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Your First HF Station

You’ve passed your technician class license and maybe your general class license too. You're on a handie-talkie operating the 2 meter VHF frequencies and it's been fun meeting and chatting with other hams in the area. But now you want to go further—a lot further, the other side of the country at least, maybe other countries too...but for that you'll need the HF bands. Luckily, having a technician class license allows you operating privileges on some of those bands, including the use of voice and digital on the 10-meter band. Eventually the siren call of those HF bands gets stronger and stronger until...

...you're thinking of buying equipment for your first HF station. But before you go shopping, there are some important points to consider:

Where will your station be located? This needs to be a place where the sound of static or SSB modulation won’t bother any of the folks you live with too much. Or, at times you may find yourself shouting into a mic as you try to work a DX station with a big pile-up. Also, you will need a table or desk-type piece of furniture for a radio, power supply, tuner, keyboard, monitor, etc.

How will your coax and ground wire get outside? A good location for your station is against an outer wall of your home. This makes it easier to get your coax and grounding wire outside. Don’t forget, you want the ground wire to be as short as possible. A ground rod will need to be pounded into the ground close to the building, but not too close. You may need to chisel out a hole in the wall to get the coax and ground wire outside or you could use a “window feed through panel” that ham supply companies make. Ask for advice from a friend or ham. Also, you can go to a building supply place to ask questions and to see the variety of materials, hardware and fittings that you might use for your station.

Where are you going to put your antenna? This can be a difficult problem if you don’t have much room to work with outside. Also, you don’t want to upset your neighbors so you need to take ascetics, CC&Rs and/or the city building code into consideration. If you have power lines on or near your property, make sure that there is no way the antenna will ever come in contact with them. That includes if the wind blows the antenna down or if an accident causes the antenna to fall. Remember:

High voltage in not good for you, your radios or the people you live with!!

What bands do you want to operate on? For your first HF station I recommend that you keep it simple and stick to one or two bands. 160 and 80 meters need big antennas with lots of space and those bands are noisy and hard to work. 40-meter antennas start to get reasonable but the band is still noisy. The 20-meter band is considered the work-horse band of HF and is a good place to start for anyone with a general license. The antennas for 17 through 10 meters become increasingly reasonable in length but with the shorter wavelength, they are more dependent on the sun-spot cycle for propagation. Depending on your situation, you will need to do your homework and figure out what the best compromise is for your antenna location.

What type of antenna will you use? The simplest antenna will be a dipole cut to the band you want to operate on. These types of antennas can be very inexpensive to build or you can buy one from the many ham radio suppliers that sell these antennas at reasonable prices. Multiband dipoles are also available. If you have trees on your property, you can build a ground mounted wire vertical that will work very well. Many hams really enjoy building and testing antennas. Investing in an antenna analyzer will make building and setting up your antennas much easier. If you borrow one from a fellow ham, ask him to help you set up your antenna and learn as much as you can from him

What coax should I use? RG8X would be the minimum cable to use for an HF station. RG8, RG213, 9913 and LMR-type coax offer better performance but a higher price. Pick one that fits your individual installation needs and that you can afford. Do not use RG58 coax!

What radio should I buy? Finally, we get to the HF radio itself. If you know a ham who has a radio he wants to sell, consider buying it from him. Don’t go out and buy an expensive radio that’s loaded with bells and whistles. For your first HF rig, keep it as simple as possible. As you gain experience, you’ll find which modes interest you, how you like to operate and what kind of radio suits your needs. A rig with an internal antenna tuner is good to have but is not essential if you do a good job cutting and tuning your antenna.

Final thoughts:
Keep your first HF station as simple as possible.
Ask your friends and fellow hams for their thoughts and suggestions.
Don’t spend too much money on your first antenna or HF rig.
Have fun and take you time putting your HF station together.
Learn as much as you can from each ham radio project you undertake.


Good luck hunting DX!