Monday, December 23, 2019

The Five-Metre Story ... Article from the Short Wave Magazine in 1949

After the Second World War, some radio amateurs in Europe were allowed to use the 5-metre band (58.5 MHz to 60.0 MHz) until 1949-1951 when this part of the VHF spectrum was cleared for TV transmissions.

The following article written by E.J. Williams (G2XC) appeared in the April 1949 issue of the Short Wave Magazine. It covers a period of time when radio amateurs in the UK were about to lose the band.

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The Five -Metre Story- Summary of Results on Five-Metre Activity

To summarise the results obtained on Five Metres since the band was first operated, and the experience it has given all VHF workers in this country, is not the easiest of tasks-apart from which, we are all bidding farewell to an old friend. Operations on Five Metres find a unique and lasting place in the history of Amateur Radio in this country. In the amateur field, they made possible some remarkable developments in VHF technique ; every VHF operator, known or unknown, has benefited directly from the collective progress made by British amateurs on Five Metres ; and most operators cut their VHF teeth on the problems (which seem so easy now) posed by the Five Metre Band.

It will probably be agreed that the story of Five Metres divides itself into two well-marked periods. The first, the years up to about 1936, when self-excited transmitters and super regenerative receivers were the order of the day ; and the second, from 1938 onwards, when crystal control and either straight or superhet receivers became the standard equipment. The years between were a transition period when the need for stabilised apparatus was becoming generally recognised, with the DX possibilities of the band gradually assuming a greater importance.

Pre -War Era
For those who did not know the pre -crystal control period, we should like to paint a picture of five metres as it was then. The experience of your conductor started in 1933, but others knew the band long before that. That long distances might be covered on rare occasions had been proved by one or two reports of 100-mile (160kms) reception several years before, but in general, anything over 10 miles was considered DX and worth reporting. Transmitters were often of the push-pull tuned anode resonant grid type, feeding into long wire aerials.

Such was the transmitter at, for instance, G6NZ in Southsea. In common with other local enthusiasts, we built a super -regenerative receiver, but being on the opposite side of a 300-ft. hill from G6NZ, we failed to hear anything but ignition QRM. Nothing daunted, we persuaded a neighbour to spend Sunday mornings taking us round the district in his car, so that we could log G6NZ's signals in more favourable locations.

Other groups up and down the country were doing the same sort of thing. Portable work became the great thing. One Sunday in each month was set apart in the South of England as a 5-metre field day. Transceivers, each smaller than the last, were built by every- one and provided much fun, even if they did not add much to the sum total of radio knowledge. We remember a contact between G2XC and G6NZ while the latter was on a moving bus, and other similar novel contacts were made elsewhere.

In 1934, G6QB took his five -metre gear to the top of the Crystal Palace, while G5CV went aloft in an aircraft and obtained air-to- ground ranges of 130 miles (209 kms). G5BY went to the top of Snowdon, a venture repeated by G5CV, G6YQ, GW6AA and others later. Signals from Snowdon were heard as far away as Essex.

But by 1936, many of us were realising that so far we had only been playing at 5 metres and that if the full possibilities of the band were to be explored, both transmitters and receivers must be improved considerably. CW reception should be made possible, and that meant frequency stability at both Tx and Rx ends. Really good valves for use on 60 mc were still scarce and expensive, and in spite of the general acceptance that CC transmitters and straight or superhet receivers were desirable, progress was slow. Gradually, however, stabilised transmissions increased in number as news spread of the possibility of European DX ; commercial harmonics had been logged during the summer of 1936 and G2FA worked F8NW across the Channel, while G5BY (then at Croydon) was reported heard at W2HXD (trans-Atlantic).

But the first European QSO was delayed until July 2, 1938, when G5MQ worked I1IRA. About this same time, inter -G con- tacts over distances up to 100 miles (160 kms) or so were becoming commonplace, as a result of the improved Tx, Rx and aerials in use. In fact, we find A. J. Devon saying in the Short Wave Magazine for October, 1938, " 56 mc contacts are of little value as news items when the distances involved are less than 50 miles. (80 kms)" In the latter half of the same year, G5BY-G6FO obtained regular schedule contacts over the 126-mile (202 km) path between Croydon and Newport, Mon., for the first reliable ground -to -ground GDX, and G6FO also logged G6DH at 180 miles (290 kms). The G5BY-G6FO contacts stood for many months as the GDX record.

Early 1939 found G6DH striving to work ON4DJ across 85 miles of sea. And so came the summer, when in 8 days of June, G6CW made 13 contacts over 100 miles. Contacts between G and I were made on June 1, 13, 24 and 25, and G2ZV and G6CW set up a new inter -G record of 150 miles (240 kms). The Snowdon tests of that same summer were, however, not so successful as a result of a severe gale which reduced all the expectations of GW6AA and his helpers to nothing. In spite of that 25 stations were worked, including G6CW at 137 miles (220 kms). In August, 1939, the GDX record advanced another stage, when the late G2OD (Worthing) contacted GBKD (Sheffield) over a 190 -mile (306 km) path, while G2AO (Eastbourne) worked PAOPN. When, on the outbreak of war, activity ceased on September 3, 1939, not only had the GDX record been brought to a figure which would have been considered incredible only a few years previously, but contacts had been made between G and EI, F, I and PA.

Post -War Results
And so to 1946, when with the return of amateur licences the Five -Metre Band was one of the two bands made available, but shorn now of its LF end. With better and cheaper valves, and a general trend towards beams in place of long wires and simple dipoles, GDX was soon being worked. By June, A. J. Devon, in his feature "Five Metres" in the Magazine, was beginning to run out of superlatives ! G5BY made the first inter -European contact on May 19, working I1FA. About the same time G5MQ and G6VX were maintaining a 184 -mile schedule for 15 evenings in succession, while G5BY worked G5MQ on May 13 over a 215 -mile path. As A.J.D. said that month, "Inter -G working up to 200 miles is passing from the very uncommon and exciting". During June, the band opened to Europe on six occasions, G2XC, 5BD, 5BY, 5LL, 5MP and 6CW being there is take advantage of it. G5BY and G6LK started a regular schedule over 156 miles with remarkably consistent results. The GDX record passed to G5BY/ G8UZ. July 23, 1946, was an outstanding evening for inter -G work, while August 22 provided the best European evening of the year with the first HE contacts being made. Early October brought a fortnight of excellent conditions for GDX working, the evening of October 11 surpassing anything previously experienced. Complaints were coming in of congestion at the LF end of the band, and of weak, unindentifiable 'phones who failed to sign on CW.

In November came the first Short Wave Magazine Five -Metre Contest, lasting a fortnight. From the point of view of GDX, the event was a failure, conditions being far below normal, but all participants enjoyed it and activity was outstanding. G6VX (Hayes) was the easy winner of this Contest, with G5MA his runner up. There was a total entry of 44, and A. J. Devon estimated that about 300 G's were active on the band during the period.

G2WS/P in 1946

Aurora Openings
March 8, 1947, was the date of the first major Aurora opening on 58 mc, GDX signals being received from the North irrespective of great -circle directions and with fuzzy notes. During a further auroral display on April 17, G5MA (Ashstead) was logged by GM3BDA (Airdrie). In April, 1947, A.J.D., in the Magazine, Iaunched "Counties Worked" as a method of assessing collective progress, com- menting that there was known to be activity in 30 G counties. G5MA became first leader in the table with 22 counties worked. The EDX season opened on May 14 with the GM's receiving I's, while at G2XC we worked 21 counties in a month! The table of Five Metre Firsts was growing rapidly, and by the end of the summer 11 different European countries had been worked from the U.K. W5BSY/MM added to the excitement of that summer of 1947 by operating on 5 metres from the Mediterranean area, and a new GDX record was set up on June 1, 1947, over 285 miles (458 kms) between G5BY and G5GX.

Personality Note
In November, 1947, your present conductor took over from A. J. Devon, who for years had contributed this feature. As many may have guessed, it might now be disclosed that A.J.D. was the pseudonym of the Editor of the Short Wave Magazine.

Five metre news was temporarily eclipsed by the DX openings on 6 metres. A second Five -Metre Contest in January, 1948, attracted a good entry, although again we were unlucky with conditions. G6VX and G5MA repeated their former success and, as in the previous contest, occupied the first two places. The idea of the " Fiveband Club" was born on February 21, and was immediately well supported by VHF enthusiasts.

