AN INTRO TO THE HF BANDS.

Getting on the HF bands is traditionally one of the exciting things that new Amateur Radio Operators can do. Making a long distance contact is fun and the further distance achieved the more exciting it can be.

To be eligible to operate on the HF bands you need one of three things.

A Basic with Honors having passed your basic qualification test with a score of 70% or higher.

Passing the Morse Code add-on to your license with a send and receive code speed of 5 words per minute or higher

Or with the Advanced qualification.

For the majority of us it’s passing our Basic qualification with honors is the key that opens the door for HF.

On previous Newbie Tech net’s we’ve focused on the VHF and UHF bands and repeaters. On VHF and UHF the signal is line of sight so repeaters are popular and common since they can be put on a mountain top or the roof of a tall building. This height advantage increases the range of your signal through the repeater because you can send a signal up to a repeater, and then have it repeat the transmission over a wider area, including areas that you would have never reached with just your radio due to obstructions like hillsides, mountains, buildings etc.

On HF there are typically no repeaters, and your signal skips between the earth’s surface and the ionosphere bouncing over sometimes extremely long distances. It’s not uncommon on the HF bands to be able to bounce your signal around the entire planet.

A comparison I could use might be like skipping a rock on a lake. How far your rock skips depends on your throw, the smoothness and shape of your rock, the stillness of the water, the wind, and other variables.

Transmitting and receiving on the HF bands depends on the band your using, the output power of your equipment, the efficiency of your antenna, the ionosphere, the time of day, and other variables.

The science behind this skip is beyond the scope of this net topic, but I’ll simplify it by saying the Sun ionizes these layers of our atmosphere and depending on what layer it is, the time of day, and other factors like the current solar cycle these radio waves can skip long or shorter distances.

Depending on all the variables your HF contacts may be "loud and clear" or almost down in the noise. You will have to accept major interference from Mother Nature like lightning crashes, solar storms, or something man made like power lines or other device noise from plasma TV’s or LED lighting.

 

Don’t get discouraged by all these variables. Even right now when our solar cycle is low and the HF bands are not exactly stellar it’s not difficult for me to make contacts over longer distances with low power output like 5 watts QRP .

[BREAK FOR QUESTIONS]

SO, WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM HF

Well first off with HF you are in more control of your own experience. You aren’t reliant on local clubs and their repeaters to get your signal out to a wider audience. In HF your overall experience comes down to your gear and your efforts.

You may also be surprised at how much traffic you hear on the HF bands. While your local repeater may seem rather quiet at times, on a weekend with good propagation the HF bands could be slammed with traffic from contests or DX’ing.

Popular net’s on HF may have a hundred for more check-in’s from a much wider area like all across Canada or across all of North America.

For example 80 meters on the HF band is typically strong in the evenings and reaches maybe 1000 km’s or more in all directions around you, that’s not a very far reach by HF standards, but every evening in BC there is a Public Service Net on 80 meters that can have upwards of 100 check-ins from all over our province and the surrounding states or provinces like Alberta or Washington State.

My personal opinion about the HF bands is that they are wide-open with opportunities, you just need to try and decide what interests you the most.

At any one time all of these activities might be happening on the HF Bands.

Casual QSO’s between two or more hams discussing almost any topic that they wish.

People calling CQ for a contest or a DX region that they’re trying to reach.

Various modes are likely all happening at once on the same band, CW (Morse Code) in the lower portion of the band, then Digital modes where people are sending digital text messages back and forth from their computers connected to their radios without the Internet. There is of course the Phone or Voice contacts happening on a wide portion of the band. And don’t forget the Beacons, or the slow scan television SSTV, and even the AM transmissions.

In the world of HF there are many types of operators and you can be any one of them, or all of them whatever you decide.

A Contester trying to rack up points during a 24 hour contest

A DX’er looking for that rare DX location and working that pile-up

A casual rag chewer just looking to chat with a regular group of friends or any stranger who’ll answer your call of CQ.

You might be into digital modes trying each and every one that comes along.

You might like vintage gear and work to keep it running and one the air chatting with others of a similar mindset or checking in on a net dedicated to that make or model or radio.

There are people who climb up to mountain tops to activate a summit, and there are listeners who stay and home and collect those summits.

