N6IET Rick

Profile Photo: Taken during the July 2017 Flight of the Bumblebee QRP 4-hour contest of me and my Weber Tribander QRP rig with AlphaLoop antenna.

Handle: You can call me Rick.

Below is a selfie I took in March 2017 of me at my bedroom station.

My Ham Radio Interests

HF CW: QRP/QRO QRS/QRQ QSK; Traffic nets; Rag chewing; QRP and straight key sprints, portable operations.

My CW Hangouts: I monitor or call CQ most mornings between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time between 3545 and 3556 kHz  and between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. between 7034 and 7056 kHz looking for a CW rag chew. I’ll happily QRS down to 10 wpm using a straight key, or 16 to 23 wpm using a bug, or QRQ to up to 30 wpm using paddles and keyer. Check my skimmer spots at ReverseBeacon.net to see where to find me. On nice spring and summer days I often use my FT-857d running on solar/battery power on my balcony. Mostly, I use my TS-590sg in my bedroom.

In either case I use one of my extended, sideways (horizontal) Hustler MO3 mobile antennas mounted on my balcony wall. Each antenna now sports a double-length radiator rod making each antenna about 14 feet long with the coil and stinger and not counting the sheet metal balcony wall cover, which provides the ground half of each antenna. The antenna pointing east I normally use on 160, 80*, 60, 40*, or 20* meters. (Asterisks indicate my optional use of KW-rated resonators for use with my KPA500 amp.) The Hustler off the corner of my balcony pointing north has a tri-coil bracket out 4.5 feet with resonator coils for 30, 20 and 17 meters, and I’ve added another 4.5 foot extension rod with an 80m resonator at the end, so this is now a quad-band antenna, and it works great!

CQ FRN: Members of the North American QRP CW Club (NAQCC) and other CW enthusiasts residing in the Western States are welcome to join us on the FarnsWORD QRQ roundtable nets, FRN, Sunday evenings at 5:00 p.m. PDT on 5348 kHz (Ch 2), and again at 8:00 p.m. PDT on 3556 kHz.  There’s also an FRN net on 40 meters every Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. PDT on 7046 kHz.

We’re working on our “head copying” skills by sending 21+ wpm with proper or exaggerated word spacing.  We sometimes QRQ to 23 or 25 wpm during the last half hour of each net, depending on the abilities of the stations who are still checked in. The 40 meter net starts at 23 wpm and goes up from there. Check in QRP for signal reports, if you like, but feel free to QRO if conditions warrant. Seasonal changes in propagation dictate occasional schedule and band changes (see http://naqcc.info/cw_nets.html).

SCN: Want to get your feet wet in a slow CW traffic net? SCN (Southern California Net) is affiliated with WAN (Western Area Net) and RRI (Radio Relay International). SCN meets every weeknight at 7pm Pacific Time on 3542 at about 13 wpm, initially, inviting new and slow stations to check in. If no slow stations QNI, we QRQ to about 21 wpm. We originate, receive, relay, and/or deliver friendly radiograms to exercise our skills for handling emergency and welfare traffic. Take a listen!

HF Propagation: Scheduling HF CW nets or short-distance contacts on the low bands (40 thru 80 meters) requires an understanding of NVIS (near-vertical-incident skywave) propagation. Generally, we enjoy NVIS with low D-layer absorption mid-morning on 40 meters, around sunset on 60 meters, and after dark on 80 meters. To work longer distances (over 1000 miles), you need to get on the low bands after dark or before sunrise, or on 20 or (sometimes) 15 meters during daylight hours.

VHF/UHF: I enjoy talking to friends and strangers on 2-meter and 70-cm FM repeaters and simplex at home from my balcony, using my FT-857D and my Arrow vertical yagis on the same mast that supports my Comet GP-95 vertical, which is mounted on my balcony wall and bracketed to the roof fascia. The base of the vertical sticks about 20 feet above the roof. I have also designed and built a horizontally-stacked 70cm 20-element vertically-polarized yagi for simplex work. 

Bicycle Mobile: I also enjoy talking on various 2m and 70cm repeaters while riding one of my bicycles to and along the beaches using either my Yaesu FT-60 or my Tytera MD-380 DMR HT mounted on my handlbars, with external rear-mounted 40-inch mobile whip and a single-earpiece headset with boom mic under my helmet. 

HF Portable: I often take my KX2 and 30-60 watt HF Packer Amp and a Hustler MO3 mobile antenna (and the resonator coils for whatever bands I plan to work) on my bicycle to Will Rogers State Beach and set them up at a railing above a wheelchair ramp to check into the PARG net on 7034 kHz at 9am and go from there. I’ll QSY to 30 or 20 meters if conditions warrant. I also have a Buddipole configured as an “Inverted-T” vertical ground plane (13-foot center-loaded vertical with two 7-foot parallel-loaded elevated radials) that I occasionally take on my bicycle to a ridge or cliff overlooking a canyon or beach.

QRP: Let me say this about QRP. When the band conditions are great, and you have a good antenna, it can be a lot of fun. I have three QRP rigs, my Weber Tri-bander (40, 20 and 15 meters), my Ten-Tec Patriot (20 and 40 meters), and my KX2 (80 thru 10 meters).

Back in the 60s and early 70s I used to work 40 meter CW with a homebrew crystal-controlled transmitter and matching receiver (each built into a 3″ x 4″ x 5″ Bud minibox). I was running one watt input to a pair of 2N696s, which comes to about 500mw output. Over a period of two or three years I worked stations in 30 different states with that little rig powered by a 12-volt carbon-zinc lantern battery. I’ve paid my QRP dues! See photo below (taken in about 1965) of that rig sitting on top of my Eico 753 transceiver.

Nowadays I do occasionally enjoy operating in a QRP sprint, usually one sponsored by NAQCC. But I’m now 74, and life is too short to run QRP with an inefficient antenna during the current sunspot doldrums. For that reason my portable operations, while being battery-powered and sometimes solar-powered, are not necessarily restricted to 5 watts. In fact I mostly use my KX2 with the HF Packer Amp, which puts out 35 to 60 watts, depending on band, especially if I’m using my Buddipole or my Hustler mobile antenna. That combo can be powered for several hours by my 6-amp-hour LiFePO4 Bioenno battery, and all day (on a sunny day) when using and my Bioenno 28-watt folding solar panels.

PSK31 and other digital modes: In past years I’ve had digital modes up and running with Fldigi on my Lenova ThinkPad Windows 7-Pro laptop with a SignaLink and my TS-590sg. PSK31 is about the right speed for my typing skills and is my favorite HF digital mode. While I may use a few macros (canned text), I really enjoy keyboard-to-keyboard QSOs on 40 and 30, and 20 meters. I also enjoy experimenting with some of the MFSK modes on Doug and Mindy’s (K7KY and W7ZAP’s) ORCA net on 80 meters (see ORCAdigitalnet.com). However, it’s been quite a while since I operated any digital modes.

General: Antenna experimentation; Solar power; Portable operation.

Principles of Good CW Practice 

I love CW; it’s almost an obsession. That doesn’t mean that I’m a Morse code speed demon – I’m not. I can head copy and send CW pretty accurately up to 30 wpm, but most of my on-the-air activity is between 21 and 25 wpm. 

Errorless Learning

When learning the Morse code for the first time, it’s important to use a method that minimizes the chance that you will guess the wrong character being sent or that you will send the wrong character or use improper timing when sending a character. It is very difficult and time-consuming to unlearn your mistakes and break bad habits.

I’m not familiar with current code-teaching apps (I used an old fashioned Instructograph punched tape machine back in 1960), but pick one that introduces just one or two new characters at a time and provides practice on those characters at slow speeds (or fast speeds with wide character spacing) such that you’re almost bound to copy or send each character correctly before learning new characters or increasing the speed.

I’m not sure it’s important to learn each character sent at a fairly high speed, such as 13 wpm or 20 wpm, from the very beginning, in order to avoid speed plateaus or to avoid counting dits and dahs. This is the Farnsworth approach. It’s not how I learned the code. I had memorized the entire alphabet and numbers as combinations of dots and dashes from a chart from the Boy Scout Handbook for a signaling merit badge. I think it took me only one day to memorize every character. I started copying at about 3 wpm and gradually increased both character and word speed over a period of two weeks to about 7 wpm in order to pass my Novice license exam. After getting my Novice license I experienced no plateaus as my speed increased to 20 wpm over the next year or so. I suspect that this gradual approach will result in most students gradually recognizing whole characters (without counting dits and dahs) and eventually recognizing whole syllables and words or even short commonly-used phrases.

The important thing is to make sure that whatever method you use, your percentage of correct copying and sending remains very high so that you’re not learning errors that will plague you for a long time.

Straight Key Timing

I’m a fan of learning various methods of sending good code. I recommend that you start out learning to send using a straight key, in order to get a feel for the correct timing and spacing of characters and words. Some teachers skip teaching the straight key, especially if they’re using the Farnsworth method of sending each character at 20 wpm and don’t expect their students to be able to send that fast with a straight key. (Neither can I. In fact my fastest sending speed using a straight key is 14 wpm. Few people can send as fast as 20 wpm with a straight key.)

If you set the contact spacing of a straight key such that you can hear the tap, both when the key bottoms out and when it comes up to rest, then you can easily learn to send properly-spaced dits. Turn off (or turn down the volume of) the audio oscillator or sidetone so that all you hear is the taps. Sending any string of dits should sound like evenly-spaced taps, two taps per dit. That will almost guarantee that your dits have the same duration as the spacing between dits within a character, referred to as the standard 1:1 dit-to-space ratio.

Then turn up the volume of your sidetone and verify that the dits and inter-dit spacings are of equal duration and that the dits are evenly spaced. Get good at it at whatever speed you intend to use on the air.

A dah should have three times the duration a dit. If you including the inter-element spacing, two dits (with following spaces) should take exactly as long to send as one dah (with following space). You can verify that you’re doing it right by sending the following sequence:

Dahdididahdididahdididahdididahdididah. 

The underscored ds should be exactly evenly spaced or at a constant rhythm. Get used to the sound of that so that you know how long to make the dahs relative to the dits when sending using either a straight key or bug. It would help for you to also voice the code the same way. That’s why we leave off the ‘t’ of all but the last dit in a voiced sequence or character, so that your voice timing will mimic the correct timing when using a key. So the letter X is ‘dahdididah’, and the letter B is ‘dahdididit’. When you’re not at your rig or code practice oscillator, you can practice voicing code while you drive or cook or walk in the woods (when alone – otherwise, people will think you’re psychotic and babbling.)

