Learning how to monitor ham radio beacons is the secret to successful and plentiful DX!
Beacons provide early and measurable indications of propagation conditions.
By being diligent, and patient, you can send out a CQ as soon as you begin to hear a beacon.
In doing so, you will often be the one to start a pileup ... instead of trying to fight your way in! ;-)
The Northern California DX Foundation operates eighteen ham radio beacons on five continents which transmit in successive one-minute intervals on 14.100, 18.110, 21.150, 24.930 and 28.200 MHz.
The NCDXF beacon call sign and the first dash is sent at 100Watts. The remaining dashes are sent at 10Watts, 1 Watt and 0.1 Watts. Very handy info for QRPers!
Almost all ten meter beacons transmit between 28.190 MHz and 28.300 MHz. You will find a comprehensive list here.
Six meter beacons are mostly found between 50.0 MHz and 50.1 MHz, with a concentration between 50.06 MHz and 50.08 MHz.
One example is W4CLM/B transmitting 30 Watts continuously into a vertical on 50.065 MHz (+/-) from location EM74 (Atlanta, GA.).
Ideally, you should use an omnidirectional antenna on every ham radio band that you want to monitor! I did say ideally! ;-)
In practice, I suggest that you use some form of omnidirectional, multi-band antenna to monitor HF beacons.
I use a Hy-Gain 18 AVT-WB trap vertical for this purpose. I also use my 160 meter inverted "L" as a general purpose multi-band antenna because the 18 AVT performs very poorly on the 30 meter, 17 meter and 12 meter bands.
If you use a directional antenna to monitor the beacons (i.e. multi-element beam), you will only effectively hear the beacons in the direction toward which your beam is pointing. But, that may be just be what you want, anyway.
Monitoring ham radio beacons manually is tiresome, to say the least. Many software programs have been written, for many different personal computer operating systems.
Using software to control your receiver automates the beacon scanning process and frees you to work on (or play with) something else in the meantime.
The Northern California DX Foundation lists a number of programs that have been verified to work as advertised. You will find the list here.
Many hams monitor their local packet DX Cluster node for DX activity and to decide whether to join in the action or not. Others log in DX nets to get a chance of making brief contacts with participating DX stations.
Nothing beats beacon monitoring to beat the crowd to band openings!
The standard time stations (below) will give you some indication of propagation conditions at their operating frequencies. But, keep in mind that they transmit at much higher power levels than the ham radio maximum legal power limit!
In other words, when you can receive a signal from CHU or WWV, it does not necessarily mean that the closest amateur radio band is usable by most ham radio operators.
The CHU Canada time signal transmitting station is located 15 km southwest of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at 45º 17' 47" N, 75º 45' 22" W. Main transmitter powers are 3 kW at 3330 and 14 670 kHz, and 10 kW at 7850 kHz. Individual vertical antennas are used for each frequency.
WWV transmits from Fort Collins, Colorado, and WWVH, from Kauai, Hawaii, on 2.5, 5.0, 10, 15 and 20 MHz.
Be proactive and watch Sunspot Cycle 24 unfold. Generally speaking, the higher the number of sunspots - reported as smoothed sunspot number (SSN) - the higher the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency).
To complement your monitoring of ham radio beacons, you can listen to WWV broadcast the latest solar-flux index at 18 minutes past the hour, and at 45 minutes past the hour on WWVH. Again, generally speaking, the higher the solar-flux index, the higher the MUF.
73 de VE2DPE
7, Rue de la Rive, Notre-Dame-des-Prairies, Québec, Canada J6E 1M9
QTH Locator: FN36gb
Is a member
in good standing