Friday 22 December 2017

Radio Caroline back on Medium Wave

The Orford Ness masts
If you fancy a bit of nostalgia you can now listen to Radio Caroline again on 648kHz AM on the medium wave.

The famous pirate radio station needs little introduction, but is now broadcasting legally using (ironically) the famous Orford Ness antenna system on the Suffolk cost, formerly used to transmit the BBC World Service in English around the clock on 648 kHz from September 1982 until March 2011.

The station was founded in 1964 to play pop music all day at a time where broadcasting was dominated by the BBC and pop was played for an hour a week.

Caroline was one of five stations granted a community radio licence by Ofcom and is now running 1kW, but with a really good antenna mounted right next to the sea.

The station is 59+20dB at my home QTH 10 miles south of Norwich (JO02NN) using a Perseus SDR and a homemade 1m active loop mounted in the loft. It is also easily heard with a portable radio.

Radio enthusiasts around Europe might like to listen for it.

More information:

Orford Ness transmitter:

Radio Caroline:


Friday 15 December 2017

Propagation prediction maps updated until June 2018

I have now updated my propagation maps with the latest predicted smoothed sunspot numbers for the period up until the end of June 2018.

You can access them using this link.

The sunspot numbers continue to fall as we head towards sunspot minimum sometime around 2019.

If you use the charts look for about 60-70% reliability for SSB (yellow or hotter) and perhaps 40-50% for CW or PSK (green). For FT8 you may be able to work stations where the reliability is down to 20-30% (blue).

Of course, these are a guide and if you want to try making charts for your own station I recommend the online software at either or

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Christmas present ideas!

As Christmas is coming, I thought I would remind people that there are some great radio-related goodies for sale at and .com.

You can choose from a number of items, including:

  • Three different types of ship's radio room clock, with silent period sectors marked
  • "Remember QRT SP" Merchant Navy Radio Officer merchandise
  • "Keep Calm and Work Some DX" merchandise
  • "Keep Calm and Work Some CW" items
  • Nikola Tesla merchandise, featuring him sitting in his Colorado Springs laboratory in 1899, surrounded by electrical arcs.

You can have the last three slogans added to T-shirts, sweatshirts, mouse mats, calendar, mugs and much more.

Just go to the Radio Room!

Or there are a number of my radio-related books that make good presents , including "Radio Propagation Explained", "Antenna Modelling", "Stealth Antennas" and "Getting Started in Amateur Radio". Use the image links on the right for more information.

Thursday 12 October 2017

HF Propagation at Sunspot Minimum

The effects of coronal holes are likely to continue for a
couple of years.
This weekend I’ll be giving a talk at the RSGB conference on “HF Propagation at Sunspot Minimum.”

This will show that we can expect the minimum to be around late 2019 or 2020. It is hard to be precise, as the minimum is something you can define after the event, not before or during!

What I will say is that we can probably expect the effects of solar coronal holes to continue, at least until we are well into the minimum.

Geomagnetic storms can cause problems on HF, although they can also bring short-lived ionospheric enhancements so they are a double-edged sword.

For example, on Tuesday 10th October the bands were open to DX all the way up to 12 metres. But as the solar wind from the coronal hole hit on Wednesday, apart from a short-lived ionospheric enhancement the MUFs took a dive.

By Thursday (12th) lunchtime, 20m was struggling to fully open and 17m was showing very little activity indeed. But by Thursday afternoon, and with a K of 5,  I had worked Saudi Arabia on 10m SSB.

This shows that at sunspot minimum with a solar flux index of just 66, quiet geomagnetic conditions may be better than stormy ones. So look for a K index in three 0-2 range, not 5-7! But then again, when solar plasma first hits the earth we may get some short-lived enhancements right up to 10m, so a high initial K index can work for us.

For those who weren't at the lecture, I showed that monthly average maximum useable frequencies will decline with the sunspot number. This doesn't mean there won't be F2-layer openings on 21MHz and higher, just that they won't be as reliable or as long lasting.

Other than that I encourage people to play with a propagation program to get an idea of what might be possible.

