4 Common Errors in Amateur Radio HF Stations

Maybe it’s a lack of training, or maybe ham radio dealers should make it easier for hams buying their first HF radio to understand what all they’re going to need to complete their HF station, but there are four areas of an HF station that are commonly neglected:

SWR meter on an Icom IC-7100A

SWR meter on an Icom IC-7100A

1) No SWR meter. A good SWR meter that covers the bands on which you operate is an essential tool and it’s not something that should be put away after the antenna wire is hung from the trees. The resonance and performance of your antenna will change with the seasons, with the weather, and especially when the squirrels take an interest in your feed line as a chew toy. And, if you’re like me, you’re regularly moving around the bands and you need to make sure you never have so much reflected power that your radio may be damaged. Can you rely on the built-in SWR meter? It depends. If your on-screen SWR meter gets replaced with a power meter, it’s easily forgotten. A precious few radios have decent meters built-in that are precise, accurate, and on display all the time. Many modern radios, though, have a four or five element bar graph that is neither accurate nor precise — it might do in a pinch, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

Antenna connectors

2) No real antenna tuner. Most antennas are not resonant on every frequency you’ll operate on and that’s where a decent antenna tuner comes to the rescue. Operating extended periods of time with a high SWR will quickly damage your radio. If you think the internal antenna tuner is good enough, read the blog post where we answer the question: Do I really need an external antenna tuner?

Ground lug

3) Insufficient grounding. Here are some of the side effects of insufficient grounding: you get shocked when you transmit, lightning damages your equipment even without a direct strike, your auto-tuner won’t tune, there’s a lot of noise on HF that you don’t hear when your radio is at a different location, you have noise on your transmit audio. At a minimum, these items should have braided ground strap run from their designated chassis grounding point to your grounding system: radio, amplifier, antenna tuner, lightning arrester, and coax switches.

Heil microphone in use

4) No TX audio check. If you are operating phone, you really should care how you sound. It would be great if everyone had a mic EQ and if everyone that has a mic EQ built-in to their radio actually used it, but an even more important adjustment is your mic gain and this will need to be adjusted based on the operator and the microphone. Some radios have a way to either record and playback your transmit audio or to hear yourself while you’re talking. Figure out this feature on your radio and use it! If nothing else, you can get a used HF receiver for $10 to $50 to use as a dedicated station monitor.

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