So far, in following the Survivalist paradigm concerning radio, we’ve discussed the many uses of hand held sets, due to their overwhelming popularity but far more importantly their largely misunderstood role. Capable of local, or Line of Sight (LOS) communications, they are often the entry-level communications device that most cut their teeth upon. Mobile VHF or UHF sets usually offer more power and increased range, but basically accomplish the same goals with most off the self models leaving out AM and SSB from the upper bands. But from there, the next step seems bewildering at a minimum and inaccessible at worst. The advantages of HF communications however, are numerous and bring to the table tools that possibly get overlooked in other contexts. That being said, getting on HF is kinda tough. You need at least a General Class radio license, which is certainly attainable but no small feat, and the selection of equipment is nothing short of bewildering (as well as expensive in many cases). Hopefully by the end of this, together we’ll get a better understanding of meeting our requirements.
The first question in a lot of minds among the uninitiated is ‘Why is this important? Why do I want to talk to people I don’t know?’
Well, at first glance, this would seem logical. In a grid-down, crazy variable-x situation, talking to people you don’t know could endanger your ‘opsec’ and ‘put your preps at risk’ (these are both face value arguments I’ve heard) and that possibly may be true over LOS. If you’re talking to people you don’t know on VHF, they very likely are within range to affect your near-term living condition. This is not necessarily logical over HF. First, the antenna size required for efficiency (in most cases) and complication of operation negates likely hostiles baiting folks over HF. It’s just too hard. You’ll most likely find that stuff on the license-free options.
Second, and much more important, is that HF creates self-controlled regional and even global communications. Yes, you read that right. Sure, there’s shortwave radio stations to be heard, but we can do that with some of the higher-end handheld radios I’ve previously recommended or the excellent SW receivers on the market without buying a much more expensive and complicated HF set. But those SW stations are filtered, written and approved by someone with an agenda, as nearly all international stations are state-run and to varying degrees exist as propaganda tools. You can communicate world wide over HF, with relatively small amounts of power, provided you understand the components of the system. But why would you want to? Remember Venezuela? We knew about Venezuela’s problems before the news reported them because their Amateurs were on the air talking about it. And some of us talked to them about it, getting first hand information, raw and unfiltered. Why do you think Turkey cancelled a substantial number of radio licenses post-coup attempt? To control what info got out to the world, as well as prevent a substantial communications network among potential partisans. But say, you have a license now, and it gets cancelled as a result of some variable-x scenario… your skill set still does not go away. Your spare equipment you’ve stashed away can get up and running and on the air, even after your primary set was confiscated with your license. And for those who will now read this and snarkily say, ‘then why bother with a license?’, I’ll state that you cannot gain the skill required to communicate over HF without doing it on a regular basis. Just not happening, snowflake.
HF also creates a very reliable regional communications system, via NVIS propagation on the lower half of the High Frequency bands (160-40m, reliably). This has been covered substantially on this blog; review the information, it’s not there for my entertainment. NVIS is a technique that provides communications in that tricky zone where LOS fizzles out but the higher end of HF skips over. It’s relatively reliable but requires regular practice and study to get right, which starts with getting on the air and doing it. So let’s talk about doing that.
Building Your HF Station
The neat thing about HF is that it can be as complicated or simple as you like- every HF operator has a differing set of preferences that evolve over time. The field is so big that there’s literally a differing opinion pretty much everywhere, and it’s entirely dependent on the interests of that particular operator. This varies from modes to equipment to bands to contests vs ragchewing vs working the world vs EMCOMM, and so on and so forth. So for those new to the hobby, the options quickly become overwhelming, with most new folks wondering exactly where to start.
Most of the information (and questions I get on a regular basis) out there are centered around the particular radio itself. There’s a bunch of good options out there that we’ll examine. There’s others I’ll miss, so don’t get your feelings hurt if yours doesn’t get talked about. But what’s important to understand is that while the particular brand of radio is one thing, there’s a lot more to it than brand A vs brand B. Transmission lines, antenna systems (tuners included), and power supplies (and lines) are all key to your success.
To QRP or not to QRP, that is the question-
A lot of the Survivalist-oriented radio knowledge likes to talk about QRP, or low power sets. QRP is the three-letter CW code sent to signal you are reducing power. Over the years it has become synonymous with low power communications and in particular, 5w and below. It’s its own area of interest very popular with the SOTA, NPOTA, RaDAR, and other portable radio hobbyist groups, usually very analogous to Survivalist and Self Reliance principles. Battery operation and efficient power management is paramount, but comes at a cost. Low power operation is anything but friendly to those new to the HF game. Inefficient antennae and lossy connections are the enemy of success with QRP. CW, or morse code, is a large booster in transmitting efficiency, as is skill with digital modes. Voice contacts over SSB at QRP levels is a challenge, and while completely possible, can be discouraging to new or inexperienced operators. So while a small, miserly set seems attractive at the outset, know that it’s not perfect, and certainly not the answer to all questions or needs.
