The Amateur Amateur: Raise the Antenna!
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
It started with scanner antennas
An assortment of antennoids
Wreckage: AKA Voltron's Demise
Diamond K9000 Motor Drive Mount
The "raise" and "lower" button.
"Raise the antenna!" I've heard that phrase quite a lot since getting
my ham ticket, mostly while muttering to myself. (I mutter loudly,
hence the exclamation point.) The expression actually has two
distinct definitions, and I have had occasion to use both of them.
The first definition of "raise the antenna" would be to hoist
the antenna, much as one would raise/hoist a flag on a pirate ship.
It's down, and it needs to go up.
second definition of "raise the antenna" would indicate
that the antenna is already mounted and in place, but needs to go up
So?" you're thinking. "What's the big deal?"
surprise, for me, at least, was when I realized how often
I've found myself making that very utterance. Not just every now and
then, but quite frequently.
I guess you could say that it started back in 1977 when my wife Nancy
and I moved from an apartment to a house. We weren't Amateur Radio
operators back then, but I was already an avid police scanner
enthusiast. Once we had moved into our new home, one of the very
first things I did was to get an outdoor scanner aerial, climb onto
the roof, and raise the antenna.
Joy, oh rapturous joy! I would now be able to pick up all those cool
channels that I'd been unable to receive while living in an
It didn't work out that way, of
course. There were a lot of other factors involved. I would start to
understand that once Nancy and I finally did get our Amateur
licenses. We initially played around with hand held transceivers,
then mobiles, but the day finally came when I decided to set up a
shack in the basement of our house.
And, naturally, that meant getting back onto the roof to raise
This went on a lot. Each new radio demanded its own antenna. And, when I
got into HF, I spent a lot
of time fiddling around on top of the house. Just ask Nancy. I needed
her help with most of it.
I never did get the HF antenna
system right. Each new attempt invariably ended in a new failure. I
tried a lot of quirky-looking antennoids, which worked about as well
as you might expect. I did have a brief run of success with a wire
antenna, before The Big Storm brought it and everything else on the
roof crashing down.
I kind of enjoyed the short
period during which I actually could work HF, but my main passion was
local emergency communications. And that required much simpler,
Only, they tended not to work much better than my HF antennas.
It quickly became obvious what
the problem was. Our house was on a hill. Not the top of the hill,
unfortunately, but the side of the hill.
The wrong side.
We lived on the north side of a hill in north
St. Louis County, and everyone I needed to contact was south
The solution was obvious. Raise the antenna!
Ah. Well. Easier said than done. Ten feet of masting didn't seem to do
much. I went to fifteen feet, and that helped some. But I had
multiple antennas, and they all
needed to get over that blasted hump to the south of me. I decided to
do something drastic.
I ordered a huge mast that I
could mount on the roof, but still tip over so that I could maintain
the antennas. (It was called a Penninger Tipper, and I will only
blame myself for the disaster that eventually happened. There was
nothing wrong with the mast itself.)
The Tipper was a beast. It was heavy,
both in weight and gauge. The base bolted firmly to the roof. The top
of it reached about 28 feet above the roof line of the house, and it
had places all along its length where I could attach guy wires.
Which I did not do.
I know, I know, but there really
were no good places on or near the house to secure guy wires. And you
don't need to write and tell me how foolish I was. Lesson learned,
the hard way.
But for a while, the mast was a marvel. I managed to build my own
standoff and get a total of three antennas at or near the top. They
all succeeded in getting signals over the hill. And any time I wanted
to swap out an antenna, all I had to do was lower the Tipper, make
the change, and raise the antennas
again. Nancy named the array "Voltron" because of its appearance.
After The Big Storm it became known as "Wreckage".
I talked about the storm and Voltron's demise in an earlier column
so I won't describe the horrible mess that wound up on my neighbor's
patio, nor his worried look as he asked me if it was "live".
Suffice it to say that it resulted in a new roof, a long period of
being off the air, and a lot of careful planning about how to
Yes, I was eventually able to
raise some new antennas. There are a couple of Voltron Juniors on the
roof now, much lower, much lighter, and unfortunately, nowhere near
as effective as the original. Short of finding a new home, however,
there is not much more that I can do.
Moving on from my rooftop
adventures, I'd now like to tell you about my mobile antenna-raising
Mobile antennas weren't much of a
problem, initially. Nancy and I had fairly low-slung Chevy Geos, and
our trunk-mounted antennas posed no problems when we parked in our
All that changed when Nancy got a
Toyota Corolla. It sat somewhat higher than her old Geo, and the
trunk-mounted antenna banged into the garage door. I solved that
problem by getting a different model, shorter antenna for her trunk.
It worked just as well, and didn't hit the garage door.
But, when I exchanged my own Geo
for a Toyota RAV4 a few years later, I was at a complete loss about
what to do for an antenna. Short of sticking a mag mount on the hood
(No!) there didn't seem to be anything I could do.
After a lot of catalog-searching,
I found two promising candidates. (There are more, I know.) Both
systems involved lowering the antenna in order to safely get into the
garage, and raising the antenna just after exiting the garage. Both
were very similar, the difference being that one was manual, and one
was electric. I opted for the manual system, figuring that it wasn't
all that much labor to raise and lower the antenna.
Ha! It didn't take long for me to change my mind. When I pulled out of
the garage, I just wanted to go somewhere.
I didn't want to climb out and fiddle with something on the roof.
Likewise, arriving home after a rough day, even the small amount of
labor required to manually lower the antenna seemed like an unfair
delay in my getting inside and flopping into my La-Z-Boy recliner.
The biggest problem, however, was when I needed to pull into a parking
garage. People behind me did not
appreciate being held up as I carefully rearranged objects on the
roof of my SUV.
finally did spend the money and get the electric system. I'm very
glad that I did. Now, both raising and lowering
the antenna is as simple as pushing a button.
To conclude, if you are a constant tinkerer like me, or if you, too,
have propagation problems, you have my sympathies. You'll probably
also find your self muttering Raise the Antenna over and over again.
And don't forget, sooner or later you're going to have to lower
it as well. If you can find a magic button that does it all, buy it!
(Email = [email protected])