The Road Home

The Road Home
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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Radio - To Be or Not To Be

Hello, Frank here.

Recently I received some correspondence that I wanted to share with you. Each one of these notes has a different general theme, and I'd like to talk about each one individually. 

The first is from an experienced ham radio operator. In his original correspondence he included his call sign, which I have removed for his security. He has an Extra class license, which is the highest level of ham radio. According to his comment, he used an antenna
and a ground plane that I have recommended, but his results were sharply different than the results that I received. I wish I could tell you exactly why we got different test results, but I can't. There are many variables and factors to consider. Since this gentleman is obviously not a beginner, and has significantly more experience than I do, I wish that I could tell you why we got different results. Sometimes there just aren't immediately obvious answers. Please read his question and my response. When you're dealing with electronics, it can be a connector, it can be coax, moisture in your connectors, loose connectors, where you're sitting in relation to power lines or buildings. But this man, being an experienced ham operator, already knows these things. There are sometimes where there just aren't answers. Again, please read his comment and my response.



I just got done trying out the Comet antenna with the ground plane adapter over the weekend and my SWR on any 2M frequency was 3 or higher! I use these antennas on my vehicles and hardly get above 2. Needless to say, at 3+ SWR, any meaningful distance on 2M is impossible. I am curious if you tested your SWR with the Comet and the ground plane adapter, and if so, what results did you get?

Thanks and 73,
Bill [call sign removed]


 Hi Bill. Here's what I've got. The antenna is the Comet CA 2x4 SR. The ground plane kit is a TRAM1460 UHF.

On my automobile, without the ground plane kit, the SWR was flat. That is using UHF and VHF ham frequencies, UHF using GMRS, and VHF using MURS 151-154 MHz.

Next, I went to a friend's house that has this system, the antenna and the ground plane kit. On the upper MURS frequencies, around 154 MHz, we had an SWR of 2. All of the other frequencies mentioned above were flat.

At another friend's house with the same set up, the antenna and ground plane kit, using 2 separate meters, the SWR was flat, straight across. At both test sites we used power ranging from 4 watt HTs to mobile radios with 5 to 50 watts.

Bill, I can see from QRZ that you have a solid knowledge of SWR. I don't really know what to recommend, except you might want to check your connections and your coax. Because with both of these gentlemen, the SWR readings were good and low, including outside of the ham frequencies. On my automobile, with just the antenna, they were flat straight across the frequencies using a mobile radio from 5 to 50 watts.

I certainly appreciate your observation, and I appreciate your comment.

73s, Frank


This next comment is from a gentleman that I have shared with emails back and forth. He is trying to decide what type of radio he would like to use. The problem here is, there is no perfect radio. Different radios have different features, but as a general rule, features come with a price tag. Some people like a certain brand of radio because that is what their grandpa used. I am on my second set of mobile VHF radios. I thought my first choice was the one I would stay with forever, but after I learned and 
grew more, and my knowledge base expanded sharply, I switched to a commercial radio for my VHF/UHF operations. It's not that the first radio was poor quality or a bad choice, but my second choice had the features that I desired. It's true that everybody wants to buy what meets their needs the first time, and if you can achieve that, great. I wasn't quite so fortunate. In relation to HF radios, I am more than happy with my first choice, and that's where I plan to stay. It meets my needs. Do I still look at the features of other radios? You bet. But I'm pretty happy with what I have right now. Just like lots of things in life, you need to decide what you want to do, and make the best choice you can. Read the correspondence with this gentleman and you can probably feel some of his frustration with not being able to choose the perfect radio, because there ain't no perfect radio. So, if you would, read his email and read my response. I hope in the near future he gets his license, and he picks a good radio that works for him.

On a side note here. A popular country and western singer a number of years back, had out a song referencing "there ain't no 10's". And, you know, there ain't no 10's and there ain't no perfect radio.


Hope all is well with you and the misses!

Since last contact with you I am working toward getting my license,
should take test after the first of the year.

I have studied your "radio setup picture" quite a bit and have some questions. When we last discussed radios it was between the Icom IC-718 or the Yaesu FT-450D, and I thought I had settled on the Yaesu. Now I am not sure???

I have studied your "radio setup picture" quite a bit and have some questions. I see from your picture that you have (3) radios, the Icom, Alinco, and the Ranger. I understand the differences, but was wondering in my choice, should I just get a higher end rig to cover what all 3 of yours does? Is there an advantage ether way? Thanks again!


Hi Todd,

The pictures of my radio shack have changed multiple times. I no longer use the Ranger, it has been replaced with a standard CB radio. The Alinco has been replaced with an Anytone, and the 718 has stayed the same.
No, I do not recommend an all-in-one package. Reason being, unless you get a higher end radio, you will not be able to hear both VHF and HF at the same time. A lot of guys, while they are looking for HF frequencies, talk to their buddies on VHF and share the information they have found. I would recommend a separate UHF/VHF and an HF radio. Even if you get an all-in-one radio, you'll still need two separate antennas. But this is just my humble opinion.

