New HAM with LOTS of questions

Discussion in 'Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator/Upgrading Privi' started by KI7KRY, Apr 13, 2017.

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  1. KI7KRY

    KI7KRY Ham Member QRZ Page

    So I got my tech in February after a buddy gave me pair of Baofengs, and showed me the basics of what they can do. I was hooked, studied up, tested, and passed. I quickly realized I would out grow my tech privileges as the local 2m/ 70cm stuff was pretty tedious (i.e., same local net, same local crew that only wanted to talk to the locals they new, and my buddy that got me into it is only on JT65 anymore.)

    I played with IRLP and signed up for Echolink (still haven't used it though). I am pretty active out doors (climbing, mtn biking, mountaineering, back packing) so I quickly found APRS useful and tried the baofeng with mobilink TNC2 (quickly purchased a KW TH-D72a).

    Next I learned about satellites and the ISS. As of tonight (4/12) I finally got my first APRS contact through the ISS, but have yet to make a contact through "the birds".

    I just took and passed my general exam. I thought I had it all figured out, until my buddy threw a wrench in it. I was planning on getting my feet wet on 20m with a dipole and FT-450d. However, when I was over picking up his "loaner" rig (an old kenwood and his first 20m dipole) he was saying 20m is dead, everyone is on JT65, poor propagation from solar cycle....

    So long story short, I am kind of discouraged. I have his old kenwood, I threw the dipole (1:1 balun and coax) up between my deck and a tree about 12 feet up, and was able to hear voices, but had a hard time getting them clear. Ultimately my question is, is 20m still a good starting point (should I go 40m?, Both?). I am pretty convinced on the FT 450D, but should I look into an analyzer since it has a tuner built in to help optimize the dipole. BTW I am kind of fixed on a dipole for now as it will be easy to hide (HOA) unless there is a good end feed multiband option.

    Sorry for the long intro, and may be wrong forum. All the help (and encouragement) is appreciated

    P.S. I am also in no way technologically oriented. This hobby is way out side my comfort level. I learned to solder to build a tape measure yagi for satellites, no computer programming in my blood.I can install the latest version of office, but thats about the best at this point.
  2. AB3TQ

    AB3TQ Subscriber QRZ Page

    Yes, a General ticket opens up a whole new world beyond your original Tech privileges. No, 20 meters is not dead. It isn't what is has been in better solar cycles. Some days are worse than others. But calling it dead is a bit dramatic.

    A 450D is a good radio. Not everyone's favorite, but still good. Dipoles work. This is a half wave 20 meter antenna with a total end to end length between 32 and 33 feet? And the "loaner" rig works as it should according to your buddy? And when checking for traffic it is set to USB while tuning between 14.225 Mhz and 14.347 Mhz? (effectively your 20 meter General Phone privileges). I can't imagine that a good radio, properly set, would have a hard time picking up some clear voices.

    40 meters is not a direct substitute for 20 meters. On any given day, or even time of day, someone you can contact on one of those bands might be impossible to reach on the other. They are my two go to bands for portable operation for SOTA activations. Sounds like something you might be interested in with the right equipment. Click link.

    A resonant antenna works best. An antenna analyzer can help you trim an antenna to resonance for a desired center frequency. An antenna tuner does the best it can to compensate for using an antenna where it is not resonant. Saying you need an analyzer because you have a tuner makes no sense. I have an antenna analyzer, and will never give it up. An antenna tuner can be just as valuable. But they have different jobs. A good analyzer isn't cheap, and you might want to hold off on that one for awhile.

    Let us know how you are making out as you get more familiar with your setup.

    Glenn AB3TQ
    KE6P, OH2FFY and W7UUU like this.
  3. K6CLS

    K6CLS Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi, I admire your enthusiasm, it's contagious!

    Put up a random wire and listen in on all the HF bands. They all have their own unique characteristics for activity, propagation, noise, time of day, etc.

    Connect the audio output of your 450 to the sound input of your computer. install fldigi, and use it to check out PSK31 activity on the bands. Also, if you are like me a non Morse code person, fldigi has a good CW decoder.

    Install WSJT and check out the JT65 and JT9 action.

    If any of this grabs you, you can install transmitting antennas for the bands of interest.

    I got my General license just to do digimodes on HF, that opened up a whole new world of operations.
    NQ1B likes this.
  4. N0IU

    N0IU Ham Member QRZ Page

    First of all, congratulations on the upgrade!

    You can "optimize" an antenna until the cows come home but that's not going to change the number of sunspots. And as AB3TQ says, if there is any way you can get on 40 meters you will have many more opportunities for success.
  5. OH2FFY

    OH2FFY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Oh darn it !! , I wish someone had of told me before that 20 meters is dead , because then I would know that the contacts that I have on it every day are not real. :cool:

    Why am I always the last to find out these things ? :D

    gregW:) OH2FFY
    WB0MPB likes this.
  6. KI7KRY

    KI7KRY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yes, half wave dipole 32-33 feet about 12 ft up. I live in a little valley, surrounded by homes on 3 sides and a small hill to the north. As is I am getting a constant s7 background static. I assume its because the antenna needs to be higher? The loaner rig is a Kenwood TS430s. He just recently (last 3-5 months) upgraded to an Icom 718. Until then he was working jt65 with the kenwood.

