N1GY- The simple Approach to Ham Radio
Some problems that while not unique to Florida are certainly more pronounced here:
Lots tend to be small, often less than 2000 square feet.
Other homes tend to be fairly close by.
In many areas, power lines are quite close to the houses, particularly in mobile home communities So what are some solutions?
Compromise antennas are generally the best answer. These can be of several types.
Vertical antennas work quite well if properly installed with enough radials.
Mobile antennas can also be used successfully.
Wire antennas can be used if space available. Verticals are a good solution for small spaces. If there are CC&Rs to worry about, of course, provision must be made for hiding the antenna during the day time. Usually, this involves some kind of a tilt-over mount that lets the antenna hide behind the house during the day and be erected after dark. Another option is to hide the antenna in plain sight by using it as a flag pole or a support for something the CC&Rs may permit such as an arbor or garden ornament of some sort.
There are several vertical antennas that have been used with good results.
§The GAP brand of antennas is well known here in Florida and are made near Melbourne, FL. Because of the parasitic elements unique to the GAP concept, these antennas are not suitable for a flag pole disguise.
§There are several different models that do not require radials, notably the Titan (75/80 thru 10 meters) and the Eagle (40 thru 10 meters)
25 feet tall
mounts on 1 ¼” mast §covers 10, 12,15, 17, 20, 30, 40, 75/80
Does not need a tuner
21 feet tall
Mounts on 1 ¼” mast
Covers 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 40
Does not need a tuner
I have used this one very successfully for a number of years although since our move a couple of years ago, I have since sold it.
Tilt mount for ground mounting
GAP, The company
Speaking from personal experience, a very good company to work with.
Comet makes one model that I will discuss here-
Weight 7 pounds
No radials required
Mounts to 1” to 2” mast
Covers 3.5 MHz to 57 MHz
Handles up to 250 W SSB, 125 W FM
A fellow ham in Bradenton uses a CHA-250B as his only HF antenna and is very happy with it. §
QST review was less enthusiastic.
On the theory that any antenna is better than none and that installations will vary, performance is adequate. May be a good candidate for the flag pole approach but it will have to be enclosed in PVC pipe.
4 bands 6, 10, 15, 40 with trap radials
weighs 6 lbs.
11.8 feet tall
radials can be concentrated on one side for close to house mounting or tilt up/down for CC&R areas.
Very similar to CHA-250B
Coverage 2 MHz to 30 MHz
22 feet tall deployed
Again, a compromise antenna. I have not tried this unit so I cannot talk about performance.
4, 5, 6-BTV antennas are all trap verticals that require radials.
4-BTV covers 10, 15, 20, 40
5-BTV covers 10, 15, 20, 40 & 75 or 80
6-BTV covers 10, 15, 20, 30 40 & 75 or 80
Can be disguised as flagpoles if necessary. Removing the stubs from the models that use them will require retuning the antenna, but that is not difficult.
Covers 6, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40
does require radials
28.5 feet tall, may require guys
listed to handle 1500 watts
needs a 2” mast mount.
Cushcraft has several other models
Several different models that cover 4 to 8 bands depending on model
Most require radial systems to operate effectively.
Like Cushcraft, now made by MFJ. Vertical Antennas
If you live right by the water, a vertical antenna can be substituted for the mast of a small sailboat and the coax can be buried all the way to the house. One ham in this area has done this for years with an old Hobie Cat that never sails but with water all around the base of the antenna it works great. It pays to think outside the box.
In CC&R communities, some method of raising and lowering the antenna is mandatory. Several companies sell “tilt mounts” My solution is to use a converted trailer jack that cost me less than $20 brand new. I gutted it of the crank mechanism and use the shell to tilt my mast up and down. With a little ingenuity a tilt mount can even be motorized so you don’t even have to go outside to tilt it up or down. Just push a button at your operating position.
Any antenna of the vertical type with a tilt over mount can of course only be used at night, when the "CC&R Police" are hopefully in bed asleep. This does limit your operating opportunities. Other Antenna Types
Isotron antennas are a group of rather strange looking antennas, some of which can be combined on a single mount for multi-band capability. One of the hams in our local club often brings them out for Field Day and usually does well. I have no personal experience with them but reports are fairly good. They can usually be hidden behind a structure such as a house or out-building. Sometimes they can be disguised as some kind of bird house or garden ornament.
MFJ offers a number of “loop antenna tuners” for use with homebrewed loop antennas. Some reports are quite complimentary, others, not so much. Loop antennas are a viable option in CC&R communities where nothing else will work, because they can be stored easily and taken out only when used. Loop antennas are also easy to hide in gutters or under shingles on the roof of a house. Fed with a tuner right at the antenna, it is easy to hide the tuner or antenna coupler with foliage or structure.
