The Effects of COVID-19 on Worldwide Propagation
by Pat Connell W0OJU

On a typical Spring Sunday afternoon, I would be working on a project in the garage, in the basement, in the back yard, or at a friend’s house.  Anywhere but in the basement or in my radio room.

But this Sunday was different, it was March 29, 2020 the year of COVID-19.  Our president, governor, and numerous other brilliant scientists touted the way to defeat or “flatten the infection curve” was to practice “social distancing”.  But how does an extrovert like me practice social distancing.  Talk to my neighbor over the fence, or  call someone on the phone – not too interesting.  Go for a walk with the dog?  No, the dog will just want to chase the neighborhood birds and other wildlife. 

Thinking about what to do next, I found myself in the radio shack. Seeing the HF radio was on, I checked on 15 meters and found the WPX contest was on and could hear US states repeating calling CQ with no answers or at least I could not hear the foreign stations calling them on my simple dipole.

I went down to 21.074 mhz to see if FT8 was active and start seeing signal reports of S+5 -10!  What the heck, as I turned up the audio I could hear lots of audio signals and some really loud signals from all over North and South America.  I thought what the heck, I should check out 10 meters my favorite band.  (Did I ever tell you I had an 8 element 10 meter Yagi on an 48 foot boom when I was young and single? That is a story for another column.)

I could hear a faint signal down in the noise and then a string of W4, 5 and a W6 came across the WSJT program screen.  I worked a half dozen stations, and then started calling CQ, which in turn caused me to work stations after stations for the next two hours.  I worked W0-W9, KP4, KH6, and a slew of central and South Americans! 

I checked with PSKreporter and found that my signal was being heard in Italy, New Zealand, etc.  (By the way PSKreporter will be a topic for another column – but it is a very practical almost real time tool to check on both HF and VHF band conditions, and whom is hearing whom.)

This was not a onetime experience.  On March 31, ten meters was open late afternoon and early evening across the U.S. and all the ways to South American.  One Example was a J68 (St. Lucia island) who was a S9+ signal for over two hours!!

By now you are wondering, so how is COVID-19 improving propagation? My hypothesis is that there is an indirect impact.  My hypothesis is that there are more people listening out there as part of their social distancing.  The problem is if everybody is just listening and not calling CQ the band will appear to be dead.  So, let’s light up the ionosphere by listening and calling CQ – just don’t be surprised when someone answers! 

73’s and I would love to hear your experiences. – Pat W0OJU