To build a HF station we need some essential components and some optional ones. Tonight I’ll introduce the lists of components, and then we’ll start to discuss the first and most major one on that list, your first HF radio.

In the essential category you’ll need the following

A HF transceiver with a microphone. Typically this would be a new or used radio that is both a receiver and a transmitter -- hence the term transceiver. Typically this will operate in the HF bands from 80m to 10m but it’s common to have even broader support for 160m to 6m (the more bands the better). Most radios (except for the really old stuff) will also have support the WARC bands in between as well.

Next you’ll need a power source, some radios have built in AC power supplies that will let you plug into the wall for power, others require a 12v power source like a 12v power supply or battery pack. Make sure the max draw from your radio when transmitting at full power is covered by your power supplies max output. Don’t get yourself a 100 watt transceiver and pair with up with a 10-15 amp power supply, that’s probably too small.

Next you’ll need an antenna, the sky is the limit for antenna design, but commonly this can be single band dipoles, multi band dipoles, or verticals. There are SO many options for you to choose from.

And finally your need some 50 Ohm coax cable of a suitable length to get from your radio in the house to your antenna on the roof or in the yard outside. Also keep in mind there are certain lengths of coax that can become resonant so keep away from those specific lengths if you can. More on that later on the Antennas night.

In the optional equipment list you’ll find;

An antenna tuner which is a very helpful piece of equipment when using multi-band antennas that are close to resonant on many bands instead of being perfectly resonant on just one band

A dummy load for testing and tuning your equipment offline from your antenna so you don’t disturb other amateurs on the HF bands

An SWR meter for seeing your radios output power and SWR level of transmitted power going to your antenna

An antenna switch so you can easily switch between your antennas and the radio, or switch your radio from an antenna to your dummy load.

A morse code key or paddle would also be an optional bit of kit if you may wish to pursue if your interested in that part of the hobby.

You may also wish to add your personal computer or laptop to the setup for doing things like rig control, electronic logging, and digital modes.

And it your going to try out the digital modes you will probably also need a soundcard interface for your radio like a RigBlaster or a Signalink.


So that’s out list. Does anyone have any questions before we move into the next topic.

Ok we have our shopping list complete let’s start digging into detail about each item on the list.

Number 1 and tonights main topic is the HF Radio or ‘Transceiver’

My first HF radio was a used Kenwood rig from the 1980’s. It was an early solid state transceiver and I got it in a club auction for about $125 dollars which included a matching Kenwood power supply and a hand mic.

When I use the term Solid State what I mean is that there are no vacuum tubes for me to worry about. Vacuum tubes are getting harder and harder to source for older gear, so keep that in mind before purchasing a old tube based radio, you may have a real gem of a vintage radio, but you may not be able to use it since the tubes are really rare and expensive, or just plain non-available anymore.

Please keep in mind when considering an entry into HF, you do not need to buy new gear, and you do not need to spends 1000’s of dollars either. Look around, there are deals to be had, and there is lots of swap and shop activity in ham radio, and there are often local hams who like to buy and sell used gear, so you can purchase used equipment, and it’s not always sight unseen. My suggestion ask around in your local club and talk to the guys who buy and sell gear to support their hobby, you can often go and visit them for a full onsite live demo of the radio in service and verify that everything is working before you buy.

So after I got my used Kenwood I paired it up with a used manual antenna tuner from MFJ that I bought on eBay and a new G5RV multi-band wire antenna strung up about 25-30’ in my back yard between two trees. I bought some used coax from a fellow Vernon club member and this was everything I needed to get on the air in the HF bands for under $400.

Now, for many newcomers this is all you might need for some time, but what tends to happen is you’ll learn from your first radio and it won’t take long before you may wish to upgrade now that you know more about what you like or dislike in your first radio. It didn’t take long for me to realize that while it my first HF station was a great deal, it was missing features that I learned from day to day experience that I wanted or needed.

So, a few months later I ventured into my second HF radio that I purchased ‘used’ again. This radio however was newer and the owner was a friend of the family so I get a bit of deal which I also appreciated. That second radio totally fit the bill for all my needs and it’s still a top radio in my shack 6 years later.

This second radio is the Yaesu FT-847. It was new in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s so it’s still almost 20 years old radio but this unit is classified as an all-band and all mode satellite radio and I want to speak for a few minutes on the merits of that type of radio since I feel it’s excellent for beginners.

