I responded to call from QST for articles in the summer of 1997. This article was initially rejected by an assistant editor who gave a rather lame explanation on the phone. I than called the managing editor for QST, and his explanation was they were not interested in using this material because "he felt" it was not "what people were interested in" despite the fact that it contained the following elements, antennas, DXing, operating,humor, etc. This amazed me considering so many people are operating in antenna restricted situations. Interestingly enough, about 9 months later an unbelievably similar article published by managing editor appeared in QST.
One final note - I had published in QST several times before. One article titled "A Big Signal from a Small Lot" was first published in QST in 1979 and it was published again in 1995 in the ARRL publication, "Vertical Antenna Classics". I received the QST cover plaque for a Surface Mount Article titled "The Mystique Behind Miniaturization" in 1987 and have published over 40 articles in electronic technical journals so my writing skills aren't that bad!
I apologize for the lack of figures and photos but never got around to adding them. Use your imagination. It's a simple antenna :-)
"A Big Signal from a Small Lot - Part II"
Dave Hollander N7RK
A sudden unplanned move to an apartment left me off of the air. Because of the sudden move, I did not have time to survey the apartment for the possibility of including amateur radio. As this story will attest, things worked out quite differently than I could have ever anticipated.
After being in the apartment for about six weeks, I was standing on the balcony sipping an 807 and staring off into space. All of a sudden, I noticed that their were trees about 20 feet from the balcony. These eucalyptus trees ranged from 35 feet to approximately 75 feet. All of a sudden a light bulb appeared! Having worked many field days in the past with wires, I realized that I might be able to get a piece of wire into the tree and this might allow me to do some SWLing and at least keep in touch with what was going on on the HF bands.
Next it was down to the local camping store to buy a wrist rocket aka a slingshot, some small lead sinkers and some 40 lb. fishing line. Next it was off to Home Depot to get some speaker wire. I use clear insulated speaker wire as it is not as visible and by splitting the wire you get twice as much.
Now came the difficult part. Across the street is a park. I had to be inconspicuous with the sling shot as I am sure that the police would have been called if someone saw grown man shooting a sling shot off of the balcony. I found the best time to do this was in the middle of the day when everyone was at work and no one was in the park. Because of the angle from the balcony to the trees, I could only aim for the 35 foot tree. I unraveled about 40 feet of the fishing line inside the apartment across the living room as fare as it could go leaving the remaining line on the spool. I attached the other end to the sinker. I aimed for the top of the tree and after a couple of tries put it right over the top. The weight of the sinker than pulled the line to the ground. I than attached about 35 feet of wire to the end of the fishing line which was on the balcony. Since an insulator would catch in the tree. I attached the wire to the line with a square knot and than wrapped it tightly with electrical tape.
I went down and found the sinker with the fishing line attached and tossed it back up to the balcony. I pounded a nail into the wood balcony floor and secured the loose end of the wire to the nail. I than pulled the other end which pulled the wire up to the tree until it was nicely suspended in the air and tied the fishing line off to the same nail.
I than attached the center conductor of a piece of RG-58 coax to the wire - I did not worry about the ground. I anxiously connected the other end of the coax to my radio, a Yaesu FT-900.
I fired up the radio on 30 meters and immediately heard some signals. Since the radio has an automatic antenna tuner, I figured I would see if my creation would load up. Pushed the button and bingo, it was tuned up. I heard a KD6 and called him and he came right back giving me a 579 some where in central California. No big deal, it was about 500 miles away. Next I heard a KL7. He came back and gave me a 569 in Anchorage. Not bad, especially considering it was only 4 pm in the afternoon in late December. Next, I decided to try 20 meters. Hit the auto tune button and loaded fine. Being a hard core DXer, I immediately skipped over some loud W's and found a JA. I called him and he came back and gave me a 579 in Tokyo. Next I called an HL9 and he came right back. This was followed by two more JA's and than a KC4 in Antarctica. This was very encouraging at this point as I figured all I would be doing was listening.
