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Newcomers to HF ham radio:
My following advices are not only originating from my personal experience, but also reflect to a large extent insights
which I've gained from my Elmers in the past and also from book readings etc.
Statement #1: Antenna(s)
The most important single item of an efficient ham radio station is the antenna.
Before you ever consider of buying a specific Transceiver: put your focus on your antenna system!
Evaluate what you can establish antenna-wise in your particular property and make the best out of it.
Spend your Dollars or Euros on the best antenna system manageable in your particular environment.
Evaluate your personal favourite modes and frequencies.
Do *focus* around your preferred modes and frequencies. Makes no sense "doing it all the same" if you have certain
focus areas or limitations.
If there are limitations, consider where you want to "play" first hand. If necessary: drop some bands from your activity.
It'll create much more satisfaction for yourself if you are getting out on one or two bands exceptionally well versus
getting out on all bands rather mediocre.
Select your antenna(s) accordingly.
And get your antenna up in the air, as high as possible (self-standing tower, roof mounted tower, etc.)!
The higher the antenna is mounted above ground, the lower the radiation take-off angle will be. A low take-off
angle is what is needed for longer range and DX QSOs.
This is not a new experience but a well-known fact since a long time!
Up to the early seventies of the last century there was the famous SWAN company in the US. SWAN manufactured
a variety of Ham Radio equipment, e.g. the well-known transceiver series SWAN 350, 500 etc.
SWAN also manufactured antennas like mobile antennas and Beam antennas. In one of their advertisements
for SWAN Triband Beam Antennas (actually taken from an ad in a SWAN 700CX manual) they offer and describe
four of their Beam antennas, starting from a rather large 4-element model TB-4HA (24 foot boom), 2 three-element
Beams, TB-3HA and TB-3A (16 and 14 foot boom), and a rather small two-element Beam TB-2A (6 foot boom).
Here is what they wrote regarding the selection of the antenna vs. antenna height:
"2 Element Model TB-2A:
Same design as the TB-3A (comment: the 3-element version) but with 2 elements on a 6 1/2 foot aluminum
boom. Weighing in at only 15 pounds, this model can be a real surprise. An inexpensive telescoping mast and
TV rotator will easily get it 60 feet or higher off the ground, and at that height it will out perform a 3 or 4 element
beam at lesser height. If your choice is putting up a TB-4HA (comment: their 4-element beam) at a 30 to 40 foot
height, or this 2 element model at 60 feet, by all means put up the TB-2A. We won't make as much money, but
you'll put out a terrific signal, and maybe we'll sell more TB-2's. Of course, if you can put the 3 or 4 element
model up 60 feet, or more, there's no argument. Just don't underestimate the TB-2A. It's a little bomb."
end of quote.
IMHO, this is a real honest recommendation, rarely found in such kind of ads.
Plan spending up to 75% of your budget on antenna(s) and on tower(s). Height of the antenna is more important
At some time I had a small 3 element Beam on a very sturdy (square profiled) telescoping tower standing in the
attic(roof) of my house.
The tower could be extended from inside the attic by a kind of pulley mechanism.
At it's lowered position the antenna was sitting at about 1 meter above the roof or about 11 meters above ground level.
Fully extended it was close to 18 meters above ground level (about 8m above the roof).
I could elevate the antenna from inside the house to any level between these to extremes (11 to 18 meters).
Listening to US signals e.g. on the 20 meter band, it was amazing to see how west-coast stations came up in signal
strength as the antenna was being moved towards it's maximum height (remember: my location is in central Europe).
Statement #2: Transceivers
Whatever transceiver you are going to buy: if it's your first rig you will most likely go through some sort of a learning
curve until you've found out what's the right rig for you.
Don't invest too much money initially if you are unsure about your preferences in operation. Mostly any contemporary
transceiver is "good enough" (RX sensitivity-wise) to be able to receive weak DX signals under "normal" band conditions.
Things are getting a bit different under contest-style of conditions with very many and rather strong signals, which
would require some sort of a more "robust" kind of a radio with respect to large signal handling and QRM-fighting
In any case, it makes no fun running a high-end transceiver into a mediocre antenna system. You'll be disappointed
to a large extent! Because you've invested so many Dollars or Euros in a very good transceiver but cannot leverage from
this due to your mediocre antenna system. Very frustrating.
Statement #3: "User Evaluations"
Don't rely blindly on statements people give in some 'forums', etc., about their radio, antenna, etc.
People always tend to "justify" their purchases and in some of the forums they seem to do it very much like this.
Almost nobody wants to confess that he or she made a mistake when buying a certain radio, antenna, etc.
Sometimes evaluations are the sort of comparing apples with peaches which gives a very biased view on a particular
So, be especially careful when reading any user feedback of their radios. Sometimes negative reviews give a more
valuable view on a product than rather optimistic reviews. However, with negative reviews it still needs to be
double-checked if these critics are justified and valid or if they are just the result of a "wrong" expectation.
I'll give you an example:
There is a certain entry-level Transceiver being sold in the market which has it's last IF being processed by a DSP.
The DSP takes care of the mode-dependent bandwidth filtering. For CW mode, the specification (in the sales
brochure) of the product says that the most narrow bandwidth is 500 Hz @ -6db or better.
From that spec one can expect that the minimum bandwidth for CW mode will be in the 500 Hz range. Which is
compliant with the reality.
If people are now complaining about that minimum bandwidth not being in the 250 Hz range e.g., IMHO, is sort of a
In any case: if you are in doubt about a particular radio, antenna, etc.:
ask your favourite "Elmer" and, if there is absolutely none, you may email me your question, definitely including
your personal operating profile, and I'll try to give you my fair feedback.
This is *for free*, but the response may take a day or more.