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Author Topic: New Amateur, Equipping a HF station  (Read 9696 times)

Posts: 568

« on: April 06, 2014, 08:58:21 PM »

Just a few thoughts.
First, look for a good used transceiver, the newer the model, the better and do check the specs on the transceiver. I bought a Yaesu FT-450 for $600.00 shipped with two dipole antennas. It was a good deal and is a middle of the pack transceiver which works great for me.
In hindsight, I should have saved some more and bought a better transceiver, but the 450 does a wonderful job, so in retrospect, I did OK. Buy a bigger power supply than you need just for your radio. Again, look for a good used one. I have three supplies, so I always have a spare. One 40 amp, one 35 amp supplie and one 15 amp supply. One 30 or 35 amp supply will get you started.
The other things you should look at are things like an antenna tuner. I bought a new one that would handle 300 watts, I should have saved and got one that would take 1500 watts because I ended up buying a AL-811 amplifier, so I had to sell the tuner at a loss and buy another. Larger capacity tuners also have less loss of signal at lower frequency's. Buy accessories that will handle 1500 watts so when you upgrade to more power, you do not have to buy again. I did the same with a dummy load.
It may cost more to buy higher capacity accessories, but it will end up saving you money in the end.
Also spend the money for a good SWR/Power meter, the cheaper one's are not accurate. Buy quality coax and fittings. I have been using LMR-400 for everything, not just VHF/UHF. It has less loss of power per foot and is something if taken care of will last you a long time.

Don't buy every thing you see. Really think and ask questions to see if you really need what you are looking at.
If you have soldering and some building skills, you will find plans all over for many of the things you see for sale and save a boat load of money making things yourself.
You will find that when things are low in price compared to the same type of item from other manufacturers, there is a reason. Buy the best quality you can afford and if you don't need something right away, save money to buy the better quality item. Look for the radio store with the best prices and look for free shipping, especially on heavy items. Sometimes if buying something very heavy that costs $60.00, it's best to buy something else you need that costs over $40.00 if the store has free shipping on orders over $100.00. It's like getting the $40.00 item free because you are not paying the $35. or $40. for shipping of the one heavy item.

Your antenna will be one of the most important things you can spend money on. Without a good antenna, you will not be heard, buy or build a good antenna. If you build your own, you will find that you can build an antenna just as good as one that is 10 times more in a catalog in many cases. Build more than one antenna. I have a Gap Challenger vertical multi band vertical antenna. It's a fantastic antenna, but no multi band antenna will do everything well or cover every band, so I have built antennas for the bands the Gap does not cover and a couple where the Gap is weak like 6 and 80 meters. For 12 to 40 meters, it's fantastic and is decent on 10 meters, but as I don't have the cash for a tower and a stack of yagi's, I've had to research and make the best antenna I can for the money I have to spend.

You can build antennas that cover most all bands very well for less than one good high band yagi and tower. I have found that I can make good contacts with 90% (or more since I got my amp, but you still have to be able to hear the DX station) of the stations the big gun stations do. It's when conditions are very bad the very expensive antennas are worth the money. When conditions are fair to very good, the lower priced antennas such as the Gap and home made antennas will make the same contacts as they do. Not as loud and not as high of a signal, but most DX stations will work with lower powered stations. You will miss a few that the big boys are getting, but not a lot.

The thing is, get on the air with the best antenna(s) you can afford to buy or make, then as you gain experience, you can buy the other things that make it easier or give you a better signal or allow you to hear that DX station better. You will find there are plenty of stations out there to make contacts with. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to have a great time and fill your log book. You can spend that money later if you have it and find you need to have the very best, but you will be very surprised at what you can do with little money if it is spent wisely.

Last, if you cannot copy the station you want to make a contact with, let it go. You must be able to copy the needed information to make a good contact or you are wasting everyone's time. You might just find them on another day when you can copy them. Going through each frequency slowly is the best way to fill your log book. Take your time and dig for those stations, they are out there and if you don't get them the first or second time, you just might the third. Many stations change bands too. That can make it easier.
Have fun and learn to crawl before trying to run. It will pay off in the end and last, be the best operator you can. Others will notice and help you out once they see you really care about the hobby and those in it.

