Join the Fun in the ARRL VHF QSO Party This Weekend
VHF enthusiasts will be generating lots of RF on 6 meters and up this weekend (June 13-15 UTC) during the 2009 ARRL VHF QSO Party. While many amateurs think of the VHF+ bands as a "local" band used primarily for public service, emergency communications or fun on FM repeaters, weak-signal VHF+ enthusiasts know better. According to ARRL Contest Branch Manager Sean Kutzko, KX9X, even hams who have a modest station can work hundreds -- or even thousands -- of miles on the VHF bands during a good opening.
Kutzko is a big VHF enthusiast: "In my more than 25 years of Amateur Radio, weak-signal work on 6 and 2 meters remains the most fun and intriguing activity I do. There is nothing like a good VHF opening; with interesting propagation characteristics like sporadic-E, tropospheric ducting, aurora and even meteor scatter and moonbounce, VHF offers QSO opportunities that HF can never satisfy."
Kutzko said this weekend is a great time to try 6 or 2 meters. "The June VHF QSO Party occurs at the beginning of the summer sporadic-E season, and can produce strong openings on 6 meters, and in some cases up to 2 meters," he said. There have been moderate openings on 6 meters in some part of the United States almost nightly for the last two weeks, and southern California enjoyed a brief sporadic-E opening on 2 meters into Texas this past Tuesday evening, over an average path of 1100 miles. "That's fun any way you slice it," Kutzko said. "Because of the contest, many stations will be on. This, coupled with the interesting propagation possibilities, makes for a great weekend."
Getting on the VHF bands is easy, he said. While there will be some contest activity on FM simplex (especially near large population centers), most long-distance VHF+ QSOs are conducted on CW or SSB; that means horizontally polarized antennas. You will also need a radio that can transmit in those modes. Most of the newer HF transceivers have 6 meters built in, and several also come with 2 meters and 70 cm, too. "A dipole on 6 meters will work quite well during a decent opening," Kutzko said. "They're easy to make and less than 10 feet long. Throw it up in a tree as high as you can and you'll be in business. For 2 meters and 70 cm, a horizontal loop will work nicely for SSB and CW contacts." 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.
Because VHF antennas are generally smaller than their HF counterparts, portable operation is easy. "You can operate from your favorite hilltop, camp site or any location with high terrain and make many QSOs," Kutzko said. All you need to know is the Maidenhead grid square of your operating location; this is the contest exchange.
For SSB QSOs on 6 meters, tune between 50.100-50.200 MHz; 50.125 is the W/VE calling frequency, so listen there for band openings. If the band starts to open up, move off the calling frequency and start working folks! Keep in mind that 50.100-50.125 is reserved for intercontinental QSOs, so don't transmit there unless you are trying to work DX. For the CW operators, you will find CW between 50.080-50.100 MHz. Activity on 2 meters will center around the calling frequency of 144.200. Again, monitor the calling frequency for band openings, but move off when activity starts to pick up. Kutzko advises that most activity on 2 meter SSB/CW will be found between 144.170-144.230 MHz, while 70 cm activity will center around 432.100 MHz.
"This weekend promises to be a tremendous amount of fun on the VHF and UHF bands so don't miss out!" Kutzko said. "All amateurs -- from Technicians to Extras, experienced VHF operators to the first-time VHF dabblers -- are welcome to participate." The ARRL June VHF QSO Party runs this weekend from 1800 UTC Saturday until 0300 UTC Monday (Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening for most of the US and Canada). Complete rules and entry forms may be found here. All logs must be e-mailed or postmarked no later than 0300 UTC Wednesday, July 15. If you have any questions about the ARRL June VHF QSO Party or any other ARRL contest, please contact the Contest Branch via e-mail.