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Apartment Ham Station

Bradley Smith (AB8WD) on May 12, 2006
View comments about this article!

A good friend of mine named Carl Walthall, N8CDW, once lived in mid sized apartment with a balcony. On the balcony, next to his bedroom was a window located just directly above the complex roof.

Anyways, in Mar. '03, I wrote a half page article called, "Apartment Ham Station" featuring my friend, Carl. Carl's ham station contained two HF rigs, along with a mobile dual-band set-up as a base (Common among hams today since no one manufactures those old, classic 2 meter/70cm. base stations anymore). He has a multi-band HF antenna that was self-tuning mounted on his balcony, a dual-band vertical mounted along side of it, and of coarse, an extra high band antenna mounted on the roof just outside his balcony window.

I must say that in the past 7 years I've been licensed, it was one of the most creative and elaborate set-ups that I have ever encountered! Though he now he is a proud homeowner with a 50 ft. tower & several beams stacked on top of each other, he had to make due with the limited room he had while in the apartment for some 5 years.

The reason I decided to write the article was because I can remember talking to a ham about his station a long time ago & was told that he didn't have any equipment or antennas on-the-air. -- This because he had moved from a house to an apartment. His name is Ross King, KA9QEQ. I didn't know him from Adam, but I did notice his ham plates & if you know me well enough couldn't resist saying "hi."

In order to make the only national effort I could to raise the eyebrows of those hams that can't use PRB-1 (The FCC rule requiring reasonable accommodation for antenna structures for government licensees), I wanted to blow away the dark clouds obstructing their view to the warm sun & show them that, in fact, it can be done with ham radio, even in apartments, including condos, duplexes, and so on.

I can only express my sincere gratitude to the editors and staff of QST Magazine for not only publishing the article, but for not trimming down the article by crunching it in a small cube in the bottom corner of the page. I hope this article inspired just as many ham enthusiasts as it did me, and now, just three years later, this article is discovered by those who seek to get on the air, and well, "Ham it Up!" W5YI slogan.

73, Brad Smith, AB8WD
& TNX eHam for everything you do for us.

Member Comments:
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Apartment Ham Station  
by LNXAUTHOR on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
- my first antenna was at a condo townhouse... worked many DX stations and had a lot of fun... shack was on second floor, so i used an artificial ground and counterpoise... a stealth antenna that worked great and cost a total of $10! (constructed out of the Rat Shack shortwave kit - two insulators and wire)...

- i have since found out that i prefer to work QRP/p in the fresh air and seem to have a lot more fun that way (although i do enjoy listening to the radio)...
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by W2RDD on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Some folks genuinely believe that if they can't have a big antenna farm, there is no point in getting on the air with something less desirable. There are compromise alternative antennas available and it is sad that they won't take advantage of them. They deprive themselves of a lot of fun while they are dreaming of that fifty-acre estate.
Apartment Ham Station  
by HA5RXZ on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
As you can see, not everyone can have a 60ft tower and a three-element HF beam. It is however possible to have a reasonable amount of ham radio activity with limited antennas.

I have been operating stealth antennas for two years now using QRP. Sure, it's going to take me a long time to get DXCC but each new country added to the list sure feels good.

RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by NI0C on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Was your article published in March 2003, or just recently? What issue of QST are we talking about?

Chuck NI0C
Apartment Ham Station  
by KR6DJ on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
When I was in CA I got my ticket while living in an apartment in San Mateo. The apartment balcony was about 40 ft up because the building garage took up the first floor. At night I would throw my 40M dipole off the balcony into the trees below. I also used a hamstick with counterpoise on 20M and had a 15M dipole that fit along the wooden railing. With this setup and 25W to 100W I managed to work enough stations for WAS-CW and DXCC. I was always amazed by the performance of that rather modest antenna farm. BTW I highly recommend the hamstick on 20M. I works well and because it's black and skinny the neighbors don't seem to notice it. :-)
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by K1OU on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article! Reminds me of when I was relicensed ten years ago while I was living in Dover, New Hampshire. I lived in the middle of downtown in an older building and had just enough space to string a 20 meter dipole between the chimney of the apartment and the chimney of a cleaning business behind the apartment.

