HF SSB results have been disappointing, advice needed

Discussion in 'General Technical Questions and Answers' started by N0IOP, Nov 6, 2019.

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  1. N0IOP

    N0IOP Ham Member QRZ Page

    I've finished my antenna projects. I have a 2m vertical 10' above my roof that is working great. I have no trouble hitting repeaters 40 miles away, and have had several fun QSOs with the local amateur radio community. I had projected coverage using the utility at https://www.ve2dbe.com, which looked like this (assuming a 50' AGL repeater antenna):


    Some of my QSOs have been outside the area of predicted coverage, notably being able to get into the Red Wing repeater in the center of the right edge of the map.

    However, HF results have been disappointing using my 43' vertical. (construction thread: https://forums.qrz.com/index.php?threads/43-vertical-using-wire.678545/)

    I am new to HF and could use some help understanding what's going on.

    I have an FT-891 transceiver going into manual tuner. There are remotely switchable coils at the base of the antenna for tuning 160m and 80m. There are ground radials, around 15 of them, of varying lengths and covering about 260 degrees of the circle around the base of the antenna. I've swept everything with a NanoVNA and recorded tuner settings for each band. The antenna tunes well for all bands from 160m to 15m which is where I intended to use it. I've confirmed tuning on each band with test transmissions and am getting SWRs around 1.1 as measured by the tuner.

    Feedline from the tuner to vertical is 40 feet of FSJ2-50 which should have around 0.1 dB to 0.2 dB loss depending on frequency, so even allowing for SWR, I should be getting most of my 100 watts to the antenna. The feedline is wrapped through a combination of ferrite cores to serve as a choke.

    The local soil provides an excellent ground.

    Based on what I've been able to read, I should be getting around 50-100 watts ERP on 80 meters and up, considering the 2-4 dBi gain of the antenna less various losses. I would guess I'm probably getting 10-20 watts ERP on 160m.

    I am in a suburban area with houses and apartments surrounding my QTH.

    I have been operating the transceiver on battery power so there should be no power line coupling going on.

    Here are the RX results I'm getting:
    * 160m: Noise typically S9 late evening or early morning. Have copied a few SSB conversations from as far as 500 miles away. Voice portion of the band seems quiet with usually 3-4 identifiable transmissions.
    * 80m: similar to 160m with perhaps a few more transmissions under way most times
    * 40m: Noise typically S7, band is very quiet, several discernible transmissions but nothing intelligible
    * 20m: Noise around S4, band is dead.
    * 15m: Noise around S3, band is dead.
    * WWV: loud and clear on 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 Mhz most times, with some noise around the edges on some nights particularly on lower bands.

    No response that I can hear to my CQ calls although once or twice there has been an apparent response, unintelligible due to noise.

    I have not tried any modes except SSB.

    Here is my interpretation of what's going on:
    * I believe I am probably not getting enough power out on 160m for anything except local QSOs.
    * I believe that noise is my main problem on 80m and 40m. I know I can experiment by cutting power to my house and then individual breakers, and will do so at some point. However it is unclear to me how much that will help given the suburban nature of the location
    * I believe that 20m and up are above the MUF most of the time which is why I don't hear anything.

    And here are my options as I see them:
    * Hunt down noise sources in and around my QTH and try to reduce the noise floor.
    * QRO and focus on 160m and 80m, where the atmospheric noise is probably limiting anyway.
    * Give up on HF until there are sunspots, and build repeaters or something in the meantime.
    * Experiment with field operations at more favorable (rural) locations.
    * Build directional receive antennas.

    Advice welcome
  2. W7UUU

    W7UUU Super Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    QRO won't matter a bit until you source and eliminate as much of the noise problem you describe. You can run 5000 watts all day and night but if you cannot hear the other station, you're wasting your time.

    There is PLENTY of propagation "out there" right now to work tons of stations on 80/40/30.

    IMO, your "step one" is locate and eliminate all that noise. Do not advance to step two until you've solved the noise problem. Note that vertical antennas tend to have much higher noise pickup than horizontal....

    I solved my noise problems (as bad as yours are!) by simply eliminating sources one by one. Do it in reverse - power the entire house down, not by the main breaker but by each breaker one by one. Power your receiver on a 12v battery. See what your noise is like,... then one by one, turn on breakers - checking your noise after each breaker.

    If, even with 100% of your breakers turned off, the noise is still there on all bands, this means your noise is external to your own place and the problem gets a lot more involved quickly. But you'll never know until you eliminate YOUR house.

    Good luck!

    Last edited: Nov 6, 2019
    K0UO, N0TZU, N1EN and 2 others like this.
  3. WA7ARK

    WA7ARK Ham Member QRZ Page

    I suspect you are getting out, but not able to receive much due to your high noise levels...

    Two things for you to try:

    1. Listen to your own signals on a webSdr, like Half Moon Bay or Northern Utah. You can check various bands, at various times of the day...

    2. Make a sked with me using the forum's "conversations" button. I can run QRO (so you are likely to receive me) and we are the right distance apart so that we should be able to work on 80/40/20m at different times of day. My resting noise level is ~S1, so I will likely receive your sigs.
    K0UO and N0TZU like this.
  4. N0IOP

    N0IOP Ham Member QRZ Page

    OK, thanks, I'll look for noise sources and see what I can do about them.
  5. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Sounds like your antenna "should" work fine, although ground clutter (houses, buildings, stuff) can certainly impact the way a ground-mounted vertical will actually perform, irrespective of SWR measurements and such.