My suggestions are:

Windows based



W6ELProp (when installing, right click and run as administrator on Windows 10)



Other sources of info I mention are:

NOAA – Space Weather Prediction Centre

Real-time F2 critical frequency display (this will soon move to

Smoothed Sunspot Numbers

Latest extreme UV image of the sun from the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft (shows coronal holes)

Lastly, I talk about the difficulties of predicting openings with FT8. One suggestion is to use VOACAP and set the required SNR to a figure of -20dB or so. It is usually set to about 24-31dB for CW and 45 for SSB. This is still experimental (as some SNR figures are quoted as dB per Hz, while others are quoted in a 2500Hz bandwidth), so you might have to play with it. VOACAP’s settings are critical and it is worth reading the notes on the VOACAP website and also the “Top 10 mistakes in using VOACAP”.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Visit to NI6BB, USS Iowa, San Pedro, California

The big guns of the USS Iowa.
As many regular readers of this blog may know, I try to visit as many special amateur radio stations as I can when working overseas.

This week I am in Long Beach, California again for a conference and it was an ideal opportunity to visit the famous battleship USS Iowa in nearby San Pedro, which has an amateur radio station with the callsign NI6BB.

USS Iowa (BB-61) is a floating maritime museum that is well worth the visit. It has a rich history that spreads from World War Two, through the Korean conflict in the 50s, and the cold war before it finally became a museum in 2012.

US Navy veteran Jerry Johnson with
one of the 110lb powder sacks.
Its main battery consisted of nine 16 in (406 mm) Mark 7 guns, which could fire 2,700 lb (1,200 kg) armour-piercing shells 23 miles (37 km). On the tour you find out how they used to load the guns with six 110lb silk sacks filled with powder, which when ignited with a single cartridge would rapidly burn in one third of a second, firing the 1,900 lb (862 kg) shell out at 2,690 feet per second (820 m/s).

The USS Iowa discone-cage HF antenna,
complete with plastic owl!
The other statistics are staggering (including 19.7-inch armour plating), but I’ll leave you to Google them.

Anyway, back to the radio, the radio room on the Iowa is well equipped with a Kenwood radio for HF.

On the bow of Iowa is the discone-cage antenna. Fed at the top it is a discone providing coverage from approximately 10 to 30 MHz with a VSWR below 3:1. The antenna has a plastic owl on it to stop pigeons resting - but they ignore it apparently!

Ron Frank N3HI let me operate some 20m SSB from the ship, as I have G0KYA/AB8ZV UK full and US Extra Class licences, and I worked a few stations including Washington State and Ohio. One was a “nearly” as I couldn’t quite get his full call before he faded away, which was a shame. HF conditions weren’t brilliant.

There were one or two loud stations on CW, which they often work, and Ron says they tend to operate a lot of digital too, including FT8.

Anyway, my thanks to Ron for letting me play for an hour and giving me some detailed history of the USS Iowa. If you are ever in the Long Beach/San Pedro area go and visit. It is truly fantastic.

My thanks to Ron Frank, N3HI.
I also revisited W6RO, "The Queen Mary", in Long Beach, California where I am staying. I operated from there in 2012 and they always welcome visiting radio amateurs. We had a long chat about UK and US amateur radio.

If you are interested in some of my other historic radio visits you can read about:
  • NI6IW - USS Midway, San Diego, California
  • W7SUB - the USS Blueback, Portland, Oregon
  • K6KPH - The Maritime Radio Historical Society, Point Reyes/Bolinas, California

Saturday 9 September 2017

Elecraft K1 discontinued

Elecraft has announced that it has discontinued the K1 transceiver. I'm not surprised as this had been predicted some time back.

Component availability had been an issue, and technology has moved on.

Luckily, a local ham managed to get one of the last K1s after reading about them - and seeing this blog.

I'd like to thank Elecraft for producing a great little radio and for supporting QRP. There's always the KX2 and KX3!

Thursday 6 July 2017

CW fun with the Elecraft K1

I haven’t had much of a chance to get on the radio recently – the day job has been getting in the way!

So I thought I would put my Elecraft K1 into action yesterday evening and see what could be done with 5W of CW. I built this rig last year after having the kit in the loft for about 12 years – you can read about that here.

The great thing is it only has two bands 20m and 40m. This focuses the mind and stops you QSYing to other bands left right and centre.

So, I hooked up to a W5GI dipole and a 65ft EFHW (with loading coil for 80m too) and switched on.

