First time working 6m

Speaker stand with wooden dowel set up in a yard with an endfed dipole antenna attached to a dowel in the top of the antenna with red paracord extending right out of frame.
6m endfed dipole attached to the portable speaker stand antenna mast.

Hello, long time and no post! Tonight I decided to test out an antenna a friend of mine, K7AJK, let me borrow which also enabled me to make my first attempt to work 6m! This antenna is a Par EndFedz 6m end-fed dipole, and it works on, you guessed it! The 6m (50-54MHz) band. This is my first attempt at working this band, and yet another attempt to make phone (voice) contacts with my Lab599 TX-500, a newer QRP rig which is capable of a maximum transmit power of 10W. With this antenna and band I decided to attempt to use single-sideband (SSB) for my phone contact as most of my digital communications and work use SSB. Since I’m working SSB instead of FM, the antenna should be oriented horizontally to ensure better signal propagation and better changes of making contact with other SSB stations. The kind of propagation I’m going for here is groundwave propagation, meaning I’m attempting to get my signal out over the ground to reach other stations rather than attempting to bounce it off the atmosphere as would be the case with other types of 6m propagation. To get the antenna up and off the ground away from the roof and gutters of the house I set my speaker stand antenna mast up with the “matchbox” end of the antenna connected to some guy wire eyelets on the dowel portion of the mast, and the other end attached to a post coming up from some raised garden beds. This got the antenna about 9-10′ off the ground and away from the gutters which is fine for a test run.

Lab599 TX-500 radio powered up and tuned to 50.125 MHz sitting on a chair arm along a microphone.
QRP radio tuned to the 6m calling frequency.

A good place to start when attempting to make contacts on a specific band is to choose that band’s calling frequency, or at least a region of the band that others using the mode you’ve chosen are likely to be. For 6m SSB the calling frequency is 50.125MHz, in the bottom half of the band. I use this handy chart by iCOM to keep track of what regions are used by operators, and to understand specific frequencies that have specific uses such as SSTV and calling frequencies. I parked on the 6m SSB calling frequency and called a few times with no answer. I enlisted the help of Kevin, K7AJK to see if he could use any antenna and tune his radio to the calling frequency. As I asked him to do that another station in Vancouver, WA that was about 10 miles away came in running 50W. As I began a QSO with the other station at 5W K7AJK’s station got the brunt of the power as it was nearby. Fortunately he had his attenuator on and even with a vertically polarized antenna it swamped the receiver. As that was happening I was able to drop power to 1W and then raise it to 2.5W. The station in WA was still able to read me at lower power levels, albeit I was scratchy. That bodes pretty well none the less. The radio also drew less than 1A at 5W of transmit power as measured with a Buddipole PowerMini that I hooked up. The radio drew about 0.13A receiving only.

Zoomed out view of a radio sitting on a chair arm connected to a 12v battery and a 12v USB phone charger.
QRP radio operating on a 12AH battery with an additional phone charger connected.

Operating from a park for a couple hours

After a bit of a posting hiatus I thought I’d post a bit about some impromptu radio operation from a park on a fairly sunny weekend day. My partner had a meeting with some folks in our pod in Ladd’s Addition, a Portland neighborhood with a central park so I decided to set up my portable radio station and do some UHF/VHF work locally to see who I could reach from said park. The station I brought is based on a Kenwood TM-V71A and fits in a single bag along with a battery and a 20W folding solar panel. This is essentially the same setup I’d use for emergency communications with a larger antenna or solar panel.

Roll-up J-Pole antenna hung in a rose bush
Ed Fong roll up j-pole deployed in bush
A radio sitting on top of a backpack connected to a solar charger, solar panel, and battery.
Portable UHF/VHF radio and power setup.

I ended up putting my modified Ed Fong DBJ-1 roll-up j-pole antenna in a large rose bush and hooking it up to my TM-V71A, and hooking the battery, solar panel, and charge controller up. I started operating at medium power (10W) and was able to reach Roger, W7RC, in Battleground, WA without issue on the 2M calling frequency (146.520MHz). This is pretty typical as he runs a beam antenna with the capability of transmitting at 1.5KW and is something of a local fixture. He reported me coming in with full quieting at 10W, and when I dropped to 5W (low power) he heard me with a little static. I also made some additional contacts including one in the Council Crest area: Ed, WB2QHS. He was out for a walk with an HT and we were able to talk with perfect clarity and then some static as he moved around with me running 5 and 10W. His elevated position helped facilitate communications. In about 2.5 hours I used somewhere around 1.3Ah of battery power, but was able to recharge the battery completely from the solar panel by the time I left. Not bad! The radio draws about 0.6A idling, and the solar panel charged at a maximum rate of ~1.1A in more intense sunlight. When I was transmitting at 10W the radio drew ~5A and at 5W ~3.5A. All these power figures are as measured by my Buddipole Power Mini. The current model features a USB port where the one I’m running doesn’t. I should also mention I topped up my phone charge from the battery as well.

If the solar panel provides more power than is required for the radio’s operation and the battery is charged the radio doesn’t draw from the battery. In the event the solar panel isn’t providing enough power to cover the radio’s power needs it dips into the battery, and when the radio consumes less power than the solar panel provides the battery is charged with spare current.

Closed backpack on the groud with a folded solar panel in the attached cargo net.
UHF/VHF setup packed up in a single backpack.

As shown above the whole station packs into my backpack without issue. Were I not on call for my job and carrying a hotspot and laptop there would be some additional room in the bag.

Diagram depicting a solar panel and battery attached to a controller, the controller to a radio, and a radio to an antenna.
Portable radio station block diagram depicting the connections between various station components.