Rodney Amateur Radio Club - NZART Branch 71

RARC Club Article

My First HF Contact

The night before the June club meeting I injured my knee and decided not to attend and rest the injury. So, Saturday morning,at home, I listened in on the 20m band with my 45 year old Kenwood TS-520 - this is my first rig and I have been gradually restoring it - ripping out and replacing the main electrolytic capacitors, replacing important resistors which have gone outside their tolerances and just generally cleaning contacts etc.

I had spent the previous afternoon outside stringing up a homebrew 20m dipole at a height of about 3 metres. It was made from several pieces of household electrical wire joined together to make two five metre lengths of wire. The antenna also had to have a dog-leg of 90 degrees, not the optimal configuration - neither was the height!

As I was restoring my TS-520 I occasionally tried test transmissions to an Internet based SDR receiver in Northland. Of the many tests I did I only heard myself once and it was a very weak sounding me coming back from the SDR receiver - it was not looking too good and I was getting a little upset - however I put some of this down to the fact that the 20m dipole was in the kitchen where I was working on the radio at the time or the tubes in the finals had gone soft - please, NO!

So, back to Saturday morning! The TS-520 was back in one piece and the antenna was outside. First impressions were that I could hear more on the 20m band and decided to do a test transmission and see if I could be heard on the SDR receiver in Northland - if not I guess I might as well pack this project up and admit defeat... there was nothing coming back. I retuned the rig, cranked the mic gain to the max and transmitted... Nothing. Okay, I was feeling that cold depressing sensation known as failure.

What should I do now? I made a coffee and considered my future as a ham. I sat back at the radio and just started tuning around. I came across a VK trying to work DX into Europe without much luck at the time. As he was not getting any QSO's at that moment I decided it was now or never so tried for a QSO. Voila! he replied and gave me a 5/7! Wow, VK2CR was my first HF QSO and that absoluely made my weekend - I'm not sure if it made his but WTH :)

I Managed a QSO later that afternoon with ZL1KEN - not exactly a DX but it still proved I could contact someone in the next street! Ken was doing a QSO with another Ken, ZL3OZ from Timaru and kindy introduced me so I chalked up another contact. Sunday evening I even managed to get ZL1MRC on 80m using that 20m dipole although the signal wasn't great, but hey! it worked!

So, what valuable lessons did I learn from this?

First, don't give up! Success is only a step away.

Secondly, use your instinct - I think I put too much trust in that SDR receiver and took it as "the truth". I like SDR but they can also be very misleading too in certain situations.

I set out on my HF quest with the goal to initially expand the boundaries of my 2m VHF contacts as I could not reach a UHF repeater on the National System. Once I could chat up and down the country I would set my sights on DX, starting with our neighbours across the ditch. Little did I know the those goals were scored in a single day!

I wanted to write this article to encourage new operators not to give up when they come to that brick wall. I also thought it may jog other peoples memories about their first HF contact too.

Last, but not least, I want to thank ZL1ABL who kindly donated a 4 pin microphone to fit my Kenwood TS-520. Alan, you're awesome!

By ZL1FABDate 11/06/2018 - 20:20