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Author Topic: CBer coming to HAM soon -- seeking advice  (Read 11842 times)

Posts: 61


« on: March 07, 2011, 02:37:59 PM »


I'm taking the T,G, and E exams this Saturday.  I once had a novice license, did actually play on CB briefly, but always had real interest in HAM operation.  The theory tests always looked easy, the code was just excruciating for me.  A couple of weeks ago, I ran into a HAM operator and found out code has been dropped as a requirement.  I respect people who learn and use it, it was just never my interest.

I have a strong interest in electronics and have actually built a variety of devices over the years, but not recently.  This includes both RF and audio signal processing applications.  A few quick passes through the exam prep materials, exam-simulation tests on the web, and I'm sure I'm ready.

I plan to do multi-band HF DXing.  May try to hook up with a couple HF amateurs around the US.  I may get interested in local/area VHF.

I"ve had a fortunate life, financially speaking, and can afford any reasonable setup.  I'd like some feedback on my thinking for antenna and system setup.  I have more money than time, so evolving through used transceivers and gradually upgrading isn't very practical for me.

Question 1 - discrete antenna

My HOA limits antennas, but I'm sure a long wire, flagpole, gutter system, etc. will be feasible.  My leading thought is a loop around the top eve for a section of the house at about 25 feet.  A similar configuration, with a vertical section and spotty ground plane, is an alternative.  Lastly, one gutter system run is close to what I just described with a vertical segment to ground level -- which could be extended by wire-under-eve by another 75 feet or so (or even have the gutter extend further around the area, though it isn't needed there).  With any of these, I'd use a feedpoint antenna tuner/coupler, like the SG-230 by SGC or something else (recommendations, alternatives appreciated).

question 2 - transceivers

I once owned a collins/central electronics combination for the novice experience.  It was cool, but underutilized for CW and was eventually given to a friend after years in storage (and my license expired).  I like that old equipment, but also feel like I've been there, done that.  I'm ready for a modern transceiver.   I have no specific plans, but might play with digital modes at some point, if my station supports it with moderate extension.

I've looked at product brochures for transceivers from icom, tentec, elecraft, yaesu, and kenwood. I'm leaning to the icom 7600.  

My main question is how much practical difference exists between these transceivers?  I know they will have many trade-offs, unique features, ergonomic variations, etc., for very experienced operators at the limits of communication or contesting.  Are there differences I would see in the first 5 years with my lightweight usage pattern (remember, time limited)?  Should I be looking at lower cost transceivers?  Should I spend several times as much for their 7800 or something similar from other manufacturers (ideas, recommendations, please)?  I first settled on the 7800 and later convinced myself that the 7600 is probably more than sufficient for my needs.  I know there are a few others as well (7400, 9100).  I'm not that interested in getting a VHF unit in the same system.  It needs different antennas, would have a different usage pattern, etc.  I'd probably go with a portable or mobile/desktop hybrid for VHF.

question 3 -

Is it safe or advisable to look at used equipment?  So far, it seems like a 25-30% discount off new.  That isn't really worth it to me.  Maybe prices are better somewhere I'm not looking.

Thanks in advance for all your suggestions.... 73

P.S., I plan to be a serious HAM.  I just thought the title would be sure to get some attention, and hence some great advice ;-)


W4LI - Dan Hoogterp

Posts: 2806

« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2011, 02:54:07 PM »

Welcome back!

Your system will be limited by the antenna, not by the rig.  IMHO, an IC-7600 is overkill for what you want to do; it'll work, but you don't need it.  You won't have a yagi 70' in the air, collecting S9+ signals from all over; you'll have weak signals, that won't overload a lesser receiver.

Think about an IC-7200, an FT-950, or something like that.  Spend the extra money on beer.

HOA-limited antennas are hard -- I'm working with an attic dipole now.   "Gutter antennas" are possible, but you should bond the gutter sections together.  Without bonding, you'll have rectifying joints between the sections, and those will generate unwanted signals both on RX and TX.

The general rule is that an antenna _outside_ the house will outperform any antenna _inside_ the house.  If you can figure out a way to put up wires without upsetting your neighbors, do it.   The details depend on your house, the neighbors, surrounding trees, etc.