All band in this case means the radio works in all of the HF bands as well as VHF and UHF. Keep in mind most HF radios do not work in VHF and UHF, that’s one of the reasons that an All-Band radio is great for newcomers, it’s like two radios in one.

All modes means I can use this transceiver in Single Side band, as well as AM, FM, and CW (which is morse code). It also supports packet mode at 1200 and 9600 baud which might not be a feature every beginner would use, but it’s add’s to the Swiss army knife flexibility of the all-mode radio.

Additional features on this radio included an external auto tuner from Yaesu that luckily came with my used purchase.

And it supported the ability to hook it up to your PC and control the radio with programs like Ham Radio Deluxe or for digital modes. This computer connectivity is called CAT which stands for Computer Added Transceiver. Simply put CAT is a serial port connection from the back of your radio and speaks a common language with Rig Control software that you can install on your PC.

Now finally my Yaesu FT-847 was also called a Satellite radio. All that means that this radio can transmit in say VHF up to a Satellite in orbit while at the same time receiving from the same Satellite on UHF. It’s common on Satellite contacts or the International Space Station that this dual band duplex method is used for transmitting and receiving simultaneously. Satellite contacts can be very short, as it zips from horizon to horizon in a matter of minutes, so hearing and transmitting back and forth quickly is a big help in these types of contacts. Having any radio that can listen on one frequency while transmitting on another is a vaulable feature not just for Satellite but also for HF when bust DX contacts run in what’s called a ‘split’.

All band all mode radios are popular entry level rigs and new models from the major manufacturers include.

The Kenwood TS-480SAT

The Yaesu FT-991, or the FT-857D

And the Icom IC-7100

All four of these new models I just listed range in price from $1000 - $2000 dollars. And they all have older previous models that often can be found for sale used like my FT-847.

Now my suggestion of an all-band all-mode radio is simply my suggestion. There are many excellent Transceivers on the market and you might not want all of those features that I just listed. You might instead want to keep the HF radio in your new shack seperate from your VHF or UHF radio, there is no perfect scenario that I can suggest, it’s what works for you.

So let’s spend the last segment of tonights net talking about the key features of a standard HF radio.

The Bands – Typically the 160m band is the lowest band, with 10m or 6m being the highest band on a typical HF radio.

The Power – For everyone new to HF privledges 100 watts is typically the common power output you’ll find without adding an amplifier to your system. There are some models on the market that offer as high as 200 watts output, but expect that 100 watts is the norm. When buying a used radio ask the seller to demonstrate for you that the output power is matching the rated power that the radio should transmit at. It’s not uncommon that on older gear, the output drops as it gets older. Another things the term QRP is an Amateur Radio Q Code for transmitting on 5 watts or less. QRP HF radios while often less money than 100 watt rigs very much limit your power and range with only 5-15 watts max output. I don’t suggest that your first HF radio be a QRP model unless you understand the challenge that your taking on operating on lower power all the time.

A Built In Tuner – More and more the newer radios included have built in antenna tuners. This is a really nice feature to have and it’s something you should be on the look-out for if you can. Remember external tuners are readily available, but they may require manual tuning, or auto tuners that requires a few extra buttons on the secondary piece of equipment. Have an internal auto tuner takes a lot of that complexity out of the situaiton.

DSP – DSP stands for Digital Signal Processing, this is a great built in technology for tuning out the noise and making the signals easier to hear and understand, when you shpping for new or used add DSP to your list of features to look for.

Filters – The fancier a radio is, the more options it may support. Many makes and models of radios new or used have optional equipment in the form of filters that could be added to the radio. Sometime the deluxe version of a certain model included all of the optional filters, and sometime they were just options that you could buy and install later. Simply put a filter shapes the sound that the radio receives to make it easier to hear and can also protect the sensitive receiver on your radio. There are filters for voice, filters for CW, and filters for certain modes like AM or FM. While it’s really difficult for you to know what filters you make like and use while shopping for your first HF radio, buying a radio with a few extra filters is typically a bonus. So if your shopping for something, and it has a few filters, that a positive.

Ok, so I’ll turn the discussion back to the group for questions about buying your first HF radio, I suggest that you do some research on your own, and ask a lot of questions from other hams so you are as best prepared as you can be for your first HF radio purchase.