The Amateur Amateur: Ka-toing!
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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!
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
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.