The Amateur Amateur

Welcome to the new home of The Amateur Amateur

The Amateur Amateur is a column about my experiences in ham radio. Since I have little technical expertise and not much knowledge of electronics, I make a lot of mistakes. I consider myself to be just an amateur amateur radio operator, but I keep pressing on and trying new things. This column details my triumphs - and foibles - and I try not to take myself too seriously. Whether you are an experienced ham or new to the hobby, I hope you find these chronicles of my efforts to be entertaining.

Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

April 2015

The Amateur Amateur: Outside In

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

*** This is an April Fool story. Please do not send an emergency psychiatric team to my home. ***

lamp/antenna combo

The floor lamp / aerial combination

basement ductwork

Duct work makes a great antenna.. until the furnace starts.

chandelier

If there is a breeze, the chandelier antenna will de-tune.

tent on roof of house

I just need to remove the last few rooftop antennas and then put some furniture in the tent.

Each of us has some task that we really hate to do. With me, it's climbing onto the roof of my house to find out what's wrong with an antenna. Sometimes I will go into denial, figuring that the problem must be somewhere in my shack instead. I'll poke and prod the transceiver, test the power supply, and swap things around over and over. I've even been known to buy a new radio rather than admit that I have an antenna problem.

I'm just getting too old for these rooftop excursions.

It happened again just a few weeks ago, and this time the symptoms were impossible to ignore. I had to concede that it was definitely an antenna system issue. I resigned myself to yet another wobbly, creaky climb (my joints, not the ladder) to find out what was the matter.

Fortunately for me, the weather was not in a cooperative mood, so I got a short reprieve. That gave me more time to think about the problem. And it was during this period that I came up with an idea that would solve my rooftop woes once and for all.

I would bring the antennas inside.

Think about it. No more hailstone damage to the antennas. No more weathering of the coaxial cables. No more loose connections due to flexing from wind or temperature changes. And if anything did happen to an antenna, I could attend to it in the comfort of my home. No more gamboling with the gables or prancing on the parapet. I wouldn't have climb any ladders, and I could wear shorts and a Hawaiian shirt regardless of the outside temperature.

Yes, it was a brilliant idea, thank you.

Now all I needed to do was figure out where inside the house to put the antennas. As it turned out, many of the solutions suggested themselves.

The aerial/lamp combination struck me right away. I stood a 2m/70cm antenna on the floor of the family room while looking around for a good place to put it, and the thought suddenly came to me. Why not incorporate it as part of the room's furnishings? Using the antenna as a floor lamp seemed like a reasonable notion.

This configuration worked well, since the antenna had short radials that could act as the base of the lamp. It was sturdy and wiring up the lamp was relatively easy. The only drawback was that if I used one of those the new fluorescent light bulbs, it flickered a lot when I transmitted. (Please note, don't try this with a J-pole as it will keep falling over.)

The bathroom offered numerous possibilities. At the very least the plumbing made a very useful ground plane. I considered using another 2m/70cm antenna as a shower curtain rod, but every time I took a shower it would be just the same as if the antenna were still outside in the rain. Even worse, the initial cold water rapidly changing to hot water would undoubtedly cause the coaxial connector to flex a lot and eventually become loose. I saw no advantage to this so I abandoned the shower curtain rod idea.

An antenna mounted on the rim of the bathtub, however, worked surprisingly well. I just filled the tub with water and got excellent results. Of course, I didn't actually get in the tub, both for safety reasons and because who would want to bathe in salt water?.

During my explorations to find suitable locations to place my antennas I also discovered that the house already contained several natural aerials.

First, there was the beverage antenna. And before you start thinking that I've gone batty, I did not put an antenna in the refrigerator with the beverages. That would have been ridiculous. For goodness sake, the signal would never have penetrated the metal walls!

No, the proper way to do it was to make the refrigerator itself the antenna. It had a large radiating surface, and if I was careful not to puncture anything, I could use the cooling coils on the back to tune the frequency. (If you attempt this, be aware that the band will vary depending on whether it's a freezer-on-top or a side-by-side model.)

I also found that the stainless steel sink in my kitchen could serve as a parabolic dish antenna for satellite work. Of course, I had only brief moments when a satellite passed directly over my house, so I had to transmit quickly. But hey, if the meteor-scatter guys could do it, why not give it a shot? (If you decide to try this yourself, here is a cautionary note: Be sure not to engage the garbage disposal while operating. If your coax gets caught in there it'll make a heck of a mess.)

Here's another idea that yielded interesting results. I found that bedsprings make a superb moonbounce array. Since it's not in the yard or on the roof it doesn't scare the neighbors, and even inside the house it's hidden away. Not only that, but it makes the bed nice and toasty on cold winter evenings.

While perusing the basement I discovered that my exercise bicycle had a steel frame. Excellent! It did, indeed, radiate when loaded, and it was conveniently close to my shack. I needed only a short run of feed line to get it connected to a radio.

There was an added benefit as well. I usually watch video tapes while exercising on the bike. My stock of viewing material had been getting low, though, and I'd been wondering what I could do to occupy my mind once I ran out of tapes. The solutions was now obvious: Get on the air! After setting up a remote control head on the bicycle I was all set to go. But wait (as they say on TV), that's not all! With just a small bit of labor I was able to convert my exercise bike into a generator to power my transceiver!

It just doesn't get any better than that.

My house is what they call "ranch style". It means that the ceiling in at least part of the house follows the contours of the roof. In my home it's the living room / dining room area. The dining room has a chandelier hanging from the highest point of the ceiling.

Perfect! A natural ground plane antenna!

I wired it up and it worked well most of the time. But if there was even the slightest movement of air in the room, the chains holding up the chandelier (which acted as the main radiating element) would re-align and the antenna would de-tune.

And like the floor lamp antenna, there was a lot of flickering if I used fluorescent bulbs.

By far the largest quantity of metal to be found in the house was the duct work for the HAC (Heating and Air Conditioning system). It ran throughout the house, so I was able to connect feed line to it just about anyplace I wished. And being made entirely of galvanized steel, it made an absolutely fabulous antenna.

Until the furnace kicked in.

The noise was unbelievable. My ears are still ringing.

That concludes my tale. And lest you think that I was willing to try absolutely anything, let me just say that I rejected the idea of a propane bottle antenna as soon as I thought of it. Even I can figure out this simple formula: RF energy + volatile gas = BOOM.

It may seem like my brilliant idea was flawless, but I will admit that there was one small hitch. With the antennas being inside, the interior of the house was now flooded with dangerous levels of RF energy. There was no way I could live there.

The solution? I pitched a tent on the roof of the house and moved up there.

Glitches in the System
A series of cartoons about what really happens when your radio breaks down

New "Glitch" added March 2015!

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to see previous columns.

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