Everyone in amateur radio has their favorite bands and modes, and I’m no exception. I’ve tried a lot of different ways of operating, and have settled on things I like and continue to work on, and other things that just didn’t float my boat.
Your choice of bands really depends on what you can do for antennas. In my case, everything needs to be temporary and/or stealth, so as much as I’d like to have a 40′ mast with multiple HF yagis, that isn’t going to happen. So here’s what bands I’m using and how/why (not in order of preference):
- 20m and 40m – my primary HF bands. I’m doing voice modes (more below), am antenna-limited and power-limited (latter because of the former). While we’re in a pretty lousy sunspot cycle, 40m is usually workable, particularly at night, and 20m can open up at least for working the rest of the US.
- 80m – my antenna isn’t resonant on 80m and I don’t run an external antenna tuner. The internal tuner will only deal with up to 3:1 SWR, and at 80 my antenna is about 5:1. So I occasionally listen to 80m, but haven’t done a qso on the band.
- 10/12/15/17m – I have yet to hear any traffic on these, but will admit that I don’t listen that often. My antenna is resonant and viable on all of these, so maybe as time goes on and the bands start to open this will become viable
- 6m – the “magic band”, but so far I haven’t really found any pixie dust. My end-fed wire isn’t resonant on 6m so if I want to work it I need to set up my Buddipole. That means time and effort, and usually something else takes precedent.
- 2m – most people’s introduction to ham radio, since a Tech license has privileges and CCRs (Cheap Chinese Radios) can be had on 2m and 70cm. PAPA System doesn’t really do 2m, but I’ve found some other repeaters that are interesting, most notably Catalina Island and Keller Peak. But my current interest is working 2m SSB. I like the challenge of working simplex, and SSB just sounds right to my ear – must be a combination of doing HF and going way back to the 70’s with SSB CB radios (yes, I was radioactive then – KKP3039). There are some simplex nets that are great practice for SHTF situations.
- 70cm – probably the most used for me, as PAPA System has a large set of linked repeaters, and most other clubs also have UHF repeaters. It also is where I do my DMR work, and I’ve done a fair amount of searching for CA-wide DMR repeaters. My Motorola XPR-5550e at home is pretty optimized for both UHF FM and DMR, running into a mono-band UHF omni antenna. Single purpose usually gives you optimal performance. I have a 5550e in the car as well, so I get the benefit of using the same radio/UI/system.
- 220MHz – a more recent experiment. I set up an Elk 220-6LP antenna and BridgeCom Systems BCM-220 and put in a dozen or so repeaters. After scanning for a week or so, didn’t find much activity. Of course with any band – particularly VHF/UHF – getting some input from users can help a lot. A simplex net I was on recommended a particular repeater that I knew I could probably hit so I added that to the code plug and sure enough, a couple of people I knew talking. Had a great QSO, made better by the fact that it wasn’t a linked repeater so we weren’t tying up a bunch of hilltops with our long discussion. On a good day 220 has the range of 2m and is less busy than 70cm so maybe this will become a favorite.
- 1200MHz – I have this on my IC-9700, and it is used by some satellites. There also are repeaters on the 23cm band, but I programmed a number of them in and haven’t heard any activity. But as with 220, may just be listening in the wrong places.
This can turn into somewhat of a philosophical or religious argument, and everyone has their own favorite and least favorite modes. My take:
- SSB – my favorite way of operating. I like the extra bit of reach you can get with SSB relative to FM (all other things being equal), and I’m in radio to talk to people – literally talk. I also kinda like the bit of deviation that happens, particularly on DX signals
- FM – pretty much “old reliable.” It just works most of the time, and when on a good repeater system, it is like talking to someone sitting next to you.
- DMR – my favorite digital mode, driven in part (for me) by Motorola as I like their radios. It can be a challenge to wrap your head around at first, and it is probably more complex out of the box than D-Star or C4FM/Fusion. But once you get how it works and can tweak your own code plugs, it is quite robust. Currently we’re doing DMR simplex experiments to compare to FM performance.
- C4FM/Fusion – Yaesu’s digital mode, I haven’t messed with it much. PAPA has one Fusion repeater, and I’ve poked around some Rooms. It usually sounds better than D-Star, on-par with a good DMR radio. I’ve somewhat moved away from Yaesu stuff though, and don’t have a base radio with C4FM/Fusion so I probably won’t experiment much more in the near future.
- D-Star – Icom’s digital mode, typically gives me fits. It should be the easiest to set up once you register with a gateway (which I have), and use their nearest repeater function (which I have), but I’ve been unable to check into D-Star nets more often than I’ve been able to, as it doesn’t really tell you when you’re not getting into a repeater (unlike DMR). I have the functionality “for free” in my IC-9700, so I play with it from time to time but it isn’t a go-to solution for me.
- Data modes – FT8, JS8Call, PSK31, etc. I’ve tried these on HF at various times, mostly driven by curiosity and the fact that the HF bands are not good now so more efficient digital modes can enable DX contacts. Some guys love it. I hate them. It just isn’t why I’m doing radio. The best description I heard was doing FT8 is like watching robots have sex. I click on something on my computer and it automatically sends data, then I get data back. I understand the challenges and why some like it, but I want as few computers in my radio chain as possible. Ymmv.
- CW – I really want to learn this but know that I need to be able to dedicate a regular amount of time and right now that isn’t happening. It has the benefits of FT8 (efficient, usable in poor band conditions) but is human-readable which is important to me. At some point I’ll sit down and learn it…