The first station worked was OZ7BQ, Joe near Copenhagen, on 7.026MHz. I had to double check his name as it shows on as Hans Jørgen, although he definitely sent “Joe”.

Then it was IQ7AF on 7.028MHz, a special event station in Southern Italy.

Staying on 40m, I narrowly missed Mike GM0HCQ/MM on the James Clark Ross, a research ship just off the coast of Norway and heading for the Arctic.

Then it was on to II2FIST on 20m, celebrating 30 years of the FISTS CW group. Managed that on first call despite a pile-up – not bad with 5W.

And to round the evening off I made contact with Doug ZP6CW in Paraguay on 20m. Other countries heard but not working included Norway, Serbia, Germany, Russia and Czech Republic.

This isn’t to brag, just to show what you can do with 5W CW from a kit-built rig and a compromise antenna. All the 40m contacts were on the home-made W5GI dipole. Half of the 20m ones were with the multi-band EFHW.

I think 5W SSB would have been a different story.

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Solar and HF Propagation Update

I haven’t written about the state of the sun and propagation recently (apart from my weekly HF contribution to the RSGB’s GB2RS report).

So, it seemed like a good idea to publish an update.

It is now July 2017 and the sun is completely spotless. The solar flux index (SFI) is 72 and the sunspot number is zero (as you might expect).

Given that the SFI never goes below around 65-66 this shows just how spotless the sun actually is. And current predictions are that we will hit sunspot minimum in 2019-2020.

As the Solar Influences Data Center (SIDC) says “As the current solar cycle 24 gradually gives way to the new solar cycle 25, several consecutive days and even weeks without sunspots will become the norm.

“The previous minimum surprised scientists and solar observers by being the deepest in nearly 90 years. Will the upcoming solar cycle minimum show as many spotless days, or will solar cycle 25 take off much faster than expected?”

For this we will have to wait and see.

The first sunspot of solar cycle 25 has already been spotted (December 2016). Its high latitude (23°) and reverse polarity showed that it definitely belonged to the next sunspot cycle.

But don’t get too excited as sunspot cycles usually overlap, by up to four years. This again, might put the solar minimum into 2019/2020.

The sun with coronal holes on 5th July 2017.
Meanwhile, we are still suffering the effects of a series of coronal holes (CHs). These are areas of the sun with “open” magnetic fields that allow the solar wind to pour out. If Earth-facing these can result in an increased K index, an initial propagation enhancement, and then probably reduced MUFs, noisy bands and possible aurora.

CHs are a feature of a declining solar cycle, but should eventually subside a little. The best way to predict their effects is to look at the sun in extreme ultraviolet light using the SDO spacecraft and look for dark patches. If a CH is on or near the sun’s equator and earth-facing we might expect the impact of the solar wind in perhaps two days, although this can vary depending upon its speed.

So at the moment the low SFI means that, other than sporadic E openings, we can’t expect the maximum useable frequency over 3,000km to climb much above 14 or perhaps 18MHz.

So if you want F2 layer DX concentrate on 30, 20 and 17 metres.

In the Northern hemisphere we are in the summer doldrums with lower MUFs during the day, but higher MUFs (than winter) in the evening and night.

This is due to a change in the ionospheric chemistry with a shift towards more diatomic species and fewer monatomic ones. These are harder to ionise as they are more tightly bonded, hence the lower levels of ionisation.

One quick tip. Don’t write off 20m and 30m in the late evening – they might still surprise you with some DX.

Playing with the propagation prediction system at Predtest, which uses the ITURHFPROP engine and is managed by Gwyn G4FKH, will give you some idea of what band may be open to where.

What we can say is that good DX paths, such as transatlantic and far eastern, will return in the Autumn, perhaps late September – but the lower HF bands, 30, 20 and sometimes 17m will still be the “money bands” for DX.
A Predtest prediction for 20m at 21:00UTC in July 2017 for the UK. the smoothed sunspot number being used is 18.

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Soda Pop 40m CW QRP radio now finished

The finished 40m Soda Pop QRP radio (click to enlarge)

I finally finished the 40m 5W Soda Pop CW radio by Steve Weber KD1JV.

Building the board took about 8.5hours. But preparing the hardware from scratch took a lot longer.

I used a Hammond die cast box and drilled the hole for the controls. I then chain drilled, cut and filed the aperture for the display. My metalwork skills are limited to what I can do in the garage with a Bosch drill and a selection of files.

