Tag Archives: Antennas

Do I allow antenna wires to touch tree branches during field activations?

Many thanks to Keysrawk on my YouTube channel, who asks:

Do you usually try to use an isolator or do you often let your wires touch branches by just pulling them over? When you deploy 20m EFHWs, for example, do you try to avoid having an end touch a branch and only have the throw line going over the branch? I tried to go through your videos and look but you don’t often mention how far you pull the wire up and possibly over. Thanks!

This is a great question!

Before I answer, I’d like to add a little context:

  1. I am a QRP operator. The maximum amount of power I use in the field is 10 watts, but 99.5% of the time, it’s actually 5 watts or even much less.
  2. I am answering this as a field operator, meaning I’ll be referring to temporary antenna deployments.

That said, the quick answer is no, during park and summit activations, I do not worry about my antenna radiator wire touching tree branches.

I do isolate the end of my wire antennas from tree branches and leaves, but I don’t worry about other parts of the radiator touching.

Also, all of my antenna wire has some sort of jacket–I don’t run bare wire in the field.

More often than not, when I deploy a longer wire antenna–say, a 40M EFHW–I simply use a tree branch to support the apex of the antenna if I deploy it in an inverted vee configuration. Continue reading Do I allow antenna wires to touch tree branches during field activations?

Dale uses WSPR to test counterpoise orientation


Many thanks to Dale (N3HXZ) who shares the following guest post:

Does your antenna counterpoise orientation matter?

by Dale (N3HXZ)

I am an avid SOTA and POTA activator and love field operation. I use a portable vertical whip antenna with a single counterpoise for my antenna system and have always wondered if orienting my counterpoise would provide some signal strength gain in a particular direction.  I decided to run a series of tests using WSPR to gather field data, and use statistics to answer the question:

Does one counterpoise orientation favor another in terms of average signal strength?

WSPR is a great tool for antenna testing. You can study various antenna configurations by making some WSPR transmissions and then checking the data on the WSPRnet database to see how well the signal was received at various stations located all over the world. You have to be careful in interpreting WSPR data though as receiving stations have different antenna and radio configurations, and the band propagation can vary rapidly at times. So how do you take advantage of all the data you receive from stations and draw some meaningful conclusions? I have found that using proven statistical theory in analyzing the transmitted signal strength received from individual stations can provide you results that you can confidently trust.

So what statistical algorithm is helpful?

For antenna signal strength comparison between two configurations, you can use an independent two-sample t-test with a one-tailed t-test evaluation. It sounds like a mouth-full, but it is quite simple. For our purposes, the t-test compares the average signal strength at a given receiving station from two different antenna configurations. The one-tailed test validates or invalidates the hypothesis that one antenna configuration produces an average signal strength greater or less than the other antenna configuration.

The testing requires that you run WSPR long enough to gather multiple reports at a single receiving station for both antenna configurations. Using the signal strength reports, you compute the average signal strength and the standard deviation of the signal strength over the sampled data points. Excel can easily provide that data.  With this information and the number of sample points for each antenna configuration (they can be different), you then run a calculation by hand or in Excel to compute the ‘t’ value.

This ‘t’ value is then compared to a critical value for the number of sampling points from a ‘Students t table”. If the ‘t’ value is less than the critical value you can confidently conclude that the hypothesis is false and therefore conclude that there is no significant difference in the mean value of the signal strengths between the two.  If the ‘t’ value is greater than the critical value you can accept the hypotheses that one antenna configuration produces a greater or less average signal strength than the other configuration. Continue reading Dale uses WSPR to test counterpoise orientation

Guest Post: Extreme QRP–Testing the AX1 with WSPR and 20mW

Many thanks to Keith (KY4KK) who shares the following report:

Extreme QRP – Testing the AX1 with WSPR and 20mW

by Keith (KY4KK)

Thomas, thanks for all of your activation videos related to the Elecraft AX1 antenna.  I ordered one the day you announced the package deal, and it arrived in less than a week.  I’ve activated a few parks with it already (20m SSB).  Like you and many others, I’m impressed.

