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Give Your Ham Radio Station A Tune-Up!

Amateur radio is an awesome hobby and public service. We all love to get on the air and chat using a multitude of modes and frequencies. But sometimes we wish the signals we are hearing were stronger, and that our own transmissions could reach out farther to get the attention of that rare DX or contest station.

Not everyone has the funds or ambition to create one of the super-stations you have heard, or seen pictures of on the Internet. But there are things most any ham can do to increase the efficiency of their ham radio station. The first and most important aspect of any station is the antenna system, including transmission line.

What can you do to improve your antenna system? Here are some tips:

  1. Higher is better. Whether we are talking about VHF or the HF bands, getting your antenna higher is usually quite beneficial. Even if only by a few feet. Not all of us have 90-foot trees or towers to get the antennas up to optimal height. But if your dipole is only up 20 feet in the air, an additional 10 feet higher WILL make an improvement. Forty feet is even better. The same goes for your two meter vertical. Height is even more important at the VHF range of frequencies. Five feet added to your mast might even make a big difference.
  2. Replace old or inappropriate coax if you can afford to do so. Coax does not last forever. If you picked up your cable at a hamfest, who knows how old or effective it might be? Even though RG-58 or RG-8 mini is acceptable at the lower frequency bands (160-40) due to low signal loss, consider using RG-8 or equivalent if you can. It may make the difference in making those contest points. Higher frequencies than those bands demand RG-8 or better coax, because of higher losses at those higher frequencies. VHF and higher is even more important. Use RG-8 or preferably LMR-400, and keep your cable runs to 100 feet or less. For HF, ladder line is an excellent low-loss transmission line. Do an Internet search on how to configure your antenna with ladderline.
  3. Grounds. Make sure you ground your antenna masts properly, as well as your ham radio station ground. I use 8-foot ground rods. You should check them periodically to make sure they are not corroded or loose.
  4. Experiment with different types of antennas. While I love the reliable half-wave center-fed dipoles, I like to try other designs, some with more directional patterns or higher gain. This summer I plan on erecting a 40 meter half square antenna. Playing with antenna designs is a favorite part of the hobby for me.

Check back here next month for some more tips and suggestions on how to get the most enjoyment from your hamshack!