I ended up having to elongate the holes for the controls and turn the hole for the antenna connection into a slot, otherwise I couldn't get the board in at the angle required. As a result I had to make up a plastic blanking plate for the back.

The box was painted with Plasticote metallic blue and gloss varnish.

The finished 40m Soda Pop QRP radio (click to enlarge)
The panel label was produced using Photoshop and a photograph of mine of Happisburgh Lighthouse in Norfolk (we don't have any summits as it is very flat!).

Once I was happy I then used Photobox to produce five copies of the photograph (in case I screwed a few up) and lacquered that too.

The whole thing was assembled after the front panel was stuck on with red Spraymount.

I'm happy with the result, although I might do the front panel again at some stage to get the hole alignment a little better and also lacquer it with a matt rather than gloss varnish.

Things I learned:
1. Metal cases take a lot of work to get them right!
2. Measure, measure and measure before cutting and filing.
3. When chain drilling, make the aperture too small at first and open it up with a file.
4. Choose a dust free spot to do the painting - a dusty garage floor is not ideal
5. Let the paint harden for about a week to avoid fingerprints.

Now, the fun can start and I can use it a bit more.

So far I have worked Italy, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and Estonia with it. Many thanks to Steve Weber KD1JV for a great little design.

I'm planning a Norfolk "Bumps on the Air" (BOTA) outing with it quite soon.

Steve G0KYA

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Soda Pop 40m QRP Transceiver S/N 011 lives!

The board for the 40m Soda Pop QRP radio (click to enlarge).
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Steve Weber KD1JV-designed Soda Pop single band QRP CW transceiver kit recently. Soda Pop is meant to be a play on "SOTA Op" as it is meant to be a lightweight portable radio for "Summit on the Air" operators

Steve only produces a design every two years or so and they instantly become classics. It is a lottery as to whether you are lucky enough to get one and this time I was. My other KD1JV rig is a 3-band 3W Mountain Topper Radio, which I built myself (you can now buy them ready made via LNR precision).

All of Steve’s rigs are fantastic, tricky to build as they are nearly all SMD, but offer fantastic performance. You can blame Colin M1BUU for getting me into these. Colin’s Steve Weber rigs are works of art and regularly go up mountains for SOTA.

As I live in Norfolk (which is very flat) I have to make do with the odd hill!

I’m happy to report that my 5W 40m Soda Pop rig is now built and working well. 

Built using hand soldering over a period of a few days – a total of about 8.5hrs – I was delighted to find it worked first time. Sensitivity seems good and power output is 5.1W with a 12.3 V Li-Ion battery.

I aligned it by ear as I don’t have an oscilloscope and got it close. It was perhaps 20-40Hz off frequency, but a quick tweak in the calibration mode got it pretty much spot on.

Note the tiny SMD components - all hand soldered
(click to enlarge).
The BFO was setup by ear too.

So did the build go without hiccups? Hell no! The following points might be useful to other builders.

1. As always with SMD take great care with the components. Transistor Q14 “pinged” off at one point never to be seen again, or so I thought. As luck goes, I found it three days later under a desk lamp - 10 minutes after I had ordered a replacement off Ebay!

2. Follow the instructions religiously and only take out the components one at a a time. This saves them getting muddled up as many have no markings.

3. Take extra care with the band-specific components as it is easy to get it wrong. I ended up mistaking some inductors for the capacitors and had to remove them. If in doubt check them with a multimeter to make sure they are inductors and not capacitors. This may be why some people are reporting deaf receivers.

4. When you do the initial alignment and are peaking CT1 and CT2 make sure you have actually turned the volume up. Doh! Even with the volume turned down you will hear a hiss, which you may mistake for band noise. Don’t ask me how I know!

5. Note that not all the component locations are actually used, including C10, C49, C59, C6 (on some bands) and D2.

6. As you identify components  bag the spares up in marked bags as you will need some of them when you build the top of the board.

7, When soldering the power socket make sure it is square to the board - mine had twisted slightly and had to be de-soldered and done again.

8. Make sure you have the right number of turns on the two T39 toroids. Putting the wire through the hole counts as one turn. 

Anyway, it is early days for the Soda Pop - the 40m band was in lousy condition today and there were only a few signals on, but they seemed about as loud on the Soda Pop as my IC-756 Pro3. I’ll try it again tonight when the band should be better.