73's John KF7VXA

Posts: 1516

« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2014, 05:28:26 PM »

If you actually understand and read the specifications of most radios, you would not buy them. Its really that black and white. Hams cant tell when the equipment  that
they are using is actually  folding.

 Most equipment these days the performance differences is so subtle unless you have owned good equipment or have it on your bench you will never know what you losing out on. When a receiver goes  into blocking or compression you have no idea that its doing so unless its a  very bad radio. It just means you dont hear the signal its really that simple. Thats why you get such glowing reviews for even the worst radios on the planet. See no evil  hear no evil all is OK batman and ignorance is bliss.

The other side of this coin is that most stations  who live in city areas have so much noise even if they could notice the receiver crumbling the  faults are covered by noise. There are very few hams who have antennas and locations that allows them to use their radios potential. Then all it takes is one filthy splattering or keyclicking LID to destroy any advantage your kilobuck radio has. This is why those who dont argue for transmitter performance are fools fooling themselves and other hams.

A good transceiver is a combination of having both good receiver and transmitter specifications. You only buying half a radio if the receiver has impressive specifications and then the transmitter has lousy specifications. Unfortunately most transceivers fall into this category or even worst they have below what is considered minimum required receiver specifications. A good example is 2 radios that could have been a winner in both receiver and transmitter performance. These radios are the TS590S and the TenTec Eagle. If both these radios had transmitter PA's with  decent transmitter IMD performance you could call them close to ideal since they deliver on both RX and TX in terms of performance. The K3 is another example excellent receiver performance but poor transmitter IMD performance. Whats the best in terms of ergonomics and bells and whistles is really subjective and a personal choice. Technical performance  for the transmitter and receiver should never be traded for brand or bells and whistles.

The point is there are expensive radios that costs near 10,000 dollars that have basically lousy receiver and transmitter performance. So when viewed from this reality you not doing anything bad by buying the average ham transceiver. In actual fact  buying these cheap radios with limited performance is doing the smart thing because you not spending more money that buys you nothing more in terms of ultimate performance. Even if you did have this  ideal perfect transceiver, its the performance of all the legacy junk radios that will determine how well your receiver works.  At the end of the day you cant block out interference from a poorly designed splattering transmitter. The poor transmitters define how much dynamic range performance you can use. Everything is about balance and ham radio transceiver design is out of balance because all the emphasis is placed on RX performance only.

The best area to spend your money is in the highest tower and the biggest antenna. These days the station  balance  equilibrium  is very unhealthy. You have many stations spending like 10,000 on their station equipment and less than 500 dollars on their antennas. I would rather have the best antenna and the worst radio. Having said that, spending  a reasonable money on a 1kw amplifier is the next best investment you can make  for the improvement that it delivers to your signal.

If I was getting into ham radio today.  I would first save and buy a  70ft tower and a rotator. Even if I did not money for a rotator.  I would then buy a  40 through to 10 meter beam, or even a 20 through to 10 meter beam. The radio would be my last priority. When you have a 70ft high tower you will find there will be very little need for a amplifier.

If you do feel the need for a amplifier a small 500watt ti 1kw output amplifier is more than enough. If you a low band operator  and can install decent low band verticals then a bigger amp can be justified for the lower bands.Bottom line is that hams should be dreaming more about  70ft towers than a TS990S or IC7800 or other equipment in the shack that contributes little to the signal delivered or received. Heavy metal in the sky is what makes a big gun.

The latest fantasy from new hams is all the big amplifiers that put out more power than 2kw. Even running 10kw buys you very little over  the basic legal 1kw if you have lousy antennas. This message seems to be lost on new hams. I visit stations who use G5RV's  and then they using a IC7800 with some illegal desktop Russian splattering tetrode amplifier and then  they think that they can bully their way in ham radio life with a big amp and a crap antenna. These stations typically dont last in  the ham radio hobby and soon lose interest after blowing 20,000 dollars down the drain with expensive equipment and then using poor antennas.