Using a Bug

I have discovered the secret to “glitch-free” dits when sending with a bug. As a result, I don’t need to use a “dot stabilizer”. Here’s how I adjust each of my bugs:

  • I set the dit contact spacing such that the bug will send a string of equally-spaced dits for at least 5 seconds while pressing and holding the dit lever. If you’re watching a power meter or ohm meter, the needle should hover at mid-point while sending a string of dits.
  • I set the pendulum’s resting position so that it barely touches the damper.
  • When transitioning from dits to dahs or spaces within a character, the exact timing and speed of the release of the dit lever determines how smoothly the pendulum approaches the damper ring. When done right, the pendulum is no longer vibrating as it moves toward center, and it just barely contacts the damper ring without causing it to bounce. This is a skill that takes some practice.

Proper Spacing

Nothing makes it more difficult to copy a person’s fist than inconsistent or insufficient spacing between letters or words. Don’t be tempted to crowd the inter-letter or inter-word spacing when you’re in a hurry. You’ll end up having to repeat yourself, or the other operator will pretend to have copied when he actually didn’t. Try decoding the following badly-spaced code by correcting the character and word spacing, and see how long it takes. We don’t have time to resolve scrambled text in real time during a CW QSO.

O6ER WI SEU H3O DE COD ESOG 6ING LIC 6IS

(The solution is: OTHERWISE U HV TO DECODE SOMETHING LIKE THIS)

Errorless Practice/Warmup

Once you’ve become somewhat proficient at sending code, whether using a straight key, a bug or a keyer with paddles, it can be very helpful for you to always warm up errorlessly prior to actually getting on the air each day or each session. This works for typing, playing tennis, and playing the piano, as well as for sending code – and for any other motor skill. Here’s how I warm up each morning or evening prior to getting on the air.

I enable the transceiver’s sidetone in CW mode while disabling the transmitter. Using whatever type of key I’m planning to use on the air, I carefully send each letter of the alphabet, followed by digits 1 through 9 and 0, followed by

A QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG. or

TWO BLACK MEN PLAYED SAX FOR THE VOGUE JAZZ QUINTET, or 

MY GRANDFATHER PICKS UP QUARTZ AND VALUABLE ONYX JEWELS.

– all at a slow enough speed and with sufficient focus to send the entire exercise without a single error. If I do make an error, I repeat the character in context a few times and then repeat the exercise until I get it perfect twice in a row. Then I repeat the exercise at higher and higher speeds (if necessary) until I can errorlessly send the warmup exercise at the speed I intend to use on the air.

After weeks or months of following these practices, I find I can usually send the entire warmup exercise error-free the first time through at the final speed. If you have acquired a bad habit – I had trouble sending the letter L using iambic B mode – you can unlearn it using the technique I used, which was to practice (daily) sending every four-letter word ending with a double-L in alphabetical order: All, ball, bell, bill, boll, bull, call, cell, cull, etc. I finally stopped sending R or F for the letter L during my QSOs after a couple weeks of this practice. But you see how much effort it took to unlearn the bad habit, which is why you must endeavor to avoid errors in the first place.

The Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) has a nice CW Beginner’s Corner at:

http://www.skccgroup.com/member_services/beginners_corner/

My Ham Radio Affiliations

American Radio Relay League;

ARRL Official Relay Station;

Radio Relay International;

CW Operators (CWops # 1466);

Straight Key Century Club (SKCC # 13569);

FISTS CW Club (FISTS # 17247);

North American QRP CW Club (NAQCC # 7686);

QRP Amateur Radio Club International (QRP ARCI # 15691);

Pacific Amateur Radio Guild (PARG # 430)

The Samuel F Morse Amateur Radio Club (W6SFM.com);

The PAPA UHF analog/D-Star/DMR linked repeater system (papasys.com);

Westside Amateur Radio Club (WA6RC.org).

Hughes Amateur Radio Club (W6HA.com).

My Equipment

HF “Bedroom” Station: Kenwood TS-590SG (HF + 6 meters), the Arduino-based Ten-Tec Patriot 507 (40 & 20 meters) sitting on top, and SignaLink USB with Windows 7 Pro ThinkPad laptop running Fldigi. The chrome bug to to the right of my chrome Bencher paddles is a Vibroplex Original won at a ham picnic auction. It’s extended weight arm slows it down to as slow as 16 wpm. The blue bug to its right is the beautiful Vibroplex Blue Racer 2K I purchased new in late 2016 and usually set to between 21 and 23 wpm. And the blue object sitting atop my Patriot at the left is the SKCC Commemorative straight key. It weighs more than the rig! I do love blue! And to the left is my brand new Elecraft KPA500 amplifier that actually puts out 600 watts, when I need it to.

Solar/Battery-Powered “Balcony” Station: Ten-Tec Patriot (5 watts SSB/CW on 40 and 20 meters); Weber Tri-Bander (5 watts CW on 40, 20, and 15 meters); Yaesu FT-857D (5-100 watts all modes, all bands). Despite the overhanging roof, I don’t usually leave my gear out here when it’s raining. The mounting boards simplify the task of carrying each rig in or out.

The marine battery (above) is kept charged by one 15-watt panel from a Harbor Freight solar kit sitting on a card table to the left of my operating position that now gets only morning sunlight.

Below is a photo of my balcony setup with my FT-857d and my “extended sideways” Hustler MO-3 mobile antenna (with “naked” KW 80-meter coil shown). I extended the standard 54-inch radiator by coupling it to a second one, making it 9 feet long between the ball mount and coil. You can see how I grounded the mast to the sheet metal wall cover using a hose clamp, a short length of aluminum wire and a C-clamp. I had to add the left guy rope because of high cross-winds stressing the longer radiator during our “Santa Ana winds”. It works great with either the 40m, 60m or 80m resonator coil. In fact with the 40m or 80m coil it also resonates nicely on 15 meters. Apparently the self-capacitance of the coil couples the main 9-foot radiator to the stinger making it look like a quarterwave on 15 meters. You can see part of my Arrow monoband 2m and 70cm vertical yagi (mounted 90 degrees apart) on the hand-rotated mast at left. The various rig- and antenna switches are under that white tub.

Below is that same Hustler radiator with the tri-band resonator assembly for 40-, 60- and 80 meters.

Below is another Hustler MO-3 on the left corner of my balcony with a tri-band bracket and coils for 17, 20 and 30 meters on it. The supporting mast and sheet-metal wall cover (7″ x 32′) provides the ground counterpoise for each Hustler antenna. I have added another 54-inch extension rod from the center of the tri-coil plate in order to use a fourth band – usually 80 meters, but optionally 160 meters. My balcony is on the 3rd story above the parking lot, which is atop a ridge 30 feet above street level. I sometimes fly a California flag from the first section of this antenna, which has no effect on the tuning.

My current HF antennas are a Hustler quad-band for 17, 20, 30 and 80 meters and a tri-band Hustler for 40, 60 and 80 meters. This one can be easily converted to a monoband for 160 meters, and if I need to use my amp, I can use my KW-rated resonators one at at a time for the 20-, 40-, or 80-meter bands.

Below is photo of my 3rd-floor (plus underground garage) balcony antenna garden, taken from that parking lot in May, 2020.

The Arrow yagis were moved from the balcony up to the mast below the Comet GP-95 a top left. To its right is my new (as of May 2020) homebrew 70cm horizontally-stacked 10-element yagis sticking 12 feet above the edge of the roof, which I can rotate by hand from the balcony. Behind and to its right is the top portion of my temporary rooftop fan dipole (only up for a few days at a time about once every month or two). And you can see both “sideways” Hustler mobile antennas sticking off the balcony at right angles to each other. The one at left has a tri-coil adaptor with resonators for 40, 60 and 80 meters on it, which can easily be changed out or tuned by rotating the whole antenna toward the wall at photo right. The Hustler at right has a tri-coil adaptor at the 4.5-foot point for 30, 20 and 17 meters with another 4.5-foot radiator section up the center with an 80-meter resonator at the tip, making it a quad-band antenna.

VHF/UHF Bicycle Rigs: Yaesu FT-60 dual band HT setup. Below is a photo of my GT bicycle with handlebar “dash board” for the FT-60. The PTT/VOX dongle on the headset cord is clipped to the left grip with a zip-tie , allowing me to operate PTT with my thumb while keeping both hands on the handlebars. Having the radio in front of me allows me to see the display and conveniently change modes and channels, etc. I also have a silver Trek bike with aluminum mount for my Tytera MD-380 DMR/analog 70cm HT, not shown.

I mounted the Diamond NR770HNMOB dual band whip on the rear bike carrier, as shown below.

Portable All-Band/All-Mode “Cutting Board” Rig: Yaesu FT-857D mounted on a plastic cutting board with 4-Amp-hour LiFePO4 motorcycle battery and American Morse straight key and paddle. I use this rig on my balcony with solar power and marine battery as well as for Field Day. With the small battery it can be operated portable for an hour or two.

QRP Portable Rig: Weber Tri-Band (40/20/15 meter) 5 watt CW rig built from a kit and mounted on a cheap clipboard with 2-Amp-hour LiFePO4 motorcycle battery and a matching pair of straight key and paddles.

Arduino-controlled Ten-Tec Patriot QRP rig: I use this rig with that huge SKCC key for various QRP sprints during which I earn bonus points for straight key operations. When I first got the key I thought it was a real “clunker” – it’s much larger than I had imagined. But actually, I’m able to send faster with it than with other straight keys, due to its heavy armature and bouncy contacts and stops. And blue is my favorite color! I just hope the tenants downstairs don’t complain about the “woodpecker” they might hear through their ceiling!

I’ve not done much programming yet of the Arduino (actually, a ChipKit Uno board) – just things like changing the power-up default frequencies on each band. I’ll also be changing the order in which the Select and Function button options operate. (Functions should logically be in opposite order: Band, Step, BW. And the tuning steps should also be in reverse order: 10kHz, 1kHz, 100Hz.) I haven’t implemented any frequency display or automatic keyer functions. I might eventually hook this radio up to a SignaLink to use as a QRP digital HF radio with fldigi, since it also does SSB.

Portable HF Antenna: 20/40 meter fan dipole (also works on 15 meters) atop 39-ft telescoping aluminum mast. The antenna and mast weigh 12.5 lbs. Note that I use hose clamps as simple stops 6-to-12 inches from the bottom of each section and so don’t need to cut slits into the top end of each tube to secure them. This is the antenna I used for Field Day in 2015 and again in 2016 and for my first SOTA activation of San Gabriel Peak.

I added wires for 80 meters for Field Day 2017, making it a tri-band fan dipole. It worked great! I passed our radiogram traffic for extra points on the SCN 80-meter CW net for bonus points.