Luckily, the owner of the cleaning business had knowledge of ham radio, as he had phone patches delivered, and let me borrow his chimney. I had GREAT fun with 100 watts!

If I had known then what I know now (450 and a manual tuner instead of RG8 and an autotuner), it would have been more flexible, but a lot of the fun of the hobby for me is experimenting with antennas, so I learned something. Thanks again for the article.
Apartment Ham Station  
by K3SUI on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
In year 2000, I worked Millenium 2K DXCC from my 3rd floor condo. My rig was a Ten-Tec Scout and about 35 feet of hookup wire tacked into the corner of my dining area, tuned with an MFJ tuner. Fully 60% of my contacts were on PHONE ... and it only took me 6 weeks to do it. While I lived in that condo, I worked 168 countries ... even breaking some pileups!! Of course, the sun spot cycle had a lot to do with it, too!!

Barry K3SUI
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by WB4QNG on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Don't really believe there is any place you can't put up some kind of antenna and work somebody. I have attic antenna's and I get out. I like the hamsticks for 10, 15, and 20. Just run 4 coiled up wires for radials. A couple of slinkies that can be tuned for anything with my old Dentron tuner. Mag mounts on coffee cans work wonders for two meters and 440. It nothing else just get yourself some light wire and thumb tacks and make your antenna runing the wire around your room. You will make some contacts.
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by AB8WD on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Hi ni0c, actually I made a little mistake. The article is in the '04 not '03 QST magazine. That's where you'll find it & I forgot that the editors changed the title from "Apartment Ham Station" to "Harmoneous Apartment Station". Tnx for pointing that out & tnx for reading the article. -73 brad, ab8wd. C U on DE air for Field Day coming up here. Listen for WW9P, the club station we'll be using mostly on 20.
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by AB8WD on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Also, thank you all for your comments. All of you represent this hobby in a very special way by all of the fine things you do for it & services you provide.

I also like emcomms (emergency communications), and with all the devistating tornadoes up here in the mid-west, there's plenty of hams with full plates to fill. It's people like you that inspired me to get my license at the ripe age of 17, back in '99. I'm a member of SATERN, ARES & SKYWARN.

Keep up the good work & let's keep working together all across the globe & do some serious hamming!!! I see some responses from hams in other parts of the world too. Thank you all for the extreme dedication & hard work you provide, esp. during times of need. '73 God Bless de .- -... ---.. .-- -.. (AB8WD).

Look forward to contacting a lot of you on Field Day.
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by AB8WD on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Oh & this one's for HA5RXZ. Good luck w/ that DXCC award. You can do it. A fellow ham that lives in Oregon, IL, Gene Duncan, W9GD won one recently. It took him a long time to get it, but he made it. I'd like to win a Rag Chewers award someday. That's my specialty...73 not 73's -brad.
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by NS6Y_ on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
LNXAUTHOR a ham I greatly respect uses the same kind of thing, a stealth wire with a counterpoise, with an artificial GND from a 2nd floor apartment, he gets out fine.

I can't leave anything standing myself, I wonder if I'd do OK with a piece of wire thrown up in a tree with a small weight to throw up there, with a piece of 4lb fishing leader, when done just pull more than 4lbs and it comes down one way or another hehe. With a counterpoise of course hehe.
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by AB8WD on May 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I must say that's very creative & worthly of a good experimentation. If you are 1 of those in an apartment, give it a shot. At least you can't say you tried it. Right?! Let me know if it worked out okay.
Apartment Ham Station  
by W4LGH on May 13, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I lived in an apartment for 7 years and operated just fine. Wasn't the biggest signal out there, but I made many contacts. I was lucky that I was on the 2nd floor and had access to the general attic area. In this attic I had a pretty good antenna farm going. For HF I used an SGC-239 auto ant tuner hooked to a folded 100' dipole. Each leg was 25' of 450ohm ladder line with the outter ends shorted, thus a 50' leg in 1/2 the space. This worked very well, although I must add that with any antenna inside, you are prone to additional noise, but you learn to work around it. I also had a dual band J-pole for 2/70cm as well as a Cushcraft dual band 5 ele. beam mounted in a fixed position to my favorite repeater 35 miles away. There was also a homebrewed 6meter antenna, using a 6meter hamstick, with homemade groundplane. Not to shabby for an attic that only had 5' of clearance from the floor joists to the center beam joists.

