Recently, however, I was trying to dig up information on a field antenna design and the search results lead me to two articles and discussions on two of the most popular ham radio sites on the internet.
I read through the comments and (you might have guessed) was really disappointed with the number trolls who seemed to thrive in that fertile environment. It blows my mind that discussions like these seem completely unmoderated. I assume it’s a conscious decision since we seem to live in a society that rewards drama and division–I assume this leads to more site traffic and thus more revenue.
It’s a shame. It would be incredibly discouraging to a new ham who is reading the same article and comments looking for ideas. Gives one the impression the hobby is full of (I’ll keep my language clean here) schmucks.
But I digress…
What was perhaps equally discouraging were all of the comments from those who were trying to explain to the authors how the antenna design in their article simply wouldn’t work. Even when the author posted positive results/data from having used the antenna.
While not all of the naysayers were being rude–and sometimes in their roundabout way I’m sure they felt they were being helpful–I can’t help but feel sorry for them.
The naysayers, that is.
Why? These are people who are afraid to experiment.
I get comments like this on my YouTube channel and I don’t delete them if they’re courteous and respectful. (I do happily delete and block drive-by trolls!)
But quite often people will complain that, say, my portable vertical antenna simply can’t perform well without a proper radial field. Or that my end-fed antenna doesn’t work without a dedicated counterpoise. Or that my speaker wire antenna is so inefficient “it’s like not having an antenna at all.” (From an email, true story.)
They’re not entirely wrong, but the funny part is, I’ll get these comments in videos and from field reports where I’ve had stellar activations.
In theory the antenna might not sound ideal…but in practice? Well, the results speak for themselves.
I have ham friends who fall into this category of only worshiping at the alter of theory.
They look at an antenna design or radio specifications, and what they see are all of the possible faults and inefficiencies.
In almost every case, these are people who do very little operating in general and almost no operating in the field. It’s a little sad, but I think they fear hopping on the air with anything other than a textbook “perfect” radio and antenna system.
My modus operandi is “try it.”
I’m not an engineer nor a technician. I’ve never formally studied radio or electronics other than what was needed to pass my Novice, Tech, General, and Extra ham radio license exams.
Don’t get me wrong: I wish I had an engineering background because some of the people I admire the most on our planet are engineers.
Instead, I tend to follow the doctrine of trial and error.
In the case of antennas, for example, as long as I know I’m not going to do something that would harm my radios (or “let the smoke out”) I give it a go. Why not?
Theory and practice are both important, but keep in mind they don’t always line up.
Case in point: I’ve been experimenting recently with the super compact Elecraft AX1 antenna and, soon, the MFJ-1899T.
In theory, the AX1 shouldn’t perform well and I’m sure it doesn’t compared with large aperture, higher-gain wire antennas.
In practice, however, it works incredibly well. One reader recently asked me, “When are you going to stop underestimating this antenna, Thomas?” FYI: I love that comment.
This might have a lot to do with where I live and being surrounded by a fairly high density of ham radio operators. Regardless, it works for me and has become a valuable tool in my field radio kit.
My 28.5′ speaker wire antenna is in the same boat. It’s a simple random wire antenna with one counterpoise that relies on the impedance-matching abilities of an ATU to make the transceiver happy.
It’s not terribly high gain, and it’s not resonant. Could it be more efficient? Oh heck yeah!
But at the end of the day, it works incredibly well. It’s easy to deploy, super cheap–you can even easily build it on-site! I’ve never had a failed activation with it, and I’ve even worked serious QRP DX.
Take that, theory!
Less theory, more practice!
This motto goes well beyond the realm of antennas.
If you’ve been studying and feel like you might just be able to pull off a CW activation? Go now and try! Don’t overthink it, just try!
What’s the worse-case scenario? You might have to send a lot of “?” and “QRS”–? Your fist might not sound as refined as a seasoned CW op? Who cares!?
Seriously: as a CW activator, I get excited when I hear an op who’s obviously struggling with a CW contact. They’re putting themselves out there and I’m proud of them! Frankly, it’s an honor to be one of the first stations they’ve ever worked and an opportunity to be a good CW ambassador. Embrace those initial CW sweats! 🙂 Go out there and try!
If you’ve been afraid to activate your first park or summit because you might not have the right antenna or radio? Use what you have!
Make sure you have a means of being spotted on the network, and just go play radio. Keep your expectations low and simply enjoy the experience. If you have trouble with the activation, use it as a learning opportunity: check your gear and connections, see if you were spotted on the POTA or SOTA networks, check the propagation from that day. Don’t be hard on yourself. You’ll soon sort out any issues.
I promise: your persistence and your trial and error will pay off!
I hope this didn’t come off as a ranty soapbox, but in this world where so much information is gleaned from online sources and the most negative and abrasive people are rewarded with the most attention, I humbly suggest you ignore them and do your own thing.
Be kind to others and to yourself. Just give it a go!
As I’ve said so many times on this blog, I urge you to channel Admiral David Farragut:
“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”
Thank you & 73,