DF Antennas – Below is a 2-meter “tape measure yagi” made with 1/2″ PVC pipe and fittings and 1″ wide steel measuring tape. Inside the aluminum box is an “offset attenuator”, which is a mixer with a 4 MHz crystal oscillator so that you can tune 4 MHz up or down from the fox’s signal and adjust an injection voltage to attenuate the signal strength as much as needed to prevent a full-scale or full-quieting signal as you approach the hidden transmitter. Having the handle above the clipboard (and map and HT) helps balance the antenna when holding it just behind the reflector. I clip my HT to the top of the clipboard.

   

    

I used RG-316 teflon-insulated coax, winding six turns over the boom to serve as an RF choke or 1:1 current balun. The white-insulated “hairpin” creates a perfect match for 50-ohm coax. Note how the flexible steel tape measure elements can be folded and inserted into the PVC fittings for compact transport and storage. The last photo shows the inside arrangement of the offset attenuator components. The PC board was assembled from KC9ON’s $10 kit.

Below is a 2-meter cubical quad I built earlier for fox hunting. It’s made using wooden dowels and solid 10-gauge aluminum wire. The aluminum loop elements proved to be too flimsy, and the antenna is overly bulky to store and transport. I connected the two ends of coax directly to the PC board in the offset attenuator. The plastic box in which I mounted the offset attenuator was too small to accommodate the 9-volt battery, which is zip-tied to the outside of the box. The antenna is light and works great for direction-finding!

          

Current Events (most recent, first

Field Day 2020 (June 27, 2020)

I transported my portable HF rig and Buddipole on my bicycle to Clover Park next to the Santa Monica Airport, as I did last year, and set up the Buddipole as my new favorite configuration: The Inverted-T ground plane vertical with two elevated radials. I was the CW operator for our Westside Amateur Radio Club, and the SSB and FT8 stations were within 1000 feet of me to the north. We had minimal QRM from each other.

I set up between two ball fields near 25th Street. The park was open, and almost everyone was wearing face masks and keeping at least 6 feet away (social distancing), because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I have found the Inverted-T to be a beautiful way to use the Buddipole, as it is mechanically balanced (no tendency to lean or fall over in one direction), and the elevated radials don’t radiate and prevent much ground loss when elevated a few feet above ground. I’ve described this configuration in regard to the Yuma hamfest, below.

The loaded vertical was generally tuned to be electrically longer than 1/4 wave, while the parallel-loaded radials were tuned to be electrically shorter than 1/4 wave, making the antenna off-center-fed, which raises the feed-point impedance. I was able to get below 1.2:1 SWR on all bands at resonance using Buddipole’s Switched-ratio balun and the off-center feed.

I made 30 contacts on 20 meter CW and 20 contacts on 40 meter CW between 11am and 6pm, during which I probably only operated a total of about four hours. The rest of the time was spent hobnobbing with passersby (as you see me doing in the photo above).

I deployed Bioenno’s 29-watt folding solar panels, as I did last year, once the sun came out. I leaned them across two legs of the tripod or on top of the carrying case to face the sun, and they kept the 6-amp-hour LiFePO4 battery charged all day.

I was able to send 7 Radiograms on 80 meters around sunset with the remaining battery power running about 50 watts. I used Buddipole’s larger LowBand coils for 80 meters with longer telescoping whips for 80 meters, and despite that the recipient was only about 30 miles away in Pasadena and should have required NVIS propagation, the vertical ground plane worked just fine for the purpose. We had a bit of sporadic-E causing some QSB, but that wasn’t the fault of the antenna polarization, and all 7 Radiograms were sent successfully for an extra 170 points for the Westside Amateur Radio Club.

Homebrew 70cm 20-element yagi (May, 2020)

I now participate regularly in a 70cm FM simplex gathering of up to 20 other hams ranging from San Diego through Orange County and Los Angeles Counties including Pasadena and Burbank and (of course) Westwood (where I live). Some stations do not have high-gain antennas or high power and are difficult for me to receive with my previous collection of UHF antennas (Arrow 5-element yagi, Comet GP-95 vertical), so I decided to design and build a “super-duper” 70cm horizontally-stacked yagi to put on the mast mounted at the center of my balcony wall and bracketed to the rear edge of the roof and sticking 12 feet above the roof. Below is a photo of the result.

Each boom is two 2-foot-long sections of half-inch I.D. Schedule 40 PVC water pipe coupled with a Tee connector at the center to make it 49 inches long.

The cross arm is 42 inches long made from the same PVC stock, with 12 inches of one-inch I.D. PVC used as a reinforcing sleeve over the center through which I drilled quarter-inch holes for a U-bolt to secure the antenna to the mast, which is a 10-foot section of Cyclone fence top rail. Horizontally stacking the two yagis keeps the vertical metal mast and coaxial feed line from  affecting the gain or distorting the radiation pattern.

The 18 parasitic elements are made from 3mm diameter bare aluminum wire (approximately 8 gauge), and the driven elements are made from 4mm diameter bare copper wire split in the center (inside the PVC) to which the leads of the LMR-240 coax are directly soldered. The elements pass through holes drilled in the booms and are secured with epoxy cement.

All elements are equally spaced at 13.44 cm, and the driven elements are all the same length of about a foot long. The two lengths of LMR-240 that connect the driven elements to the Tee connecter at the center are 99cm long, which is electrically 7/4 wavelengths to act as an impedance transformer to convert the 25-ohm feed point impedance of each driven element to about 100 ohms, which is divided in half by putting the two lengths in parallel at the Tee connector.

There are two ferrite beads over each length of LMR-240 along the boom to choke off common-mode current. About 23 feet of LMR-400 coax feeds the antenna from the balcony.

The antenna has about 14 dBd of forward gain, with significant side lobes. The main lobe is quite narrow, but the antenna usually picks up weak signals at least 6dB – and sometimes 12dB – stronger than the GP-95 vertical, whose base is 10 feet higher than the yagi. It also beats the Arrow 70cm 5-element yagi by at least 6dB consistently.

Buddipole as an Inverted-T ground plane vertical at Yuma Hamfest (February, 2020)

I further modified the configuration of my Buddipole (described under the Sept. 29, 2919, entry below), so that both shortened ground plane radials are fed in parallel by a single tapped coil. This guarantees equal currents in the radials and assures cancellation of radiation from the radials in the far field and forces all radiation to emanate from the longer vertical element. It eliminates the need for a 3rd tapped coil, but it did necessitate a 2nd VersaTee feed point assembly, one of which connects the two radials to the bottom end of the tapped loading coil, and the other of which is now mounted vertically between the two tapped loading coils. Electrically, this now resembles Tom Schiller’s (N6BT) Bravo 7K series of portable vertical antennas. (See Tom’s Book, Array of Light.)

I attended the Yuma Hamfest the weekend of February 15 and set up my portable HF rig and Inverted-T Buddipole atop a 15-foot high rocky mound between the main building and the main parking lot.

Each radial is a little over 7 feet long (22″ Antenna Arm plus 66″ telescoping whip), and the vertical radiator is about 13-1/2 feet tall (two 22″ Antenna Arms plus tapped coil plus 114″ telescoping whip). I fine tuned the antenna for each band (40, 30 or 20 meters) by shortening the end section of each radial a few inches.

I‘m using a stub screwed into one side of the VersaTee feed point to support the Switched-ratio balun and feed line, dropping the feedline straight down about a foot away from the antenna and mast. Below is a close-up of that arrangement.

Buddipole with longer vertical and shorter radial elements (September 29, 2019)

I recently ordered and read the book HF Antennas for All Locations by Les Moxon, G6XN (now deceased). He emphasized the pitfalls of using quarter-wave resonant radials for a ground plane. If the two (or more) radials are resonant and slightly out of balance, they tend to act like a horizontal dipole and radiate, causing distortion of the vertical radiation pattern and excessive ground losses. Also, I realized that the physical length of the radials is not important, since their antenna currents ideally cancel in the far field, anyway, so I removed the 22-inch antenna arms (moving the loading coils toward the center feed-point) and added the combined length of all four Antenna Arms (88 inches) beneath the coil on the vertical element. And by adjusting the coil taps I tuned the radials (temporarily wired as a horizontal dipole) to resonate slightly ABOVE my operating frequencies on each band so as to guarantee that the antenna currents would remain parallel and balanced. Thus the radials are now only six feet long each, and the vertical element is 17 feet tall, with the coil 7 feet above the feed point at the base. I then tuned the antenna, wired as a ground plane vertical (both radials connected to coax shield), to resonate on my favorite operating frequencies on each band, 40, 30 and 20 meters. It now acts like a slightly off-center-fed vertical with more of the electricl length in the vertical element than in the two radials. Given that the vertical is doing nearly all of the far-field radiation, having a physically longer radiator increases the radiation resistance and the overall efficiency.

Remember that the radiation resistance of a ground plane (with equally-spaced horizontal radials) is only half that of a vertical dipole, and inductive loading further lowers the feed-point impedance. Using the switched-ratio balun sold by Buddipole, I’m able to match the 50-ohm feed-line to the much lower feed-point impedance by selecting the 4:1 ratio for 40 meters and the 2:1 ratio for 30 meters. The 1:1 ratio balun works best for 20 meters. I was able to get an SWR of about 1.2:1 at resonance on each band.

I also discovered that a lot of common-mode current was coming down the outer coaxial shield and making my radio “hot”, and also affecting the radio’s indication of SWR (raising it from 1.2 to 2.0) on 20 meters. Coiling about 12 feet of the RG-58 coax into 12 turns at 4 inches diameter at the base of the mast cured that problem. Perhaps the choke should be higher up, lest that 10 feet of coax radiate as part of the antenna. In the future I’ll experiment with using ferrite beads at various places along the coax, and I’ll also try winding a few turns of coax through a ferrite toroid. I’ll let you know the results.

Below is a photo taken on the roof of my building during intial testing of the modified ground plane configuration (sans coax choke) of the Buddipole, which I refer to as the “Inverted-T”.

Incidentally, I recently added ten feet of Cyclone top rail to the mast supporting that Comet GP-95 tri-band vertical bracketed to the rear edge of the roof, bringing the base of the antenna up to about 20 feet above the roof. And I moved the two Arrow yagis to a separate mast that I can rotate from my operating position on the balcony.