I was very interested in Thomas Barris’ (DM1TBE) March 12 QRPer post using WSPR to test his POTA antennas in Germany.  Then I saw Bob’s (K7ZB) post about his ZachTek Flea with 300 milliwatts in CW mode.  To me, extreme QRP represents some of the magic of HAM radio.  I’d like to share one of my most recent WSPR experiments related to the AX1.

About a year ago, a friend (NG4S) loaned me his pair of WSPR transmitters and suggested that I explore building and comparing antennas. I’ve been hooked on antennas of all kinds and WSPR since then.

I began doing WSPR tests on the AX1 the day after it arrived.  With two transmitters set to the same frequency and power output, you can do direct comparisons between two antennas under identical propagation conditions.

I’ve already done a couple of comparisons between the AX1 and other commercial antennas.  But I think the test I just completed might be of particular interest because it pits the AX1 against an antenna I’ve seen you use many times – a 28.5’ end fed with a 28.5’ counterpoise.  I used 24 AWG silicone insulated wire. The end of the radiator was placed on a 19’5” telescoping fishing pole.  This is my preferred POTA mast when I can’t use a tall tree.

I spent some time trying to control other variables so that the only significant difference during the test would be the antennas themselves.

For example, the SOTA Beam WSPRLite Classic transmitters don’t have an ATU.  So, I had to make the antennas resonant on the 20-meter WSPR frequency of 14.097 MHz.  For the AX1, Thomas’ videos helped a lot.  I used a clip-on capacitance hat and adjusted the counterpoise to 15’ 2”.  This gave me an SWR of 1.17:1.  For the end fed, I tried the two UNUN’s I had available and settled on the 49:1, which got me the closest (2.2:1).  I then used a manual tuner to achieve an SWR of 1.29:1.

I also wanted to deal with the difference in power output between the two transmitters.  Although they’re identical, and both set to 20 milliwatts, there is no way to ensure both are actually producing that output level.  Based on tests by NG4S, one of the transmitters runs at 19 milliwatts.  The other actually outputs 27 milliwatts.  So, my plan was to run the test for 48 hours. At the end of 24 hours, I would switch the transmitters (and callsigns) so that both antennas would benefit (relatively equally) from one of the transmitters being stronger.

At the end of Day 1, I reviewed the data from the two transmitters on dxplorer.net/wspr.  The end fed averaged a 5.7 dB gain over the AX1 based on reports from receiving stations that spotted both transmitters in the same 10-minute block (simultaneous spots).

On Day 1, the stronger transmitter was on the end fed.  The maps below are from WSPR.rocks.

AX1 – Day 1

End Fed – Day 1

I was pretty impressed that the AX1 got into Europe and Africa on only .019 Watt!  I always have good luck with end feds, so was not too surprised to see this one perform well. Continue reading Guest Post: Extreme QRP–Testing the AX1 with WSPR and 20mW

How I found the best antenna for my SOTA/POTA activations

How I found the best antenna for my SOTA/POTA activations

by Thomas (DM1TBE)


Until January this year I had a German “Klasse E” / CEPT-novice amateur radio license (equivalent to the US General Class), which limits the use of HF to the 10-,15-, 80- and 160-meter bands. When I started with SOTA I used homemade single band end-fed antennas most of the time. However, that is only feasible for the 10- and 15-meter bands.

Unfortunately, both bands are very moody and sometimes they have not worked at all. Unlike the UK for example, FM is uncommon for SOTA in my home association DM (i.e. Germany Low Mountains). You can be lucky and get your 4 QSOs, but I did not want to rely on pure luck.

Therefore, I bought an end-fed half-wave antenna for 10-, 15-, 20-, 40- and 80-meter bands, after some experiments with 10-80-meter end-fed half-wave antennas, from a small German company called ANjo.

