Sunday, October 21, 2012

VOACAP Propagation Planner - a planning tool for HF contesters and DXers

Now it's official: I have launched a new HF propagation prediction service for those who want to maximize their efforts either in contests or DXpeditions.

Preparing and planning for any worldwide contest or DX expedition (or hunting a DX) require a thorough analysis of propagation predictions. The propagation predictions help you, so to speak, get a good grasp of the playing field, i.e. where to play and when. The predictions tell you when and on what bands the best openings are in the given direction at a suitable signal strength, so that the QSO rates can be maintained at their best; at what times it’s good to use those valuable long-path openings, and when to focus on working those hard-to-reach areas while the band opens elsewhere at the same time.

For these specific purposes I developed a new service on my Web site — VOACAP Propagation Planner. It provides VOACAP propagation predictions as numeric data, which can then be entered into an Excel template giving you zone-specific summaries and thus helping to create your own contest or DX operation plan.

It all boils down to making optimum use of the openings — being in the right place at the right time. So, the better predictions you have, the better basis for operating planning. Nevertheless, we must remember that predictions are just that — predictions, not exact science. And, due to the nature of VOACAP, you must visualize low-band openings with the help of grayline map software such as DX Atlas by Alex VE3NEA or GeoClock by Joe Ahlgren. VOACAP predictions are of less help there.

VOACAP Propagation Planner is in two parts:
  1. a Web site ( ) that offers VOACAP predictions as numeric data, and
  2. Windows and Mac software called PropPlanner (together with a User’s Manual plus an Excel template) that helps you work on the VOACAP prediction data on your own computer and make it more usable.
Start today by reading the VOACAP Propagation Planner User's Manual.

Here are some screenshots of the various parts of the service:

1. The online service,


2. PropPlanner, a simple data extraction and filtering tool



3. The Excel workbook, automatic generator of CQ Zone specific predictions


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Great Opening to North America on 10 Meters

Today, 17 October (and yesterday), there was once again a good opening on 10 meters towards North America.

Below you will find OH6BG skimmer findings:
  • 23 different North American 10-meter beacons spotted. Last time this month there was such a good opening on October 5.
  • Beacon openings started around 13 UTC and beacon spots lasted until around 16 UTC. A peak with most stations heard can be found between 1300-1430 UTC.
Here are the full details from 16-17 October:

1) KB1QZY/B, 28.2030, FN32QC, West Springfield, MA, 4W

28202.8  KB1Q             5 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 13:52:00
28202.8  KB1Q            10 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 14:00:00

2) K4MTP/B, 28.2030, FN21TA, Tannersville, PA

28202.9  FN21TANNER       9 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 13:57:00
28202.9  FN21TANNER       7 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 14:08:00

3) KE4TWI/B, 28.2045, EM66VC, Watertown, TN, 2W

28204.6  KE4TWI           5 dB    14 wpm           2012-10-17 13:15:00
28204.6  KE4TW            7 dB    14 wpm           2012-10-16 13:56:00
28204.6  KE4TWI/B         9 dB    14 wpm           2012-10-16 14:08:00

4) N3NIA/B ,28.2055, FN01PK, Ridgway, PA, 4W

28205.4  N3NIA/B         12 dB    16 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 13:44:00
28205.4  N3NIA           10 dB    16 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 13:47:00

5) W4CND/B, 28.2080v, EM63QA, Jemison, AL, 5W

28207.8  W4CND            4 dB    14 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 14:13:00
28207.8  W4CND           10 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 14:24:00

6) N8PVL, 28.2085, EN82GJ, Livonia, MI, 5W

28208.7  N8PVL            7 dB    14 wpm           2012-10-17 14:02:00

7) N4PAL, 28.2140, EL98HQ, Longwood, FL, 5W

28214.0  N4PAL            6 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-16 12:45:00
28214.0  N4PAL            4 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-16 14:12:00
28214.0  N4PAL            9 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-16 14:23:00
28214.0  N4PAL           10 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-16 14:34:00

8) K3FX, 28.2160, FN20XE, Neptune City, Northern NJ, 5W

28216.0  K3FX             7 dB    20 wpm           2012-10-17 14:03:00
28216.0  K3FX             2 dB    20 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 15:44:00
28216.0  K3FX             2 dB    20 wpm           2012-10-17 16:02:00
28216.0  K3FX            12 dB    20 wpm           2012-10-16 14:16:00
28216.0  K3FX             6 dB    20 wpm           2012-10-16 14:27:00

