The Amateur Amateur: Where Do Old Antennas Go?

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
March 28, 2005

I never throw away an old antenna, no matter how rotten it performed. Who knows? Maybe it can be rehabilitated.

New discone in package

The new antenna, still enjoying "phase one" of its life.

Last fall I saw an intriguing looking antenna at a hamfest. I didn't buy it. I'm sure there was some compelling reason not to do so--such as lack of funds--but all I could think of later was, "I wish I'd bought that thing!"

When my brother Chris, K1KC, asked what I'd like for Christmas, the very first thing that popped into my mind was that antenna. Chris was kind enough to get it for me (thanks, Bro). On Christmas Day I took the antenna out of its box, admired it for a while, and put it in my closet.

Now that warmer weather is approaching, I am contemplating getting up on the roof to install the new antenna. I have mixed feelings about the project. I'm eager to use the antenna, but installing it means that it will move into the middle stage of its life.

Let me explain.

All of my antennas go through three phases of life. During the first phase the antenna sits around the house, often still in its box, while I think about installing it. This phase may go on for quite some time. It usually ends when my wife Nancy, N0NJ, tells me to put it up or get rid of it, but to definitely get it out of the house. Other factors affecting the length of phase one are the weather, the number of higher priority tasks I need to do, and how much effort will it take to get up from my La-Z-Boy.

Phase two of an antenna's life is that period of time when it is actually on the roof of the house or mounted on one of our cars. During that time it happily radiates and receives radio emissions. If it does this well, phase two of its life will be long and fruitful. If, on the other hand, it generates more heat than radio signals, then phase two of its life will be short indeed.

Antennas sitting in basement corner

A couple of old antennas, unceremoniously dumped in a corner of the basement.

And now we arrive at the final and saddest part of the lives of my antennas--phase three. This consists of the antenna's being dismounted and stored in the basement. Like most Amateur Radio operators I'm a packrat. I never throw away an old antenna, no matter how rotten it performed. Who knows? Maybe it can be rehabilitated.

With a great deal of expertise and just the right tools--neither of which I actually possess--the retired antenna might yet be turned into a top performer. So phase three of an antenna's life may be far longer than either phase one or phase two. As yet no antenna has ever left my basement, so I can't give you an estimate of how long one may stay there.

What prompts me to take down an antenna and put it in my basement? Usually it's because I'm replacing it with something that I hope will work better. On rare occasions I have taken down an antenna for some other reason, such as the one that got blasted to pieces during a hail storm. But more often than not I'm trying something new and hoping it will grab the sky a little better than its predecessor.

So let's go back to the antenna my brother gave me for Christmas. It's a multiband discone antenna that I hope to use to fill some gaps in my coverage.

"That's nice," Nancy said when I told her. "Which ones to you plan to take down?"

Diamond X50A

"Old Reliable." I hate to take it down.

That was a really loaded question. Not only had she reminded me that there was no room on the roof for additional antennas, but she had subtly suggested that the new antenna could replace more than one already up there.

Well, I didn't really want to take down any, but Nancy had a valid point. I'd run into the problem of antenna clutter once before, with a knot of antennas so close together that they threatened to attain critical mass and collapse into a black hole. Well, perhaps, just collapse.

That antenna cluster was gone, but even the few antennas that remained on the roof likely interacted with each other to some degree. Being a ham in the suburbs is a study in antenna compromises.

Something really had to come down, and the irony was that the only logical candidate was the one antenna that had so far performed flawlessly. The new antenna would cover the same bands, and then some, but--Oh, the agony!--I hated to take down "Old Reliable." It deserved a much better fate than being relegated to the basement.

Was there an alternative? Could I find some way to put up the new discone without forcing Old Reliable into retirement? The existing masts on the roof could not support any more antennas. Well, they could support another antenna, but it would be too close to the others. Another mast? No room. The attic? Ha! It's more of a crawl space, and already festooned with coax and conduits. Something in the back yard? Not without cutting down some huge trees and rerouting the electric, telephone, and cable TV lines. No alternatives. Old Reliable would have to come down.

Okay, I've resigned myself to it. I'm a practical person. If I have to take down one antenna before I can put up another, so be it. It's a rational decision. Ultimately it's for the best. I'll draw up plans for what I need to do and lay out the tools . . . just as soon as the weather gets just a bit warmer.

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2005 American Radio Relay League


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