Although I could not use the 20- and 40- meter bands at that time, the EFW80-10P (en: auto-translated) antenna gave me the possibility to use the 80-meter band. The antenna could also be tuned for 15. It has a mechanical length of 23.6 m / 77 ft and a coil for the 80-meter band. It is pretty lightweight with 0.4 kg / 14 oz and allows up to 30 watts PEP – more than enough for me. 80-meters is not the best band for daytime SOTA activations, but in 21 months doing SOTA activations, it worked 37 times and tipped the scales for an activation from time to time.

It was sometimes a bit tricky to raise the long wire into the air, but it always worked … better or worse …somehow … like here in the woods along a trail.

In January this year, I upgraded my license and a new world of HF-bands opened for me. Although I have learned a lot about propagation for the exam, I am in favour of a German saying: “The difference between theory and praxis is larger in the praxis than in the theory”. Continue reading How I found the best antenna for my SOTA/POTA activations

Skip recommends the QRPguys DS-1 portable antenna kit!

Many thanks to Skip (K4EAK) who shares the following guest post:

The QRPguys DS-1 Portable Antenna Kit

by Skip (K4EAK)

There have been several videos and extended comments lately about the Elecraft AX1 and AX2 antennas, both of which function remarkably well for a small, highly compromised antenna.

For those interested in other, similar designs, especially those hams who find that building the equipment is half the fun, another option to consider is the QRPguys DS-1 antenna.

The DS-1 is similar in concept and design to the AX2. It consists of a base-loading coil, a 46.5-inch collapsible whip, and a plate to attach the antenna to a small tripod. One can also purchase an add-on 40-meter coil. The can be deployed in just a couple minutes and, when collapsed, the longest portion is only 6.5” long, easily fitting in the palm of one’s hand. QRPguys recommends a 16.5′ counterpoise; I use two such wires, usually spread out at a 180-degree angle. I’ve also used it with a clamp-on mount and a car window mount.

Building the antenna is simple and took me less than an hour. After installing a BNC connector into a brass plug and inserting the plug onto a length of PEX tubing, one simply runs the supplied 22AWG wire from inside the tubing, out and around making 22 turns, and then sealing it with a length of heat shrink tubing.

There are really only two aspects of assembly that are slightly more difficult. The first is that it’s necessary to drill and tap two holes for 4-40 screws, which obviously means that (1) one needs a 4-40 tap and (2) one needs to be careful tapping the threads to assure a clean cut. The second is that the heat shrink tubing, at least as supplied in my kit, was grossly oversized, which required some finesse in getting a final product that was at least reasonably aesthetic, to say nothing of accomplishing that without dry roasting my fingertips.

Field testing of the DS-1 shows that it works surprisingly well. The SWR is well below 2.0 across almost all of the 20-meter band and where it is higher than that (the upper end of the voice portion), the KX2 internal tuner can tune it easily. As one would expect, on 40 meters the antenna has a somewhat narrower range, although the KX2 tuner has handled it on all of the frequencies I’ve tested so far (all CW). And it appears to be efficient enough.

I have used it on numerous activations and consistently get to the requisite 10 contacts within 20 minutes or so after getting spotted. After that, the number of contacts depends on the time available, but for those occasions when I have only a 30-minute window for an activation, the antenna is a convenient and practical alternative.

I keep the antenna, the tabletop tripod, and the counterpoise wires in the water bottle pocket of my pack, ready for use whenever I have a few moments for a quick activation.

73 Skip K4EAK

Click here to check out the QRPguys DS-1 antenna

VE6LK: Antenna tuning on Superb Owl Sunday

(This article is full of educational and fun links – click on as many as you wish)

Antenna tuning on Superb Owl Sunday

by Vince (VE6LK)

While many in North America were watching a number of Superb Owls move a pigskin around a playing field, I was off to play radio, successfully, for the first time in weeks. This is part of my goal to activate 200 CW POTA contacts per month this year.