Over the next couple of days, I tried the antenna on 40 and was pleased that I could work the Pacific, Central America and stateside rather easily. A couple of days later, I returned from work and turned on the radio. The band sounded really dead. I walked out on the balcony and found the antenna was gone and the trees had been trimmed. No problem, I will just put it back up. This time I made the antenna around 55 feet long. It still had not occurred to me to make the antenna resonant. After all, I had the automatic antenna tuner to take care of things. Up went the antenna quite easily and this time I found I could also load the antenna on 80 meters. I decided that I needed a ground so I connected the braid to a long piece of braid which I connected to the ground on an electrical outlet. To get the coax inside the apartment without drilling any holes, I removed the CATV connector on the wall and used that hole. This was not a problem as I was not hooked to the cable. The ground run from the antenna to the electrical outlet was around 2 feet.
After playing around with this for a while, I had another brainstorm. I had always used verticals in the past and often I had used chicken wire as a ground screen. I thought why not give it a try. Back to home depot and back home with a roll of chicken wire. The balcony is around 8 feet by 6 feet so I cut a piece 8 feet long and held it down with some bricks. I than attached the coax braid to the chicken wire. This seemed to make things a lot more stable. At this point I was beginning to work a bunch of DX and I was even working some DX on 75 phone - the Pacific, Japan, Central America and the Caribbean. I used this setup for about 3 weeks and than I saw that the CQWW 160 test was coming up. I wonder if I can get this to play on 160?
I got a couple of big inductors from one of my friends and mounted the whole arrangement on a short piece of 2x4 standing up on the balcony. I placed the inductor in series with my wire and played with the taps. I ended up using the whole coil and was able to get it to load on 160. I had to retune about every 15 kHz. Into the test I went. I had no problem working anything under a 1000 miles early in the contest however I could work nothing beyond early in the test. Remembering past experiences, I went to bed and got up at 3 am which is east coast sunrise. Although it was a struggle, I began to work the east coast and midwest stations. The guys at the other end sure had a lot of patience because almost every contact was a struggle. Despite this, I worked both nights of the contest and managed to work 110 stations and 48 multipliers in 39 states and I also worked KH6, KL7, TI2, PJ, P4 and several VE provinces. A couple of days later, the neighbor below me stopped and asked me if I had a computer in my apartment. I said yes and asked her why she was asking. She said that the touch lamp in her apartment had been blinking at 3 o'clock in the morning. I correlated this back to the 160 test so their must have been a bit of stray RF flying around.
By the middle of February, I had worked over 60 countries and had begun to track my "Apartment DXCC" separately. I even began to think that DXCC would be possible. I set a goal of DXCC in 90 days. I almost made it. On the 90th day, I had 99 countries. On the 93 day, I had worked 104 countries. Most of my operation had been on 30 and 40 meters with some DX worked on 20 and 75 phone. I had even managed to work a few of the DXpeditions that had occurred during those first three months.
By the end of May, I had worked over 120 countries and the bands got pretty quiet for the summer. During the summer monsoon storms, the antenna came down twice, in both cases the wire snapped once due to a branch snapping off. The nylon fishing line never did break. One of the storms was really bad and produced 120 mph winds in west Phoenix. A number of the DXers in my club, the Central Arizona DX Association (CADXA) lost their towers and suffered severe damage. I had the distinction of losing my antenna also, however, I was back on the air the next day and my casualty losses were less than $5.00, hardly enough to file an insurance claim.
The bands began to improve in September and I began to work DX again. Around mid November, a friend offered to loan me an SB-200 Linear amplifier ( my 4-1000 was in storage). I figured I could get away with this in an apartment as I had not had any interference complaints at that point (one of the positive aspects of cable TV). Using the amplifier I realized that I could no longer use a random length of wire since the SB-200 was not blessed with an automatic antenna tuner.
