The joy of a low-slung wire

(As is my usual, this article has a bunch of links – click on as many as you wish to receive the full experience)

by Vince (VE6LK)

In May of 2023 I embarked on a two week vacation to Hamilton Ontario that co-incidentally happened to include a side trip to Hamvention just outside of Dayton, Ohio.

For a guy living in Alberta, Canada, this would prove to be quite the trip and it created memories to last a lifetime. I also was told that I could play radio during the trip provided my wife would get to see some of the many waterfalls in the City of Hamilton, the area we’d call home for our two week trip.

At Niagara Falls

Yes, I did take a brief detour to Niagara Falls while on the trip as it is only an hour from Hamilton.

And thus the planning began. I started overlaying POTA entities that overlapped on waterfalls so we both could visit and enjoy in our own way. It also meant I had to figure out what radio gear and, most importantly antennas, to bring along.

I landed up mostly running with low-slung antennas. By this I mean something between 4 and 10′ off the ground and horizontal in orientation. But it’s what I discovered about this simple approach that made it appear like pure magic to me – I made great contacts at what I would consider to be beyond NVIS distances including one from OH to UT!

Unlike many others who have defined kits and detailed plans they will use for an activation as they know the layout of the destination park, I prefer to arrive and work with what I’ve got based on the situation at hand. I did exactly this at K-9446 the day before and just around the corner from Hamvention. This approach is both an advantage and not, however it means I need to have enough flexibility in my kit to have some freedom of choice in approach. I also don’t wish to break my back nor needlessly contribute to the coffers of an airline via baggage fees.

Both to help me figure it all out and to document it in case of loss on the trip, I took some photos and posted them to Twitter showing most of the gear I packed. I ensured that anything with a battery was packed in my carry-on to not run afoul of airline security restrictions. Feedlines and anything non-electronic went into checked baggage and transceivers along with batteries were in my carry-on or backpack.

Along with the radio gear and bits for it, I figured that I’d pack an EFHW (or two, they’re small!) and my Comet HFJ-350M vertical kit. During one of my early activations I broke a piece of this kit and my inner potty mouth made a brief outward appearance, ahem.

Of course I couldn’t travel to the world’s largest hamfest and not open my wallet. I came back from Hamvention with a new vertical from Elecraft (the AX1), a 41′ EFRW from Tufteln, a 3D printed paddle key designed and built by Adam Kimmerly K6ARK, and a choke from Tufteln. The antennas would prove to be smart acquisitions given their small size and performance.

It’s with all of this background that I discovered the joy of a low-slung wire – – out of necessity.

Not wanting to repeat a broken antenna experience, I set out to string up a wire antenna for my activations. I’m not equipped with a throw line or a Weaver throw weight, just some bright pink mason’s line cut into different lengths along with my Gerber multi-tool. I do not possess the pure skill that Thomas has with his line and weight (it is most impressive to see Thomas in action as I did on the Sunday of Hamvention), so this means that I would not be aiming for top branches but rather things I can reach – about 8 or 9′ high – and de-tangle if need be.

Comparatively, in Alberta many of my activations are with a push-up flagpole and drive-on mast due to sheer simplicity and the lack of tall trees. I usually land up with some sort of a sloper arrangement.

Quick and easy tree end support at eye level

At one end, it the antenna would be loosely attached to a tree or bush limb, or perhaps a signpost in the parking lot.

Antenna wires to the sign in the background. Tufteln 41′ EFRW.

Depending on the length of your antenna wire, you may need to adjust your vehicle’s position in the parking stall to get the antenna to fit. The wires -antenna and counterpoise- route around the strut to their end points. You can see a short video of my set-up at K-9446.

Same location, different wheels. Antenna hooked onto car’s radio antenna. Tufteln 41′ EFRW.

At the other end the antenna would be hooked on the strut of the hatchback or perhaps temporarily affixed onto the vehicle’s broadcast band whip antenna. I’m un-fussy about how to use the vehicle as an end support provided I’m not scratching the finish and I can walk under it without an unexpected clotheslining 🙂

EFHW at 5′ off the ground

I operated on 40m, 30m, 20m, and 15m while running 5W into either an EFHW or EFRW. Hunters gave me reports, more often than not, 559 and above. And what caught me off guard was how well they performed in what I previously considered to be a substandard arrangement.