The two most popular sets out there among the QRP world, hands down, is the Yaesu 817 and the Elecraft KX3(and KX2…which while tiny, lacks 160, which I find a deal breaker in a tactical sense). There’s others, such as the interesting rigs coming from China (which while some are neat, you’re taking a gamble) and the diminutive (and very cool!!!) CW-only Mountain Topper radios, but by far the most versatile QRP HF sets are the two aforementioned rigs. The 817 offers the most versatility of any QRP rig ever made with all of the HF bands and all-mode VHF/UHF, and the KX3 has arguably the best receiver ever made along with housing everything including a tuner inside a neat, compact package. Shortwave sounds good on both- I’m hardly an audiophile, however some find it important. But at a 5w and 10w Peak Envelope Power (PEP) respectively, they are definitely limited by power for those operating phone-only. Digital operations usually don’t require much more than 5w though, and CW is very well suited to extremely low power. For a more general purpose set, or one to cut our teeth upon, there’s other options that offer more versatility to the Survivalist role.
Enter the 100w ‘Field Day’ Rig-
The Icom 706 was the first rig to offer everything in one. While not perfect, the later incarnations were very, very good radios and extremely common in the EMCOMM community. In fact, the updated incarnation of the 706MkIIG, was the Red Cross standard HF unit. Yaesu took the concept and ran with it, eventually building the excellent 8X7 family of ‘shack in the box’ rigs, which offer everything from 160m to 70cm in a neat portable package. For a lot of new amateurs, the advantages of having everything in one box is just too much to resist. For those Survivalist oriented, these are great rigs to have. I’ve owned one of each in this family, with the 857D being the best of the bunch in terms of portability, versatility, and ease of use. It shares all of the same controls as its 817 and 897 brethren, but can be thought of as a happy medium between the two. It’s less power-efficient than a QRP set, but still not bad (RX is 1A @ standby/TX @ 10W is 5A…not the most efficient but not awful either) and the bottom end of operating voltage is 11v.
Some folks are torn on the idea of everything in one house, and like to have a separate mobile for VHF/UHF needs. I agree with this in a certain context, for redundancy’s sake, and for not putting all my eggs in one basket. But there’s no other new rig on the market that offers SSB operation on 2m or 70cm, and those capabilities definitely add a new and interesting capability to your signal package. But for those who like separate rigs for separate jobs, the Icom 7200 (which is now discontinued…and sad really, as it’s the last new Icom model I’ll buy…all of their newest stuff is very much, well, not designed for outdoor use…Yaesu seems to be traveling down this path too…their product development crews need to be fired, they’re missing the mark big time) is one to watch for on the resale market. While less efficient on power (2.2A @ RX) it is extremely simple to operate and fairly rugged. The Icom 718 is a very similar rig, still in production, and very, very simple to operate being marketed on its simple form factor and bare-bones utility. Along that vein is the Alinco DX-SR8T. Each of these are capable of operation on each of the HF bands plus 6m, which offers great capability at a reasonable cost for Survivalists getting into HF communications.
Probably the most important part of your system that gets no attention is the transmission line. While 450-ohm ladder line used to be quite common, among all new(er) rigs coax is king. You’ll most commonly find UHF connectors on the ends (SOcket-239, PLug-259) but sometimes BNC as well on the QRP sets. The Yaesu 817 has a BNC plug on the front and UHF on the back for coax attachment. Along your transmitting lines you should have as few connectors as possible- one homogeneous line is best for a consistent electrical path and to insulate against interference or water contamination. All connections should be waterproofed with electrical tape (make sure it’s 3M tape!!!) if not soldered.
The lines themselves matter. They vary from being extremely cheap (RG-58) to very expensive (LMR-400) but what difference does this really make? Any 50 Ohm coax can work. Over HF, the transmitted energy itself is more tolerant of loss than on VHF and higher. So while the RG-58 you found at a yard sale for $10 a 400yd spool might be ok on HF @ 100w, it may experience too much loss to be effective at 5w. Conversely, that roll of LMR-400 you paid much more for per foot from Wireman may not offer much improvement at 100w over the cheap RG-58, all things being equal. I take the middle of the road on this- for HF use, both QRP and QRO (low power and high power, respectively), RG-8X. It’s slim and light meaning it takes up little room in the ruck, but is vastly more durable than RG-174 (extremely narrow cable popular with ultralight operators), can still be useful on VHF (in short runs), is more flexible than LMR, and won’t break the bank in cost. For portable operations I find it the best of all worlds with the fewest drawbacks. LMR-240 is useful for low profile, more permanent VHF/UHF setups. It has lower loss on those bands than RG, is narrower than its LMR-400 brother, and can be hidden in plain sight. It’s very rigid due to the shielding however, so you have to be careful of bends and turns. For this reason I don’t recommend it’s use in the field, but otherwise it’s pretty good stuff. Unless you’re looking for broadcast-quality audio, these are really the best options out there for our uses. You can spend more, but the law of diminishing returns definitely applies, and in the field 8X is really the best cable I’ve found between all variables.
Go back and check out this post from a while back. Grounding is very important for a couple of reasons- it completes a path for your transmitted and return energy, and it gives excess static a place to go before it damages you or your radio. It also insulates from excessive noise emitted by other nearby objects. It’s important to understand that an RF ground is not the same as an electrical ground, although the two are principally the same. There’s a lot of confusion on grounding for this reason, and that’s a debate for another day. Inside the scope of this article, just know that it’s an important part of your system and definitely needs to have attention paid to it, and it’s just as important in the field as it is in the shack.
Antennae in their many forms-
Even more bewildering than radios is the antenna types out there. As with the debate over radios, the options for antenna types can be absolutely confusing to beginners. Many books have been written exclusively on this topic, and I cannot hope to address all of the dimensions comprehensively in one post. But what I can do is give you an idea of what types are optimal for what purposes.
