Thursday, November 24, 2011

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  I'll return to my diet after I eat the traditional feast of turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, assorted vegetable, and some pumpkin dessert.  I walked an extra 2 miles today to compensate for my once a year indulgence.  I know, what I consume will take a marathon run to erase.  I'll try to limit my portions--at least that's the idea anyway.

Among the articles I read over the past few days, were some of the comments from hams living in CC &  R and otherwise restrictive environments.'s antenna forum contains several interesting articles that may prove useful to those of us challenged by our lack of real estate.  One operator whose call escapes me at the moment mentioned his successful use of the MFJ-1622 Apartment Antenna that allows coverage from 40 through 2 meters.  The antenna is described on page 69 of MFJ's 2012 Ham Catalog.  The antenna consists of a sturdy clamp for attachment, a "bug catcher" loading coil, a telescoping 5 1/2-foot whip, coax, a RF choke balun, counterpoise wire, and a safety rope.  The antenna resembles an earlier model marketed by Barker and Williamson (BW) back in the mid-1980's.  I still have one of these temporary antennas.  Late yesterday, I found the antenna in the corner of my radio shack and decided to see if it still worked.  It does!  I attached the antenna to the porch railing of my qth, stretched out the counterpoise, taped the coil in the proper place, and had some nice reports on 20-meters shortly after 1300 W.  The reports ranged from 556 to 558...not bad for a temporary lash up running about 20 watts.  So, if you are hard pressed to find a good temporary antenna and are willing to spend $99.95, you can have one sent to you by MFJ.  I've put the old BW apartment antenna in the van as an emergency antenna, now that I know it works.

On a somewhat related topic, you can use the loaded coil and whip idea in a variety of ways, ranging from the expensive "tar heel" mobile antenna to the old 18VS loaded vertical still being sold today.  I once used my homebrew 40-meter vertical on 80-meters by attaching an 80-meter coil to the base of the vertical.  The possibilities are many--just use your imagination.  While many have criticized MFJ for quality control issues, some of the company's antenna ideas, such as this model 1622 appear to do the job at a modest cost.  The MFJ 1622 might be worth a try.  Or, if you feel ambitious, you can wind your own coils and base load a homebrew vertical.  The ARRL and RSGB have several antenna books that contain many small, inexpensive, and effective verticals that may solve your space problems.

That wraps it up for today.  There is some serious eating to do today.  If you have some time, crank up the ole rig and bang out a few qsos.  You might even run across me on the lower end of 20-meters.

Have an excellent weekend.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM, Hawaii Island

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Simple Antennas for the Hawaii Amateur Radio operator, a continuing series

A loop approach to restrictive antenna conditions.

As I was reading the November 2011 "QST" today, I ran across an interesting antenna idea from Cristian Paun, WV6N.  His article entitled "An Antenna Idea for Antenna Restricted Communities" on page 35 really hit home.  My space restrictions are severe and the antennas I use certainly work (inverted "vees", vertical monopoles, and loops), but they could be better and perhaps even smaller.  Cristian describes a small loop he built and placed in his garden.  Previously, he had been using various mobile antennas between 3.5 and 30 MHz with some degree of success.  He wondered if he could use less space and yet produce results surpasing his best efforts.  Apparently, the small magnetic loop he designed and used proved most useful, with some improvement over the mobile antennas he once used.  Cristian's instructions are fairly simple and the final product is attractive, discrete, and almost sculture-like.  He concludes by saying "small or magnetic loops turn out to be a viable choice for those hams living in restricted areas.  Depending onthe efficiency of the loop, they can come close to the performance of a full size dipole at a height of 1/2 wavelength...They radiate well at low angles for DX contacts as well as at high angles for short skip communications."  I believe MFJ makes a magnetic loop and tuner for around $400.  MFJ also sells loop tuners that you can attach to a homemade loop that can be placed either outside or tacked to the ceiling of your "shack".  This could be another way to get on the air if you find no other way to erect an antenna.

My experience with loops.

