Check out 30 meters!

Screenshot of WSJT software and logbook page with recent contacts on 30 meters.
30 meters in action! Screenshot of WSJT-X and QRZ logbook as seen on a Lenovo Chromebook, accessing a Windows 10 PC / IC-706M2G remotely. The WSJT-X software runs on Windows.

The 30 meter band became available to USA Amateur Radio operators in the early 1980s, so why didn’t I know anything about it?

Well, to be fair, I did know that our real estate of 10.100–10.150 MHz was next door to the oft-used time standard station WWV on 10 MHz. I also knew that there was no provision for phone operation on 30 m, and I didn’t operate too much CW, so it seemed like a pretty useless band. Like many others, I had no problem finding SSB activity on bands like 20 and 17 meters. 15 and 10 m had their moments as well, especially near sunspot maximum.

But now we are clawing our way out of a deep, persistent solar minimum, one that coincides with other things that have emptied out the ham bands. Internet, I’m looking at you.

Think about it: Band conditions have been poor for what seems like ages, and the rise of internet apps and MMPGs (massively multiplayer online games) that allow everyone to communicate everywhere all the time; video streaming services, the information explosion… Well, that can be quite an easy choice for many folks, including ham radio operators who are sick of terrible band conditions for months on end.

So (at least for phone users) the bands have emptied out, except on contest weekends. Is there anything out there for those of us who want to use the radio?

Yes. Yes there is. But you might have to step out of your comfort zone if you, like me, are stuck on SSB. Looking to make contacts, I decided to try the digital mode FT8. Strictly a method to exchange basic information, FT8 needs no microphone, using a keyboard instead. Data passes between the radio and a PC via a USB cable or audio cables and an interface like a RIGblaster. A software interface is needed on your PC, the free program WSJT-X. What is transmitted and received is displayed on the software interface. FT8 is a weak signal mode suitable for poor band conditions, and like CW, it is allowed on 30 meters. You can operate either or both to good effect on 30, and you won’t be disappointed.

The 30 meter band lies between the almost-always great DX band 20 meters and the almost-always open to somewhere 40 meter band, so it has characteristics of both. Since 20 meters can be packed with stations on weekends, 30 meters can be your refuge – as long as you are willing to use CW or FT8.

My choice was FT8, partly for its popularity – there are plenty of stations on all the time – and partly because I just wanted to learn something new. As you might expect, I fumbled around with the new mode, reading about how to use it and then doing a lot of listening before finally transmitting and making noob mistakes.

A section of my logbook. I’ve been able to get on HF nearly every day, thanks to FT8 and the 30 meter band.

A happy surprise was that I could almost always make at least a few new HF contacts every day on FT8, getting up early in the morning or just checking in when I had time later in the day, especially toward evening. 30 meters was open a lot! Since I was making more contacts, I thought I should probably get more serious about using Logbook of the World. I’d had it set up for years, but my operating habits had become stagnated, mostly just checking into nets. It seemed only polite to be correct in LoTW for those other ops who needed my state or county.

So now I had learned a new mode, made serious use of a band I’d neglected for decades, and was operating a LOT more HF. And all of this was taking place now, when band conditions could hardly be described as stellar! Here are three things that happened that made me a better operator:

  1. I became a LoTW user for real, updating my contacts daily and thus joining the worldwide community of ham radio operators who use the worldwide confirmation system.
  2. Because I tried something new, I learned about 30 meter propagation and an entirely new operating mode, FT8. This gives me more tools in my Amateur Radio toolkit!
  3. Thanks to the weak signal capabilities of FT8, I discovered that the bands aren’t really “dead” – there are plenty of stations on the air all day and all night, but you just have to use FT8 to find them. This has led to more searching around our spectrum and learning about other bands I haven’t used enough, like 17 and 12 meters.

In short, the 30 meter band has become – for me at least – the tool that has kept me active on the air. I recommend it!

73 – Pat, WA0TDA