Touring the HF bands (and 160M) II - Keynote # 3, 2003
A couple of issues ago I began to answer the question "Which band is the best band for QRP?" with a description of the merits of each of the HF bands (or MF and HF bands for those purists who - correctly - consider 160M a MF band.) I ran out of space after covering 30M so let me continue the discussion this month starting with 20M.
As before, 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.
First a general statement about all the bands from 20 through 10M. Except near the sunspot maximums, they are mostly daylight bands, and will be dead at night for much of the 11-year sunspot cycle.
20M - 50, 153, 6, 33 - This is probably the best overall band if you're interested in working DX with your QRP over the entire duration of a sunspot cycle, although 30M might also fit that description. 20M has the advantage of being a contest band while 30M is not. Contests are great places to pick up new states, zones, countries, etc. Also the main county hunters net frequency (14.056) is on this band if that is one of your interests. One disadvantage of this band is that you will have a lot of competition from high power stations as most hams who operate QRO have very solid setups for 20M with powerful signals. There is a lot of FISTS activity on this band. It's a decent band for rag chewing although if some rare DX shows up - as it often does - near your QSO, the quickly developing pileup will probably bring a premature end to your QSO.
17M - 42, 121, 6, 30 - I like this little band quite a lot. It will not be open quite as often as 20M when the sunspots decline, but it is often open when 15M and the higher bands are not. This statement is true of all the bands from here on up - fewer openings than the next lower band, but more openings than the next higher band. When the high bands are all open, this band, along with 12M are often places to go to get away from the crowds. There almost always seems to be less activity on 17 and 12M than on the mainstream non-WARC bands. Of course when a rare DX station shows up here, that situation changes rapidly and the whole CW segment may be full of DX chasers. A lot of the activity here is DX oriented and I find it harder to work USA stations than to work DX, since most of the USA stations are here to chase DX and not to rag chew. If you do like to rag chew, it is a good band for that as signals are often stable for some lengths of time. The problem is often finding someone else who wants to rag chew.
15M - 50, 150, 6, 31 - With the exception of the fact that it's not open for as much of the day nor as much of the sunspot cycle, the description for 20M applies to this band. Being a contest band, it's an excellent source of states, zones, and countries. There is not as much county hunting activity here outside of contests. When both 15 and 20 are open, 15 will be better for working QRP DX, as it will generally provide better propagation for the lower power stations although the specific openings to a certain area may not last as long. As we go higher in frequency, propagation changes more rapidly and what may start out as a long ragchew will come to a premature end as conditions change.
12M - 25, 94, 6, 25 - As the description for 15M matches 20M, so 12M matches 17M. It is open much less often than 17M, but the openings often provide stronger signals for the QRPer. For my situation with simple antennas, I notice this band only provides really good conditions for 3-4 years of the sunspot cycle, while the rest of the time it is only sporadically open, if at all. It is even harder on 12M than 17M to work domestic stations here, as it is perhaps of all bands, the one most devoted strictly to DX.
10M - 48, 136, 6, 31 - Someone once told me that when this band was open, you could work the world with 1 watt and a coat hanger for an antenna. That was in the depths of a sunspot minimum and it was hard to believe, but as cycle 23 neared its maximum I came to believe. Although I didn't try it, I did find my simple minimal QRP setup provided me with easy QSO's with any part of the world. Contesting in big DX contests on this band is a delight with QRP. In the 3-4 years surrounding a sunspot maximum, the band will provide wall to wall DX in contests from 28000 to 28200 and beyond. It's not as good for long ragchews in most cases as conditions often shift rapidly as I mentioned above. It's fun to call CQ on this band with minimal QRP and get answers from all around the world.
If my band descriptions have not convinced you that the best rig is one that covers 160-10M, and you still are looking for a single band rig, don't forget to check the QRP rigs page on my web site for more info. There you can decide on the other factors (price, etc.) that you need to consider.
Next issue I hope to get back to answering the questions I received in response to my request in a previous column. I also have some info on using military surplus equipment for QRP for a future column. Till next issue, I hope you'll visit my web site at http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/. Or if you wish to communicate with me, try email or 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304. 73 from K3WWP -30-