I must admit that the only loop antennas I have had were of the one-wavelength variety strung under the qth or erected temporarily in a delta configuration in the back yard using a single 32-foot fiberglass mast.  A few months back I erected a temporary 20-meter delta loop near the garage and it performed well.  As I remember, I used 69-feet of #14 gauge housewire, with each side of the triangle running 23-feet.  I fed this homebrew skyhook at the lower left-hand corner with 450-ohm twin lead.  I ran the twin lead into a 4:1 balun.  Twenty feet of RG-6 ran from the balun to the trusty Drake MN-4 and then into the Swan 100-MX.  The system worked well until a strong rainstorm took the structure down.  I made a mistake in not guying the mast properly.  I may try this delta loop again, only this time I will take care to build the antenna better.

Mobile antennas can be used in a pinch.

I know several amateurs who use mobile antennas ranging from Hustler systems to the latest Tarheel antennas.  With a decent radial field or elevated counterpoise, these mobile antennas will get you contacts at a reasonable cost.  I have used old Hustler masts, loading coils, and whips to launch my signals from compromised antenna locations.  I had a lot of fun despite the obvious limitations of mobile antennas.  Other systems, such as the Budipole and Outbacker antennas, may give you a more costly alternative to getting on the air.  As for me, I prefer to "roll my own."  There is a certain satisfaction in building your own antenna and actually having the contraption work!  To that end, I have accumulated several antenna books and a well-stocked "junk" box for my antenna projects.  In this area, the local hardware store can be a real treasure chest of parts, wire, and tools for your next antenna project.  Half the fun of being on the air is designing and erecting your own creation.  Besides, when I am working on antennas, the xyl always knows where I am, in case the "honey-do" jar gets filled up.  Now that I am semi-retired, there is enough time to keep the house in repair and to pursue amateur radio on a more regular basis.

That just about wraps up this monologue.  Have an excellent weekend with many contacts.  You may even want to build your own antenna....go for it...have fun!.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM
Laupahoehoe, Hawaii (The Big Island).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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

East Hawaii begins to dry out

After nearly two weeks of rain, East Hawaii skies are clearing.  Although the island is about 60 percent below normal rainfall, this rainy period seemed longer than it really was.  Most of the days were highlighted with heavy showers, flooding, and occasional lightning.  Evenings were mostly wet with scattered thundershowers and lightning--not really an ideal time to be on the radio.  Despite the heavy rains, the modest antenna "farm" in the back yard escaped damage.  The verticals were nested near ground level on cinder blocks 1-foot high, just enough to escape the run off.  The only antenna pressed into service was the 40-meter under the house loop.  Since the sun was mostly absent during this period of storms, the solar cells didn't do much to charge my batteries.  So, I generally stayed off the air and kept things out of harm's way.  Radio time was spent in maintenance and repair of my aging rigs (Swan 100-MX, Kenwood-520, and the trusty Yaesu FT-7).  I also found two interesting antenna articles in the November 2011 "QST".

Going on 80 and 160 meters from a space challenged location

The article entitled "A 160 or 80 Meter Downspout Vertical" on page 45 caught my eye since it appealed to my  "do it yourself" mindset.  Dave Holdemann, N9XU, describes how he built an effective 80 and 160 meter antenna out of two 10 foot sections of plastic downspout material, a toilet bowl capacitance hat, and some number 14 gauge wire he bought at a hardware store.  This quote really hit home:  "I'm always amazed at what can find at a hardware store that is adaptable to ham radio."  So true in many ways.  I've always enjoyed building my own wire antennas, partly because of cost concerns and partly because I get a thrill of having one of my "skyhooks" actually work!  I'm also cheap, an unfortunate result of being retired.  Once in a while, I get the opportunity to use a friend's station, complete with a modern rig and a decent beam.  That's quite an experience.  But in my current financial situation, modesty and low cost are the rules of the day.  I'm saving up for the Elecraft K3, but for the present, I'll work with what I have.

What do you do if your qth has no antenna room?

Also in the November 2011 "QST", is an interesting article entitled "The Never Ending Field Day" by Yigal Rchtman, K2EFG.  Yigal found that he could not operate from his four-story brownstone in Brooklyn, News York and decided to operate portable all the time (weather permitting).  So, equipped with a Yaesu FT-857D, a 15 foot photographer's tripod, and a Buddipole antenna system, he set out to have fun.  He succeeded in making contacts, got fully engaged in ARES work, and learned how to explain his presence to law enforcement officials who questioned his adventures in public parks.  If you wish to contact Yigal, visit

Upcoming contests
19 November 2001--ARRL EME
19 November 2011--ARRL November Sweepstakes
19 November 2001--RSGB Second 1.8 Mhz contest
A complete list of the month's contests can be found on page 89 of the November 2001 "QST".

