Tuning Tips for SSB
Here are a few random tips for tuning in stations on SSB during Field Day (and during contests). They do not apply to other modes.
Precision. Most stations operate on even multiples of .25 MHz. For example, 14241.000, 14241.25, 14241.50, 14241.75, 14242.00. Some spotting stations will erroneously spot at 14241.1 or 14241.6. .25 and .75 are problems with the DX Cluster. The only report to one decimal place, therefore, they report as .20, .30 .06 or .08. Follow the spot and then correct to the proper frequency or you will be 10 kHz off. (Sometimes stations do try to squeeze in between the .25 frequencies, especially operators that are accustomed to other modes.)
Tuning Step. If your receiver has a tuning step, set it to .05 (50 kHz). Setting it to .100 will make it impossible to tune the .25 and .75 stations precisely. Setting it to .01 will make tuning slow and is unnecessary.
Tuning Upper/Lower Sidebands. Stations operating above 10 MHz will normally use upper sideband (USB); stations below use lower sideband (LSB). When tuning through a band, it is usually easier to tune in stations as you approach them from their operating frequency in the direction of the sideband. For example, approach a station on 7.214 from the upper side down his operating frequency (7.214.2, 7.214.15, 7.214.10, 7.214.05 and stop at 7.214.0). For USB, start low and tune up.
Automatic Gain Control (AGC). Most radios now have automatic gain control (AGC). For SSB, setting you AGC to medium or slow will give the best results. Try it on a loud (but not blasting) signal to see what you prefer.
Bandwidth. Remember that an SSB signal is 2.7 kHz (2700 Hz.) wide. If you have a bandwidth control/bandpass filter, setting it to 3.0 or 2.7 would be normal. With a crowded band, setting it at 2.0 or even slightly lower will partially suppress stations that are near the one you want to copy. Setting it too narrow will distort the sound.
Understanding the SSB bandwidth will guide you on where to try to transmit if you are in the running mode (calling CQ). You should pick a frequency that won’t interfere with other stations and where other stations won’t interfere with you. If someone is on 7.214 MHz, you shouldn’t get any closer than 7.122 below or 7.216 above the station. If you could go a full 3.0 kHz away from him, you would be giving even more room for your 2.7 kHZ signal. You need, of course, to check that there is enough room on the other side of you so as not to interfere with or be interfered by another nearby station. Bottom line is that you need a 4-6 kHz wide opening where there are no signals. You should then ask, “Is this frequency in use?” at least twice before operating.