K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume XLII

The Secret to Working DX is Antenna Placement

Many years ago, I remember reading an interesting article in QST magazine, which originally looked like either a DX story or a description of a good antenna or perhaps, both.  The author’s primary premise was that the location and placement of the antenna was the secret to making great DX contacts.  The author described the antenna he used as being an unassuming,  resonant-length dipole made from simple AC zip cord like you use to wire up a lamp in the living room.  He told how he had stripped the two wires apart, tied the center together to keep it from continuing to separate, and had carefully hung it between two wooden posts, which were holding up the roof of his house's back porch.  He told how that, even though the antenna was less than ten feet off the ground it worked amazingly well and he owed it all to his choice of careful antenna placement. 

To back up his standings he told how, by operating CW at a very low power level, he had worked a tremendous amount of DX and to prove his point he listed the calls of all the stations he had worked and it was obvious that they were from QTHs all over the globe.  His story continued to develop and many readers began to sense a small drop of drool coming from the corners of their collective mouths as they read more about this wonderful antenna.  Wow, if he can do that, perhaps I can do the same.  How many readers thought, “ I don't need all those fancy towers and that collection of aluminum.  The secret is just how and where you place your antenna.”

But then, I got down to the end of the article and the author reiterated the important concept that he want to get over and that was, the placement of the antenna is the most important thing.  He then went on to say that this antenna was actually placed in Burma, or some exotic country in that area, and he was signing ?????.  I don't recall the exact call he shared but it was a dandy and suddenly, the whole story shifted to a different perspective.  Truly, antenna placement is the key and if it’s placed in an exotic geographic area, and that seems to be the ‘key’ to the ‘key.’

I've always had a somewhat non-physics, non-scientific ideas about antennas.  In my 50 plus years of hamming I've had some good antennas, some excellent antennas, and also some bad ones.   I've used commercially available antennas and build some homemade antennas that would make an antenna engineer shake his head.  My antenna philosophy has always been, put up the best antenna you can, as high as you can and then don't worry about it.  If you've done the best you can, under current circumstances, you can't do any better so just use it and enjoy it.  It might even surprise you how well something works.  Perhaps a more popular, more expensive, more carefully engineered antenna would perform better, but didn’t you do the best you could with what funds, real estate, time, and experience you had?  OK, then use………… enjoy what you have and don’t be envious of what others have that you don’t have.  Use and enjoy what you have.

Recently I got my own antenna results surprise.  Whereas my primary ham equipment is located in my detached garage I do have a simple rig inside my house conveniently located beside my Lazy-Boy recliner.   It's sort of like a "Studio B" area.   The rig I use in Studio B is a Yaesu FT-817.  It covers 160 meters through 70cm but maximum output power on any frequency is 5 watts.  I used the bias T antenna switch that was featured in a previous article, <http://www.hayseed.net/~jpk5lad/K5LAD%20Memories/Vols%2031-35/Memories--Vol33.htm> to choose one of 4 antennas located just outside the house.  Any antennas connected to this switch are not part of the collection of antennas available in "Studio A."  The primary antenna I use for "Studio B" is a Hustler 4BTV which is popular and available in lots of ham backyards.

When I owned the ham store back in the 70's, the 4BTV was a popular antenna for beginners and veteran hams alike.  It was multiband, relatively inexpensive, and took up not much real estate on the ham's property.  The instructions suggested that the user install multiple ground radials as a counterpoise to provide "the other half" of the antenna.  As the vertical was a quarter-wave on a particular band and a half-wave antenna more closely represents a good match for 50-ohm coax, a good counterpoise is a good idea.  Some people used a ground rod pounded into the ground right beside the vertical's feedpoint and hoped the antenna would recognize a good reflection of the antenna in the ground.  Unless the vertical was mounted in a salt marsh, the ground rod was not much of an effective counterpoise.   This often led to the feeling that a vertical is a poor antenna.  Still, going back to my original antenna philosophy, if that's the best you can do then "ya cain't do no better" and you just use it as many did.

  For a counterpoise I use the chain-link fence that is just outside my house's sunroom.   The L-shaped area of fence, about 12 feet by 8 feet is the type people use to create a pen for their dogs.  Actually, the fenced in area was built by the original homeowners but to allow an area for the owner to do gardening and keep their dogs out.  It is sort of a non-dog pen.  As a counterpoise, this fence works quite well.

I used an LDG Z-11 automatic antenna tuner to provide the final match between the transceiver and the vertical with its chain-link counterpoise.  This doesn't really scream to its ability to communicate on the amateur bands but it does perform quite admirably.  All of my operation inside the house is on SSB.  Put together all the ingredients of this station and you might wonder if any communications is possible at all, i.e., vertical antenna, strange counterpoise, and only 5 watts output.

Several weeks ago, during the evening when TV was made up of all reruns that had not been worth watching on their original showing, I was listening to 20 meters.  I heard E77XZ in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Europe) as he was working US stations.  He had quite a pileup going and my first thoughts were, "there's no way I can make it though that pileup and then get him to hear my poor little 5 watt peanut-whistle, especially with just a vertical."  I called him a couple of times when he stood by for another contact and on about the 3rd or 4th attempt, he came back to me.  I've got some other nice equipment including a tall tower, a nice SteppIR yagi beam, and plenty of legal RF power but I wasn't on that equipment; I was on the 'minimumest' of the minimum and I worked him.  I even got a 57 report from him.

lf this story has a point, it would be, "don't fail to try to operate or hold back, just because you think your equipment, or antenna, or power is inadequate."  It might just surprise you and a pleasant surprise at that.  I didn't even mention that since I installed my vertical, it was awfully close to a back yard tree, which has now grown and leafed out so much that more than half of the vertical tubing is touching leaves and branches.  Not an ideal situation but I doubt that the 5 watts came very close to setting the tree on fire.

Again, put up the best antenna you can with the money and land you have available.  Get it as high as possible and then use it…………… enjoy it…….. really wring it out………….. work the world………….. they’re out there just waiting for you.

 Published TARC Newsletter Ju;y, 2012

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