The RBN shows I was being heard in Germany and
Scotland on 7.030Mhz
A CQ call on 40m resulted in me being heard by DF7GB, DJ2BC, DJ9IE and GW8IZR via the Reverse Beacon Network at up to 20dB SNR at 13:50UTC. 

The hardest bit now will be boxing it up - I have a Hammond 1550M Die Cast Box, but that will need some serious metalwork (cutting, drilling and painting) so it will no doubt take longer than the build-up of the board.

I’ll add a photograph as and when it gets done.

My thanks (again) to Steve "melt solder" Weber, KD1JV.

Steve G0KYA 

Monday 24 April 2017

A portable multi-band End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antenna for 40-10m

The camping washing line spool used for the antenna wire.
A few people have asked about the 30m antenna Norfolk Amateur Radio Club used for its International Marconi Day (IMD) operations at Caister Lifeboat this year.

Ten Megahertz (30m) turned out to be a useful band for us, allowing CW contact after CW contact, despite poor conditions after a geomagnetic storm and a K index of five.

The antenna we used was a portable 40-10m multi-band end-fed half wave (EFHW) with a 49:1 Unun using an FT240-43 toroid.

It used a wire 9m vertically metres up a fishing pole and then about 5.8m out.

The novel thing was that I only built it the day before and it uses a Coghlan camping washing line spool with the string taken off and about 21m of wire wound onto it.

Caister Marconi radio station makes nearly 200 contacts

Right: Rodney G0CBO and Kim G4WUG contact another other 
radio amateur with Morse code from GB0CMS at 
Caister Lifeboat on International Marconi Day.

Members of the Norfolk Amateur Radio Club (NARC) managed to contact 193 other radio amateurs in 31 different countries on Saturday 22nd April 2017 when they took part in the annual International Marconi Day at the Caister Lifeboat Visitor Centre to mark the inventor's birthday.

Using the call GB0CMS and a mixture of Morse code, telephony (speech) and data (PSK), contacts were made with other radio amateurs across the UK, Europe, Australia and the USA.

Notable contacts were with other special Marconi stations in the UK, Italy, and Ireland.

NARC ran the all-day special event station at Caister Lifeboat to commemorate the village's original Marconi Wireless Station, which was established at Caister in 1900. The station was in a house in the High Street known as Pretoria Villa and its original purpose was to communicate with ships in the North Sea and the Cross Sands lightship.

On Saturday, the closest to Guglielmo Marconi's birthday, stations around the world are set up at sites with historical links to the inventor's work. These include Poldhu in England; Cape Cod Massachusetts; Glace Bay, Nova Scotia; Villa Griffone, Bologna, Italy and many others.

Visitors to the station including many other local radio amateurs and members of the public.

Steve G0KYA, who organised the event, said: “Conditions weren’t brilliant due to the effects of a solar coronal hole, but we started off by talking to Ian VK3MO, an amateur near Melbourne, Australia on SSB.

“We then went on to make contacts with other radio enthusiasts all over Europe and as far as North Carolina, USA using speech, PSK and Morse code.

“New this year was CW operation on 30m, which proved very effective with long runs into Europe using a new prototype end fed half wave antenna (EFHW). We also had the club IC-7300 running on 40m, which worked well but highlighted a few things we need to check, such as the overload light flashing when the other station was on 30m and we tried to work on 20m.”

“My thanks to everyone who helped on the day and to to Caister Lifeboat for letting us set up the station.”

The equipment used was 100W from an Icom IC-756 Pro3 (30/20m) and Icom IC-7300 (40m). Antennas were a W5GI dipole on 40m and G0KYA's monoband end-fed half-wave verticals for HF.

Thursday 6 April 2017

International Marconi Day, April 22 2017

Saturday 22nd April 2017 is International Marconi Day when stations around the world celebrate the birthday of Guglielmo Marconi.

It is also a good opportunity for you to gain a very nice certificate. All you have to do is work 15 award stations and send in a log extract - you don't need QSL cards.

I shall be helping to run GB0CMS again this year at Caister Lifeboat in Norfolk, UK.

There is short video that looks at the equipment the club used to make 165 contacts in 24 countries on Saturday 30 April 2011. And another for the 2012 event when we made more than 500 contacts.

