Get Ready for the ARRL June VHF QSO Party
June is here, and according to ARRL Contest Branch Manager Sean Kutzko, KX9X, that means the VHF bands are starting to get some steam. "If you've never experienced the fun of VHF+ operating, the ARRL June VHF QSO Party is a great place to start. With many HF radios now offering at least 6 meter SSB/CW capabilities -- and some offering 2 meters and 70 cm as well -- any amateur with a Technician class license or higher can experience long-haul communication on the VHF bands," he said.
Known as the "Magic Band," 6 meters can be quiet for days at a time, and then suddenly explode with signals when the E layer of the ionosphere cooperates. There's no guaranteed way to predict when 6 meters opens, which is why the propagation mode is called "Sporadic-E." When 6 meters opens, contacts several hundred miles away can be made with relatively modest equipment; 50 W and a simple dipole antenna can do wonders during a good opening.
When operating on VHF, Kutzko said that your Maidenhead grid square is the common geographical information exchanged. For complete information on grid squares and how to tell what grid square you are in, visit the ARRL Grid Locator Web page.
Kutzko advises that there are a few things to know about operating on 6 meters: In the US and Canada, there is a "calling frequency" on 50.125 MHz USB. Many stations monitor this frequency to listen for band openings. Stations can call CQ on the calling frequency, and if somebody answers, the stations will find a new frequency on which to conduct their QSO. It is considered poor etiquette to monopolize the calling frequency for QSOs.
Most SSB activity will take place between 50.125 MHz and 50.250 MHz. If conditions are exceptional, Kutzko said you may hear signals above 50.250: "CW signals can be found from 50.100 MHz to 50.080 or so. The frequencies between 50.100 and 50.125 MHz are a 'DX Window,' meaning it is reserved for QSOs between W/VE and DX stations. Please do not make stateside-to-stateside contacts in the DX Window."
Kutzko said that getting on 6 meters is easy: "A dipole for 6 meters is only 9 feet, 4 inches long and is an easy construction project. Try to get the dipole in the air as high as possible, but even 15 feet off the ground will make some contacts. If you have an antenna tuner that can handle 6 meters, you can try loading up another of your antennas on 6 meters with reasonable success."
Because VHF+ antennas are relatively small, Kutzko said that many amateurs operate from portable locations, such as a hilltop or a campground. Others operate the contest as a "rover," operating from their car or truck while transmitting from multiple grid squares over the contest period. "Tracking rovers during the contest is almost as much fun as the contest itself," he said.
The ARRL June VHF QSO Party runs from 1800 UTC Saturday, June 14-0300 UTC Monday, June 16. Be sure to use those extra bands on your transceiver and get in on the fun you've been missing on 6 meters and up! For more information on this contest, please be sure to check out the Contest Rules.