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What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?

from Don Keith, N4KC on June 20, 2011
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"Editor's Note: Due to the popularity of some of eHam's older articles, many of which you may not have read, the team has decided to rerun some of the best articles that we have received since eHam's inception. These articles will be reprinted to add to the quality of eHam's content and in a show of appreciation to the authors of these articles." This article was originally published on: 10/30/2007

What? You only have ONE antenna?

By Don Keith, N4KC

First let me try to deflect potential flames with a quartet of caveats:

  • If you only operate on a single amateur band and have multiple wide-spaced elements at 120 feet for that band, then this article is probably not for you (though I believe you could benefit from having access to other radiators in addition to that one big beauty).

  • If you operate several amateur bands and have multiple wide-spaced elements at 120 feet for each of those bands, you may already agree with my thought process here, if not the scale of its execution, but it wouldn't hurt you, either, to have some simpler alternatives at times.

  • If you live in a condo, townhome, garden home or have to answer to covenant Nazis before you can even paint your mailbox or mow your lawn in a different direction, much less put up multiple ham radio antennas, then you probably won't be able to follow my suggestion, even if you wanted to.

  • If it's all you can do to get one hank of wire in the air for whatever reason—space, money, physical ability, desire, technical knowledge, allergy to copper and aluminum—and are resolved to make do with it, then you may or may not go along with my idea here.

So here's my contention: to get the most satisfying experience from operating on the high frequency amateur radio bands, you need more than one antenna that works on the bands on which you operate—and ideally at least THREE.

Let me quickly add that I am not suggesting that you put up THIRTY antennas—three aerials for each of the ten HF bands. What I am saying is that, if possible, it is a big advantage to have a choice of antennas—and, if possible, antenna types—for each band. I'm an advocate of multi-band antennas, whether you achieve it with tuner/ladder line, traps, fan-type arrangement, or black magic. With a little ingenuity and lots of poison-ivy lotion and liniment, it's possible to have several antennas that work fine on that vast array of spectrum we have at our disposal. There are a dizzying number of sites on the Internet that give good advice on some multi-band alternatives. I even have some thoughts at

Let me give you an example of how having simple options can make a difference in euphoria and “Dang it!”

The other night, I was trying to work the 5L2 in Liberia on 20 CW. The DX cluster said he was on a certain frequency but I could not hear a thing on my big skywire loop…just the chaos of the pileup a few kilohertz above and a few dimwits calling him on his frequency. I quickly switched to my 130-foot ladder line-fed doublet. Yep, there he was, but just barely audible above the noise. But I had one more option—the 4BTV vertical out there in the backyard. Click! And he was suddenly 579 (though I, of course, gave him “599” when I worked him a few minutes later). Side benefit: on the vertical, the dimwits calling on the DX station's frequency practically disappeared.

But there is more. An hour later, I dialed back across, just to see how the 5L2 was coming in by then. He was way, way down in the crud. Jeez, propagation was gone. Glad I got him when I could. But then, on a whim, I flipped the antenna switch back to the doublet. 589! He was loud!

Now how could this be? Those of you who have been around the hobby for a while know that the layers of the upper atmosphere that reflect radio waves back to earth are constantly moving, shifting, and changing. It can offer a variety of heights with different angles of reflection (picture a basketball shot, bouncing off the backboard). Holes develop, too, allowing signals to zoom right past, through other layers who have interest in deflecting radio signals, allowing them to travel all the way out into deep space where amused aliens hear them, shake their heads, and make fun of us silly Earthlings. The angles at which our emitted signals strike those obliging layers can determine whether we bag that rare one or just waste lots of kilowatt hours trying.

And different types of antennas at different heights above ground, and varying ground systems they may be working against, can have a big influence on not only how much energy gets to the station you covet, but how much of his emitted RF energy finds its way to the front end of your receiver. Both things have to happen, you see, to make a contact!

To belabor the point, here's another recent example of success through multiple antennas. We have a Sunday night group who solve all the world's problems near the middle of the 75-meter band. Last night, the band was unusually long, and even groundwave signals from twenty miles or more away were lost in the static. One of our group was operating from an RV with a quickie antenna over on the South Carolina coast and the rest of us are in Central Alabama—about 500 miles apart. I was using the doublet, which usually does beautifully on 75, but I could copy very little of what our vacationing friend was saying.

