RBN is a great tool but sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story
Since it's the second weekend of the month I got on the air to make SKCC WES contacts. The SKCC Weekend Sprint is great fun because it's a slow paced, friendly, pseudo contest for SKCC members. There's even a page that you can schedule a contact with another SKCC member if you're needing their state, grid square, another Senator, whatever. Well, this post isn't really about the SKCC WES other than to give it a plug that it's super fun for both those new to CW and old-timers as well wanting a slow paced alternative to high pressure contests. And no one gets mad at you for using a bug.
I like to use RBN to determine if I'm getting out on a band before I spend too much time sending my call. I find an open frequency, send my QRL? a couple of times and then send my call. If no one responds I take a look at the RBN report.
|RBN spot search for AA4OO|
I was working SKCC members on 20m because I've worked all the nearby states and it was not giving me great results. Everyone seemed a bit in the noise which isn't unexpected given the current lousy band conditions. So I opened up RBN to look for spots from AA4VV who is a spotting station within about 50miles of me. Looking at a nearby spotting station using RBN DE spot versus DX spot shows you what they are hearing from all the bands they cover and it showed activity up on 15m. Other spotting stations were even seeing traffic on 10m today.
10 meters? In this lousy part of the solar cycle?
So I hopped up to the CW portion using my mighty attic doublet and heard a bunch of stations sending CQ at 27 - 35 wpm. Well, they likely were not SKCC dudes since even the SKCC bug operators usually stay below 23wpm. I found an open frequency and sent my call out a few times and no one responded. I checked RBN and it only showed one spot for me up in Wisconsin with a lousy 5db over noise report. No one was going to hear me that close to noise. But obviously there was a lot of traffic on 10m so I went up to the phone portion of the band around 28350 kHz and heard dozens of operators working a 10m contest. Of course this wasn't the SKCC WES but I responded to a couple of them and what do you know, they heard me, and in most cases I didn't have to repeat my call or my state report. Now most contesters don't take the time to give an honest signal report and I received 59 from all of them except a couple of the more laid back operators giving honest reports, but the point was I was getting out on 10m just fine. There was a station who was only S5 to me for whom I had to repeat my call and state about half a dozen times to complete the contact.
So why didn't I get any love from RBN spotting stations when I was obviously getting out well on 10m? I don't have an answer. Maybe many of the RBN spotters have stopped monitoring 10m. 10m wasn't flying as far as it normally would as I was making contacts with stations in MI, WI, OK, and AR. I was hearing stations in UT but they were very weak. I only made one DX contact in Mexico, but the band was open for my station. I was using my attic doublet which is about 68 feet long. I've tried modeling it but I'm not too practiced with the modeling tool, but what I have modeled estimated that on 10m I may get 9-12 db of gain in some directions which I'm guessing accounts for the strength of my signal on SSB.
RBN and other spotting tools don't necessarily always tell the whole story. Just because you aren't getting spots doesn't mean you aren't getting out. I had to quit shortly after making a dozen SSB contacts on 10m but next time I'll be more diligent and try to schedule some SKCC contacts on 10m when I'm hearing stations from their region, no matter what the RBN is telling me. I'm still missing some SKCC operators on the west coast and up in Alaska. Given the lousy state of the solar cycle I'm unlikely to get them on the lower bands so I'll keep an eye out for when 15m or 10m opens up.
The band conditions may be very poor right now but radio is still magic.
That's all for now
So lower your power and raise your expectations