The Amateur Amateur: Short-Lived Success with Shortwave
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Amateur's HF adventures continue. Eventually the time came to make a
contact. "Left alone, I would probably still be just listening,"
October 15, 2002
He kept repeating "64, 64, 64." What could it possibly mean?
You've read all about my efforts to get a HF (high frequency) station up and
running. I described how my wife Nancy and I struggled to get the
antenna up. I admitted my confusion over the HF transceiver's
features. And in my last column I wrote about the peculiarities and
novelties of the HF bands. Now, at last, I will tell you about
finally getting on and using
the HF bands.
I did a lot of
on the HF bands before
I did any talking
I listened to various individuals chatting. I listened to assorted
contests (there seemed to be a lot of them). I listened to special
event stations (there seemed to be a lot of those, too). I listened
to nets (there were an unbelievable number of those). I even listened
to a beacon that simply repeated the letter "V" over and
over. And I occasionally listened to Morse code traffic.
Let me take a
moment to explain that I am not proficient enough at Morse code to
simply translate it in my head. Like most beginners, I have to write
it down as I hear it, then read what I have written. Please keep this
in mind, and forgive me, because I heard a bona fide
call and didn't realize it.
I was reading the
instruction manual for my radio and wasn't paying any attention to
the Morse code message coming from the radio's speaker. Finally,
the distinctive pattern of "SOS" made its way into my
conscious mind. I dropped the manual, grabbed a pencil, and wrote
down ". . . SOS SOS SOS . . . AX . . . UXILO . . ." before
the signal faded into the background noise, never to return. I pray
that a more experienced operator was listening to the same frequency
and copied the message.
We used HF on our transceivers and UHF on our portable phones. Did that
constitute some sort of weird crossband operation?
time came for me to try to make a contact. It wasn't my
Left alone, I would probably still just be listening. What happened
was that my brother, Chris, K1KC, prodded me into getting on the air.
He lives in Georgia, and I live in Missouri, so my first attempt at a
HF contact was going to be long-distance. Chris phoned me and set up
a schedule of frequencies and times. At 9 PM local time I called
Chris on the first frequency. I heard a very, very faint reply. He
tried a few more times, but because of the background noise, I could
not quite make out what he was saying. If I turned up the volume, the
background noise also increased.
me, and we agreed to switch to another, less-noisy, frequency. Again
all I could make out was a very, very faint voice, with only our call
signs being discernable. We kept this up for 45 minutes. We did, at
some point, manage to get a message and a reply across, so it did
constitute my first "official" HF contact. It consisted of,
"Can you hear me?!" and the reply, "Not very well!"
We made another attempt a few weeks later. Chris again set up a schedule of
specific frequencies and times, only this time he decided to try two
bands. We tried 20 meters for 15 minutes without success, but upon
switching to 40 meters, I could hear Chris calling me. I replied, but
he didn't hear me. At the designated time, I switched to another
frequency. This time I heard Chris clearer, but much stronger
stations on nearby frequencies were overwhelming his signal. I kept
calling and saying "What? What?" and he kept replying ".
. . 64 . . . 64 . . ."
I couldn't make out anything else he
was saying, just " . . .64 . . ."
This went on for
a long time. What in the world could "64" mean? While I was
pondering the possible cosmic significance of this number, a stray
brain cell finally kicked in. I grabbed my microphone and
transmitted: "Do you want me to switch to 7.264 MHz?" A
faint, but clearly relieved ". . . affirmative! . . .
frequencies and, amazingly, we made contact and could hear each
other. Chris told me that he had heard me fine all across the band,
although I'd had difficulty hearing him. Just as our conversation
started in earnest, the clock struck 10 PM, and a Russian broadcast
station dumped millions of watts onto the 40-meter band and blew us
both off the air.
Our antennas were vertically polarized. They may have heard me fine down
in the Cayman Islands, but my signals shot right over Chris's QTH.
Chris and I made
contact three more times over the coming weeks, the final time being
the longest and clearest. We actually worked on 17 and 20 meters and
only stopped when propagation deteriorated. Most of our
conversations, the truth be known, were on UHF bands rather than HF
bands. While trying to break through static, foreign broadcast
stations and a wobbly ionosphere, we communicated by cell and
cordless phones. "Try 40 meters now!" "Okay."
Even then the laughing sky gods would occasionally break up our phone
connections. No doubt that constitutes high humor up in the
Later I had
lengthy discussions with Chris about our successes and failures. We
had both transmitted using 100 W. Actually, since we were using SSB,
100 W of power only went into our antenna systems when we spoke
. I'm sure that the inefficiency of my
system meant that a fraction of that power was actually radiated into
the ether. I told Chris that, given such low power, it was amazing
that we'd heard each other at all.
Chris's response flabbergasted me. He said that power wasn't the issue. In
fact, he said, most of my signal had gone completely over his
Likewise, most of his signals had zoomed above mine! This
was because our antennas were vertically polarized. That meant that
most our radiated energy headed out at a low angle, left Earth and
kept on going. Eventually the signals hit the ionosphere and bounced
back to Earth far beyond each other's stations! He said that Cayman
Islands stations had probably heard me just fine, and his part of the
conversation had probably been clear as a bell in Canada.
So, what have we
done since then? Mostly we have talked about designs for horizontally
polarized antennas. Chris has some property on which he can
experiment, but I have a suburban home and am severely limited in
what I can erect. Frustrated, I told Chris I should just knock my
vertical antenna over on its side.
"Well, you know," he said, "that could
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