One Antenna to Rule Them All?

At my home location, I have been on a quest for a decent multiband antenna that fits in my crowded back yard. By multiband, I mean a single antenna that does multiple bands well, without manually adjusting the antenna. Just switch bands on the radio, I do not mind needing to use a tuner, if the antenna will perform. I don’t quite have room for a fan dipole or a DX Commander with a proper radial field.

I have 2 antennas that are decent, and that both fit in my yard AT THE SAME TIME, each with some issues that effect performance.

1) My Hustler 6BTV (six band trap vertical).
Positives: It gives me vertical 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, and 80 meters with no need for antenna tuning. My radio’s internal tuner surprisingly gives me a good enough match on 6 meter to use it to hit local repeaters, even though I know barely anything is making out of the antenna.
Negatives: In reality, 80 on it is pretty useless, so it’s really a 5BTV. I was unable to mount it with an effective ground radial field, and use the fence as a ground supply. This works ok, but I know not efficiently. It’s location is also close to the garage with aluminum siding, and some trees that definitely effect performance when the leaves are out.

2) My EFHW-4010 end-fed wire.
Positives: It gives me 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters without a tuner, 12 & 17 with the radio’s internal tuner, and 30 meter using an external tuner. I’ve also been able to use the external tuner with it on 80 and 160 to fool my radio enough top use ft8 there but nothing else. It’s practically deaf there as it is not designed for it at all.
Negatives: I had to move the antenna 3 times before I was able to get at least one end of it high enough. (The manufacturer even says not to expect much of it under 30′ up.) Once I got it up that high, one end of it was very close to power lines, interfering on the higher bands especially. It also has the when-the-trees-have-leaves issue because of its location.

Between these two antennas, I can do a lot, and have been mostly happy with them a lot of the time. But we hams always want more. I keep looking for decent ways to get on 80 meter, for example, but I don’t have room for a full length wire. I also don’t particularly relish an antenna that is only for one band, or a third antenna crowding up the back yard.

But then I started paying more and more attention to doublets. One of the biggest performance issue with both my antennas is the long coax runs. When I do use a tuner, I know I am mostly just making my radio happy, and that most of my signal is leaking out of the coax on the return trip anyway. A major advantage of a doublet is that it uses balanced line such as ladder line or window line. With balanced line feeder, losses can be very low, even with high SWR, and the tuner can successfully redirect the returned power back to the antenna without much loss. The disadvantage for most people is that an external tuner is required, and running balanced line can be tricky compared to coax, Neither of these are issues I worry about.

But a good doublet is long. At least long enough to be near a half wave on your lowest band. And I pretty much already concluded that I’m not adding antennas unless I get 80 meter as well. So a doublet project was something I was reserving for if I ever move.

Recently, though, I started seeing people experimenting with linear-loaded doublets. A common trick is to build the doublet out of window line, and twist the wires together at the far ends so the current doubles back and electrically lengthens the antenna. Even doing this, the length may be pretty long for my yard if I want 80. Until I stumbled upon the concept of a “Cobra” antenna, which is simply adds a 2nd bend in the path (so the electrical path is now a “S” instead of a “C”. It looks something like this:

This Makes Sense If You Squint

I have a spot I can fit a 40 foot antenna in, and it will provide a nice path for the window line to my shack window. Actually, I plan to run the window line to a 4:1 balun outside the window, and then run a short length of coax through the window to my coax-only tuner.

Parts are on the way. I plan to take pics during the build, and update the results here. If they are GOOD results, and I can get good performance on multiple bands 80-10, I will likely also make a video.

Moral: planning projects keeps your brain busy and distracts it from the angst of existence. I mean, Moral: Do stuff!

Ham Shack Cleanup

As you may have noticed from my Virtual Ham Shack Tour video, things were a bit mess at chez W8NAT. Add that I also use the space for my work-from-home for the last couple months, and I had to do something.

I bought a riser for my monitors and a power distribution unit for Anderson Powerpoles. It’s not perfect, but man, it is an improvement. I’m actually enjoying longer sits at the radio and even working from home at the station.

Here, I made a video about it:

I’m a YouTube Starrrrrrrrrr

Moral: Build up, not out.

Win4Icom (Video!)

I finally caved and bought Win4IcomSuite to use with my 7300. I played out the 30-day trial long ago, after waffling for ages about whether or not to buy it. I recently discovered the latest version includes a feature for the waterfall that I didn’t have available during my trial, and it pushed me over the edge to buy it for my set up.

I made a video demoing the software, and here is is:

Pay no attention to my family laughing in the background.

