Provided by David Immell KE4EW
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM OUR HF AMATEUR RADIO BANDS!
A GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF EACH HAM BAND
(Check Band Charts for mode/frequency allocations)
Amateur Radio Band Characteristics
This band is actually a Medium Frequency band but normally is considered a part of the High Frequency amateur spectrum. Even though it is at the bottom of the amateur band listings, it is sometimes referred to as “top band”. A neighbor to the AM Broadcast band just slightly higher in frequency,160 has very similar conditions to what you hear with an AM Broadcast, quite localized during the day, with long distance capability at night. During the summer months the long distances at night can be several hundred miles and during the winter it can be several thousand miles. Noise created by static crashes hinder communications in the summer months but 160 is very quiet during the winter! With the lack of atmospheric noise this band is pleasant to explore. Because of the large antennas required for operating 160, it isn’t a band for everyone. But, if you do have the real estate for low frequency antennas, 160 can be a fun and interesting band.
80 Meters is very similar to 160 meters but with greater distances and is also considered a nighttime band. 80 tends to be a very reliable band, less subject to variations of the sunspot cycle and is used a lot for regular net operations and message handling and “local rag chewing”. Again, it too can be very noise prone to summer static but quiet in the winter. You will likely meet and make some very good friends with the “local” gang that hang out here. Various states and groups seem to frequent a particular frequency so tune around.
5.332 – 5.405 MHz.
Not actually a “Ham Band” but a cluster of 5 frequencies or channels shared with Government users. Many restrictions apply to technical requirements of ham transmitters and antennas. Operation is limited to USB voice and 50 watts maximum output. Hams are secondary users of this band, not primary, so we must yield to interference problems with Government stations. 60 meters is much like 80 and 40 meters.
This is many hams’ favorite band. It is always open somewhere. During the summer daytime distances of 300-400 miles and night time distances of 1000 miles are very common. Winter days with 500 miles or more are usual and night time conditions bring DX intercontinental communications. This band is shared with short-wave broadcasts from countries outside of North America. Between these interfering signals, a ham with a reasonable station can work stations worldwide. It is not as affected by the sunspot cycle as 20 – 10 meters. Many nets frequent 40 meters both day and night.
A lot like 40 meters but is limited to CW and digital modes. Power is limited to 200 watts output. With no broadcast interference, the band has slightly longer range than 40 meters. Daytime ranges of 1000 miles are quite common. 30 meters is a popular band for QRPers.
Just about all of the serious DXers hang out on 20 meters! This can be a VERY exciting band with some of the best DX found on any band. Around the world daytime communications are generally possible and when the sunspot cycle is peaking, 20 can be used around the clock. However, it is not likely to be used for short-range communications. The only way to work someone a few hundred miles away would be scatter or possibly “long path”. Ground wave signals of about 50-75 miles might be all you would expect. At the bottom of the sunspot cycle, openings to other continents are short, rare and few and far between!
Band conditions are very similar to 20 meters. This seems to be a very popular band when hams go mobile and lots of fun can be expected. You will meet some of the finest Hams in the world on 17 meters. A very cordial band!
A lot like 20 meters but a bit more unpredictable. More influenced by the sunspot cycle. Much less night time activity than 20 meters but at the peak of the sunspot cycle,15 can provide much greater distances! On the down side, at the bottom of the cycle, 15 may not open for days.
Very heavily influenced by the sunspot cycle. At the bottom of the cycle, it is suitable only for very short distance groundwave communications only, for long periods of time. At the peak of the cycle, it is capable of communications over thousands of miles with a minimum of equipment. Another nice mobile band when conditions are right.
This can be a FUN band, when it is open! This is the HF band most heavily affected by sunspots and the sunspot cycle and it can be erratic and exciting at the same time with lots of DX for the award hunter or just as a fun band to explore and meet up with hams in distant countries. Minimum power and simple antennas can bring you a hundred countries in a short period of time when the sunspot cycle is rising towards the peak. Five watts, or even less, can pull in a contact half way around the world. Ground wave coverage is 25 miles or so. Numerous beacon stations exist worldwide for the DX hunter. If you can hear beacons that run very low power on 10 meters, there is an opening to that part of the world – keep listening and trying for that DX!
6 Meters (added by GHW)
The 6-meter band is the lowest portion of the very high frequency (VHF) radio spectrum internationally allocated to amateur radio use. Although located in the lower portion of the VHF band, it nonetheless occasionally displays propagation mechanisms characteristic of the high frequency (HF) bands. This normally occurs close to sunspot maximum, when solar activity increases ionization levels in the upper atmosphere. During the sunspot peak of 2005, worldwide 6 meter propagation occurred making 6 meter communications as good as or in some instances and locations, better than HF frequencies. The prevalence of HF characteristics on this VHF band has inspired amateur operators to dub it the “magic band”.