Saturday, March 11, 2017

Propagation Sanity Check

This morning we received an email from Finland!  It's always nice to hear from our "neighbors" across the north pole.  I know we share a common bond when it comes to tough propagation.

Hello, Sirs.
It is quite foolish to ignore JT65 spotter on.
The whole of Europe called on you.

None of the answer does not come from there.

OH4SS, Matti

I was certainly sorry to miss the opening.  

So it would seem Matti is implying one shouldn't run JT65 spots to PSK Reporter if not in the shack. Now that's an interesting point of view, and one I haven't encountered before.  I think we have a little disagreement here with Matti, but maybe there are others out there who feel the same way. 

"Foolish"?  Let me explain my rationale.

Followers of the blog -- are there any? -- will know there are special challenges the ionosphere lays on us in the high latitudes.  What they teach you in radio school about propagation being basically reciprocal is total nonsense above 60 degrees or so.  It's actually hard to figure out when openings may occur.  The second element to this puzzle besides geomagnetic instabilities is the rapidly changing daylight in the Far North.  In Fairbanks, daylight changes 6-7 minutes per day throughout much of the year.  That has huge implications for HF, as one week is literally completely different from the next. at KL2R we make frequent use of spotting software and other tools to monitor the bands. That includes CW Skimmer reporting to RBN and WSJT-X reporting to PSK Reporter.  The data is helpful to other hams who are anxious to see when the bands are open to Alaska.  What's not to like?

The other reason we frequently run receivers and spotting software when the shack is unattended is to gather data for serious technical analyses.  The data sets are useful for comparing station performance, for instance.  JT65 actually yields quantitative results on received signal-to-noise ratios from various locations.  We can compare, say, AL7ID just a few miles away.  Even better, years of study have clearly demonstrated the myth of reciprocal propagation.  Approximately 80% of the time, the KL2R signal SNR will be about 6-10 dB worse at the remote station than received here.  What that means in practical terms is that when we receive JT65 at around -15 dB (good by most standards), the other station is likely to receive us at very marginal levels, if at all.  So there you have it.

Finally, let me just say presence on PSK Reporter is not the same as a call for CQ.  The spotting network does not substitute for actual RF.  So who's "foolish"?  I suggest those who would call a station without hearing their signal.  Whatever the mode, many Europeans have a bad habit of throwing out their callsign into the ether in the hopes the DX will log them, like a message in a bottle. It's remarkable that within hours of working a pileup I will get requests by email, like "Please tell me if I worked you."  Seriously?  If I worked you, you would know it.


  1. Followers of the blog -- are there any?

    Absolutely yes…
    Dan (KL1JP)

  2. Thanks, Dan. Good to know you're out there.

  3. I think you better call this frustration....I've seen many DX stations only spotting and of course you try, sometimes you're lucky sometimes not. People take working DX much to seriously. WSJT-X (Have you ever tried JTDX?, it's even better...) is excellent for spotting especially above 60 degrees. It gives a lot of interesting and usable info. Continue to follow your blog. 73, Bas

    1. Hi, Bas! Thanks for weighing in and also for the suggestion to try JTDX. Haven't installed it yet, but I will now. 73!