Saturday, 24 September, 2005
I've been playing with my HF radio lately, testing out the new 40 meter dipole and seeing how it performs on the different bands. This evening I was working the higher bands. I managed to talk with a station in Japan (JI1TMH) on 17 meters, and later on 15 meters I talked with a guy (ZK1JD) located on the South Cook Islands in the South Pacific and a station (P43E) on the island of Aruba in the Caribbean. In addition, I heard but was unable to work stations in Hong Kong, Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand, Italy, and South Africa. I was unable to work the stations because I couldn't get through the pileup of other stations trying to work them. My puny little 100 watt signal coming off a low dipole just doesn't have the punch to get through on top of a guy running 1000 watts into a directional antenna that focuses most of the power into a very narrow band. I can get through a pileup, but it takes lots of time.
Think about that for a moment: 100 watts. The guy in the Cook Islands was running 100 watts and his signal here was strong and readable, as was mine there. 100 watts is the same amount of power drawn by a common household lightbulb. That much power coming out of my radio and out onto a piece of wire strung above my garage transmits a signal that goes to the other side of the world (Round Rock to South Cook is about 5300 miles). While I was waiting in line to talk to ZK1JD, I heard him talking with a QRP (low power) station in the U.S. That station started with five watts and progressively lowered the power to less than one watt. I was able to hear him until he dropped below three watts, but Jim in Rarotonga heard him even at his lowest power setting.
That's part of what fascinates me about ham radio. It's possible, with very little power and even a modest antenna, to talk very long distances. It just takes a little practice and some patience. The best thing is that I can put it down whenever I want and come back to it tomorrow, next week, or next year. It's a very undemanding hobby.