I have really been enjoying JT65A on the low bands. I have used WSPR as well but the advantage of this mode (JT65) is that you can make contacts with other stations and these contacts count for awards. For the last several days, I have been leaving JT65-HF up on various bands to see what type or propagation I have and when. As the days start to slowly get longer, the bands will slowly change as well.
Saturday night, I left the software running on 20 meters and I noticed that European stations started making a steady appearance around 1300z (yea, I'm in a deep sleep about then). The peak of the EU propagation seemed to be around 1500z to 1600z. It started to drop before it finally fell out around 1700z. In the map above you will see many of the stations I heard directly at my location. Many of these stations were running some pretty low power. Living in a propagationally challenged part of the world, I have decided that I am going to attempt to find the best path at the best time. Now mind you, a larger station will be hearing more earlier and hearing later but this test is specific to my station so I would consider it personalized. I have mentioned propagation in my blog many times before but if I want to make contacts and complete skeds with other stations, I need to understand the best time to be successful. It is also useful information for contests especially to determine when the best time to find open propagation to certain parts of the world are. I am most intrigued with my polar path into Europe.
I am not even going to begin to admit that I know the first thing about propagation because I don't. I just need to find out what works for me and the limits of my small station. With JT65A (and other programs like WSPR, etc) you receive a report from the station you're working (or that's hearing you due to many stations uploading reception reports to a dedicated website) on how well your signal is being heard. This is what I find extremely interesting. It has helped me realize that with my low band antenna's, I am sure hearing much better than I'm being heard. Now I need to understand why and attempt to make this a more even playing field by making external adjustments or changes. Of course, we are all at the mercy of space weather and more, in regards to propagation anyhow. It's not uncommon to have the band fold here in a matter of minutes due to absorption (as seen in the HAARP chart above). This chart was from the last 36 hours of this posting and you can see some of the challenges. We have a saying, "Red is Dead".
Having access to this great information from various websites like HamSpots, PSK Reporter, or simple screen shots from stations on the other end of the QSO, can sure help shed some light on the abilities of my station. The screen shot to the left was from my friend Andy, VE9DX in New Brunswick, Canada. This was how well Andy was hearing me and after obtaining Andy's station information, it helped me understand a bit more about my path to the east. It seems my antenna radiates better directly east or just north of east favoring northern USA and Canadian stations and of course Europe. This can be changed with a simple rearranging of my antenna configuration or by using more than one antenna. I am also surrounded by mountains so again, testing my paths will help me determine the best antenna configuration to use. My best propagation is from approximately 80 degrees to 240 degrees. Beyond that, those remaining locations on the globe can be pretty challenging for me (on 20 meters anyhow, my strongest band). Now that I'm getting into QRP operating, this is extremely valuable information.
Having a small station, you must take advantage of every useful tool available if you want to be successful. I have worked many stations on the other side of the US that were only running indoor antennas with no more than 100 watts. You don't need 200 foot towers and large antenna's to make long distance contacts. How often do we look at the weather forecast and make plans because the weather is going to be nice, or even cancel plans because the weather is going to be crappy. The same applies to ham radio and propagation. Take advantage of all these great resources and you will find it's like a good book, hard to put down after you get started. I have opened the book of propagation and I have only read the first sentence. So much more to read, so much more to learn...