More on Getting On the Air Cheap and Easy

So I just finished working YV and DF on 20 meter CW at four watts and it got me thinking again. If I can work DX on four watts why is it some guys have so much difficulty working anybody at all?

First thought:

It takes time to get to understand how your equipment works. I’m finding it easier and easier to work guys just about anywhere using the QRP rig. So, if you’re new to ham radio or even if you’re just having issues remember it takes time to get your equipment working.

Second thought:

Simplify your station. Regardless of what radio you have get started operating on one band. If at all possible erect a single-band resonant antenna for either 40 or 20 meters. These are the most active bands right now and the easiest to actually have a QSO on.

Stay on that band until you’re having no issue working guys on a consistent basis.

And why do I say a resonant antenna?

My autotuner is a great device and can get me on the air using non-resonant antennas but it adds to the complexity of the station. An inexpensive manual tuner and SWR meter is less complex if it’s needed at all.

If you can’t get a resonant antenna up in the air, then the next best antenna IMHO is a multiple band vertical. Some of these new 43′ verticals feed with an all-weather autotuner at their base will tune 80-10 meters. Just remember they need a minimum of 16 25-foot radials in a circular pattern under the lawn.

Here at VE3HG I’ve got a Hygain Explorer beam with 40-meter dipole extensions at 16.6 meters (and yes it’s big) but best of all it’s resonant and needs no tuner on 40, 20, 15 and 10 meters.

But that’s not all. I’ve got an 80-40 shortened dipole which does need a tuner on 80 when  it’s off its resonant frequency. My G5RV-JR doesn’t need a tuner but it helps and my HF-6 Butternut vertical doesn’t. My R5, when it’s up, is good without a tuner on 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10. I’ve got a 160/80/40/30 sloper that needs a big tuner to make it work especially on 160 (I’ve worked Europe with it) and 80.

If I could pick just one antenna to get started I’d pick a homemade 40 or 20 meter dipole. Costs zero to make and works as well as most anything else. Eighty meters or worse 160 requires a long antenna up 65′ feet or more to work properly. Fifteen and 10 meters just haven’t opened up yet.

I’d stay away from “mini-beams” no matter what and Hex-beams I’d save for later when you have a better understanding of what works and what sucks. Stay away from anything expensive or weird like my PAR QRP  antenna (it will only take 20 watts if RF) which is resonant on 40/20/10 and is essentially an end-feed wire. This is a great antenna but it takes some work to get it to work right and new guys will appreciate a simpler antenna for their first effort.

When you’re ready put up a 48′ tower and buy a HAM-IV rotor and a full-size three-element tri-bander beam or a Hex-beam or Stepper as these antennas will radically change the hobby for you. You’ll be able to work just about anybody anywhere but not necessarily at anytime 🙂

For new guys, especially new guys on a budget, I’d go with a tube rig or at least a rig with tubes in the final. These boat anchors are just about indestructible and fixable and will work forever. If you’ve gone out and bought a new rig, learn how to run it.

Finally for the most fun for the least money get your CW endorsement and get on the air. Buy a 500 Hz CW filter for your rig

The guys I worked tonight were sending around 10 WPM which is easy to copy. Could I have worked them on SSB. Probably but it would have been harder and I would have lost out to anyone who was stronger than me.

Anyway back to 20 meters…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Peter West. Bookmark the permalink.

About Peter West

I am retired. I'm invested into bike riding, guitar playing, yoga and Ham Radio. I am a former photojournalist, newspaper and magazine editor and public relations practitioner with national, regional and local experience. A long-time member of Toastmasters International and an active Amateur Radio (Ham) operator here in Canada I am taking on new challenges.

One thought on “More on Getting On the Air Cheap and Easy

  1. Hi Peter,

    Lots of good advice.

    I would suggest another possibility for an inexpensive antenna with which to start is an off center feed dipole. They can be bought complete and ready to go or can be built quite simply with a purchased 4:1 balun and some wire. If you have enough room to put up a 40 meter dipole you can put up a similar size OCFD that will be resonant on 40, 20, 10, and 6 meters and with a tuner can be used on other bands as well. I have such an OCFD and using the tuner in my FT-950 I can use it on all bands from 80 through 6 except 30 meters and it just works well whether I run 100 watts or turned down to QRP levels which is my norm.

    Another quick and dirty antenna is a simple Hamstick type antenna mounted on a 15 to 20 foot metal pole especially for 20 meters and up. Works like a vertical dipole of sorts and can give a good showing considering it is a little bit less than optimum. I have a 20meter one I stick on a magmount on the roof of my van that I have worked the world QRP with.

    In any case a simple dipole can’t be beat and the older radios with tube finals (Ts-520/530/820/830 FT101 etc) by virtue of the output tank circuit can accommodate antennas that are not quite resonant much better than the more modern all solid state designs. My old TS-520 which I still use from time to time may not be up to the performance level of my FT-950 but it does a pretty good job regardless.

    cheers, Graham ve3gtc

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