Foundations of Amateur Radio


Starting in the wonderful hobby of Amateur or HAM Radio can be daunting and challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you might fit in and get the very best from the 1000 hobbies that Amateur Radio represents. Note that this podcast started in 2011 as "What use is an F-call?".


Foundations of Amateur Radio navigateright Episode

The antenna and coax you use matter.

Foundations of Amateur Radio

During the week I climbed on my roof and installed a base antenna for the 2m and 70cm band. The antenna is a Diamond X-300N. It's 3 meters tall, has a gain of 6.5 dB on 2m and 9 dB on 70cm. I've owned it for just under eight years and this week I finally took it out of the box and installed it. I know, I know, in my defence, you shouldn't rush these things.

Truth is, until this week I really didn't have a realistic way of installing it. Several factors needed to come together. Some of them trivial, others less so. In the end, the antenna is now installed on my roof, connected via coax through my roof to my radio.

Now before we get all excited about what that means, let's compare my previous outdoor setting to the current one.

Today I'm using LMR-400 coax, 30 meters of it. Previously I used RG-58, but only 20 meters of it.

From a coax perspective, even though I increased the length by 30%, my loss actually went down, on 70cm it went down by over 4 dB. If you recall, 3 dB loss is the same as losing half your signal, so before my 5 Watts even got to the antenna, I'd already lost more than half of it using RG-58.

I will mention right now that the numbers I'm giving here are purposefully not exact. There's no point. Your situation and mine are not the same, and my two installations are barely equivalent, so actual numbers don't help you.

The point I'm making is that the type of coax you use to feed your antenna can make a massive difference. In my case that difference means that half of my 5 Watts never even made it to the antenna.

In addition to this the two antennas are different. Not by much, but enough to make a difference. As icing on the cake the new antenna is longer by a third, so my new antenna has a better horizon, it's higher off the ground, even if it's installed at a similar height.

You might recall that loss and gain are dependent on frequency, so any calculation needs to be done for each band you're going to use. In my case I had to do this twice, once for the 2m band and once for the 70cm band.

I should also mention that depending on the SWR of your antenna, the losses also change, but let's not go there today.

If you want to actually figure out what this means for your station, the calculation goes a little like this.

Take the power output from your radio, subtract the coax loss and add the antenna gain. The end result is a number that represents the gain - or loss - from the entire system. If coax loss and antenna gain are the same, you're not losing anything, but you're also not gaining anything.

The reward for the aches and pains from climbing on and in my roof are represented by the fact that now my 5 Watt signal on 2m effectively became 10 Watts. On 70cm it became 13 Watts.

With the added height and gain in addition to being able to hit all the local repeaters, I can now hear the local beacon and I've successfully decoded the JT4 and JT65 messages that the beacon spits out.

It's only been a week, but it's already made a massive difference.

No doubt my on-air experience will also benefit from this adventure.

Unfortunately, to do this for yourself is not quite as simple as giving you a link and punching in the numbers. I won't make any promises I cannot keep, but I am looking into it.

I'm Onno VK6FLAB