Palisades Park RT66 Event (September 11, 2019)

I took my “Cutting Board” portable rig (KX2, HF Packer Amp,) and Buddipole antenna on my bicycle to Palisades Park overlooking the Santa Monica pier and beach in line with Santa Monica Blvd, which at some time in past decades was near the terminus of the old US Route 66 highway. There’s a plaque nearby that reads “Will Rogers Highway, dedicated 1952 to Will Rogers: Humorist – World Traveler – Good Neighbor. This main street of America, Highway 66, was the first road he traveled in a career that led him straight to the hearts of his countrymen.” 

In the photo below, you can see that monument in the foreground and the Santa Monica Pier in the background.

The Buddipole was set up in my newest configuration using three sets of elements (antenna arm(s), tapped coil, telescoping whip) as a two-tuned-radials ground plane vertical, which I call the Inverted-T (or cross, if you count the 10-foot mast). The vertical is extra long, using two 22″ Antenna Arms, and the longer 9.5-foot telescoping whip. Each radial consists of a standard 22″ antenna arm, tapped coil, and 5.5-foot telescoping whip. Each element is tuned approximately for the band and frequency being used. I leave the vertical whip fully extended, and I adjust the last segment of each radial whip to fine tune the antenna for each band, 20, 30 and 40 meters. It acts like a slightly off-center-fed ground plane, which tends to increase the otherwise very low feed point impedance of about 12-25 Ohms (depending on band and the number of turns of coil in line with each element).

I use a Switched-Ratio Balun set to a ratio of 4:1 on 40 and 30 meters and 2:1 on 20 meters to achieve an SWR below 1.3:1 at each desired center frequency. Since the radials are equally spaced (at 180°), their far field cancels, and the feedpoint impedance is cut in half. The inductive loading also lowers the feed point impedance, which is why the balun transformer comes in so handy. Scroll down to the bottom of the Field Day photos, way below, to see a close-up of how the VersaTee center insulator and Switched-Ratio Balun are connnected.

Below are RigExpert analyzer’s SWR plots on 40 and 20 meters, showing the bandwith characteristics on each band.

   

Below is a photo of me sitting on my camp chair with my cutting-board rig on my lap and Santa Monica Blvd in the backgrouind. Note the gallon water-fillled jug hanging from the center of the tripod to stabilize the antenna from tipping over in the breeze. The Dream Catcher helps eliminate QRM and QRN (I’m sure).

I made nine CW contacts on 40, 30 and 20 meters during my 4-hour stint, during which I also answered questions from a couple dozen passersby about what I was doing and what the monstrosity (antenna) was for. It was great public relations for ham radio! I worked CW stations in CO, NV, AZ, and OR on 40 meters, in Davis, CA, on 30 meters, and in KS, LA, and TX on 20 meters.

Santa Cruz Island “Ham Camp” CW log (August 15-18, 2019)

Below is a photo of my partially-deployed Buddipole atop a 200-foot ridge 10 feet from a cliff on Santa Cruz Island overlooking Scorpion Landing and the channel facing NE. The Buddipole is shown in the Vertical-L configuration, with the whips and mast collapsed.

This location allowed the antenna in any of its three configurations to act like it was actually 200 feet above a perfect salt-water ground, at least in the direction of the cliff. It worked amazingly well! I made 28 CW contacts, at least one on every band, 80, 60, 40, 30 and 20 meters. (See QSO log below.)

You can barely see the large rock I sat on at the bottom of the photo.

Below is a photo of the antenna in Inverted-T configuration looking up the last 100 feet of trail.

Unless otherwise noted I was using my KX2 to an HF Packer Amp (see photo below) and my enhanced Buddipole.
I used folding solar panels to recharge my Bioenno 6ah LiFePO4 battery. (We had good sunlight after about 10am every day.) Below this article are photos of the three antenna configurations I used.

Buddipole with enhancements (Field Day and beyond, June-July, 2019)

This antenna was originally purchased as the standard Buddipole Kit with the standard tripod and 10-foot telescoping mast, two extra 22″ Antenna Arms, two optional 9.5-foot telescoping whips, a pair of Rotary Arms, and the Switched-Ratio Balun. Later I added two LowBand Coils (for 60 and 80 meters) and a third standard tapped loading coil. I purchased the original kit in late 2018 but never actually started testing and using it till just prior to Field Day.

Below is my basic Lazy-L Field Day setup at Clover Park adjacent to the Santa Monica Airport.

I carried everything there – rig, antenna, solar panels and food – on my bicycle with the help of a Bob Cart attached to the rear axle, as seen under the tree, above.

This Lazy-L configuration (using the Rotary Arms at the VersaTee feed point) worked pretty well for the downward-sloping terrain at Clover Park facing the sunken double softball field. I also used the Switched-ratio Balun set to 4:1 for 40 meters and 2:1 for 20 meters. I made two dozen CW contacts using this antenna (mostly on 40 meters), using the double-length Antenna Arms and optional 9.5-foot telescoping whips. Note the water jugs hanging off two of the tripod legs to counterbalance the horizontal element.

Below are three different configurations I’ve used since Field Day, each of which works well in the appropriate setting: The Vertical-L, the Horizontal Dipole, and the Inverted-T Vertical Ground Plane. For each configuration I used all four 22″ Antenna Arms to lengthen the vertical and single horizontal element, or to lengthen the two horizontal dipole elements. I didn’t use the rotary arms for these. For the Inverted-T I used a single 22″ Antenna Arm with the standard 5.5-foot whip on each horizontal radial and the double arm on the vertical. There are several other configurations discussed in the book Buddipole in the Field by Scott Andersen, NE1RD and published by BUDDIPOLE, Inc.

The Vertical-L configuration below was set up on the roof of my apartment building. (You can see UCLA in the background.)

Each element is a total of 14 feet long and, once each coil tap is set for each band, the antenna can be fine tuned by simply adjusting the length of the last whip section. This worked both on 80 or 60 meters with the LowBand coils and on 40 through 20 meters with the standard coils. My goal was to have the antenna be self-contained, without any connections (guy ropes or ground stakes) to surrounding trees, bushes or structures. The extra lengths from using the double-length Antenna Arms and longer whips makes the antenna more efficient (requiring less lumped inductance – fewer turns – in each coil). Note the gallon water bottle hanging from one tripod leg to counterbalance the single horizontal element. In the field I actually use two such water bottles, which often can be carried empty on my bicycle or from another transport vehicle and filled at the destination site. The disadvantage of this configuration is that it does put stress on the mast and tends to windmill in a strong breeze, even after tightening the mast sections. And it can still blow over from a strong gust of wind.

Below is the Horizontal Dipole configuration, using the larger LowBand coils and Switched-Ratio Balun set to a 4:1 ratio.

This worked well on the roof on 60 meters but not so well on 80 meters (weak RBN signal reports). The antenna is basically 30 feet above the ground directly beneath that part of the building, but the terrain falls off another 40 feet in two directions (ENE and WSW) down to street level. However, the roof has an aluminum perimeter gutter that might be acting like a much closer ground.

Below is the Inverted-T Vertical Ground Plane configuration with two tuned radials.

The Inverted-T configuration was my idea, as it was not included in the book Buddipole in the Field. And it works great with the three standard coils and the four Antenna Arms. I use two Antenna Arms and the longer 9.5-foot whip for the vertical, and the single 22″ Antenna Arms and the standard 5.5-foot whips on the two horizontal tuned radials, which are shorted together and connected to the coax shield. So each radial was 8 feet long, and the vertical was 14 feet tall (as with the Vertical-L). I used a jumper between the two radials to short them together. See closeup of the feed point, below.

 

Theory of operation of the Inverted-T (Vertical GP) Buddipole Configuration

Adding lumped inductance to electrically lengthen a short antenna lowers the feed point impedance. Likewise, adding equally-spaced radials to the ground side of the antenna cuts the feed point impedance in half. So my feed point impedance becomes close to 15 ohms using this configuration on the lower bands. In order to match it to 50-ohm coax I needed a 4:1 ratio balun at the feed point, which was easily provided by Buddipole’s optional Switched-ratio Balun, which transforms the 13- to 16-Ohm antenna impedance to about 52-64 Ohms on the coax side. I was able to reduce the ratio to 2:1 on 20 meters for minimum SWR, because on that band we’re using very few turns of the tapped coils (about 4-6 turns each).

The radiation pattern appears to be omnidirectional with no significant lobes, despite having only two radials. I believe that the use of equally-spaced radials with the antenna raised 10 feet off the ground (or higher) minimizes ground losses, even with poor-quality ground, and most of the RF energy radiates from the vertical element, since the radiaton from the radials cancels (lossessly) in the far field.

New 160-meter coil(s) for my mono-band Hustler (Dec 7, 2018)

I added a Super Antenna (brand) 80-meter coil in series with the Hustler 80-meter coil and 9 feet of wire hanging off the tip of the stinger to cover the 160-meter band. It resonates on 1816 kHz. I can easily swivel the antenna to the left parallel to the balcony wall to change coils or adjust stingers, etc. So this antenna can also work on 80, 60, 40 or 20 meters by simply changing resonator coils and unclipping the wire hanging off the end. The sheet metal balcony wall cover (and stucco walls) provides an adequate ground for all bands for low SWRs on all bands without needing a tuner.

Leaf Peepers QRP contest at Will Rogers Beach (Oct 6, 2018)

This site is at the southeastern-most rest stop along Will Rogers State Beach, near a lifeguard maintenance shop and observation deck. I picked this spot because it has the lowest background noise level (S-3 on 40m thru S-0 on 15m). I failed to run into other LP stations, but I did work a few CQP (California QSO Party) stations, including Delaware on 15m.

Alpha Loop and barefoot KX2 at Will Rogers Beach (Sept 21, 2018)

I decided to take the Alpha Loop instead of the Hustler on my bicycle to Will Rogers Beach this morning. I installed the “booster cable” in series with the original radiator loop, using the supplied nylon spacers between the two turns, and I left a one-inch gap between exciter and radiator loops (hard to tell in photo). Once again I was able to get a flat 1:1 SWR (one segment on my KX2’s SWR meter) on each band, 30 thru 80 meters with the arrangement shown below. Incidentally, my one-segment SWR bandwidth on 40 meters with the double loop was 10 kHz.

As you can see, the beach was quite lonely, which is typical of weekdays during fall through spring at this beach, despite balmy, beautiful weather and water surface temperatures in the low 70s. Malibu is beyond that lifeguard hut in the distance. That cement table is always available for my use when I show up, as if it were reserved for me. So why not use it for my portable operations? And the loop did generate quite a bit of interest among runners and bike riders that came by. I love explaining ham radio and antenna theory to muggles! 🙂

I can rotate the loop slightly so as to null out most of the local noise emanating from the Beach Side Café kitchen a few feet from my table without attenuating signals to the northwest (along the coast). With the KX2 preamp enabled, my background noise measured S3 on 80 meters, S2 on 60 and 40 meters, and S zero on 30 meters. Pete AA6ZE (NCS of Friday PARG net) was 5 x 7 from Santa Rosa, as were John K7FD near Newport Oregon and JB NR5NN/M with his FT-857 (55W) and Hustler antenna on his truck in a parking lot near Benecia. My signal reports were nothing to write home about but all three ops gave me and R5.

