I’ve been wanting to start this for months, but today’s the day. It’s ugly, 39 degrees, overcast and windy. Good day for indoor projects.
My net logs are hand-written in a big spiral notebook. I started them back in late June of 2008. The first one was the 144.250 SSB Badger Contesters net on Wed’s. (www.badgercontesters.org All are welcome to join, no dues or obligations. Follow the instructions on the main page, and after that, if you need help, contact me.) That net has remained unchanged — 8:30pm start.
I soon added a 146.49 FM net, which QSY’d to 146.43 a few months later. That one started at 8:30pm until about a month ago, and now it’s at 8:00pm. About the same time I added the 146 FM net, I also started a separate Wed. net on 144.240 SSB, only for areas to my SW, W, NW and N. I do multiple nets because I want as many check-ins as possible. The only way I’ll keep my interest up is if we keep finding new ones, and covering more and more territory. Many VHF’ers will improve their stations and their range if they know it’s worth it. More than a few of the FM’ers have added gear and horizontal antennas for SSB operations.
Today, I’ve been trying to figure out just how many unique callsigns have checked in to the nets. Combined SSB and FM. I’ll break them down separately later.
From June 2008 to April 2009, I have 251 unique check-ins to all nets. I’ll dig further tonight, and try to finish up the April-October 2009 logs. The numbers are higher now because I added another net to cover IND/OH/MI back about August. Numbers will also continue to grow because now we’ve added WB9LYH as a net control, and the combination of him being new, plus being so strong adds interest for those who may have grown tired of hearing me. We probably have 350-400 check-ins by now.
I started these nets mostly out of frustration, to be honest. I saw local activity go downhill in 2007 and early 2008, based on local contest results. I still love the V/UHF contests first and foremost. I also was growing tired of hearing so many veteran VHF’ers say how much the bands have gone downhill. (Remember that I first got on in late 2003, so I don’t know about “The Good ol’ Days”)
I then thought about how I really only got on the air for contests and big band openings. I saw how many of the contest stations I worked were like me. I decided to be a better VHF/UHF citizen by promoting activity on a weekly basis, regardless of propagation. Am I glad I made that move! Another benefit has been vastly improved activity in contests. So many new rovers and fixed stations the past 12 months. I did my first VHF contest in Sept. 2003, and had to figure out 80-90% of it on my own. If you’ve been with this website for some time, you know I try very hard to take the mystery out of V/UHF contesting. If you are contest curious, ask me for help. We have until January to get you comfortable. A V/UHF contest is still the single-most exciting time to be on the air, in my opinion.
I honestly didn’t know how well the nets would work. Strongly suspected that if I relied on word of mouth, we wouldn’t get that much variety. So I started emailing reminders, right off the bat. As time has gone by, I’ve emailed more and more, to different groups in different areas. Without the email, I doubt we’d have 1/3 the check-ins. If a few dozen motivated guys across a wide area made sure that every general-purpose ham club received weekly info about weak-signal V/UHF, we would have dozens of new guys on, within a year. A few hours per month of promotion goes a long, long ways!
The main benefit I get from doing emailing and the nets is this: I can look anyone in the eye and assure them that there are MANY V/UHF’ers still out there. Way more than I would have ever thought. Knowing that keeps me going. If I had found out the news was bad, I would have given up by now.
I’ve even run into a few guys who assure me that nobody is on weak-signal (SSB) VHF. I respond that you need to know when/where to look. We also need to do a way better job of networking. We’re so isolated, and it doesn’t have to be that way. It would be great if the bands were very busy every night and weekend. If that were the case, I wouldn’t do nets — it wouldn’t be necessary. I still hope we can get the bands that busy, but we’re nowhere near that goal. So we all do what we can, when possible. With 222 Tuesdays, with the 144 nets on Wednesdays, and with the FM simplex net on Thursdays. Also with getting guys into that www.on4kst.com 144-432 MHz chat, so you can see with your own eyes who all gets on during an activity night. If/when we get 50-100 guys in multiple grids and states into the chat, activity will take off because you’ll be able to directly ask a guy “hey, let’s try making a contact.” Instead of wasting a few hours of your precious time calling CQ blindly into a mostly dead band.
I can now assure new guys to weak-signal VHF that if you have at least a modest beam, up 30-60′, fed with decent coax, and you’re running 50-100 watts, you will work out to 150-200 miles with average conditions. I’m actually being conservative there. I make comments in my net logs, and I see multiple instances of guys with 7-12 el yagis, with 5, 6 el quads, who are working me on 200-300 mile paths, just about any time they check in. These guys are not usually S7 or S9, no. Often, they’re S1 or S2. Headphones are necessary for me to really hear 30-40% of them. But they are out there, and they’re getting more involved every week. That’s a great feeling. ( I need to add that if you absolutely cannot put up a beam, then at least get a horizontal loop up, preferably stack 2 of them for an additional 3db of gain. I worked a ton of guys in my first contest ever, with just stacked loops up 30-40′ and 100 watts on 6 and 2 meters. Here’s my writeup, if you don’t believe me — read it http://lists.contesting.com/pipermail/vhfcontesting/2003-September/003001.html
Do I still have new goals and ideas? Oh yeah. I’ll share those more now that we’re heading into winter. I’ll also talk about many of the good things that are already happening. If we want to keep moving forward, we’re going to need some guys to step up and help. Guys that are willing to use their stations to swing away from the nets and call for relays in all directions would make a huge difference, as we go thru winter. If you’re that guy, let me know, and we’ll discuss it.
Keep spreading the word. Tell hams about 222.100 SSB/CW and 223.5 FM Tuesdays, the 144 SSB Wednesdays, and the 146 FM on Thursdays. Do your own part to increase participation. Encourage a buddy or two to get on. Tell your club about what you’re doing. Let hams know about this website. Start your own net. It can be anything you want. We need nets on different nights, or weekends, in different regions. I’m talking to all VHF’ers in a 600-mile radius with that comment. Don’t think all I care about is WI/ILL/MI/IN/MN/IA. Those areas I can reach already. It’s time to look beyond my 200-400 mile radius. Dream a little bit.
Our nets here may honestly get so busy that it’ll be hard to work 40, 50, 60 guys in a few hours. The solution? Spread out. Go off the net freq. and call CQ. Swing your beams around and look in unusual places. There’s enough guys getting on now that this is feasible. You’ve heard me say this before. Enough said. Back to going thru the net logs.