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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Radio - Wanna Be A General, Part 6

Hello, Frank here.

Hi everybody, I hope there are still a few people out there following along. Okay, this session we're going to talk about amateur radio practices. I'm on page 38 of Romanchik. I want to remind you of a few things before we get  
started. When it comes time to take the General test, you will need to get in touch with the local ARRL club and check for when and where to take your test. There is no way around this, it's the only way. Check the price for the test. In my area, they are normally $15.00. If you plan on taking the test more than once, then bring a couple of extra $15.00 bills. Also remember that the manual I'm using here is not the only way to study. There are some free online sites, paid online sites and the ARRL manuals that now days come with a CD so you can study with your computer. For my General I used HamTestOnline and it worked well for me. I did not use the Romanchik manual for my General, it's just a common reference point for you and I to communicate, and it's free. Some of this information we are about to cover is going to appear to be a little outdated. The reason being, because it is. But this is what is on the test. So, learn the answers.

Okay, so let's talk about it some. The newer HF transceivers are pretty much plug and play. Back in the old days ham radio consisted of two different radios, one transmitter and one receiver. These were two separate beasts entirely. I don't believe these can even be bought new. So, here is where some of this information we are about to cover comes from, it's the old days. Also remember that not very long ago CW, or morse code, was a requirement for ham operators. That is not the case now days. Many still pursue CW, but that's strictly by choice.

These next few items are just ways to help you receive signals better. I seldom use these on my bottom of the line radio, but it does have them. One is a notch filter and one is an IF shift. Next we go onto RF amplifiers. You can run lots of power through a radio. This is where it's particularly important to understand the affects of RF and how to use it properly and not fry your brain. Remember, safety. If you don't know what you're doing, DON'T DO IT. And if you're going to do it anyway, do it at low power. 

Skipping on down here, other things you need to know about the operation of your radio. How to set up CW. How to operate in split mode, which you notice has a lot of questions. That means a lot of answers. Split mode basically means transmitting in one frequency and receiving in another.

I'm in the middle of page 39 now, and at the bottom it briefly mentions antenna tuners. Most modern operators use an antenna tuner and most use an automatic antenna tuner. Many radios come with them built in, but the less expensive radios, if you choose to use one, will need an antenna
tuner. I would recommend an automatic one, and I would recommend LDG. If you buy a matching tuner for your radio manufactured by LDG, it is basically plug and play. A word of wisdom here. A capable tuner will tune many frequencies, but in many cases you are losing a tremendous amount of power to do so. This is where a quality antenna is important. As stated before, your antenna is the most important part of your radio system. For most operators, a dipole antenna works great, and I would check out Alpha Delta antennas, but there are many other quality antenna manufacturers.

Okay, I'm sliding over to page 40, test equipment. Do you have to have test equipment? No. Do you want to blow your radio up? No. Here's what I
would recommend. A decent mulitmeter, an antenna analyzer, and an appropriate frequency SWR meter. Let's talk about these. A multimeter measures voltage and resistance. They are relatively easy to use, just ask somebody to teach you. That's where your mentor, or Elmer, from ARRL will come in real handy. They make $10.00 multimeters and up. If you don't know how to use one, make your first one a cheap one, because if you're going to fry something, you'd rather fry $10.00 than $100.00. Okay? Okay.

Your antenna analyzer, not a piece of equipment that you have to have. Once your equipment is set up and running, you may not ever use it again. They cost $250.00 and up. An SWR meter is highly recommended. Normally it goes between your radio output and your antenna. Extremely high SWR will damage or kill a radio. Once it's set up and operating,
it'll operate for years just fine. They make meters that cover wide frequency ranges, and they make meters specific to certain frequency ranges. Some radios have built in SWR meters. Most operators still use an external meter, though. Inexpensive meters start at about $60.00. SWR is important. There are analog type meters and digital, find one that works for you. This is not a piece of equipment that you have to have, but it is highly recommended. It's very important if you're choosing to operate out of the ham bands on the VHF/UHF frequencies. Many of the commercial VHF radios are built to operate outside of the ham bands, but just because the radio will transmit on those frequencies does not mean that your antenna will. This is where an SWR meter comes in very handy. There are antennas made that will operate out of the ham bands, but you might have to have more than one antenna. If you choose to stay within the ham bands, then as a general rule your antennas will work fine. But you still need to check your SWR.

The stuff we just talked about, you need to read these pages and understand the answers. I'm heading on to page 42 now where we're going to talk about interference. I'm not going to cover all of the information on pages 42 and 43, but you need to understand some very simple concepts. If you put up a ham antenna and your
neighbor is having a problem with their TV signal, and they didn't have one before you put your antenna up, then you are probably the problem. And if you are the problem, you need to stop being the problem. It's real simple. Your transmissions can affect television, telephone, baby monitors, heart and respiratory you don't want to be interfering with these signals. And it's real simple, under the law you have to stop transmitting until the problem is fixed. No if's, and's, are's or but's. There is no point in arguing with your neighbor that your signal is clean and pure. Any questions about that? This is one of those cases where grounding your equipment well will help solve a plethora of problems.

Okay heading on to page 44, down toward the bottom of it, it talks about single side band operation. You will see a lot of this on the test, it is important and you need to understand it. One, if you understand it, it's
a whole lot easier to figure it out. But if you are on frequency and you're
operating on LSB or USB, then your signal extends out to the edge of your operating frequency, which in most cases is 3 KHz. If you need to get a piece of paper and draw a little signal, we all know 3 + 3 = 6. So, can you go right to the edge of a band and operate on SSB? Sure you can. If it's the top of the band, then you can operate on LSB. If it's the very bottom of the band, then you can operate on USB. Let that sit in your brain for a while. Get a piece of paper and a pencil and if you need to, draw it out.

Okay, on to page 45. I do not recommend mobile HF operation for new operators. For the most part the antennas are very expensive and they don't operate particularly well. Again, if you're using a 100 watt transceiver, then you need to connect directly to your battery and make sure it is fused correctly. Your cigarette lighter plug as a general rule, will not provide enough power to operate 100 watts. Remember, P = E x I. Go ahead and read page 45 and 46 because you will see it on the test.

We should have about three more lessons, three, at the most four, for your General. I hope you're enjoying this particular teaching style. What I'm trying to do is get a few people set up for emergency communications when things shut down. If you
choose to pursue other routes, wonderful. Amateur radio has a place for just about everybody. An example. Some guys still like to build their own radios. Some of these guys have a tremendous amount of knowledge. Others like to contest and there is a large arena for these folks. My goal is to help get people in the door using the least amount of equipment possible and doing it safely. The equipment I recommend is the equipment I use, and this is just one man's opinion. But if you see a need for communications, then you need to get started. There are lots of ways to communicate in ham radio and outside of ham radio. In the section called Frank's Radio Communications there are articles about CB's, GMRS, scanners and lots of other good, solid information. You might want to skim these areas. Remember, a CB is an HF transceiver that operates between 10 meter and 12 meter, and has the ability in some cases to operate on SSB. 

There's an old saying around, "I'd rather be a day early, than a minute late." and if you're reading this, then you know what I'm talking about. Today the stores are open, the internet is working and the electricity is on. No guarantees about tomorrow. If you're a fence sitter, then get it done.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank

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