If you can mount a tuner at the antenna feedpoint, the SGC SG-230 is the best you can buy.  It's not designed to feed coax.

You'll get other opinions, I'm sure.


PS -- to declare bias, my own system:
. . . Yaesu FT-450 transceiver
. . . Alpha Delta DX-EE loaded fan dipole (40m - 10m), mounted in attic
. . . LDG Z-11 Pro autotuner, mounted in attic.


Posts: 1816

« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2011, 04:53:46 PM »

I'm sure you'll soon be flooded with opinions here.  I've owned all the brands of equipment here over the years and you'll probably find my opinions and perspective different from most.  Most amateurs seem to be "brand bigots" and like to say: "I'm an xxxxx-man (substitute Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, etc. for the xxxx)".  I currently have Yaesu, Icom and Elecraft transceivers and have no biases for or against any of the brands.  If you go the Elecraft or TenTec route, you'll end up knowing the names of the owners of the company, the technicians, etc.  If you buy Yaesu or Icom, that won't happen.  On the other hand, you won't feel the regular need to chat with them - the rigs will generally work well and just keep working. 

Regarding the antennas: With the situation you describe, I'd be tempted to put up a vertical disguised as a flagpole in the middle of the front yard (don't forget the flag!). I see that a couple of companies are selling ready-to-go flagpole antennas that look exactly like a flagpole, including the gold ball at the top.  With that, I'd use a base-mounted auto-tuner as you mentioned.  Keep in mind that the SGC-230 requires a separate cable for power and the remote control pad.  They are susceptible to damage from lightning, but when they're working, they're great.  MFJ has a nice little auto-tuner that gets its DC power from the feedline and that works pretty well, but is not waterproof like the SGC-230.   That antenna will do a passable job on the higher bands, not as well on 80M.  Of course, you'll need a decent radial field, but those can be concealed in slits in the lawn and the grass will grow over them nicely.  MFJ has a nice little auto-tuner that gets its DC power from the feedline and that works pretty well, but is not waterproof like the SGC-230. 

Regarding the transceivers: I'm in a position as well where I could buy any that I desire, but I've stayed away from the IC-7800 and the larger Yaesus.  The main reason is that I'm on the East coast and the repair centers are on the West coast.  It doesn't make sense to me to have to ship an 80 lb delicate monster away for service.  If one had to ship a washing machine to the west coast for service, I think people would go back to washboards and tubs.  And, the IC-7800 had some early problems with the owners having to ship it back to Icom and pay an upgrade fee to get it to work the way it should have in the first place.  I think the IC-7600 would serve you well - 99% of the guys who own K3s and Orion IIs are incapable of explaining how those rig's receivers perform better than rigs like the 7600 (but they can quote where the rigs stand in the Sherwood table) and they wouldn't recognize a 7600's shortcomings if they ever ran into them.  Every now and then you read about someone comparing their newly purchased Elecraft K3 side-by-side to an older rig (I saw one comparing to an Icom Pro III) and they'll describe how they were able to copy signals on the K3 that they couldn't even hear on the Pro III.  That's hogwash, plain and simple.  I have a K3, Pro III, FT-1000MP Mk V and each has its strengths.  The Yaesu is a joy to operate and does everything well.  The Pro III is an amazing package and the scope is a valuable feature.  The K3 abilities are overblown and is the most user-unfriendly rig I've ever owned.  The only thing that keeps it on my desk is the P3 panadaptor which is the best-of-breed.

Regarding buying used: I've bought used all my life until recently and have bought from all sources.  In the past few years, 100% of the rigs I've bought used have had problems and needed service, even though the seller said they were perfect.  I don't know if the average seller is just plain too stupid to know when something isn't working, or if they all have ethical deficiencies.  Except for rare cases, I've been able to fix the rigs myself but unless you're up for that, I'd advise sticking with new gear.  Another reason why not to buy used - the K3 is a good example of this.  If you carefully study the ads selling used K3s, you'll find that the sellers are asking AT LEAST 90% of the price of a new unit - and they're getting the price.  But, the Elecraft warranties are not transferable, so to save 5-10%, you're kissing off the warranty.  Makes no sense to me.  But of course, when I sell my K3 I'll ask for and get that price. 

