Working ZL on Top Band – by John Heys G3BDQ

Some DXers love to make contact with stations that are as far away as possible and preferably at the exact antipode of their own location. For British stations this means seeking QSOs with New Zealand operators for they are located close to the antipode, the exact antipodal position being somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately New Zealand, despite its small population has a disproportionately large radio amateur community, and on the HF Bands from 3.5 to 30 MHZ there is no real difficulty in achieving G/ZL QSOs. However on Top Band it is rather more difficult to contact  them.

The first British (and European) amateur to contact New Zealand by radio was Cecil Goyder a former pupil of Mill Hill School in London. The School had a strong Wireless Society and a powerful and efficient station. Soon after he left school he still went back to operate the station there and he was fortunate to have a CW contact with Frank Bell ZL4AA on October 19th 1924 and gain that elusive ‘first’ with New Zealand. The QSO took place on a wavelength of approximately 95 metres  a wavelength that has the propagation characteristics similar to those extant on the present 80 metre band. In 1927 the First International Radio Telegraphic Conference proposed a list of Amateur Radio Bands which was soon adopted worldwide and included a new 1715-2000 KHZ band. This new band had much in common with the old 200 metre Amateur Band and was unreliable for extreme DX work.

Through the 1930s and up to the start of WW2 the better equipped British stations managed contacts with North America, parts of Africa and Asia but no contacts with New Zealand were made on 160 metres.

After the War amateurs were much better equipped for very good surplus equipment was available. There was also a better understanding of antennas and propagation on Top Band. At first there was considerable interference from the Loran navigation system and this persisted in North America for at least twenty years after the end of hostilities. The magical first British QS0 with ZL took place in 1953 between Harry Merriman G6GM and John Wightman ZL1AH. This historic contact on Top Band was made on October 17th. Strangely G6GM’s QSL card no where shows the actual time of the contact. The two stations had arranged operating times and despite many wasted operating hours over several years persisted until their eventual success.

Two years later on the 13th October 1955 F.J.H (‘Dud”) Charman G6CJ had a Top Band contact with Peter Watson ZL3GQ. This contact was also made after arranged at dates and times when antipodal contacts were most likely. “Dud” of course was an antenna expert and understood the propagation difficulties involved on the 1.8 MHZ band. Time of their contact was 06.35 in the rather short window of opportunity on that frequency. The only information regarding the antennas or station gear is written on G6GM’s card. His transmitter was a VFO/FD/PA, his receiver was an HRO and the antenna was a half wave.

Both these memorable contacts were made possible by having prearranged times and dates of operation and by ensuring that the tests took place at a time and date when contact was most likely to take place. On the reverse of his QSL card to ZL1AH, G6GM mentions his thanks for the cooperation and competence that “helped you make the first ever G/ZL contact on top Band”.

The ‘DX Bug’ bit me deeply in the early 1980s and I was able to build a up a very respectable country score on Top Band. However I yearned to contact a ZL on that band but didn’t even hear one. This called for some active measure so I wrote to the New Zealand Amateur Radio Transmitters, the ZL’s National Society for help, and suggesting they wrote up my wish for ‘skeds’ on Top Band in their Magazine. This paid off and I soon had a letter from Bob Tanner ZL2BT suggesting a frequency, time and dates of operation. I was to call ‘CQ ZL’ at 06.30 each morning through October 1983. This activity created a little mirth amongst some of the band occupants and at first I received several ‘HI,HI”,  and ‘Mad, Mad’ calls on the frequency.

Everything worked to plan however and on October 3rd at 06.52 I received ZL2BT’s call and we had a satisfactory QSO.I gave him a 5 4/5 9 and received an RST of 5 6 9. On the back of Bob’s QSL card he had written:

“Glad to have made this QSO as here there were a lot of local problems, i.e. local power noise and the usual static problems associated with 160 metres. I hear you quite often but don’t like to take the opportunity away from others calling you. Please listen for VK9NS who calls you also. The expanded band here has made easier access to Gs etc…..” Surprisingly I had heard a station signing VK9NS calling me on several occasions. He was quite strong and I thought he was a pirate and didn’t go back to him.

On October 5th Bob and I worked again and at 06.22. This was followed by a call from and a QSO with John Wightman ZL1AH later in the day at 1740 hrs. I sent him 4 4/5 9 and received an RST of 3 4 9. That concluded my Top Band ZL Tests in 1983, but two years later On January 31st at 0730 I had a QSO with ZL1HY. He was 4 4 9 and gave me a 5 5 9 report. Dave ZL1HY wrote on his card that he had been trying to work me on 160 metres for three years.

I had no further contacts with ZL on Top Band until October 1994 when I joined a group of G stations all eager to have SSB QSOs with the Antipodes. Some of the other members of the Group included Brian G3GSI, Roger G3YRO, G3YVH. Stuart G3ISG, Bernie G4CWO and Old Timer GUJ2FRO. Skeds were arranged on 80 metres for operations on 160.We had an initial Group QSO on the arranged frequency on October 11th but no signals were
heard from New Zealand.

At 06.30 on October 13th I had a QSO with ZL2SQ but I could only give him a 2 by 2 report. He gave me 4 by 5. For some reason the other G Group members were not on the band on that morning, but on October 16th between 06.20 and 06.24, myself, G3GSI, and G3FPQ (David) had successful QSOs with ZL2JR. On this occasion I actually received a 5 by 5 report. We returned to the Sked frequency (1843 KHZ) each day without any more ZL contacts until the 22nd of the month when most of us swapped reports with ZL2JR between 0636 and 0653. My report that morning was 5 and 5 again but ZL2JR was only 3 by 3/4 with me. We contacted Jim ZL2JR again on October 23rd and 25th and I was the only station to contact him finally at 0637 on October 27th.That was the end of the time and date window for possible contacts and was also the last time that I contacted ZL on the band.

The all important antenna that I was using was a version of my grounded long wire which has the important high RF current in the vertical wire (or wires) at the far end. I once had a 50 ft mast which came down and was badly distorted during the 1987 ‘Hurricane’ in the South of England and was replaced by my present shorter 35ft support. I try to overcome the lack of height by using capacitive loading but I am sure my 1.8 MHZ signal is not so potent as it was before the mast replacement.

There has been a ‘mushrooming’ of DX activity on 160 metres and the competition to work the ‘rare ones is fierce. Should you wish to have a QSO with ZL or VK stations may I suggest that arranged ‘Skeds’ are more likely to be effective than ‘blind  ‘CQing or tuning around. The best time for Antipodean contacts seems to be in the month of October, the mornings here at least have been more fruitful than at our sunsets. I was running 300 watts for the SSB contacts and the transceiver was a Kenwood TS 850.

John Heys G3BDQ – from Vital Spark November 2011.

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