Finally getting on HF

Discussion in 'General Technical Questions and Answers' started by KB3JRJ, Jun 24, 2018.

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  1. KB3JRJ

    KB3JRJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Good afternoon, folks! KB3JRJ here, I've been a General class op for a while now but have never gone on HF. Some time ago, I purchased a gently-used IC-718, AT-7000 tuner, and MFJ window pass-through panel from a friend. I also just sprung for a pre-made end-fed QRP antenna that I think will work well in my small lot QTH.

    So, here's the dilemma: how to proceed? I thought I'd post here for suggestions. Again, what I have is:
    A rig (IC-718)
    A tuner (AT-7000)
    A power supply (25 amp switching)
    Some coax (probably not the best)
    A decent small Windows 10 computer (with wifi and bluetooth)
    An inexpensive QRP antenna (end-fed with uilt-in balun)

    What I'd like to do is:
    Casual voice ragchew
    Play with digital modes
    See where my interests take me before I go wild

    I'd like recommendations on:
    How best to connect my rig to my computer (USB? Bluetooth?)
    What software to get for my computer (haven't even started down that road yet)
    Good grounding (my shack is on the 2nd floor)
    What modes and bands to try first (I'm REALLY green here, folks)

    That's where I stand. Help?
    K2CAJ likes this.
  2. KC3RN

    KC3RN Ham Member QRZ Page

    For digital modes you'll need an interface between your radio and the computer. I like the SignaLink USB, but you can also get a RigBlaster or an MFJ sound card interface. There are also some less expensive alternatives on eBay, etc. but the 3 I mentioned are the most reliable. They'll also be easier to re-sell if you lose interest in digital. You'll also nee software. You can use WSJT-X for FT-8, which is the hot mode right now. For PSK, Olivia, etc you can download FLDIGI or one of the other programs available. The SignaLink interface comes with a disk full of software. However, all the digi action right now is on FT-8.

    The QRP end fed might have been a mistake. Nothing wrong with an end fed, but you would have been happier with a higher power version. If you decide to run this antenna, turn the RF power on the 718 WAY down. Keep it at 20 watts or less unless you want to smoke your matching unit. If possible, return the QRP unit and get one that's rated for higher power. You're really going to limit your rag chew opportunities running low power. There's nothing wrong with QRP (I do it myself), but I don't recommend it for a beginner. It can be frustrating....

    Good luck, and welcome to HF.
    K9ASE, AK5B and WA8FOZ like this.
  3. K2CAJ

    K2CAJ XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Well, a QRP antenna should be fine for digital modes---you won't want to run over 10W for that anyway.

    What bands are you interested in? And how do you plan to set up your antenna at your QTH?
  4. W5DXP

    W5DXP Ham Member QRZ Page

    The IC-718 uses the same ACC connector pinout as the IC-706. Here's what I did.

    PC---USB/RS232 dongle-----RTS/DTR signals to Easydigi board for activating transmit
    PC---USB/SoundCard dongle-----Isolated Audio Input/Output to/from Easydigi board
    ( I never could get the PC sound card to reliably drive the IC-706)
    PC---USB/CI-V cable to IC-718 for rig control from FLRig/FLDigi
    (I don't think PTT can be activated through the CI-V interface but I might be wrong.)

    Easydigi board PTT to Pin 3 (Send) on IC-718 ACC socket
    Easydigi board PTTGND to Pin 2 (GND) on IC-718 ACC socket
    Easydigi board audio out to Pin 11 (Mod in) on IC-718 socket
    Easydigi board audio in to Pin 12 (AF out) on IC-718 socket

    Don't connect the IC-718 GND to the PC GND. The Easydigi board provides isolation.

    IMO, download FLRig and FLDigi and start with PSK31 and/or Olivia.
  5. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I'd focus more on the antenna if possible.

    You can make your first thousand QSOs easily with no computer, no digital modes, no software, no nothing except the rig, power supply, microphone and/or key...and an antenna that really works.

    An understanding of propagation will come; you can surely read about it in the Handbook and other reference materials, but you'll also experience it first hand when you start making contacts. Tune across a band with an antenna that works and if you hear nothing, there's no propagation! Pick another band where you hear a lot of activity: There's propagation!

