The Amateur Amateur: HFing and Puffing
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
It's been a year since I lost my
ability to work the HF bands. A storm came through and tore up the
neighboring city of Hazelwood. Florissant, where I live, was mostly
spared, but the storm did take a parting shot by ripping the antenna
mast off of my house. Whoosh! Rip! Splat! Right onto the patio next
door. That was the end of my HF capabilities and the beginning of my
neighbor's fears that perhaps my ham radio hobby wasn't so harmless
The antenna coupler is the black box a few feet from the base.
Here's the real scoop, though, I
hardly ever got onto the HF bands anyway. Most of my ham radio
activities did, and still do, revolve around our local ARES team
(Amateur Radio Emergency Service). It keeps me very busy and leaves
me with little hobby-time left to do anything else.
But here's the thing. As soon as I couldn't
get onto the HF bands, that's all I wanted
to do. I'd read about special events, hear about contests, maybe see
something on the Internet about an interesting station, and I'd just
be itching to go down to my shack, fire up my HF transceiver, and
join the fun. But I couldn't. I felt like the boy who got left
behind, sitting in bed with the measles while staring longingly out
the window as his friends trotted up the street to go play baseball.
There is undoubtedly a term for
the condition of suddenly and insanely desiring something you never
wanted before, but do now because you can't have it. That doesn't
exactly descibe my situation, however, because I always did have at
least a mild craving to work HF. And, at least until last May, I did
have the equipment to do it.
So... what has prevented me from putting up another antenna and satisfying
my HF urges? Oh, I've got a lot of excuses. The primary one, though,
is that it's not so easy to put up an HF antenna where I live. It
must go on the roof of my suburban house. There is absolutely no way
to put up anything antenna-ish across, in, or under my back yard. And
after the Big Blow last year, whatever I do
put on the roof had better have a fairly low profile. One gaping hole
in the roof was enough for me, and more than enough for my insurance
The HF antenna system I'd had previously wasn't large, it just happened
to be on the wrong mast. It was a simple wire antenna connected to an
antenna coupler (think antenna tuner, only located at the antenna end
rather than at the transceiver end). Once the mast toppled, the
antenna coupler sat upside down until the storm subsided, and during
that time rain managed to get inside and ruin it. It took me a while
to realize that. There was another long delay while the manufacturer
inspected it and declared it defunct, and a big
wait for a replacement.
I have a new antenna coupler now,
the wire, the coaxial cable, control cables and everything else I
need. There are just three things holding up my HF antenna
- The weather
- A plan
The attic crawlspace is filthy, stifling, and cramped.
I really don't need to explain the first one. The weather has been
It hasn't been bad in the Midwest every
day, but every time the weather has been nice some other
higher priority task has come along.
As for a plan, I could probably cobble together something in a hurry.
But as yet I haven't liked anything that I've dreamed up. You see, with
an antenna coupler you don't need a lot of wire, but the more you put
up the better. It's also best if you can try to make it look like a
dipole. On my roof, however, difficult... very difficult. Everything
I've come up with so far has one of the following problems.
- It's dangerous
- It won't radiate well
- It will cause marital strife
To be fair on that last one, the whole neighborhood and the City of
Florissant probably wouldn't like it either.
Ah well, on to the final holdup: Willpower. Don't get me wrong, it's not
that I don't want
to get something up and running. And it's not that I mind doing the
labor (even the fiddly business of soldering connectors onto the
coaxial cable, something at which I am truly inept).
No, the thing that makes me cringe the most is getting up into the attic
crawlspace. That is the one place in the house that I most hate to
go. It's dirty. The air is stifling. There is no season of the year
in which it isn't too hot or too cold up there. And no matter how
many flashlights, lamps or lanterns I take with me, it's always too
dark. But worst of all, the crawlspace keeps shrinking.
A nice Kenwood TS-480 HF transceiver at one of the ARES team's
This served agency has a special Amateur Radio room with lots of
equipment, including three HF transceivers.
We bought the house almost 40 years ago. Back then the attic crawlspace
was, well, still dirty and stifling, but at least I could move around
up there. I even went so far as to temporarily install shop lights
(long since removed) so that I could spend a few days upgrading the
But now the attic is tiny and cramped and I can hardly hoist myself up
No. It's inconceivable that it has anything to do with me
getting older, less flexible.... larger.....
Well, I'll get it done someday.
In the meantime I have found other ways of satisfying my HF cravings.
And oddly, it was ARES that did it for me.
Here's a question for you. What do you do if you want to play but you don't
have any toys? Answer: You play with somebody else's toys. And that's
what ARES has allowed me to do. In fact, ARES has insisted
Like most other ARES teams, ours has served agencies, clients with whom we
have written agreements. Some of our served agencies have their own
Amateur Radio equipment. By and large they own 2 meter or dual band
transceivers, but a few have splurged and purchased HF transceivers
And I get to play with them.
Well, officially, I test them. And truthfully, that's what I do, but I
consider it playing because I'm relearning everything I'd forgotten
about operating on the HF bands.
Which was an awful lot.
There was so much that had slipped my mind, little things like HF not being
channelized. The station you want to hear may come in best on some
hair-splitting frequency, and you may have to transmit back on a
I had forgotten that with single sideband you actually have to speak
up. It's your voice that determines how much signal you put out.
And then there is the rather disconcerting fact that the band I want may
not be there. If the great sky demi-god Iono (the ionosphere) is out
to lunch, it's just like the Internet going down. Blip! Nothing.
But of all the quirks and vagaries of operating the HF bands, the one
that most gets to me, the one that truly annoys
me is the noise. I'm talking about the static, the hiss, the pops,
the motor interference, the 60 cycle buzz, all of it. Maybe it's a
medical condition, maybe it's psychological, or maybe I'm just a
cranky old guy, but trying to sift out voices from all that cacophony
just drives me bats.
It's fortunate for me, then, that modern HF transceivers have all kinds
noise reducing and canceling gizmos in them. I have not looked into
it much, but I know there are various optional thingamabobs and
external filter whatchamacallits available as well, and that will
undoubtedly be my big research project once I get my own HF station
That ends my tale. There are so many interesting facets to operating on
the HF bands, so many nooks and crannies, each with its own surprises
and oddities. I want to explore at least some of them, and I'm sure
that eventually I will.
If, that is, the attic ever lets me back in.