That just about wraps up the week from the Central Pacific.  On Monday, it's back to the classroom and my students at Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School.  Teaching is a new profession for me and I have a lot to learn.  Thankfully, my xyl, who has been a school librarian and a teacher substitute for several years, is willing to "show me the ropes".  I've been helping her in her classes to get a sense of what's expected of me.  This is quite a rewarding challenge.  If things work out, I'd like to start a high school amateur radio club.  But that's in the future.

Have a good week, get on the air, have some fun!
Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hawaii QRP Club

Hawaii QRP Club meets

After the passage of a few months, the Hawaii QRP club held a meeting with the Hawaii Council of Radio Clubs at the "Back to the 50s Fountain" in Laupahoehoe--my qth.  Since the meeting was only .7 of a mile from the qth, I decided to drop in and talk with the Hawaii Island hams I hadn't been able to see in person because of my former job.  As a newsman, I usually worked seven days a week in Hilo, making direct contact with local amatuers very difficult.  So, once I retired, I vowed to keep a more active schedule with my fellow hams.  The Hawaii QRP Club meets daily at the Hilo Jack In the Box, just outside of Hilo, from 0600-0800 local time.  I won't be able to make most of those meetings, because I'm on standby as a substitute teacher for Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School.  So, it was a great experience to trade tall stories with those I've only contacted on the air.  Since I retired on 30 September, life has become more casual and less rushed than before.  No more news deadlines or getting on the highway to Hilo by 0300 hrs local time to complete another 12-14 hour day.  The job was fulfilling but also very taxing on my resources.  With gasoline prices toping $4.27 a gallon for regular fuel and a 70 mile round trip each day, the expenses were getting a bit much.  Although Hawaii Island has a good bus system (which is free for senior citizens such as I), the schedule has no provision for very early morning runs.  So, the transportation issue quickly became a prime concern as fuel prices increased.  Granted, the costs of fuel in Hawaii are considerably lower than in other places in the world, but the gradually rising cost of fueling my vehicle was beginning to take a bigger chunk of my limited budget.  I chose to retire and seek employment closer to home.  Teaching was an obvious choice with the public school being only a mile or so from my home.  Now that I'm semi-retired, I can participate in a few more amateur radio activities, including Field Day (last weekend in June) which I've only attended a few times in the past 37 years.  Things are looking up, radiowise.

Antenna work intermittent

Eversince Halloween (31 October), Hawaii Island has been blessed with rainly and somewhat stormy weather as the winter cold fronts begin their progression westward across the islands.  The rain and thunderstorms have retricted my amateur radio activities a bit, since I don't believe in operating with lightning in the vicinity.  I've already lost a vertical to a lightning bolt and have no desire to repeat that process.  As reported in a past update, I leave all of my antennas disconnected and grounded and unplug any electrical appliance (transceivers included) when storms approach.  So far, I've been lucky in escaping further threats from mother nature.  Between all of the thunder boomers, I've kept busy cleaning equipment, maintaining the battery power sources, and repairing the usual damage from salt air, insects, and various rodents.  With my vertical and inverted "v" antennas lowered to ground level during non-use periods, I have easy access for repairs and hopefully a reduced risk from lightning reaching my equipment.  Once the weather clears, I'll do some more work on the temporary 20-meter vertical dipole, which has performed well at low power (10 watts or less).  The inverted "v" is healthy and the under the house 40-meter loop is available for local nets. 

Other antenna ideas

The rental house upslope from the qth is vacant for awhile, which gives me an opportunity to string a "long wire" antenna pointing northwest.  Two years ago, I erected 135 feet of number 14 gauge wire as a random length antenna with a few 33-foot radials in the backyard.  The skyhook did a good job from 40 to 10 meters.  The trusty Swan 100-MX seemed to handle the temporary antenna with no problem.  There are a few 30-40-foot trees nearby which can support the structure.  I'll get to this project in a few days.