9) W1DLO/B, 28.2215, FN65JE, Calais, ME, 10W

28221.7  FN65JE          17 dB    10 wpm           2012-10-17 13:06:00
28221.7  FN65JE          10 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 13:17:00
28221.7  FN65JE          15 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 13:49:00
28221.7  FN65JE          18 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 13:59:00
28221.7  FN65JE          20 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 14:10:00
28221.7  FN65JE          26 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 14:21:00
28221.7  FN65JE          23 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 14:31:00
28221.7  FN65JE          24 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 14:41:00
28221.7  FN65JE          20 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 15:01:00
28221.7  FN65JE          14 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 15:13:00
28221.7  FN65JE          11 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 15:48:00
28221.7  FN65JE          28 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-16 13:44:00
28221.7  FN65JE          17 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-16 13:55:00
28221.7  FN65JE          12 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-16 14:05:00

10) N4QDK/B, 28.2225, EM96TI, hilltop nr Lexington, NC, 10W

28222.4  N4QDK/B         11 dB    15 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 12:41:00
28222.4  N4QDK/B          7 dB    15 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 13:30:00
28222.4  N4QDK/B          9 dB    15 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 13:58:00

11) W2DLL/B, 28.2255, FN02PP, Colden/Holland, NY, 50W

28225.6  W2DLL           18 dB    20 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 13:38:00
28225.6  W2DLL            8 dB    20 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 13:50:00

12) VE9AT/BCN, 28.2270, FN64OQ, White Head Island, NB, 100mW

28226.9  VE9AT            3 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:23:00

13) WA4FC/B, 28.2310, FM17HD, Chester/Prince George, VA, 5W

28231.0  WA4FC           19 dB    12 wpm           2012-10-16 12:53:00
28231.0  WA4FC           14 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 13:05:00

14) N2MH/B, 28.2320, FN20UT, West Orange, NJ, 5W

28232.1  N2MH/B          10 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:07:00

15) W8YT, 28.2360, FM19AJ, Martinsburg, WV, 5W

28235.9  W8YT             8 dB    13 wpm           2012-10-17 13:41:00
28235.9  W8YT             4 dB    13 wpm           2012-10-17 14:03:00
28235.9  W8YT             6 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 12:48:00
28235.9  W8YT             4 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 13:35:00

16) KG2GL/B, 28.2460, FN20WT, Nutley, NJ, 5W

28245.8  KG2GL/B5        13 dB    16 wpm     CQ    2012-10-17 14:02:00
28245.8  KG2GL/B5        10 dB    16 wpm     CQ    2012-10-17 14:05:00

17) N1ME/B, 28.2480, FN54OT, Old Town, ME, 5W

28247.8  N1ME/B          24 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 13:49:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          21 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:00:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          18 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:11:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          30 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:21:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          23 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:31:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          26 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:42:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          17 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 15:04:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          16 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 15:15:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          20 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 15:27:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          22 dB    12 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 15:37:00
28247.8  N1ME/B          26 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 15:48:00

18) AB8Z/B, 28.2640, EN91DJ, Parma, OH, 5W

28263.9  AB8Z/B          15 dB    18 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 13:42:00
28263.9  AB8Z            13 dB    19 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 13:48:00

19) VE3WE, 28.2655v, FN03IR, Scarborough ARC, Ontario, 5W

28265.3  VE3WE            7 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-17 13:52:00
28265.3  VE3WE           14 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-17 14:02:00
28265.3  VE3WE           10 dB    14 wpm           2012-10-17 14:13:00
28265.3  VE3WE            8 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-17 15:33:00
28265.3  VE3WE            7 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-17 15:57:00

20) KA1EKS/BCN, 28.2665, FN55OO ,Millinocket, ME, 5W

28266.3  KA1EKS           8 dB    13 wpm           2012-10-17 13:26:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC       17 dB    13 wpm           2012-10-17 13:51:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC       19 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:30:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC       18 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:41:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC        9 dB    13 wpm           2012-10-17 15:08:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC       14 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 15:29:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC       17 dB    13 wpm           2012-10-17 15:40:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC       12 dB    13 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 13:38:00
28266.3  KA1EKS/BC       14 dB    13 wpm           2012-10-16 14:06:00

21) W3HH/B, 28.2695, EL89VC, Ocala, FL, 6W

28269.2  W3HH             5 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-17 14:10:00
28269.2  W3HH             6 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-17 14:35:00
28269.2  W3HH             3 dB    15 wpm           2012-10-17 15:42:00

