GM4ULS ham radio station

a QRM-free zone!

11m, 10m, 6m…

Posted by gm4uls on July 2, 2012

I have always had the impression – and I’m trying hard to remember where it came from – that somehow by law we were only allowed or licensed to listen to legal signals in the amateur and broadcast bands, and to standard time and frequency transmissions (such as WWV and WWVH). Supposedly it was illegal to listen to other short wave transmissions and broadcasts. However, I have searched for this on line, looking at the wording of the various Wireless Telegraphy Acts made by the UK parliament, and I have even looked for a copy of my old license to see if it was spelled out there, but so far I have found nothing.

Of course we all used to listen to everything up and down the short wave bands – pirate broadcasters, German ‘spy numbers’, Shannon Volmet, aircraft communications, ship-to-shore telephone, the lot! I can recall the time about three decades ago when a Greenpeace vessel was blockading the outflow of the Sellafield nuclear power station, I listened to the on-board journalists phoning in their stories, and onshore media calling the activists for interviews. At one point an activist said he believed the Government was tapping their phone calls. No, all the Government needed was a short wave receiver!

The reason I mention this is because for a long time I have had 27.555MHz stored in the memory of my FT-847. That frequency is the centre of activity for 11m ‘freebanders’, which is the modern euphemism for illegal SSB operators on or around the 27MHz CB band (some freebanders actually operate elsewhere in the spectrum, but 27MHz is the commonest band). I often listen there for Sporadic E openings and, more recently, for F-layer propagation, as it is quicker than tuning through the 10m beacon sub-band. 11m freebanders have (obligingly!) standardised their on-air IDs to a numerical, country-by-country system, first devised more than three decades ago by the Italian Alfa Tango DX Group; this means it is possible to tell almost immediately where signals are coming from as soon as anyone mentions a call sign. There is no apparent logic to the numerical allocations, but the underlying logic was that the first ‘national’ prefix was 1 for Italy, where the AT group started, and every time an operator from a new country joined the group the next sequential number was taken as the prefix for that country. Thus 1 was Italy, 2 was the USA, and so on, and the system was taken up by other groups and individuals around the world; right now, in the Es season, an op in ‘Division 108’ (Scotland) can readily hear stations in Divisions 13 (Germany), 14 (France), 20 (Norway), 29 (Ireland), 161 (Poland), and so on. Of course these IDs cut across internationally agreed, legal call sign allocations.

Operating procedure is remarkably similar to amateur voice procedure – there is none of the ’10-4 good buddy’ cliché stuff from CB – but with some noticeable differences in uses of terms and various Q-codes. Operating manners are by-and-large very good. The accepted norm is to put out a very short CQ on the centre frequency, specifying a pre-selected QSY frequency. Equipment ranges from multi-mode CBs to adapted amateur transceivers; some ops spend a lot of time and money on their stations and to have a fair amount of technical knowledge. Jammers and idiots do turn up on 27.555MHz, but when one considers the concentration of operators on 11m, and reflects that in our ham fraternity there are people who generate controversy and people who lose their cool spread over a far larger portion of the radio spectrum, and therefore less noticeable, then the number of idiots on 27.555MHz is not disproportionate.

Having said that I use the channel as a quick-and-easy beacon facility, I have been aware for many years of a peculiarity of 11m. It tends to be open at times when other bands do not. It is 0400UTC and I am currently listening to someone in Division 21 (Finland) at 59+10dB, yet there is no one on 10m, no one on 12m, and nothing heard on adjacent broadcast bands. Sometimes the band seems to be open when there is nothing heard lower down until one gets to 20m. Is there some frequency-dependent factor on 11m or is it just a matter of the population and usage being denser? This has been an occasional topic of mine with other hams for at least three decades. I remember discussing it with my contemporary in age G3YIB, who mentored my RAE studies in 1982. Recently someone on the AT-5555 Facebook group talked about why he wouldn’t take an amateur license: “Just compare 11m with the wide, empty space above 28MHz.” he said, and he had a point!

