N1GY- The simple Approach to Ham Radio
One of the most widespread problems here in Florida, besides gorgeous weather for most of the year, followed by hurricane season for the rest, is the pervasive presence of Homeowners Associations and CC&R’s. CC&R stands for Conditions, Codicils and Restrictions, depending on who you ask, of course. These contract terms usually specify what you can plant, what color you can paint your house and often where you can park your car. Very aggravating to say the least. There is one more thing they try to control, antennas. Not just TV or broadcast radio antennas, of course, but also amateur radio antennas. In fact, particularly amateur radio antennas. Notwithstanding the scientific studies that show that the presence of amateur antennas has no effect on home prices. Notwithstanding the incredible advantage of having a working means of communication after an emergency shuts down all other means of contact. HOA’s just hate antennas of any sort. It took an act of congress to make the HOAs allow satellite TV antennas, even though many millions of viewers use satellite receivers to receive their programming.
What to do? For the amateur operator who has to live in such a community, the difficulty in finding a way to erect an antenna, any antenna can be extreme. In a few cases, an accommodation can be found through negotiation with the HOA to allow a minimally visible antenna. In most cases however, the operator must find a way to hide the antenna, sometimes in plain sight, so that the HOA never even knows it is there.For VHF and or UHF antennas, the solution is fairly simple. Since these antennas can be less than 20 inches long, often they can be mounted on the back yard side of the roof, where they cannot be seen from the street. There is even a manufacturer who makes an antenna that can be added to a plumbing vent pipe where it passes through the roof. As it looks just like the vent pipe, they of course call it the “Ventenna”
For HF antennas, with the much longer length required, the situation requires a bit more “thinking outside the box”. Often a completely customized approach is necessary. As an example, if the lot in question has some mature trees in the right locations, a thin wire can be used to make a dipole or long wire antenna that will be virtually invisible to anyone on the street. The biggest problem is usually hiding the feed line to the antenna. If the feed line drops down a convenient tree trunk it can be painted to match the bark color.
If trees are not big enough or in the right locations, a loop antenna can often be installed on the roof of the house, hidden under the shingles. With this type of antenna, both ends of a continuous wire attach to the “hot” and “ground” points of a remote tuner or antenna coupler which itself can be hidden inside a “bird house”. The coaxial cable that connects the tuner to the radio can be buried under the sod to make it back to the radio room. If the house has aluminum rain gutters, the sections of guttering can be electrically bonded together to create a continuous run around the house. One short section of vinyl guttering can insulate one end of the run from the other. With hidden feed line or a disguised antenna coupler the results can be totally invisible and yet work surprisingly well.
There are also a series of antennas manufactured by the Bilal company called “Isotron” antennas. These look very different than the usual dipole or vertical HF antenna. While they are reported to be somewhat narrow banded and require careful tuning and installation, they are small enough to be hidden in the back yard or on a patio.
Another option, if the residence in question has an attic, is to install antennas in the attic space. One must be sure that there is a minimal amount of metal in the roof of course, or the installation will not work correctly. If the roof attenuates VHF signals too much, the installation of a beam or “Yagi” antenna can increase the RF power in a given direction to overcome the effects of the roof. This will however limit your available repeaters to the ones in that general direction. HF dipoles do not have to be installed in a dead straight line. If one plans carefully, the two halves of the dipole can be bent symmetrically so that each is a mirror image of the other. This will often allow a 70 foot long antenna to fit in a 50 foot attic.
Many homes in Florida include a pool. Often this pool is surrounded by an aluminum and screening construction called a “pool cage”. While it serves its original purpose in keeping insects and other things out of the pool area, it can, in some cases be fed with wire or coax and do double duty as an HF antenna. The secret is in finding that one “sweet spot” on the cage that can be coupled to the radio and effectively radiate RF. It goes without saying that no one should be in the pool cage when used this way. Since the situation for a “pool cage” antenna is going to be so unique, it is beyond the scope of this material to suggest specific methods. This is very much a “cut and try” experience.
If all else fails, there is nothing in any CC&R that controls what you can install on your automobile or boat. A quick disconnect fitting or two will allow you to connect the HF antenna mounted on your car to a run of coax inside the house to your radio room. Not perfect, but better than no antenna at all. I saw an article several years ago where a fellow operator in this predicament found out that he could keep a boat on the lake behind his condo. He purchased a catamaran sail boat and replaced the mast with an HF vertical multi-band antenna. The coax run was buried under the sod from his dock to his ground floor condo. Other than replacing the short run of coax from the dock to his “boat” every couple of years due to exposure to the sun, he has never had a problem. Not only that, but the HOA thinks the “sailboat” looks great on the lake.
In my own case, as one can see from the QTH page, the restriction came not from an HOA but from my spouse. She did not want my GAP Eagle antenna in the front lawn and I have to admit I shared her concerns. The GAP Eagle was sold off and a very nice 23 foot flagpole (an ex boat mast donated by Jim, KE4INM) went up on the lawn, its base surrounded by flowers. Hidden under the flowers was an Icom AH-4 antenna coupler which together with the radials planted under the lawn, made the “flagpole” work acceptably as an HF vertical. I even added solar powered flood lamps to illuminate the American flag at the top. That setup has since been changed to use the flagpole as a mast for my Octopus antenna and the tuner has been moved inside and replaced with an LDG unit.
Being a licensed amateur radio operator in a CC&R community does present some difficulties, to be sure. It does not, however, preclude any operating at all. When presented with restrictions, one must think creatively to arrive at a solution where the HOA “gets its way” but the amateur operator still has their antennas and the fun that comes with making use of them.