I’m QRV On Six Meters

I finally put together a 6m station.

Six meters (50-54 MHz) is a weird band. People call it “the Magic Band” because it sometimes acts like HF, with intercontinental signals, and sometimes acts like VHF, with only line-of-sight local signals. That has always interested me, so in the back of my mind I decided that, one day, I’d have a 6m station. Now I do.

Six meters has everything: FM repeaters, SSB weak signal, meteor scatter, digital modes, packet, AM, etc. I’m most interested in digital modes and meteor scatter, so that’s what I decided to focus on with my new station.

I like 80s and 90s vintage radios. I also like having a separate radio for each band, if possible. So I’d been watching for a 6m rig, specifically an IC-575, the Icom 10m/6m dual-band radio from the 90s. It sounded like a good rig, and I was fine with the idea of also having a 10m rig since I love that band. They’re not exactly common, and I don’t see them for sale often. I had spoken with a guy a few months ago who had one for sale, but I was between jobs at the time. I contacted him earlier this week to see if he still had it, and he had already sold it. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll find one some day.”

So I was looking at eBay a couple of weeks ago. And there was an IC-575A (the 10 watt version of the radio) for sale, set for Buy It Now with a reasonable price. “YAY! OMG! Hrmmm. You know what? Life’s short! *clicks Buy*”. Then, the next night, another one was posted by a different seller, and it was a little cheaper, and also set for Buy It Now. “Gah! Oh well, I still got one. I only paid a few more dollars. That’s fine.” Then, the next morning someone else posted an IC-575H, the 100W version of the radio, tested and working, set for Buy It Now. “OH COME ON! Three 575s in one weekend?!?! You’ve got to be kidding me! And this is the high power version! Oh man…ugh…fiiiiiiiine. *buy* ” Dang it, eBay.

The IC-575A and SignaLink

So I had both an IC-575A and an IC-575H show up a few days later. Both are clean and work fine.  I also bought a SignaLink digital interface and a Cushcraft A50-3S 3 element beam to complete the station.

The Cushcraft A50-3S on a tripod, about 13 feet in the air.

I got the station set up just in time for the CQ WW VHF contest. I figured a contest would be the best opportunity to test the equipment if conditions were in our favor. And they were. I got 22 grids during the contest; the farthest was on the Atlantic seaboard in Virginia. Suffice to say, I was quite happy with how my new station performed!

But I also discovered a problem. During the contest, I worked almost exclusively FT8. At one point, I was still getting used to adjusting everything and someone sent “AWFUL SIGNAL” to me, right on my frequency. So I brought up my SDR so I could see what was going out. And what a mess it was! I played with the various controls and audio levels. I was able to improve it somewhat, but it’s still not perfectly clean.

So I did some more research. It turns out that the IC-x75 family have distorted input audio with digital signals for some reason. I don’t know all the details, but I found one article talking about digging into the innards of the radio and soldering a wire to a varactor diode to give a better place in the audio chain to inject the audio. Then, I found a better article which seems to suggest that I could input audio through the other accessory port in the rear (not the same one the SignaLink uses). So I ordered a cable and I’m going to experiment. Basically, I need to put the digital audio into a different place in the audio input chain to clean it up.

Other than that, I’m super happy with these radios! They’re a nice vintage to work on; that is, they’re not all CPUs and surface mount components. And they’re great performers, sensitive and with lovely audio. I’m quite pleased. At first I thought I might sell the extra radio. Now I’m not so sure!

See you on the Magic Band!