Although 20m is great my true love is actually 80m (a band of frequencies between 3.5 - 3.8MHz). If you tune around 80m in the day you might easily think that it's rather dull and at night rather too noisy. So I have jotted down a few thoughts to sing the praises of listening to this great part of the radio spectrum.
Firstly it's easier to make successful home made receiving equipment at these frequencies than the higher ones. Loop antennas can quite easily be made cheaply and these being directional can be used to 'null out' a lot of the noise - a new world will start to appear. The band is especially good at night / early morning in the winter and also the twilight periods at dusk and dawn. All the radio bands are effected by the ever changing solar activity (e.g. sun spots and Aurora) and 80m has much to surprise and intrigue the old as well as the new experimenter. People can spend their whole radio lives on this band and still be surprised and excited by it.
80m is what you might call a 'classic' short wave band in the sense that the local stations are strong and the very distant stations (known as DX) are weaker. It's precisely the fact that you hear the distant AND the local signals that makes it so special. On winter mornings, I often get up at say 6am to turn on my home-made radio and tune to the top end, the DX end, of 80m. The world is there! Because you hear both the local and distant there is a fantastic sense of community and I love that.
I built my first 80m receiver when I was about 13 years old and have been smitten ever since. I've been listening on 80m with home-made gear for over 27 years. I learnt most of my geography not at school but by listening on 80m! In the first three years of using my home made radio I heard over 100 countries. Here I first heard M1XZ from San Marino, discovered many South American countries I didn't even know existed as well as heard signals from many parts of Africa. Like so many, I was also overjoyed to hear the faint twang of a Texan, Australian or New Zealand accent in my headphones.
One evening in December 2006 I heard EA9IE (North Africa) talk to one DX station after another. It seemed like the whole of North America wanted to talk to him. I was listening on my home brew receiver using a small 40cm loop and could clearly hear many of the stations he was talking to. There was an impressive 'pile up' of what seemed like 100's of voices all wanting to talk to him - it was great!
Amateur radio is a fantastic hobby. Its not just listening to distant signals but the satisfaction of learning and making the equipment and the excitment of the possibilities. This will depend on the time of day and year, the atmospheric and solar conditions as well as the skill of the operator ... and what ever happens to be around at the time. Amateur radio can be a little like fishing, everyone is waiting for the big catch (a DX station) but also they are just happy playing with radio even if there is nothing much around.
In this way radio still has an exciting edge over internet communications applications like Skype and MSN messenger because of the skill involved, the knowledge required, the possibility of discovering a long distance signal and the excitment, satisfaction and acheivement of picking them up.
I learnt so much about the spirit of amateur radio listening on this band and I am indebted to many on 80m. They hold a friendly network of to and fro conversations with their friends dotted all around the world. They do this in a wonderfully professional but always warm way. They encourage new people to come in and try their hand at making a new contact or possibly speak to a new country. There is a great sense of community which is such a great aspect of Amateur Radio.
The 80m band is unique, fascinating and intriguing. It's been a wonderful source of inspiration for radio enthusiasts for almost 100 years. Terrestrial and solar phenomena govern this radio world and as their effects are continuely changing so the radio bands are always changing and never dated. It's also a thriving global radio community. When you spend some time to get to know the 80m band you appreciate that it's something facinating, beautiful and precious.
Jonathan Hare, G1EXG
* 80m stands for the length / size of the radio wavelength (which is the speed of light / the frequency). In the 'old days' the wavelength was the way radio signals were characterised but now the frequency (i.e. 3.8MHz) tends to be used.
** Radio amateurs are issued with a unique callsign the first few characters of which (the prefix) represent the country they are from while the rest of the 'call' (the suffix) is unique to the particular person in that country. For example a G at the start represents England, GU - Guernsey, GI - Northern Island, F - France, LX - Luxemberg, VK - Australia, ZL - New Zealand ... etc.
Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) web site
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