Simple Antennas for the Hawaiian Amateur Radio Operator–a continuing series

Those of us who are forced by circumstances to operate with compromise antennas may be interested in a new self-published book by Tom Schiller, N6BT, called “Array of Light” (3rd edition).  I found a review of the book in the February 2012 “CQ”, p. 74.  Tom is a co-founder of Team Vertical and, along with his father, co-owned and operated Force 12 Antennas.  Tom’s basic idea is that “everything works” to some degree in the antenna realm.  A quick review of the July 2000 issue of “QST” quickly refreshed my memory about Tom’s seemingly outlandish experiment using a 150-watt light bulb mounted on a 4-foot fence post as an antenna.  Using his Kenwood TS-850S, he proceeded to work the world using the light bulb as an antenna.  The project was good enough to land Tom a “Cover Plaque Award” for that issue.  Tom easily convinced me that “everything” does “work”, even in such a crude model as a light bulb.  Tom goes from the light bulb to laying the foundation for installing meaningful antennas to increase your enjoyment of the ham radio hobby.  He also contributed an article to one of the ARRL antenna books covering the light bulb antenna.  Tom says even a marginal gain of 2 dB can improve your enjoyment of on-air operating.  I will most likely buy the book, since most of my antennas are “bare bones” structures that can use any help available.

As mentioned earlier, property restrictions, the proximity to power lines, and marginal television/cell phone reception in my area have forced me to be creative when it comes to antennas.  For the past few years, I’ve been relying on simple verticals, dipoles, and loops for my antennas.  My antennas can be raised or lowered depending on the weather and concerns from my neighbors.  I’ve found that indoor antennas can be used, but their performance is marginal compared with outdoor antennas.  My ultra simple 40-meter homebrew vertical is tucked away in the backyard with only a tuned counterpoise to keep my Drake MN-4 ATU and Swan 100-MX happy.  I could use a few more radials.  I would have to zig-zag them around the yard because my lot is very small.  The 20-meter vertical dipole is at the other end of my postage stamp sized lot.  It performs well, considering the limitations faced in my neighborhood.  My 40-meter loop is strung under the house about 4-feet off the ground (the qth is built on a post and pier system).  The loop is basically a NVIS antenna which provides strong signals out to 200- to 300 miles–perfect for the afternoon 40-meter interisland net.  So, I’ll read Tom’s new book and perhaps pick up a few new ideas.  I don’t know if I’ll duplicate his light bulb antenna experiment, but, if all else fails, there is a post on the side of my property and a spare150-watt light bulb in the garage that could be pressed into service.

I suppose it all comes down to what will get you on the air and keep your interest in Amateur Radio.  I’m just happy to have some room to put up simple antennas.  Others aren’t so lucky, of course.  I have a close friend who uses his van as a radio shack.  He parks it outside of his townhouse or in a nearby park when he wants to operate.  Those facing deed and HOA restrictions have a more difficult time of getting on the air.  The ARRL has republished a book on stealth antennas which may prove useful to those facing such situations.  The ARRL has also released a book on “Simple antennas for Small Places”.  This publication may be ordered from the ARRL.

I hope the week will find you fully engaged in the world’s greatest hobby–Amateur Radio. 

Until next time, get on the air , have some fun, and build something that will extend your knowledge of ham radio.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM
Laupahoehoe, Hawaii–along the beautiful Hamakua Coast

Simple antennas for the Hawaii Island Amateur Radio Operator–a continuing series

I’ve managed to get a few days off from my substitute teaching position at Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School.  The state Department of Education was able to hire a full-time Special Education Teacher this term, thus ending a full-month of my emergency service to the school.  I’m due for another assignment Friday.  Eversince I retired from the commercial broadcast business last September (2011), I’ve been busy doing substitute teaching at the high school and doing a small amount of special projects for my former employer (Pacific Radio Group).  All told, retirement has been a shift to other work with more amateur radio mixed in.  At least I don’t have to get up each morning at 0230W and drive into work.  I followed that routine for 36 years.  The old job was great, but it was time for a change. 

