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Author Topic: Help me put some antennas in perspective  (Read 3657 times)
MAZZ1232002
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« on: May 31, 2010, 01:19:39 PM »

  I have been a ham since the early 60's. Done everything from 160 to EME. I have also worked lots of DX with the silliest and simplest as well as inexpensive antennas there is. For example one time myself and another ham rigged up a backpack radio which consisted of a Kenwood TS440, a motorcycle battery and a radio shack 102" whip mounted on the frame of the back pack. The radio had a built in auto tuner. We took this thing up into the foothills near Lyons, Colorado. As we were going up the trail we would lean the backpack setup against the nearest rock. On 20 and 15 meters I worked people all over the US on sideband. Got it up to the top of the trail, set it down against a rock and worked into Japan, Korea and all over the US. In fact the Japanese guys were waiting in line to call me.
   Stuck a  $10.00 radio shack CB mag mount on the back of my car. This antenna was about 3 feet long with a chinsy plastic base. Sat in the driveway talking to a station in Patagonia with the 897 set at 30 watts and this was on 10 meters. One evening drove to the Fried Chicken place to get dinner. After I placed my order went back to the car and worked all over Europe on 20 meters with a hamstick (cost me $18.00). Finished up with someone in the Neitherlands (I live in western Nebraska) and went back in the Chicken place and picked up my order.
   Hung a wire about 20 feet up in my trees. Worked all over Asia and Australia.
   My point is this, I read all these reviews of antennas here on eham and many are of the opinion that they have a truly extraordinary and special antenna. I read these reviews and think of how I worked the world with the antennas I described above. So what am I missing here, am I missing out on a lot of great DX that I would not other wise hear because I never purchased one of these antennas? I know if I had stacked monobanders I would hear and work stuff many others would not but I am not talking about stacked monobanders, I am talking about verticals and these limited space antennas. Perhaps I was just lucky and hit the bands just at the right time.
   Maybe I should write reviews as to how great Radio Shack 102" whips perform as well as Hamsticks, hey I worked DX all over the world with those antennas and two of them did not even amount to $50.00

       Pete
       WB4CGA
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AA4PB
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« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2010, 02:03:09 PM »

Actually, the Hamstick and 102-inch whip are not all that bad on 20M & 15M. They pretty much fall apart on 75M though.
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N5YPJ
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Posts: 642




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« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2010, 05:24:33 PM »

Radio waves at many different frequencies have magical properties to hams especially so those on our HF bands where we have specialized gear to hear the weaker signals - SSB, CW, Digi modes. Sometimes we just happen along at the right time and other times we find out when the right time will occur and anxiously await - gray line propagation for example. I don't think that there's anything really special about any antenna at all because anything metallic can be made to radiate, how well it is resonated reflects on how much of the signal put in it will be radiated into the atmosphere, proper installation also assures that most of the signal will take off. IMO propagation is the factor at work and it helps to have a large group of hams listening as in a contest.

My favorite antenna is each of the antennas that I've had over 30 years of hamming - they've all been lengths of wire with the exception of my Hustler vertical, some may not have been as efficient as others were and required me to work harder to make those contacts but that taught me perseverance, increased knowledge of my equipment at hand and to hone my operating skills.

Get radio active! 73!
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N5YPJ
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« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2010, 05:25:44 PM »

Radio waves at many different frequencies have magical properties to hams especially so those on our HF bands where we have specialized gear to hear the weaker signals - SSB, CW, Digi modes. Sometimes we just happen along at the right time and other times we find out when the right time will occur and anxiously await - gray line propagation for example. I don't think that there's anything really special about any antenna at all because anything metallic can be made to radiate, how well it is resonated reflects on how much of the signal put in it will be radiated into the atmosphere, proper installation also assures that most of the signal will take off. IMO propagation is the factor at work and it helps to have a large group of hams listening as in a contest.

My favorite antenna is each of the antennas that I've had over 30 years of hamming - they've all been lengths of wire with the exception of my Hustler vertical, some may not have been as efficient as others were and required me to work harder to make those contacts but that taught me perseverance, increased knowledge of my equipment at hand and to hone my operating skills.