See and

To help UK stations work the requisite number of IMD stations I have prepared some HF propagation predictions. You can view these online.

You can find out more about IMD at:

Wednesday 29 March 2017

You never know who you might hear on HF!

Colonel Doug Wheelock, KF5BOC
I was tuning around HF today and heard an American accent on 14.275MHz. This was odd as conditions had been really bad because of a geomagnetic storm, complete with a K index of six.

I didn't think there would be much propagation to the US.

Listening carefully it turned out to be Keith RA/WD9GET in Star City, Russia. Keith is a flight surgeon with NASA and was operating the amateur radio station at the cosmonaut/astronaut training centre in Russia.

Before I had a chance to call him he said he was taking a break. That was a shame, but I left the rig running on 14.275.

Ten minutes later RA/KF5BOC came up on the frequency and was calling, so I replied. He was a good 59 on my 40-10m EFHW antenna at about 25feet.

It turned out to be Colonel Doug Wheelock KF5BOC, the International Space Station commander, who is in Russia at the Gagarin Space Centre to help with training. Blow me down!

So Doug and I were able to have a quick chat and I mentioned how I had been involved in the ISS schools contact with UK ESA astronaut Tim Peake. When we finished the pile-up started - big time!

Just shows you never know what you going to come across on HF.

Friday 27 January 2017

A shortened multi-band End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antenna for 80-10m

The 80-10m EFHW
This is a shortened multiband antenna, about 23m long, for 80m-10m that offers low SWR (1.3:1) on 80m and 40m, and below 3:1 on 20, 15 and 10m. The antenna has almost 300kHz bandwidth on 80m between 3:1 SWR points. But performance is down about 8-12db on a dipole on 80m.

This design came from attempts to find an 80m antenna that could fit into a small space. This was because Norfolk Amateur Radio Club likes to take part in the 80m Club Championship (we won in 2016), but many members don't have enough space for a full size (132ft) dipole or the 100-102 feet needed for a G5RV or W5GI antenna.

This antenna lets you get on to 80m in a horizontal distance of about 12m (40ft) when used as an inverted sloper with the apex at 8m, although you'll be down a couple of S points on a dipole. But if the other station is 59+20dB, you'll be about 59 +5 or 10db, so all is not lost!

I take little credit for this as it was outlined in PD7MAA's and IK0IXI's blogs after extensive work on the antenna in the Netherlands. However, there was little on their blogs in terms of its performance or SWR characteristics. Hence this write-up.

Download the 80-10m EFHW antenna guide

Update 29/1/17:
I've updated the guide to look at replacing the coil with a 7MHz trap and also putting the antenna up as an inverted V.  The trap and about 14.2m of insulated wire would improve the 80m performance a little, if you have the space, but possibly at the cost of the 14MHz performance. Surprisingly the MMANA-GAL model suggests the inverted V would be worse for 80m NVIS communication.

Update 09/02/17
I thought I would bite the bullet and took the wire and loading coil off and replaced it with about 130ft of insulated wire. This needs some final tuning, but gives a low SWR across 80 and 40m, and SWRs below 3:1 across the higher bands. The last 20-25 feet had to run along a wooden fence. Performance on 80m was equal to or down 1-2 S pts on the W5GI. Performance on 40m was down quite a bit, perhaps 2-3 S pts.

It appeared to be directional compared with the W5GI (which was at right angles). Equal performance on 20m to Tunisia.

So the performance on 80m was marginally better than the shortened version, but the 40m performance was worse. This was confirmed with WPSR tests. The performance on 20m was roughly similar. The bands higher than 20m were mostly closed during the test.

I think the compromise position of the 132ft wire didn't help the antenna's performance and I think that overall, the 66ft and loading coil version was better on 40m an higher.. If you could get the whole wire in the clear you might better results.

Monday 9 January 2017

HF and solar conditions continue to decline

I've now updated my hourly HF propagation charts for the UK for the next three months.

The charts, with real time solar information, can be found at
You can definitely see the effects of the current poor solar conditions. As the charts are produced by VOACAP it is suggested we use the smoothed sunspot number (SSN) for the calculations.

In January 2016 the SSN was 44.8, but this month it is just 29.2. In fact, the actual daily sunspot number is even lower than this at around zero to 11 with a solar flux index in the low 70s.

