It seems a long time has passed since the 6M band (50 Mhz) has been open, and I am eager to make more contacts on the Magic Band as life returns with the annual season of sporadic-E openings.
Early indications are that 6M will have a good summer this year. Openings to Japan from the North American west coast and mid-western states have started about three weeks earlier than usual, and we in the Pacific Northwest have had a couple of days of “eS” (e-sporadic) openings to the Midwest and southeastern US in early May. That bodes very well for late May through July, which are the normal times for 6M highlight activity.
Where’s the action?
For those new or getting back to 6M activity, here’s the current state of affairs:
Most of the activity these days is with digital modes – FT8 on 50.313, and MSK144 meteor scatter on 50.260 Mhz.
There’s still CW action occasionally below 50.110 (mostly below 50.100), and domestic SSB above 50.125 Mhz (listen on 50.125 as a calling frequency). If you’re not working another continent, you should not be transmitting in the DX window of 50.100 to 50.125 Mhz). I often refer to the ARRL band plans to check where various modes are acceptable.
Canadian operators might find that the RAC band plans are slightly different – they are on 20M, for example, where we can work SSB all the way down to 14.112 Mhz while US operators can’t go below 14.150 Mhz – that gives us a little edge when working Europe in contests, as the EU ops can also go down to 14.112. The Canadian 6M band plan is well aligned with the US band plan.
The software for FT-8 and MSK144 is up to you, but the hands-down fave is WSJT-X. I suggest people use the latest beta version as it will have any new experimental modes available and also is more likely to have any previous bugs ironed out – even more than any general release.
Get on Slack
If you want to see the chatter about 6M, I recommend signing in to the Slack VHF-Chat channels – there are channels for meteor-scatter, sporadic-e-tropo, rover-raregrid, eme, a flea-market, q65, and others.
Check out Slack.com for information about signing up – I use their Windows desktop client, and their iOS app on my iPhone so I never miss the conversations about when the band is open and where.
A view of PSK Reporter for May 5 at 1937z showing 6M FT8 QSOs reported by users. There’s real life in th band even very early in the sporadic-E season.
Grid hunting on 6M
For me, the most fun on 6M is with FT8 hunting new maidenhead grid squares. This is in pursuit of the Fred Fish Memorial Award – working all grids in the continental United States.
So far, I’ve worked about 40 per cent of the 488 grids – on either CW, SSB, FT8 or MSK144 meteor scatter, but mostly FT8 as it’s pretty great when the band is wide open.
I log all contacts in the ARRL’s Logbook of the World, in real-time as soon as a QSO is completed. And I track my grid square totals in an Excel spreadsheet – US GridMaster — made for that purpose by K7TAB and KE4AL. It allows me to copy and paste my list of confirmed grid contacts from LoTW and paste them into the spreadsheet, the displays a map of the US with worked grids filled in.
Small stations or large will work fine
You don’t need a huge station to have a ton of fun on 6M. A simple vertical or a low dipole will get you going. A three-element yagi can even be fashioned from an old VHF TV antenna if you move the element placement around on the boom and extend the aluminum elements by a foot or so on each end using welding rod or other stiff metal wire. That’s what I did years ago, and still use that portable antenna for field days.
Check out building notes for this simple 6M “plumber’s delight” 3-element yagi.
These days, I have a 7-element yagi (M2’s 6M7JHV) on a 30-foot boom soaring up on the tower. That’s a great way to go and the used antenna only cost me a couple of hundred dollars and a day’s travel.
Pushing RF to the antenna, I use LMR400 coax from the shack to the top of the tower. I will usually run low power (100W) directly from the transceiver, but also have an ACOM 1000 amp that covers 6M. If the amp is on, I rarely crank out more than 600 watts — though to work Europe (which happened a few times in the 2020 season) I will push things a little harder ?.
In practice, on FT8 low power will do the job just fine across North America. If the band is open, you don’t need a kilowatt at all.
Get on and have a blast
For me, other than competing in a well-attended HF contest on the weekend, operating 6M is the most fun I’ve had in ham radio. Now that I’m retired, I spend quite of bit of time monitoring the band while I’m doing other things around the house or in the yard. The Slack app on the phone allows me to keep in the loop if I’m away from the station, too.
The 2021 season may turn out to be explosively good, or it might end up being a dud – we don’t know. But if you’re interested in seeing what it might be like, just get on the air and give it a whirl. You won’t regret it, and we would all love to see you and your grid on the air!
Let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there!