The Amateur Amateur #6

by Gary Ross Hoffman

Let me tell you about an event in my life I call ANTENNA WARS.

I used to have three antennas on my roof, mounted on two masts. One mast held (and still holds) my ham antenna. The other mast held two police scanner antennas: a huge ground plane and a discone. The discone gave the better performance of the two, and was more expensive. I'd wanted to take down the mast and put up a new one, and in the process replace the ground plane antenna with a second discone antenna. I'd put off the project for a long time, and only started thinking seriously about it when I bought Nancy (my wife) a home weather station for Christmas. Inclement weather, of all things, prevented me from getting around to it.

I finally did it during the last weekend in March (1996). Removing the old antennas and mast wasn't difficult, but the new mast was a complicated and unwieldy affair that took two of us to manage. (It was a ten-foot long steel pole with a smaller aluminum pole running at right angles at the top. Looked kind of like a classic telephone pole.)

Problem number one was that I had to install the discone antennas on the mast assembly while it was on the roof, but before I set the mast assembly upright. This was because the coaxial cables were already in place, running a complicated route through my attic, basement, conduits, and what-all, with only about 10 feet sticking out and available for me to play with on the roof.

Problem two was that the coaxial cables had to be strung through short tubes mounted on the mast assembly, then plugged into the discone antennas, and then the discone antennas had to be screwed to the tubes with microscopically small screws which had to be inserted into screw holes hiding behind vital parts of the antennas. (Don't try to visualize it, you'll just get a headache.)

We managed to get by problems one and two with a lot of muscle strain, numerous tiny screws skittering down the slope of the roof and making a suicide dive off into the shrubbery below, several tools doing the same, and much, much cursing. Just before erecting the mast to its final position, I wanted to spray some of the mast assembly with clear enamel paint. I've found that if I don't do this some of the parts rust.

I found that my can of clear enamel spray paint was irrevocably clogged. It was impossible to take off down to the hardware store for more, since it was already taking the efforts of both of us to keep the whole assembly from toppling over onto my neighbor's garage. Fortunately, I had a spare can of enamel paint in my tool bag. Unfortunately, it was yellow, not clear. But having no choice, I cringed and sprayed the exposed parts, my clothes, my face, Nancy's hair, and much of the neighborhood with yellow paint.

Now we were finally ready to erect the mast assembly. Nancy held it steady while I guided the base into the support mechanism on the side of the house. We couldn't get it in. We couldn't get the mast to stand up straight. The coaxial cables were too short. But with a gigantic effort it finally slipped in and stood up straight. Nancy held it in place while I dangled over the edge of the roof and tightened all of the nuts and bolts.

Hurrah! We stepped back to survey our efforts..... and saw that the aluminum pole had bent in the middle and that the ends were sagging down at 45 degree angles. The coaxial cables were taught as piano wires, obviously far too short. With great disappointment, and a nervous eye at rapidly approaching storm clouds, we took down the mast assembly. During the process the coaxial cables ripped free leaving broken connectors dangling from the discone antennas. What an unholy mess.

It took a while to work up the courage to think about trying again. Once I did, I replaced the bent aluminum pole, cleaned off the yellow paint, removed the busted coaxial cable plugs, then did something radical. I built the whole assembly ON THE GROUND, using brand new coaxial cable. Once the mast was up, I would just restring the new coaxial cable through the attic, basement, conduit, etc. etc. etc. And that's just what I did. This time installing the mast only took a few minutes. No screws went skitter-skitter down the roof, no tools got lost, no one got paint in his/her hair, and no coax went "sproing".

Routing the new cable was hell, but that's another story.

One final note. We got the mast up on Saturday April 28th (1996), the day before 75 mile per hour winds blew much of St.Louis into Kansas. Amazingly, none of the debris hit the antenna assembly, and it stayed up! The weather station even worked! I guess we did it right this time.

dual discone antennas
The finished product

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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