First Top Band activation

Way back in 1999 I was fortunate to be in a good location to experience the otherworldly effect of a full solar eclipse, I hoped that this year’s partial event would be similar.

I did not have any particular plans to activate Friday, the weather forecasts during the week were not promising for the morning. However on Thursday the BBC were predicting that there may be a band of clear weather across the Midlands providing the best opportunity to “see” the eclipse.

I was partially aware that there was a propagation experiment on Top Band to see if there was any enhancements during an eclipse event but did not really take much notice because of my lack of planning and no antenna!

So with Friday morning possibly going to be ok I alerted an activation for Walton Hill (G/CE-002) on 80m. I have not used 80m for quite a while for an activation mostly due to the poor daylight propagation of this band during sunspot maximum (40m had taken over as the intra-UK band) and the physical size of an efficient antenna. Late in the evening I updated my alert to include 40 and 60m and finally 160m as a side note; I really didn’t expect to hear much on Top Band.

Now I was in a quandary, 80/60/40 was easily taken care of with my big fan dipole (which had been stored away) but what to use on 160m? A while ago I built a 160m centre-loaded vertical which I took out on a summit once and foolishly forgot a connector so it was never used. It did cross my mind to take it out but I expected the summit to get busy and I was already going to be spreading myself out with one big antenna!

A couple of years ago I picked up a MFJ-16010 “long-wire” tuner at a rally and wondered if it would “tune” the fan dipole? I had two thoughts, one was to feed the end of one of the 80m legs and “short” the dipole connector, no idea if it would actually work. The other idea was to “strap” the end of the feeder and use it as a very short “Marconi” with a very large capacity hat which is what I tried.

Walton Hill is a very easy hill to activate, car parking is just below the summit and it is a gentle walk up a bridal path to the ridge. On the summit is a trig-point and if you approach from the north (the easy way) just beyond the trig is a large grassy area more than big enough for antennas.

I will admit that going out Friday morning was to view the eclipse with radio as an add-on and knowing I would qualify it without an issue on one of the bands I would use (I was taking an amp!) but I really didn’t expect what transpired.

When I arrived at the car park there were only two other cars so the summit was going to be quiet for a while. The walk to the summit was in bright morning sunshine the forecast for a clear day was spot on. I had alerted for 8am so had plenty of time to set up the antenna and do a little experimenting. I used the fence at the top of the grassy area near the trig-point as an anchor point for one of the 80m dipole legs and arranged the other 3 over the summit. A quick “SWR” check showed the antenna was good to go on 80 and 40m so now to see if it would at least load on 160m. My hastily constructed patch lead was connected between the feeder and the tuner, a counterpoise was added and after a quick carrier a good match showed with very little adjustment; I had built a very big dummy load! However tuning to the CW end of the band I was hearing signals at a good strength. I discovered that the SWR rose quickly each side of a tuned frequency, a good sign that the system might be working as an antenna; a very wide flat SWR is not.

Fan dipole looking from one end of the 80m leg

I began the activation on 80m just before 8am with Andy (G8MIA) being the first to be logged. Today I decided it was going to be a relaxed activation, enjoy the summit, the weather and the eclipse and not run in “contest mode”, taking time to chat and pass the time of day. 15 minutes later and the first summit to summit was logged with Mark (G0VOF) on Easington Fell (G/SP-012). At 8.45am I decided to try 160. My first call elicited a reply with a very strong signal from a station just down the road from my home town of Kidderminster, so some signal was radiating: my very first contact logged from a SOTA summit on Top Band. Soon after Mark (VOF) still on Easington Fell replied to my calls (my first S2S) followed by Adrian (G4AZS) on Callow Hill (G/WB-015). Two more contacts followed and I had unexpectedly qualified on Top Band and on ssb to boot! I did try calling a number of stations that were calling CQ but was unable to get replies, one station who was quite strong with me from the north said he was using 400W; my random bit of wire and 50W was never going to get back to him. During the eclipse period I hopped between 80 and 160m but was unable to get anymore contacts on 160. Everyone was either watching the eclipse (as was I) or, as I kept hearing, down in the CW segment where there were at least 10 callsigns I could distinguish including John using GX0OOO/P, a very distinctive call. In hindsight I should’ve taken a key but my confidence in using Morse is very low and I am not very good. I will usually only use it from home if I want a particular summit. Anyone who has been on the end of my poor and very brief sending will concur.

