ECR Newsletter

By Charles KC6UFM

Hello, ECR Family, and welcome to the very first installment of The Antenna Farm.

I’m your friendly Antenna Farmer Charles, KC6UFM, and I’m located in Southern California not too far east of San Diego. I’ve been a Ham operator for 31 years and have been active on VHF, UHF, SHF, and in the HF segments/modes allowed to me. Over the years, I have designed and built more than 100 antennas of various types, shapes, and sizes on many bands. Like most Hams, I’ve also used a good number of commercially built antennas. Some of the antennas worked exceptionally well. Most at least worked well enough to be of use. And a few were little more than fancy dummy loads. But all have had one thing in common…

I learned from the experience.

In this series of articles for the East Coast Reflector newsletter, I hope to share some of that experience with you, especially the newer Hams out there.

In order to share, and so help you learn a bit more about antennas, we’ll be looking at what I call “Antenna Lingo” used to discuss antennas, some theory (I’ll try to keep the techno-babble down to a dull roar), some of the many myths out there about antennas, tools (both hardware and software) needed to experiment with antennas, and some practical examples of antennas that you can easily build.

Before we jump right in, I want to take a moment to thank the entire ECR staff. The East Coast reflector is a very valuable resource for Hams all over the world, and the Facilitators and other staff are providing a great service. From the comfort of your easy chair, you can talk with fellow Hams pretty much anywhere on the planet. All we need is a node on the ISS. Special thanks to Michael K2SHF for his support and foresight in making The Antenna Farm a part of the ECR Newsletter.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at a couple of antenna rules and myths…

Antenna Myth #1 – “To be an effective Ham, you need a 26-element beam for 80m at least 500’ above the ground.” OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we have all likely heard one Ham or another making similar statements as a fact. Yes, it is 100% true that a more efficient antenna (usually that means larger and/or higher) will give you an edge in signal strength but, in the vast majority of cases, you need not go to extremes. A properly installed modest antenna, coupled with good operating practice, can provide you with almost amazing results. But more to the point, the debunking of this myth leads directly to:

Antenna Rule #1 – “Even a bad antenna is better than no antenna at all.” In other words, get something up and working and GET ON THE AIR!! Maybe you don’t have room for a full size 80m loop. Maybe you can’t afford the nice commercial 10-element 6m beam, rotor, mast, etc.. Maybe you are in an HOA that allows no exposed antennas. So what? There are still solutions that will get you on the air and communicating. Are some of those solutions compromises? You bet they are, but, to paraphrase the rule, a compromise antenna is a LOT better than no antenna at all.

Antenna Myth #2 – “I have a low SWR, so my antenna is working perfectly.” We’re going to get into SWR (more accurately vSWR) in a later article, but think about it…a good dummy load will give you a 1:1 vSWR, and yet it radiates ZERO signal. There is no connection between vSWR and antenna efficiency. Again, we’ll be talking more about vSWR a little later on, and the reason this is true will become clear to you.

Antenna Rule #2 – “You don’t have to spend big bucks to get a big signal.” This is something else we will look at in more detail later on, but let me give you an example of this in action…I do a lot of work with FT8, PSK, and similar modes on 10m. A quick check of my logs show just over 8,000 contacts using those modes on 10m in the last 2 years. My antenna? A 1.5 wavelength (no, that’s not a typo) center fed dipole with a ¼ wave matching transformer. There is about $5 of materials and perhaps an hour of time invested in this antenna. In fact, it took far longer to hang the antenna in the trees than to design, build, and tune. I regularly put +6 FT8 signals into Europe, Africa, and Oceania.

Antenna Myth #3 – “I’m not an engineer, am lousy at math, and I just ain’t bright enough to design an antenna!” Yes, there is some math (mostly addition, multiplication, and division with a little subtraction tossed in for fun) that pretty much anyone can do. As for being an engineer or brighter than Forrest Gump, you don’t need to be an engineer, and old Forrest had a ton of common sense. All you really need is an open mind.

And there’s one other thing you will need…

A desire to become a better Ham. Designing and building antennas can be a lot of fun. Anyone here who does NOT want to have fun? Maybe designing and building antennas just isn’t for you. Not a problem! Understanding how your antenna system works will allow you to be a more effective communicator. Being a more effective communicator will lead to better operating practices. And all of these things will help meet the requirements the FCC demands in exchange for our valuable radio spectrum: You will be able to, in an emergency, put together an antenna system from spit and bailing wire that will let you communicate.

That wraps up this installment of The Antenna Farm. Next time, we’re going to look at some terminology and some magic.

Thanks for reading!

Take Care & 73