Working the world from my apartment balconyThis type of antenna works well mounted horizontally or vertically, high as a dipole or low as an NVIS antenna for emergency use. -Ed.
Last time, I told you of my costly experiences trying to install an antenna on my 3rd floor apartment balcony. Like many people, I live with antenna restrictions and the management of most complexes have rules regarding what can and can not be placed on the patio. My apartment management is no exception.
In the previous article, I mentioned the high cost of antennas that claimed super abilities but failed to perform as claimed. I now know, to my cost, that a long wire antenna is about the best you can get but not apartment patio friendly. During one of my recent searches on the Internet for an antenna that would work at my apartment, I found an item about a fellow that was using two reasonably affordable car antennas assembled as a center fed dipole. At the next Saturday morning coffee meeting, I mentioned it to one of the other club members. Low and behold, he mentioned that he had built one using ‘HamStick’ antennas for camping and RV'ing and it performed in a very satisfactory manner.
When taken apart, which takes only a few minutes, it is very light and very portable. He mentioned that he was not, at the moment, using it. "Would you like to borrow it for a while?" As this was my first opportunity to 'Try before I buy' I jumped at the chance and arrangements were made to pick up the antenna at his earliest convenience. I arrived home at about mid day and was soon out on the patio deck fixing the mount to my portable mast. The mount has two studs instead of the usual one. One stud is the type that grounds itself to the mount and the other faces in the opposite direction and is of the usual coax connector type. The antennas themselves are the MFJ HamStick types, a 48” fiber glass rod wound with the appropriate wire coil for the band you wish to work. They are available for the common Ham bands, and in my case, it was wound for 20 meters. There is a 48” wire whip (sometimes called a 'stinger') that is inserted into the end of the fiber glass rod and is moved in or out to tune the SWR of the frequency you are using. My friend had very conveniently marked the spot to where the two whips should be inserted, which made it very easy for me to get things up and running. I soon realized that a horizontal dipole can be rotated just like a beam antenna, My patio is about 12 feet wide and the assembled antenna is about 16 feet long so only 4 feet of the second whip extends from the end of my patio. My patio faces East so I rotated the antenna to face about South of East.
Since a dipole is Balanced and Coax is Unbalanced, a 1 to 1 Current Balun should be used at the antenna end of the coax or RF will migrate down the Coax braid and could cause painful RF burns to the hands or fingers and create havoc with Computers, TVs and other electronic gear in the room.
I soon had the Coax connected to my radio and I found that the SWR was no more than 1.5 to 1 across the 20 Meter band. With little hope of success, I turned on my radio and started to tune up the 20 Meter band. Suddenly, my speaker loudly announced a CQ call. The caller informed those he hoped were listening that he was located 25 miles North of Cincinnati in the State of Ohio. I answered his CQ call but to my disappointment, he answered another caller. I looked at my power output and found that it was set at only 50 Watts. I hurriedly increased to 100 Watts, to be ready for my next call. Again, to my surprise before I could repeat my call, he said, “I now have VA7FMR” so he had heard me after all, on only 50 Watts. He was not calling in a contest so we had a great chin wag and he was very surprised that I had called on a whip dipole with only 50 Watts. My next contact was a CQer in Hawaii.
So, for about $150 Canadian you too can have a great dipole Antenna on your Patio that you can rotate as much as your patio permits and no one will notice. I have been using this antenna now for about 2.5 weeks and I have spoken to the apartment manager and he has not mentioned that he had even noticed the antenna. None of my neighbors have mentioned it, nor have they made any complaints. Since you already have the mount and other gear, all you need to change bands is another two stick antennas for say 40 or 80 , meters and it would only take a few minutes to change bands. I have an antenna tuner so I thought that I would try 10 meters and it worked like a charm. I then tried the antenna tuner on the 40 meter band, again with great success. When you are tuning the antenna, tune it for the lowest SWR on the center frequency of the band you are working. That should give you a decent SWR all across the band.
In another article I wrote regarding the purchase of equipment and the need for caution when selecting suppliers, you may remember the digital interface that I purchased because it sounded so good on the manufacturers web page and after it was purchased found it impossible to set up because of the lack of information from the manufacturer. His after sale service was equally bad since he provides none and would hang up the telephone if you asked a question about something not covered in his so called manual. I must admit that parts of the above problems were because of my inexperience and lack of knowledge of the setup procedures of software such as MMTTY, N1MM+ and FLDIGI. There are dozens of settings in each of these pieces of software and since they are used together, if you make a mistake in one of them, the whole fandangle does not work. My experience setting up a SignaLink sound card has given me hope that I may yet get that $275 boat anchor working. I have had success using it for CAT control and a degree of success with CW. My next adventure will be integrating MMTTY with FLDIGY and getting digital to work on it. The most difficult part of my entry into the World of Amateur Radio has not been with the radio equipment that I use, it has been the computer software that actually controls the radio and the sound card and the integration of the three, computer, Radio and sound card. Of course, without an antenna, nothing would work. If there is one piece of advise that a greenhorn like myself could pass on to you, it is, “Never give up” I have spent literally days on the internet and gleaned tons of information that has allowed me to improve my knowledge and understanding of many things in this great Hobby of ours. I hope you learn to enjoy it as much as I do!