The Ranger radio that you saw in the pictures, was a 10/12 meter modified to operate on 11 meters, or the CB frequencies. One day it dawned on me that for CB purposes I was using an illegal radio. You can lose your ham license forever for doing this type of activity. So, I replaced the Ranger with a standard unmodified CB/SSB radio.

But, if you choose, you can modify almost any HF radio to transmit and receive on the CB frequencies. Listening on any frequency is legal. Transmitting on the CB frequencies with an HF radio is illegal. Do people do it? Sure they do. Can you lose your ham license doing it? Sure you can. The choice is yours. I listen all over the CB bands with my HF radio, because it has higher quality reception. That's what I mostly do on my HF radio is listen.

Hope this helps. Good luck on your test.
73, Frank


This next email I received was very interesting. This gentleman has his Technician's license, and had some questions. One being how to
get young folks in his family interested in radio. Well, I am a retired educator, and if I knew a sure fire way to get kids interested in anything, I would be the most successful educator on the planet. Some kids are interested in some things that other kids could care less about, and that applies for all topics. But, I think the most successful way is by showing enthusiasm for something you are genuinely interested in. Kids pick up on these feelings, and they may not outwardly express it, but if you're interested, you'll have a much better chance of getting a young person interested.

He also has a concern about being able to reach his loved ones if there is a break down in society. There are ways that this can be done, I've talked about them before, and I mention them in the response to his email. At this time, he lives adjacent to a large metropolitan area in the deep south, and I shared with him some of my feelings about relocating to a part of the country where snow shovels are standard issue. His name and location have also been removed for his security.


Dear Frank and Fern,

Just wanted to thank you for your (old?) posts regarding amateur radio. I copied them as pdfs to my iPhone and took them with me backpacking last week. Reading them in my hammock after sunset, huddled in the sleeping bag and rocking to the occasional cold gusts that blew across the mountaintop, well, they sure turned out to be more accessible and enjoyable to read than the ARRL manuals. So, after taking the technician’s test last summer, I thank you for stirring up enough interest to get my general.

Like you, my interest in ham sprang from a perceived need to have communications ability in case of a grid down situation – mainly to stay in touch with our large family over a few hundred miles. However, I do seem to have been touched by the magic of being able to CW and talk with someone using no more than components from Radio Shack and some wire. Or maybe with my background being chemistry, electronics may simply always be a magical mystery to me.

As for us, we’re Atlanta natives living in [location removed], north of the big city, tolerating the traffic and McMansions that keep moving our way. Think we’re one of the last living on a gravel road, too, but that means we can still have a big garden. Still work at my business at 64, and we just had our first of what I hope will be five marriages and a passel of grandchildren. In daydreams we do think about moving somewhere like Idaho or Wyoming, but it may depend on where the children settle.

Please keep posting your thoughts and recipes. We do enjoy them.



PS – Any suggestions on getting nephews interested in ham? I thought perhaps to give them a Rock-Mite CW kit for Christmas? I know one of them used to use Morse to pass messages during class. Must admit that this latest generation is a tough nut to crack, though.

Hi Cameron,

Let's take the kids first. The YL and I are both retired teachers and school administrators. I do not know of a solid way to get a kid interested in something. I do not have a relative, period, that I can even get to put
a two way handheld in their house, and there are a lot of us that live within line-of-sight. But, if you could show your young ones what you do, and explain to them what is happening, a few might show an interest. Fern is fascinated that with a little piece of wire and a radio, one can communicate around the globe. Some kids might find it interesting, about adding voice frequency to a carrier wave and bouncing it off of the ionosphere when the conditions are right. Other kids would find it to be worthless and boring, because you can't reach them all.

About your General. I would encourage you to pursue it soon, because there are ways you can stay in contact with your loved ones within a few hundred mile radius. Check out NVIS. It's used primarily on 40 & 80 meters, which to use will require you to have your General license. The General test is no more difficult than the Technician, just different information. Check out NVIS. The military discovered it a number of years back, and they still use it today. FEMA uses it currently to stay in contact within approximately a 200 mile radius. If you have line-of-sight, use VHF. If you don't, use 40 meter NVIS.

Don't forget your trusty CB radio. It's just an 11 meter HF radio. And an SSB CB allows you to talk all around the country, and on

occasion, around the world. When you get an HF radio, you will be able to hear the CB frequencies on it. Free banders operate just outside the CB frequencies and they use LSB, lower sideband. I enjoy listening to these guys as much as I do ham radio, because when the collapse occurs, these guys will be a great source of information. This is the reason why I do ham radio, it's for information. Your HF radio is also a first class shortwave radio. Food for thought.

