How to Make Contacts (Part 3)

Part 3

In this section, I will get into how to make contacts. This isn’t how to make easy contacts. If the last two guides were 1/5 or 2/5, this will be 2/5 and 3/5. This will require some specialized equipment that isn’t apart of a “beginner” amateur radio kit. You may need a specialized antenna, a higher end HT/base radio, or waiting for certain conditions.

Linear Satellites

Linear satellites are similar to FM satellites with the exception that they run SSB. This means you need a radio that can run SSB on 2 m and 70 cm. The same antenna can be used as FM birds, but you may need an adapter for it to plug into your radio. A common radio for this is the FT-818, which includes a battery for being portable, and BNC connectors since it is a QRP radio. As you know, I’m not a QRP fan, but satellites do not require much power. With linear birds, you actually want to run the least amount of power as possible as they can be overloaded. There are exceptions. It is best to run less than 10 W. There are a lot of linear birds that you can work. Looking at the AMSAT frequency chart shows more linear than FM. Having SSB also allows multiple QSOs to happen at once. Just find a spot and call CQ. Yes, you can call CQ on a linear bird. You still have to adjust for doppler on a linear bird, which you can do using software. Also, check your send and receive as they are usually on different sidebands.

The nice part about linear birds is their workable bandwidth. There is a lot of space open to work contacts, meaning pileups are less of an issue. It also requires a little more equipment than an HT and a Yagi. Because of this, the barrier to entry on linear birds is higher, meaning that it will weed out some people. This also leads to a struggle when first starting. Working a linear bird requires, at minimum, a radio that can run SSB split and a Yagi. I know it doesn’t sound like much more than working an FM bird, but SSB radios are around $400+, depending on the model. The FT-818 mentioned early sits around $550. This is quite a bit more expensive than a typical HT, at around $100 for a decent model. You could get two HTs, two runs on 10 ft coax, two sets of adapters, headphones, a yagi, and a mic for the cost of the FT-818.

Looking around, most people are not running the FT-818. A lot are running higher end radios. Icom makes the IC-9700, a dedicated VHF/UHF radio. Why would one buy a $1,500 radio that only does VHF/UHF? Because of satellites. There are other uses, like doing troposphere ducting, but the IC-9700 has a satellite mode. How do you operate this outside? You don’t. You and the radio stay indoors. You have a Yagi mounted on an antenna rotator, which tracks satellites across the sky and points your antenna right at it. All of this is controlled by software, which does doppler for you. This makes working a satellite just like working a repeater. It takes a lot of the guess work out of it. This is an ideal setup. What I just described would set you back over $2000, if you can find items at the right price. Is it possible to make a linear contact without all of this? Yes, I do it all the time. John Brier, who runs the YouTube channel Space Comms, has a great video over working a linear satellite using a minimal setup. All of my linear contacts are made using a minimal setup. I drag my FT-991A outside and plug it into an outdoor outlet using an extension cord. I use an adapter to plug my Yagi into the radio and work them like that. It works. Does it make my contacts worth more because I do everything by hand? No. For some, they can’t move their equipment or may lack the strength to hold a Yagi for an entire pass. Although the Arrow II is a lightweight antenna, it feels like lifting Thor’s hammer at the end of a pass.

Tropospheric Ducting

This is a little more advanced but something that almost any ham can do with their current equipment. Tropospheric ducting is using the troposphere to extend propagation ranges on VHF, and UHF, signals. This is what allows for most VHF distance records, outside of EME and meteors. Tropo can allow for signals to travel hundreds of miles or more. There are videos of guys having casual conversations using tropo on VHF and they are in different states. One guy was in his garage on an HT. As with anything, individual results may vary.

This isn’t something you can do every day. The conditions have to be right, making it limited. This is usually open in April-May and starts to fade around September. There are ways to check if conditions are right. You can look at clouds and the weather to see if the conditions will support it. An easier way is to use websites to check. One website lists general conditions. The other website uses APRS signals to make a real time map. Both are good. When conditions open up, just listen to the 2 m FM calling frequency (146.520). This doesn’t mean that you will get a hold of anyone, but once word starts to spread, more people will be calling out. Another common mode is FT8, though it requires am SSB VHF transceiver that can also do data. This can extend your range since it is a weak signal mode.

Disclaimer. I have never made a contact using tropospheric ducting. This is something that I’ve actively tried for. I’ve used both APRS and FM voice but have failed to make a contact. As you know, APRS is a struggle in my area since we do not have a reliable iGate so verifying signal propagation for my is difficult.

6 Meter 50 MHz

I saved this one for last for no particular reason. Yes, this can also apply to 10 m, but I will cover that in the next post. This is sometimes called The Magic Band, but there is nothing magical about it. I guess if you understanding of technology is limited than anything can appear magical. The 6 m band acts like a hybrid between HF and VHF. The distance isn’t as great as HF, but it isn’t as short as VHF. There is some cool stuff you can do with this band. I’ve heard stories of when there is high sunspot activity, guys have conversations on 6 m FM that sounds like they are using a repeater but they are hundred of miles away. The 6 m band is nice because the antennas are not stupid big, meaning you can also have a mobile antenna that isn’t super massive. I use a 6 m dipole that is small enough that it can be taken down and go portable in less than a few minutes.

Why am I bringing up 6 m over the HF bands? Technician license holders have full privileges on 6 m, just like with 2 m. This could be that first step a tech could take before jumping headfirst into getting General or Amateur Extra. It does require some equipment, as with anything. You will need a radio that can handle 6 m, which can be identified by looking at the antenna connector. Most will label it as HF/50 Mhz. It is usually separate from the VHF/UHF antenna connector, if your radio has both. You can also just look it up on Google. The radios are a little more expensive. Most antennas can be DIY, or you can purchase one. I’m not very crafty so I purchased one off eBay and it works well. You can get a dipole or a vertical. Remember to check the size of the vertical. Most are going to be half wave, meaning they are 3 m tall (about 13 ft). Use yourself as a height comparison for how tall that is. Remember that you need coax for it too. Pick the option best for how you will mount it. If you have HOA rules for antennas, you might want to go with a dipole in your attic. A high mounted vertical will give you better range but might become damaged with wind. You could get crafty and put a vertical up stealth like. I will talk more about this in a post addressing HOAs and antennas.

Conclusions

These are a little more complex in that they require specific solutions or conditions to work. They would make a great addition to any amateur radio operator’s tool kit. This is a way to extend your range. Other than linear birds, a repeater isn’t involved. Just timing and equipment. In the case of tropo, you may already have the equipment.

Thank you for reading. Remember to follow on social media to keep up with everything. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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