Have Some Fun in the ARRL September VHF QSO Party
September is here, and that means the VHF bands have been getting a workout. “If you’ve never experienced the fun of VHF+ operating, the ARRL September VHF QSO Party, the weekend of September 10 is a great place to start,” said ARRL Contest Branch Manager Sean Kutzko, KX9X. “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.”
Kutzko explained that September is known for having good tropospheric propagation, as opposed to June, which is known for sporadic-E, or E-skip. “As the summer winds down, the sporadic-E season comes to an end and good tropo conditions flourish,” he said. “A modest station -- say a 50 to 100 W SSB/CW transceiver and a small Yagi on 2 meters -- can, with favorable conditions, make QSOs several hundred miles away. If conditions are excellent, QSOs of more than 1000 miles are possible.” When operating on VHF, hams usually state their Maidenhead grid squares as part of the exchange.
While there will be some contest activity on FM simplex -- especially near large population centers -- Kutzko said that most long-distance VHF+ QSOs are conducted via CW or SSB; this means you need to use horizontally polarized antennas: “A dipole for 6 meters is only 9 feet, 4 inches long and is an easy construction project,” he explained. “Try to get the dipole in the air as high as possible, but even 15 feet off the ground will make some QSOs. 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. For 2 meters and 70 cm, a horizontal loop will work nicely for SSB and CW contacts.” But remember: SSB and CW QSOs use horizontally-polarized antennas, while FM uses vertical polarization. You can find plans for simple VHF antennas at the Technical Information Service area of the ARRL Web site, in the Antennas chapter of The ARRL Handbook, or in the VHF and UHF Antenna Systems chapter of The ARRL Antenna Book.
Kutzko advises that hams need to be aware of a few things when 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, but when somebody answers, the stations will need to find a new frequency on which to conduct their QSO. It is considered poor etiquette to monopolize the calling frequency for QSOs.
Activity will be centered on the calling frequencies of 50.125, 144.200, 222.100 and 432.100 MHz. But Kutzko said that most SSB activity will take place between 50.125-50.250 MHz, and CW between 50.100-50.080 MHz. If conditions are exceptional, Kutzko said that you may hear signals above 50.250. But he advised that the frequencies between 50.100-50.125 MHz are a DX Window, meaning it is reserved for QSOs between W/VE and DX stations, so please do not make stateside-to-stateside QSOs in that range.
Because VHF+ antennas are relatively small, Kutzko said that many amateurs like to operate from portable locations, such as a hilltop or a campground. “Find some high ground and put up an antenna; you’ll be amazed at the difference operating from a high-terrain locale will make.” 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 September VHF QSO Party runs from 1800 UTC Saturday, September 10 through 0300 UTC Monday, September 12. 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!