Polarization is just as important on HF as any other band, but that’s not to say that horizontal polarization is incompatible with vertical, or circular, for that matter. This is really outside the scope of this article, but I’ll limit it to saying that the takeoff angle of your HF signal is very important to the manner in which it refracts off of the F layer. The steeper the angle, the shorter the skip zone, the shallower the angle, the further the distance. The angle is measured at the apex earth surface and the height of the radiation pattern. It’s important to note that these are general characteristics and not 100% absolutes all the time. Thus, a vertical antenna will render a very shallow takeoff angle, with a low hanging dipole giving a steep angle.
Vertical HF antennae tend to be very tall (a quarter wave long wire 160m vertical would be 40m tall!) and require ground radials matching the length of the frequency. Think of it as our Jungle Antenna but sitting on the ground and with many more legs. Rigging a dipole is far simpler in both construction and setup. Dipoles are typically horizontally strung, either completely horizontal or in a sloping Vee configuration with the run ends sloping towards the ground. This is the configuration I prefer most of the time. End-Feds fall into the category of dipole as well, although they have their own characteristics. Dipoles are the most versatile and simple to rig antenna in the field, but requires a large amount of space, with the lower bands requiring much more space than the higher ones.
Dipoles almost always should be used with tuners to ensure protection of your radio, even for resonant dipoles. The reason for this is that while the wire may be cut to resonance mathematically, and may even be matched in one setting, those conditions change rapidly in the field. Since this happens without warning, a tuner becomes not only a critical part of the system but an insurance policy, no matter how much care you’re taken in building your antenna.
I’ve talked about the directional qualities of Yagi antennae many times in the past, and they are very popular on HF, but usually require significant infrastructure to erect. You need a tower, rotor, and the space to put the antenna on top of having the antenna, which really rules it out among those new to the hobby on HF. While a lot of fun to beam transmissions, its important to remember that a Yagi is a dipole with a ‘cold’ element slightly longer than the ‘driven’ element (connected to the radio) behind it to reflect the energy, and another ‘cold’ element slightly shorter as a director to focus the beam. A simple dipole is far lower profile and can work just as well regionally, as well as far better when unsupported operations are on the plate.
Loop Antennae are yet another option that is very popular among amateurs who’ve been on the air a while. They’re very compact and nearly 100% efficient by design, making them especially attractive for digital operations and for folks living under the thumb of HOAs. Another very attractive quality to a loop antenna is the ability to rapidly DF a signal using them- where you don’t hear the signal, or the ‘null’, is the bearing of the signal itself. At the feedpoint of the loop is a butterfly capacitor which is used to tune the loop to resonance, and also is responsible for the general higher cost over other antenna options. But for many of its advantages that cost is justified, and enjoys a considerable popularity among many into QRP digital communications.
This is simply a (very) brief primer as to antenna types and what’s out there. A great beginner’s companion resource is the ARRL’s antenna book and General Class license manual, in addition to the ARRL Handbook, to really lay the groundwork for antenna theory far beyond the scope of what’s written here. For Survival and Self Reliance enthusiasts interested in communications, these are must haves along with any resources on DIY antenna construction.
Powering Your Set
Radio equipment is almost exclusively powered by 12v Direct Current. What this means is that, for the beginner, they’re not exactly plug and play like your TV or your Kureig. Conversely, your radio can be powered from a variety of sources within your control. It boils down to one of two options- a converting power supply for working on-grid, and batteries for working off-grid.
Power Supply units are usually pretty simple and do not vary much in design, aside from their Amp-rating. Your connection must be fused- if not, you’re risking power surge damage to your radio. I run dual fuses on both lines and connect with Anderson power poles, making life quick and easy (more on this in a second). Make sure your power supply at least supplies the maximum number of amps your radio will require. The 857 and 7200 are both very happy with 30 Amp supply that I use. I can run 100w barefoot (no amplifier) with no problems. But what would happen if the supplied power dips? Your radio quits working right, also known as ‘motorboating’ where it may still be powered but the sound is garbled.
That being said, let’s talk about batteries. Pictured above is a 7AH sealed lead-acid battery (SLAB) which supplies 7 amps to a radio for one hour (hence, ‘amp hour’). So now that we know that, we need to know exactly how much current our set consumes at any given point. Refer back to our radio discussion above. Those numbers given in parenthesis are important and if any of those are your chosen radios, these numbers should be memorized. So if my 857 consumes 5A @ 10w, that gives me a little over an hour transmitting time at 10 watts. If listening consumes 1A, then I can listen for 7 hours using that 7AH SLAB pictured above. Typically we do not want more than an 80% discharge on our battery, so when it gets down to around 11v or so on standby it’s time to recharge. Making sense? Luckily the 857 and 817 have a voltmeter on the display, making them very attractive for running on battery power. The 817 also can run on the widest variety of battery power, having the ability to run down to around 9v or so before bottoming out. As for connections, just like with the power supply you can make a pretty simple connection to the batteries using a short paired run of wire and an Anderson Power Pole connection.
Power Poles should be a no-brainer among Survivalists- not only do they make standardizing very simple, they are very durable, very reliable, and make our connections clean and safe. They’re not expensive to stock up on, and aside from the crimping tool being around $40 (a must have- you can crimp with pliers in a pinch, but the actual tool is far, far better, cleaner, and yields better results) provides a cheap way to standardize interchangeable power supplies among all of your radio and electronic equipment.
