The Amateur Amateur: Ka-toing!

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
February 2015

2003 Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla only made it into the garage after I put a shorter antenna on the trunk

Back when my wife Nancy and I earned our initial Amateur Radio licenses we both owned fairly low-slung cars. The mag-mount and (shudder!) glass mount antennas that we first used were no problem. It was still easy to pull our vehicles into and out of our two-car garage. This trend continued until 2003 when we bought Nancy a new Toyota Corolla. It was, and still is, a fine car, but we quickly discovered that it sat higher than any car we'd previously owned.

I'm not complaining, it's roomier inside than any of our earlier cars. But the Amateur Radio antenna that I'd transferred from Nancy's previous car to the Corolla suddenly became a problem. Instead of gliding smoothly into the garage, her car would now get about three-quarters of the way in and we'd suddenly hear a sickening Whack! as the antenna hit the raised garage door.

Hmmmm, was it too late to take the Corolla back to the Toyota dealership and retrieve Nancy's old Geo Prizm?

Just kidding. Obviously I bought a new, shorter antenna.

But the incident did force me to start paying more attention to the troubles our mobile antennas could get into.

Five years and a bit of unexpected income later, it was my turn to get a new vehicle. And strangely enough, I was thinking entirely of Amateur Radio issues when I decided what to get. (Okay, a lot of you don't find it all that strange.) In my case I just wanted something big enough to haul my Amateur Radio Emergency Service deployment gear.

We liked Nancy's Corolla a lot, so I trolled through the list of SUV models that Toyota was marketing (there were a lot of them!) and settled on the RAV4. It was more or less the smallest SUV they made. I just wanted something big enough to hold five-foot long masts and a pile of go-bags, not something that could haul a portable nuclear reactor.

I had to convince the Toyota salesman, though. He kept pointing out the roomier, luxury-liner-sized models. I finally said, “Look, I just want a sedan that has a big butt.”

“You're right,” he agreed. “You need a RAV4.”

So I bought one.

2008 Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4: A sedan with a big butt

Incredibly, I had forgotten all about the problems of putting antennas on a high profile vehicle.

I had to do a lot of research before I found something I could put on the RAV4 that would actually fit into the garage. I didn't, however, get a short antenna. I got a long one that folded down.

Well, I got a 5/8 wave antenna along with a mount that would latch onto the SUV's luggage rack and could be manually tilted up and down.

I did actually consider getting a motorized mount that would raise or lower the antenna at the push of a button, but I figured that would be the lazy approach. (I now realize that I was already being lazy and just didn't want to install the extra wiring. I now wish that I'd bought the blasted motorized version.)

After a while this manual mount manipulation task became tedious. So when I pulled the SUV out of the garage I just wouldn't bother to stop, get out, and raise the antenna. Instead, I simply didn't use the radio. Sometime during my trip, however, I'd usually begin to regret that decision.

I did eventually put one normal vertical antenna on the roof of the RAV4. Some years ago I bought a transmit-only APRS device (Automatic Packet Reporting System). It came with a short mag-mount antenna, and I found that if I positioned it at the very back of the roof it could almost make in under the raised garage door without making contact. In fact, I figured that “almost” was the same as “close enough” and decided that the antenna could tolerate a brief scrape. It was light and very flexible, and as long as I pulled out slowly, the mag-mount wouldn't lose its grip on the roof. As I backed out I would soon hear a scratchy Scaaaape sound, immediately followed by a Ka-toing! when the antenna cleared the garage door and began to whip back and forth.

Actually, I began to enjoy the sound of it.

Fold-down antenna

Fold-down antenna

I was at a hamfest this January, helping to work at the ARES table. We actually had two tables, one with promotional and emergency preparedness material, and the other with items for sale. This year all of the sale items were from the estate of a Silent Key. Everything was being sold at rock-bottom prices because we really didn't know what worked and what didn't. And, of course, nothing at all had come with any kind of documentation.

Among the various items were many mag-mount antennas. None of them had any kind of markings, but we assumed that they were all VHF band models. We suspected that they had originally been mounted on unmarked police cars, but we really didn't know.

I decided to get one myself. They were cheap and most of them were about the same length as my APRS antenna. I figured I would put one on my SUV, and if, like the APRS antenna, it was flexible enough to handle a quick brush with the garage door, it might serve as a lazy-day substitute for my folded-down antenna.

I bought one and the next day I stuck it on the back of the RAV4's roof. Well, it was immediately obvious that there was no way its magnet was going to come loose. It was much stronger that the tiny magnet on the APRS antenna. Also, the radial on the new antenna appeared to be just as flexible as the one on the APRS antenna.

So far so good.

With the SUV still in parked the garage, I plugged the new antenna into my mobile transceiver and gave it a try.

It worked fine, and wonder-of-wonders, not just on VHF but on UHF as well. Was this a dual-bander? I didn't think so, but hey.. I wasn't going to argue with success!

I had an appointment to see my doctor the next day. It was an opportunity to field test (and garage door test) the new antenna. I slowly backed the RAV4 out of garage, waiting to see – and hear – what happened.

Two mag-mount antennas

Dualing Ka-toingers

There was just a single Ka-toing! but this time it was both antennas Ka-toinging in unison. They whipped back and forth for a few moments and then settled down. I was able to use my radio during the drive to the doctor's office without having to get out and raise the longer antenna.


I got to doctor's office, which was located in a hospital complex. The hospital's parking area is a garage that is perpetually under construction or repair. This time the mess was worse than I'd ever seen it before, and it looked like there were absolutely no parking spaces available. I cruised around and around, hoping someone would leave. This was bad, because the garage had many overhead concrete beams, and just about all of them were lower than my raised garage door. So I circled repeatedly, my two antennas constantly going Ka-toing! Ka-toing! Ka-toing!

I did eventually catch someone pulling out of, naturally, the spot absolutely furthest from where I needed to be, but beggars can't be choosers, so with a final Ka-toing! I grabbed it.

Having finally parked, I gave the two antennas a quick inspection. Somehow they had both survived, as had my sanity (but just barely). I made my way to the doctor's office.

Amazingly, my blood pressure was absolutely normal.

Now, I know what you're going to say. It's foolish of me to risk damaging the antennas, my garage door, and potentially the roof of my RAV4 like that. And if nothing else, I could at least bend the two flexible radials a little so that they could make it in and out of the garage without making contact with anything. I agree. But you know...

I'd really miss that Ka-toing sound.

© 2017 Gary Ross Hoffman
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