K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories
Look, Its the Lone Ranger!
By Jim Pickett K5LAD
Search keywords: Ringo, Ringo Ranger, Derrick Electronics, Larsen antenna, unable to tune a Ringo, bad SWR
During the early days of my owning Derrick Electronics in Broken Arrow, the Cushcraft Corporation of Manchester, New Hampshire came out with a new type of antenna for the growing 2 meter FM crowd. Cushcraft had already made a name for themselves with with several antennas including their 11 element 2 meter yagis that could be mounted ether in the horizontal plane for the older 2 meter AM group as well as a smaller group who operated 2 meter SSB and CW. They also had a nice line of other aluminum sculptures, mostly for the VHF and UHF bands. As I recall, this was prior to the days when Cushcraft started building their line of trapped, multi-band high frequency antennas now popular with a worldwide ham population.
When 2 meter FM became popular in the mid 1960s, it was popular to use a ¼ wave ground plane which was, of course, vertically polarized with a 360 degree omni-directional radiation and receiving pattern. A few companies made available, to the mobile operators, a 5/8 wave mobile antenna. I remember one of the most popular being one made by the GAM Company located, by coincidence, also in Manchester, New Hampshire. Whereas a ¼ wave antenna would easily match a 50 ohm coaxial feedline, it did have a high angle of radiation and offered a better signal pattern to airplanes in the area rather than other stations in outlying areas from the mobile or base station. This was before the days of popularity of the Larsen Antennas for hams. Larsen was a highly popular mobile radiator among the commercial radio group but few hams had really discovered the Larsen line yet .. but more about that later.
As a vertical antenna is lengthened, the angle of radiation comes down closer to the horizon until around the 5/8 to ¾ wavelength where it is the lowest. As the radiator is lengthened further, the angle tends to rise back up. These longer lengths are preferable to the ¼ wave size for the gain they provide, both for mobile and base operation, with the exception that those particular lengths are NOT a good match to the 50 ohm feedline that is ordinarily used. Typically the feedpoint impedance is rather high so that is why you see some sort of matching device at the base of a ½ wave to 5/8 wave antenna.
Later, Cushcraft added a similar design for a 70cm Ringo, a 220 MHz model, and a 6 meter Ringo. They also had a 10 meter model that, by coincidence was tunable to a group of frequencies just a bit lower in frequency to 10 meters, but quite close by. Interestingly enough, the 70cm Ringo was so small that many though it resembled a small sword or knife with the antenna piece resembling the blade and the ring representing the hilt of the knife. These new models also provided the ground potential lightning protection, a definite bonus.
Between the introduction of the Ranger model and the additional phasing coax/radial modification, Cushcraft shipped a batch of the 2 meter Ringo Rangers, which would not tune up properly. With all the adjustments available on these antennas it was confusing as to why they were not adjustable but it was impossible to get the SWR down to a low enough value. Ringo Ranger owners who had successfully tuned and used this same model were stymied by their inability to find a good match. I dont recall the exact numbers but I do remember that you just could not obtain a low SWR on those antennas, regardless of what you tried.
The time period for this shipment of antennas was somewhere around 1975-1978. I cant remember the exact time as it has been too many years but it seems like I had received about 20 or 25 of the Rangers to stock and sell. Soon I started hearing from customers who were unable to get their antenna matched correctly. This was a time when few local hams had exotic RF test equipment, particularly for the VHF and UHF bands, so it was thought that perhaps this is what was causing the problem.
I could understand the level of frustration of these people because had bought one of these Ringo Rangers myself, from that batch, and I had struggled with it for hours at a time. I knew I just must be doing some small thing incorrectly but, for the life of me, I couldnt figure out what it was.
Finally, after fielding many customer and dealer complaints, Cushcraft determined that the problem was actually caused by a factory manufacturing error concerning the base insulator, the plastic piece between the base tube and the bottom of the antenna near the ring. This piece had been cemented incorrectly and the critical dimensions where these pieces were placed failed to form the exact value capacitor, which was part of the matching of the antenna. There was no way a customer or a dealer could do the repairs and Cushcraft sent replacements for all the defective antennas we could identify for that batch. I replaced a bunch of the ones I had already sold (including the one I had bought) and pulled and returned all the ones I still had in stock. There were a few instances where I was unable to track down the one who purchased one of these defective antennas and Im sure some of those folks had a healthy bag of bad comments to share about Cushcraft antennas and perhaps even me as a dealer.
I was able to get most of the ones I had sold, replaced, but I apologize again after all these years if you were caught in this manufacturing disaster and were never able to make it right. This does mean, however, there are some of these antennas that were never replaced and are still out there floating around, no doubt with their owners still trying to figure out how to get the SWR down on them.
Perhaps the moral of this story is, if you ever purchase a piece of equipment or antenna that had good reviews but you didnt find it to be as good as others said, contact the manufacturer and or dealer and see if, perhaps, they are aware of a problem and are attempting to make it right. Even automobiles have recalls to repair a defect that happened to their products.
Also, if someone offers you a Cushcraft Ringo Ranger antenna with the comment, You can have this one, I never did have much luck tuning it up and Ive had it out in the barn for years and years, perhaps they had one of the bad batch where a few escaped detection and replacement. I think the statute of limitations for replacement has probably long-since expired for Cushcraft, especially since they are no longer in the amateur antenna business, having sold that department to MFJ several years ago.
I recently saw a note on one of the Internet reflectors where a ham was lamenting the fact that he had a Ringo Ranger someone had given him and he couldnt seem to get the SWR down on it. I sent him a short note to describe in miniature what Ive described here in detail. In fact, that is what jogged my poor old memory and prompted me to write this article. I hope it helps someone.
By the way -- about those Larsen antennas Id mentioned earlier; when I opened my ham store I was aware of the excellent quality of the Larsen antenna products and I contacted them about becoming one of their distributors. I was allowed to join their current list of dealers and many years later, I read in the quarterly newsletter that Larsen sent to their dealers, a comment made by the owner, Jim Larsen (SK) who originally held a W7 amateur call and was later K7GE. He was telling a bit of the history of the Larsen Antenna company and he mentioned that their niche of the market had been in the commercial radio field but in the early 70s, a little ham radio store down in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma had become a dealer for them and kept ordering more and more antennas for their ham customers. He decided that maybe they ought to take a look at putting a greater emphasis for their products into the amateur radio market. It made me feel mighty proud and some of the folks reading this who were some of my customers helped to make that possible. Thanks to you all!!
Written March 27, 2013 - published TARC Newsletter April, 2013