Most every one of us has gone through bad experience in the beginning so your not alone. There are a few items that are necessary to address to get the elusive 160 DX on your small lot:
1. There is no substitute for patience. I have gone years here where I have not heard a EU station here. When the sunspots are high like now, the number of EU openings to the west coast are few and far between. That means for those without a stellar station, you may only have 3-4 opportunities per year to hear/work EU. I missed my chance about 1 1/2 weeks ago because I went to bed early. West coast EU opening opportunities peak just after your sunset and just before/during EU's sunrise. In any case, you have to be there to work them. That means you should be on alert every day watching CC user, checking the band, waiting for your infrequent openings.
2. Transmitting. 160 is like moon bounce, EVERY DB COUNTS. Your running 800 watts so consider yourself3 db from where you should be. You described your inverted L antenna. It seems reasonable but you don't have a good ground system. Consider yourself another 2-3 DB down. There is a wealth of information about radials in the archives of this digest, read it. In any case, there is no substitute for 2000' + of wire on or under the ground. Your lucky because you can eliminate 6DB loss you currently have with a minimal effort.
3. Receiving. Your transmit antenna is the worst RX antenna you can have. Its not only bad but it can ruin other RX antennas near, and with your 1/2 acre, it will. A simple short BOG or two will make a world of difference. Remember think moon bounce, without a short BOG your probably signal to noise is 3-6 DB down than you could be. A NE BOG 200' long operating properly will get you some of that loss back and if you isolate your TX antenna while receiving, you probably will get even more. Put up a vertical RX array or flags and you probably will even get more S/N DB's.
4. Know how to use your rig. The signals you are looking for are always dirt weak. Its taken me years to figure out how to get the best out of a RX to hear the weak ones. Spend time listening to weak CW sigs and try different filter settings, RF gain settings, CW pitch notes. I use a Timewave DSP-599ZX audio filter. It has a "spotlight mode" for CW. In this mode, on a quiet band, I can run the selectivity down to 10 HZ. It buys me another 3 DB or more S/N. My 746 PRO has a gob of settings for filters, notches, and noise reduction I use them all and in doing so probably buy myself another 2-4 DB of S/N. Many hams have not calibrated their receiver with the proper pitch setting thus they may be off 100+ HZ when looking for a weak signal. With a 10HZ audio filter, 100 HZ off FQ is infinity! Tune in WWV and calibrate everything against it so the pitch you like is right on frequency. This really helps when there is bad QSB.
You can sit on a FQ waiting to the QSB to come up without having to tune the station unless he is off FQ. Most rigs today are within 10 HZ so usually you can set it and be right on FQ IF you have calibrated your RX properly.
In conclusion, working DX on 160 from the west coast is a pain in the butt especially on a small lot. If your crazy enough to try, you won't get there unless you fight for every DB transmitting and receiving and spend the time to be there when the band is open. Some guys get lucky and find a quiet location on rich earth, throw a wire over a tree and work DX on 160 with 100w. Don't plan on being lucky!
I'm on a 1/3 acre hillside lot over soil with the conductivity of Teflon. My antenna is similar to yours but I have lots of wire on the ground. I'm much closer to the auroral oval than you so my location is the worst of the worst for 160. I'd trade locations with you in a heartbeat. I have used short BOGS, a low dipole, loops, and other antennas for RX. I just purchased a Hi Z 3 element array I can squeeze on my lot, I have high hopes for it but know I'll have to isolate my vertical while receiving for it to work at all. If I get 3DB S/N improvement with it I'll be in heaven!
Go for it but understand that there is no easy way to get there unless luck is on your side and it looks like it isn't so go fight for the DB's.
Greg Chartrand - W7MY
This an excellent article is re-posted over here with permission by Greg, W7MY and it was originally pubished on the Topband reflector mailing list.
I am pretty sure that it is so nicely writen that it can by used by many of the TB beginners and maybe not only by them... Thank You Greg for this perfect job !
73 - Petr, OK1RP
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