Some Final Thoughts
Through the course of this, we’ve first identified why we might want to include HF in our signals package, how to satisfy that need with the most versatile equipment possible, and how to get it running and on the air in the most efficient manner possible. As we’ve seen, it goes far beyond a simple ‘brand A vs. brand B‘ argument that usually grinds any other useful discussion to a halt. In all honesty, the radio itself makes little difference if all the other requirements are met. Differing models simply offer a different set of features and in some cases superior quality (we’re talking among the big names here…not the ebay specials) or a some neat caveats unique to that brand. My intent with all of this has been to answer as many ‘new guy’ questions as possible for those looking to get on the air, and I think we’ve met most of those needs. HF communications can be some of the most rewarding experiences an amateur can have, and for a Survivalist, doing it (mostly) with kit you’ve built yourself is nothing short of incredible. The empowering experience of communicating over huge distances entirely with your own home-made infrastructure is one that, while not always for everyone, is definitely cool, and teaches so many other skills simultaneously.
Get Out and Do It!
74 thoughts on “Your First HF Station”
Great writeup, bro.
When the words, “Icom 7200” and “discontinued” come up, it’s like a Bat-Signal for your old boy Outlander. It immediately induces laser-beams shooting out of my eyeballs, and smoke billowing from my ears.
The discontinuation of the 7200, along with the direction towards radios built for “Recliner-On-The-Air” ops from the big three pisses me off royally.
Yeah…I honestly have no clue where the big three’s heads are. None of the new products are anything I’ll ever consider buying.
Elecraft and LNR seem to really be wanting to capture the market for the Outdoor crowd, especially since Yaesu seems to have no interest in updating the 817. CommRadio is looking to fill that role, at least on HF.
I dunno. The ‘big three’ are gonna die off at this pace just like the old fudds they’re building rigs for.
Most of the new rigs are not designed for field use but there are exceptions.
The Kenwood 590SG is an outstandingly designed rig that has not succumbed to the tendency toward touch screens and bells and whistles. It is not what I would call a portable rig, as it weighs 16 pounds, but it is small enough (11x12x4) and capable enough with the internal tuner to be useful in that role. Current draw on receive is around an amp.
In addition, it shares the ability of the IC-7200 to be used for digital or rig control with a single A to B usb cable, and the receiver challenges the K3S. It is also an excellent CW rig and the power can be dialed down to 5 watts.
With the introduction of the IC-7300, the price is around $1250 new. In my opinion, if you desire top-shelf performance from a transceiver, this is a serious candidate if your budget will support it.
One guy I know speaks very highly of his 590. I didn’t include it because I don’t have personal experience with it, but I do many older Kenwood rigs. The TS-50 would be a good one for new folks as well.
The 7200 is an outstanding radio. I have had one for several years; it is my primary Field Day rig. If I run into one for sale for a reasonable price I’ll be buying another.
I picked mine up used from Universal Radio used for $700, just before it was announced Icom was discontinuing them. That was pure luck, as they shot up in value not even a week later.
It is, hands down, the simplest rig I’ve used. While not the most power-efficient, the 7200 is tough as nails, and I expect to be using it long into the future.
My big thing is the convenience of the rig. Having the TNC on-deck is such a huge deal for me.
There’s nothing I hate more than a cobbled together cable octopus.
I missed the boat on the deal NCS got. A buddy picked one up for that price, and I said I’d pick one up after the new year. The lack of a replacement with the same feature set/rugged build pisses me off so bad.
Fortunately a bunch of the new rigs are adding in TNCs, since they’re SDRs anyway.
All these reasons are why I’m so excited for the CTX-10…
Outstanding. Newcomers should read, and then reread, this golden info.
A Yaesu 857 with a 2m/440 vertical and a wire dipole for HF would be a solid setup for any serious prepper.
Thanks for reading!
Yaesu 857D $759.95 spotted
Great post. Lots of good info. plus good references. I’m slowly getting there. Looking forward to learning many new skills over the winter. This from an ‘old fudd’ in MN where it’s sunny and 4 deg F at about noon, and it will be getting colder tonight. At least it’s not windy (for now anyway). Thx. much! I enjoy your blog!
The road goes on forever-
You’re very welcome Mike, and thank you for reading!
Honestly, we need to make things as simple as possible for beginners…..
First, get a ham ticket – general class. Get the Novice and General test pools, with answers (free) and delete all the wrong answers…then have the beginner memorize the question and correct answer. When they take the test the correct answer will jump out at them. They won’t learn anything, but will pass their tests, and then can start getting real training in real life.
For equipment, a complete shopping list – FT-857/YT-100/Coax/EFLW antenna/Counterpoise/Dual Band Mag-Mount/yada yada yada…..No discussions of relative pros and cons, because the beginner doesn’t know enough to understand the nuances. Yes, it will cost money – as much as a fairly decent AR and accessories, or the four or five custom knives they’ve already purchased. Suck it up, sell the Randall(s) and with the money buy a radio and a Cold Steel or K-Bar.
Once a beginner knows enough to know that there are ways to optimize the above setup, then they are qualified enough to have an opinion and be worthy of the conversation.