The light bulb came on again! Why don't I redo the antenna and make it 66 feet long thus making it a 1/4 wave sloper. Since I was living on the second floor and my chicken wire counterpoise was around 8 feet above ground, this would actually make it an elevated ground 1/4 wave sloper which would definitely lower the ground losses. I went ahead, cut the wire to the correct length and lowered the old antenna and put the new one up in its place.
Using the trustee antenna analyzer, I saw that I had approximately a 1.3:1 VSWR at 3.8 Mhz and 2:1 at 3.5 mHz. Good enough for me as I only had a coax run of 25 feet. I loaded the SB-200 up for the first time and everything looked OK, no smoke, sparks or burning trees outside. I than realized that I also wanted to work 40 meters. Back in 1979, I published an article(1) titled "A Big Signal from A Small Lot" which described a 66 foot vertical covering 160, 80 and 40 meters in a small space. In this article, the antenna was a 1/4 wave vertical and a 1/2 wave on 40 meters. Thinking to myself, I realized that this antenna was actually very similar electrically except that it was made of wire and on an even smaller piece of real estate. Here I had a 1/4 wave sloper for 80 and an end fed 1/2 wave sloper for 40. Using the inductor I had installed for 160 and my trusty antenna analyzer, I quickly found the tap which matched the antenna for 40 meters. The SWR down on CW was around 1.3:1 at 7010 kHz. I decided to check the other bands at this time. On 30 meters, the match was terrible in either position - I had to use the automatic antenna tuner. On 20 meters, the antenna loaded beautifully while in the 80 meter position. For 160 meters, I had to add the inductor back in.
That weekend was the CQ WW DX test on CW. I found that everything worked quite well and I was actually able to get through some of the smaller pileups on 80 meters. I worked about 250 QSOs in 70 countries on 80, 40 and 20. The crown jewel was the XZ1N DXpedition who I worked on 80, 40 and 20 meters.
After the contest was over I added a relay at the base of the antenna so I could switch bands from inside. After all, who wants to walk 20 feet and open the door to the blazing Arizona heat to change bands. This consisted of a 12 volt SPDT relay with the taps for 80 and 40 hooked to the contacts. This is shown in figure _____. A small 12 volt power supply with the switch is on the operating desk and this is used to change bands.
Prior to the contest, I had worked 140 countries. I found that retuning the antenna and the addition of the amplifier made a tremendous difference. On 80 meters, that additional 6 db can make the difference between being heard and not being heard. Seeing how well everything appeared to be working on 80/75 meters, I set a new goal - work 100 countries. With the excellent winter conditions of 1996/1997, I easily accomplished this going from 35 countries in November to over 100 in around 3 months. I found my signal to be pretty decent on 75 and 80 got through the pileups without to much difficulty as long as the station on the other end had a decent signal.
The performance improved on 40 also. I continued to work lots of DX easier than before. The crowning achievement was working VK0IR, the Heard Island DXpedition on 40 which was the only band I was able to hear them on. Although they worked over 80,000 QSOs, only 3000 were with west coast stations so I felt extremely fortunate to work them.
The antenna also worked on the higher bands using the automatic antenna tuner so I was able to work some DX on 17 - 10 meters also.
I moved back into a house in May of 1998 thus ending the N7RK apartment saga. Here is how things ended up.
The point of this article is that you do not need to have high power and large antennas to work DX. This was all accomplished at the bottom of the sunspot cycle on the lower bands. Antenna costs were minimal and the use of trees made this possible. In CCR type situations, if at all possible, don't rule out the use of trees with very thin gauge wire for antennas if they are at least 25 feet tall. I would prefer to use an antenna such as I described over a tri-band beam mounted in the attic. The key to the antenna being to get it out in the open and as high as possible. Also do not rule out trying to make the wire tuned as opposed to just a random length. It is not that difficult to build a matching network and the improved performance will be worth the extra effort.
Here is a photo of my apartment station that I used from 1995 to 1998.
(1) "A Big Signal from a Small Lot", Dave Hollander - N7RK, April 1979 QST
Copyright © 1996-2014 by David S. Hollander N7RK
All Rights Reserved.