HAM Radio 101

Five Mistakes I Made as a New Ham (Part 4): Having Unrealistic Expectations of My Abilities and Gear

I have always been the guy with big dreams and high hopes. Because of this, I also have high expectations. This is true of anything I have been involved in, not just amateur radio.

In terms of amateur radio, it is extremely important to learn and understand what to expect from your gear. For example, when it comes to 2m/70cm radios, you need to understand that VHF and UHF is line of sight—either on simplex (line of sight from operator one to operator two) or using a repeater (line of sight from operator one to the repeater and from the repeater to operator two). I came to learn this is the reason these amateur radios do not print “miles of coverage” on their packages.

There are so many variables that can lessen the effective range of an HT in addition to line-of-sight issues, including outside electrical interference, terrain, physical blocking, or an ineffective antenna. Now that I have a better understanding of radio theory, I can do things to improve the performance other than key the mic and get mad when others can’t hear me.

Another area that was a real learning curve for me was the antenna. I figured if I had a radio that covered all HF bands, I should use an antenna that also covered all HF bands. I found those antennas to be few and far between. And in many cases they required a tuner to “force” them to work. 

As I became more educated on the subject, I learned that it is better to have antennas that are tuned to the specific band I wanted to work. Instead of having an antenna, such as a G5RV, and using a tuner to trick the radio into using it safely, I would use a tuned antenna for 40m, one for 80m, and so on. I learned that this exponentially increased my effectiveness and ability to be heard. Many times we think if we get a better radio or more power, it will cure all ills. Really, just having the right antenna for the job can be all it takes.

I also had to manage my self-expectations. After all, I had my license and knew everything, right?  In reality, I knew enough to get myself into trouble. It takes time to learn the lingo, become versed in proper etiquette, and put the knowledge, skills, and attitude together to become a good operator. That is where Elmership comes into play. I had to be willing to let someone who had been doing it a while teach me the best ways to operate.

My grandpa used to say, “Don’t be a jack of all trades but master of none!” Many times we don’t want to accept the limitations of our equipment or our own abilities, so we push forward trying to make it happen. As a result, we get—at best—lackluster results and plenty of frustration. I encourage you to devote the time to take inventory of your abilities and your equipment’s constraints. If some of it needs to be improved, find an Elmer or a club to help you on this journey.

If I did not learn to manage my expectations, my infatuation with amateur radio would never have grown into the love for the hobby I have today.

Editor’s Note: Troy Blair, KE8DRR, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist, enjoys sharing personal stories about his involvement in amateur radio so others can learn from his experiences in the true spirit of being an Elmer. Check out some of Troy’s other articles including, QRP Operation: How Low Can You Go” and Lightening Your Go Kit.” Enter “Five Mistakes” to read earlier parts of this series.

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