It’s like learning to shoot. A beginner doesn’t need to go out and buy a Barrett .50, or a Chey-Tac .408, or even a Savage .308 with a scope. He should buy a Ruger 10/22 and a couple of bricks of ammo, some spare 10 round mags, and a sling, and get his ass to an Appleseed class. Once he knows how to shoot that .22 he can start learning to shoot more substantial firearms. Or pistol shooters should just get a police turn-in Glock 17/19 and a case of ammo, and a shooting class. Once they can shoot the Glock they can start jonesing for the gun d’jour in the gun rags or whatever the Delta Seals are carrying…
What about reloading? Should be on someone’s list of ‘to-dos.’
Whole other article 😀
OK, I have a question I haven’t been able to find an answer to…for terminated long-wire antennas (half rhombics), which are highly directional (and thus harder to intercept, allow longer comms with QRP, etc)…
The conventional wisdom seems to be you need a terminating resistor that can handle about 1/3 of your transmitter power (call it 35 watts for a 100 watt radio), and a higher ohmic value than the antenna system (but that seems to be pretty loose – call it 400-600 ohms). Oh, and the resistor has to be all resistive – no wire wound, since the impedance will couple to the antenna….
So, great. WHERE do you find such a device? I’ve tried Google, Mouser, Fair Radio, Murphys (the last two looking perhaps for something surplus), etc…
I’m hoping my betters can guide me.
Two finishing nails in the ends of a used AA battery and a lot of electrical tape. Definitely not pretty, and far from perfect, but it works.
For something store bought look for 500-ohm resistors. I seem to remember a source, but I’m loathe to recall it offhand. They’re not super common, but they can be found.
D’oh! That would work! A battery has a big carbon rod in it!
And a couple of screw eyes, instead of nails? (You know us hams…we screw with every design) 🙂
Thanks, Bro…as I said, learn from my betters..
Screws actually would work better 😉
At the time I learned that trick, all the instructor had on hand was finishing nails.
A quick search of some of my “go-to” sites:
Nice find, thanks.
It’s all in the math, Doc. For parallel resistors of equal value, R=r/N where R is the total resistance and r is the value of the individual resistor. For 35 watts air-dissipated, you’ll need (70) 1/2-watt resistors. Stack up 2 pieces of copper-clad PC board stock and drill 35 holes with space between the resistor cross-sections for airflow. Assemble the sandwich with resistor leads thru the holes and the PC boards as “bread”. Solder all connections….
Nice little project right there- thanks!
Sorry, should be 70 holes. It is indeed “all in the math.”
They are usually made from Nichrome wire (the wire in small portable heaters) and are run out from the end of the rhombic or half rhombic. The resistance should be about 600 ohms. The conductors are run parallel shaped in the form of a “U”. See if you can find a copy of TM11-666, the old army antenna book. It is on line. Licensed 58 years.
The problem with using nichrome wire is that it will inductively couple to the rest of the antenna.
The antenna can be trimmed after construction if you have an antenna analyze or a better SWR meter than that on the radio itself, but being that it’s an iterative process and the values will change with ground conditions, it’s far less than ideal. Hence, the pure resistive load.
Good stuff, as ever. For a fixed position antenna, I am in the process of setting up a doublet cut for 80m with homemade ladder line (using plastic spacers made for electric fences) rather than the windom I have been running. Once I can look at some numbers, I will wind a balun to connect a piece of coax to feed the tuner. Should be interesting to see how this works.
I picked up the EARCHI kit you had mentioned before, need to get it put together and try the endfed with my 817.
As far as Icom, I have been really pleased with the performance of my IC-7100. Given the touch screen head separate from the radio body, it is a bit bulkier than a single unit. But its idle current is low and it is a sweet radio. I don’t seen anything preventing it from being quite functional in a field day setup. Next step is to build a case (somewhat like the EMCOMM setups over on arfcom) to integrate power, base, and tuner in a ‘grab & go’ arrangement. Probably do it in Boyt deep pistol case I have sitting around.
Keep up the good work. Your writing serves to keep me motivated to push forward on comms. Like many folks, I end up with so many irons in the fire that it is hard keeping everything moving!
I really appreciate the comments.
I caught up with one of the podcast guys from Arfcom at Shelby this year. Pretty nice dude. I didn’t tell him who I was (I keep a VERY low profile for a number of reasons).
I think it is about time that I check out the cabin to see if you have any camera’s or listening devises set up in here. Yet again I start researching an item I wish to buy and then you publish an article about it. LOL.
I started my search for a CW/QRP transceiver about a month ago, I wanted to buy one as a back-up to my existing HF (Kenwood 590S) transceiver BUT small enough and light enough that could just be thrown in an anti-EMP bag and carried in my back pack. When I remembered James Rawles novel, “Survivors”. The main character in the book used a CW/QRP transceiver but I could not find the book to figure out what the model and part number was. Rather than buy a new book (Yes I am cheap) I decided to go right to the source and ask Rawles.
Surprisingly he got back to me the same day I made the request for info. He wrote that the transceiver used in the book was a Elecraft KX2; However, he recommended the newest unit, the Elecraft KX3 for the same reasons as you wrote (has 160 Meter capabilities) PLUS in his opinion, the receiving qualities are better than the KX2. Cool, right? Well not exactly.
The prices for either the Elecraft KX2 or KX3 were way outside my financial means even via Ebay or other used classified links on line. So, I continued with my search.
By this time, I figured maybe the right route to take was for me to build one from a kit. I found the NorCal 40A Transceiver which was very reasonable at under $150- and had great reviews; However, this transceiver only handles 40 meters and per Robert Dyer of Wilderness Radio, is out of production now – Bummer.