Given that at sunspot minimum we wouldn't expect the solar flux index to drop below 66 you can see that we are very close to the kind of conditions we can expect over the next few years.

NASA says the current sunspot cycle is the smallest since cycle 14, which had a maximum smoothed sunspot number of 107.2 in February of 1906.

The current prediction for sunspot cycle 24 (this one) gives a smoothed sunspot number maximum of about 101 in late 2013.

The next sunspot minimum is currently predicted to occur around 2019-2020.

The solar maximum for cycle 25 is predicted to be around 2025, possibly with a monthly smoothed maximum sunspot number of around 60-65. If true, this is almost down to Dalton Minimum levels.

What we are seeing is that the ionosphere is currently struggling to regularly open up to DX at frequencies much higher than about 18MHz. Around the UK we are even finding 40m (7MHz) closing to inter-G contacts by early afternoon, if it opens at all.

This means that 80m (3.5MHz) and 60m (5MHz) are coming into their own, although both are struggling with inter-G contacts by late afternoon.

A succession of coronal holes and their associated high-speed solar wind streams are also causing disruption to the ionosphere. While these are typical of this point in the sunspot cycle they are generally not helping DX at all.

This week's high K indices have been caused by such a hole, although the solar wind has mostly had a north-facing Bz field, which is less likely to couple with the Earth's magnetic field, and we have't seen the very high K indices that indicate severe auroral conditions.

Lastly, readers might be interested in a new HF propagation tool based on the ITU's ITURHFPROP software and developed by Gwyn G4FKH. The URL is

The 'Area Coverage' predictions have been available for some time, but a new Point-to-Point prediction tool is now available. Clicking on the link starts the process, when the form is filled out a series of plots are available depicting propagation between the required Tx. and Rx. sites.

New features include various colour schemes for the plots allowing users with colour preferences to make the best viewing choice for themselves.

Steve G0KYA

Monday 2 January 2017

Some Christmas QRP HF operating

Elecraft K1 on 40m QRP frequency.
The period from Christmas to the New Year is traditionally the time for the GQRP “ Winter Sports”.

I don't take this too seriously as there are plenty of other calls on my time, but it is an opportunity to get on the air and work a few stations with 5W CW or 10W SSB.

This year got off to a good start with a contact on 23rd December with SK6SAQ at Grimeton in Sweden – home to the Alexanderson alternator that puts out a 200kW signal on 17.2kHz.

SAQ also has a special event callsign so it was good to get operator Kjell in the log using 5W from a Yaesu FT-991 into an outside EFHW. I really must visit Grimeton one day.

I also dragged out my Bencher paddle as I was sending some awful Morse with my Kent single lever I think I was getting key bounce so will have to take a closer look. The Bencher was fine, which was good news.

After Christmas I turned to my Elecraft K1, which I finished in the summer after owning the kit for about 12 years!

This brought CW QSOs with Peter OM0WR in the Slovak Republic on 7.029MHz with 5W into my loft-mounted zig-zag dipole.

The YT160TESLA QSL card.
Then it was YT160TESLA on 20m celebrating 160 years since the birth of Nikola Tesla in Serbia. I really want their QSL card which looks great and worked them on 40m in March. As they went QRT at the end of 2016 it really was a last chance.

I have an Icom IC-7300 on test, which belongs to my local club and that brought 9A1700SBD in Dubrovnik, Croatia, although it took 25W to get through.
The view across the rooftops of Dubrovnic, Croatia.

2016 was the 1700th anniversary of St. Blaise, patron saint of Dubrovnik – if you ever get the chance to go there, do as it is absolutely beautiful.

Station LZ463PP then went in the log with 10W from the IC-7300 and a W5GI dipole on 17m SSB, so still QRP. It was celebrating 463 years of Saint Patapii.

Finally I had a nice (but weak) QSO with Ian EA7JUK in Lubrin, Spain on 20m CW using 5W from the K1 and an indoor dipole. Ian's UK call is G0WHX.

The Reverse Beacon Network proved everything was working!
Sunday 2nd January marks the QRPARCI New Year's Day Sprint, but I really didn't expect to hear anything from the US due to rotten HF conditions. If I do I'll update the blog!

So, I heard a lot more stations than I worked, but I had fun – which is what it is all about.