The most common complaint I hear from new SWLing Post readers is that they can’t hear stations from home on their receivers and transceivers. Nine times out of ten, it’s because their home environment is inundated with man-made electrical noises often referred to as QRM or RFI (radio frequency interference).
RFI can be debilitating. It doesn’t matter if you have a $20 portable radio or a $10,000 benchmark transceiver, noise will undermine both.
What can you do about it?
Since we like to play radio at home, we must find ways to mitigate it. A popular option is employing a good magnetic loop receive antenna (check out this article). Some readers find noise-cancelling DSP products (like those of bhi) helpful when paired with an appropriate antenna.
But the easiest way to deal with noise is to leave it behind.
Take your radio to a spot where man-made noises aren’t an issue.
If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you’ll know how big of a fan I am of taking radios to the field–both transceivers and receivers. Not only do I love the great outdoors, but it’s the most effective way to leave RFI in the dust.
Sunday was a case in point (hence this post).
Let’s be clear: I blame Hazel…
Last week, I did a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Wildlife Area in Tennessee. It’s a beautiful area with a fantastic hiking trail (the Overmountain Victory Trail) in a relatively remote/rural area.
My family had a great time at the site–we enjoyed a picnic and I played radio–but Hazel (our trusty canine companion) decided to roll in a cow patty during our hike. Hazel thought it smelled wonderful. Her family? Much less so. And all five of us were staring at a two hour car ride together.
Fortunately, my wife had a bottle of bio-degradable soap we use while camping, so I washed Hazel in Hampton Creek. (Turns out, Hazel didn’t mind that nearly as much as getting washed at home in the tub.)
In all of the commotion I forgot to take my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna out of the tree. Doh!
The EFT is my favorite field antenna for POTA activations. It works so well and is resonant on 40, 20 and 10 meters. With an ATU, I can also tune any bands in between. I’ve deployed this antenna at least 130 times in the field and it was still holding up.
I was bummed. Hampton Creek is nearly a four hour round-trip from my home. Was it worth the trip to rescue my antenna?
Fast-forward to Sunday: my amazing wife actually suggested we go back to Hampton Creek Cove on Sunday and also check out nearby Roan Mountain State Park. Would my antenna still be in the tree? Hopefully.
Fortunately, my antenna was still hanging there in the tree as I left it the week before. I was a little concerned the BNC end of the antenna may have gotten wet, but it was okay.
Mercy, mercy, so little noise…
I turned on my Elecraft KX2 and plugged in the antenna. Oddly, there was very little increase in the noise level after plugging in the antenna. That worried me–perhaps the antenna got wet after all? I visually inspected the antenna, then pressed the “tune” button on the KX2 and got a 1.4:1 SWR reading. Then I tuned around the 40 meter band and heard numerous loud stations.
What was so surprising was how quiet the band was that day (this time of year the 40M band is plagued with static crashes from thunderstorms).
Also, there were no man-made electrical noises to be heard. This allowed my receiver to actually do its job. It was such a pleasure to operate Sunday–no listening fatigue at all. Later on, we set up at Roan Mountain State Park and did an activation there as well. Again, without any semblance of RFI.
When I’m in the field with conditions like this, I always tune around and listen to HF broadcast stations for a bit as well. It’s amazing how well weak signals pop out when the noise floor is so incredibly low.
It takes ten or so minutes to set up my POTA station in the field, but if you have a portable shortwave radio, it takes no time at all. None. Just extend the telescoping antenna and turn on the radio.
If you’re battling radio interference at home, I would encourage you to survey your local area and find a noise-free spot to play radio. It could be a park, or it could be a parking lot. It could even be a corner of your property. Simply take a portable radio outside and roam around until you find a peaceful spot with low-noise conditions. It’s the most cost-effective way to fight RFI!
Post readers: Do you have a favorite field radio spot? Do you have a favorite field radio? Please comment!
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