Saturday, January 14, 2012

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

This has been a busy teaching week at Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School.  Eversince I landed a long-term substitute teaching position at the school, there hasn't been too much time to chase radio signals.  My position involves working with several special education students--a real challenge.  My heart goes out to parents who are trying to bring their special needs children into the main stream of education.  The job is frustrating at times, but I get a lot of personal satisfaction helping these students get an education.  So much for an easy retirement.

As for amateur radio, I manage to get on late in the evening after lesson plans are done and student progress reports are compiled.  The time before my venerable Swan 100-MX and Kenwood TS-520 provides a way of escaping the pressures of the day.  I find cw relaxing.  I never thought I would look at cw that way, but, after all these years, the old J-38 key has become a real tension reliever.

On the antenna front, I found an interesting article in the December 2011 edition of "CQ" entitled "It's snowing...it must be antenna time!  Plus a review of the DX Engineering ATSA-1 Stealth Antenna."  Rich Arland, K7SZ, has written an excellent review of a multiband, stealth antenna that could help you get on the air without neighbors or HOA committees being disturbed.  Basically, the ATSA-1 is a second-generation stealth antenna system based on an MFJ remotely tuned automatic ATU feeding a 45-foot vertical wire.  The RF counterpoise consists of twenty 25-foot radial wires attached to what looks like a DX Engineering central mounting bracket.  The ATU is attached to the plate  and is very low profile.  Power for the tuner is fed through the coaxial cable using a coupler available from MFJ.  The project will take a bit of work and is a bit costly, with the retail price around $459.  The results seem to justify the price if you are forced to really conceal the antenna.  Arland believes the antenna will be almost invisible once garden decorations such as false rocks conceal the low-profile ATU.  I once tried a homebrew copy of this idea using a SCG-230 ATU, 50-feet of #14 wire, and a run of RG-8.  Although my counterpoise system comprised only 10 wires, it seemed to work well.  The hardest part of the project was the installation of the radials and trenching of the coax underground.  I removed the antenna when I moved into my current qth.  If you have the time and are willing to bury your coax, this might be another answer to running a stealth operation.  From what I can tell from the article's review and its accompanying photographs, the ATSA-1 system appears to be well-built and durable.

Once I finish my classroom work and lesson plans, I'll be able to tickle the atmosphere for some long-overdue relaxation at the console of my modest station.  Every minute at the station is worth the effort.  I have fun and that's one reason I keep the antennas up.  Of course, my neighbors may have other opinions.  So far, I haven't done anything to ruin the appearance of the neighborhood or ruin television reception.  All I do is run low power (10 watts or so) and lower the homebrew skyhooks when I'm done with my rf "psychotherapy".

Have a good weekend.  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Simple Antennas for the Hawaii Island Amateur Radio Operator--a continuing series

While I was perusing the 03 January 2012 update to eham.net, I came across an interesting article by Bob Raynor, N4JTG, entitled "Where do we go from here?  Some thoughts on your first HF Antenna."  Bob does an excellent job of explaining the basics of antenna design that even techical neophytes such as I can understand.  Bob belongs to the school of "homebrew antenna design" with a goal of getting on the air with basic, cost saving, and easily built antennas.  I'm all for that, considering my reduced income as a new retiree.

WHAT TYPES OF ANTENNAS ARE AVAILABLE AT A LOW PRICE/

Bob explores the design and building of several simple, yet effective antennas that are suitable for the space and financially challenged (that means me and thousands of other hams who are living in antenna restricted areas).  Included in his short article (with pictures) are the familiar center fed doublet fed with twin lead, the fan dipole, the basic dipole and inverted vee, and the wire gain antenna.  About the only antennas he didn't cover in the article were the vertical, sloper, and the loop.  I've built and used the antennas described in the article and they work given sufficient height above ground.  Best of all, these antennas won't empty your wallet.  Most of the materials are available at your local hardware store.  If you're a pack rat like me, you probably have wire, connectors, and a balun or two stuffed in your "junk box".  If you prefer coax cable feedlines, don't overlook RG-6 from your local cable installer.  He may have some short runs suitable for patch cords or even the entire feedline itself.  The 75-ohm impedance can be handled by most rigs.  Connectors suitable for mating the RG-6 "F" connector with UHF connectors can be found on the internet.  I've use RG-6 for several years with no harm to the old Swan 100-MX or the venerable Yaesu FT-7.  As long as you keep the power below 100 watts you should have no problem.  The RG-6 can also be used for matching sections.