Now that I am in my own home, I still have and use once in a while the SGC-239, with the same folded line as a backup antenna. So for those of you living in apts, you CAN get on the air, just use your imagination, a little homework, and keep your power to 100watts or less. I know I was getting into neighboors phones, and maybe other things as well, but being so stealthy, there never knew where it was coming from.

73 and good luck!
de W4LGH - Alan

Apartment Ham Station  
by N6CIC on May 13, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Great article and very pertinent these days. Please note that in virtually every new housing development in California, very restrictive CC&R's are the norm. And universally they restrict outside antnennas. So even people living in their own homes must make do with stealthy antennas. When I was in a condo, I used a dipole sloper on 20 and 15 and threw it out the window at dusk, taking it back in before morning. It worked quite well on CW and SSB. Now with digital modes like PSK31, it should help running low power into various stealthy antennas. Keep up the good work-which benefits all of us in hamming!
Apartment Ham Station  
by KB2QQM on May 13, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I got my Ham license when I lived in an apartment. I ran 3 watts to a 40M dipole I set up almost at ground level..
8 feet. The rig was my first rig...a Norcal 40 Qrp rig, powered by a discarded defibulator battery from a hospital. I worked my first dx station ever... F3NB.. in the back courtyard of the apartment I lived 2am , I would work CW from 2AM until just about Sun-up every day I could.
Since then I have used gutters, and an sgc tuner to work dx. I have even used the sgc tuner hooked to magnet wire with the magnet wire attached to the ceiling with those white plastic tacks, on the 2nd floor of my apartment. 5 watts will work the world with the right conditions.

3 nights ago I worked French Polynesia FO/N6JA with an indoor dipole in the attic and 25 watts on cw using the
G5rv Mini...51 foot antenna in Wisconsin on 30 meters.
So it can be done. You just have to have the determination and persistance to make it work.

In NY, when I was really restricted, I used a hamstick attached to a Mirror mount that I glued to a woodworkers clamp. I attached the clamp to my apartment balconey, and then ran 12 radials all around the floor of the balconey and covered them with that cheap green outdoor plastic carpeting... I actually drilled a hole through the metal sliding glass door frame, big enough for RG-58 so I could close the door, and used a Ten-Tec Scout (great radio and receiver) to work Japan with 25 watts CW on 40 meters.
It wasn't pretty, but it was "slick" and it worked..When I moved out of the apartment, I glued a screw to the frame where I drilled through. Didn't hurt a thing...and nobody was the wiser.
I never had a ground for my rigs until I moved into a I just ran a piece of Computer ribbon cable cut for 1/4 wavelength for each band that I operated on. I never got RF burn, and it was great only having the one ribbon cable under the carpet (and taped at the end away from the rig-i hate burning carpet.)

Where there is a will there is a way...Have fun, happy dx...

Apartment Ham Station  
by K7VO on May 13, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
> Don't really believe there is any place you can't put
> up some kind of antenna and work somebody.

Terry's statement sums it all up better than any other I've seen. I've rented or owned a condo for most of my years as a ham. I always found a way to get out. I also operate portable and get out into nature for a prime operating spot now and again. There is always a way to make ham radio work.

When I read about some ham who moved into an apartment and sold off his gear because he couldn't operate I have to conclude that there are one of two possibilities:

1) He or she lacked imagination and didn't ask for help, or

2) They really did't want to operate anyway.

RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by AB8WD on May 13, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
that's probably unfortunitely true caity. I always hope that people that were once active on the air, that aren't anymore, don't let their license lapse and go beyond that 2 yr. lethal grace period.

