Last night's 80 Meter QRP Foxhunt featured two Foxes from the Great State of Georgia. One was John K4BAI, who lives close to the Alabama border, about half way up the state line. The other was Jim N4TMM who lives in Atlanta, which is not all that far way from John, if you look at their respective QTHs on a map.
You might expect, that although they live a couple to several hundred miles apart, that difference would make "no difference" compared to their distance from New Jersey. Given some variables, such as antenna, etc - they should sound about the same at my end of the QSO - no?
Their signals were miles apart (pun intended!) John K4BAI was down in the noise. QSB was terrible and at times he was unreadable. He had to QSY due to a traffic net on a nearby frequency. And to my surprise, he was working simplex, which a Fox does not often do until the very end of a hunt after the Hounds have dried up. Listening to him was tough.
Jim N4TMM, on the other hand, was pretty loud. Not 599, but definitely 569 - 579 his signal was pretty stable. There was some QSB, but not nearly as bad as the QSB on K4BAI. Jim had a good, almost conversational quality signal going for him all night.
So which one did you think I worked? If you guessed N4TMM - surprise! You're wrong!
As bad as K4BAI's signal was, I got into his log. I called N4TMM all night until I was blue in the face. I tried changing frequency a bit in order to vary my tone in his ears. I tried changing from the Butternut to the W3EDP, thinking that one antenna over the other might yield a more successful result. All I got for my efforts with Jim was a skunk pelt.
So what did we learn?
Once again, we learn that propagation is not reciprocal. Just because he's loud in your headphones doesn't mean you're loud in his. You'd think after 40 years in this hobby that would not be such a surprise; but I have to tell you, it still is. "I can hear him so well - he HAS to be able to hear me!" I'm sure that many of you have uttered that same sentence. It's amazing how hard that lesson is to learn.
We also learn that just because two stations are roughly at the same distance, doesn't necessarily mean both will sound the same, or even nearly the same. I have no idea why K4BAI and N4TMM were heard so differently here in NJ. I'm sure their antennas probably had a lot to do with it; but I'm sure other, unknown variables to me also made a difference.
We also learn that when you assume ..................... (I'll let you finish that one). I assumed that both stations would be heard about equally as well here in NJ. Once again, I made the wrong assumption.
So better yet, what do we take away from all this?
Since propagation is not reciprocal, the next time you hear a DX station, and he's weak - that doesn't necessarily mean that your signal will be weak to him. It may be; but then again it might not. So don't pass that station by automatically. Throw out your call and give it a shot - you might just be surprised.
If you're looking for a certain country or state, or county, or what have you - and you find one on the air - but they are having a hard time copying you - don't assume that ALL stations in that certain country or state, or county, or what have you will also have a hard time copying you. When you're working towards WAS and the Hawaii QSO Party comes around and you find a station and he can't copy you, no matter what you try - don't turn the radio off, walk away and give up. There may be another station only 10, 20, 50, or 100 miles away that may be able to copy you like you're in the same room with them.
I think the longer you're in this hobby, the more you think "you know" the ins and outs of what is and what isn't. Instances like last night just go to prove to me, once again, that "you never know ....... you just really never know." It's a hard lesson learned - and maybe it's never completely learned.
72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!