In my previous blog post, I listed four barriers to getting on HF:
- antenna restrictions
- radio frequency interference (RFI)
- the fiddle factor.
Fiddle Factor really represents how multiple issues can come together to dramatically increase the complexity of an HF installation.
Now I’d like to propose some ways of dealing with these barriers.
A lot has been written about this problem and there’s enough material to write a dozen books about this topic. The remedies that come to mind fall into two main categories:
- Hide your antenna
- Change your location (temporarily or permanently)
Common strategies for hiding an HF antenna include: attic antenna, low profile wire antenna, flagpole antenna and temporary antenna. I recently came across this fabulous guide to stealth antennas from The Villages Amateur Radio Club. It was developed based on practical experience in an HOA-controlled community. One interesting point they stress is that the mode you use interacts with the capability of the antenna. Simply put, if you are using a compromised antenna then it really helps to use a more efficient mode such as CW, PSK31, JT65 or FT8. Good advice!
I received quite a bit of feedback via twitter that a solution to antenna restrictions is change your location. One answer is to permanently move your home to a new location, typically out in the country with wide open spaces and no restrictive covenants. This is easy to say and often difficult to do. I am going to assume that for the most part you are stuck with your home location (for whatever reason) and not spend much time on it here. But keep this in mind when the opportunity to move happens. Every time I’ve purchased a house, I always evaluated the property for antenna options.
Another option is to change your location temporarily, as in portable operation (can you say Summits On The Air?) I like portable HF operating and have operated from a number of islands while on vacation. You don’t have to do a DXpedition, you can always just go to a local park and set up a station there. Heck, you can always “go portable” in your backyard. Set up a temporary antenna, operate and take it down before anyone has a chance to complain.
Another “change your location” strategy is to use a remote ham radio station. Many clubs have established a remotely-controlled station (usually controlled via the internet) for their members to use. Or you could use one of the commercial remote radio systems (such as Remote Ham Radio).
Radio Frequency Interference (RFI)
RFI generally occurs when a device creates radio frequency energy on frequencies that you want to use. One very discouraging experience is to turn on your newly-installed HF station to find the ambient noise at S5 across your favorite operating band. Frankly, this can be a really difficult problem to solve. Many books have been written on this topic, too. One of the best is The ARRL RFI Book. The ARRL RFI web page may be helpful, too.
The source of interference is either under your control (something in your residence) or it can be from external sources (your neighbor’s house, the AC power lines, …) RFI sources are easier to find in your own home. A good first move is to go around and unplug everything electronic in the house to see if the problem goes away. Or you can go through your circuit breaker box flipping all circuits off until the problem disappears. (Of course, you need to keep you HF radio powered up so you can listen for the noise.)
If the problem is outside your home, things get a lot more difficult. You’ll have to track down the source and engage the owner of the device in a conversation about correcting the problem.
If the problem is power line noise, the electric utility is supposed to be able to correct it. However, the technical capability on RFI issues at electric companies ranges from none to quite competent.
What can we do about the cost of getting on HF? I’d say, not a lot. Your best strategy is to look for used equipment which can be less than half the price of new. However, if you are comparing an HF station to the cost of a $30 Baofeng handheld transceiver, you will probably be disappointed. In my previous blog post, I estimated that a used HF station could be on the air for ~$500.
One comment I received via twitter is that the cost alone may not be the issue. For some folks, the issue is spending that much money and not knowing how much success they will have on HF and whether they will truly enjoy it. Good point. One way to deal with this issue is to operate from someone else’s station to try out HF or to borrow some equipment. This will defer the cost until you know more about HF operating and judge whether it’s right for you.
One idea that might look attractive for saving cost is to buy an inexpensive, low-power (QRP) transceiver. I would avoid that option as it increases the fiddle factor.
The Fiddle Factor
The fiddle factor represents how multiple issues can come together to dramatically increase the complexity of an HF installation. When the complexity increases, the probably of success decreases because there are just more things to go wrong.
So the remedy is to avoid a high-fiddle-factor installation. Ideally, you would use a simple antenna (dipole, end-fed halfwave, etc.) hung in the clear with no obstacles around. Real world constraints may come into play here and require you to make other choices. Just be aware that each complication drives complexity.
Find a Mentor (Elmer)
The one universal strategy for success with ham radio is find a mentor, also called an Elmer. Having an experienced radio ham to answere questions and bounce ideas off of is extremely valuable.
How do you find a mentor? See Dan/KB6NU’s suggestions on the topic. You may have to settle for mentoring via the internet but it is way better to have someone local that can actually see your house and antenna installation options.
Those are my suggestions for how to deal with the barriers of getting on HF. I am sure there are more ideas out there.
What do you think?
73 Bob K0NR