There seems to be a growing buzz about the recent increase in sunspot activity. I think I've also heard a collective, "It's about time!", spew forth from hams everywhere. Let's all hope that it isn't just a tease and the sun will instead revert back to holding out on us.
I've been licensed for close to 35 years, but only what you'd call 'active' for probably 5 years. And of those 5 years, 2 of them are the past 2. So, I have no idea what to expect when the sun really ramps up. The first 3 years of that 5 year period was back in the late 70's and, as a young, teenage novice, I barely knew what sunspots were. But best I can come up with, that would've been the upward side of cycle 21. In fact, I did a lot of operating in '78 and '79, which, if the information I found is accurate, sunspots would have averaged between 80 and 120 during that period, eventually reaching much higher.
Considering also that as a novice my only legitimate shot at working significant DX was on 15 meters, I took a look back through some of my old paper logs. Sure enough, I discovered that I'd managed to work a good deal of Europe, South America, and even Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. You can imagine that for a 12 or 13 year old those were really big catches! In my neck of the woods 40 meters was obliterated by foreign broadcast stations and my antenna wouldn't work on 80, so 15 was king for me.
Now that I am older and (presumably) understand things a little more, what's even more amazing is that I worked those stations with a ramshackle vertical placed smack dab against the side of the house and my "grounding system" consisted of a single 4-foot ground rod shared amongst the tv and fm antennas. By the way, yes, I generated lots of TVI, but my folks were awfully good-natured about it. My point is, conditions must have been awfully good for me to have had much of any success.
So, I'm wondering...how good can someone expect things to get? Will 20 meters be open to some part of the world all the time? Will 15 meters be like 20 is now on really good days? Or much, much better? I've only worked a handful of stations on 10 meters, I don't even know what to expect. But when I see country totals from long-time DX'ers on 10 meters, I can't help but find myself wondering, "How good does it get?". Of course, 12 and 17 meters weren't even around back then, so what about those bands? Stands to reason that they'll see a dramatic increase in activity, right? 17 is already one of my favorite bands now.
I know this must probably sound rather silly to operators who have been active through several cycles, they already know what's in store. But for those of us who have never experienced anything but a sunspot minimum, or were too young to really remember or participate in an active period, it's a really exciting time.