Thursday, January 23, 2014

HF ham radio antennas

Why is a good antenna important for communications.

Putting together a ham radio station is a fun and very rewarding first step for proper communications. So why do so many people spend massive time putting the shack together only to neglect the antenna system and put up some sort of compromise antenna expecting good results.

The importance of the antenna.

The antenna that is used by an amateur radio operator will either make or break your system. If you spend all your time putting together a ham shack and neglect the antenna then you will be highly disappointed. It is better to spend most of the time putting together a good working antenna and use 2nd hand gear. It doesn’t matter if you have a 10K dollar radio and a crummy antenna: No one is going to hear you.

When it comes to the antenna system that you use, no two stations are alike. You have to experiment around with a design that works well for you. Some stations are constantly trying new designs to get the best possible signal to the desired location. The point is you have to find what works for YOU and YOUR station.

If you live on a small lot or are limited to one antenna then sometimes you have to use a compromise antenna like the G5RV multi-band design. The G5RV is a decent compromise ham radio antenna and is very popular in the amateur radio circles, but most operators that are new to the HF bands put this sort of antenna up expecting exotic DX when there are so many other designs that can be used. The G5RV is not an all purpose, all out DX antenna. It is a compromise between usability and antenna limitations. It works poorly on ALL bands with an antenna tuner, but it is still better than NO antenna.

The G5RV antenna was originally created by Louis Varney as an all purpose HF wire antenna. It is 102ft in length with a tuned vertical section made of ladder-line. When used with an antenna tuner it is an acceptable HF antenna.

What is the best antenna for HF.

HF: High Frequency. 3MHZ to 30MHZ.

In every antenna article that you find on HF antennas, they always have the same glowing results after they are done describing the design they used. The last paragraph will go into how comparing different designs they find the new one is always louder and stronger, or that they were able to break through some DX (Distant station) pileup on the first try after putting up the new antenna.

Plug and Play electronics.

With the plug and play attitude and replaceable consumer electronics that are on the store shelves available, amateur radio has followed suit with radio equipment that is for the most part non fixable by the average user. You simply buy a radio, hook it up to an antenna and get on the air. When it stops working you simply replace it with a new one. This idea can be found with the popularity of the Baofeng UV-5R series of radios that currently sell for under $30. They are a commercial dual band handheld radio that are usable on the VHF/UHF amateur bands. If they break it is no big loss to the consumer. Although these radios are perfectly acceptable they are very inexpensive and not fixable by the average consumer.
Another clue is the availability of pre-made wire antennas on the market. Most of these can be made very simply with parts purchased online or your local hardware store. In some circumstances it is perfectly acceptable to buy a ready made antenna if it is an exotic design or requires pieces that can not be readily made, or if a person is unable to make a wire antenna for other reasons.
Get on the air.

Whatever method you choose to get an antenna up and get on the air, nothing compares with the satisfaction of building your own antenna and making it work. Whether you decide to build one of the exotic designs or a simple Dipole or G5RV, building an HF antenna is the first step in gaining the confidence you need to move further with Amateur Radio and start experimenting.

See you on the bands, and 73