By the way, I see you owned a Collins/Central Electronics lineup at one time.  My favorite boatanchor rig of all time (and I owned the pair) was the 75A-4 and CE 100V.  Amazing stuff when you consider when it was designed and built. 

One more item: New transceivers usually are sold at the Dayton Hamvention at good discounts off the usual street price.  You can price shop the big vendors there (like AES, HRO) and sometimes they offer to match the other's price.  To get the best price, you usually order there and have it shipped to you.  You avoid sales tax and get the lower price as well. 


Posts: 2218


« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2011, 09:25:46 PM »

I"ve had a fortunate life, financially speaking, and can afford any reasonable setup.  ... I have more money than time, ... My HOA limits antennas...

Respectfully, then why don't you get the heck out of your house, and move someplace where you have no antenna limitations? No kidding. I'm not trying to be a smart-aleck. The antenna is the major part of any station!

I sure I'm not as well-off as you are, but one of the reasons I moved to this 10-acre site in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the power lines, is because I wanted to enjoy ham radio. Ask yourself, Is there a good reason why you can't do the same thing?

Having said that, I'm having trouble affording the tower that I need. :-)


Posts: 1149

« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2011, 03:41:46 AM »

 Have you looked at the new Kenwood TS-590, it is a great radio from reading all of the reviews. I played with one at Texas Towers here in Dallas for over an hour one day and I love it. Does everything that the bigger radios do and even better. Around 1700 dollars.
Good luck and 73 Jim

Posts: 1418

« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2011, 06:42:37 AM »

Yea it would seem a shame to spend a thousand or so on a xcieve, another couple of hundred on the tuner feedlines, grounding etc. Then connect it to a flagpole  Tongue

Posts: 2264

« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2011, 07:01:57 AM »

.......I plan to do multi-band HF DXing.  May try to hook up with a couple HF amateurs around the US.  I may get interested in local/area VHF......
One of the best things you can do is to associate yourself with a local club.  You can't imagine how much information you can gleen from talking radio with a few guys at meetings, and attending a couple of antenna parties.  Welcome, and good luck!

Posts: 121

« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2011, 07:42:30 AM »

A good way to go used is to buy a pre-owned transceiver from one of the big dealers such as Amateur Electronic Supply.  They only take clean used gear in to resell and they come with 10 day complete refund and then 30 day parts and labor warranty.  They fully check the functions and output as well before they sell it.  I do that quite often and I don't take the initial depreciation as you do on a new radio.  I just bought a FT-450, came with original box, manual and all the accessories.  Can't tell it from new and I saved almost $300.00 over new.  good luck on your exams.  cheers.

Posts: 4691

« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2011, 09:39:20 AM »

Three points I'd like to make:

1) WELCOME BACK! It's great to read your story.

2) I agree with W0BTU: If you have the money, move to an unrestricted, ham-radio-friendly home. They're out there, it's just a matter of finding one. It's a buyer's market now, too.

Yes, moving can be a bit of money and work, but in the long run it will save you money, time and aggravation not to be constantly fighting antenna limitations. Particularly since your interest is in things like multiband HF DXing.

This doesn't mean you need acres of ground or a tower, or that folks in restricted locations can't work DX. What it means is that compromise antennas are a limitation you have the resources to avoid.

3) It's "ham", not "HAM". The word is not a proper name, acronym or abbreviation. I don't know how the all-caps thing got started, but it's not correct.

73 & good luck de Jim, N2EY

Posts: 16

« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2011, 01:42:38 PM »

The  transciver is the base of a station , the antenna system is the HEART ,

Otherwise look on DX ZONE  as they have many designes for stealth antennas.

Cheers from downunder

Posts: 1137


« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2011, 04:22:02 PM »

dipoles and loops made with #24 or 26 magnet wire are practically invisible. Run 300 ohm ladder line up to the attic and just through the gable vent to connect to your stealth antenna.

Use a tuner with parallel line outputs for multibanding.