22) WF4HAM, 28.2730, EL98HP, Altamonte Springs, FL, 20W

28273.1  WF4H             8 dB    17 wpm           2012-10-17 13:41:00
28273.1  F4HAM            7 dB    17 wpm           2012-10-17 13:57:00
28273.1  WF4H            15 dB    17 wpm     DE    2012-10-17 14:32:00
28273.1  WF4H             4 dB    17 wpm           2012-10-17 15:09:00
28273.1  F4HAM            4 dB    18 wpm           2012-10-17 15:31:00

23) K4UKB/B, 28.2760, EM77NP, Danville, KY, 10W

28275.8  K4UKB/B          9 dB    14 wpm     CQ    2012-10-16 14:09:00
28275.8  K4UKB/B         10 dB    14 wpm     DE    2012-10-16 14:19:00

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Meet Nordic Real-Time Propagation with Skimmers

Today, I want to introduce you an excellent addition to your VOACAP predictions, Nordic Real-Time Skimmers.

As we all know, VOACAP predictions work on a monthly level. The program is not intended to predict today's or tomorrow's HF propagation. All that VOACAP says, for instance in case of VOACAP Online predictions, is that there is such and such a probability of getting a QSO on that frequency at that time of the day during that month. It is also supposed that ionospheric conditions are calm and quiet.

Now, there is always some activity going on in the sun. It can be solar flares, coronal mass ejections, proton events, or simply coronal holes which can be in a suitable geoeffective position so that it affects the Earth's magnetic field. Those typically mess up our ionosphere in some way.

One way to understand what the current HF propagation conditions are, there is a network of HF receivers that continuously monitor the CW section of the global amateur radio bands from 1.8 MHz to 28 MHz and even beyond. These receivers try to programmatically decode (ie. make into cleartext, find out the callsigns of) all the CW signals they can hear and report those findings into a global monitoring network - the Reverse Beacon Network. Those receivers which monitor several bands simultaneously and decode the CW signals are called skimmers.

The Reverse Beacon Network (or RBN) is a global monitoring system which collects spots (decoded callsigns) from over 80 monitoring receivers (or skimmers) around the world. The majority of receivers is located in the USA and Europe but there is an increasing number of receivers also in Asia Pacific, and one in Africa. Curiously, there is none in South America!

While the RBN is an excellent service, I still felt the need of creating a regional network of skimmers to get a more comprehensive picture of HF propagation conditions in the Nordic countries. This is why I created the Nordic Real-Time Monitoring page. At the moment, there are two skimmers that feed their spots to the system: OH6BG (Finland, that's me) and SK3W (Sweden). And there is a plenty of room for expanding this service for other Nordic skimmers.

This Nordic Real-Time Monitoring page differs from the RBN in the quality of spots it accepts. While the RBN only accepts CQ-quality spots (the highest quality decoding)  from the global skimmers, the Nordic network accepts everything that the skimmers can output. In addition to the highest-quality CQ spots, the skimmers also produce two other types of spots the quality of which may not be as high, namely DE spots and spots without classification.

Let's take a closer look at the Nordic real-time HF monitoring network page at

There are three distinct sections on this page:

1. The statistics

The number of spots received on each band monitored during the last 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes and 24 hours. This gives an easy-to-understand overview where the conditions are the best at the moment in terms of stations. If the 15-, 30- and 60-minute figures are zero, it probably means that either the band is closed or the skimmers are not monitoring that band at the moment.

In this section you will also see this:
» All » 160M » 80M » 40M » 30M » 20M » 17M » 15M » 12M » 10M
By clicking the column names (ie. bands), you will see the spots of that particular band, sorted by time so that the newest spot is shown first. By clicking "» All" you will again see spots from all bands.

2. The spots

Now when you are viewing the spots from all bands or from a specific band which you have selected, you will notice that all spots include the following details:

These seven column heads are clickable. When you click one of those columns, all spots are sorted by the column clicked. Let's briefly review the columns:

