Tag Archives: First Radio

I can’t believe my antenna’s up!

I suppose the title could also be: (or how I learned to stop procrastinating and finally put up my HF antenna)

Well, I did it. I finally got my HF antenna up after months of admiring it through plastic wrap and having the world’s most expensive paperweight (IC-7300) sitting in my metashack (how could I really ascribe any reality to it when it was still merely a concept). What I would like to accomplish in this article is not only a description of the construction etc., but also of some mental gymnastics I had to do in order to get to the finish line.

Way back in February, I was able to get my General license. I was pretty stoked (to use the common tongue) and looking forward to getting it up and going. This required, essentially, two things: a radio and an antenna. Easy-peazy, right? The first really was easy. I wanted a 7300. Who didn’t? The proverbial ICOM bandwagon drove by my house daily. Several times a day while banging on a few drums. So, I did my homework as best as I could, talked to a few folks, and with not much arm twisting, bought a rig. Now I needed the antenna. And some drums…

For this portion of the ordeal I ended up doing my homework a little more. I spoke to Fred and Anita at length about their choices: read their blog, saw their own setup in person, read posts in the Elmering session of Nashua ARC’s website, read comments on eHam.net about various antenna types. Some factors to of course consider are — in no particular order:

    1. Budget
    2. How much help you will have to put this up
    3. Aesthetics
    4. Available real estate
    5. How many bands do you want to work

At my QTH in MA, I have 0.5 acres in the front and back.

My QTH in Tewksbury, MA
My QTH in Tewksbury, MA

Having done my homework, I decided to go with the Buckmaster 7-band off-center fed dipole rated for 3 kW.

3 kW antenna at the top
3 kW antenna at the top

I think the price point was a bit north of 300 bucks. Having made up my mind, I didn’t do anything about it. Upon reflection, I think I really didn’t act because work consumed me until mid-May. I literally had no free weekends for months, so there was no rush. In the interim, Fred and Anita had opened up their station for use, and I took joy in hearing about others’ QSO’s for a while.

In order to still feel like a HAM, however, I decided to take my Extra exam in May. Once I that got out of the way I bought the Buckmaster in June on one fateful Thursday afternoon, and again, there it sat in the metashack until September. Excuse #2: Honestly, with a project this big (at least for me) I think I was a bit gun-shy to get it up. I felt unqualified to do it; and maybe even afraid to fail amidst all these competent people in the club.

Up until now, this may have read as Dear Diary, so let’s get to some actual station construction! Labor Day weekend was the ticket.

Good grief was this tough! Probably 85-90% of the total time was spent trying to figure this out. Mainly because, looking at the graphic, I had to get this about 35 ft. in the air. I got frustrated pretty quickly…

Buckmaster OCF dipole installation picture. Right from their website
Buckmaster OCF dipole installation picture. Right from their website

Now maybe that doesn’t seem like it’s that high, but I assure you, it becomes pretty darn high when you keep failing. So thinking about the problem and researching on the internet led me to some methods to try to get a rope up in the tree:

  1. Use a potato gun
  2. Call folks from the club to come lend a hand
  3. Rent a scissor lift from Home Depot
  4. Use a bow and arrow
  5. Use rope tied to a rock or stick and try to launch over the branch I want.

Here was what the jury decided on each of these options:

  1. Built one! Fires really well, but had issues initially with sparking it in the combustion chamber. Turns out the reason was due to insufficient amounts of butane getting into the chamber. In any case, I abandoned this as a choice. But who’s to say I can’t be mischievous at a later date.
  2. I felt bad bothering folks despite one ethos of amateur radio is to elmer each other, so I didn’t ask for help. Bad news bears to those of you in the same predicament.
  3. Too expensive for the little time I needed it. I think Home Despot (spelling error intentional) wanted something in the neighborhood of 200 bucks or more.
  4. Don’t have one and nearest friend with one lived in Carlisle. Would have to work around his schedule and at this point I was thru being patient.
  5. Rock idea worked reasonably well, but honestly, the best option was to get a stick and tie nylon fishing line around it. I have a pretty good arm it turns out, so I tied fishing line around the stick and started throwing.

In full disclosure, the elimination of these options takes us from Friday to Monday. Wisps of steam could be seen emanating from my ears.

The stick was attaining the requisite height and hitting where I needed it to. The huge snag (no pun intended), though, was the fishing line was getting caught in the branches on the way down. Yet another problem. Cue engineer father-in-law. He’s the guy labeled “this guy” in the picture.

helper dude
helper dude

He recommended winding a large amount of fishing line around the stick (but not all of it so that there would still be some left over on my side of the branch) so that when it came down the other side of the branch, it would unravel and not be as likely to get caught. This worked like a charm!

With fishing line on either side of the branch, we tied the actual nylon, water / UV resistant rope (which I picked up at Home Despot) somewhere 25% up my side of the fishing line and then got on the far side of the branch and began hoisting it up. This also worked out very well.

