Antennas – The Key to Enjoying Ham Radio
If you are a serious DXer or have made any attempt to be competitive in Contests, or if you just like to be able to make QSOs with minimal disruption, then you know that good antennas are the key. I am talking mainly as an active HF user, but I assume this holds true for VHF/UHF and other Bands as well. I have always used fairly simple antennas. I have used many dipoles. and recently ZS6BKW (there is a great presentation that compares this to the G5RV that can be found here) wire antennas. Many years ago I had a tribander which included a 40m rotatable dipole. That was a decent antenna. Too bad I was too busy to find much time to use it back then. 40 years later, here I am getting more active in Ham Radio, and again starting with simple antennas. mainly wires. I also have a vertical that is hanging over the Chesapeake Bay, which does fairly well.
In the past 5 years, I started getting active in Contesting. My main focus has been just learning the ropes, and with my station, I have been more active in Domestic contests like QSO Parties and ARRL Sweepstakes. My station is usable for contests like that, but I have a long way to go if I ever want to win any of them. This Page is all about my quest for better antennas.
I just started reading a book about antennas called Array of Light by Tom Schiller N6BT. He starts out with a great comment about antennas – Everything “works.” What he is saying is that you can put almost anything up as an antenna and make contacts. In fact he worked all Continents and many Countries using what could be the worst possible antenna of all – a light bulb! I just love this commentary because I have been there and many of us are stuck there – if my antenna “works,” then why should I change it? The fact is that a basic antenna can get you some QSOs but if you really want to enjoy on-air Ham Radio, you need to think about the performance level of your antennas. If a light bulb “works” then a dipole must really work, a tribander must really, really work, and so on. Tom knows of what he speaks. He is an antenna expert extrordinaire, and has founded companies that produce commercial Ham antennas, pushing the state-of-the art in HF antennas. I think this is going to be a very enjoyable and informative book.
Realization of your Antenna System’s Performance
They often say that the first step in solving a problem is realizing that you have one. I had a couple wire antennas when I started working contests. As I improved my station and my contesting skills, I soon realized that there was a hard plateau that was limiting my progress. I was getting good QSO rates when there were plenty of Stations to work, but I soon realized that there was not enough of that time in a contest for me to be a serious competitor. During many of my “dead times,” all these other guys were running up their QSO counts and killing me. It soon became apparent that my antennas had become the weak link in my station. Sure I have plenty of room to improve as an operator, but that was not the only problem. I have also invested in some very good radios, so that was certainly not the limiting factor either. So – time to start getting serious about the antennas.
My Antenna Projects
You can find articles detailing my various antenna projects on this Blog, in separate posts. My recent projects are mainly HF wire antennas, primarily for use on the 160 meter through 10 meter Bands. These projects are usually based upon existing antenna designs. So I may not provide any inventions or novel twists, but I hope you will benefit from my trials, and maybe reduce your time to get similar antennas working. I have also started experimenting with some HF Receive-only antennas. These are especially popular on 160 meters and the LF/VLF Bands, but are also being used by many Contesters on 80 and 40 meters. I do not currently have any designs or plans to get on LF/VLF, but maybe someday.
Since I currently have all may antennas on less than a 1 acre lot, it is not possible to have per-Band resonant antennas. So I also experiment quite a bit with Tuners. I will post results of these experiments here on this Blog as well.
Please drop me a comment, especially if you see where I could have saved time or obtained better performance from one of my projects.