I have nothing against commercial antennas marketed by the leading manufacturers.  They work fine and can save you a lot of time over the homebrew variety.  However, like the author of the eham.net article, I prefer to "roll my own".  That's half the fun.  Build it and see if it works.  Each project adds to your knowledge.  Coupled with a few good antenna books or antenna design software, you'll be building skyhooks that may rival the commercial products.

It good to see other amateurs willing to invest the time and energy in building something they can call their own.  So, check out the article and see what you can do.  Let me know how your project turns out.

Have a good week!  Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM (Russ)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Simple Antennas for the Hawaii Amateur Radio Operator--a continuing series

Happy New Year's Greetings from Laupahoehoe along the beautiful Hamakua Coast.  This was the first day I could spend some extended time with my favorite pursuit--Amateur Radio.  There are no obligations until I return to the classroom on Thursday.  With that in mind, I checked out the "antenna farm" in the back yard and ran a few contacts in the Straight Key Night event hosted by the ARRL.  I found the 40-meter inverted vee did an excellent job on 40 and 15 meters.  It's good to see some propagation after several years of marginal conditions. 

Before breaking for lunch today at around 2057 UTC, I decided to drop in on a "New Year's Net" hosted by Neal, AE1P up in New Hampshire.  His signals were excellent, running between 57 and 59.  It so happens I need New Hampshire for my QSL collection, so I just dropped my call into the roundtable, hoping a puny 5 watts could make the trip.  Wonder of wonders, he and a few others in the net were able to copy my old Swan 100-MX running a cool 5 watts off my solar/battery power supply.  Although I never got above 55 during the exchange, I was understood by most of those on the net.  Over the past few days, 15 meters and 20 meters have been the best daytime bands for my operations.  Ten meters was very noisy at my location.  I made a few other calls, but my signals were buried in the increasing noise level.  I'll send off a SASE and a QSL card and hope that Neal responds.  I still enjoy getting QSL cards--they form an interesing and colorful background for the shack in the corner of the living room.

The 20-meter dipole performed well over the weekend.  Nothing spectacular, but I did have a few interesting contacts into the western half of the country.  During the weekend, I received no complaints from neighbors, another reason to run qrp in a marginal signal area.  While most of my neighbors have cable or direct tv, there are a few who still rely on over the air transmissions.  So, I keep my footprint small and swivel the vertical and inverted vee to ground level when my operating is done for the day. All of this seems to keep the peace in my crowded area along the Hamakua Coast.

I didn't use the under-the-house 40-meter loop this weekend.  This NVIS antenna has been reserved for statewide nets and medium wave broadcast reception--two tasks the loop does quite well. 

I hope your holidays were safe, somewhat sane, and enjoyable for you and your family.  The winter vacation is coming to a quick close, and before I know it, it will be time to polish up my lesson plans and return to the classroom for my new job.  As a substitute teacher, I've had several opportunities to return to the profession for which I once prepared.  The experience has been a positive and instructive adventure.  I'm not sure who is teaching whom, but the lessons seem to get done and the students seem to respond to what I'm doing.  Although I won't be earning what I once did as a full-time broadcast journalist, there are compensations--less stress, becoming more involved in my community, and getting more time in the shack.  I hope to become more active on the bands as time rolls on.  Sometimes, life just gets in the way.  But now, with a less hectic schedule, I can enjoy more time at home, do more activities with the xyl, fix up the house, and spend a few hours chasing dx on the lower portion of 40 meters.  Anything above 7.225 Mhz tends to be a bit noisy in the Central Pacific.  There are still quite a few SW broadcasters who seem to prefer the upper reaches of 40 meters these days.

Have a good holiday...see you down the log!
Aloha  es 73 de KH6JRM ("Russ").