My experience with the six meter band has been, appropriately enough, sporadic, but I’m planning to make it more of a centerpiece over the next few years.
The first time I ever heard anything at all on six meters was during the ARRL June VHF contest in 2012. Conditions were pretty good, and I was able to work a few states and Canada with 100 watts using a mobile vertical antenna from Virginia. I gave it another try a couple years later from San Francisco from a SOTA location, but only got out line of sight (albeit on 5 watts). Beyond that, I’ve worked stations at field day using a hex-beam, but usually only about 20-30 stations are within range.
Rare opening from Madagascar
Six meters didn’t do much for me until an afternoon in April of 2016. I was based in Madagascar at the time, and often the afternoon was relatively quiet; HF tended to pick up towards Europe around dinner time. Around 15:30h on this particular afternoon, for whatever reason, I decided to CQ on 50.080 MHz with the hexbeam pointed towards Europe. A strong reply came from Greece and I almost jumped out of my chair. I was immediately spotted and I found myself running a pile up on six meters, but with all the stations tightly clustered: Crete, Greece, and Israel, and finally Italy and Spain. I had about ten minutes of frantic operating with strong signals from Europe, then another five or so as the conditions faded. I consider those unexpected fifteen minutes the best DX that I had from Madagascar. Was that multiple hops of sporadic E?
My Humble 6m Station
Most of my equipment is currently in shipping crates somewhere in Europe, so my current antenna “farm” consists of nothing more than a 2m vertical and dipole that has to cover from HF up to 6m. I realize that’s pretty suboptimal, but I am hoping that weak signal modes help me make up some of the shortfall (that, plus the monster antennas that some other folks have stateside). As for radios both my K3 and TS-2000 can handle six meters.
Although this station far from ideal for 6m, I occasionally spin the dial. Most of the time, the only beacon I hear is from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, which is pretty local. On a couple evenings, I have also heard local ops on 50.125 SSB, but all within the area around Washington, DC.
A few nights ago, though, I heard strong signals on 50.125 and upward to 50.200, with signals coming in from along the southern portion of the US East Coast down to the tip of Florida. I had a flurry of SSB QSOs, almost all of them with better equipped stations (since that is not a high bar in my case). For a while, I even ran a frequency (above).
Despite all that activity on SSB, I heard nothing at all in the CW portion of the band, even though I spent a while calling on 50.085. Is CW just not that popular on 6M outside of contests? Hmm. Will need more data points.
FT8 on 6 meters
I gave FT8 a try last night, and had a few contacts, but nothing more than 100 miles away. However, when I went to work, I left the rig on and watched my radio report hearing additional signals from the US midwest.
At the same time, there was a lot of activity reported by DXmaps (which made me a little grumpy about being at work and missing the action).
So, I guess I will have to be patient and wait for sporadic E events to occur when I’m at home (that, or invest in remote rig control…)
Some Meteor Scatter?
What’s next for 6 meters? I’m considering an outing to try operating meteor scatter from the field using the newly updated MSK144 protocol. If other folks at the local club are interested, perhaps one weekday morning (ideally during high meteor activity) we can find a site and set up a 6m yagi and a generator.