New Video, New Channel

So, I decided to make a ham-centric YouTube channel instead of uploading Ham and non-Ham stuff to my general account. I copied the two radio videos that were already uploaded over to the new channel, and added links to avoid anyone thinking there was content-theft involved, and updated the embedded videos here to point to the new channel versions.

The new channel is HERE.

And to celebrate, I uploaded its first video, a tour of my Shack:

Moral: Doing stuff is fun.

Across the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard

Where the Booming Heavens Roar

I may have mentioned previously that I like the chatty digital modes. One of the things that encouraged me to get back on the air a few years ago and upgrade to General was the various digital modes that had surfaced over the years. And this was before FT8 took over everyone’s attention.

To date, my favorite mode has been Olivia. It has several variations, but is robust and easy to use, and its sending rate is just slow enough that I can type ahead while transmitting. I’ve had several pleasant ragchews on Olivia over the last few years.

While I’ve had a few opportunities to play with other related digital modes, Olivia is certainly the most popular of its kind. But the other night, while I was about to call out on Olivia, I saw something unusual– multiple THOR signals.

One was in a QSO and using a higher width that I can’t remember, and two others were using THOR-4. I began googling to see if there was some sort of THOR event that day, but found none. Then I responded to a CQ, and had a nice conversation with someone who used to live almost in my neighborhood.

During this conversation, I got to see the power of Mighty Thor. There were considerable moments of signal fading going on, reducing the incoming signal to inaudible to my ears and dim on the waterfall. But THOR’s Forward Error Correction stayed at 100% through it all and I didn’t lose a word, or even a letter, and I didn’t get any errant characters.

When I finished that QSO, another fellow called me and I had similar results. I am now completely sold on THOR’s amazing anti-fading power in situations that would make an OLIVIA QSO have holes.

THOR, like any other mode, is not perfect. The main drawback with THOR-4 is how slow the character rate is. At one point, I finished typing a response and added my BTU macro at the end, got up, went to the restroom and got some drinking water, and returned to my radio desk to find my transmission about 75% complete. It’s not for people in a hurry.

But it *IS* quite fun, and so I shall be calling CQ on THOR much more often.

Moral: Beedlebeeboobeeboobeeboobeeboo

The Simplex Things in Life

Years ago, when I was a little ham, and my only radios were an Alinco DJ-162 and a Radio Shack HTX-212, I was very happy on just 2 meter for a long time. The reason is a group of people I knew. Just before I first got my ticket, a friend, who was an Amateur Extra, told me that he and some friends hung out on a simplex frequency most of the time instead of talking on a repeater. I got the Alinco handheld while I was studying, and while I was waiting for my license to come in the mail so I could transmit, I started listening to them.

By the time the license came, I knew who all of them were (I actually knew the aforementioned Extra and another guy in the group from, well, another radio service). They were a very funny crew. Dry, biting humor, silliness, and best of all, a complete lack of regard for the pomp that was (and still often is) popular on repeaters: saying every call sign in the conversation every time you finish a transmission, worrying about who’s turn it was in the rotation, etc. Just a group of people hanging out and talking. One habit they had, which I still have to this day, was taking pauses between transmissions. Before wisecracking, pause and give someone a chance to break in.

Anyway, other than a drive to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wherein I and a friend decided to see just how far away I could drive before I wasn’t hitting the BIG repeater anymore, hanging out ragchewing on 2 meter simplex was the most fun I ever had on 2 meter.

Well, this week I got tired of the bad recieve and terrible microphone audio on the cheap UHF/VHF radio I was using, and got myself one of these to use as my base station:

That’s an Icom IC-2730. Yes, that’s a D-104/TUG-9 desk mic behind it, and yes I hooked the D-104 up to the 2730, but the audio is all wrong for FM.

Not only does it receive repeaters I couldn’t get through the noise on the old radio, but people say the audio sounds great when i transmit. So of course, I wanted to try it on simplex as well. I got on 146.520, the national 2 meter simplex calling frequency, and just started occasionally calling out. I was pretty casual about it. Stuff like, “Hey, is anyone hanging out on simplex today? This is W8NAT”.

It wasn’t long before I got an answer, which led to a nice long conversation with a fellow about 8 miles away who makes it a habit of having his radio listen on 146.52. I had a blast.

So, I will also make it a habit of monitoring .52 when I’m around the radio. Repeaters are fun, but simplex is more funner.

Moral: nostalgia can be a good motivator.

2020 CQ WPX!

Being busy has kept me from radio activity for a while. But some radio things have happened that have not been documented here. Like the trees sprouting leaves and getting too close to the 6BTV antenna, and me pretty much wrecking the antenna trying to relocate it.

