Low Band DXing from a Small City Lot

  Encouragement for Little Pistols  

This two-part article was originally written for and published in SKIP the monthly newsletter of the Fresno Amateur Radio Club (FARC).

Low Band DXing
Part 1 of 2

As the searing valley heat gives way to somewhat more moderate temperatures, many HF operators — especially low band DX-ers — begin "reinventing" their antenna farms. With the hint of fall comes the anticipation of another exciting winter DX season. Of course, fall is the time to check those sunburned antennas, make repairs, tweaks and adjustments, or perhaps try something entirely new. All effort is focused on gaining even the smallest improvement over last year.

While this may seem like a lot of effort for not much in return, the bite of the low band DX bug is very intoxicating. Those so bitten will often spin lengthy yarns, telling of con-quests, new entities worked, and of the pure joy of 4-6 months spent trying to squeeze QSOs out of the noise on 160 meters. No, the annual fall effort to beef up the low band antennas is not wasted. It is a de facto part of the challenge — part of the lure of being a low band DX-er.

Sadly, many otherwise enthusiastic HF operators have never experienced the thrill of working DX on the lower frequency bands. Seeing themselves as "real estate challenged", these folks typically have not even considered 40, 80, and 160 meters because of an unfortunate, but commonly held misconception. This prevailing "wisdom" suggests that it takes multiple acres, miles of wire, tall towers, high power, and very deep pockets to set up a station to successfully operate the low bands. The intent of this article is to challenge such "wisdom" and to encourage any would-be low band operators to take another look.

First, let's be clear. If you had 100 acres way out in the country and 2 million bucks to build your station, would your chances of low band success be better than the little pistol with the 8000 sq. ft. lot in the city? We certainly hope so! Would you have to work as hard to scratch out 3 or 4 new entities per season? Emphatically not! However, does that mean that the little guy with lots of guts and fire in his belly can't do it? Again, emphatically not!

By way of encouragement for the "little guy" I offer a brief narrative of how I got started on the low bands. This is not at all intended to be a brag sheet. Rather, I hope that someone will be sufficiently inspired to think, "Hey, I bet I could do that too!"

Frankly, before I moved to my little 120' X 120' sand box here in Fresno in 1980, I had nary a clue that these low bands were even available for DX chasing. Back east, I thought 75 meters was for rag-chewing and for such activities as checking into the Virginia Phone Net.

After a few years of 20-15-10 meter DX-ing here in Fresno, I became aware that my neighbor, WD6AFC, was actually working DX on 40M and even had wire antennas for DX-ing on 75M! Wow, how interesting! I wonder if I could do that! I also became aware of the much-coveted 5-Band DXCC award. Wow, I wonder if I could ever earn that! You can see where this is headed! Before long I was hopelessly hooked, and thus began my 25+ year pursuit of chasing that elusive DX on the low bands.

In the winter of 1983 I put up a used Hy-gain 18AVT vertical mounted on a chain link fence — my first antenna for 80 and 40. Even this grossly inefficient (on 80 meters) antenna produced enough DX contacts to get me hooked! I remember the thrill of working my first EU — GI3IVJ — on 75M using this little vertical! As you can imagine, I soon realized that the 18AVT was a serious limitation to serious DX chasing on the low bands. Thus began my never ending quest for "a better antenna."

First EU QSO on 80M

My tower at that time was a Wilson TT-45 ... a 45 foot tall rotating, tubular tower, with a Hy-gain TH-5 mounted on an additional stinger at about 52 feet. I decided to try the W9INN 3-band half-slopers mounted on the tower at 42 feet. I designed a floating collar, which allowed the attachment of 2 slopers to the rotating tower. Happily, in most cases, the slopers were a big improvement over the trapped vertical. It was this very basic, simple setup that I used for the next 4 years to launch a serious low band DX-ing effort. During this time I also experimented with various homebrewed verticals, including a pair of phased 40M verticals. However, for the most part, the verticals were not as effective as the slopers.

Now I'm sure the skeptics are calling attention to tall towers, 40M beams, and full-sized 80M delta loops that have been observed along Clovis Avenue. Yes of course, I have improved the antenna farm over the years. Let me assure you however (My logs are available for scrutiny.), that I earned DXCC on 40 and 80, and the first 40 entities on 160, with either this simple sloper system or one of the verticals.

The point is this... with a modest effort, modest outlay of cash, and a ton of fun in the process, you too, can earn DXCC on one or more low frequency bands — even if your play pen is a small city lot.

Next month, in part two, we will look at some specific recommendations that are aimed at the little pistol low band operator. We will also introduce and discuss the importance of RX (receive only) antennas. In the meantime, throw a 100' piece of wire over the roof, hook it to your receiver, and start tuning 40, 80 and 160. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Go to Low Band DXing Part 2

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