Am I doin' it right?

Discussion in 'Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator/Upgrading Privi' started by KJ4RZZ, Feb 15, 2010.

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  1. KJ4RZZ

    KJ4RZZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi everyone, I have had my tech license for a week now, and have been trying 10m every day 28.400, whenever I hear some activity. Once in while it opens up and I start hearing contacts from across the country.

    I usually do something like this:

    Listen. Try to figure out where they are and how many people are on the frequency. I can usually hear one very strong signal, and other faint voices which i cannot understand. Usually I can hear only one side, but I don't think they are operating split because I can faintly hear other transmissions and can't find them anywhere else in the band. I will have to double check next time to be sure.

    Wait for an opportunity and if I can catch a call sign I'll say it followed by "this is Kilo Foxtrot Four Romeo Zulu Zulu", if not, I'll just say my call sign and see if anyone heard it. Usually I hear some noise which may be talking but could also just be noise... hard to tell... since I can't be sure I don't know if anyone heard me or not. Stronger (clear) signal still no response.

    Typically after a few of these, I get no reply, so I bump up the power and say my call sign again. I just say my call sign because I am afraid I am transmitting in a pileup somewhere that I can't really hear and I want to keep it short.

    Eventually I get to full power and still noone hears me (as far as I can tell) :( but I can still hear the strongest contact in CA running 200 watts. But I am patient so I continue to listen. If I don't hear anything for awhile I will call out a 3x3 CQ slowly and clearly. I'll repeat this about every 20 seconds, usually 3 or 4 times total unless I hear traffic again, then I just listen.

    I make sure my needle stays below the maximum on the ALC meter as not to splatter. My tuner shows an output of near 100 watts on the peaks.

    My concern here is that I can't hear them, but they can hear me. And I don't want to be constantly transmitting full power (100 watts) blindly without knowing and generally making an -A- out of myself. Am I right in feeling this way? Am I doin' it right? I always have this feeling there are a bunch of experienced hams out there going "ohhhh. this guy again what is he doing!". :(

    Saturday was an exciting moment... I almost made my first contact. There was an opening to CA on 10m, and I called out my call sign in between checkins and I heard the contact in CA read back half of my call sign and say he didn't get all of it. I tried again, and he read back the first couple and last letters. Someone could actually hear me!

    I bumped up the power and called one more time... and I lost him altogether as the opening closed up. I felt like a fish just got away.

    One thing I noticed is that the more experienced operators would say things like "it's closing up... we only have a minute or two" ... how do they know this?

    I have similar questions about operating CW but I'll save those for a later thread and after I have had a little bit of experience trying to make contacts.

    Last edited: Feb 15, 2010
  2. KC4UMO

    KC4UMO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Type of equipment are you running?
  3. NN4RH

    NN4RH Premium Subscriber QRZ Page


    We can't help unless we can diagnose the problem, and we can't do that unless we know your setup.
  4. KJ4RZZ

    KJ4RZZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Sorry, forgot that. Kenwood TS-140s with AT-250 auto antenna tuner and PS-430. Antenna is an inverted V, 16 feet total, 16 feet from the ground at the feed point, fed by 50 feet of RG58, with a coil of 8 turns 6" diameter as a balun. The SWR on my tuner reads 1.0 on 28mhz. I do not have a handheld SWR meter (yet).
  5. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    10 meters is still a ways down the road from being "fun". I'm sure you're doing it right....the band still sucks. Either wait a year or two, or get on 15. :)

  6. W0VYE

    W0VYE Ham Member QRZ Page

    Okay, sounds like you're "doing it right" or at least not wrong, as far as calling, operating your radio, etc. You're getting a signal out, just not enough of a signal. If you have a problem at all, it's probably in the antenna-feedline catagory. More info needed.

    Based on what you said, I don't think you have to worry about causing QRM. You're hearing them better than they're hearing you. You might try calling CQ when you hear activity on the band. Ask if the frequency is in use once or twice, and if you don't get a response then go for it. But the technique you're using is probably the better one.

    "How do they know?" Because of the way they're receiving other stations; changes in signal strength mostly, but also the sound. That's experience, and understanding propagation.

    More info please, and 73!

    EDIT: I see your added info now. Sixteen feet up at the feed point? That's too low to work really well. Raise the whole thing, or at least raise the ends if you can. Personally, I'd uncoil that balun. You don't need it IMHO. RG-58 will work, but the losses in 50' on 10-meters are significant, especially if it's cheap coax. Replace it with RG-8x, and don't buy the coax from Radio Shack. Nearby buildings and foliage may be absorbing some of your signal, too.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2010
  7. KJ4RZZ

    KJ4RZZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    My antenna is comprised of two 8' lengths of bare aluminum wire, with short sections of PVC for insulators. The feed point is a small block with two screws, where the coax is tightened down with each leg of the antenna. Cable is new, and folded over the top and sealed with electrical tape to keep moisture out.

    However, it's Radio Shack RG58 :( Sounds like this is not helping matters. I did notice the rather pathetic copper shield.

