The Amateur Amateur: Antenna Chat

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
April 2017

Antenna group
Left-to-Right: Gretchen, Roddy, Grover, Jasper, Gracie, Jacob

Well, it looks like it's going to be another stormy night, the third one in a row. I can tolerate a little rain, but the lightning really scares me. And the wind! I shudder every time the wind kicks up and starts to make me sway. I'm afraid it's going to push me right over and that will be the end of me. That's what happened to my predecessor, Griffin.

Before I go any further, I guess I should introduce myself.

I'm Gracie, the ground plane antenna.

I live on the roof on a suburban house. My roof mates are Jacob and Jasper, a pair of J-poles, Roddy the discone, and Gretchen and Grover, who are also ground planes (though not as tall as I am). I share a mast with Jasper and Jacob, but I occupy the highest point. Gretchen and Grover sit on a stand-off on another mast, topped by Roddy.

I don't mean to brag, but I am the primary antenna of the group.

I guess I should also mention Heddy, the HDTV antenna, but she is always facing away from us and has very little to say. I would say that she is snobbish, but in all honesty, she's a receive-only antenna, and on different bands at that. It's a cultural thing and we just accept it.

Ah yes, there is also Warner. He is a wire antenna. The poor fellow is rarely used and isn't even mounted. The Man just draped Warner across the roof in a roughly square pattern and then seemed to forget about him. It's a very sad case.

Bent antenna
What happens when ice hits you

Our rooftop seems to be unique, at least as far as I can see. From my height I can spot an occasional antenna on other houses, but they are all TV antennas, and some of them are clearly defunct. There don't seem to be any other houses with multiple antennas, and certainly none with anything like us.

I'm sure, however, that there are such antennas out there. I can hear them talking, but I can't see them. They must be far away, some, I think, very far away indeed.

Sometimes I talk with them. Once a week The Man will send signals out through me, and it's clear that he's responding to some of what I'm hearing. I don't know exactly where he is, but I'm pretty sure it's at the other end of the coaxial cable to which I'm attached. I remember him using tools to tighten the connection and muttering some rather colorful language as he struggled to wrap weatherproof tape around it.

Interestingly, I sometimes hear The Man talking from somewhere else. It probably has to do with the vehicle he drives. It has antennas on it as well.

The Man has a lot of antennas.

There is also The Woman. We often see her walking her dog, Ariel (good name!). Sometimes she will send signals through Roddy. I've heard The Woman's voice emanating from him, but more often from somewhere else. She has antennas on her vehicle as well.

Antenna crash
The Big Crash. Gregory and Gretchen survived, but Griffen didn't.

The Man will occasionally come up on the roof. That's usually pretty scary. He climbs up a ladder, throws a bag of tools onto the roof with a big THUNK, then hoists himself up after it. The roof creaks a lot while he's up here.

The bag of tools is usually a bad sign. It means that he's going to mess with the mast that Jacob, Jasper and I occupy, or the one Roddy, Gretchen and Grover are on. Nothing good ever comes from these encounters. One of the masts will be loosened, wobble sickeningly, and then start to topple. The Man will manage to catch it, but not before someone's radials get frighteningly close to the roof.

It gets worse. Someone might get replaced. That's what happened to Gregory. He occupied the spot now held by Grover. Gregory had once been on a very tall mast that had come crashing down into a neighboring yard during a thunderstorm. That's when we lost Griffin. Gregory and Gretchen had survived, but Gregory was never the same after the incident. Maybe that's why The Man removed him.

Sometimes, though, we luck out completely. The Man will just come up to change the batteries in the weather stations and leave us completely alone. That's always a relief.

The weather stations are curious things, in that they talk as well. We can hear them, but can't make sense of what they're saying. Gretchen usually makes the same nonsensical noises, what she calls APRS, but she claims not to understand the weather station language at all.

We're all concerned about the weather, of course. As I mentioned, it looks like it's going to be yet another horrible night. Getting wet doesn't bother us much, unless the water gets into our connectors. (That rarely happens. The Man is fanatical about weatherproofing them.) If the rain turns solid, though, look out! That ice hurts when it hits us! Roddy has told us horrible tales of bent radials and worse. He's even seen a weather station hit by ice and literally blown apart. I know that the roof itself had to be replaced after the thunderstorm that brought down the giant mast. Can you imagine?

Man messing with antennas
The Man messing with us. (Note the tool bag.)

I already told you that we all fear the wind, but it's not just about being blown over (shudder!). High winds often carry solid objects. There are lots of trees in the neighborhood, and the wind will break off bits and pieces of them and toss them all over the place. I've been hit numerous times, but fortunately, not by anything sizable. Still, I dread the day that some really big chunk of a tree comes flying at me.

And then there is lightning. That is our biggest fear of all. None of us has actually been struck, but we can always feel the lightning. It's like a vastly amplified signal crashing through you. On two occasions the lightning has struck very nearby, and let me tell you, the sensation was ghastly! We all survived, but we know there was damage. Something in the backyard called the "generator" had to be repaired.

If we all survive the storm tonight, and I suspect that we will, we have one more worry.

The trees are beginning to bloom. The weather is getting warmer. The Man has been coming outside more and more frequently and just standing on the lawn, staring at us. We've seen these signs and we know what is coming.

He's planning a major antenna project this spring.

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