While I really like the Wolf River Coils antenna I posted about and will be using it for portable ops, at home I have been using an EFHW-4010 wire up about 30 feet for most of the last year. It does well enough on 40 and 20 to keep me happy, but really this year’s CQ WPX SSB contest was a nice test of the setup. It performed great on 40 and 20 meter, and held its own on 15 and 10 meter when there was traffic there.

I am NOT a serious contester, but for me it is a great excuse to get out there while people are actually on the air. As you may recall, I made a whopping 50 contacts in my previous WPX run 2 years ago (last year, personal life took me out of the game). This year I hunkered down, got serious and DOUBLED THAT NUMBER. I AM A BIG STATION NOW!

To give you an idea of how casual a contester I am, I only went to 100 contacts because I found myself at 80. I had already beaten my record, but I decided I wanted to try for a full 100, just to do it. In the meantime, I was talking to stations giving out serials in the two-thousands. When I hit 100 contacts, I stopped, and uploaded my log even though the contest had more than 3 hours left. I was done.

But it was fun and rekindled my enthusiasm, which is always nice. It was also fun to compare the hectic Friday night big gun activity with Sunday having a lot of running stations who were, like me, under 100. I again stuck to hunt & pounce this year.

Biggest hint I learned this year? Your RF Gain is even more powerful than your filters when trying to quiet interference from adjacent frequencies.

Biggest complaint? Running stations who “QRZ” 10 or more times in a row without identifying themselves. I’m not calling you if I don’t know who you are. Second biggest complaint is repeating my call with nonstandard phonetics so I think you got it wrong. Me: “Whiskey Eight November Alpha Tango”. Them: “Washington Eight Noodles Aroogah Tsunami, 59 178”.

Anyway, a splendid time was had again.

Moral: Make yourself play.

My head hertz

Field day is a lot of fun, even if you can’t go out in the field. This year between work schedule and getting Whooping cough (I am not kidding), I was trapped inside. Lucky for me, I was trapped inside my house where my radio is.

So I participated in Field Day as a 1D– a 1-person operation in a base station with regular power. In other words, the “I want to play on field day but I want to keep effort to a minimum” class. Not only did this allow me to join in, it allowed me to work in bursts between coughing fits, choose my pace, and not have to worry about messing up anyone else’s goals. I figured that while I couldn’t go out and play, I could still help other people get contacts and make some of my own. After all, the bands would be active.

I did say it was fun. And it was. But I also aged quite a bit. I am only 50 years old. Some of you think that is old. Others know it is not old yet. But boy did playing Field Day bring out the grumpy old man in me in several situations, particularly because:

Element 3: General
Subelement G2 – Operating Procedures
Group G2B – Operating courtesy; band plans, emergencies, including drills and emergency communications

Question G2B05
What is the customary minimum frequency separation between SSB signals under normal conditions?
A. Between 150 and 500 Hz
B. Approximately 3 kHz
C. Approximately 6 kHz
D. Approximately 10 kHz

Correct Answer: B

A SSB signal is just under 3kHz wide. About 2.8kHz, really. When you study for your license, if you study the material and not just the question pool answers, you know this well. But even if you memorized just the questions and answers, you should know this 3kHz guideline from memorizing the above question.

Field day is a busy and crowded situation. Everyone operating SSB 3kHz from everyone else is probably an unrealistic goal, especially on the congested 20 and 40 meter bands. Fine. But even if you find yourself skimming the bandwidth, you should know this 3kHz guideline from memorizing the above question.

However, that is assuming you actually know what a Kilohertz *IS*, and what one looks like on your radio display.

For example, 14.268 Megahertz is also 14,268 kilohertz. If you know this, you know that 14.259 MHz is only 1 kHz away from that. Adjusting your display from 14.268.000 14.268.003 is only 3 Hz. Adjusting to 14.268.3 is only 300 Hz.

This is where I got grumpy. If people were trying to get away with 2.5 or 2 kHz, or even 1.5 kHz knowing there would be some interference but that communication could probably be achieved, I would write it off as people trying to squeeze the most out of congested bands. People who know they aren’t fully in their lane, but trying to squeeze through with everyone else.

But I don’t know how many times it turned out the loud splatter interference I heard was coming from a station EXACTLY 3Hz, 30Hz, or 300Hz away from the one I was trying to respond on. This is basically driving in the same lane but a little closer to the line. There’s going to be a collision.

The ‘3’ was right, and yet the result was so wrong. The only way I can think to explain this is knowing the answer to the above question while not actually understanding what it means. For crying out loud, learn your decimal places, people! Or more to the point, memorizing the question pool is like bringing the answer key with you to the test. You’ll pass, but that won’t mean you’ve learned anything.

Moral: Ok, I am old now. Get off my lawn.