Get In on the VHF Fun in the 2012 ARRL September VHF QSO Party
September is here -- and according to ARRL Contest Branch Manager Sean Kutzko, KX9X, the VHF+ bands have been getting a workout: “If you’ve never experienced the fun of VHF+ operating, the 2012 ARRL September VHF QSO Party the weekend of September 8-10 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.”
Kutzko explained that September -- as opposed to June with its sporadic-E openings -- is known for good tropospheric propagation. “In the past week, there have been some good tropo openings in the mornings on 2 meters along the Eastern seaboard and in the Midwest. There’s even been a touch of sporadic-E propagation on 6 meters this week, primarily in the western half of the US. Couple the recent openings with talk among the VHF Hopeful of some F2 propagation on 6 meters (due to the upswing of Solar Cycle 24), and the potential for enhanced propagation during the contest looks favorable.”
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 on CW or SSB, which 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.
Because VHF+ antennas are relatively small, Kutzko said that many amateurs 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,” he said. “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.”
Activity will be centered on 50.125, 144.200, 222.100 and 432.100 MHz. These are the calling frequencies; it’s bad etiquette to monopolize them. 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, you may even hear signals above 50.250. But Kutzko 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.
The 2012 ARRL September VHF QSO Party runs from 1800 UTC Saturday, September 8 through 0300 UTC Monday, September 10. Complete rules and entry forms may be found here. All logs must be e-mailed or postmarked no later than 0300 UTC on Wednesday, October 10, 2012. While electronic logs are preferred, paper logs can be sent to September VHF Contest, ARRL, 225 Main Street, Newington, CT 06111.