I participate in and facilitate several amateur radio nets a month. I facilitate once a month a net for Brushbeater alumni and for members of my site, Unchainedpreppers. Typically the ERIN/Unchangedpreppers net runs the second Sunday of each month and the goal of the net is for likeminded folks to try out their equipment, practice receiving & then sending traffic, and to pass along important SIGINT from their AO to all on the net. This article is to share with the AP readers the mistakes that I and folks on the nets have made to help you with your RX (Receiving) and TX (Transmitting).
The process of hosting the net starts about a week before the monthly date by reviewing several propagation predictors. I use VOCAP Online HF Predictions and HF Systems to determine the correct band and time for the net. Next, the Sunday before the net I listen on the radio for other nets around the time, band, and frequency I was planning to have the ERIN/UP net. I stay away from other known and scheduled nets to avoid TX splatter.
Based on my experience with the ERIN/UP net along with other nets I participate in, I have come up with the following reasons why many do not get on the air. These issues circle around transceiver, communication, and antenna. Why reinvent the wheel when you can learn from others.
As already stated, the main reason for the net is for likeminded individuals to try out their equipment. Often many of the folks on the net can RX my transmissions but have a hard time being heard when they TX. Some things to check are,
- Transceiver power out. More times than I want to admit I have found myself TXing on 5-watts versus 100-watts. I tend to participate in QRP (Low Power) contests and being just north of 60-years-old I forget to reset my rig back to 100-watts post a contest. A local ham was having a problem being heard so I swung by his shack with an antenna analyzer, manual tuner, and watt meter. Low and behold my friends rig was set for max power – 100-watts – but when I connected the power meter to the transceiver the radio was only putting out 2-watts. Off to the dealer for repair it went.
- Internal and external automatic tuners. Not as often as power issues are rigs with a auto tuner issue. If the power coming out of the radio is within specs, I then hook up a manual tuner and bypass the rigs auto tuner. Often the issue is there. The auto tuner cannot handle the high SWR (Standing Wave Ratio) of the antenna they have in the air or it just isn’t working. Typically, most auto tuners cannot handle a 10:1 or greater SWR. By the way, the cost of a manual tuner is about what you will pay to have your internal auto tuner repaired when you look at, shipping, insurance, and labor. Currently, my internal auto tuner works just fine on my Kenwood TS-590s however I bypass my auto tuner on two of my antennas and only use it for my 160-meter antenna. My manual antenna tuner is a Palstar AT2K which will tune a coat hanger.
- Last, concerning the transceiver end of the equation is your ground. As we read in an ARRL.org article titled Grounding,
After antennas, station grounding is probably the most discussed subject in amateur radio and it is also the one replete with the most misconceptions. The first thing to know is that there are three functions served by grounding in ham shacks: 1. Electrical Safety 2. Stray RF Suppression (or simply RF Grounding) 3. Lightning Protection.
As already stated, I post the PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency) typically the Wednesday before the net. In the PACE post I include the date and time of the net. Yet folks who want to participate in the net,
- Forget that they live in a different time zone than the one in the SOI (Signal Operations Instructions).
- On a different date. I have received emails from folks wondering where the net was on Saturdays/Mondays. The SOI clearly states the net will be on Sunday Month, day, year.
- Even if I do all the prep as listed, I still often pick a frequency that will be in use the night of the net or another QSO is happening to close to the planned frequency. When this happens, I post on UP the new frequency or for the folks who request it I text them the new frequency. In essence though, if the net is not where it should be just drift up a few Mhz at a time and you will find it. If that doesn’t work, go to the alternate frequency in the PACE.
I saved the best reason for last why folks can’t get out farther than their neighbors television…Their antenna. Some folks are under the impression that any wire placed anywhere can be an antenna. Some of my favorites are,
- A long wire just hanging down out their house/hotel/boat/etc. window,
- A dipole or other form of antenna hung in their attic,
- A store-bought antenna that lays on the ground,
- A dipole antenna that hangs from their aluminum gutters around the house, and
- The list goes on and on.
Bottom-line, their antenna’s SWR is north of 2:1 even with an auto or manual tuner.
Case in point, a friend who was having a dickens of a time TXing kept scratching his noggin. I went over to his house with an antenna analyzer to check his antenna. Well the analyzer reported that his antenna SWR was 12:1. I started to dial that number down using his manual tuner and was told to “Stop!” My friend further explained, “that tuner is already tuned properly.”
It turned out that he had been using the same manual tuner settings for his transceiver that he recorded when he had put the antenna up a year earlier. Crap happens when an antenna hangs in the elements and things happen locally around your AO that may have an adverse effect on your antenna’s performance.
I re-tune my PalStar manual tuner before each net, contest, or just some spare time I have to swing the dial. I also keep records or as Patriotman calls them, “antenna dope sheets”. The reason to do this is to have at hand a list of settings so if you must switch to a new frequency or band you can do so on the fly. But the most important is if you notice large swings in settings. When this happens something between the tuner and antenna has failed; coax connections, balun or balun connections, solder points, or coax.
In closing before you go on the air next time make sure your transceiver, tuner, ground, and antenna are up to pare. Learn from my and other mistakes. If you have had issues TXing share with the AP readers your mistake (s) in the comments section below. After all, lets not reinvent the wheel.
Freedom Through Self-Reliance®