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Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operating Fun!

from Curt Gidding, KC9UNL on January 12, 2014
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Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operating Fun!
By Curt Gidding, KC9UNL

When I decided to get re-licensed in 2011 after letting my license expire, I didnít really think about the fact that I now live in a condo. At first, I was concerned about how I was going to operate on the HF bands with antenna restrictions and not aggravate the neighbors with RFI. In the past I have always operated with 100-200 watts of power and never really figured that you could do much with less.

Well, I decided to operate at low power and purchased a Icom 703 which will run 10 watts. I also found that I could mount an MFJ 1796 on my deck and its 12 foot height would not be noticeable to the neighborhood.

First off, tried my hand at SSB and found that you can make contacts with just 10 watts on 10 meters and can work some good DX when the band is open. I must warn you that you do have to have patience because you arenít going to make contacts with just one or two attempts.

By reading about the digital modes which were new to me, I noticed that the comments indicated that you could have great results with (1) low power and (2) limited antenna conditions. Wow, that fit my operating conditions. By reading Get on the Air with HF Digital by Steve Ford, WB8IMY, I learned about the great modes of PSK and JT65. Both of these modes are excellent for making contacts with low power.

With my modest setup, I have been able to work 60 countries on JT65 and about half that many on PSK31. I have also worked WAS on both of those modes. Just achieved 350 prefixes for the CQ WPX award. So you can see, that you can have fun and work many stations for various awards. I have found that many of the digital operators use eQSL as a method for QSLís. This is great and produces confirmations within a matter of a few days and is very economical. Both of these digital modes allow you to operate without any sounds coming from the speaker of the radio. This is great for a condo and the XYL. What is more amazing is that by sending about 10 watts of RF into your antenna, you can receive signal reports from stations which are across the world.

To help you adjust to operating the digital modes, be sure to read thoroughly how to set up the sound card interface and to operate and set up the digital software that you have chosen to use. I use a Signalink USB with either Digipan or JT65HF. Both are user friendly and work very well. Then once it is ready to go, spend some time watching how other QSOís progress. Once you feel confident, just ďjump inĒ and either call a station that is calling CQ or call CQ on your own.

So, if your operating conditions are similar to mine and you live in a condo, donít give up. Just operate low power with the digital modes and have lots of fun. You will be surprised what you can do and you wonít be disappointed.

Member Comments:
This article has expired. No more comments may be added.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by VK3DWZ on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for an excellent article Curt.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by N8TI on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Many times I have worked the Digital mode of CW from a hotel room with three or four watts. Digital is the way to go.
 
RE: Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Oper  
by W1JKA on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
The SECRET is out, glad you found it.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by KB2DHG on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I too have had the experience of living in a restricted condo while trying to keep to this hobby...

The fortunate thing for me was that I was on the top floor which made it easy for me to get an antenna up on the roof. I never got permission to have an antenna BUT I snuck a G5RV dipole up anyway. Using no more than 100 watts I was able to make many good contacts.

To all you apartment dwellers, HOA and Condo board restrictions situations people, all I can say is don't give up. If you want to stay on the air there are ways. If you cannot get an antenna up try a long wire draped around the perimeter of the apartment and with the MFJ-931 Artificial Ground you can get on the air. It all comes down to how crafty you want to be. BUT NEVER GIVE UP.

I operated for 7 years like this and in some strange way found it even more exciting when I made that rare DX contact with my stealth home brewed antennas!

There are many apartment antenna solutions you just have to see what one suites your conditions..

OR you can do what I finally did and sell that condo and buy a house way out in the country with acreage of land and NO HOME OWNERS ASSOCIATIONS and grow your antenna farm without ANY restrictions! I am much happier now :-)
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by K8CMO on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I live in a condo and use an Ameritron ALS-600 with an S9 vertical and have achieved DXCC Honor Roll. In fact, I frequently beat out locals with beams at 50 feet in working DXpeditions. I do use CW mostly at about 500 watts.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by KC7YE on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Yup JT65 saved the day for me in condo. Can also do sorta OK on 10, 15,17 mtrs on CW with indoor dipole. Even did OK, for time operated in 10 mtr test in Dec. All said tho, was BIG mistake moving to condo. Will be moving to house this spring.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by VE3FMC on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent article Curt, and I am glad you got back on the air.

