Where Have All The Signals Gone?
In April 2014, I could tune through the 48m band and listen to stations on a Saturday morning from all over Western Europe. These stations faded down and were replaced with short skip stations, mainly from the UK. In the evening the band would open again and I could hear UK and NL stations as late as 2230 UTC on many occasions.
Over the last few weeks I have heard no English stations at all and more recently even the Dutch and Irish stations are virtually non-existent. So what is going on here?
I found some solar data history which gives some clue as to what is happening:
Solar Flux Index (SFI) Sunspot Number (SN)
April 2013 125 111.8
April 2014 144.3 130.5
April 2015 129.2 72.5
April 2016 93.4 39.2
April 2017 80.9 30.4
April 2018 69 0
We appear to be at or near the bottom of the sunspot cycle which is having these limiting effects on the 48m band. Of course, if you live further away you may benefit from long skip and hear some stations.
So what is the big deal? After all, the sunspot cycle has been affecting communications since we first started using electro-magnetic waves for radio. Also there is nothing we can do about it except wait for the rare days where propagation improves.
Two things are happening though: firstly the age of many operators is over 65 and we have sadly lost many. Secondly, the number of operators is decreasing significantly, due in part to the popularity of short wave being in decline but also because operators like to be listened to. If there is no audience, whether through lack of propagation or lack of interest in SW broadcasts, it matters not. They will not be on the band!
When the band starts to improve - maybe next year, in 2019 or maybe 2020, will there be any operators left ready and willing to transmit on the SW bands? Will there be any listeners left?