I got RBN skimmer signal-to-noise reports in the teens to twenties (of dB) from Tucson, Reno, and San José on 40 meters, including one report from Reno of 33 dB. On 30 meters I got snr reports in the teens from Tucson, and on 60 meters I got 7 dB from San Jose at about 11am, local DST. Not shabby! It was too late in the morning to get good propagation (or any RBN reports) on 80 meters, due to D-layer absorption.

Santa Cruz Island “ham camp” (August 9-12, 2018)

Once again, I took my Alpha Loop and my KX2 with HF Packer Amp to the island, but this year I set up my antenna atop a 150-foot high ridge overlooking the channel and made quite a few contacts on both 80 and 40 meters. I had trouble getting my SWR low enough for the higher bands, which turned out to be because I was using too close of spacing between the (small) exciter loop and the (large) radiator loop, so I went QRT for the rest of the day Saturday.

The photos below show how I got the SWR down to nearly flat with the single loop by adjusting the spacings between the loops. I had to increase the spacing between the exciter and single radiator loop to one inch for 30 and 40 meters. A low SWR on 20 meters requires about 5/8-inch of spacing, and on the higher bands up to 10 meters I can use the specified 3/8-inch spacing that results when I use the nylon clips provided. Or I can use 1/4-inch spacing and rotate the outer loop up to about a 25° angle with the exciter loop to minimize the SWR on each band. This arrangement works up to at least 40 watts without causing arcing across the air variable capacitor plates.

         

Likewise, using five or six nylon spacer clips between the two turns of the double-loop (with the “booster cable”) and one inch of spacing between the double-loop and the exciter loop, as shown below, I get a 1:1 SWR and maximimally efficient radiation on all four low bands, 30 thru 80 meters. This arrangement works up to about 20 to 25 watts before I get arcing across the capacitor plates.

Field Day (June 23, 2018)

My Westside ARC had to cancel its planned Field Day deployment at the far end of the LA VA Red Cross parking lot with short notice, so I set out on my own to operate from my favorite portable HF location at one of the rest stops along the bike path through Will Rogers State Beach. I operated CW using the 40-watt HF Packer Amp and the Hustler mobile antenna all day from 9am till 9pm. My 6 amp-hour lithium iron battery key-down voltage started to run low around 3pm, which is the time the sun finally broke through the marine layer of low clouds, and I set up my Bioenno folding solar panels and continued operating for another 6 hours with 12 to 14 volts. I even sent several FD radiograms to Pasadena on SCN (80 meters) that evening. This is the same setup I use nearly every Friday morning, sans solar panels.

Bicycle Portable HF Station (June 23, 2018)

So below is a photo of the latest iteration of my “bicycle portable” HF station. I added the HF Packer Amp to the KX2 and a larger 6 amp-hour Bioenno LiFePO4 battery and a solar charge controller for Bioenno’s folding 28-watt solar panels to an identical cutting board to that used for my FT-857 portable HF rig. The HF Packer Amp puts out 40 watts (or a little less, depending on the band) with 5 watts of drive from the KX2. I can operate CW for about 3 hours on a battery charge if I don’t use the solar panels while operating. With the solar panels I can operate continuously all day.

And I found two new locations where I can attach my portable Hustler MO3-based antennas to aluminum railings. The bronze-anodized aluminum railings surrounding each location’s switch-back wheelchair ramps work much better as ground counterpoises than the stainless steel fence surrounding the wooden platform at Beacon Overlook (shown in my March 12 update further down), especially on 40 meters. The new locations are right on the beach at either of three rest stops along the bike path following Will Rogers State Beach, which parallels the Pacific Coast Highway beneath the bluffs along Pacific Palisades (north of Santa Monica). Each rest stop’s ramp railings are nearly identical, the only difference being that one of the rest stops includes a food stand called Beachside Café (see photo below). That one is at the very northwest end of the bicycle path and will be my preferred spot. I can sit right in the shade under the small tree you see in the photos, with the antenna U-bolted to a welded tee-joint near the center of the semi-circular railing surrounding the tree. The advantage of mounting it there and sitting near the center (right across from the antenna) is that I no longer experience RF burns when I touch the metal keyer paddles on my KX2, as I did when I tried sitting offset a few feet to either side. I think I’ve found the ‘neutral zone’. The right-hand photo below shows how I can tilt the antenna down and rest it on the railings in order to change or adjust resonator coils, without causing an eye hazard to pedestrians coming up the ramp. You can see the Beachside Café serving windows and tables in the background. That’s the Santa Monica coast skyline further beyond.

        

Incidentally, I may decide not to use the tri-coil adaptor plate or the 22-inch extension rod (MO4) shown in the above photo. It adds a lot of weight to the antenna and potential stress on the small RV ball joint at the base. It’s an easy matter to change coils when using one at a time, and it simplifies the setup.

Bicycle Portable (March 12, 2018)

The AlphaLoop magnetic loop with tripod sitting on a picnic table or the ground seemed like a great idea for bicycle portable operations or when camping on Santa Cruz Island. But the mag loop is just too inefficient to make QRP contacts. I had trouble making contacts last August during my second trip with other hams to Santa Cruz Island with that antenna and my 10-watt KX2. I had only 3 QSOs during several hours of operations. For portable HF operations during this sunspot minimum you need either a good antenna or more power. I regarded the mag loop as a failed experiment until I heard from the manufacturer at last fall’s Hamcon in Torrance that my model might actually handle up to 100 watts without arcing or melting. (It’s rated for only 15 watts.) That’s when I started looking for a portable amplifier – preferably a small, lightweight HF ‘brick’ that could put out maybe 35 to 50 watts.

And that’s when I discovered the HF Packer Amp. I ordered one as a kit and assembled it. In the meantime, having had great success using Hustler mobile antennas off my balcony wall (using the sheet metal wall cover as the ground counterpoise), I realized that there are many places I could mount that sort of antenna to a metal railing or fence along my various bicycle routes to and from the beaches. So I ordered my yet another Hustler MO3 and a couple more resonator coils and Hustler’s RVM mounting bracket, which has predrilled holes for various mounting schemes and a small ball joint for swivelling the antenna from vertical to horizontal for tuning or changing resonator coils.

Below I illustrate one example of how to mount the Hustler MO3 to a particular stainless steel fence that I encountered along my bike route where I leave the beach path and take off toward home on California Avenue. It’s at the top of the Pacific Coast Highway exit referred to as the California Incline, which goes right past a piece of sculpture at the edge of a 90-foot cliff that Google Maps describes as “Beacon Overlook” along the north end of Palisades Park. I route the coax through a gap between two floorboards to the wooden bench where I sit with my cutting board rig in my lap.

My mounting scheme worked like a charm, and the antenna resonates well on 15 thru 30 meters, but not so well on 40 meters. Stainless steel (combined with the RF skin effect) makes for a very poor conductor, and I suspect that 40 meter RF sees a fairly high ground resistance as it travels a quarter wave along the fence in either direction.

That’s my bicycle above and below, on which I mounted my TYT MD-380 70cm DMR/analog HT on the handlbars and a Diamond 40″ mobile antenna on the rear carrier. I carry the KX2, amp and battery (all mounted on a cutting board) in one of the saddle bags, and the coax, resonator coils and mounting hardware and tools in the other saddle bag. The resonator rod with mounting bracket slides through some zip-ties along the rear carrier and top tube and sticks out over the front wheel.

Below is a close-up of the mounting bracket. I used standard 1/4″ J-bolts to secure the bracket to the stainless steel rods, which hold the bracket securely against the steel vertical support post and effectively grounds the antenna.

The mounting holes will also accommodate a horizontal U-bolt for mounting the bracket to a vertical cyclone fence post or railing.

Latest ‘temporary’ rooftop dipole (Sep 24, 2017)

After my landlord asked me to remove all my rooftop antennas a couple of months ago, I would sometimes sneak up a wire antenna on a Sunday afternoon to use for the three CW roundtable nets I have that evening, and I would usually take it down early the next morning. The telescoping aluminum mast extends to about 31 feet with the base fitting neatly into an iron sewer vent pipe. A cross bolt 12 inches from the bottom of the outer tube keeps anything from falling down the vent pipe.

This started out as a 60-meter halfwave inverted-vee following the centerline of the roof. Then I added 22-foot extensions at right angles, sloping down toward eye screws at opposite corners of the roof to cover 80 meters. I attach jumpers with alligator clips across the 60-meter end insulators to switch bands. Later I added 40-meter wires at the feed point at right angles to the 60-meter wires that I hook to eye screws at opposite edges of the roof. This also works well on 15 meters. So now the antenna covers four CW bands. It is a combination fan-/bent-/inverted-vee dipole It takes me 20 minutes to erect it and 20 minutes to take it down.

As you can see, the 40-meter apex angle is about 90 degrees. It works great and is pretty much omni-directional. And I was surprised to discover that it has a nearly flat SWR on the 15-meter CW band, as well, without me having to add any clip-on extensions. The ‘elbow’ at the upper right corner of the photo shows the jumper across one end of the 60-meter dipole for connecting the 80-meter extension. That insulator is supported by a rope tied to the elevator room landing roof facia. The far end is supported by the mast that supports my Comet GP-95 tri-band VHF/UHF vertical, mounted on my balcony wall and bracketed to the far edge of the roof. I had also considered making clip-on ferrite toroid inductors to clip across those insulators to make the antenna resonate on 160 meters.

Update (March 2018): My next door neighbor owns a 42-inch plasma TV whose ‘hum/buzz’ is strongly picked up by this antenna up and down all the HF bands, as the center mast is mounted on his sewer vent pipe serving his kitchen and bathroom sinks and runs right over his ceiling. He wasn’t willing to sell me the old TV when I offered him $300 for it, and he’s renewing his lease for another year. And he uses that TV not only to watch TV programs but as his computer monitor. It’s turned on about 16 hours a day. So until he moves out, I’ll be putting this antenna on sabbatical. It was risky sneaking it up there, anyway. I could get evicted if caught by the owner.