I am not restricted when it comes to antennas, other than by height. (because I do not want to install a 50 foot tower along my lot line and have it looming over the house beside me)

Like you I operate a lot of JT 65, close to 3200 QSO's over the past 3 years. It is a great low power mode. Some might say it is not ham radio as the software does all the work. Well PSK 31 and other digital modes rely on that software to do the work. Sure you have to type with the other modes, but lots of ops use macros. So they do not do much typing.

Here is a useful website that allows you see view who is copying your JT65 signal. Register and have fun checking your JT 65 spots.
http://hamspots.net/jt/

73, Rick VE3FMC
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by K8QV on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
There is great satisfaction in doing more with less. One may catch the most fish with dynamite and nets, but the guy with the fly rod is having the most fun.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by W8EIR on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great article. I only run digital and have been since getting back into the hobby last March. QRP for me is an exciting challenge, and yes it does take patience.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by RSHIRE22 on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Get a mag loop. I homebrewed one for 15-10 and another for 30-17 for about $25 each. Since I work JT-65 I am plopped on one frequency per band so the mag loop is not inconvenient. I have more fun with my mag mounts than I do with my loop, vertical, or EFHW.

Ron
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by N7DMA on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great article, and I'm sure a lot of us are in the same situation.

I've been in my 2nd floor condo for almost 11 years, and have been active on 40 - 2 meters. I bought this condo specifically because:
1) It fit my budget and lifestyle
2) It is on the top floor
3) It has (perhaps unauthorized!) access to the attic
4) It's in a really great neighborhood

I operate CW, Digital modes, and SSB with no more than 100 Watts, more often 20 - 50 Watts, and have a blast doing it. I'm also a Net control operator for a local 2 meter SSB net that meets every week. All my antennas are mounted in the attic area.

For antennas, I homebrewed a lot of antennas for HF, and finally settled on a homebrew version of the Ultimax 100 end fed antenna. Works well for me, given that the attic space is only about 20 x 15 feet, and the apex of the roof is at abt 25 feet. For 2 meters, I have a ground plane, and a single KB6KQ horizontal loop.

Lots of folks would advise you to move out to the country, and this is fine advise, if you have the money, or are willing to incur a huge debt. I would like to be in that situation. But, I'm not. I also like to take my portable rig and EFHWA into the field when I go hiking.

I've been a ham for almost 40 years, and the past few years have been my most active. I'll never be a top-gun dxer, nor do I care to be. It's a hobby, and I have a life outside this great hobby. I'm casually working towards WAS mixed mode, just because.

I got myself elected to the HOA board, just so I can keep an eye on the Nazis!

Priorities, and balance. As I stated earlier, it's a hobby. I enjoy it as I can, and try to keep things in perspective. Amateur Radio is a great outlet, but it's not my entire life!

73,
Karl
N7DMA
Tucson, AZ
 
RE: Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Oper  
by K5TED on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
You can see my logbook online(QRZ.com, hrdlog.net), all contacts made with a MFJ 1786 or SG-230 fed 40' wire, from a 3rd fl. townhome balcony. Running QRP to 100w.

It's not rocket science, but it won't impress any ham who only does gorilla radio. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's all good.
 
RE: Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Oper  
by W4KYR on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great article and a inspiration to others who might live in antenna restricted locations.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by VE3TKB on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great article Curt.

I also operate under difficult conditions in a second floor apartment at the bottom of a ravine at a major intersection in the city. Lots of Hydro power lines and QRN. However having said that I put together a JT65-HF station by making a full wave 20 meter loop taped to an inner wall of my apartment and by installing an MFJ-1622 Window mount antenna on my Balcony (Bug Catcher). Using an AEA AT-300 tuner, MFJ-931 Artificial ground and 10 watts out of my rigs (TS-520S, TS-130S) I am active on all bands from 40-6 meters. A friend of mine who is also a ham lives 60 feet from me and is also active on HF via an eves trough down pipe :)
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by WD9FUM on January 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
160 thru 10 on my rain gutters. Cuba on 15 meter phone a few weeks ago.
 