As far as Idaho goes, as you may be aware, Fern and I spent a number of years in Alaska. There ain't no way in the world I'm going to move to Idaho. Too cold, too much snow, too short of a growing season. Did I mention snow and shovels? Ain't no way. And when the utilities go off, and the trucks quit running, and there's no gasoline to be had, those folks in Idaho are going to freeze. More food for thought.

Hope this helps.
73, Frank


Folks, I believe that most of us have not given serious thought to how important communications are to us. Whether it be your cousin next door, the guy down the road 10 miles, or that relative 150 miles away. In the scenarios   I just mentioned, communications today are taken for granted. But there is a strong likelihood that in the near future, whatever the reason, we're going to have a shut down of society as we know it. The tools that we rely on today for information, after a couple of days, aren't going to be there. Nobody is saying that you need to set up a communications post, but it would be real nice to know how your cousin next door is doing, and the information a man 10 miles down the road can share with you could have a major impact on how your day goes. It would be real nice to know how your kids are doing 150 miles away. 

Without this type of information that you are accustomed to daily, almost instantaneously at the push of a button, you are going to feel like you are living in a vacuum. There are times you will want to know what is coming down your road, whether it's a short road or a very long road, you'll really want to know what is coming. I know there's folks out there that think people like me are crazy, but if you will open your eyes and look around, then you'll see a different picture. My Inspiration right now is communications and this is the post I have been assigned. That is the question.

We'll talk more later. 73s, Frank


  1. Excellent article! Thanks Frank.

    1. Thank you for the comment. Hope your Christmas is merry.


  2. i'm with Oklahoma Prepper above...another great article Frank! please don't be shy and keep them coming!

    your friend,

    1. Thanks, Kymber, and thank you for taking the time to comment and read.


  3. Good information Frank I enjoy you putting reason why with your Choices. I have passed the Tech AND was studying the General but forgot that bag of books when we came South in November, the ARRL book an the computer tests work well for me. I Feel confident that I will pass General with 3 to 4 weeks of study. At 77 I struggled to get on line with BAOFENG Uv 82, then found and that Step by step guide got me going, different than Manuals and better info for Menu.

    Rosco 73

    1. Thank you, Rosco. I went to the site. It is very interesting, thank you for directing me that way.

      Rosco, I enjoy VHF and it has it's good points, but I really enjoy HF. It's just opens up a new world which is much more satisfying to me. I'm not a big talker on the radio, but I do enjoy listening to what's going on around the country, and occasionally in other parts of the world.

      Take care, Rosco, and good luck on your General.

      73, Frank

  4. Thanks Frank.

    I was testing with a 5 watt (VHF) and 4 watt (UHF) handheld directly at the antenna. I was actually on my roof using 3' factory made patch cables and a Daiwa SWR meter. I only did this after trying to reach another HAM friend of mine about 25 miles away with 50 watts, but all he could hear was static, even on regular HAM frequencies that we talk on all the time so we already know that it is quite do-able. So I suspected high SWR's were the culprit. When I put the meter on from within my home on an ICOM mobile at 50 watts I was getting close to 3. Higher on other frequencies. I suspected maybe a bad connector or something so that's when I just climbed up to the antenna and used the handheld up there. The handheld test had slightly higher SWR than the in-house test. I'm guessing because the longer lengths of coax provided more loss.

    I forgot to mention originally, that I ordered the MFJ version of this adapter. Their website depicts the exact same product as the Tram model you've shown. But it is quite different in physical design. It's stainless, connects with U bolts, and will only fit on a 1-5/8" max mast. However, it has the same length radials, so in theory it should still work the same. The reason I wondered what results you were getting, is that if you got good results, I would try the Tram version.

    I am currently waiting on a ground plane adapter from a different mfg. I will let you know what results I get from it. It's all aluminum. If those fail, I may put this antenna on my vehicle and see what's happening. Although not very likely, I suppose I could have received a bad antenna. At this point, if a bad antenna has been ruled out, I'll try the Tram adapter. Whatever happens, I will let you ,and your readers, know how it went.

    Thank you very much for doing these tests. It will help me immensely in getting to the bottom of this problem. Antennas are mysterious creatures, at best.

    Best wishes to you and your family and Merry Christmas!


  5. BTW, what are you mounting to your cars with? I use a Comet lip mount, but have also used a large mag mount. Both perform about the same as far as SWR goes.


    1. I use a Comet lip mount attached to my pick up drivers side hood. I'm not particularly wild about the lip mount. On occasion I have to tighten it, and it's just not very pretty, but, it works. For my other vehicle, a Jeep Liberty, I took an adjustable CB mount, that is attached on the right rear where the glass and door intersect. I reamed out the hole a little bit for the UHF connector. I get great SWR on both vehicles using the Anytone AT-5888UV. Thanks for the question.