New balcony antennas and a new Elecraft KX2. Happy 72nd Birthday to me! (Aug 2017)

After playing with an Alpha Loop magnetic loop antenna for balcony operations, which worked poorly because of surrounding metal objects (galvanized steel wall cover plate, overhead aluminum perimeter gutter, stucco walls with embedded chicken wire), I followed the example of one of our FRN participants who has an 8th floor condo in Newport Beach and am now using a Hustler MO-3 mobile antenna as a horizontal balcony antenna with pretty good results. I liked it so well that I ordered and installed a second one. The metal balcony wall plate is the counterpoise for each antenna. One is leaning on the center of my 24-foot balcony wall pointing East and the other is leaning on the the corner of the wall pointing North at right angles to the first. I use 40, 60 and 80-meter coils on the first one, and a 3-coil bracket with 17, 20, and 30 meter coils on the second one. They work great! I figure they make great NVIS antennas on 80, 60 and 40 meters. (See previous photos above.)

In the meantime for portable operations I tried using my Weber Tri-bander with the Alpha Loop at a picnic table in a nearby park for the July 30 Flight of the Bumblebee 4-hour sprint (see my new profile photo). The Weber Tri-bander 5W CW transceiver (covering 15, 20 and 40 meters) wasn’t a good match for the relatively inefficient mag loop. Aside from not being heard by up to half the stations I called, I had a hard time hearing each band’s background noise well enough to peak it up using the mag loop’s tuning capacitor, which is the only way (without using an external SWR bridge) to tune the loop.

So … I caved in and ordered me an Elecraft KX2 (without internal ATU or batteries) to use with the Alpha Loop for portable situations. It puts out 10 watts and has a great receiver! And it’s much lighter than the FT-857 I used two years ago with a 13-lb fan dipole/telescoping mast – 8 pounds vs 25 pounds. And it covers 80 thru 10 meters, including 60 meters. My first real test will be during a 4-day “ham camp” expedition with members of the PAPA Repeater System on Santa Cruz Island, August 10 thru 13.

Landlord reneged on permission for rooftop antennas and solar panels (July 2017)

Three siblings jointly own my apartment building, and the brother who gave me permission to put antennas and the solar panels on the roof 2-1/2 years ago has relinquished control over the building to his sister, who is not nearly so ham-friendly. My antennas and solar panels caused zero complaints and zero harm to the building in the two and a half years they’ve been up there. Plus I have $300,000 of liability insurance covering any damage or harm the antennas might cause. Plus I’ve been a model tenant. 

All the above notwithstanding, in their attempt to get me to move out (so they can rent my rent-controlled apartment to a transient student who would pay higher rent), the owners demanded that I remove all my antennas and solar panels from the roof before agreeing to renew my lease beginning August 1, 2017. There are few options here in SoCal for hams on retirement income to rent or own a place that would permit outside or rooftop antennas, so I have agreed to the new terms and renewed my lease (much to the owners’ chagrin, I’m sure).

Bandpass filters for Field Day (Updated July, 2017)

During both the 2014 and 2015 club Field Day exercises we found that our two HF stations interfered with each other, even when operating on different (but adjacent) bands. I was operating CW with my FT-857, and the other station used a TS-570 operating SSB. I did some research and now believe that the problem was mostly something called “phase noise” whereby modern synthesized VFOs generate some ‘jitter’ that results in phase-modulated white noise sidebands that can be heard across several bands by closely-spaced stations. The solution is to insert T/R bandpass filters between the rig and antenna (or amplifier) that reduce adjacent-band noise by at least 30 dB. The additional advantage of the filter being in the receiver’s RF path is that it can eliminate desense, intermod, and other kinds of problems caused by very strong out-of-band input signals from the other station.

I ordered the parts and built three bandpass filters using the pi-section design (three or five tuned circuits). The 15- and 20-meter filters use five tuned circuits and the 40-meter filter uses three. I used powdered iron toroids (type 6) wound with 20-gauge wire and 500v dipped silvered mica capacitors for the tuned circuits. These will handle up to 100 watts. I also built one of the HecKit dip meters to use for tuning the filters.

This one is typical of the three filters in design and construction. I used a piece of cardboard and some epoxy cement to mount and mechanically stabilize the toroids.

These filters worked great, this year! There was virtually no intra-station QRM between my FT-857 (20 watt CW) and the club’s TS-820 (100 watt SSB) on adjacent bands. We used commercial band-pass filters on the club station.

Experimental 60-meter Dipole (updated July, 2017)

I was hoping the landlord would let me permanently install this 84-foot long 60-meter dipole on the roof. Here is a photo of its temporary installation. I can put it up or take it down in less than 30 minutes. The base fits snugly inside of an iron sewer vent pipe, and the wires and rope guys take any stress off the pipe. The 31-foot tall mast consists of 7 telescoping sections of aluminum tubing purchased from Texas Towers. 

Eventually, I had hoped to add two pairs of coaxial traps (using RG-316) so that it would also cover 80- and 160-meters, as well. The wires would bend at the first set of traps and slope downward to the opposite corners of the roof for a total length of about 136 feet. Up till now it has worked great on 60 meters, where I check into a Sunday evening CW net run by JB NR5NN.

Update: Not only did the landlord never quite get around to approving the permanent installation, but after July 31, 2017, I’ll be restricted from having any permanent antennas on the roof.

My new Vibroplex Blue Racer 2K bug (Updated July, 2017)

Just before Christmas, 2016, I purchased a new Vibroplex Blue Racer. Then in late June I purchased a mint Vibroplex Original Deluxe at a PAPA picnic auction (from a Silent Key estate). So the two bugs are shown below between the chrome Bencher paddles and the Nye Bros straight key.

Blue is my favorite color. You might even say I’m obsessed with blue. So now I have both the blue SKCC straight key (not shown) and a Vibropex Blue Racer 2K bug, each with bright blue base. I’m not a big fan of bugs, but after 57 years of CW I figured I should own one and learn how to use it. And, besides, some of my best friends are bug users. I can use the two bugs along with a straight key for QRS and QRQ contacts during SKCC sprints. I can only send 14 wpm with a straight key; the Original is set to 16 wpm (using a weight extender on the pendulum) and the Blue Racer is set to 21 wpm.

My new TS-590SG (November, 2016)

I fell in love with the latest version of Kenwood’s TS-590 transceiver, the SG model. It has smooth, fast, quiet QSK. The tunable variable bandwidth filter is a marvel, with minimal ringing on noise. It really does improve the signal-to-noise ratio on CW signals to reduce the bandwidth down to as low as 50 Hz!! And the DSP noise reduction filters (there are two different ones) work pretty well, so long as the CW signal isn’t deep into the noise, in which case both signal and noise disappear.

The Kenwood (above) replaces my Icom IC-761 in my shack, and my mint condition IC-735.

Tawny

This is my co-operator, Tawny, overseeing my balcony station. He was holding my place in my logbook while listening to some CW. He never shares his head copy with me, though.

WA6RC Field Day June 2016

Once again I operated CW with the Westside ARC on VA grounds using my “cutting board” rig, the FT-857, with the solar-charged marine deep cycle battery and my reburbished fan dipole. I supported the base of the 39-foot telescoping aluminum mast with the two-wheel dolly weighted down with the marine battery. That’s a homebrew 2-meter vertical yagi 2/3 the way up made from a discarded TV antenna by my FD partner Steve K6WSJ. We used it to pass a dozen radiograms to Pasadena from West LA on 2-meter CW for bonus points. (Steve died of brain cancer in October, 2017. R.I.P.)

         

Santa Cruz Island PAPA “Radio Camp” August 2015

On August 6, 2015, I boarded a boat in Ventura Harbor with several other PAPA members, and we sailed 20 miles across the channel to Santa Cruz Island for a 4-day “radio camp”. The island has no AC power or cellphone coverage. And no stores for purchasing forgotten supplies. 

In preparation I built another version of a fan dipole using lamp cord. I remembered reading an article decades ago about a multi-band dipole made from a single length of 4-conductor flat rotor control cable, with each conductor cut for a different band. The conductors were not separated and must have been about 1/16 of an inch apart. So I figured I could use “zip line” (fancy word for lamp cord) to combine two bands on each of two dipoles at right angles to each other, thus doubling the number of bands without requiring additional end supports. I decided to combine 40 and 20 meters in one direction and 30 and 17 meters in the other (at right angles).

Long story short, it didn’t work at all during my rooftop testing. I got no SWR dip at either 20 or 17 meters. So then I pulled the two conductors apart all the way back to the center insulator and tied the ends of the shorter conductors to the end insulators of the longer conductors (using twine), and made sure that one conductor sagged a few inches below the other all the way from center to end. And, guess what? It worked like a charm! I got dips (using my antenna analyzer) on all four bands, plus dips at the top ends of 15 and 10 meters, as well (where the 40 and 30 meter wires acted as 3/2-wave dipoles). So this little fan dipole covers 4 CW bands and 2 phone bands without any need for a tuner – and with an SWR less than 1.2:1 at resonance in the 40, 30, 20, and 17 meter CW bands, once I had adjusted the lengths.

Below are two photos I took of the new fan dipole on my rooftop test site showing how the four insulated wires were oriented. I used only the top 4 sections of tubing for this test. You can also see my HF vertical in the background so don’t get it confused with the fan dipole.

         

I zipped the entire antenna and telescoping aluminum mast (and a folding chair and some other stuff) into my old sleeping bag which I then enclosed in a surfboard case (totalling about 30 lbs), which the ferry would allow on the boat as luggage. Plus I had my 50-lb ice chest (with two giant slabs of dry ice) and my 40-lb duffel bag and my 15-lb backpack holding what I now refer to as my “Cutting Board rig” (FT-857 with LiFePO4 battery and keys and mic) and my brand new and untested 4-panel folding solar collector and charge controller, and my logbook. Naturally, I had to carry all that stuff from the dock onto the boat and again from the boat to the anchorage at the island. Fortunately, others in our party had smuggled two-wheel “deer carts” onto the boat to help transport our stuff (in several trips) from the anchorage to the campsite half a mile away.

The antenna went up nicely, but one end of the 30/17 meter dipole had to go through some tree branches (above my head in the photo), bending around them quite a bit. But the insulated wires seemed unaffected by contact with leaves and branches, and the antenna loaded perfectly on all bands. The mast was the same seven 6-foot sections of telescoping aluminum tubing that I had used on my San Gabriel Peak SOTA activation and during Field day. I extended it to its full 38 feet height. The photo below shows only the bottom 12 feet of the mast. The soil was so rocky that I could only drive one of the three tent stakes into the ground for the lower guy ropes. Do you like my workaround for the other two?