Same father-in-law and hanging ropes which will support the Buckmaster
Same father-in-law and hanging ropes which will support the Buckmaster

Finally, with the rope I actually want to use over the tree, I tied the Buckmaster to one end of the rope on my side of the branch, and then raised it up. I lowered and raised it a few times to make sure it wouldn’t get caught in the tree at any place. I tied off the free end through an eye screw that I screwed into the tree.

The coax I used was LMR-400. Again, doing my homework, I decided to splurge and buy 200 ft of coax but without the PL-259 connectors. I did this because I wanted to be able to cut the coax where I wished and would subsequently learn how to attach the connectors myself. This too, turned out to be a relatively easy job. I picked up some connectors at the Boxboro Hamvention and borrows Dave’s (N1RF) crimper set (with dies) to attach the connectors. Taking my time, I was able to do both ends of the 200 ft coax in about 30 minutes tops. I also purchased some Super 88 electrical tape from Home Depot as well as used Scotch’s 2228 Moisture Sealing Electrical Tape (some other folks use Coaxwrap) for weatherproofing. I applied this following Fred’s suggestion on his blog.

Layers of super 88 and weatherproofing electrical tape fastened to antenna connection point
Layers of super 88 and weatherproofing electrical tape fastened to antenna connection point

With the feed-point set up, I then purchased two more nylon, water/UV resistant ropes to connector to the Buckmaster’s insulators. I found that the 3/16” diameter by 100 ft. rope worked well (3/16″ fit nicely through the insulators’ 1/2″ holes), again purchased at Home Depot. Shirley, the cashier, shot me a smile after ringing me up for the umpteenth time. To temporarily tie these off, I terminated the rope through some more eye screws I screwed into trees in my yard. But for the final installation, I will again follow Fred’s advice from his blog post.

Then, I ran inside, ran the coax through the window thereby performing the transformation of the metashack into a protoshack! (Proto because it’s in the process of getting changed and upgraded) Ta da! Prestidigitation! That night I worked Brazil and the Czech Republic on 20 and 40 m respectively, and Australia around 0615 the next morning on 20m.

Protoshack. Coax not shown.
Protoshack. Coax not shown.

My follow up projects:

  1. I never mentioned grounding. I do have an 8 ft copper ground rod that I will install. I bought lightening arresters from DX Engineering: I have the kind that allow the passage of DC voltage which is needed for utilizing an antenna switch down the road. Since I plan on buying an antenna switch later, this seemed like a good option. This entire installation will take some time, so I need to find a free weekend. For now, I am only operating when the skies look perfect!
  2. Install my 15 m dipole that I bought from the HRO and covers the band not covered but the Buckmaster. This will likely happen in the Spring. For reals.
  3. Track down RF interference sources in my home and install the necessary chokes and beads. I’m kind of looking forward to this step.
  4. Find a final resting height for the radiating wires of my Buckmaster. I have a cousin with tree climbing equipment. Once he comes over to trim some branches etc., I am going to try and make a 180 degree angle with the wires as best as I can. Additionally, my wife wants me to switch out the white, nylon, water/UV resistant rope with dark colored rope since it’s a bit too visible.

Once I got going, I really had a blast. If I can be of any help to anyone about this, please feel free to send me a reply or contact me on the club website. Thanks a lot for following me through the whirlwinds that are my thoughts, and see you on the air!

Best and 73,

Brian (AB1ZO)

Getting On The Air – Your First Station

Class Grad with Her CSCE
Class Grad with Her CSCE
 So you’ve gotten your Technician License or your General upgrade – how do you get a station on the air? This was the topic of our recent Tech Night. The following are some thoughts to get you started.

If you are a new Technician, the first thing to ask is “What do I really want to do on the air and where will I be doing it?” Here are some common answers to this question:

  • I spend a lot of time commuting in my car or truck and I’d like to pass the time talking with other HAMs
  • I will mostly be operating from my home and I want to rag chew (chat with other HAMs) and check-in to emergency, ARES and/or other nets
  • I will mostly be doing parade and other HAM activities in the field and I need something that is portable

In all of these scenarios, you will be using a combination of FM Simplex and Repeater operation on the 2 m and 70 cm bands.

Mobile 2m/70cm FM Radio in a Vehicle
Mobile 2 m/70 cm FM Radio in a Vehicle

If the first case is you, then you’ll want to install an FM mobile rig and antenna in your car or truck. You’ll also probably want to permanently mount a simple  2 m/70 cm antenna on your vehicle.

Base 2 m/70 cm Radio with APRS Display
Base 2 m/70 cm Radio with APRS Display

If the second case is your prime operating scenario, then your choices in radios probably are along two main paths: a 2 m/70 cm radio (many radios for mobile or vehicle applications will be good choices) or a dual purpose HF and 2 m/70 cm capable “all in one” radio. You might take the second approach if you already have or are planning to get your General Class or Extra Class license.  A 2 m/70 cm ground plane style vertical antenna that you can mount outside or perhaps in your attic would be a good choice for you in this case. You might also want to consider a radio that does D-STAR or another Digital Voice mode as there are some large worldwide nets that use digital plus internet linking to reach a large population of HAMs.

