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Beating the Solar Minimum Doldrums


Experiments with SDR Luigi Freitas

Beating the Solar Minimum Doldrums

Solar Minimums. Yes, they are a drag. We’ve been talking about the solar minimum for some time in the amateur radio community, but of course we are not the only ones affected by the lack of vigorous ionization. Shortwave radio is affected, utility monitoring is affected, as well as almost any signals dependent on the atmosphere for propagation.

And yet . . . .

The truth is there are always radio signals of one form or another traversing the sky, running along the ground, or shooting straight at us from line-of-sight transmissions. Sure, I would love to be working the world with great DX ragchews (that’s amateur radio-speak for having conversations), or participating in worldwide contests where getting new stations and countries in my log was like shooting fish in a barrel. But that’s not where we are at right now. But solar minimums do not mean radio signals have died. It just means it takes more work and more imagination to dig out those signals.

For example, just in time for this latest solar minimum there are weak signal modes which allow us to listen to and/or communicate with other stations almost independent of propagation conditions. WSJT-X (which I have reviewed here) gives us a whole set of software programs to hear and work stations from around the world. Programs like MultiPSK give us tools to monitor stations and modes which only a few years ago were only able to be heard and decoded by software owned by governments and costing thousands and thousands of dollars.

Similarly in terms of learning opportunities there are literally thousands and thousands of videos covering everything from electronics to antennas to repairing old equipment on YouTube. Once a true skeptic of the value of YouTube, I now find myself going there almost daily to watch videos of people showing me how to do things in the radio and electronics world that I want to learn. Additionally there are new services such as Patreon which provide value added content as a subscription service.

If the empty static is getting to you or you can’t pick up your favorite shortwave station, take this opportunity to explore new areas of the radio hobby by learning. I promise, if you are interested in something there is a video, a book, a website, or hundreds of all of these waiting for you to explore them. We live in an incredible age of information where the opportunities for self-learning are for all practical purposes, endless.

I don’t mean to brag, so please do not take it as such, but I am currently getting ready to: build and modify a radio kit, studying electronics, learning how to truly program my digital scanner, evaluating a radio for a review, reconnecting with my SDR radio and MultiPSK software, and getting ready to set up a permanent (or semi-permanent) dedicated flight tracking station. None of these things will depend significantly on solar conditions.

Believe me, when the solar conditions return so that I can have great contacts with people I will be all over that. Until then, I have these and at least a dozen more projects waiting in the wings, and likely a dozen more I have yet to think of awaiting me in the future. I say all of this just by way of encouragement to not let difficult solar conditions get you down, or cause you to put your radios aside. In evaluating a sub-$15 AM/FM/SW radio today I was amazed at how many stations the telescopic whip was bringing in, and this one of the cheapest radios around! Just imagine how many more stations a good shortwave/amateur radio will bring in!!

While we may not be in a radio enthusiast’s paradise right now, were are hardly having to gnaw on old bones! Share what you’ve been doing to beat the Solar blues in the comment section below. You may just inspire some of us to try something new (or something old!!). 73, Robert


  • Reply Phil 04/06/2018 at 8:18 pm

    Hi Robert
    The current conditions are tough but occasionally the bands open up and contacts can be made. You just have to be near the radio when it happens. Unfortunately I think quite a few people give up during these times so there’s not so many stations on the bands when they do open up. It’s a good time for projects as you say and your few mentioned here match some of mine. I am having a lot of fun building QRP radios and other bits and pieces at the moment while I wait for the elusive band opening.

    Cheers and 73 for now

  • Reply Robert 04/06/2018 at 8:40 pm

    Hi Phil! Thanks for stopping by, and you’re right – there are unusual and very interesting band openings which happen out of the blue. Like 15m and 17m opening even when “they” say the bands are closed. I am getting ready to assemble my uBITX radio finally as the case was (almost) delivered today – needed a signature and of course I was not home.
    There are so many things we can do in the radio hobby when one door is closed, several more are always open!
    Cheers, and good to hear from you!

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