Technical Articles

Staying at Home? Turn Your Attention to Troubleshooting and Upgrading Your Amateur Radio Station

While you’re home, now’s a good time to start thinking about nagging station issues you’ve never had the time to resolve. You could also venture outside (practicing prescribed social distancing, of course) to see what effect winter had on your setup. Here’s a few troubleshooting suggestions and station upgrade projects to consider, along with useful links to expert advice.

Radio Frequency Interference (RFI)

No Amateur Radio station is immune to electronic interference, whether due to devices in your own home or gadgetry plugged in at your neighbor’s place. Nearby power lines, garage door openers, generators, home computers—you name it—can wreak havoc on our enjoyment of getting on the air.

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate interference, including use of baluns and feedline chokes, ferrite toroids and beads, and innovative products such as DX Engineering’s ISO-PLUS Ethernet RF Filter and Radio RF Ground Plane Kits, and WiMo’s QRM Eliminator. And if you’re lucky enough to have understanding neighbors (not always the case, we’re afraid), you can work with them to help solve the RFI problem on their end.

Ready to finally get a handle on RFI? Contact the Elmers at DX Engineering for advice. Also, check out these useful resources:

RF Problems

Are you experiencing high SWR? Are your fellow Hams telling you the quality of your signal isn’t up to snuff? Are you receiving no signal at all? Generally, these concerns can be attributed to faulty or absent coaxial cables, connectors, or switching devices.

Check for loose or poorly installed connectors, which are often the culprit when you encounter high SWR or low output power readings. Assess cables to see if they are shorted or open by testing them with a multimeter. See if cables are pinched or mechanically damaged by hungry critters. If you’re experiencing receive issues at your HF station, make sure your radio’s attenuator is set to off. An activated attenuator will cause faint reception. Then confirm if the radio’s RF gain control is positioned at maximum and that filters are set wide enough to capture the signal. Also check space weather websites to see if solar activity, rather than problems at your station, may be affecting signals on any given day.

Power Problems

Is there no power? Has the high-voltage power supply gone kaput? Is the voltage a bit too high or low? Before you do anything, heed the advice of Ward Silver, N0AX, as he noted in Ham Radio for Dummies:

“Check to see whether the problem is caused by the equipment, not the power supply. You can easily isolate obvious and spectacular failures, but don’t swap another supply until you’re sure that the problem is, in fact, the power supply.”

SWR

Take a moment to read Ward’s article on Spring Station Inspection Tips from OnAllBands, where he discusses the importance of checking and recording the SWR versus frequency of every antenna as it is installed. The article encourages Hams to record the following measurements and periodically retake them to gauge if there has been major changes in the minimum SWR or SWR values:

  • Minimum SWR and the frequency at which is occurs
  • Frequencies at which SWR reaches 2:1
  • SWR where the system feedline connects to your transceiver

We also recommend that you read “Troubleshooting Your Radio Equipment” by Harry Ricker, KC3MX, for a good overview on pinpointing and solving station issues.

Other Troubleshooting Targets:

  • Hot microphones and equipment enclosures—indications that equipment may not be properly bonded together
  • Intermittent receive as well as SWR and RFI issues caused by loose mobile antenna mounts
  • Substandard performance caused by poor quality coax and connectors (install high-performance coax and connectors and you will see a difference)
  • Inability to access a repeater due to incorrect programming of the frequency, the offset not being set correctly, or activation of the wrong CTCSS tone

Troubleshooting Tools to Add:

Looking for some fun and useful weekend projects?

Here’s a terrific ARRL list of shack accessories you can build yourself, including an amplified boom/headset mic, repeater box, a three-transistor receiver, and 40A switching power supply.

Finally, if you’re seeking a troubleshooting partner, the Elmers at DX Engineering have years of experience getting to the heart of station snafus. Next time you place an order, why not ask about that transmit problem that’s been driving you up a wall?

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