I’m hooked on 6 meters!

I’ve had my ham radio license since 2016, but I haven’t made any serious effort on 6 meters until this year. That’s mostly because I did not have an antenna for the band. I was sometimes able to get my tuner to begrudgingly match my end-fed wire antenna or Eagle One vertical, and was able to make just a few phone contacts during band openings in years past.

I have a Cushcraft AR-6 Ringo vertical and a Max-Gain Systems 38-foot fiberglass push-up mast that I had intended to use to talk on our local 6m repeater. I decided to tune it for the low end of the band to see if I could use it for FT8 contacts on 6m. That was a bit tricky, but with some trial and error I finally got it down to 1.5:1. I have an Elecraft KPA500 amp, but due to my uncertainty about the antenna I have not used it, and I run 80-90 watts out of an IC-7610.

On April 5th, I had my first 6m FT8 QSO with a local station. The vertical antenna works fairly well for Sporadic-E propagation to distant stations, but it’s not great for working closer stations with horizontally polarized antennas via ground wave or tropospheric propagation in nearby grids.

AR-6 Ringo on a fiberglass push-up mast. The mast is attached to the corner fence post with heavy-duty zip-ties.
Looking up at the AR-6 from the base of the push-up mast.

On April 10th, I had my first 6m DX QSOs with stations in Belize and Mexico. Over the next several days, there were some more band openings, and I was able to make lots of QSOs across the continental U.S., as well as in South America and the Caribbean. I wasn’t as focused on grids as I was states for WAS and countries for DXCC. I noticed in early May that I was starting to get close to 100 grids, so I started a more serious effort. On May 11th, I reached 100 confirmed grids for 6m, and applied for my first VUCC award.

I had enough grids confirmed on May 11th to apply for my first VUCC award!

There were even better 6m openings in May, and a few times I saw on PSKReporter that my signal was being received in the Azores and Spain. On May 26th, I completed my first trans-Atlantic 6m QSOs with two stations in Spain. Good conditions continued through the month, allowing me to confirm more grids.

My signal was received in the Azores and Spain on May 11th, but I wasn’t able to complete a QSO.
PSKReporter map of an excellent 6m band opening on May 30th.

Band conditions have improved even more in June. On June 3rd, I decoded several stations from Japan during a brief but strong multi-hop Sporadic E opening across the Pacific. I saw the big gun U.S. stations working them, but figured there was no way my low-power station would reach Japan. Much to my surprise, JA0RUG returned my call and we completed the QSO! Just moments later, the JA stations faded out. That was some lucky timing for me. Magic band indeed!

On June 9th, I reached 200 grids confirmed in LoTW for 6m. I’ve continued to add some grids, states and DX since then. As of June 12th, I have confirmed 24 countries, 46 states, and 216 grids. No records are being broken, as these statistics are nothing compared to more capable 6m stations, but I’ve had fun and learned a lot about low VHF band propagation while working 6 meters this season!

By June 9th, I had 200 grids confirmed in LoTW for 6m!

So far this season, I have used FT8 exclusively, but I am planning to start using CW as well. I am hooked, and planning to improve my station for the remainder of this Sporadic E season and future seasons.

The main point of this post is that, even with a very modest station, you can enjoy some great success on 6 meters. The key is to be at the radio when the band opens. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll give it a try!

This is a Gridmaster map with my confirmed grids in the lower 48 states for 50 MHz VUCC. There are still lots of them left to work!
A map showing my 6M QSOs as of June 12th, 2020

Here’s the equipment and resources I am using to operate on 6 meters:

Radio: Icom IC-761o
Tuner: LDG AT-1000ProII
Antenna: Cushcraft AR-6 Ringo
Software (Windows 10): WSJT-X v2.2.0, JTAlert v. 2.16.7, GridMaster Map v2.3
Web pages: Logbook of the World, PSKReporter, DXMaps

I ordered and I am anxiously awaiting to receive a PAR Electronics SM-50 Stressed Moxon Antenna. I anticipate a much better SWR match with that antenna, and will probably start using the amplifier when chasing DX.