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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial

Blazing New Trails With EELS

(Exploring, Experimenting, Learning, and Sharing)


*e-mail: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Explore, Experiment, Learn, Share. These concepts — which we'll dub EELS — have been at the heart of amateur radio's technical ethos since the earliest days of our hobby. They are also at the heart of what this magazine — in fact, any ham radio magazine — is all about. Even in today's digital world, a magazine is the pre-eminent way for amateur radio explorers and experimenters to share what they've learned with the broader ham community.

We are proud to continue that tradition with the introduction this month of a new column on medium frequency (MF) and low frequency (LF) operating, in anticipation of FCC action in the near future to open up two new ham bands at 630 and 2200 meters. These bands present both challenges and opportunities to ham radio explorers. They are significant historically because they will represent the first-ever amateur radio allocations at wavelengths above 200 meters. The same legislation that formally recognized amateur radio — the Radio Act of 1912 — also prohibited amateurs from operating above 200 meters (or below 1500 kHz), a prohibition that has held fast here in the U.S. for over a century. The 200-meter wall was first cracked a decade ago, when the 2007 World Radio communication Conference (WRC-07) authorized a secondary amateur allocation worldwide at 137 kHz (2200 meters), followed five years later by a similar action for 472 kHz (630 meters) at WRC-12.

Several countries quickly granted hams access to these bands. In the United States, the FCC has not yet opened them to general amateur use, but has issued experimental licenses to permit research on propagation and communication techniques, and has a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking pending that would authorize these bands for amateur use and set up parameters such as specific frequencies and power levels. We urge the FCC to act soon to open up these bands.

Meanwhile, following our century-old technical traditions, those hams around the world who have been active on LF and MF have been exploring their capabilities, experimenting with different types of antennas and modulation techniques, and learning that these long-off-limits frequencies have a lot of DX potential. They are also sharing what they've learned in a growing number of magazine articles, both here in CQ and in other amateur publications.

Considering the number of articles we've been seeing on these bands, the growing worldwide interest in them among hams and CQ's long-standing tradition of encouraging the use of new bands, new modes and new methods of communicating, we have decided that the time is right to begin providing a steady stream of information via a regularlyscheduled column. It debuts in this issue.

These MF/LF bands are fertile ground for EELS. We have not had allocations in this part of the spectrum in over a century. Yes, commercial and military stations have used these frequencies in the past, but they tended to run high power and very large antennas, so there was really no pre-existing knowledge base for ham-style communications using low power, very narrow bandwidths and less-than-ideal antennas for these wavelengths. We owe a debt of gratitude to the FCC for allowing experimental operations on these bands before and during its deliberations — and to the participants in these experiments — because they have spent the past several years figuring out what does and doesn't work, how far we can expect to talk, what modes work best, etc. As a result, whenever the FCC does open these bands (and we hope it will be soon), we will not be starting with a blank slate.

Curiously, our announcement of this new column in late February received a mixed response, especially on social media. Those who are familiar with the potential held by these bands were very positive. For example, a reader from the UK wrote on LinkedIn, "Exciting news, Rich! Once those bands are open, you will be able to catch some of the Full Licensees in Great Britain who have Licence Variations to operate in similar bands here!"

And on eHam.net, a Canadian amateur who has been very active on the bands wrote, "This is great news and John (KB5NJD) is the perfect man for the job! Hopefully the column will spur even more MF/LF interest, which already seems to be growing very quickly through the crossband activities and the experimental operations. I do hope the FCC gets off its butt and grants access to this band soon. There is really no reason to hold this up any further as the thousands of hours of high ERP operations over the past several years surely indicate that interference to power systemsignals is a non-issue."

On the other hand, some had immediate negative reactions, before even reading the first column. "That band is so impractical too big of the antennas," wrote one reader on our Facebook page. Others there wrote, "Really interesting in that we are maybe talking 100+ hams who will attempt these bands," and "160m is too long for most hams to use, so now 630 & 2200 Meters? Lol."

Another reader emailed us a link to the FCC's amateur rules and noted, "Looking at the FCC's new release of Part 97…I see NO mention of the new 630- and 2200-meter bands. What's up with that?"…suggesting that perhaps we didn't realize the Commission had not yet approved either band for amateur operation.

I hope these comments don't point toward a shift in our century-old "EELS" philosophy, but rather a nearly-as-old ham tradition of complaining in advance about anything new whose value the complainers don't immediately see.

Sharing articles about the frontiers of amateur radio activity is nothing new for CQ, from promoting transistors and amateur radio satellites in the 1950s and '60s or integrating computers into ham radio in the '70s and '80s to developing and improving digital transmission modes today. Last summer, we had a cover story about a new distance record on 47 GHz, even though only a few hundred hams are active on the higher microwave bands. And this month's issue contains two separate articles on MSK144, the hot new mode for VHF/UHF meteor scatter. While MSK144 will certainly help draw new people into experimenting with meteor scatter, it is unlikely to ever become a "mainstream" ham radio activity. Yet it is entirely appropriate that we should cover it in a general-interest ham magazine.

As a group, we hams have always savored technical challenges, starting a century ago with figuring out how to make good use of those "useless" shortwave frequencies. Generally speaking, though, the pioneers are a small subgroup. The majority of hams are slow to adopt new technologies, so we depend on those small groups of experimenters and enthusiasts within our ranks to explore new frontiers and pave the way for possible "mainstreaming" of those bands or modes in the future. Think single-sideband, FM, packet, and digital voice.

Our new MF/LF column premieres this month on page 45. It is being edited by John Langridge, KB5NJD/WG2XIQ (his experimental license callsign), who has been active on the 472- and 137-kHz bands since 2012 and who can't wait to start sharing with you what he and his fellow experimenters have learned and still are learning.

The "S" portion of the century-old ham radio EELS tradition — sharing — has always been the primary responsibility of amateur radio magazines. For more than 70 years, CQ has been sharing with the broader community what pioneers in various aspects of our hobby have learned in their explorations and experiments. EELS is vital to our hobby's future and we are proud to be continuing to do our part.

– 73, Rich, W2VU

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