The big loop is usually very good out to about 300 miles on 75 but mediocre any farther away (it's only 20 to 35 feet off the ground) but I decided to try it anyway. And there our RV guy was, bragging about his view of the beach from the campground, his signal suddenly well clear of the noise on the band.

Seems to me that the ideal complement of antennas—again assuming a bunch of big, honkin' beams way up in the sky is not possible—might include one multiband wire with some height above ground, some kind of wire closer to the ground so it radiates almost straight up, and a vertical. I feel rather strongly that a vertical or some kind of vertically polarized wire (inverted L, maybe) should definitely be in the mix.

Bottom line is, I think most newcomers would be surprised how often an antenna you don't think will work will actually do a better job than something far more elaborate. No matter your license class, your knowledge of things electronic, or how many kilo-dollars you have invested in your station, you have no control over the ionosphere and how it decides to treat your signal.

Yes, a lot of metal high in the air will work best most times. Too many laws of physics dictate that it is so. But it very often pays dividends to have more than one way to aim some RF at the sky and see what kind of lucky bounce you get.

Member Comments:
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What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by OH3GGQ on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Just a beautiful article!
RE: What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by G3LBS on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Don - to enable you to continue I will deflect potential flames in my direction by saying that what you mean is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Gil
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by KB2DHG on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I think we all can concur that having un restricted space and multable antennas designed for each band is living in the ideal world. BUT today even the people with pleanty of space are hampered with rules and regulation nazis... I unfortunately had to surrender my antenna farm and home with open free spaces for a condo. I surly thought that my Amateur Radio days were over. So after a long and constant battle with the condo board, I finnaly got permission to put up a wire. I decided that since I can have only one wire the only option was using a G5RV. LONG STORY SHORT, I am happy to say that I have been working very well with this antenna, NO, certianly not as good as my tower and 3 element beam but I am on the air. One more note, If you have to put up a G5RV BUILD IT YOURSELF! I used 31 feet of 450ohm ladder line and bear copper strand wire, 102 feet cut to 51 feet for each leg and that is IT I feed the ladder line with 50 ohm coax to the shack trying to keep the coax as short as possable. My home brew G5RV works BETTER than any store purchesd antenna.
This was a great article and good read!
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by KB9MNM on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Awesome article! I have just gotten my General classification (May 16th) and put up a 20m dipole in the attic at about 10-13 feet high. I have been working PSK31, and have talked to Hungary, France, Germany and Kauai, Hawaii! All on about 13 watts! The antenna is oriented in an e/w radiating pattern, so yeah, I need to get a n/s antenna up. Im 26 states shy of WAS. Im in Illinois and cant get my surrounding states, or the states south, though I did get Kentucky and Tennessee one night. Thanks for this shot of encouragement!
RE: What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by WB4TJH on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article. I run exactly the same dual HF antenna setup, with a 140 foot dipole fed with 450 ohm, actually a commercial antenna called a Cobra Ultrialite Senior, and a ground mounted 5BTV Hustler with about 650 feet of radials under it. I find that many times having the ability to switch between the two totally different antennas can produce some interesting results. On 80 and 40, most times the wire is the stronger of the two, but there are times, noiticed on 40, that the vertical can equal or surpass the big wire. Most times, on 20 and above, the 5BTV is stronger, but owing to the odd lobes at the higher freqencies shown by the big wire, there are occassions where it can be substantially stronger than the vertical. Mine is a simple antenna system, but having both the big wire and the vertical gives me a handy degree of versatility.
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by AE4RV on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Agreed. I don't have much space or a tower but have managed to get two HF aerials up. I have a remotely tuned end-fed wire, kind of an inverted L, for all bands and also a fan dipole (Alpha Delta DX-EE) for 10, 15, 20 and 40. It's great to have choices. I might consider adding a vertical in the future. Good article.
RE: What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by N6AJR on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
And then you get the Fun of running multiple antennas to multiple radios.

I have set up some of the most amazing switch setups here now and then, with each antenna going in to a 1 x 6 antenna switch to a 1 x 6 antenna switch

The other way to select this antenna for that radio.. ( 6 antennas and 6 hf rigs), and then there is the jumper boxes with the antennas on one side in the back and the radios on the other side in the back, and then jumpers from this antenna to that radio in the front, and then I tried one antenna for one radio. I've tried most setups, and am still searching.

But yes, some times the wimpy antenna is the best for this call. Ya never know. Thanks goodness for Auto Tune radios.