    IMO, even active operators take a year or two to really understand much about propagation, but it's a fun learning experience.
    K9ASE and AK5B like this.
  6. K8JD

    K8JD Ham Member QRZ Page

    Listen a Lot
    Listen, listen, listen and try all bands to see what the conditions are like.
    KB2SMS, WQ2H, AK5B and 2 others like this.
  7. W4IOA

    W4IOA Ham Member QRZ Page

    If I am planning to answer a cq I follow this procedure:
    1- make sure I have their callsign correct
    2-listen to how they answer. Especially important if its a pileup to hear their cadence and if it's split
    3-send my callsign no more than twice, once is usually sufficient.
    4-if they are being conversational I look them up on QRZ to see if there is something interesting to discuss. People love talking about themselves.
    I miss plenty of qso's on occasion doing this but that's fine with me. If I'm working a pileup I normally don't try for more than 5 minutes. I'll write the frequency down and come back later.
    Enjoy your time on HF
    AK5B likes this.
  8. W4IOA

    W4IOA Ham Member QRZ Page

    Software logging is great. I enjoy N3FJP. They have all types of logs and you can package buy or purchase the basic first. Great customer service and support.
  9. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I think your only option is serial through a CI-V adapter or similar.
    I use FLDIGI for most digital modes, and WSJT-X for JT65 and FT8. There are many other options.
    There are two kinds of ground you need to consider. Electrical safety ground and RF ground. The electrical ground is provided by the 3 wire AC plug on your power supply, and is all you need there. The RF ground is a different matter. You will probably get by just fine without an RF ground as long as you at least bond the boxes (transceiever and tuner for starters) together with some good tinned braid or metal straps. If you still have RF problems, you can try running counterpoise wires along the baseboards. They should be 1/4 wave long on each band needed. [/QUOTE]
    My favorite digital interface doesn't support your radio (I don't know why, it works on all my other ICOMs). So, I think I'll recommend the Signalink just because they are ubiquitous.
  10. AI4RA

    AI4RA XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Welcome to HF!

    I'd recommend you get started on 20m during the day and 40m at night. 17m is also a good daytime band these days, as someone else suggested. As you get more experience, you can check out other bands. Most of the time, 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m and 10m are open during the day and close at night. This is a very general statement! You will often find there are many exceptions to the general rules, which is one of the things that make HF so much fun. 6m is generally open only when "sporadic E" is present (you'll learn about this stuff the more time you spend on the air). Lately 10m and 6m have been open even into the evenings, for example. 20m has been open well into the evening many times lately as well. Usually, 40m, 60m and 80m are open at night and have reduced propagation during the day (40m will often get you several hundred miles during the day and thousands of miles at night). 30m is a goofy band that can go either way day or night and has some really exciting propagation at times (I recently had a QSO with a guy in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean on 30m).

    For digital modes, I have used Ham Radio Deluxe extensively in the past. You have to pay about $100 to get it now, though. Fldigi is also a fine program, and free, as others have mentioned. You will need an interface to work digital modes on your IC-718, and I highly recommend the SignaLink as others have already. PSK-31 is a great digital mode for ragchewing and getting experience with digital. Unfortunately, it is not as widely used anymore because so many people are doing FT8, JT65 and the like these days. I like FT8, as it is fun and really works great during these times of reduced sunspots and poor band conditions, but it is not much of a ragchewing mode. I like to get to know other hams a bit! PSK-31 and SSB are good ways of doing that, so try not to limit yourself to FT8 if you can help it!

    To be honest, I don't use a separate dedicated ground for any of my equipment. I've not had issues and, after having lightning come through the ground and zap one of my rigs one time (no antenna was connected at the time but I did leave it plugged in to the power - a long story that I won't go into here), I've decided not to use a dedicated ground. But that is a decision you should make for yourself based on your QTH and conditions.

    For an antenna: your QRP antenna is fine, but since you're just starting out in HF, my opinion is that you should use more power so you can make more QSO's. QRP is best done after you've had some experience on the air with HF and come to know the vagaries of its propagation a bit, especially in these times of rather poor band conditions. So... I recommend that you obtain an antenna that can handle the full 100 W power that your IC-718 has to offer! I highly recommend the G5RV as a beginning antenna - they're cheap (you can buy an assembled one for under $60) and relatively easy to put up. I still have one after more than 15 years of HF'ing, and it is my go-to antenna for working 80m and 20m and up (I have a 40m loop that I prefer for 40m). Be sure to make a coil of about 6 to 10 turns of coax at about 12" to 18" diameter to prevent, or at least reduce, RF feedback into your shack, though. MFJ has a decent G5RV that should work quite well for you and can be had fairly cheaply, but other companies make them also. I've made many thousands of QSO's with mine and have made DXCC with it, so they do work. I've tried a number of different antennas over the years, and thus far, at my QTH anyway, the G5RV has been the best receiving antenna I've ever had.

    All the best and may you have great DX!

    K5URU likes this.

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