- - · · ·  M A R K · N 1 L O · · · - -

Posts: 61


« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2011, 08:22:58 PM »


Thanks greatly for the many responses.  I'm excited about rejoining the ham community (no more caps ;-).

From what I've read here, I'd likely be happiest with either Icom or Yaesu.  I'm also thinking the 7600 (or similar Yaesu) and lower transceivers as my likely entry.  That will still be overkill for the first couple of years.  I'll look at other models, but I'm very easy to up-sell on electronics / gadgets / etc. 

As for moving the QTH, I've had that thought.  We have two young kids in great schools that are very close.  My wife knows many people in our community.  The ham bug just woke up from hibernation recently.  I just wish I had factored ham radio in during our search a few years ago.  My next house will have no explicit antenna restrictions.

I think I have enough space to do a decent low-visibility wire antenna.  The flagpole has aesthetic issues inside the home, though the community would probably be okay.  If they spotted me digging up the yard, burying tuners, etc., who knows...  I am going to ask if a simple vertical, mounted in the rear of the house, would be okay.  a 20-30 foot vertical 10-15 feet above ground might be a possibility, but I'm not counting on it.  Radials, traps, less likely.

For any of the antenna configurations I've considered, installing the ground radials will be challenging.  I think I can do okay with 180-210 degrees, but some directions will be challenged no matter where I hide the antenna (water, neighbors, pool, patio, etc). 

Does a delta loop work decently - long wire a few feet above ground?  Will they work with antenna couplers (feedpoint tuners)?  The SGC device seems to want radiator and ground.  Are there other generic automatic couplers for loops?  I'm assuming the tuner will let me experiment with different configurations, which should be fun.

Thanks a million for all the helpful feedback.  I may be just unpacking the transceiver, along with various gadgets and accessorices, but it looks like the antenna will be a project for some time...

73 ... Dan

W4LI - Dan Hoogterp

Posts: 441


« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2011, 06:17:42 AM »

Really? If a nosey neighbor sees you digging up your yard they can rat you out and you get in trouble?

Not to sound snarky but, you should try moving to America!

(sorry...I hate HOAs and their pretend authority over how people live their lives. Conformity cops is really all they are. Power trippers. I'll shut up now.)

PS welcome from a new-ish ham Smiley


Posts: 402

« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2011, 10:09:09 AM »

make sure to use phrases such as "breaker breaker, "ten four", and "yew gat a copy cmonback?" a good deal to shake up the old timers

If you have a clumsy child, you make them wear a helmet. If you have death prone children, you keep a few clones of them in your lab.

Posts: 61


« Reply #14 on: March 12, 2011, 12:27:56 PM »

I want to thank everyone again.  I passed the T,G, and E elements this morning.  Just a couple week wait for the FCC database to be updated.  I'm hoping to be on the air in 4 to 6 weeks.

I've basically settled on the Transworld 20-10 with the 40 meter alternative matching system as an add-on.  That gets me on the air easily and will become a portable system for the long run.  Separately, I'll choose an auto-tuner and play with some wire and alternative stealth antennas of my own design.  I can't get eznec to run on my system, but I'll figure it out soon.

Is there a good remote auto-tuner that handles both balanced and unbalanced outputs as designed?  Most seem to focus on end fed long wires, which I will also likely try.  I'd also like to try a few configurations of my own, derived from the antenna book.  I don't really like running an unbalanced tuner with a pre-balun and floating balanced output unless it was designed for it.  Maybe that configuration is fine -- in which case an SGC230 (I think) or a similar MFJ would work.  I'll probably stay under 200W pep for quite some time.  Any ideas on this would be appreciated.  I definitely want the tuner at the antenna feed point for non-resonant systems.

I am leaning to the IC 7600, but not completely locked in yet.  I'll likely get a separate VHF/UHF portable at some point.

I hope it is okay that I don't really remember all the CB jargon, even though someone recommended it ;-).  Just kidding, I was never a real CBer -- though I had a radio for a while.

I"m excited and looking forward to being active in this arena....

73..... Dan
« Last Edit: March 12, 2011, 12:29:59 PM by DANHOOG » Logged

W4LI - Dan Hoogterp
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