Today was a very exciting day. My Elmer, Bill NG3K, came to help me get my station on the air. We started by measuring out the counterpoise for the antenna and laying it along the baseboard of the apartment. The other half of the antenna is now in place with packaging tape, which is a great improvement over the former arrangement. With the antenna and counterpoise hooked up to the antenna tuner, we were ready to get started.
The antenna has to be carefully tuned before attempting to transmit. The reason is pretty simple. When you send a signal out to a tuned antenna, that power goes out onto the antenna and the signal is sent out toward the sky. If the antenna is not tuned, however, some of that power gets reflected back. If a lot of power reflects back into the radio, it will damage the circuitry of the radio.
In order to tune the antenna, we used the antenna tuner. It looks like a box with a bunch of knobs and a meter on the front. We had to adjust the knobs until the sound coming from the receiver was the loudest that we could get it. Then we activated the SWR meter on the radio and got the external keyer and paddle connected. Finally, we set the power down to the lowest setting - 0.5 Watts. If you have a standard cell phone, it transmits your calls as a radio signals with about 1 Watt, so 0.5 W is a very weak signal. With all in order, we tapped the key and watched the SWR meter on the radio.
Since the antenna was tuned correctly, the SWR meter showed no change, indicating that no or barely any power was being reflected back from the antenna. We then set the keyer in tune mode to produce a steady tone and checked the meter on the antenna tuner. It also showed low SWR and confirmed that hardly any power was being reflected. We then turned the power up to 5W and tried again. It showed a slightly higher SWR - but not to worry! While watching the meter, we were able to adjust the antenna tuner knobs until the reflected power was minimized.
Having tuned the antenna and checked the SWR, we were finally ready to transmit! Unfortunately, the shock of the moment drowned me in a wave of panic and I suddenly didn't want to call CQ... So Bill unplugged the paddle and we did some CW practice off the air. It was quite fun! Too bad I live so far by metro or I would be knocking at his door for more practice! Well, since I am able to get on the air now, it means that we can practice on the air. If my indoor antenna does its work well, that is. I am impatiently awaiting the first QSO tomorrow...
An interesting fact about my tuning operations - whenever I change bands (groups of frequencies), I will need to repeat the tuning and testing process. Fortunately, the settings for the antenna tuner should remain consistent for the various bands over time since I am not changing the size of the antenna. I'll be able to transmit on the 40m (7 MHz), 20m (14 MHz), and 15m (21 MHz) bands. If any of you have shortwave receivers, you may catch me on the air someday soon!
Maybe I will get on 40 meters and see who is around... I heard a guy from Maryland calling CQ earlier and wonder if perhaps I have met him! Wonder who else is on the air this evening... Maybe it will be me :D