A lot of times, hams that say they'll never get back in the hobby, often do (At some point in time). Then, they lose their old call & have to re-test all over again from square 1. Indeed, a grave mistake on their behalf. -73 brad
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by WN2RUJ on May 15, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
In the mid 70's I started as an SWL and used a Hy-Gain SW-9 on a third floor apartment window in Brooklyn. A couple of years later I got my ticket and added a
DX-60B and a dipole on the roof of the six story building. It was strung between two TV antenna masts.
I worked the world with 75 watts. Over the next 25 years I lived in various apartments with numerous hidden antennas. Now that I live in a house on a small lot my antennas haven't gotten much larger or more noticeable.
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by AB2MH on May 15, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
W2RDD wrote:
"Some folks genuinely believe that if they can't have a big antenna farm, there is no point in getting on the air with something less desirable. There are compromise alternative antennas available and it is sad that they won't take advantage of them. They deprive themselves of a lot of fun while they are dreaming of that fifty-acre estate. "

See, I agree with you somewhat, but nearly all of the apartment antenna articles I've seen involve asking for and obtaining landlord permission for a rooftop antenna, something which isn't always possible.

Compromise antennas are another thing, but they're just that - compromises.

So in light of that, I'm really looking hard at getting out of renting and onto my own property where I can put a decent sized antenna.
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by W2RDD on May 15, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I genuinely wish you well in your search for your private plot of land. Never-the-less, Many hams find themselves living in apartments. There are any number of reasons why; some for reasons of necessity, some by preference. I won't go into all the reasons but would include in that category, homeowners who have arrived at a certain age where the work of maintaining a large home has become difficult and undesirable. Chldren long gone, perhaps a spouse now deceased, and just the physical effort required to keep the place up and presentable.
However, the now former homeowner still wants to retain his or her amateur radio hobby in their new accomodations.

Hopefully this and other threads can provide some insight and ideas on erecting those compromise antennas and keeping RFI under control. 73
Apartment Ham Station  
by KB2QQM on May 15, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Go check out this ham's solution. Brian W2BRI

I built this magnetic loop for 20 meters....It works great It's low swr is only good within a range of about 20khz..with a low noise floor. Practically anyone can build soldering (sweating) is horrible and looks bad,but it works great. If you use cw..and set it for your part of the could work the world with a 5' by 5' antenna. You could mount it in a bucket of cement and put it out on your porch and hang your clothes on it.

I have asked landlords...and alot of them said no..
my motto:

"It's easier to beg for forgiveness than ask permission"

If you don't know what I am talking about...then you haven't been married !

Check out my callsign and then check out my links..

good luck ;-)
Apartment Ham Station  
by VE4AE on May 16, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I live in a condominum in a ground floor unit. There is a strict prohibition against antennas. To compound the problem the extrerior of the building is covered with painted aluminum siding. However, I have been here for over ten years and have managed to operate without being " caught" by the Condo Gestapo Police.

I no longer have a 54 foot tower with a beam and various other dipoles etc.

I can't really improve on my DXCC total ( 250 ) but I do work some and am chasing counties.

I recommend to anyone in a similiar position that they read the article entitled "A Four Band Tree Vertical" wrtitten by Mark Weaver which appeared in the November 1995 issue of QST on page 69.

After reading the article I decided to forget about 40 and stay with 10-15-20. I operate with a tuner and it works quite well. If I can hear them, I can work them.

I must admit that I developed an interest in the flower beds and managed to quietly install radials etc. There has to be a nearby tree and the coax to the tree has to be buried. If you are a "gardener", or pretend to be and you work at dusk there is no real problem.For the antenna I used very thin brown wire and stapled it into the trunk, leaving a bit of slack for tree growth. At the same time as putting up the wire on the " blind" side of the tree I also had a pair of shears with me and periodically trimmed some of the foliage. I did have to do some soldering but there are small tools for that purpose.

Read the article, look for a tree and you with a bit of effort will be able to operate. The construction is quite simple-juststudy the article.You may not be a " big gun" -maybe just a " pop-gun', but you will get out. Good luck, Jack ve4ae- if you need info send email
Apartment Ham Station  
by N3QOM on May 16, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I started small, building my apartment antenna systems one piece at a time. Because of the requirements to allow apartment dwellers to have satellite antennas, I request to put up a small VHF/UHF antenna on my balcony before signing the lease. At first they didnít understand ham radio but I took the time too explain what we do in the community and show them the size of the antenna. I think showing them articles on how we help the community worked to my advantage. Most people think CB when you tell them you talk with others on the radio; only thing they hear is possible interference with my favorite TV show. For this reason I decided to only operate very late at night limiting the people that would notice any problems I mite create.