During recent visit to Vancouver attempting to operate from within my hotel room, and utilizing the Edisonian Approach, I was shown -more than once- what did not work. This will no doubt be a discussion point on an upcoming Ham Radio Workbench Podcast. I was therefore in very bad need to get back on the air while operating portable. I was close to feeling twitchy and in need of some POTAXXIA (Hyperradio Moduzolium). A plan was needed!

My goals were to trim out a new-to-me EFHW (thanks VE6VID), and make some contacts while operating outdoors. The weather was forecast for 50F, but turned out to be unexpectedly windy. Also, when the wind comes off the Canadian Rockies in Southern Alberta, it cools the area where I’d be (downwind), so a choice of operating location was key. I love going to this park for the moment that you drive west along Highway 533 and come around the corner as you see here in this short video.

Chain Lakes Provincial Park (VE-1168) is located between the Porcupine Hills and the Rockies on Highway 22 (locally known as the Cowboy Trail) in Southern Alberta, about 90 minutes south of Calgary. It’s especially gorgeous at sunrise and sunsets. A campground, lake with boat launch and a day use area all adorn this park created for water management with an earthen dam. While it is in a valley, the wind can be howling on some days. On this day it would prove to be just above a nuisance, sort of like mosquitos in the spring -you can live with the nuisance, but only for so long before you blow a proverbial gasket.

Short video – beautiful site and babbling brook

I located a lovely spot below the dam -and the majority of the wind- however it was outside of cellular range. I’d need to rely on the Reverse Beacon Network to spot me. The RBN will, in turn, post your spot to the POTA website once it hears you if you schedule your activation in advance.

RBN showing spots on 30 to 10m
Overhead site view showing my two operating positions

The place I found would only be more perfect were it warmer than 45F and without wind. A babbling brook was by the picnic table, and a nearby footbridge had built-in supports for my painter’s pole that would serve as the far end support. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t intended for me specifically, but they were the perfect size to simply slide the pole into place and hold it firmly. By luck I parked the truck the correct distance away with it’s drive-on mount and 28′ Fibreglass Flagpole from Flagpoles-To-Go via Amazon. Continue reading VE6LK: Antenna tuning on Superb Owl Sunday

Guest Post: Reviewing the Chelegance MC-750 (Part 1)

Many thanks to Charles (KW6G) who shares the following guest post:

Product Review: Chelegance MC-750 Portable Ground Plane Antenna, Part 1

by Charles Ahlgren, KW6G

I recently purchased a Chelegance MC-750 portable ground plane antenna from DX Engineering.  Essentially, the antenna system provides a ¼ wave portable vertical antenna with 4 counterpoise wires that operates on 20 through 10 meters.  The antenna will also operate on 40 meters with the provided loading coil.  The manual states the antenna will support 6 meter operation, but no instructions are provided on how to do so.  30 meter operation is not supported.   It appears from our initial testing that no ATU is required.

Here are some of my thoughts on the antenna.

Product Description

The MC-750 comes with the following components:

  • 50 CM ANT ARM
  • 5.2 M WHIP
  • 7 MHZ COIL
  • 4  COUNTERPOISE WIRES (radials)

As provided, it is designed to operate on  the 40, 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter bands without any modifications.  Six meters is also supported per the manufacturers manual, but no guidance on how to do that is offered in that document.   However, finding the proper length of radiator for 6 meters should be straightforward using a tape measure to set the proper whip length.

[Update: Chelegance notes that to operate 6 meters, simply extend the last segment only of the whip (see photo) and for 30 meters extend the last four segments of the whip and 15cm on the 5th segment (see photo).]

I checked the ground rod / antenna base with a magnet and confirmed it is made from stainless steel as both components are not magnetic; a characteristic of stainless.   Both the ground rod/ antenna base and the 50 cm antenna arm (which was also non-magnetic) had a hefty feel (together, they weigh about 2 pounds), therefore I think it safe to assume that these components are made of stainless steel.  Since most ops will undoubtedly use the antenna arm as an aid to inserting / extracting the ground rod into / from the ground, it seems a prudent decision by the manufacturer to have this piece fabricated from a strong, stiff  material such as steel.  The machine work used to fabricate these parts appears to be quite good – the fit and feel were excellent, with no sharp or ragged edges to cause problems in the field.