Another option for the space limited ham is the “Hamstick Dipole”. Two mobile whips for the same band mounted back to back on an extendable mast will give a good account of themselves. Not as good as a full size dipole, but much better than no antenna at all. There is also the "Buddy-Pole" line of temporary antennas that can be easily set up for an afternoon of DX on a patio and then stowed away in mere minutes when operations are done.
Mobile Antennas II
Another “Mobile” antenna that can be used at home is the “screwdriver” antenna. Mounted on a short mast with 4 to 8 radial wires attached to the mount, a screwdriver antenna can be a fair performer. They come in powered or unpowered versions and by all accounts work quite well if set up properly. Since they are so short (usually 5 feet or less) they can easily be hidden behind foliage or disguised as part of a patio umbrella, perhaps.
Mobile Antennas III
Another way of using a mobile antenna is to mount it on your car and provide a way of switching the antenna to a length of coax run from your home station. The car provides the counterpoise to the antenna, but it is connected to the base station in the house. Just remember to disconnect before driving off in the morning to go to work. Of course, this will not work if the CC&Rs require you to garage your car instead of leaving it in your driveway.
One of the nice things about “Hamstick Dipoles is that with a telescopic mast they convert to NVIS antennas simply by setting them up closer to the ground.
This makes them good candidates for ARES use. Vertical antennas do not work well for NVIS work at all. Unless they are tilted down to horizontal where they can work surprisingly well. There is a reason all those military vehicles have their whip antennas tied down and it’s not to avoid bridges.
Most Mobile homes do not have an “attic” as such, but most other homes do. While a 160 meter antenna won’t fit in your attic, one for 20 meters or even 40 meters will, often surprisingly well. As long as the elements are symmetrical, they do not have to be in a straight line. One "drawback" or at least serious consideration about attic antennas is the need to keep power levels down due to RF exposure. There is also a greater tendency for RFI problems with the other electronic devices in the house due to the close proximity of the antenna.
Attic Antennas II
Another area where attic antennas can shine is VHF/UHF. Small beams can be purchased or homebrewed to fit neatly into an attic, even with a rotor. Since there will be no wind load, the rotor can be smaller and the antenna less robust than normal. Beam antennas are somewhat less prone to RFI than wire antennas since they direct their maximum energy away from the house. There still can be problems however, so plan ahead.
Really Strange Antennas
The Aluminum Pool Cage- If you have a wide coverage tuner and a pool cage, try loading the cage. You will have to hunt around a bit for the “sweet spot” but almost any cage can be made to carry RF. Of course, chase the grandkids out of the pool first.
If your house has aluminum rain gutters, make sure all of the segments are cleanly attached to each other and load the whole gutter system with a tuner. If the gutters are vinyl, just lay a wire in the gutter all the way round the house and feed it like a loop antenna. Use low power if you do since the family is now within the antenna.
Almost anything metallic can be loaded as an antenna under the right conditions. The big difference is going to be the efficiency of the antenna. Obviously all of these are compromise antennas. The efficiency is no where near a real full size dipole, no matter what the dealer says.
The question boils down to some kind of antenna or none at all. Most of us cannot afford to move to the country and put up 100+ foot towers just because we want to get some DX. If the antenna isn’t perfect, we listen harder, longer, and search out the DX all the more often.
In the March issue of QST, there is a very interesting article by Lorraine Wilson, W1AR about hiding a Hustler 5-BTV in plain (well not so plain) sight in California.
As you can see, even weird looking installations can work quite well. Lorraine reports that with this configuration mounted temporarily in her living room, she was able to rack up 36 states as well as Mexico and Canada.
Hiding the Antenna.
As I mentioned before, some antennas can be made to look like a flagpole. They even sell a “Flagpole” antenna (Force 12). Or you can just build a flagpole like I did, out of a 22 foot aluminum boat mast, insulated from the mount at the bottom, and connected to an Icom AH-4 tuner.
You can see the flagpole that I converted to a multi-band vertical at thye top of this page. . Because I have not yet laid down sufficient radials it is not truly efficient yet. (At my age, getting up the energy to bury 12 more 25 foot wires under the sod is somewhat difficult.)
An Alternate Solution
Recently, a different solution has entered the realm of possibility. A new device called the RRC-1258 is being offered commercially. While not cheap it offers the promise of keeping the control head of the radio at one's operating position and connecting it to the main body of the radio via the Internet. No computer needed. The main body of the radio, plus all the towers and antennas one could want are then sited anywhere you want in the world. That site would need to be free of any CC&Rs naturally. Some people have their operating position here in Florida with the actual tower site in Illinois. One need not go that far however. I am sure there are plenty of place in the farming areas of Florida that would permit the installation of a modest antenna farm for a reasonable fee. As long as they have DSL or faster connectivity and you do too, the hook-up is virtually plug and play. There are some cables to modify but that is not a difficult task.