160m is cool.

“Top band,” “the Gentleman’s Band,” “MF” or whatever you call it, 160 meters is a blast. And it’s surging in popularity, much thanks to Joe Taylor and his weak signal modes. You may have opinions on those modes counting as real radio or not, but your opinion doesn’t really matter. The fact is that more operators than ever are finding 160 and most of them are doing it from city lots!

The true beauty of 160 is that the playing field is pretty level; even the most extensive arrays are still very much compromise systems. Consider for a moment that a true 1/4-wave vertical made out of tower sections is only as effective as it’s radial network. Consider for an additional moment that your wire inverted-L over a more extensive radial field might just smoke that first example.

Nick, K1NZ runs an inverted-L with a single radial, no RX antenna nor amplifier, and works EU on demand with the new FT8 mode. At my current QTH, I’ve worked at least 100 countries with a simple half sloper and a 250′ beverage-on-ground (BOG), primarily on CW. Neither of us are particularly skilled with antenna modeling and both of us face space restrictions.

There’s a lot of information online for anyone looking to get on topband, and plenty of misinformation. Here’s what I’ve learned as it applies to this QTH only (your mileage may vary):

  • Verticals crush dipoles on 160. Crush is the strongest responsible word I can find to use.
  • Elevated radials are better. I found 6-8 played nice with inverted-L type antennas here over the years.
  • Buried radials are less efficient, so you’ll have to use more. The point of diminishing returns at my QTH was 30 evenly-spaced radials slightly buried or on the ground. This agrees with the consensus among various mailing list geniuses.
  • Use an amp. Absorption is very high on 160; the extra dB’s help.
  • Nobody really understands propagation this low, and the best openings may only last a few minutes — VOAcap and similar programs are critical for the serious operator.
  • Immediately at grayline (and ONLY then), my low dipoles outperform my beverages for RX and my verticals for TX. There is no good explanation for it, but ON4UN notes a similar phenomenon.
  • Beverages are cheap; build one if you have the real estate. If you don’t, you should try a BOG. If you don’t have space for that, try a Shared Apex Loop or a K9AY loop. There’s no excuse for being an alligator!
  • Learn CW. Try the JT weak signal modes. Do something new.

See you on topband!




The trough of this solar cycle continues to produce interesting (albeit frustrating) effects. You may remember our struggles during the SPDX contest. This past weekend, amidst the WAE contest, we were treated to an X-class flare and an ensuing three-hour total HF blackout. And I do mean total.

Nick, K1NZ and I headed up to our familiar haunt, the superstation QTH of Dave, K1TTT. For those of you new to this blog (or new to ham radio), Dave is a legend in these parts for building a top-notch contest station but letting others use it. Unfortunately for us, it didn’t matter how big the station was; the conditions were truly awful.

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen conditions this bad before, just never during a contest weekend.” – Dave, K1TTT

Nick and I managed some uneventful runs on Friday night. The money band was 20 right from the get-go, but 40 did manage a gentle opening the first night. We were working only DL’s, something analogous to WAE, but almost all of them had very low serial numbers. So we knew the conditions were global after all.

K1LOL’s screencap of a headphone-less K1NZ summarized the contest. Note the beer.

Dave was experimenting with the new waterfall display in N1MM. Using a separate SDR, we were able to see the band and find holes to run more quickly. Well, we could have probably run anywhere in this one, but I imagine that’s what it would be useful for on a busy weekend. Cool nonetheless!

Jeff, NT1K came up Saturday and stayed into Sunday morning. The overnight was awful; at times we went 30 minutes or more without a single QSO. I sat down and fought KC4AAA’s pileup just to stay awake. At some point, we all went to bed — it was like the antennas were unplugged.

Jeff grabbed the early morning 20 run and had probably the best few hours of the entire contest. I relieved him and was treated to a decent five hours of strong Europeans. When I finally needed relief, Nick sat down and continued. But it wouldn’t last much longer…

Guess what happened on Sunday!

A massive X-class solar flare struck just as things were finally rolling. Nick stopped operating — there was no use. Total HF blackout! The flare was so tremendous that the ensuing proton storm hasn’t yet died down (and it’s Tuesday as I write this). Conditions remained in M-class until the end of the contest, although we did manage another few paltry runs of Europeans.

Sometimes contests are feast-or-famine. This time, it was just famine-or-famine. Join me in a quick prayer for the next sunspot peak.


Call: WA1J
Operator(s): K1NZ N1TA NT1K
Station: K1TTT

Class: M/S HP
Operating Time (hrs): 26
Location: USA

Summary:   Compare Scores
Band QSOs QTCs Mults
80: 9 6 36
40: 130 121 90
20: 813 809 94
15: 3 0 6
Total: 955 920 226 Total Score 422,846

Club: Yankee Clipper Contest Club