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. ***
The floor lamp / aerial combination
Duct work makes a great antenna.. until the furnace starts.
If there is a breeze, the chandelier antenna will de-tune.
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
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
And like the floor lamp antenna, there was a lot of flickering if I used
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
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
The solution? I pitched a tent on the roof of the house and moved up there.