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

December 2018

The Amateur Amateur: The Roof is Higher Than It Used to Be

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

Gary on ladder
Back when the roof wasn't so high

If you are a regular reader of this column you will be know that I frequently return to a certain topic: My lack of success with the HF bands. More specifically, my inability to put up a decent HF antenna. I've tried the cheap, the sublime, and the out-and-out weird. The only time that I had any luck at all was during a period when I had a wire running the length of my home's roof. That actually worked, until a storm brought it and its supporting hardware crashing down.

I'd like to try again. I can't put up the same configuration I had before, because the new post-storm masts that I installed are not in the same places as the previous ones.

A number of you wrote to me with suggestions, and a few of them did seem feasible. One in particular looked like it might be do-able and may even work. There is just one problem.

My roof is higher than it used to be.

That's more of a perception problem than a change in my home's architecture. It just seems higher now. It's definitely more dangerous, though, at least for me.

The main problem is that I'm older. Parts of me now creak more than rickety old shed on a windy day. Thanks to various illnesses, and even worse, the cures, I have very little strength and about 45 seconds of stamina. I'd still like to put up a new antenna configuration. I just have to be very sure that my body is going to cooperate before I try.

I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least map out a plan of action. I'm still pretty good at that sort of thing, and it doesn't require getting up from my La-Z-Boy recliner.

The original suggestion was to set up a V-shaped dipole, with its lowest point at the base of an existing mast in the center of my roof. The endpoints would be held by masts at either end of the roof. The only thing that bothered me about that configuration was that it would mean I'd have about half as much wire in the air than I had with my first configuration. But, any wire is better than no wire, I figured, so why not try it?

I kicked that idea around for a while. (You can call it procrastinating. I call it meditative contemplation.) Then, while walking my dog one day, I noticed that the middle mast wasn't actually located at the center of the roof. It was clearly closer to the north end than the south end.

Well, that messed up the whole plan. Was there any way to salvage it? Could I move the mast closer to the center of the roof?

I supposed that I could, but it would require extending several already-too-long coaxial cables. No, better not go that route.

How about adding another mast at the actual center of the roof?

Nope. The off-center mast would be in the way of the antenna wires.

Phooey. It looked like I was going to have to ditch the whole idea. And I had just grown rather fond of it.

Gary on roof
It's harder to do this sort of work these days

I mulled over the idea of using the trees in my back yard, and quickly dismissed it. My wife had always nixed putting anything in the trees, and though she is no longer with us, I still go along with her advice. She was always much wiser than me.

While visualizing the tree solution, however, I wondered about putting up a tower close to the back of the house.

Absolutely not. That would be far more laborious, expensive, and would attract unwanted attention from the local municipality. I shuddered at the thought.

But.....

How about a mast centered midway between the north end and the south end of the roof, but not centered width-wise? That would solve the problem of avoiding the not-in-the-center mast. It would also allow me to put up a bit more wire. Oh, it would be less than ideal. The resulting antenna would be somewhat directional, looking less like a V and more like a slingshot, but at least it would be something.

I filed that idea under “maybe”. It sat there for a few days. I couldn't think of any particular reason to reject it, so, I started thinking about specifics.

First question, how would I even mount such a mast? It wouldn't be near any roof edges, nor any standpipes, chimneys, or other convenient structures. Of the three existing masts, one had an eave mount and the other two had tripod mounts. I supposed that I could use another tripod, but having a mast shooting off at an angle instead of sitting vertically seemed just too much of a kludge, even for me.

Masts on roof
Oops! It's not really centered.

As I surmised, though, if you spend enough time on the Internet, you'll find something that will fill your needs. And I did. The cost, availability, delivery time, and other such details were murky, but at least conceptually, I'd found a mast stand that would fit the bill.

The next question was how, exactly, was I going to route the coaxial cable. I would be using a SG-237 antenna coupler, so I couldn't use ladder-line. I did have a coaxial cable route from my shack to the roof, but would the new mast be just a tad too far of a run? Maybe. But there is less loss on coax on HF than there is on the VHF and UHF bands. How about a new, shorter route for the coax? That was certainly doable, but it would be pretty ugly.

I kicked the matter back into the box for further contemplation.

What next? Well, control wires for the antenna coupler, but I didn't think that would be much of an issue.

How about interference from nearby power lines, my other masts, and so forth? Hmm, I've suspected the power lines of generating noise, but mainly on the very low bands, which I don't think I can use with the limited amount of wire I will be able to put up. As for my other masts, yeah, they will probably have some impact. But again, I would never have an ideal HF antenna configuration. If I can talk to anyone on any band, it will be an improvement.

The final problem is the big one. The roof is still higher than it used to be. I may need a squad of volunteer helpers and a standby ambulance. I still dream that some medication I'm taking will eventually help rather than hinder my efforts. And I may have received a hopeful sign.

They recently decreased my dosage.

The roof is looking lower already.

(Email = [email protected])

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

Earlier columns and other stories

Non-ham-related stories

Also vist
Stan Horzepa's "Surfin'"
Eric Guth's "QSO Today'"

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