-band rig if that is what you really want.
First a few words about antennas. I definitely fall into the category of a ham with limited antenna space, yet I manage to operate all 9 HF bands successfully. How? I have described my antenna situation in detail before and the info is on my web site as well. Let me just say simply that I use an end-fed random wire for 160-30M and I have 20M, 15M, and 10M dipoles. The 15M dipole also works on 17M and 12M. All of that is fit into a small town lot that is about 100 feet by 20 feet. The house takes up most of that area. So don't necessarily let limited space limit your choice of operating to a single band. You can squeeze antennas into a small space and still have them work very well.
Now let me give you my thoughts on each of the HF bands. Each band description starts with the number of US states, countries, continents, and CQ zones I've worked on that band. This will give you a quick idea of how the band works for QRP and simple antennas.
160M - 41, 3, 1, 3 - It is very hard to be successful on this band with a minimal QRP setup. My only non-W/VE contact was a VP9. It takes a really big, well designed antenna to work much beyond a few hundred miles easily. Small or low antennas if not vertically polarized will emit high angles of radiation that are greatly attenuated by the large number of hops they take to reach a distant destination. Those stations I've worked in the western states (CA, OR) copied a signal from me that was well down in the milliwatts by the time it got there. I have had many good rag chews on this band with local (0-400 mi. or so) stations. This is pretty much a winter only band for QRP as static during the other months will almost obliterate a minimal QRP signal. I believe this band works better near a sunspot minimum when the ionosphere is not as absorptive. I have easily made around 250 QSO's in the 160M contests when near a minimum, but near a maximum it was very hard for me to get to 100 QSO's.
80M - 47, 27, 4, 11 - This band is similar to 160M but the antenna limitations are not as bad. A simple antenna will work pretty well here. I probably will never work EU on 160M, yet I have done so on 80M several times, working as deep into EU as OK. This is a very good rag-chewing band, especially in the late fall, winter, and early spring seasons when static levels are low. Signal levels are steady over long periods of time with little fading. As with 160M, this seems to be a better band near sunspot minimums.
40M - 50, 108, 5, 23 - If you're a rag-chewer looking for a single band, this is probably the one for you. There is always someone around, day and night. Minimal QRP works well here, even for DX. When conditions are right it is possible to easily work the world here, perhaps with the exception of those places that require your signal to pass near the highly absorptive polar regions of earth. For me, that means Asia, and I haven't worked that continent yet on 40M. I seem to easily work VK and ZL with a single call in contests or some rare Pacific Island on a DXpedition just as easily. There have been times in DX contests when I could work EU and AF almost as well as on 20M. This band does not change all that much during a sunspot cycle. One thing on the down side is the large amount of digital and phone junk that is creeping into the Morse areas of the band.
30M - 49, 134, 6, 25 - This is a favorite band of mine. You can come here and work DX very easily, and then have a nice long rag chew with a domestic station. It is often open worldwide, especially in the evenings. I have had stations from Australia and Turkey answer my minimal QRP CQ's on this band. Like 40M, this band doesn't seem to change all that much from sunspot minimum to maximum.
I'm out of space for this issue, so I'll have to cover the rest of the HF bands in a future column.
If you can't wait, you can get an idea of how those other HF bands work for minimal QRP now by visiting my web site at http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/. Or I'll answer any specific questions via email or 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304. Till next time, 73 from K3WWP -30-