HT with Improved Antenna
HT with Improved Antenna

If the third case is you main operating mode, then you probably want a quality HT with a good antenna. The rubber duck antenna that comes with most HTs will provide relatively weak performance. A quality 5/8 wavelength similar antenna and a spare battery or two for your HT will be a good way to go.

OCF Dipole and a 2 m/70 cm Antennas
OCF Dipole and a 2 m/70 cm Antennas

If you’ve just received your General Class license and want to get on HF, your biggest decision will be what to use for an antenna. This topic is pretty broad and we’ll cover it in more detail at our Tech Night. I usually recommend a simple wire antenna to get started. A 20m dipole mounted either horizontally or vertically is often a good first choice. Its inexpensive and can be put up at most QTHs in a day or less.

Moving up from here, a 40m delta loop or a multi-band OCF dipole also make great starter antennas depending on your space and what you want to do. If you cannot mount an antenna outside, you may be able to mount a modest dipole in your attic or use a portable antenna system like the Buddipole that you can set up to operate and then take down.

Basic HF Station with PC
Basic HF Station with PC

Radio choice is also a broad topic which we will cover at our Tech Night. I would recommend that you consider a starter HF radio or a good used one (with help from an experienced HAM to select and check out). Your radio should be a 100W unit and cover all of the HF bands from 80 m – 10 m at a minimum. QRP radios (5 – 10W) are usually not good choice for a first station as making contacts at this power level with simple antennas can be challenging. It’s also good to have a radio which can do 6 m if that works out for you.

I highly recommend that you include digital mode capability in your first HF station. Digital modes such as PSK and RTTY provide a great way to learn how to make contacts on the HF bands and these modes work very well for making DX contacts with 100W and simple wire antennas.

I hope that this will get you started thinking about how to set your first station. Please come to our next Tech Night session to learn more, ask questions and get the benefit of experienced folks in our club on these choices and all that goes along with installing radios, antennas and getting on the air.

Baofeng/Pofung Radios: A Review For The New Ham

Baofeng UV-5R
Baofeng UV-5R

You may have run across the names Baofeng/Pofung here and there. They are a Chinese manufacturer of two-way radio equipment. What makes these radios attractive to the new ham is their low cost. If you look carefully on Amazon, you can buy a UV-5R+ dual band HT for around $40. Add a programming cable for $10, pair that with the free, open source programming software called CHIRP and you’ve got a very capable portable station.

The UV-5R+ covers 136-174 / 400-512 MHz (transmit and receive) with two power levels, 1- and 5-Watts. They also feature a dual-watch function, DCS/CTCSS encode/decode, DTMF keypad, VOX and a handy LED flashlight. The front mounted speaker provides 1 Watt of clear audio. The audio and reception reports I’ve received were excellent. There is a two-pin, Kenwood compatible socket on the side of the radio for an optional speaker mike. An earphone-microphone is included.

One drawback to these radios is the fact that programming them manually is a bit of a challenge. However, with some practice, it is possible to program the radio without the aid of a computer. There are many YouTube videos on programming. It’s usually a good idea to learn how to program any radio in the field because your laptop/desktop computer may not be available to you in an emergency situation.

So you’ve got your new radio, you’ve charged the battery, turned it on, was greeted by the cheery voice telling you that you were in the frequency mode (yes, the radio will talk to you in English or Chinese)…now what? The first thing you should do is get CHIRP installed and running on your PC. Next, download the virgin configuration from the radio and save it to a file on your computer. That way you’ll be able to revert the radio to its factory fresh state in case you accidentally mess things up. More about CHIRP in another article.

One accessory you might want to consider is an antenna. The stock rubber antenna isn’t very good because of mis-matching. You’ll find that most users recommend Nagoya antennas. These seem to be well made Taiwanese antennas that are much better than the one that came with the radio. Unfortunately, there are a rash of counterfeit Nagoyas out there so be careful. I have had good luck with the MFJ-1717S dual-band antenna. Just remember to get an antenna with a female SMA connector.

Another nuisance I’ve found is the retaining nut for the antenna connector on the radio coming loose after a couple of days use. The simple fix for this is to remove the nut and apply a small amount of thread locking compound to the threads. Tighten the nut well and that’s it. Just make sure that the thread locker is removable because there will come a time when you have to take the radio apart for servicing. I recommend Loctite Blue.

I’ve had my UV-5R+ for two years and it just runs. Last year I bought a BF-F9+V2 which is the tri-power version of the 5R+ (1/5/8 Watts). These low cost, easy to use radios will make a welcome addition to any emergency Go Box.