You need a healthy technical perspective when investing  your money in a ham radio station. The best investment and the best return on the investment is always with the highest towers and highest gain antennas. The target for every new ham setting up any station is first get a 70ft tower installed and then what is left spent on a radio and amplifier.  I would rather have a 100ft tower with beams and use  a  ham converted CB radio than use an expensive radio like a Ic7800 or TS990S and a G5RV or a vertical.
Ham radio these days is more about bragging about what you bought than the size of your signal. Thats why are the smartest technical hams around are contesters, they get it!


Posts: 32

« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2014, 02:44:07 PM »

Oh if we all could have 70ft towers with yagi of your choice!!!

My town in central NJ is actually quite good about antennas. I could have a 70ft tower with a caveat. The tower, if it comes down, must fall on your property plus 10%. Since my lot is 37ft wide I can't do it but it's allowed IF your property is large enough.

I'll have to wait till I win the Powerball.  Grin

Mike WA2E

Posts: 21

« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2014, 07:14:54 AM »

Oh if we all could have 70ft towers with yagi of your choice!!!

My town in central NJ is actually quite good about antennas. I could have a 70ft tower with a caveat. The tower, if it comes down, must fall on your property plus 10%. Since my lot is 37ft wide I can't do it but it's allowed IF your property is large enough.

I'll have to wait till I win the Powerball.  Grin

I agree.  Also, while I do agree with the "spend 80-90% of your budget on antennas" philosophy, it's based on the assumption of few limitations, and many of us just don't have the option.  It's discouraging to hear experienced hams state how stupid it is to spend two grand on a radio and run it on a <$200 antenna system.  The fact of the matter is that, even when employing all the tricks available, many of us just can't deploy anything more than that.  It's like saying if you can't erect a tower or at least a 40' vertical, don't bother getting into the hobby, because everything is going to suck for you.

Sure, a compromise in antenna is going to degrade the performance of any radio, but it seems to me that the more comprehensive feature sets of the newer, more expensive radios address many of those very issues - at least to whatever extent they can be addressed, anyway.  To be clear (and hopefully keep the internet ninjas at bay to some extent) I'm not saying it's ok to skimp on your antenna(s).  What I'm saying is, once you've maximized the potential for your antenna system within your own given situation, it only makes sense to then get the radio that best addresses your limitations to whatever extent your budget allows.

My own antenna options are pretty limited.  Luckily I've been encouraged by several old guard hams, who have told me of what can be accomplished with something as simple as a random wire end-fed antenna under the right conditions.  Part of the draw for me to the hobby was the thought of experimenting and tuning antennas within given conditions.  I've got a *lot* to learn, and I recognize this.  What I *do* know is that I've talked to a lot of people who have gotten excellent results on shoe string budgets and/or tight location restrictions.

Posts: 21764

« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2014, 10:28:18 AM »

I don't read overly long posts. Wink

Posts: 5082

« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2014, 04:43:33 PM »

"Your antenna will be one of the most important things you can spend money on. Without a good antenna, you will not be heard"

Not true, without a good Antenna you can't Hear Well.  I know lots of hams that are QRO with bad antennas and they are heard very well.  Unfortunetly the Dx keeps replying and they keep on calling, until the Dx moves on because they are deaf.

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  (Mark Twain)

Posts: 110

« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2014, 01:22:57 AM »

Excellent and informative post with some great advice.

The only thing I would add is learn how to use your rig and all its features blindfold. It's amazing what signals you can pull out of the depths with some subtle filtering etc and how much better you can be copied it you have your tx audio nailed. Also learn how to use a manual atu. I've read a fair bit on people saying an swr of 1.5 doesn't make a deal of difference to getting out right down to 1 but if your antenna is less than ideal asked you can only poor put a few watts then everything helps...

Theory is when you know everything but nothing works.
Practice is when everything works but you to not know why.
Quite often these two things happen together; nothing works and you do not know why - Arihato

Posts: 2100

« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2014, 03:51:21 AM »


Your Ideal station of a 70 ft. tower/Yagi and a 500W amp makes me feel like I'm driving a Ford Focus instead of a Maserati even though both will reach the same destination at the same time.
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