    I was thinking an analyzer because the FT 450D has a tuner built in. I understand it is limited and requires a 3:1 or better SWR. I was thinking I could get by with that for a while, but maybe not.

    I ,briefly, looked into it. The problem I remember having i that they didnt have the mountains we actually climb. Living in the PNW of the US we have lots of volcanos (Rainier, Baker, Adams, Hood, etc) that we climb and ski.
  7. AB3TQ

    AB3TQ Subscriber QRZ Page

    So the radio was working FB for your buddy just a few months ago. That's good. Have your buddy help you get the radio working the best it can with what you have. You are near other homes. You are bothered by QRM (noise). Is the noise coming from your neighbors homes? From other external sources? From your own house? You don't need all that big a battery to power the radio for receive only. While powered by a battery, turn off ALL the breakers in your house. Does any of the noise go away? If there is less noise with all of your power shut down, turn the breakers back on one at a time and determine which breaker is powering the noisy device. Unplug individual devices on that circuit until you identify the culprit, and then deal with it. Replace it. Filter it. Use it only when you are not operating. Whichever strategy works for you.

    So what you were really saying is, since the 450D will already have a built in ATU (antenna tuner) should I next invest in an antenna analyzer? Not under your present circumstances. You are using a old (assumed working) dipole, roughly the correct length for 20 meters as is. There isn't much else you can adjust that would require an analyzer to optimize. Raising the height above ground will have some effect on the antenna impedance and the radiation pattern. And higher is always better for antenna performance, with the possible exception of when you are moving into closer proximity of an overhead noise source. But there is no reason you can't make contacts with a 12 foot high dipole. I am on the opposite coast, but I have worked European contacts with a homebrew 20 meter dipole only 10 feet high. They will work. They can always be better.

    And there is an SWR indicator built into the radios to give you some confidence that you are in the correct ballpark. You don't always have to pinpoint the pitchers mound.

    There are PLENTY of SOTA summits in your area that are not volcanoes. A whole line of them just east of you stretching North to South for miles. Pick your desired level of difficulty. More height equals more points. But height is not automatically an indicator of difficulty. Is it a drive up (not taken into account for points)? Or must you actually climb it? If you are looking for a reasonable challenge, look for summits that have never had a SOTA activation logged to them. That generally indicates it is legally inaccessible (private, military, etc) or that it is a hard climb. I would not want to carry a 450D for a summit climb. Taking it to a drive up perhaps, to get your feet wet in the program would be OK. Any questions about the rules, just ask.

  8. WF4W

    WF4W Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    congratulations! Ham radio is awesome! As other have said, 40m is a good place to be - it's open pretty much all day to different directions. more local during the day and much further at night - i get my best DX on 40m...

    Again, as others have said, 20m is NOT dead. . . But it's only going to be open (generally) between dawn and dusk.

    It's funny b/c I was home for lunch and worked a s57 in solvenia and an OM3 in Slovak Republic - both on 20m. Then on the local repeater I heard a guy lamenting about how he had to turn his HF rig off b/c the bands were "D-E-A-D DEAD!" (his words).

    If you have room for the 20m dipole you should have room for a 40/20/15/10 OCF Dipole (search for RadioWavz) that is the same lentgh, give or take a few feet. That will get you on more bands where you can listen.
  9. KI7KRY

    KI7KRY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yeah I need to have him show me the ropes some. As for the source of noise, I am not sure. Our weather here has been horrible, so during a break in the rain yesterday I strung it up real quick. I adjusted it some this morning. I am getting better, but still faint voices. And since adjusting the height the background static has gone from s7 to s4. I will check house hold interference later this week. I work 7 on 7 off, and go back to work tonight.

    I did some research this morning and I am leaning towards an end fed half wire strung from the roof to a support in the back corner of our yard. Google earth measurements show about 90 ft. The feed point would be off the roof, run straight down into the shack. maybe something like the EF-quad and a better tuner.

    This is true. I guess what I should have said was I have not had the time to really look into SOTA, only a brief glimpse. But as weather improves, hope to be taking the HT a long with us, and eventually get something set up for HF comms in the future.

    Thanks for the responses. I am sure you guys and gals get these kind of posts weekly here, so thanks for taking the time to help us newbs out.
  10. WC3T

    WC3T Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    End feds can be noisy. Is there a way you can get the dipole even higher? If your noise floor went from S7 to S4 just by adjusting the height of your current dipole, then it tells me that you're on the right track.

    There are few antennas better than a resonant dipole. If you are reluctant to have multiple dipoles, perhaps you can look into an off-center fed dipole - which can feed multiple bands with a single wire (fed not from the center, but somewhere near 1/3 of the way in from one end; hence the term "off-center fed.") I have one up about 30' and it works great for me.
    KE4HTS likes this.

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