The Icom IC 706Mk II is a great radio but is a bit heavier than I was looking for and it too is averaging around $600- in the used market. Add to its weight a tuner I might as well be packing around a Kenwood 590S with its internal tuner.
Okay, okay back to my question and hopefully guidance – Can you recommend any kits out there that I can build my own CW/QRP that would cover at least 20 – 80 Meter and hopefully maybe adding 10 & 160 Meter to that equation?
Now I am going to scan my cabin for your watching/listening devises. 😉
I’m not spying on you- the NSA would hate competition lol.
Not that it matters, but I’m pretty sure he was referring to the KX1 in that book, as the KX2 has not been out long, and that book was written a while ago. The KX1 is much like the LNR mountain topper and the WWII era Paraset I pictured in the article. The KX1 is CW-only, but also receives shortwave. The KX2 is about the same size, but with many more features.
On that note, related to your primary question, Youkits used to offer a clone of the KX1 called the HB-1A that you could build. VE3FAL loves his, and is pretty hard on his equipment. I don’t think they offer kits anymore, which is a shame.
Elecraft does offer the KX2 in a kit however, although substantially more expensive than the Chinese Youkits (but American made with a company who takes ENORMOUS pride in their product- I’ve met the owner, I can vouch for it) so that’s definitely an option.
As far as I know, Wilderness Radio has folded up, which sucks for the kit builders, but there are plenty of pixie kits out there, and the KN-Q7A (SSB only) mono band kits are available and interesting for the home builder. I haven’t built one yet, but it’s on the winter list.
And you can scan for bugs with a AOR AR-Mini or Icom R6 😉
LOL. Thx for redirecting me. If you or another person here has some ideas pls send ’em my way.
Yeah you are right – The NSA doesn’t want any competition.
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I doff my cap to you. Great writeup.
I have an IC706MkIIG that you just talked me out of selling. And an Elecraft KX3 is in the plans for 2017. This is the reason I got into this hobby and it’s taking me in all sorts of directions.
FB de WC3T
I’m glad you’ve got so much out of it. The great and very generous readers are why I run this blog.
Thank you 🙂
One small suggestion.The loss of RG-58 is only 0.4 db per 100 ft more at 10mhz (http://www.w4rp.com/ref/coax.html) than RG-8X. Less than the thickness of the tip of the “S” meter at the other end. also a little easier to bend. Also ribbon or open wire has virtually no loss at H.F. In my opinion, all solid state transceivers should be required to be sold with an antenna tuner that has a balanced output. Licensed 58 years.
The first thing is that with this being a primer that I’ve been asked by many to write, I did not want to get overly technical. The intended audience is not necessarily seasoned amateurs but the guys just getting off the ground.
I could explain in detail the differences between 58, 8U, 8X, LMR, etc, but I kept it as simple as possible to not burden the newcomer with numbers that have little relevancy (yet). Due to the various sources of RG-58, some good, some not so much, I steer folks to benchmarks of at least known quality (and vendors who supply it, if you read carefully).
That is an excellent point! Too often we get wrapped up with the ideal of the ‘best’ solution, without thinking about a cost-benefit analysis about what is good enough. Personally, I buy LMR-400UF by the spool, but for a QRP HF rig it’s pretty darned stiff and heavy, and doesn’t provide a significant improvement over some RG-58….at HF frequencies (0.5dB loss vs 1.0dB loss at 10 MHz at 100′) But in a QRP rig who would have 100′ of coax?, and why?
LMR is great as a home/base station rig coax. But in the field it’s way too stiff to be reliable.
Out of a QRP rig its gotta be short anyway.
Another great write up I’ll be sharing with friends. Hope you and yours are nice and warm, thanks again.
Thank you! We’re nice and toasty with this red oak in the stove 😉
Another litany on what equipment to buy. And then?
What you need to do, any of you who really want to communicate farther than you can yell, is seek out an amateur radio operator who has a station and uses it. There is where you learn.
Sorry you found this of so little value, obviously you’re capable of so much better. Considering what you paid for this, you’re free to leave it.
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Well, based on past performance, counting on Elmers to recruit operators and advance the hobby isnt working out so well, is it?
I AM an old amateur operator. I was first licensed over 40 years ago. I sat in FCC offices and passed code tests. My favourite operating mode was, and remains, CW, and I still can run a straight key at 20 WPM on a good night when my arthritis isn’t bothering me too much. I’ve been a huge student of antennas since I was a teenage SWL, I still am, and I hope I will continue to learn and innovate for the rest of my life. Everyone who knows me in person knows that I am glad to help folks who are new to the hobby, or disabled or sick folks who can’t do for themselves. That is part of the tradition I was taught.
But with the influx of new amateurs, my ability to reach out locally is limited by the other demands on my time. Within the confines of my obligation to my employer and my duties to my family and friends, I’m doing everything I can to help pass on what I was taught by my Elmers and what I have learned since. I don’t have the time to drive 45 minutes each way to the nearest amateur radio club, and lecture once a month. So, I pay my debt to those who went before me by passing on what I know online.
NC Scout is doing the same thing, and helping lots of people all over the English speaking world, at least those with the means and the skill to get online.
There are a lot of folks out there who are completely at sea on what to buy, how to set up a station, how to make antennas and basic stuff for less than commercial prices. They can benefit from good advice on what to get and where they can innovate, and that is exactly what NC Scout is providing.