What fun
RE: What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by KG4RUL on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I make do with a 41' flagpole and a remote auto-tuner. Sticking to digital modes, I make all the contacts I have time for.
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by W7RUE on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I am in total agreement! I live in a CC&R Nazi controled neighborhood but I have managed to run a multi-band HF dipole and a HF vertical hidden in the greenbelt and 2 parallel HF dipoles in the attics. Although I rely mostly on my multi-band HF dipole, swapping to different antennas does payoff when conditions change. W7Rue
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by G0GQK on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
And yet there are those who still persist in saying that vertical antenna's radiate poorly in all directions !

What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by W3TUA on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I've always tried to have a horizontal antenna as well as a vertical option. Right now, I'm in a very restricted housing area and still have both.
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by K9WJL on June 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Another thing to consider is using different antennas to receive. I have a high dipole on 10,17,20 and 40 directed to Asia, but sometimes the noise is just horrible there. My 75M coax fed dipole is perpendicular to it, and when out of tune and used for receive, I can reject alot of atmospheric noise and hear the weak ones I couldn't hear on the dipole.
Anyway, just another point and this article was a good read.
Bill K9WJL
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by WS4E on June 21, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Hey who wants to argue about which antenna is the "one" to have?! hehe.

I have become one of those "why do we tell new hams to use a G5RV? guys".

If like me you live in a restricted community which says 'no antennas', but also like me you find you can get away with a single wire antenna in the trees without anyone really noticing other than the two neighbors right on either side who your friends with, then you have to pick the best single wire antenna you can.

And after trying a bunch of them, I have found that an 80m OCF Dipole(commonly called a windom but it really isn't one) is MUCH better than the G5RV for the same restricted space.

As far as the idea of a multi-band dipole you can't beat the OCF/Windom or the doublet. The G5RV's have SWR's into the 4-8 range on a number of bands and people think that is good to work as a multiband antenna for some reason.

With a properly built OCF Windom you will get 1-3 on nearly most all bands other than 30 and 15, and a 135 Doublet, is also a magical antenna.

I just think we should try to change the perception of the G5RV for new hams.

I know I am blowing into the wind but I feel better for saying my peace.

I Agree With the OCF  
by KJ4KKI on June 21, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I also am a fairly "new to HF ham," upgrading from Tech to General in February 2010. The comments about an 80m OCF are very valid. Right now, I am running just a simple 20m vee in the yard at about 15-20 feet. It gets me northern Europe--Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, etc., and N-S from Florida/Texas up through New England...on 20m only. Due to space limitations and finances, I cannot put up a large antenna or more than one HF antenna. So, as soon as I get some limbs cut away from a recent storm, I am putting up an 80m OCF. I bought a 4:1 balun from Balun Designs. It's fairly expensive, but built like a rock and with top-notch materials. I've been told that a good quality balun for an OCF is important. Balun Designs, under support, has some designs for simple OCF antennas. Some hams in our club have used OCFs in the past and talk highly of them. I understand the even harmonics will get 80/40/20 and probably 10 o.k., and maybe 6m as well. I am making an alligator clip jumpered dipole for vacations. It could easily do the odd harmonic bands if I wanted to try them out. Anyway, just my thoughts. Steve
RE: What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by W7MJM on June 21, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I agree with you, up to a point. Antennas interact. One antenna can alter the radiation pattern and impedance characteristics of another nearby antenna. There's a point at which adding antennas within a given space may cause an overall degradation in the performance of all the antennas in that space.

If you have a large number of antennas in a small yard, the results can be difficult to model or predict. Which is not to say you won't have good results. It just means the system gets more complex and you'll have to determine empirically how the various antennas perform.

Having said that, I definitely agree that it helps to have choices. I have a small triband yagi on my roof and a 6BTV on a 10-foot pole in the backyard, with raised resonant radials. On the bands the two antennas have in common (20, 15 and 10), the beam will usually outperform the vertical, but not always.

Do the two antennas interact? I'm sure they do, but the beam appears to have a predictable pattern, and the vertical is pretty much omnidirectional. I also have a 75-meter inverted vee mounted mid-yard on a 28-foot fiberglass pole. No doubt the dipole interacts with the beam and the vertical. But I wouldn't get rid of any of my three antennas. Would I add additional antennas for the HF bands? Probably not, unless I could mount them at a reasonable distance from my existing aerials. Then again, it's always fun to experiment!