You want to collect activations in Amateur Radio, well you can collect Countries, Sates, Provinces, Light Houses, you can collect Islands, you can collect retired military ships or old cruise ships that are now hotels or museums.

There are HF operators who love the challenge of just tweaking their station with better design, better antennas, and getting the best out of every piece of their gear.

[BREAK FOR QUESTIONS]

 

Helpful Suggestions and widely used procedures for the "Newbie" on HF

If you're new to Ham radio HF, you need to know that the ham bands have unofficial self appointed cops and not every experience with every operator will be great. One of my very first HF contacts was a station from New Zealand and I was making that contact with very little experience and without the help of an Elmer looking over my shoulder. The guy was kind of rude and gave me some snappy negative feedback on my protocol but I didn’t let that discourage me. He could have probably handled it better, but he wasn’t wrong, I was kind of screwing up the exchange and he had lots of other much more experienced stations trying to reach him at the time so he didn’t have the time for me.

Thankfully I can say that experience is very rare. Much more often Amateur Radio Operators are friendly and if you tell them you’re new to the hobby they will offer feedback and whatever advice they can to improve your operations.

ID’ING

The most important thing you need to remember when transmitting is to ID!

Transmit your call sign CLEARLY! And try to repeat your ID every 10 minutes or so if you’re in a long QSO.

 

 

 

LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!

You may think ham radio was about talking, and it is....but you will be surprised at how much you can learn about operating and ham radio by just listening around the ham bands! Plus you must always listen first to make certain the frequency is not busy before you transmit.

Get on any active ham band and tune around until you hear an interesting conversation. Listen to the conversation and try to pick out ham terms, topics or phrases you don't know the meaning of......then, if your privileges allow you to transmit on that band and frequency....wait for a pause between their transmissions and throw in your callsign.....most operators will acknowledge you and welcome you into the conversation....ask them to help you understand what they were talking about or point you in the right direction to learn more. Don't be shy, tell them you are new to the hobby and would appreciate their help! Most will welcome you!

 

BE PATIENT

Making a contact to get any station to call you on HF usually requires that you use the term "CQ" repeated 3 times in a row along with your call sign on the end then waiti for a reply...if none is heard... then repeat it over again....then try the third time and hope for an answer to your call.

If still none, don't get discouraged! You can keep going on the same frequency, or you can move to another and try again.

If you have called CQ a multitude of times and still get no answer, try to figure out why....is it our old friend/enemy propagation, your equipment, your antenna type or setup? Do you have power out to the antenna? How do you know? Do you show output on the power meter. How is the SWR?

Check your complete station setup including all controls, functions, cables, etc.... Contact a local ham on the phone or via email and set up a time and frequency to check out your station on the air. If everything else is working then maybe propagation is against you.

 

PHONETICS

The Phonetic Alphabet is used to spell out letters in place of just saying the letter itself. By using a word for each letter there is less chance that the person listening will confuse letters.

The phonetic alphabet is used primarily in two-way radio communications. The effects of noise, weak signals, distorted audio, and radio operator accent are reduced through use of the phonetic alphabet. This system of pronouncing letters is used around the world by maritime units, aircraft, amateur radio operators and the military.

Many words with certain letters in them or the beginning of them sound much alike when spoken in the presence of noise, and there is plenty of that on HF.

Call signs are routinely spelled using phonetics so there is no misunderstanding.

You should practice the phonetic alphabet and it helps a lot to have it printed out and hanging near your radio especially when you’re a beginner.

 

"THE AMATEUR'S CODE (CREED)"

I’ll end tonight with the "Amateur's Code" it’s been around for almost 100 years and works well when used by every amateur radio operator new and old. The original Amateur's Code was written by Paul M. Segal, Whiskey-9-Echo-Echo-Alpha in 1928 and has had minor edits since then, but the meaning remains the same. It’s goes like this…

The Radio Amateur is:

CONSIDERATE...never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.

LOYAL...offers loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs, local clubs, and the American Radio Relay League, through which Amateur Radio in the United States is represented nationally and internationally.

PROGRESSIVE...with knowledge abreast of science, a well-built and efficient station and operation above reproach.

FRIENDLY...slow and patient operating when requested; friendly advice and counsel to the beginner; kindly assistance, cooperation and consideration for the interests of others. These are the hallmarks of the amateur spirit.

BALANCED...radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.

PATRIOTIC...station and skill always ready for service to country and community.