Antenna Facts and Fallacies - Keynote # 7, 2000
This month something that bugs me very much. Well, a lot of things fit that description, but here's one in particular. I often get questions like this. "A ham friend of mine told me that I would not be able to make any contacts with my random wire antenna if I don't have a good radial system or a counterpoise that is precisely 1/4 wave long. Is this true?" In other words, so called antenna experts are discouraging many hams from getting on the HF bands because the inexperienced ham believes that he must have an antenna that fits certain criteria for his station to work at all. Since the new ham, for one reason or another, can't meet those criteria, he gives up on trying HF, and sticks to his 2 meter Handie Talkie or whatever those things are called.
Of course, if you live on a farm or just out in the country with acres of room for an antenna farm, there are many things you can do to make sure your antenna is performing at maximum efficiency. If you can put in 128 radials for your quarter wave 80M vertical antenna, that's all fine and well. If you can get your 4 over 4 stacked array up on a 150 foot tower, fine.
However, you DON'T have to do these things to succeed on HF, even with QRP. You don't need a great ground system or even a counterpoise to be able to work DX with QRP and your random wire. Put up whatever you can in the space you have for a random wire. Feed it through a good antenna tuner to match whatever strange impedance it may have to the 50 or 75 ohms required by your transmitter. Get on the HF bands, and have fun.
All I have here for a ground system is a wire running down the side of my house from my second floor shack. It's hooked to a ground rod - how long I have no idea since it's been there since the 1960's and I don't remember things that long ago very well. HI. From that point I have a couple zig-zag radials that I added recently. I can't tell any difference that they made in tuning or results.
A long time Canadian friend (and FISTS member), VA3RJ lives in an apartment in Toronto. He uses mobile whips for his antennas. They are mounted on a balcony railing with no real ground system other than perhaps the ground plane provided by the railing. With that setup, he has worked over 210 countries in the past few years. While he mostly uses power ranging from 50 to 200 watts, that still reinforces the point I am making that you don't need to follow text book principles when installing an antenna.
Perhaps I've rambled a bit in this discussion, so let me sum up succinctly now. Don't listen to the antenna experts or believe the textbooks that say you can't succeed on the HF bands if you can't put up an antenna in a very specific way. Just put up what you can, and give it a try. This is why I'm so hesitant to answer specific questions about antennas. Every situation is different, and I'm afraid if you can't duplicate what I say, you'll give up. Hey, there is a ham who has made many contacts using a light bulb as his antenna. I don't have his call handy right now, but he was written up in QST a few issues ago. No, it wasn't the annual QST April Fool's article. This was in the July QST.
An Email from Scott W3BUG, ex-KB3EQU is what prompted this column. Here's a follow up from Scott after our initial discussion about antennas. Scott writes - "Please feel free to use any or all of my comments for your column. I too am amazed at the number of hams who have the attitude that if it's not "by the book", it will not work. Granted, it may not be a perfect radiator and you may suffer some loss but you can load up a lawn rake and it will "get out". I know that when I took my first license test and was talking to hams about my how my antenna would have to be in my attic due to my neighborhood restrictions, most of them had the attitude that I probably would not be successful making contacts. For a while there, I was seriously considering not getting my ticket at all. Well, 4 months later and 8 states shy of my WAS, I'd say it was doing pretty darn good. Perhaps they are too accustomed to running 500+ watts all the time and aiming their tower mounted beam with pinpoint accuracy to make that perfect contact. I myself enjoy the challenge of low power and letting Mother Nature do the work for me. Besides, the fascination of ham radio for me is calling CQ and not knowing who will return to the call. They might be 200 miles away or 5000. You never know. That's the fun of amateur radio. Take care my friend. Scott Huber, Bel Air, Maryland."
Please note Scott's comments about thinking about not getting a ticket at all because he only had room for an attic antenna. What a shame it would have been if Scott didn't get his ticket for that reason. Don't let antenna experts discourage you from getting on HF.
And finally remember that if you are antenna restricted and power limited, that a big factor in your success will be using CW. Morse code can get through where other modes fail.
Yes indeed, QRP and simple antennas do work. I received the Keynote #5/6 a day after I wrote this. I was pleased by the way Nancy answered the question about random wires. That is the way info about antennas should be given. Not that you MUST do this or that for it to work, but TRY this or that until you get it to work. Well done, Nancy.
My web site has recently undergone a major overhaul in appearance but still has the same great content. Come see me at home.windstream.net/johnshan/. Email me or regular mail me at John Shannon, 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304. 73 -30-