RE: Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Oper  
by KJ4DGE on January 13, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Don't forget the "rain gutter antennas :)
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by N5TTI on January 13, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Don't forget OLIVIA. It's great for long qso's, especially for those of us who don't type very fast.
Most of the people I've worked on OLIVIA have been running 20W or less. I did talk to a ZL1 that was running 50W, but it wasn't needed for our QSO, because he was VERY strong in the waterfall.

Well that's my 2 cents

Thanks for a great article

N5TTI
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by KD8MJR on January 13, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article, it shows what you can do if you really try and don't give up. There are always solutions and you found a very good one.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by W1MW on January 13, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I have lived in a townhouse condo for 15 years and have had the following HF antennas. Running 100W
1) black insulated random wire out the window into and along tall arbor vitae, counterpoise around the room with an SGC tuner.
2) MFJ magnetic loop in the attic
3) put a horizontal loop in the attic (tried with and without loading coils) and the SGC tuner.
3) about 12 years ago joined the condo board. told them about my legally permitted indoor antenna, convinced them that I was probably causing some telephone interference and asked permission to run small coax out to the trees to a dipole. was asked to please move the interfering antenna away from the building. permission granted - I abstained from the vote.
Have had:
A) Parallel loaded dipole.
B) A series of OCF dipoles (perfect geometry for my location). Still radiating after all these years.
Never give up.
A friend of mine in a fussier condo had an FCC legal satellite TV dish on a mast. He installed an MFJ Super Loop (magnetic loop) on the mast and it looked like part of the TV antenna to the neighbors. 15-40M

I have heard many variations and clever ruses. Just keep trying until it works reasonably well under the circumstances and remains unnoticed or if you are lucky as me sweet talk for permission.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by VE3FMC on January 14, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Reading through the posts leads to lots of antenna ideas for those who are restricted.

Not all of us can have "Contest Stations" I have never had an antenna for any band that was higher than 33 feet. (Which for some who posted would be a Big Gun Station :)

Those who operate with indoor antennas enjoy the challenge and gratification of making contacts.

One poster mentioned Olivia. That is a great low power mode which is great for rag chewing. Finding Olivia on the bands is challenging, not many operate it. But when you do find an Olivia op you can usually have a good QSO.

Anyone wanted to operate Olivia please look me up.
Rick VE3FMC
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by KT4EP on January 14, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Sort of similar here,,, but...back after 15 years, discovered digital, tried HF phone and quit if you listen to what you hear most of the time. Let the flames begin.. anyhow, yes, you can make a lot of contacts with minimal power and a good antenna. I am hooked psk and Olivia. Its fun. Cu on the waterfall
KT4EP
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by WB2RCB on January 15, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
As indicated in the comments, where there is a will there is a way! I too was faced with whether or not I could operate from our restricted community so our condo purchase hinged upon that fact. We were lucky to find a top floor unit with attic access and everything fell into place. I was able to mount a High-Sierra HS-1500 screwdriver along with 1/4 wave radials quite easily and have made use of a closet as the shack. After only a year and a half, I have made many local and DX contacts on SSB and CW with the setup. Here is a link to my website showing the portable station as it is today.

www.wb2rcb.com/novice.htm (look towards the bottom of the page)

Ham's will always find a way!

 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by VE3TMT on January 15, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article Curt.

I always laugh at the guys who complain about HOA's and antenna restrictions, then say "I only run the amp on low power"

Ten meters is a great band. When conditions are right, you can make contacts on a piece of wet spaghetti. It's a great band for low power DX. Digital modes are great as well, I spend about 90% of my operating time on PSK31 and RTTY.

Glad to read you are having fun and hope to work you on the bands someday.

73,
VE3TMT
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by WA3BOJ on January 16, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I thought I would not be able to operate from my apartment. All the inside antenna systems I tried did not work.
Then I installed a 43' sloper out my 9th story window. I have even a dx station. So never say hf can not be done from an apartment.