What are *you* doing to encourage those who are interested in learning about radio?
If you don’t like online forums, fine. Go do it your way. If you think that it is best for a newbie to find a good Elmer and work with them in person, have at it. While you are working one on one to impart your prejudices to one person, NC Scout is helping dozens of folks get active and learn, not only the specifics of what to get and how to set it up, but how to think for themselves and figure out what works for them.
If you do not have something positive to contribute, why don’t you let the adults get some work done and quit throwing rocks?
Great write-up and very timely. I just upgraded from a long-unused (getting back in via cheap and plentiful HTs yay!) Tech to an Extra. Left me with a, well that was easier than I thought, now what in a good way position.
Next stop is learning CW.
So, this was right up my current line of thinking/saving.
Looking at a good all around first rig, I’ve been thinking ICOM 718 and YAES 857D are my top two picks. My big downside on the ICOM is no 60M as I understand it.
1) is that still true on new editions
2) does it really matter that much?
Looks like there is a $100-$150 price difference between the two, so it’s not a big upgrade in price, would like any input out there as to the real difference between the two.
Then once I get a good grounding on working HF, then it’s off to QRP and kit land…which is what I really want to do. Miles per watt and all that fun.
Technicians have some HF privileges. Check the regs. 73 de AI6KG.
The QRP rig is a lot like the snub nose revolver. Smaller, lighter, sometimes cheaper – but mostly a tool for the expert, not the beginner.
Enjoyed the article!
Thanks for reading!
Like I was saying, communicating. It includes the questions you should be asking. High-tech isn’t going to be of value in a time of emergency if you don’t have experience at digging a signal out of atmospheric noise and innovating a new antenna in a few minutes and knowing how to make it a vertically polarized one that’ll resonate on 75 meters within 125 miles or so. And how long it needs to be and, and. . .
There’s no easy answer to what you need to know. Dumbed-down FCC tests make it easier for people without enough time, or too lazy to invest in learning. And it sells more high of their over-priced stuff.
Find an old ham. That’s where your education is hiding. Try just listening to the ham bands. Seek out Canadians and others who still know how to talk to each other. Learn Morse Code. You can and it’ll allow you to communicate when none of the satellite stuff is there and a static-laden thunderstorm is overhead.
And don’t turn this into a pisxxxng contest. Make it worth the electrons used.
I’ve made ALL of these points.
I reinforced EVERY SINGLE ONE of these points, over time, in the bulk of what I’ve written on communications, which you neither read nor care to read by your attitude.
Let me pose a question to you- what furthers not only skill but the hobby itself? Attracting newcomers and building the knowledge base, or being an old shitty sour ass?
NCS, I see I’ve repeated some of what you’re trying to get across. But the talking and the listening are where you learn radio. It frustrates me when people who don’t know think they do or don’t need to. How long is a NVIS antenna? How high in the air should it be? These things need to be judged and done in a rain storm at times. That’s what I’d like seeing taught. It was for me by an 80 year old about 80 years ago. I didn’t forget. I hope others don’t either.
An NVIS dipole is cut to resonance for, ideally, it’s intended frequency, as was STATED IN THE TWO LENGTHY FUCKING ARTICLES JUST ON THE PRINCIPLES OF NEAR VERTICAL INCIDENCE SKYWAVE.
You seem to take some sort of issue either with me, the material I present to the public AT NO COST, or new amateurs for the fact that code hasn’t been a requirement for a long time now.
Get over it. And if you have nothing else to contribute aside from a QRZ-ish bitchfest, you can be banned. You, and your shitty attitude are the reason ‘Hams’ have such a horrible rap.
Oh and Vern, don’t forget to read the comments section rules page posted up top. You come to my house you show respect. This ain’t a forum, this ain’t some half assed run comments section on a click bait site, this is a resource to be used. Piss me off bad enough, well, you’ve been warned.
I found your info on the FCC callsign lookup based on your IP ping, BTW. Talk about not knowing what you don’t know, slick.
Stupid games, stupid prizes.
Like I said patience of a Saint Brother;)
Thank you for this. Very timely. I was very close to choosing a FT-817 over a FT-857 based almost solely on price.
They both definitely have their place, but as a first rig, you’re gonna enjoy the overall versatility of the 857 over its little brother.
Thank you for reading!
Thanks for another great article, I check your blog every single day in anticipation of the next write up. I’m about to start making some homebrew antennas and am ready to add an antenna analyzer to my kit. Which would you recommend? I’m leaning towards the Youkits FG-01, small portable and decently priced. Thanks Brushbeater for all you do.
Thanks for reading!
While you can’t go wrong with MFJ, I’ve heard good things about the Youkits analyzer. Get it and experiment with it, as I think you’ll realize in the near future radio guys accumulate massive amounts of stuff in short order 😉
I have three different analyzers. Of the three, the one I use most often is the AA-54. I picked it up used for $200, and it is giving excellent service. The graphics of the unit are excellent and it is easy to learn to use. HF through 6 meters.
Next in line is the new MFJ 269C which covers the new allocations below 160 and the VHF and UHF bands through 440; when I need to test VHF and UHF antennas I use that.
The new MFJ is on my to-get list just for those new allocations, along with *deep breath then exhale* an X1M QRP transmitter. It’s the cheapest way to experiment below 160, unfortunately.