Long story short, I had a great time on the island camping for the first time in about 30 years. I did lots of hiking and sea kayaking/cave exploring, but very little operating. The background noise was so low that it didn’t even register on my S-meter, compared with an average S-7 noise level at home using my rooftop vertical. But conditions were not very good that weekend, and signals were few and weak on all bands. I got on for less than an hour each day, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings (around sunset) and Saturday morning (around sunrise), but I only worked a total of 8 stations, 3 of which were working the SKCC weekend “cootie” sprint.

San Gabriel Peak Summit Activation July 2015

On Sunday, July 19, I “activated” San Gabriel Peak for SOTA chasers. I drove about 45 miles to a parking area most of the way up the San Gabriel mountains between Mt. Wilson and Mt. Disappointment, from which I hiked along a fire road for about a mile and then up a steep trail for another mile up to San Gabriel Peak, which is designated on SOTAWatch.com as W6/CT-019. The vertical rise above the parking area was about 1000 feet, with the peak listed as 6161 feet above sea level. I can see this peak on any clear day from my balcony (see earlier photo of my AV-680 vertical. It’s the highest peak visible in the background.)

Below is a photo taken by a passerby of me toward the beginning of my hike with San Gabriel Peak in the background. It might not look like it but it was a grueling 1.7 mile, 1000 ft ascent to the top from there.

I am carrying the fan dipole and mast, which weighs 12.5 lbs with all seven 6-foot sections of aluminum tubing, about 100 feet of 7 x 22 gauge copper-clad steel antenna wire, and 50 feet of RG-58u coax attached to a center insulator that is U-bolted to the top of the top section.

In addition, my “breadboard rig” was tucked neatly into my backpack with room to spare, with my Coleman folding seat riding over the outside of the backpack, weighing a total of about 12 lbs. The cooler bag contains two Atkins shakes along with some of those freezer paks to keep then cold. So my total load, in addition to my body weight of 162 lbs, added up to about 25 lbs. Most SOTA activators would be shocked – SHOCKED – at the weight of my rig and antenna, not to mention the fact that I didn’t take any water up with me. (I drank lots of water at the car and figured it would hold me for the duration until I got back to the car, thus saving two or three pounds of load. Big mistake!!)

That’s my summit setup shown below. The bench was a heavy length of iron U-beam, perfect for my VHF/UHF mag mount!

The SOTA activation was a great success, and a great learning experience. I know a few things not to do or to do differently. I’m resistant to taking other people’s advise, once I have a plan. Live and learn! First, let me offer my justification for carrying such a heavy rig and antenna:

I wanted a good signal from the summit and decided to buy the full-powered (100W) Yaesu FT-857 instead of the QRP (5W) FT-817, the most popular SOTA rig of all time. (The Elecraft KX3 is even more popular among those who can afford one; it’s the Cadillac or Collins of portable transceivers.) My “breadboard rig” also makes a great rig for a radio camp, for Field Day, and to use with solar power on my balcony.

I also have a much lighter Ten-Tec Patriot (5 watts on 40 and 20 meters) that I could have taken, instead, and with the great antenna, 5 watts might have been enough for most of the stations I worked to have heard me. A QRO rig requires a bigger battery, and the LiFePO4 motorcycle battery weighs only 1.5 lbs and is rated at 4 Amp-hours. However, the FT-857 does not have a built-in automatic antenna tuner (and neither does the Patriot), which influenced my antenna choice. Having to use an external tuner with some kind of end-fed or shortened antenna adds weight and complications and isn’t as good at radiating a signal.

I had used fan dipoles back in the 60s when I was a teenager. They work great! Feed full half-wave dipoles on two or three different bands, all attached at the same center insulator and fed with a single coax feedline (no balun needed), and you have all the advantages of full-sized separate dipoles but with a single feedline: broad bandwidth (no need for baluns or tuners), high efficiency, and (mostly) horizontal polarization. But for 20 meters and above, you need to get the center of the inverted-vee dipole up to about half a wavelength, which is 33 feet on 20 meters. That’s just a little bit more than most fiberglass fishing poles and kite poles can go and still support the weight of the wires and feed line without buckling. So I found where to buy telescoping 6-foot sections of aluminum tubing – Texas Towers – and got me some. I ended up ordering 8 sections, going from 3/4 inches to 1-5/8 inches in 1/8-inch increments. I’ve never used the largest section, which I don’t really need.

When extending the sections and overlapping each section 12 inches, seven sections can achieve a height of 36 feet, and that’s what I was carrying in the photo below. But I ended up only extending the pole to 30 feet, for various reasons. Next time I’ll take only the top five or six sections and overlap them only 6 inches, for a maximum height of 28 or 33.5 feet, respectively – perfect! That will save one or two pounds of weight. I’ll use seven – or maybe all eight – sections on longer camping trips and future Field Days.

I could reduce the weight by another pound by substituting thinner, lighter antenna wire and using coat buttons instead of those heavy ceramic end insulators. (You don’t really need insulators per se when using synthetic cord to tie each end of the wire to a tree or bush.) But all-in-all, I’m in love with this setup, and I’m not interested in switching to a 3-ounce end-fed wire with 9:1 balun and 5-lb fishing pole or some kind of loop or coil-loaded vertical.

Guying the bottom section of mast using poly cord and thin steel tent stakes was a good idea, but I needed a better way to store the wires and poly extension cords without having to worry about premeasuring them or cutting each one to length. It took a good 30 minutes to erect the antenna and another 30 minutes to take it down and coil everything neatly, but I think I can cut that in half.

Long story short (oops, too late) I ran 20 watts and worked 16 CW stations on 20m and 8 on 40m, as well as another dozen on 2 meter FM, all within about an hour of operation, at the end of which my LiFePO4 motorcycle battery was only half depleted. I could have gone another hour, but I ran out of SOTA chasers to work. I’ll be doing this again

WA6RC Field Day June 2015

I tested my portable “cutting board” station during my local club’s Field Day on July 25, 2015 (see photo below and at top of bio). Both the rig and fan dipole supported by the telescoping aluminum mast worked splendidly.

My Ham Bio

I got my Extra reinstated with a newly issued call (AI6FR) on Nov. 21, 2014, after being off the air since 1993 and letting my former license (N9EX) expire in 1997. I got my current vanity call (N6IET) on Mar. 14, 2014. I now go by the handle Rik on the air. Details below:

KN5FMF – I grew up in Carlsbad, NM, and got interested in ham radio at age 14. I remembered that my former Cub Scout den mother’s husband had some kind of a radio shack behind their house. He was Lee Almy, W5WBD (SK). He had a 10/15 meter cubical quad w/”armstrong” rotor next to his shack. He used a National HRO-50 receiver with a Heathkit DX-100 “plate modulated” transmitter. He lent me an Instructograph Morse code practice machine (w/vacuum tube oscillator and spring-wound punched tape mechanism) to send practice 5-letter code cyphers. I had learned Morse code for a Boy Scout merit badge. It took me two weeks to get my code speed to 7 wpm and pass the Novice exam.

I got my ticket in the mail about 6 weeks later (after my 15th birthday in August, 1960). My first station was a Philmore general coverage receiver kit and a borrowed Heathkit AT-1 CW transmitter (about 20 watts output) into to an end fed longwire antenna (using a Heathkit tuner) routed along the eves of our roof. My first contact on 7153 kHz was with Fred, KN5EIE in El Paso, Texas. Everything I touched in the shack gave me RF burns. 🙂

K5FMF – With the help of another Elmer, Dick Bikkers, K5EHB (SK), I earned my Conditional ticket a month later (issued in September). I built a Heathkit DX-60 and used it with a Navy surplus regenerative receiver, mostly on 40 meter CW. I also checked into a 40 meter phone net regularly called “The New Mexico Breakfast Club”. (A bunch of old fogies. Now I’m an old fogy!)

About a year later I built a Heathkit HG-10 VFO and a Knight-kit R-100 receiver. Here’s what I and my station looked like at age 16. At left I was inserting parts on one of the two R-100 PC boards.

        

About this time I put up a 40-meter dipole between two 15-foot 3-inch diameter iron water pipes I found in a vacant lot. It worked on 15 meters, as well. (With tube finals and pi-net final tuning, we didn’t worry too much about SWRs below 5:1.) Within a year or two I started checking into 40-meter CW traffic nets.

As my speed exceeded my ability to send using a straight key, I borrowed somebody’s bug and found I could send up to 20 wpm of properly spaced code. Above that I couldn’t properly space my dahs, so I built a Heathkit electronic keyer (with microswitches as contacts), and my Morse speed climbed to 25 wpm. I’ve not used a bug ever since.

Around 1962 I built a QRP 1-watt (input) CW transmitter for 40 meters (using a pair of 2N696 finals) and a matching receiver using a 7-transister AM pocket radio as the IF. Ultimately, I worked 30 states with that rig on 7053 kHz.

WA4NEM – My family moved to Lakeland, FL, in 1963 – during the middle of my senior year of high school. I put up a 40-meter inverted vee on a 40-foot telescoping (“push-up”) mast. I built an Eico 753 tri-band (80-20m) transceiver kit (with a solid state VFO and a pair of 6148 tube finals). I called it the “seven drifty three”, because its VFO drifted so badly.

In the fall of 1963 I started attending NMSU in Las Cruces, where I operated the club station, W5GB, occasionally, for the next 12 months. I was majoring in EE.

In 1965 I transferred to Polk Junior College (in Bartow, Fla, at the time) for a couple years and operated from my bedroom at home. My 40-foot push-up mast got struck by lightning, which melted my RG-58/U feedline and toasted the rectifier diodes in my Seven Drifty Three. (The antenna was unplugged; the damage came via a six-inch spark from my disconnected antenna feedline to my Heathkit keyer cable shield and then through the transceiver to ground thru the power outlet.)

In 1965 I drove to Tampa and took and passed the Extra Class exam. I had trouble sending 20 wpm with a straight key, but receiving at that speed was no problem. I seem to remember having to actually draw a schematic of a Colpitts Oscillator. I also took and passed my Radiotelegraph Second Class License exam while I was at it.

In 1967 I started my junior year as a Psychology major at UF in Gainesville. When I came home on weekends I continued to operate HF CW and SSB with my Eico 753 and also enjoyed rag-chewing with local friends on 6-meter AM using a Heathkit Sixer “lunchbox” I’d bought used.

In early 1970 I quit graduate school (at UF) and joined a “Walden Two” commune called Twin Oaks in central Virginia. I never got on the air, there; I must have sold my Seven Drifty Three. What was I thinking? Ham radio from a rural commune would have been a great idea! (Twin Oaks Commune thrives to this day.)

In early 1971 I left the commune and joined the residential staff of Green Valley School (for emotionally disturbed adolescents) in Orange City, Fla., and helped 6 teenage boys earn their Novice tickets. We used my homebrew QRPp rig and a 40-meter dipole as our station.

