The Amateur Amateur

Welcome to the new home of The Amateur Amateur

The American Radio Relay League has indicated that it no longer wishes to publish the column,
so I have set up this site as its new home. My thanks to all of you who have sent me messages of support. They are greatly appreciated.

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 1 2014

The Amateur Amateur: April Showers Bring May.. Antennas?

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

A lot of stuff has fallen from the roof of my house. I've dropped a lot of it myself. A veritable hardware store of nuts and bolts have escaped my grasp while up there. I could hear them going skitter-skitter down the slope, but there was no way to intercept them and prevent their suicide dive off the roof and into the unknown. The occasional connector, tie wrap, and even a roll of weather sealant have also made similar getaways.

radial in iris

First inkling of a strange phenomenon

longer radial in iris

It was definitely a radial element!

discone in iris

The rest of the antenna emerges

Tools I can usually intercept. Most of the other items get dropped, so they have momentum before they even hit the shingles. Tools, on the other hand, are usually sitting there quietly, giving no indication that they're contemplating a departure, when they decide to abandon me and run away. Fortunately, they have to overcome inertia, and I hear their movements before they build up much speed. Also, I've gotten smarter about where I put them, so they rarely get away.

Just about everything that does make it off of the roof just disappears. Logic says that they should land on the ground somewhere, but I can never find them. I don't know if it's bad luck or if some different rules of physics apply to Amateur Radio rooftop projects.

I can't say that nothing was ever found. Indeed some antenna parts were discovered when my wife Nancy mowed the lawn one day. Those weren't items that I had dropped, though, they had been blasted loose during hail storms. As a ham herself (N0NJ) Nancye recognized what they were and handed them over to me. I stored them in the basement. I knew that eventually I would have some compelling reason to go back up on the roof. I would take the loose parts back up with me then and see if they could be reattached.

Now I think we should have just left them on the lawn.

You see, some of those lost items have started to sprout.

At first I didn't realize what was happening. I thought the tiny metallic object in the midst of the iris and ivy leaves was a remnant of some old utility company grounding rod. There are several of those poking out of the soil. But when I investigated further it became evident that it wasn't a grounding rod at all. It was a radial element of an antenna!

Well, you can imagine my surprise. We have a difficult time getting grass to grow. The soil in our yard is absolutely rotten. We tried laying down topsoil. We spread just about every fertilizer available. We've seeded the lawn with special “hardy grass” and have gotten nowhere.

And now the yard was budding antenna parts.

Maybe the soil was good for something after all.

Or maybe it was climate change, I don't know. What I did know was that this was a fascinating phenomenon. I watched the tiny stalk grow day by day. I wondered what it's final form would be. When should I consider harvesting it? Would it wither and die if I left it there too long?

Horticulture books were no help. Not one of them mentioned dipoles, let alone beams, discones, or anything more esoteric. Amateur Radio literature had plenty to say about burying radials but nothing at all about what you could expect to germinate. Even Googling “growing antennas” only resulted in mentions of the 60s TV show My Favorite Martian.

It looked like I was on my own. I'd have to keep an eye on the antenna element and keep a record of its growth.

Darned if I could figure out how to enter it into Logbook of the World, though.

After several days I got another surprise. More parts of the antenna were emerging from the iris. It wasn't an antenna element that was growing, it was a complete antenna!

This shouldn't have come as such a shock to me. After all, I knew that some animals could regenerate lost limbs. And as we all know, modern radios have regenerative receivers. It's only natural to assume that an antenna system with a low Standing Wave Ratio would benefit from the transceiver's regenerative capabilities, right?

Then another thought occurred to me. The antenna growing out of the irises was the result of a part accidentally falling into the garden. What if I deliberately planted something? How much would be necessary for it to take root? Would it require an entire element, or would just a sliver do? How complicated an antenna could I expect to grow? I already had a discone blooming, could I cultivate a big honking HF antenna? If so, I'd better dig it up and sell it while it was still a seedling, there definitely wasn't room in my yard for anything like that.

The concept was staggering. It gave a whole new meaning to the term “antenna farm”. I wondered if I would need to try to get my property rezoned, and if so, as agricultural land or as a scrapyard?

I spent so much time watching my little antenna grow that I'd completely forgotten that numerous objects had also tumbled into the front yard. When that thought finally popped into my head I ran around to inspect the area where most of the roof-escapees should have fallen. At first I didn't see anything. But then I spotted a glint of something in the ivy. Yes. There was definitely something metallic in there.

It was a screwdriver.

screwdriver in ivy

A screwdriver in the ivy.. just a coincidence??

At first I was puzzled. I'd figured out how an antenna could regenerate, but a Phillips head screwdriver? That didn't make any sense at all.

Or maybe it did.

Perhaps being in contact with the antenna, which was in contact with the coaxial cable, which was in contact with the transceiver, which had a regenerative circuit....

Well, maybe not. It may have just been a lost screwdriver that I'd stumbled across. I wasn't sure, but just in case it had actually grown there, I left it in place. I will check back in a few weeks to see if it's still merely a screwdriver or if it has blossomed into an entire toolbox.

In the meantime, I am fertilizing the irises with nuts and bolts.

Now that I think about it, many years ago my grandfather had buried old radio parts in the yard of his suburban home in Florida. We all knew why he did it. Florida was going through landfill problems at the time and all sorts of stringent waste disposal laws were being passed. Granddad was frugal. He didn't want to pay the surcharges and extra fees, so he just dug a hole when no one was looking and dumped in his old electronic junk.

Or so we thought.

Now I'm wondering if he knew something the rest of us didn't. Perhaps he was aware of the phenomenon that I'm now experiencing. Could it be that he really expected to grow a crop of new radios? Is so, he was disappointed.

All that came up were oranges.

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

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to see previous columns.

All previous columns are now in Web-page format.

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Stan Horzepa's "Surfin'"
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© 2014 Gary Ross Hoffman
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