Anyhow I have tried to get on 10m during every recent Es opening. ‘Rare and exotic DX’ might not be there at present, but unless someone is there to answer calls from around Europe, or to put out CQs, then 10m will indeed be a ‘wide, empty space’. A regular 2m contact of mine here in Scotland keeps mentioning the Es openings on 6m, so yesterday I dug out a battered old dipole which I had sawed down from a CB/10m antenna many years back. It used to be in the loft of my former home, and nevertheless it worked well. You can see from the picture below that I have simply jury-rigged it on a pole and it’s not even above roof height, compared to my HF mini-beam which is currently 10 metres AGL, and that it’s fed with cheap, high-loss co-ax. Nonetheless, within a couple of minutes of switching on I managed a brief contact with special event station DL250COAL. I’m not going to leave the antenna up there permanently, but at least I know I can put it up and take it down with about ten minutes’ effort. At some stage I may put up something permanent for 6m, or even 6m and 4m.

Anyhow, back to legal matters. It used to be the case that licensed amateurs in the UK could have ‘illegal’ CBs in their possession if they intended to adapt them for 10m operation. I don’t know whether that legislation has lapsed, or been superseded or repealed. As regards freeband operation it is supposedly an offence to have equipment installed ready for transmission on a frequency for which one has no license, not necessarily to be caught using it. But hold on! Just about every ham in the world can be caught out by that – I know I can be! My old FT-101ZD tunes outside the amateur bands, and thank heaven it does, because that meant I had the top half of 40m already installed when we got that sub-band. But it still tunes above 7.200MHz. What about my FT-847? That cuts off at band edges, so no problem – but wait! If I operate on, say, 20m close to the top of the band, the bandwidth of my signal means that I will in fact encroach on frequencies just outside the band, so again I have installed a radio which transmits outside the frequencies permitted by my license! Did any of us realise we all had illegal stations?

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2 Responses to “11m, 10m, 6m…”

  1. Bas PE4BAS said

    Nice post and very clear about 11m. I’ve been on (illigal) SSB for over 20 years and still am a AT member. Though it’s very rare to be on 11m these days with so many other bands on my radio. But sometimes I’ll get homesick and listen on the good old 555. Some of my buddies are still there, others became licensed as well. Overall I’ve had some interesting “DX” on 11m, like a QSO with Australia at 2 in the morning over longpath. Sure you couldn’t hear a single station anywhere at that same moment on 10, 11 or 12m. Very special. Also exceptional DX to DXCC that is very rare on the HAM bands as well, Marion Isl. comes is mind as one! And absolutely, operating practise is the same or better as on the HAM bands. 73, Bas

    • gm4uls said

      Hi Bas. Well, I’m listening to Es on 27.555 at the moment and it’s ‘like chips frying’. There’s also a guy on 27.625 from Luxembourg working a pile-up.

      Meanwhile yes there are quite a number of stations on 10m – I’m listening now to a SP on 28.490 for example – but not quite the same flurry as 11m.

      A funny story comes to mind. Many years ago there was a TV programme called “You’ve Been Framed”, in which people were set up for practical jokes and filmed without their knowledge. Someone’s wife had written to the TV company to say that her husband was a radio ham and was always talking to an Italian called Luigi, to whom he had said “If ever you’re in England, come and visit my home QTH”. So they decided to get a bunch of actors to pretend to be Luigi and his family, and arrived at the guy’s door – ‘Luigi’, his wife and mother-in-law, and about six children – for a visit. When at last the TV team revealed that it was a joke, the guy laughed nervously and agreed to be filmed in his shack. It was a well-equipped shack with a top-of-the-range Yaesu transciever, and they persuaded him to put out a call. “Um… CQ CQ CQ, this is… um… 26 Alfa Tango… ” So he went out on national TV making an illegal transmission. I have no idea whether anyone from the authorities followed this up!

      I had a 26AT number before I was licensed, but I can’t recall having used it much. I actually used it mostly on legal 27MHz FM, although into a 12AVQ vertical which was not really legal at the time – I have no idea what’s legal for a CB antenna these days. I don’t know what has happened to my AT number, probably lapsed, I guess.

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