The Amateur Amateur: The HF Chronicles--Part Deux--or--So Many Knobs, So Many Buttons

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
July 25, 2002

My last column described installing an HF antenna. The antenna sat on the roof of my house, not connected to anything. Once I worked up the courage (and money) to purchase an HF transceiver, I looked through catalogs and perused Web pages. I did this for a long, long time. The array of options available on HF transceivers was truly bewildering. I didn't even know what most of the features were.

After a great deal of careful thought, I bought what was on sale.

Yaesu FT-847 HF transceiver

My new Yaesu FT-847 transceiver: Compact, but mystifying.

Knobs and Gibberish

When my new HF transceiver arrived, I gleefully opened the box, then simply stared at it. The transceiver itself was smaller than I had anticipated, but it had what seemed like dozens, no, hundreds, maybe thousands of knobs and buttons on it. What was all this stuff?

None of it seemed to be labeled in English. The labels said things like "AF," "VFO," "AGC," "NB," "MOX" and other letters that sounded like gibberish. But you know how it is. I wanted to at least turn on the transceiver and listen to it for a while. I could always read the Operating Manual later.

Not so fast. Amateur radios are not typical consumer goods. First of all, one cannot simply plug them in and turn them on. There is no plug! Being a clever, albeit amateur Amateur Radio operator, I had already anticipated this and had ordered a power supply along with the transceiver. I won't bore you with the details. (Translation: nothing went wrong). Second, transceivers need antennas. Ha! I had anticipated this part as well. Not only were the antenna and the feed line ready, I had also ordered and received a mysterious box called an antenna tuner. Everything went together smoothly. (I told you I was clever.)

FT-847 operating manual

The Operating Manual: Always start here.

Right. Everything was connected. It was time to turn on the transceiver, which I did. Fans hummed, lights lit, dials illuminated, and . . . nothing. I had expected at least static or hiss (remember: this was not an FM radio). There was no sound!

I tried to turn up the volume. Yes. I tried to turn up the volume. I couldn't find the volume control! Nowhere among the masses of knobs, dials, lights, bells, whistles, and shaving cream dispensers was there anything labeled "volume" or even "vol." I am embarrassed to tell you how long I looked.

Time Out!

If this had been a football game it would have been the time to drop back and punt. In Amateur Radio ventures it was the time to read the Operating Manual. So I did.

I found that the volume control knob was marked "AF" for reasons that still elude me. I turned up the AF knob and, lo and behold . . . nothing! There was still no sound. Now I was really mystified.

I studied the transceiver's display carefully, hoping that among the hieroglyphics I would find a clue--something like "please fasten seat belt" or "push button Z for sound." There was nothing but a lot of cryptic nonsense, a message that said "TX," and the incessant whine of the fan. Ah well. I shut off the radio, got my reading glasses, a can of soda, and sat down in my easy chair to read the manual.

I hadn't read for very long before three alarming facts came to light. First, the TX indicator meant that the radio was transmitting! Nah, it couldn't have been. Second, the fan only ran when the radio was transmitting!! Third, the speaker was disabled when the radio was transmitting!!!

FT-847 MOX button

The infamous MOX button.

The evidence was mounting. I must have been transmitting the moment I turned on the transceiver! But how? I had not touched the microphone. The "talk" button was not depressed. Did I have a faulty microphone? Or transceiver? Rather than face those horrible prospects I continued reading.

Oh, wait. Now there was an interesting feature. Just below the POWER switch was a button labeled "MOX." Apparently, depressing the MOX button had the same effect as pressing the microphone push-to-talk button and holding it on.

I checked the transceiver. Sure enough, the MOX switch was depressed. I released it and voila! The TX indicator went off, the fan turned off, and blessed static roared from the speaker!

Well, that was embarrassing! My very first act on the HF bands was to jam the airwaves with an open microphone, violating countless rules, and no doubt angering whoever might have been listening. Not a very good beginning.

Many Miles Before I Sleep

There was clearly a lot to learn before I even tried to listen with my new transceiver. I shut it off and disconnected the power supply. I left my shack and went to the kitchen and got another soda. I then headed for my study and plopped down in my easy chair. Sighing, I hefted the transceiver's manual.

I had a lot more reading to do.

(Note to self: Delete references to being "clever" before submitting to the editor.)

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name-- "The Amateur Amateur"--suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2002 American Radio Relay League

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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