The Rocky Mountain VHF+ Group
A History of VHF+ Sideband
What RMVHF+ is All About!
Dave Clingerman W6OAL
(with additions by Wayne Heinen NØPOH)
Single Side Band communications became known to me in the late 1940’s and was predominately used on the HF bands. There was no good reason not to use it on the VHF and higher bands and it evolved slowly. Its use, a curiosity for some, a hated mode of operation to the dyed in the wool AMer’s of the time. It was referred to as ‘slop-bucket’, ‘Donald Duck’ and a few other choice words. Slowly more and more of the AM crowd found that greater distance contacts could be achieved using the mode because of the use of other than the square-law detectors in their old receivers of the time – although many used their receivers in the CW mode and diddled their BFO to tune in the SSB stations. Replacing the older AM/CW receivers with the more modern receivers that used product detectors found receive noise figures dropping and efficiencies increasing in both receive and transit. No longer was 50% of the power of a transmission present in an enormous, useless carrier and only 25% of the intelligence propagated in each of two sidebands. First the phasing type exciters were being homebrewed for the new mode and used to eliminate the unused sideband and useless carrier, which gave way to the filter type SSB exciter. Sideband slicers were being homebrewed and used on the existing receiving equipment until the knowledge of reciprocal and product detectors became mainstream and homebrewed by many. Sure, AM is still used by a lot of hams that wish to hear the pleasantness of a voice – all the way out to 15 kHz! Myself I don’t hear sounds much past 1000 Hz anymore. Anyway, taking up Fifteen Plus Kilohertz is not needed for voice communications in our crowded spectrum of today. The normal voice falls in the range of 300 – 3000 Hz so if HiFi is desired there are other appliances available for that in other services.
As time progressed or as we progressed through time and the HF SSB systems were commonplace, transverters were being homebrewed pressing the HF system into service as an exciter/I.F. and allowing the operator to use SSB in the VHF (and higher) regions of our allotted spectrum. Today SSB is not all that uncommonly used on the hundreds of gigahertz bands. Finally commercial VHF/UHF SSB equipment became available on the commercial market until today it is hard to fine an HF rig (transceiver) that doesn’t include the six meter, two meter and seventy centimeter bands. But, today these bands are relatively unoccupied except during contests. There are relatively few VHF and above SSB nets on the air today and those that are, are sparsely attended with any regularity of participation by the members if there is such a thing as a membership. And, I have found this to be true throughout our nation. Why? I suppose the mode of FM is much more attractive to many and not having to be too technically oriented or having to erect more than an indoor or outdoor ground plane antenna to enjoy that facet of the hobby. Granted FM has its place in Ham Radio – but it is still dependent on someone placing a “box” (repeater) on a hill top in order to get any sort of range (if intercity is considered range). The hue and cry I often hear about the use of SSB on the two meter band is, “There’s no one to talk to and I can’t get any sort of range!” Well, if that sort of attitude persists there won’t be many up there with which to talk. I’ve been able to work every grid square in the state of Colorado on 2M SSB and have worked 75% of the United States on that band, and without having had my ear glued to the receiver 24/7 year after year.
Enter the Rocky Mountain VHF+ Group – well, it wasn’t called that back in the early ’80’s when I arrived in the state. It was a rather rag-tag group that met on Monday nights on or about 144.220 MHz and whoever was first on the band at 8 PM local was the net control for that evening. We’ve come a long way in the past quarter century. Early on, we held meetings at the local hamfests to attempt some sort of organization. That kind of dwindled as organized ham groups generally do when politics are allowed to dictate a group’s direction.