QRP Club schedule

Amateur radio operators are invited to attend the next monthly meeting of the Hawaii Council of Radio Clubs on Saturday, 0800 local time at Volcano's Lava Rock Cafe on the Old Volcano Road in Volcano Village.  As mentioned earlier, the Hawaii QRP Club holds daily meeting at the Hilo Jack In the Box, from 0600 to 0800 local time.

Have an excellent weekend.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Simple antennas for the Hawaii Amateur Radio Operator, part 15

Antennas--a cautionary tale

While reviewing the latest edition of, I ran across an interesting antenna "classic" by Don, W8AD.  "HF Antenna installation hints", originally published on 12 November 2006, offers many useful installation tips for those of us facing space retrictions, HOA and CC & R problems, and nosey neighbors.  Don provides a review of slopers, dipoles, antic antennas, and site locations for the intrepid radio amateur.  The follow up comments are also worth a read.  Don has written a good, basic primer for those of us a little rusty on the design and limitations of our "antenna farms."

Halloween is past and all of winter lies before us

This Halloween at the qth was wet, windy, and dangerous for those brave enough to do the "trick or treat" routine.  A cold front passed Hawaii Island Monday afternoon bringing several inches of rain, wind gusts of up to 40 knots, and generally dangerous driving conditions.  Many fruit trees were bent over in my neighborhood by the strong winds and debris covered miles of the Hamakua Coast Highway.  My xyl had prepared approximately 180 candy packets for the expected rush of the neighborhood children, but only 30 were given away because of the marginal weather conditions.  I see most of New England was blanketed by an early winter storm with some folks losing power until this weekend.  Not a good night for trick or treating.  According to the website, hams in New England have been busy keeping the communications lines open for law enforcement and emergency personnel.  Ole man winter appears to have arrived early...what a mess.  So far this year, Hawaii Island has escaped most of the heavy rains that usually fall from September through April.  The season is early and more rain is expected.  It will be welcomed, since much of the island is gripped by drought.  The Laupahoehoe qth has experienced only a half of the normal 75 inches.  The water shortage is especially acute in the Kailua-Kona area of Hawaii Island.  Many rural homes in Hawaii still use catchment systems.

Halloween scares in the radio realm

As mentioned earlier, Halloween was a very wet affair in my neighborhood.  After my xyl and I returned from our daily walk, I thought it best to lower the vertical dipole and inverted "v".  I'm glad I did.  The frontal passage brought about 5 hours of thunder and lightning.  A lightning strike took out a utility pole transformer several blocks from my qth.  I lost a vertical antenna a few years ago to a lightning strike...fortunately, all my equipment was unplugged and all antennas were disconnected from the house.  The fiberglass pole that supported the 40-meter vertical was blown to pieces and the coax running to the ground rod was thoroughly destroyed.  One of the things I do every night when I shut down the old Swan 100-MX is to disconnect and ground all antennas, unplug all appliances, and disconnect my PC from the mains.  Eventhough my amateur radio equipment runs off batteries, I disconnect everything.  The PC and other vital electronics (stereo, television, disc recorder/player) are connected to UPSs and surge protectors.  I disconnect them anyway when night approaches.  Hawaii Island gets a good number of "thunderboomers" throughout the year and I can't afford the chance of leaving equipment unprotected.  And even when the weather is fine (which is most of the time), the local utility faces power interruptions caused by earthquakes, landslides, traffic accidents, and the occaisonal lava flow.  The only sure source of power on this isolated chunck of basalt is a solar/battery system.  Many local businesses are installing solar systems to help offset the high cost of electricity in the islands.

I hope you enjoyed the holiday and didn't get "spooked" by the local children making their trick or treat rounds.  I guess the only people who look forward to this holiday are the children and the occaisonal dentist who will try to repair the damage done by a "jawbreaker" or too many snickers candy bars.  As for the CQ WW Sweepstakes--I got overwhelmed.  My 10-watt signal was no match for the 4-element monobanders, 100-foot towers, and the much admired Alpha amps.  I did have fun, though.  Everytime I dip into the contest pool I learn something.  Wait 'till next time.

Have a good day and get on the air......

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM