If you can’t hear them … then what?

So as the saying goes: “if you can’t hear them, you can’t work them!” More on that in a moment …

Back from the honeymoon and getting settled in to our routines again has given me an opportunity to play radio.
A few days ago I met with Bob Sharp (VA3QV) who generously offered to let me test-drive a perfectly functional Yaesu FT-857D that he owns.
I have a couple of weeks to test the rig out to see if it is what I am comfortable using as my first modern HF rig (I own a FT-101EE in rather rough shape).

So today I managed to get out and string up my G5RV lite antenna that I purchased a couple of months ago, and hooked it up to the radio.
I pulled a fully-charged battery from my 1985 Suzuki Samurai off-road rig to power the radio whilst sitting blissfully in the shade, ready to make contacts left and right. Or so I thought.

So with everything hooked up, all levels checked and at appropriate values, I was not amused when all I heard was noise (S5-S7).
With my MFJ antenna tuner tweaked for maximum noise, I tuned around the 20m band looking to hear something, anything! Alas, radio silence.
Knowing full well that Bob tested the radio before loaning it out, I knew that the problem was after the SO-239 connector on the back of the radio.
I double checked all the cables and they were are secured as they should have been. Another quick listen and there was a faint signal!
Being a technician by trade, I thought – that’s odd … must be an intermittent problem, which suggests it is a cabling issue.
A quick check of my cables revealed that one end of my 50′ coaxial cable was not properly terminated in the PL-259 connection – this is a custom cable I purchased from a local retailer which is a pity. So with the antenna pig-tail just off the ground, I moved my whole setup closer to eliminate the length of defective coax (I did not have a replacement PL-259 to solder on).

Good news: I was hearing some extremely faint radio traffic!
Bad news: 1. what I did hear as intelligence was extremely weak, 2. the background noise was still very high as reported by the radio

I double checked all other patch-cables and everything was just fine, much to my chagrin.
After confirming that the antenna was in fact tuned for maximum noise / minimum SWR with an AM carrier, I felt defeated.

It looks like I will be making/buying a 4:1 balun to string up a purpose-cut 20m dipole to test with in the hopes that I just have a bum antenna.

.. so much for playing radio today. I was really hoping to make a few contacts before having to move on to other tasks. Maybe another day soon!

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3 Responses to If you can’t hear them … then what?

  1. Hi, James.

    I was reading a report of a summits on the air activation yesterday:

    “…conditions were poor. Lot of absorption, spotty skip, and we heard no Europeans today at all. May well be the aftermath of the giant flare a few days ago…”

    Likely not your G5RV Junior 😀

    • James says:

      I am glad to hear that it wasn’t just my ineptitude – I didn’t even think to look at solar conditions prior to testing.
      I appreciate your calling the space conditions to my attention!

      When I set up my G5RV lite, I am always sure to string it up so that the twin-lead transformer line is perfectly vertical with a few feet to spare.
      My intention is to test my current setup at another location to see whether the noise is environmental or not (I expect it is).
      I do make a point of grounding the radio chassis when possible – I have a nice strap to a copper-clad post in my kit. Didn’t help unfortunately.

      To answer your question regarding the 4:1 balun – I have been toying with some off-center fed dipole ideas as of late.
      In an attempt to “just get on the air” I am considering using a 1:1 current balun and cutting some wire for 14.070 for the time being.

      I’m headed out this afternoon to give things another shot. I hope I have more success. Gotta check the space weather first this time! hihi
      Thanks for your advice! I am always glad to have such great club support.

  2. Martin says:

    James, The space weather at:


    … indicates that there was an R1 level radio blackout in the past 24 hours.

    Defined as: “HF Radio: Weak or minor degradation of HF radio communication on sunlit side, occasional loss of radio contact. ”

    Also there was an elevated K index today (ie. expect more noise than usual).

    See: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/warnings_timeline.html

    So perhaps your G5RV lite isn’t the only factor here! The solar conditions today called for weak signals and lots of background noise. I didn’t listen to HF myself today…

    But the message is: Try again with the G5RV lite before giving up on it totally.

    Another observation is that the bands are generally a lot quieter on weekdays so maybe there weren’t many stations on the band to begin with.

    How far up were you able to get it, was the twinlead section able to be fully extended vertically down from the feedpoint before the coax connection? That antenna will be happiest when the twinlead section is vertical and fully extended below the antenna.

    Another factor could be high noise floor due to electrical interference from nearby sources (power transformers, household QRN, etc). If the noise floor was high enough, then many signals could have been masked by it. Were you using a ground? If you can insert a long ground rod into the ground (4-6ft) and connect the radio chassis to it with some coax braid, that may help the noise… a little.

    Anyway, there are some thoughts to begin with.

    What antenna are you considering that needs a 4:1 balun?

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