By now you are thinking, “Hey, Vince, can you wind back the tape and tell us about NVIS?” Sure, I’ll take a run at explaining something I partially understand.

NVIS (pronounced nih-viss or enn-viss) stands for Near Vertical Incidence Skywave and is most often experienced below 8MHz. The short version of this is that the closer you place an antenna to the ground, measured in wavelengths for a given band, the more likely it is to exhibit NVIS tendencies in how the signal is propagated. That’s to say your EFHW at 10′ (3m) will behave differently for NVIS on 80m than it will for 40m given the height above ground hasn’t changed as you switch between the bands.

“Can I use a low-slung antenna to my advantage?” Well sure you can of course! With POTA, SOTA and other programs, we set up our antennas to work with the stations we wish to contact. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’m opportunistic when I do these activities and am happy to make a number of contacts from anyone with a license and then move on to my next activity.

At it’s core, the question of “do I put a low-strung antenna up” is a question of strategy as it depends what you are after and how much gear you want to carry. Maybe the bands are running short, or you are out early in the day and want to run at a longer wavelength than the middle of the day. There are as many different ways to do this as you can imagine.

Given my location during this trip was in the Eastern Time Zone as I was activating in Ohio and Ontario, I expected good response given the population distribution on this side of the continent. I can’t wait to compare the differences when I get back home.

It’s all part of the experiment we call Amateur Radio.

Portable operations gives us the gift to experiment as we set up each time we operate. If you are like me and like experimenting to learn, portable operation is an easy way to learn. All you have to do is experiment while in the field, and note what you did along with your results. To repeat results in the future, refer to your notes.

You may discover a joy just like I did!



First introduced to the magic of radio by a family member in 1969, Vince has been active in the hobby since 2002. He is an Accredited examiner in Canada and the USA, operates on almost all of the modes, and is continually working on making his CW proficiency suck less. He participates in public service events around Western Canada and is active on the air while glamping, mobile, at home or doing a POTA activation. You can hear him on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, follow him on Twitter @VE6LK, peek at his anemic YouTube presence (subscribe!), and view the projects and articles on his website.

24 thoughts on “The joy of a low-slung wire”

  1. Great report, Vince! I think a lot of hams like to put things in neat categories: this is a NVIS antenna, this is a low-angle vertical, etc. The truth is, it’s all on a spectrum! Every antenna radiates in every way, just more in some ways than others. I like to “just give it a try” like you. When the ionosphere is helpful, you’ll get some skip from any radiator.

    1. Hi Jeff,
      You are spot on .. all things connected to an RF output radiate, just in different patterns. I’ll report back after I try a piece of wet noodle!

      1. Vince,

        Your wet noodle comment made me smile – I’m W7CDT, Chip K7JA’s youngest brother. Thanks for the kind comments in your Tweet a few days ago.

        I have very early memories from childhood when he would have been a teenager running outside in our backyard to point the garden hose at a long string he had up in a tree – as long as the string stayed wet, the transmitter stayed happy.

        “…the gift to experiment as we set up each time we operate” is really the heart and soul of ham radio. Thanks for sharing your latest experiment!

        1. David,
          My deepest condolences on the loss of your brother. You have shared such an awesome memory and inspired me to try something new.

          1. Thank you very much. More memories where that came from believe me.

            We will expect a full report on string moisture, effective length, kite string vs. clothesline . . .

  2. Great report Vince. I love experimenting with antennas. Now you just gave me another idea.

  3. Great report Vince! I was very impressed on how you “co-incidentially” happened to be near Dayton Hamvention during your vacation. (HiHi) And how you negotiated and managed to bring your field gear, with your XYL’s approval. In QRP, we call that ‘stealthy’, and ‘XYL agile’. Great Work!

    72 de W7UDT

    1. Well Rand,
      Thanks for your compliments on the report – I’m blessed that Thomas gives me a place to get my creative writing outlet handled. All is not quite as it seems in the co-incidence department.. Mother-In-Law’s 85th birthday soiree [not to be missed] was the weekend following Hamvention and thus it was a natural side trip, my first time to HV ever. And my dear wife suggested we could POTA and Waterfall visit, so pretty much “all” I had to do was pack and show up LOL.

