The Amateur Amateur: Towering Prices
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
August 22, 2007
Okay, I need to get higher. After years of fiddling with my VHF/UHF antennas, I
reluctantly acknowledged that they need to go up.
This was not
really a surprise to me. The pieces had been falling into place for a
long time (actually, pieces had been falling off the roof for a long
time, but that’s another story). I could not hit repeaters that
other hams in the same city could hit. I had difficulty reaching
other operators on simplex. Oh yes, the signs were very clear.
Even at 15 feet high, this antenna is defeated by the hill to the south.
The street has a deceptively gentle slope to the south...
...but the incremental jump in the rooftops shows the real story.
As part of the St
Louis County ARES
group, I need to be able to reach as
much of the county as possible. I live in Florissant, Missouri, which
is in the northernmost part of the county. They say that location is
everything, and Florissant is pretty much the wrong place to try to
reach the whole county.
I did say, however, that other hams in the same city fared better in their
efforts. Well, they do. It just happens that I also live in the wrong
part of Florissant. I live on the north face of a hill. The top of
that doggone hill sits between me and the rest of the county. Hey, I
wasn’t an Amateur Radio operator when I bought the house. What
did I know about line-of-sight radio propagation?
It's not as
terrible as it sounds. I can get through to many hams to the west and
southwest of my location, and I’m usually able to make contact
with hams in the city of St. Louis itself. But there are a great many
operators due south of me, and unless they are really close, my
signals won’t reach them.
I have gone
through a number of VHF/UHF antennas. Each was more expensive than
the last, but none ever solved my propagation problems. Switching to
better coax helped a lot — at least there was more signal
coming in and getting out. But the fundamental problem remained and I
kept ignoring it. I knew that the terrain to the south of my house
sloped upward, but I kept pretending that it had little impact on my
antenna had been located at the top of a 10 foot mast, and the mast
was held up by a tripod mounted on the roof of my house. One day I
slid in another 5 foot section of mast. That helped some, but not
seriously think about adding more sections of mast after that. For
one thing, I would definitely have to install guy wires — the
thought made me shudder all over. I didn’t like the idea, and
my wife Nancy really
didn’t like the idea. But aside
from the guy wire issue, the existing 15 feet of mast was already
difficult for us to raise and lower.
So for a long time I did nothing.
Recently, however, I started looking for alternative masts. Specifically, I
wanted something that I could easily raise and lower. I envisioned a
set of nested mast sections, as well as something that I could put in
my tripod without difficulty. I would install the antenna on the
un-extended mast, and then raise each section vertically. I was tired
of trying to hoist a heavy horizontal mast to a vertical position and
watching it wobble all over the place while Nancy and I frantically
tried to hang onto it.
I searched the
Internet for easy-to-erect miracle masts such as I described. And lo
and behold, they exist! I found several mast systems that looked like
they would do the job. I was ecstatic. There was just one problem:
None of the Web sites displaying these wonderful masts ever listed
That should have
been a warning, and indeed it did ring some alarms in my head. No
prices? Just government code numbers? It sounded like the masts I
wanted were going to be a bit on the expensive side. Nevertheless, I
desperately wanted to solve my antenna height problems, so I dug and
dug until I found out how much the masts cost.
I know that I often describe my reactions by making allusions to cartoons
characters, but that’s honestly how I feel. This time I was
sure that my jaw fell all the way down to the floor, made a
resounding clank and that my teeth tumbled out of my mouth. The masts
could not be described as expensive. Expensive doesn’t even
begin to describe their prices. They were astronomical.
I spent a lot of
time on the Internet looking for more reasonable solutions, but I
just kept finding one-sale-and-I-can-retire type merchandise. What
was going on? I had bought simple masts and tripods for less than
$100. Now it appeared that the next step up was well into the
thousands of dollars. Were there no intermediate products in the
range of merely in the hundreds of dollars? If so, it seemed that I
could not find them.
I did find at least one product that didn’t have such an
astronomical price tag. It was in the stratosphere, though, so I was
quite nervous when I phoned in my purchase. It was the most money I’d
ever spent on any Amateur Radio equipment. In my wildest dreams I
never imagined that a mast system could cost more than an antenna or
received the mast system yet so I do not yet know whether this will
solve my problems. Hopefully the title of my next column will be
“Success at Last!” And not “Used Antenna Mast for
Sale.” Keep your fingers crossed. I’d cross mine, but my
hands are still shaking.
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
Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail,
© 2007 American Radio Relay League