The µBitx v6 transciever I bought never really worked out for me. I should have listened to the advice to avoid low-power/QRP rigs as your first HF radio. I ended up buying an Icom IC-7300 and it’s been a good radio. I struggled for a while trying to make voice contacts. I started out with a Wolf River Coils silver bullet antenna, but I couldn’t really get my signal out with it, probably due to how I had to deploy it in my backyard. I then tried a MyAntennas.com 40-10m EFHW antenna. This antenna has been working great for me. I live in an HOA restricted area, so the wire was easy for me to hide, much easier than it would be to hide a vertical antenna.
Even with the new gear, I struggled to make SSB voice contacts. I still haven’t logged a voice contact, but I did get barked at by a net control operator when I stumbled onto their frequency right before their net began, so I knew my signal was at least getting out.
After getting discouraged with making phone contacts, I decided to try FT8 and I’m having a lot of fun. Once I got my computer set up and learned the ropes of operating WSJT-X, it’s been a lot of fun. Hopping on to the radio at random times, I’ve logged more than 250 contacts in the last 60 or so days. I mostly operate 20m during the daytime and transition to 40m in the evening. Using the built-in tuner of the IC-7300, I’ve been able to get the radio to tune up the antenna on 80m and logged a contact or two.
I’ve been dabbling a bit with writing some software to integrate with WSJT-X, pskreporter.info, and QRZ.com’s API to help quickly identify CQ callers to whom I should respond to. The idea there is that when 7 or 8 people are calling CQ simultaneously, it’s hard to quickly decide who to respond to. But if we can enrich their CQ message with additional metadata (like whether or not they’re calling from a gridsquare you’ve contacted before, or whether or not they’ve sent in a signal report for your station to pskreporter.info), it can help you determine who to try to make a contact with that might increase your odds of getting a response, or checking a new gridsquare off your list.
I’ve been able to reach out and log a few contacts in Japan and Australia, but I’ve been having trouble reaching down to Latin and South America. I suspect it’s due to the orientation of my antenna. I think I’m going to try building some sort of directional antenna for 20m, but I have to worry about the HOA. I started to build a 2 element yagi using hamsticks with the idea being I could easily put it up and take it down when I want to use it, but the results so far with just a hamstick dipole aren’t encouraging. After assembling just the dipole portion, the best SWR I can get is around 2.7:1 at 14.1 MHz, although that reading was taken with the antenna assembled inside the house and not at proper height. I haven’t tried connecting it to a radio yet…perhaps this weekend will offer some time for experimentation. I need to decide also how to raise the antenna on some sort of mast. I suspect that I can get the dipole up on just a long painter’s pole, but once that gets expanded with a boom and the second element I don’t think the painter’s pole will be able to support it.