  1. DE. This column shows you the station which has sent the spot to the system.
  2. FREQ. This column shows the frequency of the station spotted (in KiloHertz). If you click on this column you can easily see how the stations are distributed across the band. I use this much on 10 Meters just to quickly see all the 10 M beacon signals at the end of the list.
  3. DX. This column shows the callsign (the station) spotted. Please note that the callsign can be clicked and further details can be found. By clicking this column it is easy to see stations by country because all callsigns are sorted from A to Z. In other words, it helps to visualize the geographical direction of the conditions.
  4. SNR. This column shows the signal-to-noise ratio (in dB) as reported by the skimmer. Please note that this is not Signal Strength. Low figures (0-5) indicate that the signal is just about readable above the noise level. Figures over 30 dB indicate a strong signal. I have found that signals from local stations in the same city can produce SNRs as high as 80 dB! Also, once on 160 Meters I saw an SNR of -1!
  5. SPEED. This columns shows the speed of the CW signal in words per minute (wpm). Values close to 40 wpm tell you that the DX is in a hurry :)
  6. MODE. This column shows you the quality of the spots, and there can be three values: CQ, DE or nothing. CQ is the highest-quality spot, it means the decoding program has been able to detect a CQ call and thus the callsign is almost certainly the one that has been decoded. DE is the second-best quality. It means that the decoding program has not been able to find a CQ from the station but maybe there was a DE + callsign detected. The no-mode spot can be almost anything: it can be a callsign given by any station on the band, or it can also be the callsign of the station detected. In other words, it is a callsign which cannot be validated in any degree but it was "heard" on the band.
  7. TIME UTC. This column shows the time in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time) as reported by the spotting skimmer. This is the default sorting column for all spots, ie. they are all sorted by time.

3. The search

All spots that this system receives go to a database, and the third section located on the top right corner of the page address just that - how to find spots saved in the database. The Nordic skimmer started in May of 2011 so there is already a good number of data to search for.

The search box accepts callsigns, and no wildcards are needed. Just type in a couple of letters from the callsign, and the system finds all callsigns that match that query.

You can also restrict the search to a specific band by selecting a band from the "Band" popup menu.

Friday, October 12, 2012

VOACAP at Contest University Finland, July 12, 2012

This summer, I was asked to give a basic lecture on Understanding HF Propagation at Contest University Finland (CTU). The venue was in Sappee, Central Finland, a very beautiful place with high hills and lots of forests. A superb QTH for DXing, for sure!

This is my Executive Summary for contesters:
  1. Learn the basics of propagation! The sun is a prerequisite for all contest QSOs. The sun’s activity creates the HF propagation conditions and also propagation disturbances.

    There are many good books on this subject. Three of my favorites are:

    1. The NEW Shortwave Propagation Handbook by George Jacobs W3ASK, Theodore J. Cohen N4XX and Robert B. Rose K6GKU
    2. Radio Amateurs Guide to the Ionosphere by Leo F. McNamara
    3. Signal-to-Noise Predictions Using VOACAP by George Lane. This is an extremely helpful book in learning the secrets of VOACAP.
  2. Make propagation predictions! Understanding HF propagation conditions and predictions are important for your contest strategy to maximize the points. Using prediction software is increasingly easier; there are web-based services & smartphone apps.

    Use VOACAP Online at (for point-to-point predictions) and (for coverage area maps).
  3. Study grayline maps! Propagation predictions on the lower bands are of less use, we will need to study grayline maps. 

    Use DX Atlas from Alex VE3NEA or GeoClock from Joe Ahlgren. They are both excellent software!
  4. Watch the weather! The importance of watching the real-time space weather and propagation has increased during the contests and in preparing for them.

    Use IonoProbe from Alex VE3NEA, this is one of my absolute favorites!
If you are interested in reading all my slides, download the PDF here: Understanding HF Propagation by OH6BG

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Put VOACAP into your pocket

If you do not know it already, let me reveal a secret: you can carry VOACAP prediction software in your pocket. No tedious installation of VOACAP nor internet connection required!

I am talking about DroidProp, a smartphone app for Android Phones. The author is Jochen DG1PSI, and the download page is here:

A description from the page:

"DroidProp is professional HF propagation prediction software for 3 to 30 MHz, powered by VOACAP (Voice of America Coverage Analysis Program). This app is mainly intended for ham radio operators and SWLs (shortwave listeners).

All calculations are done in the device. No Internet connection is required, except for automatic updates of the sunspot numbers at regular intervals.

Due to the usage of a full fledged VOACAP installation, the app has to be installed in the phone-internal memory (APP2SD is not possible). This is due to technical restrictions. It requires about 9 MB (after installation) flash storage plus approx. 120 kB / prediction.

The app is still in early beta stage. Please report back errors found.

INTERNET: Required to download current SSN data and upload problem reports (can be disabled in settings)
EXTERNAL STORAGE: Required to dump VOACAP results to SD-card (new since 0.5.10 beta)
LOCATION: Required to use current position for a site."