Getting on HF: The Fiddle Factor

We’ve had a steady stream of new licensees come into our radio club driven mostly by our highly-successful Technician license class. Many of these licensees have gone on to get their General license so they can have fun on the HF bands. I’ve given advice and aid to a variety of people as they get their HF station set up and I’ve come to appreciate that for Average Joe Ham this is a big step. I’ve also noted some recurring problems that get in the way of success on the HF bands, which I’d like to explore here. Recently, I asked my twitter followers for input and got some great ideas from them, too. Thanks!

A basic wire antenna for the high frequency (HF) bands.

Here’s what I came up with as the four main barriers to success on HF.

Antenna restrictions

The first barrier that pops up are antenna restrictions which can come in the form of zoning regulations, protective covenants (homeowners associations), spouse’s opinion, potential objections from neighbors and your own sense of aesthetics.  Any of these can limit the type and size of antennas you can or will install. More to the point, this can be a showstopper for some folks. They may decide that they simply can’t have an HF antenna on their property.

Of course, HF antennas tend to be large due to the longer wavelengths used (compared to simple VHF antennas). But there are some compact antenna designs that use magnetic loops, loading coils, etc.

RFI

The second issue that often pops up is radio frequency interference (RFI) from sources such as power lines and consumer devices. These issues can be very frustrating because you have to do two things: identify the source of the noise and eliminate it. If the problem is power line noise, your local utility is supposed to be capable of finding and correcting the problem. Some are better than others. Consumer devices are a huge problem due to the common use of high-speed digital circuits. If the interfering device is in your home, that makes it a bit easier to deal with…if it’s somewhere in the neighborhood, then its harder to diagnose and fix.

My twitter followers mentioned that solar electric systems often radiate RF energy (and they are a growing trend). Here in Colorado, we are seeing more problems with cannabis grow operations that use RF-ugly industrial grow lights.  But Part 15 consumer electronics are a big and growing problem…too often they are little RFI generators.

Cost

I hesitate to add cost to the list but I do think it’s a factor. A starter HF station costs something like this (your mileage may vary): $750 for a new transceiver (think Yaesu FT-450 class), $100 for a power supply, $100 for wire antenna (homebrew) and coax => ~$1000.  Yes, you can buy used gear and get this cost down…maybe to half ($500)?

Comparing this to a Baofeng HT purchase ($30), it is a lot more money. However, it is on the same level as other significant consumer electronics purchases such as a high end smartphone or mid-range notebook PC. As someone correctly pointed out to me, the utility of a notebook PC is very clear…you will get value out of it…but success with HF is still a gamble. What if you spend $1k on an HF station and never have any success with it?

Now let’s say the lot is not that big and there are only a few supports available to hang the antenna. Now you need to fiddle with the antenna design to perhaps shorten it and compromise how it is being hung. So we have an additional fiddle factor which results in an F2 (or F squared) situation.
Now suppose we decide to use a more finicky antenna design…perhaps a magnetic loop or a multiband dipole. (A magnetic is inherently narrowband, so you have to tune it for the specific operating frequency. A multiband dipole will need to be tuned for each band of operation and they usually interact.) This adds another fiddle factor bring us to an F3 level challenge. Next we consult our homeowners association rules and find out that there are physical restrictions on how we can mount an antenna…and they might be vague and arbitrary. This gets us into F4 territory.
Now put yourself in the position of a radio ham getting on HF the first time. These issues, especially the fiddle factor, can really get in the way of successful radio operating. In my next post, I’ll look at some ways of dealing with these issues.
73 Bob K0NR

The post Getting on HF: The Fiddle Factor appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

5 Responses to “Getting on HF: The Fiddle Factor”

  • Ron Wright, N9EE:

    Very good article, thanks.

  • Phil ZL2OWL:

    Excellent summary, many tnx.
    Same problems down here.
    Look forward to next article.
    73
    Phil ZL2OWL

  • Skip, N8TIV:

    Thank you. Studying for General, IC-7100 and power supply still in boxes, wondering about how to place and tune an antenna – especially about grounding for our frequent lightning. Fiddling is okay, pucker factor increasing at thoughts of SWR burning out a final amp or inviting Thor’s spear into my shack.

  • Moe K2JDM:

    Excellent article. Love the Fiddle factor. But then some of us love to fiddle with the radio, the antenna, and anything else we have.

  • Chris N2IFJ:

    HF can be great fun with all of the digital modes and just rag-chewing with the local hams in your area. Whether you use 5 watts or 1 Kilowatt, just getting on the air will be great to talk with local hams and get ideas or help from them. HF is my favorite and diving into digital can be daunting. Get help from a club or a local ham to set up your first HF station. I have used gutters as the antenna depending on antenna restrictions in the past ! Amateur radio is a never ending hobby with so many ways to experiment in all areas ! Have fun! Get help when you need it! and enjoy the hobby! It can be very rewarding when you work your first DX Contact with 5 watts and a magnetic loop antenna sitting a couple of feet from where you are operating from !!

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