Bill's "Technician" Adventure
Bill got his novice ticket way back in the winter of '61. In those days it was only good for a year, so he upgraded to conditional in 1962. Conditional, for those of you who don't recall the times, was the same as a "general class", with the exception that the exam was given by a volunteer examiner, rather than by an FCC employee. The option was open only to those who lived so far from a designated examination station that travel constituted a hardship.
Bill had quite a bit of fun with radio in those days (he was a high school student then) and rather fondly recalls tracking stations with the fine tuning knob of his SX-99 - the old girl drifted a bit - in his left hand, while his right held a pencil to jot down the conversation. He would usually be on AM during daylight hours, but reverted to CW at night, when the skip came in. Most of the time, he frequented 80 meters - but would occasionally move up to 40 or even 15.
Later, college and then graduate school consumed so much of his time that he couldn't meet the activity criteria for renewal, so he had to let the license lapse.
45 years later, the radio bug bit again - Bill took the technician exam, got a fresh new ticket (these days, it's good for 10 years, and there are NO activity requirements at renewal) and used the "vanity" system to retrieve his old call sign.
Examining his home, the mature surrounding trees represented substantial attenuation to UHF and even VHF frequencies, so Bill selected the longest wavelength open to him - 6 meters - as a place to start. Aesthetic considerations and a taste for simplicity limited his antenna to a little two element phased array, equipped with a simple "TV" rotator and hoisted about 18 feet.
As this view from the antenna position shows, such a modest height got it over most of the clutter - but it would have to be three times as high to be completely free from obstructions. Construction ease, wind loading concerns, and freedom from lightning trumped takeoff angle and raw gain.
Bill went back "on the air" again on 01/01/07, with a little Kenwood TS-60 transceiver. The astute reader will notice that this was near the bottom of the sunspot cycle! He talked to himself for the first week - just a digital signal chirping here and there - with no voice (SSB, AM, or FM) to be found. Then the band simply exploded one evening, and Bill's first contact in over 4 decades - and his first ever 6 meter QSO - was over a 1,000 mile plus path! He worked four states that day, with his best DX spanning 1,850 miles. A day later, he was only able to raise only a ham 9 miles away, and then it was back to listening to static.
Sporadic E is just what the name implies, sporadic! With only 6 contacts to show for two months of 6 meter operation, Bill went back to the books, headed for the familiar comfort of far lower frequencies. His hat's off to those dedicated "Magic Band" operators, who persist and wring what they can out of this never easy, often frustrating, yet occasionally exciting HF/VHF borderland.