The Extraordinary Solar Cycle 19

Fond Memories of One Who Lived It On the cover of the March 1956 issue of CQ magazine there is a photograph of the solar disk with a large group of sunspots clearly visible. Overthis photo are emblazoned the words in large, capital letters, in a LIFETIME CONDITIONS”(see fig. 1). In an article beginning on page 28, then —Propagation Editor George Jacobs, W3ASK, penned, Cycle 19 be one of outstanding intensity with the maximum likely to surpass all others hitherto observed.”Further, he prophetically wrote, conditions during the next few years may be better than they have ever been in the history of radio. Little did we know how true these pronouncements would become. Cycle 19 was the best! It was the mother of all sunspot cycles! It was also my first solar cycle as a licensed amateur (what a way to begin). It lasted 10.5 years, running from April 1954 until October 1964. It produced a record yearly smoothed sunspot number of 201 in 1957, and of the 20 largest monthly sunspot totals of all times, Cycle 19 contributed 15, with October 1957 ranking the highest month on record with 253.8 sunspots!

The Extraordinary Solar Cycle 19I had received my Novice license in January 1956, just in time to catch the upswing of this record event. During that year, I was a senior in college and living with my parents in Lakeland, Florida. I was in my last semester, busy trying to keep my grades up and make sure I had all of my graduation requirements, while actively chasing DX on the 15-meter Novice band and diligently studying for the General Class examination. It was quite a balancing act, and in retrospect, I think DXing probably won out even though I did indeed graduate. In April, I drove to the FCC field office in Tampa, passed the General exam, and received my upgraded license and call in May. As a result, I began my journey into Cycle 19 and was on the air on 10,15, and 20 meters, phone and CW, while these remarkable conditions progressed.

My first ham station was rather ordinary for the time. It consisted of a Johnson Viking II transmitter, with 180 watts on CW and 135 watts on AM phone (SSB was in its infancy in those days). My receiver was a Hallicrafters SX-24, and my antenna was a 40-meter dipole. After receiving my General Class license, I gradually refined my antenna system. I built a two-element cubical quad for 20 meters and mounted it on a 50-foot crank-up tower which I bought from a local ham. In the fall of that year, I built a 2-element 10-meter beam. Then in the spring of 1957,1 bought some aluminum tubing and fashioned a three-element Yagi for 15 meters. Both of these antennas were mounted on 30-foot TV towers that I was able to scrounge at local appliance store scrap heaps. Later I traded my SX-24 with Leo Meyerson, at World Radio Laboratories, for a used Collins 75A2 (youa real old-timer if you remember Leo at WRL). I also added a specially ordered left-handed Vibroplex Bug, which I still use. I worked most of Cycle 19 with that station. In 1963, I moved to Miami to begin what was to be a 34-year teaching career. The following year, I retired my Viking and purchased a used Hallicrafters HT-32 transmitter, which I used as an exciter with the linear amplifier I built with four 811 As. I also put up a three-band quad, which helped me work some more DX toward the end of Cycle 19 and beyond. Logbook Memories The delight of hamming during Cycle 19 is probably best illustrated by the entries in my logbooks. I decided to delve into my old logs for this period just to relive how good conditions were, based on what I was working. My primary interest in ham radio has always been DXing, and that is the reference point from which I will always remember Cycle 19. I filled a total of 14 ARRL logbooks from my first ham QSO on January 18, 1956 until September 30, 1964. In that time, with my limited power, I worked a mixed total of 278 countries, CW and phone, and 208 countries on AM phone. My only activity during Cycle 19 was on 10, 15, and 20 meters. I didnbecome interested in DXing on the lower frequencies until many years later, so I cannot comment on Cycle 19effect on 40, 80, and 160 meters. Twenty meters was open all day and all night to some part of the globe. Fifteen meters was not far behind, remaining open to the Pacific and the Far East well after sunset, and sometimes until the approach of local midnight. Ten meters was its typical self, a daylight band, but beginning earlier in the mornings and remaining open through sunset and many hours thereafter. Conditions were so fabulous, and the MUF (maximum usable frequency) was so high, that occasionally certain long-haul paths to Southeast Asia, which normally were worked on 20 meters at only fair signal strength at my QTH, were worked on 15 meters at hours when no equivalent openings were available on 20. In addition, those openings produced stronger signal strength than normally was heard on 20 meters. My log in 1961 shows working stations in XZ (Burma), VS1 (Singapore), and 9M2 (Malaya) in mid-morning on 15-meter AM phone with solid S9+ signals. If I only didnhave to eat, sleep, or go to work, I thought, I could devote much more time to DXing! Although probably not intentionally planned for Cycle 19, the 10.5-year period saw an increase in amateur radio DXpeditions in order to put countries on the air from far-flung locations, which were sometimes difficult to reach.4 The earliest of these were the 1955-1963 Yasme DXpeditions of Danny Weil, VP2VB, which took place fully within the Cycle 19 span. The two other main ongoing DXpeditions of the time were by Gus Browning, W4BPD, from 1960 through 1981, and Don Miller, W9WNV, from 1962-1967. Their activity just caught the final years of Cycle 19, and continued for many years thereafter. With the conditions of Cycle 19, many DXers were made extremely happy by these intrepid hams’exploits and were able to add several new countries to their totals. Conditions were so good that it really didnmatter if you had a high-power station with a large antenna farm or a modest station with dipoles. Everyone had a chance to get through, and if the DX remained active in one location long enough, chances were good that you would be able to work them on one band or another before they moved on, and youhave another One”in the log.

