The Amateur Amateur: Coming Home to HF
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Installing the original SGC-230 antenna coupler
When I originally got into
Amateur Radio, working the HF bands wasn't at the top of my
things-to-explore list. My primary focus was on emergency
communications. I eventually wound up taking the ARRL's Amateur Radio
Emergency Communication Course series (EC-001 through EC-003, now
renamed and renumbered). A lesson in one of the courses said to send
a formal message (radiogram) to my ARES Section Emergency
At that time I knew nothing about the National Traffic System. I thought
that the only way to send a radiogram was via the HF bands. While HF
wasn't my main interest, it was
on my list of things to try. So, I purchased a Yaesu FT-847 HF
transceiver, an appropriate antenna tuner, and a power supply.
And thus began my never-ending
trials and tribulations with HF antennas. I just couldn't seem to
come up with something workable.
I won't bore you with a lot of details, as I've already chronicled many
of my efforts in earlier
Let me just say that for suburbanites such as myself, getting an
effective HF antenna up is, well, not easy. I'd say it falls
somewhere between being extremely challenging and being impossible.
Oh, I've managed to put up a variety of HF antennas, just rarely an
My first real success came when
my brother Chris, K1KC, gave me a used SGC-230 antenna coupler.
Unlike an antenna tuner, which is near or attached to the
transceiver, an antenna coupler starts at the other end of the
feedline and connects directly to the antenna. By design, the SGC-230
connects to a coaxial cable feedline and a wire antenna. I placed the
SGC-230 box on a mast at one end of my house's rooftop and stretched
as much wire as I could toward the other end. For a counterpoise I,
well, draped wire wherever I could.
hey, it worked. To a degree, anyway. What I really
needed was to get on the 80 and 40 meter bands, but my wires weren't
long enough for that. I could occasionally hear conversations on
those bands, but buried deep in a lot of noise. No one ever replied
when I tried transmitting on those bands, so I assume that I also
wasn't putting out much of a signal.
80 and 40 meters were where the Missouri section ARES teams did their HF
work, so my antenna setup wasn't particularly useful for that
purpose. Since I could still do some
HF operating, however, I played around with other things. I
especially had a lot of fun with digital modes, such as PSK31 and
SSTV. I even made a few overseas contacts that way.
All that came crashing down,
literally, when a severe thunderstorm brought down my main antenna mast.
Pulling wire up from the roof
It was my fault, I admit it. The
mast was much too high, much too heavy, and had no guy wires. Guy
wires are simply not an option at my location, and I shouldn't have
risked putting up such a monstrous mast without them.
It was a very long time before I
was able to try to put up another HF antenna. My roof had to be
repaired. I had to put up a new, much more modest mast. And I found
out that the SGC-230 antenna coupler was waterlogged. I sent it back
to SGC and asked if it could be repaired.
It was kaput.
SGC did offer me a special price
on a new SGC-237, but I declined and just stuck to VHF/UHF
operations. My heart just wasn't into spending a lot of time and
effort trying to get back onto the lower bands.
I suspect that somewhere in my
chromosomes I have an obstinacy gene, though, because failures and
things left undone tend to haunt me. So yes, I did eventually
purchase a SGC-237 antenna coupler.
This time I placed it in the
attic crawlspace of my house rather than on a mast.
Say what? You are wondering.
Okay, I'm not an antenna expert.
In lieu of having actual knowledge, I try weird and idiotic things.
Occasionally they even work. The idea behind putting the coupler in
the attic was to protect it from becoming waterlogged like its
predecessor. For an antenna, I ran a single wire from one port of the
box, out the attic vent, up onto the roof, around in a square pattern
and back to the counterpoise port of the box. I'd read somewhere that
such an antenna pattern was legitimate. Having no reasonable way to
prop up the square, it simply lay on the roof tiles. Weird and
And unfortunately, not very effective.
So, that's the way my HF antenna
remained for quite some time. Basically useless.
Earlier this year I had some
serious talks with Steve, KC0QMU, our St. Louis Metro ARES Emergency
Coordinator. He had a lot of ideas he wanted to implement, including
expanding our communications capabilities beyond St. Louis City and
County. Being the number two guy in the organization, I volunteered
to take on the responsibility.
Antenna wire restrung
One of the first things I did was
to poll the membership to see who regularly used HF, and ask if
they'd like to be part of an ad hoc “HF research group”
to figure out what we needed to do. I got a respectable response. I
put the group to work to see who could reasonably work the 80 and 40
meter bands, as I already knew we'd need to do that to contact other
ARES teams in both Missouri and Illinois.
We also had a second issue we
needed to research. Because of the possibility of losing even the
repeaters during a heavy-duty disaster, we've worked hard on our
simplex protocols. Due to terrain constraints, however, we'd have to
work in “zones” rather than directly cross-county or
cross-city. So the issue was, how do we communicate between zones?
We hoped to figure out how to use
HF, possibly in a NVIS (Near Vertical Incident Skywave)
configuration, to make intra-zone contacts. But before I made many
more “try this” or “try that” pronouncements,
I needed to get back on the air myself.
Now I really had
to get serious about fixing my HF antenna problem.
Local hams and readers of my past
columns have offered lots of advice. But I can't connect an antenna
to my chain link fence, string one up in trees, or hoist a really
tall mast to form an inverted V. Believe me, I've considered just
about everything. What I settled on was trying to recreate a version
of the configuration I had before my monster mast and SGC-230 antenna
coupler came tumbling down.
I have a friend, Bob, who has
helped me with rooftop projects in the past. He came over and kept an
eye on me while I scampered around on the roof. (My wife always
admonished me to never get on the roof without someone to watch over
me. Even though she passed away, I still take her advice seriously.)
The work on the roof went fairly
quickly. I cut the antenna wire into two equal-length segments,
essentially changing it from a square box into a dipole. I raised one
segment so that it was supported by masts containing VHF/UHF antennas
and, as before, draped the other segment wherever I could. Not
elegant, but it would do for the time being.
I must admit that I was surprised
to find that it worked. When I fired up my HF transceiver, the noise
levels had dropped considerably. And come Field Day, I was able to
hear traffic on most of the bands. 80 and 40 meters were still
marginal, but that's probably because my wire segments weren't long
Now I can get back to the
business of working up HF strategies for our ARES team.
And just having some fun.
E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman