The Amateur Amateur: The Curse of the Lower Bands
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
My first HF antenna
One of the very first things that
I learned when I became an Amateur Radio operator was that working
the HF bands was nothing at all like playing around on 2 meters.
Another thing that I learned was that the HF bands are cursed.
me rephrase that. My
to work on the HF bands are cursed. It's as if I had ordered my first
HF rig from a mail order outfit that worked out of an ancient
Egyptian tomb, and they included a curse as a free bonus. (And that
would certainly explain all of the hieroglyphics on the last page of
the user manual.)
I know that sounds like a flight
of fancy, and I haven't actually found any desert sand or mummy
wrappings inside my transceiver. Intellectually, I know it's simply
that working HF is a much more complex operation than just keying the
Push To Talk button and lighting up the local repeater. Getting on
the HF bands takes a lot more preparation, both mentally and
physically. I understand that. But, I had rotten luck with every step
that I took.
It sure felt like a curse.
I guess it began with my first HF
antenna. I had endless problems there, starting with what to buy. My
options were limited by utility lines, vegetation, and stern warnings
from my wife. The antenna had to go on the roof of my house, period,
and it couldn't be so tall as to be unmanageable... or attract undue
attention from passing storms.
My first effort was a multi-band
vertical from MFJ. It wasn't huge, so my wife Nancy and I were able
to wrangle it (she's an Amateur Radio operator herself). Together, we
tuned it, trimmed it, tuned it some more, and eventually got it
mounted and connected. But even with an antenna tuner between it and
my transceiver, it wasn't very effective. I would only rarely hear
anything on the HF bands, and transmitting through it was pretty much
like sending my signals into a sack of potatoes.
I started looking around for
something else to try, and wound up with a collection of really
odd-looking antennas that more closely resembled bird houses with
Quaker Oats boxes in the middle. These were of the "amazing-but-true"
category of products that always turn out to be duds. When I tried to
selling them at various hamfests, someone would always plant himself
in front of my table and loudly decry what pieces of junk they were.
I finally had some success on the
HF bands when I ran some wire across the roof of my house (and down
into the garden) and connected it to a SG-230 antenna coupler. That
actually worked, and I was happy with the results. Unfortunately, a
severe storm brought down the mast containing the SG-230, and when I
finally got around to examining it, it was full of water and no
SG-230 antenna coupler.. before it became waterlogged
The curse had gotten me again.
After a long waiting period, I was able to purchase a SG-237 to replace the
waterlogged SG-230. Regretably, though, I was not able to recreate my earlier
wire antenna configuration. The makeshift one I set up instead barely
works at all. I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out how
to make it more like it used to be.
Antenna problems were not my only
HF band difficulties. During the brief time that I actually had a
working aerial, it was very good at making contact with every speaker
in my shack. It was pretty good at getting into the phone line as
well, and at one point even modulated one of my table lamps.
I know, I know, shielding, grounding, filters, etcetera. But, don't you
see? Even when I succeed, there's always a new
And then there was the static. QRM, QRN, one of those. My rig's filters
couldn't do anything about it. I bought a MFJ noise canceler. Not only was
it ineffective, its screw-in antenna didn't even fit. The static still plagues
me, and there seems to be no way to overcome it.
Even when everything else works (which is rare enough), something new and
unexpected always seems to happen. I'm not very competitive, so
contests are not my thing. Occasionally, though, I will attempt to
contact a special event station. I'm usually not successful, but I
finally got a shot at one station when I heard it just coming on the
air. It was the New Hampshire 13 Colonies station on 20 meters. I put
out my call and the operator may have heard me, because he said,
"Station ending in Hotel come back." I tried again and my transceiver shut
down. I never discovered why.
It's a curse, I tell you.
I can, however, sometimes evade the curse. All I have to do is go
somewhere else and use someone else's radio. Then I rarely have problems.
Let me end this tale with a strong word of advice. Don't order
anything from a place with a name like "Tutankhamun International Discount
Radio House". Whatever you buy will come with a guarantee alright, but it's
not what you think!