WA3SQQ – About 9 months later I moved to Silver Spring, MD, to live with with my brother and some other people. I didn’t get back on the air until after getting a teaching job near Croom, MD, (25 miles SE of DC) in 1972. There I rented the basement apartment of an old farmhouse and erected a Hustler 4BTV vertical (with 8 buried ground radials) and built a Heathkit HW-101 transceiver. I had fun running the MDD CW traffic net on 40 meters, mostly.

W3HMT – The FCC changed the rules and allowed current holders of 1 x 3 calls to get another 1 x 3 call in their new call district. So I applied for a secondary station license based in my New Mexico home town and got my former K5FMF call back. Then I finessed the 1 x 3 station license to get W3HMT in exchange for WA3SQQ.

In 1973 I talked the landlady into letting me put the 4BTV vertical on the chimney at the peak of her all-metal roof, using the roof as the ground plane. That worked OK, but the SWR was a bit high because of the low impedance (25-30 Ohms) at the feed point.

W9NJG – In April, 1974, I secured a technician job with Motorola in Schaumburg, Illinois, while visiting my parents in Lincolnshire (near Deerfield), and I moved back in with them for a year or so. I built my own gin pole from a thick-walled aluminum conduit and erected a 55-foot Universal steel tower bracketed to the roof just outside my 2nd-story bedroom. No guywires were needed. I put a Moseley TA-33 triband beam on top, and strung 40- and 80-meter inverted-vees just underneath. It was a great setup. I had the power company fix half a dozen sources of powerline noise during that year, which I had sniffed out in the neighborhood using a portable SW radio.

A year later (1975) I bought my first home, a cheap old one-bedroom cottage near Lake Zurich. I moved the tower and added sections to take it up to 70 feet, guyed at three levels. I put egg insulators on the top set of guys, making them into 40-meter reflectors for three 40-meter sloper dipoles in between the guy wires. I was almost always able to get a 6dB advantage of one sloper over the others during a contact, so they worked well. I also put up an 80-meter inverted vee, which fit corner-to-corner on my 120 x 135-foot lot. My hamshack was located in a small furnace room at the rear of the house right next to the base of my tower. I built a nice custom desk/table for it from plywood and 2 x 4s.

About that time I met some hams who hung out on a 2-meter repeater (147.72/.12) in Crystal Lake. I built two 8-element quagis (quad driven- and reflector elements with 6 yagi director elements – all fashioned from 10-gauge aluminum “clothesline wire” – on wooden booms) and mounted them about 10 feet apart, vertically polarized, and installed the assembly ten feet above my HF tribander. The main lobe was quite sharp!! I could work mobiles simplex from Milwaukee to Kankakee!

I also got into 2-meter fox hunting. I built a cubical quad using wooden dowels and that same 10-gauge stiff aluminum clothesline wire, and the antenna had no tendency to windmill when driving 60 mph. I could unscrew one wing nut to detach the boom from the mast when we reached the point of having to proceed on foot and used it with a home-made voltage controlled audio oscillator whose pitch was controlled by the voltage output of a diode detector. It worked like a charm just aim for the highest pitch!

N9EX – In about 1977 the FCC allowed Extras to get a 1 x 2 call of their choosing. The ‘N’ prefix had just been made available. I considered what might sound short and rhythmic on CW and not require phonetics on phone; I picked N9EX and got it!

I bought a used Drake R-4C receiver to use (for QSK CW) with my HW-101 and built a Heathkit SB-200 (500-watts output) amp. I had a great setup!

I also bought an Icom IC-2AT 2-meter HT “brick” and operated bicycle mobile with a quarter-wave ground plane mounted behind and above my head on the rear bike carrier.

I built a Heathkit HW-8 QRP rig. For one Field Day I took it and a double-size (12v) lantern battery and a 40-meter dipole (in a briefcase “Go To” box) on my bike to Big Foot Beach State Park near Lake Geneva, Wisc, 50 miles away. I strung up the dipole in a tree. That was a memorable weekend! (Ask me about it if you ever work me.)

In June of 1982 I wrote code to implement a matching/dating service called ComQuest on my Apple II, and I simultaneously met a guy who became my domestic partner for 21 years.

In 1987 my partner talked me into buying a larger house in Palatine, IL. I hated having to move that danged tower! But the new house was on a one-acre lot. I erected the tower next to my bedroom at the dead center of the lot, which gave me room for a full half-wave 160 meter inverted vee dipole corner-to-corner. I fed that with 450-ohm window line through an antenna tuner. I sold the tribander and put up a Moseley Pro-57, which covered the new WARC bands. Three ham buddies helped me erect all 80 lbs of it on top of that tower, above which I stuck a 5/8 wave 2 meter vertical/lightning rod. No more 40-meter slopers or quagis (whose wooden booms had warped badly).

In about 1990 I purchased a barely used Icom IC-761 transceiver from a ham friend. What a beautiful rig, with full-break-in CW! I had the perfect station! That same friend sold me a Heathkit SB-220 linear. I traded him the Drake R-4C and the SB-200.

In 1992 my partner moved to LA to earn his PhD at UCLA. I got into packet radio about that time and set up my own packet BBS on 220 MHz. Lightning struck my tower and blew up a DOS laptop I was using for packet and AMTOR. (The laptop wasn’t plugged into anything, but my desk was only a few feet from the base of the tower, and the EMF damaged it, I guess.) I don’t remember having to replace the 2-meter vertical or any of the feedlines.

In 1993 I shut down ComQuest and moved to LA to rejoin my partner, who was attending UCLA. I packed all my radio gear and put it into storage (along with most of our furniture), and we moved into an apartment with our two cats. The newly emerging Internet dominated my attention, and I never got on the air again during the next 21 years. My license expired in 1997, and somebody else eventually got my perfect call sign! 🙁

We moved to Atlanta in late 1996, and I started working for the IT department of a large hotel chain. Then I opened my own personal strength training studio in 2001, RealExercise, LLC.

After my mother died in 2004, I shut down my not-very-successful personal training business and purchased and moved into her beautiful lakeside home on a 1.2-acre lot in Oconee County, SC. I decided to retire at age 59. I considered getting back into ham radio, but I knew I’d be fighting the local association to put up a tower. I enjoyed bicycling on country roads and kayaking on Lake Keowee, in the meantime.

In 2008 I realized I couldn’t afford to keep the house AND retire, so I sold the house and moved back to LA into an apartment in Westwood (two blocks west of UCLA) again. I enjoyed playing the piano and trumpet for pleasure. I rode my bicycle to and along the beaches 90 – 100 miles per week. I worked out weekly at a gym. My cat Tawny was my domestic partner. But by late 2014 I started getting the itch to get back on the air. 

AI6FR – So in November, 2014, I took and passed Element 3 for the Technician license and was grandfathered back to Extra Class. I got my new ticket on Nov. 21!

My apartment building is on top of a ridge and my top floor balcony overlooks the UCLA campus, with Mt. Lukens, Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Wilson, and Mt. Baldy/San Antonio as a scenic backdrop.

Hoping my landlord would let me put some kind of vertical on the roof, I got my old equipment out of storage but was wary of plugging it in out of fear that the electrolytic caps would pop like firecrackers after 21 years of being mothballed. I discovered that, in addition to the IC-761, I still had an Icom IC-735 portable transceiver that I had purchased barely used from that same ham friend in 1993.

This is when I discovered that the rest of my ham equipment – all my VHF equipment (two mobiles and two HTs), my antenna tuner, and a Bird wattmeter – a large box worth – had mysteriously disappeared – probably stolen from the partially loaded, unlocked moving truck prior to my departure from Illinois. (I have my suspicions of who the psychopathic culprit was.)

Both rigs passed the smoke test, but the IC-761 didn’t work reliably on the lower HF bands. I’ve since had the four VCO trimmer caps and CPU battery replaced, thanks to John Klewer, N6AX, and it works like new!  

In the meantime my current landlord said YES to the antenna, and I purchased and installed a Hy-Gain AV-640 multi-band vertical on the roof of my apartment building. 

While I was waiting for the backordered AV-640 I purchased a dual band quad from Cubex and assembled and mounted it to the edge of the roof that overhangs my balcony wall. I turn it by hand.

I bought a used Realistic HTX-404 handheld “brick” from a friend and listened for a week trying to decide if there’s anybody I’d like to hang out with on 440 MHz. I decided to join the PAPA System, which consists of 13 linked analog repeaters (and several linked D-STAR and DMR repeaters) covering most of Southern California. I’ve also joined the Westside ARC here in West LA. The quad comes in handy when I want to work simplex or get into a distant repeater.

N6SEX – I got this vanity call on Feb. 3, 2015. I chose this call because it met all three of my criteria for a good call: (1) It’s easy to understand on voice without phonetics; (2) it sounds rhythmic and short on CW; and (3) it’s easy to remember (for obvious reasons). A 4th advantage is that it ends with the same two letters as my former 1 x 2 call, N9EX, which I had chosen for similar reasons back in 1977 when I lived in Illinois. 

On that same day I installed a modification to my AV-640 HF multi-band vertical to add 80-meter coverage to it. Hy-Gain had agreed to send me a new matching unit, resonator section, and 80-meter top hat radials for the $100 difference in price between the AV-640 and the AV-680. They had never tried this before and don’t offer this as an upgrade.

The modification was successful, and now I have the equivalent of an AV-680 on the roof of my apartment building. My 2:1 SWR bandwidth was reduced from 150 kHz to 95 kHz on 40 meters. The bandwidth on 80 meters is only 40 kHz, but that’s fine. It covers the various CW nets I’m now active in.

I purchased an MFJ-945E antenna tuner to use with the AV-680 and my IC-735 (on 80 meters, mainly). After fixing 7 intermittant shorts (all in the open air coil taps) it works great. My IC-761 has a built-in ATU that also works great!

N6IET – On Pi Day, 2015, I received yet another vanity call sign, N6IET. N6SEX was too controversial and caused certain people (including myself) a bit of embarrassment in certain situations. Other than that it was the perfect call for me. I really hated giving it up.

I can now operate HF from my balcony (from a battery and solar panels) using a 40-foot LMR-240 feed line extension to my HF vertical connected to a 4-way coaxial switch in my bedroom. The extension goes through two walls and along the baseboard to get from my bedroom through my kitchen and dining room to the balcony. I sometimes use the Ten-Tec Patriot and/or my Weber Tri-Bander out there for QRP sprints, but I use my FT-857D “cutting board” rig out there daily.

72/73 de Rik, N6IET

 

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