Nowadays, my schedule is a bit more free and my amateur radio pursuits a lot more fun.  As I eased into semi-retirement, I began to reenter the world of ham radio after many years of being an inconsistent participant.  We all know the routine–life, mortgages, school, a job, and many other sundry things just eat up the time.  So, I’m revisiting several areas of amateur radio that just passed me by in the past.  Among the new interests are digital communications (PK 31), homebrewed antennas, fixing my old radio gear (Swans, Kenwoods, old Ten Tecs), and generally catching up on the modern technology.

Every once in awhile, I find an amateur radio website that takes me back to my youth in the 1950s where Collins, World Radio Labs, Hallicrafters, and other long-gone names dominated the amateur radio scene.  Yes, nostalgia is a pleasant diversion, especially when you find M. Kent Miller’s (K4MK) website mentioned in the 15 February 2012 edition of “” The website is a brief retrospective of the radios and antennas he enjoyed as a young ham, beginning in early 1956.  The pictures of old equipment, much of which he still uses, is a real treat.  As a boy growing up near several amateur operators in the mid-1950s, the pictures of the WRL Globe Scout, the Hallicrafters SX-100, and the restored Collings, Drake, and Heathkit gear bring back fond memories of cold winter nights and cw crackling through the air.  Of course, Miller doesn’t dwell in the past.  His well appointed radio shack is packed with current models of amplifiers, top of the line transceivers, and a decent antenna farm. 

Speaking of antennas and related topics,  the ARRL reports that the WARC-2012 delegates have approved a MW band for amateur radio operators.  I believe the general area is between 472 to 479 kHz with a power ranging from 1 to 5 watts.  Depending on what our FCC decides, this band could be useable in the U.S. sometime in 2013.  I expect you’ll see a variety of kits to help you get a signal on this portion of the spectrum.  The advantage of this sliver of frequencies rests with its relative immunity to atmospheric conditions.  That could come in handy for emergency communications.  Of course, antennas for this set of frequencies will be a problem–they tend to be in the neighborhood of 500-feet or so for a quarter-wave vertical.  Just think about what kind of loading coil you would need to get your antenna working.  There are those who run part 15 stations between 180 and 190 kHz and certain hams who have been runing experimental stations below 500 kHz.  These experimenters seem to reach out hundreds of miles depending on conditions.  So, who knows?  This “lowfer” portion of the MW spectrum may spur more homebrew equipment.  I’ll have to read more about this portion of the radio spectrum before I commit to another antenna project.  All of this sounds intriguing, none the less.

My backyard antenna “farm” continues to provide contacts and many hours of enjoyment.  My humble inverted vees, vertical dipoles, and loops get me where I want to go for very little financial investment.  I suppose being a “packrat” and collector of most things electronic has something to do with my supply of surplus coax, connectors, wire, and insulators.  The cable TV people know me well.  I’ve been able to secure various odd lengths of RG-6 which I convert into patch cords and even feed lines.  I sometimes wish I had more space, but I make do with what I have.  My radio setup is simple, functional, and easy to maintain.  Once I build a house on our property in the Puna District, I can concentrate on a tower and a decent beam.  But for now, I’m just happy to get on the air and get a few contacts after work or on the weekend.  That makes me a “happy camper”. 

Enjoy the rest of your week.  Get on the air and have some fun.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM
Laupahoehoe, Hawaii–BK29jx15 on Hawaii Island

Simple Antennas for the Hawaii Island Amateur Radio Operator–a continuing series

This has been an exciting two weeks.  First, my long-term substitute teaching position has been confirmed until June.  Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School is converting to a charter school, so many faculty associated with the state of Hawaii Department of Education may be transferring elsewhere.  So, until the new school board gets in place, there will be no new hires, and that means substitute teachers such as I will be in demand until the change over at the end of the school semester.  So much for an easy retirement.  The work with special education students is demanding, but, on the whole, very satisfying–especially if a student finally “gets it” and begins to learn on his/her own.  During the past few weeks, I haven’t been able to run the old Swan 100-MX very often, with the possible exception of a few hours of cw late at night.