The Extraordinary Solar Cycle 19A Changing World Map

During Cycle 19, the geopolitical makeup of the world was changing. New countries were being born and some old countries ceased to exist. The early 1960s brought the most change. To paraphrase Harold MacMillan, the then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a new wind was blowing across the face of Africa, which created new countries out of former British and French colonies. Asia quickly followed. This presented a multitude of new countries to be added to the DXCC list, as well as several countries which no longer existed and therefore were deleted. Geopolitical entities continued to be created throughout the 1960s, which gave us hams new possibilities to add to our country totals. However, scarcity of activity in these new countries became a problem. As most of the European hams left their former colonies, there were few or no licensed local hams to replace them. As a result, several of those new countries became quite rare. With those high sunspot numbers and correspondingly high MUF, one would contact other hams around the world who were using simple, low-power transmitters, especially on 10 and 15 meters. Many hams jokingly spoke about working the world with a couple of watts and a wet noodle for an antenna, or loading up a mattress spring. My logbooks and QSL cards from the period show many stations running less than 100 watts, and a good number running less than 50 watts. One day I worked FQ8AF, in French Equatorial Africa, on 10 meters CW while he was running 10 watts. On several occasions I thought I would try a little QRP. I reduced my output power to a few watts and would call CQ on 10 and 15 phone. One EA8 (Canary Islands) station who came back to me gave me a 5x9+ report and wouldnbelieve I was running 10 watts. Back in the mid-1960s, there was a popular TV program called Was the Week that Was.”When speaking of Cycle 19, the amateur community could truly say, Was the Cycle that Was.”Every ham who was on the air during Cycle 19 will surely praise its memory. To have been active and have experienced propagation during that cycle was something extraordinary. In other years and in other cycles, sunspot numbers came close to the records produced by Cycle 19, but none surpassed it. The pronouncement on the cover of the March 1956 issue of CQ magazine certainly seems to be coming true, even after all these years. It makes one wonder. ...Will it ever happen again in our lifetimes? You younger hams might have a chance to experience it. We old-timers probably donhave many sunspot cycles left. But who knows? Maybe the propagation gods will smile upon us and weget lucky again. One can only hope ... and dream! Order your personal 550d 3d rig ultra-light    

Share This Post

Recent Articles

Leave a Reply

You must be Logged in to post comment.

Powered by