As I approach 70, it’s time to look back at my radio life through solar cycles. I have enjoyed my hobby through five cycles, and hope to get a bit of joy from the sixth.
If you enjoy ham radio or shortwave listening, then you understand the importance of sunspot activity. More sunspots, more and better high frequency propagation. You have heard about the 11 year ebb and flow of solar activity, which has been going on forever.
Just for fun, I thought I would measure my life through solar cycles. I started my radio hobby in 1965. I have experienced fifty five years of high frequency ups and downs across five solar cycles, as shown above.
Unfortunately, I missed the wonderful and best recent Cycle number 19, which ended just before I flipped on the radio switch for the first time. When I was first licensed in 1967, Cycle 20 was just taking off. I rode the novice wave with simple radios and antennas for a few years. Then, I experienced the declining propagation using the wonderful University of Manitoba Amateur Radio Society station VE4UM.
In 1976, I got married and bought my first house, followed immediately by my first 50′ tower and tri-band beam. Cycle 21 was pretty good to me for a few years. But, by 1980 I started moving around western Canada and began a family. My frequent moves and growing family led to a decline in ham radio activity over the following fifteen years. Essentially, I missed all of Cycle 22.
During the mid 1990’s, I had time to get re-interested in radio listening. I bought an ICOM IC-728 transceiver and a used NRD-535D receiver, to accompany my long-held Racal RA17 boat anchor. Antennas emerged as a low 100′ dipole and R7 vertical – neither very good – but I was back on the air in time to ride Cycle 23. More recently, I put up another tower on a hill, but unfortunately Cycle 24 proved disappointing, with very little propagation above 20 meters.
My Life Through Solar Cycles – Looking Ahead
Sadly, I will wind down my life through solar cycles with one of the worst. Cycle 25, just starting, promises nothing good for HF propagation. You can expect it as the weakest in 200 years. Most of my DX listening will be relegated to below 15 MHz, at best.
Low sunspot activity is especially bad for those of us located in western Canada. Mainly, because we are so far away from the action in Europe and Asia, requiring multiple hop propagation. On the other hand, my experiments with wideband amplified loop antennas have reinforced that these antennas work better on the lower frequencies. Also, I find they work well to reduce local RFI in the neighborhood, compared to “real” antennas.