Activity Week -Ends provided a valuable incentive during the summer of 1948. By a remarkable coincidence, all these week-ends produced unusually fine weather, and we were inundated with requests to make every weekend an "activity" one ! GM3OL and the Newcastle group broke through to the Midlands in May, and several new counties, notably Dorset, Somerset and Suffolk, appeared on the 5-metre map.

The Counties table now showed several stations at the 31 level. Excitement grew as in June GM3OL and G3BW were heard in the London area, and on June 13 a new GDX record was achieved by G3BLP and GM3OL, the distance being 296 miles (496 kms). On June 9 a tropospheric contact between G2XC and PAWL, 370 miles (595 kms), also set a new record. In fact, some 19 contacts during June of over, 200 miles (320 kms) via the troposphere were recorded in our columns. June 4 saw an excellent European opening, as many as eight different countries being heard.

With greatly increased activity in GI and GM the stage was well set for August 7, when an amazing spell of "aurora conditions" opened the band for working between Southern G and GM's and GI's. Record contact was that by G5MA and GM2DAU, a distance of 363 miles (584 kms). A further outcome of this occurrence was a rapid rise in the counties worked, G5WP reaching 41, and G6LK making his total 16 countries.

-And Fall
On September 1, 1948, the two -metre band became available for amateur use and from that date five -metre activity started on a steady decline. A contest organised by the R.E.F. on October 23-24 produced a brief burst of activity and enabled G3HWJA and G3CQC to make 460 -mile (740kms) contacts with F8YZ, thus raising the tropospheric record to an even higher figure. A second break in the general lull came as a result of our own Magazine VHF Contest in mid -November. This time conditions were excellent and numerous over-200-mile (320 kms) contacts were made, G5BY and G3HW/A being the outstanding stations.

To round it all off, we reproduce herewith the last set of Five -Metre Achievement Tables, based upon all the available information. Some of the figures are interesting : No less than 43 counties worked, 42 of them by a station in the South London area; nearly 100 stations figuring in the Counties Worked list, for which the qualifying standard is 14 counties ; 17 European countries worked by one station, followed by two operators with 15 countries each ; a total of 88 stations shown in the Countries Worked list ; 11 European countries worked first time on 58 me post-war, three of them-North Africa, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia-by the same operator ; an estimated total of not less than 600 G stations which have appeared on the band ; and some distance records which will stand as a monument to the operators who made them.

The detail of all this achievement, over a period of years, is contained in the pages of the Short Wave Magazine, which from the beginning has devoted much space, time and energy to the VHF bands. No other record can be so complete nor so accurate. It is with pride that we look upon their results in the VHF field and the vast accumulation of technical knowledge and experience gained by so many of our readers for still further VHF exploration. But unless they had taken the time and the trouble, not only to record their results but also to report them to us, this all - too -brief Summary would not have been possible, and much of the history of VHF achievement would have been lost. 

And so we come to the close of the story. Among the thoughts which pass through one's mind is the remarkably persistent attraction the band was held for so many operators. Many of the calls that were in the five-metre news in 1933 still hit the headlines in 1948. Among its regular habitués existed a unique spirit of friendly rivalry, an amazing willingness to help the other man, even to break one's own records.

From the technical point of view the Five - Metre Band laid the foundations of British VHF technique and provided a grand opportunity to investigate sporadic -E propagation ; the Summaries of European Activity and EDX contacts which we prepared from readers' reports have been acknowledged by research laboratories in several countries as a valuable contribution to the study of VHF propagation problems.

Most of the well-known 5-metre call -signs can now be heard on two metres-or if not there, then on 70 cms. The experience of Five - Metre operation enabled excellent two -metre records to be set up within a few months. On 70 cm. technique is somewhat different, but we have no doubt that the persistence and endeavour which brought success on "five" will prevail on 70 cm. as well and that in due course a story of great achievements will be written for this new band. Five has gone ! Here's to Two and Seventy ! 

British VHF Records 
58 mc (58 MHz)
GDX (Tropo), G3BLP/GM3OL, 296 miles (476 kms)
GDX (Aurora), G5MA/GM2DAU, 363 miles (584 kms)
Tropo (European), G3CQC/F8YZ, 460 miles (740 kms)

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