Thanks for the article and 73, Martin, W7MJM

What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by N8XI on June 22, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Very good article!

For HF I have two antennas.

Cushcraft A4S for 10, 15, 20 & 40 Meters and
an Inverted L for all bands 160 thru 10.
It's a little finicky on 80CW.

Does make a difference, once in awhile.

I also have 4L on two & six meters.

The A4S surprisingly also works on 6M.

Ya never know until you try :)

73, Rick - N8XI
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by K4BTC on June 24, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Hey Don! Great article and very enjoyable reading. I use to have 3 wire antennas up in the air. A 1/2 wave dipole and a 1/2 wave Inverted L and a DXCC 80-10 trap antenna. Over the past 5 years I have pulled down the "L" and DXCC as the 160 1/2 wave has out performed them all. I have it mounted at about 70 to 90 feet depending on which end you look at. It works great on all bands with my Dentron Super Plus tuner. I can even squeak out a good signal on 6 meters as well. I keep thinking about putting the other antennas back, and your article just may be the "shove" I need. Again, thanks for a great article!
Jeff Bennett
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by NQ4A on June 25, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
WOW what a thought provoking article. Sure has me thinking. Presently running a vertical with great
success but another antenna might open the door to more DX !
Jon NQ4A
Drat! I Only HAD One Antenna!  
by K4IQT on June 26, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
I only HAD one antenna in service before a severe thunderstorm last week took out the only support on my property higher than 20 feet. Fortunately, the G5RV was undamaged because of its screen door springs, and since it worked like a single guy wire for that tree, it actually kept the tree from falling on the new house next door (whew).

Next: Back to my old semi-stealthy 6BTV with a camo paint job and a plethora of radials, maybe next weekend ...

What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by VU3MES on July 1, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Hello Don

very nice article and a good guidance stuff for hams who have limited resources and means to put up massive antennas. as you said very simple antennas like a loosely strung dipole works wonders for you. my experiences with a home made g5rv jr. has been similar. thanks for the article and all the details in your wonderful website.

RE: What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by GW4GNY on July 6, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
It always pays to have more than one antenna. the first reason is so you know when one of them is not working as it should.
The second is, as you say because different antennas work better under different conditions. I have two long wires and throughout last autumn and winter worked lots of DX on 18Mhz with one long wire running North/ South and the other (approx) East / West. At one point a stateside station asked me for more details of my straightforward 200ft long wire because he said I was the loudest on the band.
Then came spring there was a lot of static noise on the band. Suddenly virtually overnight my 132ft doublet seemed to be out performing both of my long wires. It was clear that there was no actual problem with either long wire as they were both performing equally badly. It was conditions that were to blame.
Since then, and due to improving conditions on 21 Mhz I have made a 15 metre delta loop, which is great fun.
What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by XE1XUS on July 20, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for the nice and inspiring article. I have recently returned to ham radio after a long absence. Moved into my own house after a nightmare of living for 8 years in a restricted townhome. What a blessing to have my own garden and roof (and of course an understanding wife with no objections to antennas). I mounted a 22m tower and I am in the process of mounting the last section with the thrust bearing, antenna mast and rotator. Meanwhile I spent an afternoon with my 5yr old son building and tuning a 20m dipole to start with in the mean time. I am amazed about what a properly tuned antenna can achieve! Consistent good reports even under harsh conditions all over Europe and South Pacific. Not very different from the Big Guns... Well ;), two or three S units difference but I can complete my QSOs without any problem and even get congratulations for being barefoot and on a dipole. Nice signal though. I will soon mount a beam on top of my tower. This dipole has proven to be a winner. I will leave it there in it's inverted V configuration for times when a semi-omni pattern is a must to complete a QSO.

73 de XE1XUS
Edgardo Molina
RE: What? You Only Have ONE Antenna?  
by NQ4A on July 21, 2011 Mail this to a friend!
What a good article. I enjoyed reading all the perspectives that were posted. I will say that I have been running a vertical of one type or another for a long while. For the last 8 years, I have had a GAP TitianDX ground mounted vertical up with no radials and on the air with great success. I have 4 DXCC's on the wall of the shack and another one on the
way all with the GAP Vertical. I agree that a second antenna may offer options when conditions change but I can not argue with the success and performance of my GAP Vertical antenna. Keep the informative articles coming.
73's and good DX.
Jon NQ4A, Richmond VA
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