We tried ARRL affiliation so we could compete as a contest entrant club. The Rocky Mountain VHF+ Contest Group was founded by Doug WØAH (ex-W2CRS, now K4LY), Ron NØEC (ex-KDØDW), and Randy NØLRJ. The primary purpose of the group was to combine the total scores of participants on the Front Range of Colorado for the Club Competition that is part of the ARRL January (and now also September) VHF QSO Party. A printed newsletter was started by the group published by Ron first and Doug second. About the time that Wayne NØPOH and Joan KBØYRX took over the RMVHF+ newsletter the political nature of a “club”, coupled with changes to contesting rules caused the club competition to fizzle. But the group was still somewhat alive and operating as a Monday Night 2M SSB Net in spite of ourselves. The newsletter continued for a six more years but was abandoned when a new publisher couldn’t be found. A few of us hardheaded individuals got together and thought lets throw organization to the wind but still function in somewhat of a democratic manner. We set forth a group of four net control stations, one for every Monday evening of the month and that seemed to work well – except when family obligations or other commitments precluded a station from assuming their assigned duties, or here comes a month with five Mondays in it! At that point the net control stations got together again and created a fifth Monday of the month net control station known as the “Safety”. Much later into our existence we found a need for a Back-Up net control station to kind of back up our “Safety”. To date we have a cadre’ of six net control stations, dedicated individuals that have kept the net running like clock work for years.
About the time that the club competition stopped, Phil K6LS approached then Wayne with the idea of creating a web site. The original site was built by Phil and housed at www.qsl.net. After a few years Phil, Phil’s participation waned and the group was fortunate to have Tim KAØMWA step forward and assume the webmaster duties. After a number of years Tim retired as webmaster as the pressures of his business made it difficult to continue turning the reins over to Wayne NØPOH. It’s with thanks to Phil and Tim that the site has continued and expanded over the years. Meanwhile through the generosity of the Red Rocks Data Center, we moved the web site to their local servers and were able to begin using our current URL www.rmvhf.org.
Just what is our function and why should anyone turn that mode switch on their shinny new, all mode, all band transceivers from FM to USB on the two meter band on a Monday evening at 8 PM local time? Well, we’d like to think that we offer a service by providing a gathering place for like mined individuals that like to push the envelop a bit and dispel the notion that VHF is line-of-sight propagation only. We offer service to the community by having an announcement session at the beginning of the net to make folks aware of up coming hamfests and other events of interest to the ham community at large. We offer a chance for our check-ins to attempt contact with distant or out of state stations or pass traffic among ourselves if desired. Our coverage is Casper, WY to the north (sometimes even Gillette), to Salinas, KS to the east (and we have been heard in Kansas City), McAlister, NM to the south and Grand Junction, CO to our west. This is just on a normal night with little to no overly enhanced propagation. The “net” or “group” supports 5 propagation beacons at no cost to the membership courtesy of WØETT (cabin and electric bill) and W6OAL (engineering and maintenance); 144.282, 222.055, 432.360, 1296.225 located in the South Park Area near Como, CO at 9500’. We also have a beacon on 903.075 in Fort Collins under the auspices of Art – WØBA. These are available to anyone that needs a distant signal source for propagation study or receiver/preamp tune up. We offer participation certificates to members (a member is anyone who has checked in our net at least once) for participation in the various VHF/UHF/Microwave contests throughout the year. As few as 10 QSO’s can garner one the primary certificate. The next steps are 25, 50 and then 100 QSO’s. We offer ‘activity nights’ every evening of the week at 8 PM. Besides our Monday evening net, Tuesday is 222.1, Wednesday is 432.1, Thursday is 1296.1 and Friday is 902.1/903.1 with folks gathering there and going off to the higher band (2.3, 3.4, 5.7 and 10.368 GHz). A not so much affiliated with RMVHF+ but established and welcoming group on 2304.1 holds an informal session at 8 PM Saturday evenings. All having that band are welcome.
Once we have our check-in’s on the Monday evening net we ask for comments from those that wish to do so. We would really like to hear from all that check in as to what you are doing in the hobby, what’s your equipment, who have you been working, from where have you been operating (other than home)? Just the comment “No comments” doesn’t let the group know anything about you or what you’re all about. We don’t care to hear about what you’ve been watching on HDTV or that your pet rat died, but life is not all that boring – tell us about YOU! Hams love to talk, and about themselves mostly – so let’s get it out there. This is your ‘net’ and as such you are encouraged to express yourself. Your comments may spawn some common interests among members and remember that by virtue of the fact that you are in the Rocky Mountain Region you are automatically a member of the RMVHF+ Group. CU on the air, come get acquainted with us, we’d like to add you to our nearly 200 member roster.