I am a noob, without question, but continue to learn. I selected an ICOM 703 Plus and Alpha Antenna multiband whip and match stated for reference only. I have two questions; 1) For a man portable setup, in lieu of motorcycle type 7AH SLA batteries, I am curious of your opinion using 8 X 1.5V AA battery holders (or possibly 18650 batteries) wired with the appropriate OEM power connector? My rationale being easier for my solar setup to recharge AA vs SLA or even the BP-228 batteries offered by ICOM. Question 2) what is your opinion of using an external tuner with sets that have internal tuners? What is the reward for packing the extra device?
Absolutely nothing wrong with the AA battery setup. It’s versatile, and I have one for the 817 from the factory, but the voltage drops much faster under load. I can carry a couple 7AH SLABs with no issue and prefer to do so. 3AH SLABs are much smaller, but still offer the simple and reliable commonality as its bigger brother.
For your second question, I’m going out on a limb as guessing you’re referencing the internal tuner of the 703. It works fine, but remember, in knowing your equipment, the internal tuner of that rig matches a 2:1 SWR. So you still need a close to resonant antenna in the first place. You should do this anyway to not stress your equipment, but its something to be cognizant of. Second, I’m guessing you’ve picked your 703 up used, so you need to make sure the tuner’s still in good working order.
If an external tuner calls it quits, it’s far simpler to locate the issue and at least isolate it, if unable to resolve it. That’s a bit tougher when it’s all in one house and you may not know what you’re looking at.
From an operational point of view however, internal tuners offer great simplification.
I was reading the manual for an FT-991 yesterday….thinking about getting a new radio. It has an internal tuner, but they specifically mention that it’s for the internals, ONLY….and you will still need an external tuner or resonant antennas…
The only internal tuner I’m aware of that matches as well as an external is Elecraft’s. But even those are not infallible, although they are excellent.
It rather depends on two variables: What the power consumption is of the radio at receive, and transmit (presumably low power) and how long you wish to transmit.
Theoretically, you could power any radio from AA’s….if you had enough of them.
Question: How many AA’s would it take to power a KWM-2A and accessories?
Answer: All of them.
My preference is to use LiFePO4 batteries like this one: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UW3WHP6/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=130LMB6MPAYTK&coliid=I306ZO9QYPARJT&psc=1 14AH capacity, weight is about 1 3/4 lbs (less than a quart of water), and will run my 817 for a couple of days of SOTA, or my 857 for a couple of hours…. I have one such battery that has gone through more than 100 discharge/recharge cycles and is still going strong.
I do have Eneloop rechargeables in my 817, and a 4S2P battery sled with 18560’s for it, but find that I mostly use the big box battery. They work, but these days they’re just for Contingency/Emergency use.
My $0.02 worth…
If you keep asking good questions like this, you won’t be a noob for very long!
Most internal tuners, (Elecraft and Kenwood excepted) do not match much over 3:1 SWR. As NC Scout suggests below, check yours and see. If you are running on 80 or 160, it is likely that you will exceed 3:1 if you run the whole band with a typical dipole, and with compact antennas, the 2:1 SWR bandwidth will be still smaller. If you are willing to accept the limits on operating frequency this imposes, that’s fine. Small manual tuners can triple or quadruple the bandwidth available to you at little added weight, and they will allow you to use random length wires, another advantage. I’d rather carry a small tuner than a second SLA battery, to put that into perspective.
WRT batteries, quicker charge=quicker discharge. TANSTAAFL. There is a sweet spot for battery capacity and it varies depending on the operational requirements. If I am going to be hiking for more than a day or so, then I’d pick smaller lighter batteries. If I am making a day trip and will be operating more than I will be walking, I’d pick SLA batteries.
It also depends on how much sunlight you can get and where you are. If I were operating in the Great White North in the winter, with just a few hours of daylight each day, I’d carry more solar panels and bigger batteries, and less water. If I were operating in Arizona in the summer, I’d carry more water and fewer batteries and panels.
The only wrong answer is not thinking about the power question in the first place. Not having a power plan for portable ops is a mistake, and not having a backup is another.
I have SLAs, rechargeables, and D cell and AA capability for my 817s (my choice for QRP portable), and I do have small solar cells with them, too. What batteries I’ll carry with me depends on what I plan to do with the 817 that outing. Usually I carry the AA insert for the 817, with the fully charged internal battery and either AA or SLA external 12v packs; that doubles my output power running at 12v, The 817 will work on a wide range of DC power, but it puts out max power with 12v or more.
Hope that helps,
Thanks for the feedback. I am a BSME by trng/trade so don’t hold that against me. I continue to learn by lurking/asking noob questions on blogs like these and appreciate the esprit de corps of the liberty community. The whole topic of battery/solar is fascinating for portable communications as well as off grid solar. I guess I need to join a tractor or excavator blog so I can share my hydraulic skills.
Another newbie question, that may have been addressed already;
For grounding equipment:
Should the radio frame itself be grounded? I thought I read somewhere that the radio itself should be grounded to prevent it from burning up. I am running a J-pole that is insulated from the ground, and I’m thinking that electrically it should be grounded to ground any induced voltage on the shield and from lightning.
I work more in TELCO and bonding and grounding is important for to prevent induced voltage and ruining the digital signals. But radio is still something new to me and something that I am taking alot of interest in.
Yes, the radio itself needs to be grounded. It’s really easy to do- if there’s no dedicated grounding screw, just attach the ground to a bolt on the housing.
Thanks so much! I’ll be sure to get that setup.
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