I measured the whip while set at the various position marks for 20 through 10 meters.  The band markings on the whip were accurate – giving a 1/4 wavelength radiator when combined with the 50 CM ant arm length…On 40 meters, the whip and rod measured about 1/8 wavelength.  The required the loading coil needs to be inserted between the whip and the rod (at approximately 1/10 the total 40 meter whip height above the base).  If you want to operate this antenna on 30 meters, it appears that you need to provide an extra 1.4  meter of additional rod as a quarter wavelength ground plane at 10.1 MHz  requires a 7.1  meter radiator.  Six meter operation would require a whip of around 4.7 feet.  With the whip fully collapsed, the length of the rod and antenna arm measures 40-1/4”.  Therefore, if 6 meter operation is contemplated, extending the whip about 16 inches from fully collapsed should suffice.  However, I don’t think that an antenna configuration such as that would be a very good performer unless it were elevated from ground level; or maybe it would be good for a SOTA activation? Continue reading Guest Post: Reviewing the Chelegance MC-750 (Part 1)

Dave sorts out vehicle-mounted antenna SWR issues

Photo by Katie Musial.

Many thanks to Dave (K1SWL) who writes:

Comments on vehicle-mounted antennas

by Dave Benson (K1SWL)

As with Rand’s recent post about his effective vehicle setup, I and others also use a small operating table inside the vehicle.  I’ve tried a number of approaches to antennas.  Without elaborating on those schemes, I’ll note that winter is now closing in here in NH. As a result, I’m now operating exclusively from my truck. My interest is now in minimizing setup and tear-down times.  Barry (WD4MSM)

also commented about the improvement in vehicle-mounted antennas with an added ground.  I’d like to quantify that.

I’d recently ordered a number of Hustler Mobile antenna components. They’re used as a stationary-portable setup using that company’s high-quality mag-mount. As I first evaluated the antenna, I was disappointed to find the minimum SWRs to be on the high side.

These results were related to the ‘floating’ coax shield, which serves as a counterpoise with the mag-mount setup.  Worse yet, these results were inconsistent. Touching the coax connector shell at the antenna analyzer caused the SWR to jump up, as did just changing the way I held the analyzer. Bad juju! It means RF inside the vehicle, with the potential for RF-‘hot’ symptoms at the rig..  Adding a 1:1 balun inline eliminated the stray RF at the rig, but didn’t do much for the SWR. It’s also just one more gadget to bring along.

A better fix was a custom bracket that bolted to the truck frame. I first confirmed that there was low-resistance continuity between a target location and the vehicle’s cigarette lighter shell.  This was something of a ‘comedy of errors’. I had a sheet-metal angle bracket on hand and went to work enlarging a hole in it. This had the usual outcome: a drill bit grabbed the workpiece and spun it. The bracket itself was buckled beyond redemption and my finger’s now healing well.  A length of 1-1/2 inch aluminum angle bracket was just the ticket.   Note that the mounting hole needs to be offset from the coax fitting mount. This avoids an interference between the mounting bolt and coax connector shell. Ask me how I know.  The bracket assembly uses a specialty coax fitting from DX Engineering. It’s their part number DXE-UHF-FDFB.

This bracket is bolted down on one of the corners of the Tacoma’s passenger seat assemblies.  It’s the closest location to the antenna I found without drilling holes and cutting the coax.  For this vehicle, it’s a 10mm bolt and was paint-coated for appearance reasons. I replaced it with a stainless-steel bolt from a hardware store. It’s important to include a split-lockwasher between the bolt and the bracket. This’ll keep the conductivity to the frame good over time. The bracket is deburred and its corners rounded to preclude injury to passengers.

