The Amateur Amateur: Raise the Antenna!

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
August 2018

Scanner dicsone antennas
It started with scanner antennas
Bilal Isotrons
An assortment of antennoids
Penninger tipper and array
Voltron's demise
Wreckage: AKA Voltron's Demise
Diamond K9000 motor
Diamond K9000 Motor Drive Mount
K9000 control button
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.

The second definition of "raise the antenna" would indicate that the antenna is already mounted and in place, but needs to go up higher.

"Yeah? So?" you're thinking. "What's the big deal?"

The 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 apartment!

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 another antenna.

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, shorter antennas.

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 of us.

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 (Mastless in Missouri), 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 recover.

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 exploits.

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 garage.

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.

I 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])

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