My first day on the amateur radio HF bands

I got into ham radio a few months ago and upgraded to a General-class license last weekend. This is a big step for ham radio people… the moment where you go from being able to talk to people ~30 miles away to being able to talk around the world. Anyway I went out and got a new 100W all-band, all-mode radio, an auto antenna tuner, a deep cycle battery, a 30A power supply, and a mini-Buddipole antenna. Woo!

I had a lot of trouble getting my first contact. I tried every night after work all week. I tried from Volunteer Park, my communal rooftop deck, and my friend’s roof on the 33rd floor of his building. I set the Buddipole up for 20m and heard people from the park but they couldn’t hear me. On my rooftop, I got nothing but S9 noise everywhere and couldn’t hear a thing. Same story from friend’s roof.

Well, I found that you can’t just use the settings that come in the Buddipole manual. Especially if you have the 8ft mast. It’s not high enough to do a 20m dipole efficiently (all RF goes straight up in the air. Read this whole book to understand). So you have to set it up as a vertical like this:

Buddipole as 20m vertical
Buddipole set up as a 20m vertical.

I put all my arms on and pulled the whip all the way out. Then I turned up the radio near the frequency that I wanted to tune and raked the tap up and down the inductor coil until the noise was loudest. I screwed the tap in on the loudest coil. Then I adjusted the counterpoise wire, which is just wire from Home Depot, attached to an empty arm from the rotating arm kit (RAK). Guess the length as a quarter-wave of whatever frequency you’re on and stick it on a non-conductive stake (like a stick or one of those orange fiberglass driveway markers). It has to be a few feet above ground. Then I used the SWR meter on my rig to see where I was. I adjusted the length of the counterpoise until SWR was <1.5. And I was off.

Portable HF setup
Here’s my portable setup

Stations came booming in! There was a contest today so everyone was just passing around esoteric signal reports. I figured it out with some help from the ARRL webpage. It goes like this:

CQ CQ CQ contest. this is [callsign]. CQ CQ CQ contest

To answer, people just say their call sign. If they’re heard, the contesting station says:

Ok that’s AH5L question mark. What’s the suffix?

and thus begins the attempt to copy the full call sign. Eventually, if the answering station confirms proper callsign, then the DX station says

OK AH5LLL, you’re 59 kilowatt.

which means you’re signal is coming in 5 dB over S9 on the signal meter and that they’re running 1kW of power. Then you say

Ok you’re 59 in Whisky Alpha, Washington

and thus you give them a report of their signal and tell them your location.

I did this to stations in Japan and Alaska. Neat!

Anyway then I switched to 17m, retuned, tried talking to an Ontario guy from the IRC channel that taught me how to get all this stuff going (I could hear him but he could barely hear me). Then I ragchewed with a guy in South Dakota for 20 mins. So there you have it… I can do long-distance communication with very little infrastructure. WEE! Radio is fun now.

I was definitely getting frustrated having trouble making contacts but the folks on reddit really helped me out. Awesome community.

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