After a few months I started working HF, my first antenna was a mobile 102Ē wipe and manual tuner. I keep the same hours of operation I did on VHF/UHF limiting my power not to draw any attention. After meeting a few neighbors, I explained ham radio and invited a few in too see my small station. The biggest problem was picking the ones who would work with me to solve any interference problems. I gave them my phone number an asked they call if problems occurred. It took a year of experimenting with different antennas and grounding systems before I was able to make sure most people had very few problems. Because of this I was able to add more antennas and learned the art of hiding them with my landlords consent.

Now I live in a home with a 50 foot tower that has taken me almost two years too put up. But Iím following the same philosophy of adding one piece at a time, learning grounding techniques while working with a few neighbors. Just this past weekend, one neighbor said he figured I was part of some listening system too monitor communications for my job and never heard me talking with anyone.

Go Figure

Carl Walthall N8CDW

RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by AB8WD on May 17, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I'm am pleasantly surprised at just how many comments were posted about the article. Thank goodness I Aced Comm's 1 & 2 in college... :-)
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by I8UTR on May 18, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Used to using an MFJ loop antenae in my flat in Rome. It OK worked.

RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by M0HEM on May 25, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
hello all

i thought i would never be able to play radio as we live in a ground floor flat so a put a 132 end fed antenna 40m long conterpoise out along walls and sharp turns and runs along the grass and i roll it up went im not using it due to the kids playing football local to the antenna i know it wiil not make me coffee i have worked usa /canada im happy with it and it a cheap antenna

73 john m0hem
Apartment Ham Station  
by MM30 on May 28, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I live in an Apartment and am proud to have a fully functional Ham station complete with 2 HF Rigs for listening (Kenwood TS 430 and 440 with auto tuner) A 2 meter high power FT-2800 and a commercial Kenwood TK-862 dropped down to the 70CM ham bands. My modest antenna farm consists of a 2 meter 1/4 wave mounted to my air conditioner and a home brew ground plane for 70CM. My Wire dipole stretches from one end to the apartment to the other when fully extended and is great for listening. When I first recieved my ticket I had no idea how I was going to make this work and my first rig was an HT. I finally broke down and worked it all out into something that not only works quite well but is also up there with some of the big dogs of ham stations (in my opinion) My next project is going to be possibly putting up a 2 meter beam on the roof (with the landlords permission of course).
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by N3DOK on May 29, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Here is the ARRL's Resource Section Web page.

Limited Space and Indoor Antennas

RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by W4LGH on June 23, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I lived in an upstairs apt for almost 7 years, and had my shack setup. I was lucky that I had access to the attic. What I did was use an SGC-239 auto tuner and a folded 100' dipole fastened to the center beam of the roof for HF. It worked very well, but as with any inside antenna, it did a lot more noise in it.
For VHF/UHF I used a dual band J-Pole by ARROW, which worked super, and I also had a Cushcraft dual band 5-ele beam pointed to my favorite repeater.

In order to get the 100' dipole in the attic, I used 450ohm ladder line, cut @ 25' on each side, with the far ends connected. This gave me 50' on each side, in a 50' space. Hence a folded dipole. It really worked very well, altho limited to 200watts by the tuner. Really don't think I wanted to run any real power there as I know I had to be getting into just about everything in that building.(grin) When I built my house 3 years ago, I installed this same antenna arrangement back into my attic, as a back/emergency antenna, as I am the ARES EC for my county. All of my main antennas are outside behind the house in the trees, as I still have CC&R's to deal with. But they are NOT visable.

So there are many ways to get "On-the-Air" if you use a little imagination. A pair of hamsticks work very well. You might NOT be the powerhouse of the band, but you certainly can get out an make contacts!!!

73 de W4LGH - Alan
RE: Apartment Ham Station  
by WA2JJH on July 3, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
At one NYC QTH...All I could use was 32 feet of wire and a Drake MN-75 antenna tuner. I had mucho DX with 100W.

Someone said it best. <<<<When the bands are open, forget about the reciprocal antenna theorem and ERP>>>>>!
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