The "shack"

As the time drew towards the event more people arrived to enjoy the spectacle and I hoped that I wasn’t going to spoil anyone’s experience. I always find it magical to see the light change to dusk-like and feel the temperature dip. A number of individuals did come over to me to ask what I was doing and I explained that there was a possibility of enhanced signals during the eclipse. I personally didn’t hear any enhancements of signals on either 80 or 160m and thought that signals were better just before the event started but mine is a very unscientific view with no base level to start from. After quite a lot of fruitless calling I gave up 160 and went back to 80 till just after 10am. All morning the skies had been clear save for the occasional misty patch and I enjoyed the warm spring sunshine. At around 10:15 I decided to try my luck on 40m and then 60. First in my log on 40m was Juerg (HB9BIN/P) on Windwurf (HB/SZ-038) for a nice S2s then followed a nice leisurely run of 16 contacts. Nothing outstanding and well below the number of callers I usually work through on 40 with a big lack of UK stations logged. It appeared that the effect of the big CME a couple of days earlier was still being felt. There was one contact missed and that was a S2S with Steve (G1INK) down in South Wales. Try as I might I could not do the hop. Disappointed I wondered if 60m would also be poor. By now the event had ended and I was once again alone on the summit.

60m was in much better condition than I expected and partly due to my almost negligible noise floor and possibly 50W, a steady stream of contacts found their way into my log even though the time was heading towards midday. Again it was enjoyable to have a chat to almost every contact without feeling that I had to get through people as quickly as possible. I also had a nice surprise with Steve finding me and making the S2S we missed on 40m. In my final hour activating 27 contacts were completed.

I again enjoyed the experience of witnessing a solar eclipse (even if it was only partial). As for an enhancement of signals I cannot truthfully say I noticed. Thinking about it logically the foot print of the eclipse’s shadow is relatively small and travels across the ground reasonably quickly for it to have a significant effect on radio signals. I could be wrong but don’t feel I am. The lower bands are a reasonable challenge at this part of the sunspot cycle so I probably won’t be venturing down there during the summer months but may be tempted to dig out the big antenna again in the autumn.

160m - 5 including 2 S2S
80m - 25 including 1 S2S
40m – 17 including 1 S2S
60m – 27 including 1 S2S

Equipment used:
Yaesu FT-817
Toyko Hy-Power HL-45B
80/60/40m Fan dipole (feed at 6m)
4000mAh Li-Po batteries

Thanks to all the activators and chasers that helped make a very enjoyable 4 hours on Walton Hill



Hi Carolyn,

A superb report & thank you very much for giving Top Band a try, as things turned out you picked an excellent day for it :slight_smile:

I was a little worried, as were others, that the Eclipse QSO party may swamp the QRO portion of the band with CQWW levels of contest like traffic. In the end, being a weekday, activity levels were quite reasonable & other than finding somehwere to squeeze in using SSB, there was plenty of space to call on CW.

I know you are not a fan of CW, but I’m sure you realise that me, Adrian G4AZS & John G4YSS as fellow activators would have gladly slowed down to whatever speed you are comfortable with to give you a CW QSO. Not having a key may well have made that awkard though, I hope you are not forgetting a key on purpose simply to avoid trying CW :wink:

Your “lash-up” worked extremely well, & I could tell you were surprised with just how well when I gave you 57 to 52 with QSB from G/SP-012 Easington Fell.

I too didn’t really notice any great enhancement on 160m during the eclipse, although provisional data from the experiment does indicate some change. The greatest changes in propagation appear to be below Top Band (Medium wave broadcast frequencies) due to reduced D-layer absorption & on 7MHz & to a lesser extent 5MHz as the F2 critical frequency dipped due to the drop in UV from the Sun. This could explain the difficult NVIS conditions you experienced on 40m, although the geomagnetic activity of the preceeding days may well have been more to blame in my opinion.

Being in a quiet location, completely different from what I have at home, I cannot be certain I was hearing stations I wouldn’t normally hear in a quiet location on 160m at that time in the morning. However, on CW around maximum eclipse I heard stations in DL, OK, ON, F, & IV3. Some where strong, some quite weak, but all fully readable.

Summit to Summit QSO’s on 160m are still very rare, so very well done on your fine tally, & using SSB too!

You may be pleased to hear that I have our Top Band S2S on video, along with those I had with Adrian G4AZS/P & John GX0OOO/P. I will post a link to the video in the Top Band section of this months SOTA news.

Thanks again & best 73,

Mark G0VOF

Absolutely! SOTA activating has improved my CW no end, but I still struggle on occasion, and have always found other activators and chasers to be very forgiving and supportive.

It was good to work you both on SSB anyway :o)

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the day, but Mark’s enthusiasm encouraged me to give it a try, and I will certainly be back on top band from a summit before too long.