The Amateur Amateur: The HF Chronicles - - The Sweet Sound of Success
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
"A true ham never quits. He just tries something else!"
March 2, 2003
If you are a
regular reader of this column you know that I had rather poor luck
working the HF bands. I described having only minimal luck contacting
my brother in Georgia and even worse luck making local contacts. But,
ham never quits. He just tries something else!
I had a pretty
good idea where my problems lay. They were in my antenna system. (An
antenna system is defined as not just the antenna but everything
between it and the transceiver.) Oh, I'd read books and knew exactly
what sort of antenna system I needed. But there was a vast difference
between what the books told me to do and what was actually feasible.
Half-wave dipoles? Not enough space. Mounting the antenna so many
wavelengths above ground? Impossible. Clearly, whatever antenna
system I used was going to be less than ideal.
I started with an
oddball multi-band vertical and later switched to a collection of
even more oddball Isotron antennas. Both had their strengths and
weaknesses, and I've already covered these in other columns. I'll
just summarize by saying that practically no one could hear my
transmissions, and those few operators who did hear me gave me poor
signal reports. I just wasn't "getting out."
All it took was a wire running from one end of the roof...
I needed to try
yet another antenna system. But gosh, the choices! The variety! The
advertising claims! What did it all mean? How could I cut through the
hyperbole and get the facts? Well, I admit being an amateur amateur.
I just didn't know how antennas worked. I talked to my brother Chris
a lot, since he understands many aspects of radio that completely
elude me. Hours of conversation with Chris left me feeling that I
knew what he was talking about and almost
grasped the concepts he was trying to explain. But not quite!
Chris and I were
on close, but not identical wavelengths (no pun intended there, of
course). The only thing he got across to me clearly was, "You
need a bigger antenna." I'd say, "Impossible" and he'd
counter, "Compromise." It would go back and forth, with
Chris talking about inverted Vs in the trees and chicken wire in the
yard and my responses including the phrases "power lines"
and "irate wife."
eventually agreed that it might be possible for me to string a wire
from a pole at one end of my roof to a pole at the other end of my
roof. I did have a TV antenna mast at the south end of the house and
a police scanner antenna mast at the north end. (I had, at one time,
run a small gauge wire between the poles and used it as a shortwave
receiving antenna. It worked quite nicely.) Chris said that such a
wire and a device called an antenna tuner, might do the trick. In
fact, he believed that he had an unused antenna tuner somewhere in
his shack. If he could find it, he would send it to me.
Time passed, and
we didn't discuss antennas again, except in general terms. Chris was
rebuilding his own shack and needed to concentrate on his own antenna
problems. Then, out of the blue, I received an unexpected package. It
was a brand new SG-230 antenna tuner. Chris had bought it and had it
shipped to me. I was overwhelmed.
...to the other end of the roof.
Yes, Chris is a
generous person (and no, if you write to him, he probably won't send
you an antenna tuner), but it was more than just generosity. This was
his way of forcing my hand. Now I had
to put up a new HF
Well, I had a lot
of excuses. I couldn't put up a new antenna until I had run
additional feed line. I couldn't run additional feed line, because I
needed to run a new conduit from the basement to the attic. I
couldn't work in the attic because it was too cold, or too hot, or it
was just too nice a day. But I eventually ran out of excuses and got
all of the preparatory work done. After that, mounting the SG-230
antenna tuner and running a wire from one end of the house to the
other was a breeze.
I didn't use
the new antenna right away, though, because it wasn't complete. It
needed something called a "counterpoise" (an RF
), and frankly, I didn't really
understand what a counterpoise was supposed to do. Chris and I talked
some more about antenna theory, and again we were just slightly out
of sync, but I eventually grasped the basic idea and got the
counterpoise installed. (I may go into a bit more detail in a future
I went through
the check-out procedure and made sure that the antenna tuner was
functioning. When I started listening to the HF bands it seemed
like I could hear more activity, but I wasn't absolutely sure. I kept
on listening and eventually convinced myself that reception was
But what about
transmitting? This was my third HF antenna. I'd had very poor luck
getting out with the first two. Was the new antenna really going to
improve things? Quite honestly I was scared to try.
The result was an international contact!
As fate would
have it, though, I heard someone calling CQ on 17 meters. Just on
impulse I grabbed my microphone and answered. The caller replied! I'd
finally gotten a signal into the atmosphere! The caller gave me his
call sign (which I missed the first time) and said, "My name is
Joan, J-O-A-N, I'm in Barcelona, Spain. Your signal is 57."
Have you seen the cartoons where the Road Runner puts on a sudden burst of
speed, leaving just a bird-shaped puff of smoke, then Wile E.
Coyote's mouth falls completely open and his lower jaw hits the
ground with a 'clank!'? That
Somehow I got my
jaw re-hinged and managed to tell Joan where I was and that his
signals occasionally faded to 24, but were mostly 59. He thanked me
and went on to look for another coyote. I made a quick entry in my
logbook (mainly "Eureka!"), then ran upstairs to tell my
17 meters... heard me... Spain!
" I gasped, waving my arms madly.
"I guess that means your new antenna works," she said.
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,
© 2003 American Radio Relay League