Ted Pinsker
WA3BOJ
Pittsburgh, PA
 
RE: Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Oper  
by W4CNG on January 16, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Having lived in my Deed Restricted Home now for 14 years with Attic Antennas, I am doing my plotting on how to make it easier in my next home with a fully floored attic. My current one has a little flooring around the HVAC System. Fully floored makes it much easier to run wires where you need them without worrying about stepping thru a ceiling. The contract will have the same 2 inch PVC conduit from the Terrace Level Shack to the attic. We just had a Tech Fest by the Gwinnett County Radio Club that had a seminar on Attic Antennas. The best take away was make sure you have Resonant Antennas and forget the Tuners. With my resonant antennas, 75 meters thru 10 meters, I can run 800 Watts Output without interference issues or smoking the house. Just keep the ends away from anything.
 
RE: Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Oper  
by K8NDS on January 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Yes Curt you can do quite well in a condo or any other restricted space. My highest antenna for 80 meters is only 10 ft high, all my other bands are from 1 foot high to 7 foot magnetic loops & DDHRR's (1 foot above the ground). I can run up to the full legal limit on all bands with limited space antennas. I regularly compete with local station running towers and beams , I can keep right up with them. Check out my QRZ page to see what you can do, many around the world are building these antennas now with the same success.
Have fun!
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by K3LUE on January 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Agree totally. I had the amps and the 70 towers with lots of aluminum in the air but moved to a condo many years ago. Did sats with smaller ants but when AO 10 and 13 died, gave that up.
I use an Icon 718 into a Bruce Becket NU0R end fed long wire with LDG tuner, both in FL and PA, under the roof and have, over the past 5 years, worked 260 countries, mostly CW with some phone, PSK, and RTTY thrown in.
Great ant and no worries about ice, high winds or lightning. It's not a super beam way up there but it works and works well.
Check out his antennas. Great product and WONDERFUL service. No, I'm not connected to his business, just a very satisfied user....and remember, you can have fun with limited resources.

http://stores.ebay.com/maple-leaf-studio-antennas
 
RE: Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Oper  
by N6CAZ on January 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I think all of these comments show one very important aspect of the hobby...most situations are less than ideal and it is what you make of it.

I inherited a condo in San Diego, and it took me a few years to figure out what I could get away with. In the end, I had a long-wire of about 75 feet running from a tree, and used an Icom remote tuner to make the best of it. It capped me at 100W, but that's plenty to me. I also discovered the digital modes somewhat, but never got the same feel as with a good voice QSO. Noise levels and constant trial and error helped me get what I could out of it. I later expanded this to include a 6m J-pole, a VHF/UHF vertical, and temporary contest use of a 6m copper loop and Moxon, and the only thing that stopped me was a move out of state...

Now I'm apartment-challenged again, but just made a couple grid contacts on 6m and 2m SSB - and I will likely get away with some HF work too. Still using "stealth" wire and a tuner. Nothing makes the contacts more rewarding than when you have to work for them a little, and having the knowledge that you built your antennas yourself.
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by W3TTT on January 26, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
JT65 and PSK31 - not for me. If i wanted to type into a computer, I would just log on to the internet.
For me, ham radio is cw and ssb. Maybe AM too.
That said, it is still possible to have a lot of fun with ham radio from a condo or small house. Thanks for the nice article. We need to keep up the conversation on these "important" subjects, like condo operating and ham radio games.
73, Joe
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by K4TPC on January 27, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I've been experimenting with digital receive decoding and was recommended the SignaLink USB from another ham. I like your story!
 
Living In A Condo -- You Can Still Have a Lot of HF Operatin  
by K6IIR on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!

I have used an attic fan dipole for years in my second floor unit. You can talk all of the world QRP or barefoot 100 watts in my case. I have made more 5 watt SSB contact with an Icom 703 than any other rig I have owned. Why???....I like the challenge of QRP, but I understand that is not everyone's bag.

Digital modes will add to your ability to make more contacts. For three years I used a Small Wonder Labs Kit for psk31, and it worked great.

Confined spaces require the following:
1) patience
2) conditions
3) antenna you can benefit the most from
4) station that works with the first three.

My current station consists of a Icom 746 and an attic fan dipole 10-20m. I homebrewed the antenna for $30.

Experiment with what works for you and your location, do not get discouraged when another hams setup does not work for you. Enjoy and learn from the process.



 
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