ARRL 500 kHz Experiment Shows Increased Activity
In the 500 kHz Experiment quarterly report for the period ending November 2008, Experiment Coordinator Fritz Raab, W1FR, reported that 21 participating stations are currently active since the experiment began in late 2006. The FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology granted the WD2XSH experimental license to the ARRL in September of that year. The FCC has issued six experimental licenses for 500 kHz: WD2XSH, WE2XGR, WD2XFF, WE2XPQ, WE2XTT and WE2XVY.
In the fall of 2008, hams in the WD2XSH experimental group made 18 contacts, bringing the total number of contacts to 296. Almost 400 reports were made to the 500 kHz Experiment's Web site, documenting 6605 hours of activity. Raab said more than 31,000 hours of activity has been logged on the Web site since the experiment's inception. Stations do not have to be members of the experimental team to post reception reports.
One of the highlights of the quarter occurred on November 30. Bob Raide, running WE2XGR/6 in New York, was transmitting on lower-sideband on 510 kHz, running about 50 W ERP. Raab said he usually runs 200 W ERP, but due to ice build-up on his antenna, switched to a lower power. In Northern Ireland, Finbar O'Connor, GI4DPE, responded in CW. Raab said this is the first transatlantic reception of SSB voice on 500 kHz.
Raab said he has inquired with the FCC regarding permission to communicate with 500 kHz experimental stations, such as the ones in Canada; that country received permission to operate in the 500 kHz band in November 2008. "While [getting permission] should be simple as it does not involve any new stations or frequencies," Raab said, "it appears [the FCC] has no procedure for dealing with such a request other than filing a formal request for modification." So far, a total of eight countries are experimenting on 500 kHz: US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Romania.
According to Raab, Ralph Hartwell, W5JGV, of Natchitoches, Louisiana, has reported hearing a mystery signal identifying itself as SBQ; Hartwell first observed this signal on November 5. "This appears to be an FSK signal," Raab said, "as the Morse ID 'SBQ' has been observed on 507.2 kHz, and an inverse-keyed signal has been observed simultaneously on 507.5 kHz. This is an over-the-air signal and has been heard only at night, suggesting it is sky-wave. Unidentifiable signals on 507.5 kHz have been reported in Texas and South Dakota, but they could not be identified positively. We are making an effort to ascertain who can hear this signal as the first step in localizing it."
In the first part of 2007, Raab reported that an NDB-type signal turned up on 505 kHz, identifying as NEED: "We think this is a military beacon used for testing or training, located in southeast Virginia or eastern North Carolina." Raab said they are still receiving reports of this signal "from time to time."
Threats to 500 kHz?
The German Seefunker organization, a community of German merchant radio and coast station operators, is continuing their efforts to get UNESCO to declare 500 kHz a "world heritage" and thereby to prevent other uses. "They cite a relatively new UNESCO convention for safeguarding intangible cultural assets," Raab said. "It is unclear whether they could be successful and if so what effect this would have on other uses of the band."
According to the Seefunker Web site, the group proposes "that the historically unique 500 kHz (plus/minus 5 kHz) frequency should be designated as a 'Virtual Radio Memorial.' This aim can at best be achieved by an official assignment of 500 kHz as a 'Museum Frequency' for the purpose of demonstrating historical equipment and methods of radio communication, in particular those of the maritime mobile services."
Upcoming Plans for WD2XSH
Raab said that design and fabrication work for a portable transmit antenna are continuing. "The goal [is to find] a reasonable balance between radiating efficiency and portability," he said. "but dimensions of radial field and vertical radiator are limited to allow quick deployment in far less than ideal surroundings."
In the first part of 2009, Raab said that the group will continue to work on "general operations, as well as monitoring to compare signal levels to NDBs. We will also begin reducing the data gathered from the ground-wave tests we conducted this summer."