“The Bands Are Dead” … I Beg to Differ

Darcy Pach – K4DQP

Icom IC-7300 panadapter – Pota Activation

It started with an e-mail from my friend, Steve (W3SPC).  His e-mail stated that I had ‘won’ an all-inclusive three-day camping trip to Keowee-Toxaway State Park and my presence was requested for a couple of days of working remote, good food and a chance to play a little Parks-on-the-Air (POTA) by activating park K-3877.  I secured the obligatory ‘kitchen pass’ and headed two and half hours north west of Rock Hill on Sunday afternoon. Upon arriving I knew this was going to be something special.  Not only was the campground nestled among the tall hardwoods of northwestern South Carolina, but Steve’s camper was situated at the utmost peak of the campground atop the mountain about 1100’.  Yes, believe it or not, South Carolina has mountains. Aside from work calls, writing SQL code and calls with coworkers while sitting at the picnic table, during the two days, this POTA activation can be summed up in one word…epic.  This wasn’t my first POTA activation.  My first netted 78 contacts last summer at Tugaloo State Park in GA. 

Using an OCF dipole and 100 watts and some strong encouragement from Steve to ‘go for the kilo’ (award for 1000 contacts from a single park), I managed to bring in incredible pileups from all over the county.  I was getting signal reports from S9+10 to S9+40 from Wyoming and parts west.  In those three days, I managed to log 47 of 50 states, numerous other POTA activators, and a whopping total of 965 confirmed POTA contacts on mostly 80, 40, and 20 meter bands.

A month later, we both headed out to Oconee State Park, again, using the off-center-fed dipole with 1700’of elevation, I managed to contact 49 states, numerous other POTA activators, and a whopping total of 1045 confirmed POTA contacts on mostly 80, 40, 17 and 20 meter bands. 

Having numerous DX entities joining the pileups and calling me for a contact was about the most exciting thing I’ve experienced to date during my two activations.

First, the bands are not ‘dead’.  Bands conditions change throughout the year, we all know that.  Bands also change during the day.  Yes, there are better and worse working conditions caused by changes to solar activity, but that just means you may have to try another band, another antenna, or another time to operate. Second, having something interesting to do, say, or participate in gets people excited.  If you are expecting to just call CQ from your home, well, all the best to you, but participating in POTA, a contest, a special event, or even a net will put new and unique contacts in your log.  Also, calling from a vacation spot, or different antenna may be the ticket. 

Parks on the Air Kilo Award

Second, having something interesting to do, say, or participate in gets people excited.  If you are expecting to just call CQ from your home, well, all the best to you, but participating in POTA, a contest, a special event, or even a net will put new and unique contacts in your log.  Also, calling from a vacation spot, or different antenna may be the ticket. 

Here’s a few lessons learned from my POTA activations:

  1. Going out and activating a park is fun but take a buddy along.  It’s much easier to hang an antenna, cook, swap operators, and enjoy the experience with someone else.  The encouragement that someone else can provide is enough to make it through the massive pileups that seemed to never end. 
  1. Use the absolute best antenna you can.  Every antenna is a compromise between size, operational capabilities, bands and so forth, but I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed if you can get some wire in a tree and “Hang ‘Em High”.  A simple wire dipole outperforms a vertical vehicle or ground mounted antenna any day of the week.
  1. General knowledge of propagation (what time of day a band will open) is a huge factor.  Calling and expecting for west coast stations when the band is not open will be disappointing at best.  Do a little research before you go.
  1. Set a few realistic goals for yourself.  Whether it’s time operating, number of contacts, number of states, bands, or countries contacted, make it a challenge.  If you don’t succeed, ask yourself why not.  Don’t just blame band conditions.  It’s likely there is something you can do better next time.
  1. Finally, be an ambassador for yourself and amateur radio.  This is important.  This includes using your manners, both-on-the-air and off.  Whether it’s parking, interacting with others in your location, noise, tripping hazards, general attitude, etc., you are ultimately an ambassador first for yourself and then for amateur radio.  Pull up any POTA activation and listen to how different these operators are than the typical contester or radio lid.  You will have such a better experience if you are thanking people for supporting your activation, whether it’s the local park ranger (by letting him/her operate for a few minutes) or someone making contact with you.  My personal goal is to have the contact on the other end to always know they are appreciated for taking time to contact me. 
  1. Finally, let people know what you are doing and seek feedback.  Let people know when and where you will be.  Take some pictures of your activity, update your QRZ page.  E-mail the club and ask them to help you.  If you are having trouble, call someone and ask advice.  Contrary to popular belief, you don’t know everything.

If you still think the bands are dead, go out and test it for yourself.  You must put down the remote and pick up the mic.  It may be as simple as changing the times of day you operate, or just a better antenna strung up in your back yard, a POTA activation, or some other kind of operating you need to convince you.  It did it for me.  I’ll talk to you at my next activation.

73 – K4DQP

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