And second, the weather has been unusually warm and dry these past three weeks–a perfect time to work on antennas and maintenance.  During the first three months of the year, tradewind showers usually soak the windward side of Hawaii Island very well.  But this year, most of the rain has been spotty, usually falling along the upper elevations of Mauna Kea or Mauna Loa.  To date, Laupahoehoe has received only 1/3 of its normal monthly precipitation.  On the west side of the island, a persistent drought continues, with both coffee farmers and ranchers suffering the most.   I’m taking advantage of the good weather before anticipated rains come sometime this month.

My 20-meter dipole in the backyard continues to perform well.  With the 450-ohm ladder line and the trusty Drake MN-4, I’ve been able to use the antenna from 20 to 10 meters.  Fifteen and ten meters have been productive from early afternoon until a bit past sunset.  My 40-meter vertical along the border with my neighbor’s house works as expected.  And the 40-meter loop under the house has done a satisfactory job of maintaining communications throughout the state of Hawaii.  The loop in its current configuration is used as a NVIS antenna for local nets. 

If you are short of cash (who isn’t these days) and are a bit reluctant to “roll your own”, you may want to examine several interesting antennas in the latest catalog from MFJ.  What caught my eye is something the company calls the “Big Stick 8-Band Vertical Antenna” on page 75.  The stick is a 17-foot stainless stell collapsible whip paired with an adjustable high-Q air wound coil using a “Guanella balun” that the company claims decouples the feedline and keeps the operating position RF free.  The MFJ-2286 comes with a couterpoise kit.  All you need is a 1/4 or 1/2 inch pipe or mast to attach the “stick” and you’re ready for coverage from 7.0 to 55.0 Mhz.  MFJ also sells a tripod you can use to position the antenna in your back yard.  I haven’t tried this antenna yet, so “your mileage may differ”.
This arrangement is considerably cheaper than the popular “Outbacker” verticals I see in many amateur radio magazines.  The listed price is $99.95 plus shipping.

As for myself, I prefer to make my own antennas out of wire, pvc pipe, wooden spars, and locally available materials.  My antennas are not works of art, but they do get contacts.  Now that 10 meters is opening up in the afternoons in the Central Pacific, I may just erect a homebrew antenna to cover that band.  I have several pieces of pvc pipe that be bolted together to form 33-foot mast.  I could run some RG-6 coax up the pole to an inverted vee (8′ 2″ on a side) and see what happens.  Back in the day when CB was king (yes, I was one of those guys), I used a similar arrangement to cover the Hamakua Coast on channel 12.  Running the legal limit of 4 watts or so, I managed to get ground wave coverage up to 15 miles or so, depending on how the signal penetrated the gulches along the coast.  That wasn’t too impressive, but it did whet my appetite to get my novice license back in 1977.  And as the old saying goes, “the rest was history.”  I’ve used modified CB antennas since those times to work 10 meters when the band was open.  Of course, a 40-meter vertical, twin lead, and the Drake MN-4 makes 10 meters a snap to operate, but, there’s nothing like making an antenna specifically designed for your band of choice.  My junk box has an ample supply of #14 wire, RG-6, insulators, and connectors, so the project should be fun and take little time to complete.  Even an old 102″ CB whip can be trimmed to work on the 10 meter band. With a few radials or a decent counterpoise, your old CB antenna can be a useful antenna for the fickle 10 meter band.  Most antenna handbooks provide examples of easy to make antennas for this exciting band.

That wraps it up for this week.  I hope to get in a few more hours of operating time after my class duties are done.  Meanwhile, get on the air with an antenna you’ve designed and built.  It’s fun and educational at the same time.

Thanks for dropping in!

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM (Russ)
Laupahoehoe, Hawaii–along the beautiful Hamakua Coast

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