In any event, it’s out of the way of the seat’s legroom space. A 3-foot coax cable assembly brings the coax nicely up behind the rig atop the operating surface.

So- how’d it work? It’s like the difference between night and day!  The broad SWR curves vanished – replaced by typical characteristics for monoband antennas. The sensitivity to handling the coax has vanished.  (A representative curve at right.) The curves are narrower, and that’s actually a good sign- it means that unwanted resistances have been reduced. 

With this fix in place, here are the SWR minima:

Frequency    SWR

14060        1.04:1

21060        1.05:1

28060        1.16:1

I took advantage of the CQ Worldwide CW Contest this past weekend. I was able to work 101 stations on 10M, 15M and 20M with this setup.  That was from a State Park 5 minutes away.  The attraction was a large and sunny parking lot, and solar gain was such that I needed to leave the truck door open several times.  This area is kept plowed out in winter, and I may try for the POTA ‘kilo’ award from there at the 1000-contact benchmark.  

We’ll see….   73, K1SWL

Mike turns a trailer wiring harness into ready-made ground radials

Many thanks to Mike (KE8PTX) who shares the following tip:

[Recently, I walked into a] big box store and this caught my eye:

When separated, they have very little memory.

So now we have four 25 foot radials. Bonus was all were different colors. Easy to untangle.

Performance, so far, is good. Total price with clip: 12 bucks.

That’s a brilliant tip, Mike! Thank you for sharing. Like you, I’m always on the look out for products that could serve double duty in the world of amateur radio. While one can find less expensive sources of wire, for 100% copper wire pre-cut to a standard radial lengths, this is a pretty good deal!

I did some searching and pricing varies between various suppliers. 


Sample Retailers:

Thanks for the tip!

Guest Post: Breaking 100 QSOs during two QRP SSB Activations

Breaking 100 QSOs during two QRP SSB Activations

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

Back in May I had to travel last minute for work to North Dakota. I typically bring radio gear in the event that I have some time to do a Parks On the Air activation. This trip presented the opportunity to activate a park in Minnesota as well as one in South Dakota. I didn’t have much time to plan these activations, but I knew I had an early enough arrival in the afternoon that I could likely activate a park in MN and then in SD. So, I picked out a park in MN close to my destination. I could go activate in MN then get over to a park in SD and activate there.

I found a nice looking State Park in MN. The idea was to activate as quickly as I could and then get back to a park in ND with enough time to activate before it got too late. K-2482 Fort Snelling State Park had 110 successful activations. That is always promising when planning out an activation. I got my rental car and headed to the park.

I also had recently purchased a HFJ-350m which is a base-loaded coil with an extendable whip. I found a tripod base I could print online and then designed an adapter so I could install a SO-239 and RG316 lead with a BNC connector. I had just tested this setup in the back yard and knew it worked, although I certainly knew it was a compromised antenna.

HFJ-350m setup on custom tripod in the backyard for testing
Custom 3D Printed Tripod with BNC Connector

I typically bring my Raspberry PI4 loaded with Build-A-Pi and then run digital modes from my phone or Tablet. My plan was to activate this park with the compromised antenna running 5W on FT8 at the first park and then go to my second park and run a full half wave wire in a tree on SSB at 10W.

Not much to say about the activation in MN. The state park was nice but where I set up presented quite a bit of RF noise. Not so much of a problem since I was running digital. After a bit of adjustment on the whip I was tuned for 20m and started hunting a few FT8 stations. I did make a few QSOs while hunting but I then started calling CQ and had a bit more luck. I think because my signal was quite weak, calling CQ was a bit more efficient as only those who could hear me were calling back. While hunting, if those calling CQ were running a bit more power, I was unlikely to get in while running lower power and on a compromised antenna. I got the activation completed with 12 QSOs and packed it up and headed to the next park.

Continue reading Guest Post: Breaking 100 QSOs during two QRP SSB Activations