    Receiver noise levels can sure be a limiting factor but the "S" meter readings you report aren't all that nutty. S7 with a real, working antenna on 40m is not something I'd consider to be a very high noise level. Now, operating times of day impact almost everything. I get on 40m CW "most" days around 0000 UTC, which is late afternoon here, and have a few QSOs. To the east it's getting dark or already is dark and to the west it's light and earlier in the day. As such, on 40m at that hour, propagation is better up and down the west coast (for me) since that's all local, plus towards the east where it's dark. On a typical weekday afternoon, I'll tune across 30-40 CW signals, "hear" a bunch of digital signals which I don't bother decoding, but some are pretty strong, and then if I tune up above 7125 (SSB territory), probably a dozen or two SSB contacts...sometimes some AM up higher in the band. All easily "readable" over an S4-S5 noise level, and most signals are S8 or above, so an S7 noise level would not make them unreadable.

    I note in the QST review of the FT-891 they weren't wild about the rig, called it a "mobile/portable" rig, and measured only 10 dB maximum DSP noise reduction, which isn't much for IF DSP. Noise blanking/reduction systems vary enormously from rig to rig model, as some here will tell you. Read here enough and you'll find guys who bought brand new IC-7300s and also bigger rigs than that, hated the noise reduction or lack of it, and almost immediately sold them to try something else! That's how important that feature can be.

    Another thing you might check if you can: If you're getting no answers at all to your CQs, many possible reasons for that but one is that your modulation isn't clear and crisp. That could be "rig," or "microphone," or "RF getting back into the rig and distorting the modulation," or even "your voice.":p Another reason some don't get answers to voice CQs is simply operating style (the way you call CQ), which of course is easily improved once you know what to do.

    If possible, try to monitor your own signal on a separate receiver or have a nearby ham friend listen for you and play you back to yourself over the telephone, or over 2m FM or whatever works so you can hear yourself.

    BTW: If you haven't read it, the QST Product Review on the 891 is in the June 2017 issue.

    Also, if you want some "advice" (just friendly tips, non-specific) about calling CQ on voice modes like SSB, you might read this: https://www.eham.net/article/7952

    Good luck and most of all, have fun!
    WL7PM, K7GQ, N0IOP and 1 other person like this.
  6. N1EN

    N1EN Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    One other, hopefully easy, thing you can try while waiting for your sked is to send "TEST yourcall yourcall TEST" twice in CW on an open frequency on an open band, and go look for spots of yourself on reversebeacon.net.

    That will give you clear evidence as to whether you are "getting out".

    The lack of received signals seems odd. Even though you might not be prepared to copy such signals, you might try tuning to 14.074, 3.573, 1.840 (all USB) and see if you can hear the FT8 watering hole activity. Or, this evening from 9pm-10pm Central tonight, there should be plenty of CW activity audible between 7.028-7.040, and 3.528-3.540. For that matter, after dark, there should be a bunch of nets (several of which are not suitable for polite company, sadly) audible between 3850 and 4000 LSB.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the guidance given above regarding tracking down and eliminating noise sources, and getting a sked with someone who can work with you on the air.
  7. N0TZU

    N0TZU Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Welcome to HF! An excellent post asking for help, by the way. You provided all relevant information and then some, in contrast to many.

    In addition to the excellent advice already given above, I would add that very often the man-made noise in your home is the largest contributor if that is part of the issue you are having. So don’t delay in checking that out.

    You can already operate on battery, so it’s straightforward to proceed with the breaker test. I like to turn off all the breakers (or main) and see if the noise goes down. If not, then the noise is from elsewhere. If there is, then proceed to turning ON one breaker at a time to find the culprits, and there might be several. Many things these days have backup batteries, so you need to make sure those are removed or disabled. Some not-so-obvious ones are cable modems and VOIP phones.

    Good luck.
    KK4NSF and KA0HCP like this.
  8. KM4DYX

    KM4DYX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    * Hunt down noise sources in and around my QTH and try to reduce the noise floor. Yep

    * QRO and focus on 160m and 80m, where the atmospheric noise is probably limiting anyway. Don't give up that easy.

    * Give up on HF until there are sunspots, and build repeaters or something in the meantime. See above answer.

    * Experiment with field operations at more favorable (rural) locations. A good idea regardless of your home QTH situation.

    * Build directional receive antennas. Yep. I've got a Loop on Ground that has saved many a QSO.

    KK4NSF likes this.
  9. N7WR

    N7WR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Do whatever you can to eliminate the noise as it looks like your antenna (verticals do pick up more noise than horizontally polarized antennas BTW) is working. There is stuff to work. With 100 watts to my vertical from Central Oregon just this past week I have worked Japan, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Pitcairn, Croatia and a couple of others I can't recall off the top of my head. All Q's on 20 or 17 meters. Good luck--don't give up on HF. Even at low sunspot times there is DX to work usually on 17, 20 and 40. Going to a small amp (once you solve the noise issue) should help though an S 4 noise on 20 is not that bad and you should be hearing stations depending on the time of day you are on the air
    KK4NSF and N0TZU like this.
  10. W1VT

    W1VT Ham Member QRZ Page

    Conditions aren't that bad. I was able to work a couple dozen countries on both 40 and 80 meters in the recent CQ WW Phone contest. I did need an 600W amp--it is pretty brutal getting through many of the pileups in that particular contest. Worked Hawaii on 80M. On 40 I worked Norfolk Island and Australia with simple wire antennas--nothing higher than 40 feet.

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