    Could someone PM me a place to buy good RG8x at a decent price? I'm assuming I can't buy it local (Tampa, FL) so I will need to order online.
  8. KC4UMO

    KC4UMO Ham Member QRZ Page

    I did a google search in your area.
    Here is a local place you may can get some.

    Called practicle electronics. I noticed they carry cable and PL-259's
  9. W0VYE

    W0VYE Ham Member QRZ Page

    Sure you can buy it local. If there are no ham dealers, find a commercial radio outfit, or maybe marine radio, or cable/sat tv servicer. Using the old-fashioned yellow pages may be easiest. I'll Google, though, and see if I can find some for you.

    Your construction sounds fine. PVC is a great material for antenna insulators. For the future I'd advise insulated copper wire, but what you have is fine for now.

    You spotted the problem with the Radio Shlock cable.
  10. KE5FRF

    KE5FRF Ham Member QRZ Page

    "Wait for an opportunity and if I can catch a call sign I'll say it followed by "this is Kilo Foxtrot Four Romeo Zulu Zulu", if not, I'll just say my call sign and see if anyone heard it."

    Unrelated to your luck with the band, are you "kilo foxtrot four" or "kilo juliet four"?

    Make sure you are announcing your actual callsign! If you are announcing two different callsigns in the same transmission (i.e. "This is KJ4RZZ KJ4RZZ kilo foxtrot 4 romeo zulu zulu") you may very well be confusing stations that otherwise hear you.

    To address some specific concerns:

    "One thing I noticed is that the more experienced operators would say things like "it's closing up... we only have a minute or two" ... how do they know this?"

    keyword: experience....While nobody has a crystal ball, and a band opening can indeed behave unpredictably, the opening will generally have a lifespan of sorts. Its starts out weak (a few faint beacons will be heard) it gains intensity (beacons will be louder, registering on the S-meter...early bird alert operators on the band calling CQ)...activity grows as band levels out. Multiple beacons of various signal strengths to be heard in specific directions (depending on E layer formations) Multihop signals in certain directions.

    Then, as quickly as it came, ongoing QSOs will become fainter, weaker. Signals at certain azimuths will be closed completely. Beacons that were heard earlier will no longer be heard with faint beacons coming in from new directions. DXspotting websites will only be reporting the very loudest, best equiped stations as they struggle to maintain QSOs with high gain antennas and amplifiers. Then, within minutes, NOTHING. This can all occur over several hours or just a few minutes timeframe. In fact, the more experienced you become, the more you will notice patterns in the intensity, magnitude, duration, and time of day that 10 meter (as well as other bands) openings occur.

    I posted in another thread you started about your antenna some suggestions about getting the most out of your antennas. Certainly, a low antenna will struggle...HOWEVER, 16 feet in the air is NOT particularly BAD for 10 meters. That is just about a half wavelength above the ground and for an Inverted Vee antenna reasonably adequate. E openings tale advantage of E layer skywave propagation so as long as your antenna is 1/2 wavelength above ground your radiation angle should be fairly low (good for skywave).

    There are other variables in your set up that are of more concern. First, yes the better quality the coax (particularly at MF and HF) the less loss you will have. So, getting a higher grade coax will help.

    But here is the issue that I think is hurting you worst of all. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE USING YOUR TUNER, PARTICULARLY WITH COAX FEEDLINE TO A RESONANT ANTENNA. Certainly, you should be able to bypass the tuner and transmit directly into the resonant antenna. You should have an SWR indication on the tuner (Don't think your rig has one)...Does the manual say you can use the SWR meter on the tuner in by-pass? If so, you should be able to see if the antenna has a 50 ohm impedance match on 28 Mhz without the need for the tuner. Generally, an SWR of 2:1 or less (some say as high as 3:1) will be perfectly fine! The problem is that you are using UNBALANCED transmission line to match the transciever to the antenna. Your system may very well be very lossy. A RESONANT (or very close) coax fed dipole will radiate better than 90% of your input power, whereas a lossy dipole fed with coax through a tuner could VERY WELL be radiating as little as 10% of the input power!

    In mobile applications, we sometimes make compromises for efficiency when it comes to ATUs. There is not much reason to make such compromises with a monoband dipole.

    Also, I realize this is new stuff for you and I WANT TO APPLAUD YOU for building your own antenna. I suggest a copy of "Simple and Fun Antennas for the Radio Amateur (I think thats the title) as a good aid in your first antenna experiments. I have a copy that I reference all the time. A bigger investment, but worth it, is the ARRL Antenna Book. Both available through ARRL or Amazon or local bookstores.

    You will learn a lot about the ins and outs of antennas, feedlines, and tuners. For a non-resonanat antenna to work efficiently, and to be used with a tuner, you really need to use balanced feedline (twin lead, open feeder, ladder line). I'm not sure your tuner has an open feeder output, but in that case an actual CURRENT balun with open feeder terminals will work.

    The "choke balun" you are using isn't a true "balun" (transfomer) in the sense of transitioning from unbalanced coax to an open feeder system. A current balun is best here vs a voltage balun.
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