  4. You were almost in my neighborhood Niagara Falls is a little more than an hour from my house (but south of the border). I’ve never activated there because when we go, we usually are bringing visitors from out of state who I don’t necessarily want to impose the “can you just find something to do for 30 to 45 minutes while I put up an antenna and cryptically speak into microphone or push a little lever that in turn makes annoying beeping sounds” crazy hobby of mine on 😉 One of these times i will drive over there all by myself…

    When I teach my Technician class, I like to point out that one’s signal is always strong somewhere, the problem just is that there also needs to be somebody at that point with a radio, tuned to your frequency and willing to answer your call. By being in the eastern part of the continent, you are increasing the likelihood that this will happen. During the day on 40, we are getting these “few hundred miles” contacts regardless of the antenna. Chances are that the low-strung antenna is actually helping with these contacts. Experimenting with antennas is a very cheap way of having fun with amateur radio. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Karl,
      Thank you for your kind comments. Your phrase “I like to point out that one’s signal is always strong somewhere …” really encapsulates the spirit of radio in a nutshell. Living where I do and with one park at under a half hour away, many are hour-long drives or more. Still I go out as often as I can and, like the host of this wonderful website has taught me, make opportunities en route. So now I’ll encourage you to make a solo trip and go work one of the half-dozen sites along the way between Grand Island and Lake Ontario that are along the Niagara River. You won’t regret it. Maybe you’ll even create your own #POTAThon for the day and get your Warthog award or more!

    2. “I like to point out that one’s signal is always strong somewhere …” Exactly! My analogy is that the ionosphere is not a mirror – it’s a disco ball! Your reflected signal comes down in patches, and it has to land in a place where a willing operator is listening. The higher the frequency, the higher the ball – the signal goes farther, but the spots are farther apart. If they land in the ocean or the forest, nobody is going to hear you. And QSB – that’s the disco ball spinning 🙂

      1. Wow! I’ve never heard propagation described in this way and it is! I’m-a going to borrow this for my teaching notes and thank both Karl and Jeff for these pearls of wisdom!

  5. Thanks for sharing Vince, sounds like you had a fun trip. NVIS wire antennas and QRP rigs have been my passion for years now with amazing results. Personally, I’ve always been more interested in a CW contact within a couple hundred miles or so than a DX contact. Weird, I know hihi. The QCX Minis that I’ve built pair great with these antennas.
    73, Brent

  6. Wonderful that Thomas posts your guest Blogs frequently, as there’s always something to learn from them. On the topic- I have only one radio and one antenna choice with which to do my POTA activations, an FT-818 (which is, sadly in for repair) with a Tuftein 12.5m/41’ EFRW and tuner. I’ve had amazing results with that antenna, as a sloper, launched 10m or so up into a large tree, which are almost always available here in S Ontario POTA entities. I hope you were able to do some activations from the many waterfalls in Hamilton, and perhaps a few “two-fers” as most are also on the Bruce Trail, VE-5628. Reading your reports gives me radio and antenna envy! Keep the reports coming!

    1. Hi Rod,
      Thank you for your compliment. I’m happy to report that I blog on things that didn’t work or surprise me when they did, and as such I hope you won’t see much from me. I was able to activate Devil’s Punch Bowl and, by happy co-incidence, do a 3fer based on where I’d parked quite by chance.
      Wire antennas are small so I’d say it’s okay to collect a few and try them 🙂

  7. Tried this on my lunch break after realizing I left my throw line at home, just reached up and grabbed the tallest branch I could reach and clipped on the end of my speaker wire EFRW. ZM-2 of course will tune nearly anything, and in ten minutes between bites of my sandwich hunted 2 parks in MI and OK on 20m with 539/549 respectively. From the parking lot of my work in a noisy commercial park here in Atlanta. Thanks Vince! I would have skipped playing radio today if I hadn’t read this first.

    72 – KQ4EHE

    1. If at least one person learns from me and as able to have fun from it, that makes my day. Thank you for sharing your story with me Thomas 🙂

  8. Hey, you have just discovered the magic of having sunspots on your side. I did the same thing from a mobile home park back in 1973. A new wife, a new mobile home, a new Heathkit HW7 and a wire, strung from a window out to a tree in the yard. I worked the world. How exciting! Just when the QRP movement was getting going and was deciding to lower QRP to five watts.

    You have shown the rest of us that a wire in the air works very well and you were willing to experiment rather than be discouraged.

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