Get radio active! 73!
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NH7O
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« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2010, 06:09:51 PM »

It might just be that you are, in fact, a world champion dxer, just like old K6INI:

http://w8ji.com/gotham.htm

...............................:-)
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WB2WIK
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« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2010, 07:19:50 PM »

I've worked stuff that nobody around here worked no matter what they were using.

That was called "timing." Cheesy

First rule of DXing is, "Be there when the DX is."  Very difficult for many people with normal lives and jobs.

I think I do have a normal life and job, so just got lucky many times. Smiley
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WW5AA
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« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2010, 04:38:53 AM »

20/17/15 meter DX is like shooting fish in a barrel.......DX on 160/80 mobile is the challenge! I may be Prejudiced since I get a nose bleed at higher then 40 meters (:-)

73 de Lindy
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N3OX
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« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2010, 08:33:20 AM »

   My point is this, I read all these reviews of antennas here on eham and many are of the opinion that they have a truly extraordinary and special antenna. I read these reviews and think of how I worked the world with the antennas I described above. So what am I missing here, am I missing out on a lot of great DX that I would not other wise hear because I never purchased one of these antennas?

The reviews of small/limited space antennas are generally written by people with very low expectations.    I think the trick really is to put things in perspective.

Some of them are new people with no expectations, and their 5/5 reviews just reflect how cool they think ham radio is.  They haven't tried any other antennas and they decided they wanted to go for the TV antenna sized 40m feedline-exciter because it was $100 and small.   They're happy as anything, because ham radio is fun.

Some of them are people with lowered expectations who are writing a review out of surprise or even retaliation because they've been steeped in a culture of deep, non-quantitative pessimism about small/shortened antennas.  They've been told over and over again that small antennas "won't work."  The gurus on the local repeater or at the ham club meeting will swear on Hiram Percy Maxim's grave that anything shorter than a half wavelength dipole is a dummy load.  They've been told by the locals (or the internet forum participants) that small antennas "have to obey the laws of physics."  That's an entirely vacuous thing to tell someone about their proposed antenna, and often shows a lack of proper intuition about the size/efficiency/bandwidth tradeoff on the part of the advice giver.  If you feel like telling people that with no qualifications, you need more perspective on the relative contribution of antenna performance in the overall set of factors that make ham radio an enjoyable and worthwhile pursuit.

This is a big lesson I've learned since I've been on eHam.  I was called out by someone for not trying hard enough to figure out advice about small antennas, and for not being able to put myself in the other guy's shoes who just wants to make some contacts.  I still try to push people toward better antennas.  But I think about how much better they could be and still remain nearly as straightforward as the poor antenna under discussion.

And I try to think about how antenna performance really slots in to the overall picture: 

We can tell people how to make things better without trying to insist that what they have is uselessly bad.  If hams had more perspective on the huge range and variability of signal levels and the quantitative consequences of lower gain antennas, I think we'd see fewer reviews from people who seem shocked that they're doing so well with their -12dBbyd (dB with respect to a backyard dipole) antenna.

Antenna performance matters, but how it matters is a little more subtle than some people like to make it out to be.

I still get a little sad when someone reviews their antenna like "OMG, I worked the Dominican Republic and FRANCE from my apartment in New Jersey."  I'm thinking: "Uh... OK... I worked Malaysia, Central Kiribati and broke the 30m pileup on Peter I. island twice in two nights from my apartment in Maryland." 

It makes me wish that people were able to say "wow, I am having SO MUCH FUN with my TERRIBLE ANTENNA," instead of giving all the credit to the terrible antenna.  I think that it's useful to give a little push to try something else in that situation.  But you have to do it with a healthy dose of perspective, because otherwise you'll  tend to say things that can be "proven wrong" by the on-air success of a poor antenna.  A lot of the reviews seem to be trying to prove someone wrong...
 
73
Dan



 

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73,
Dan
http://www.n3ox.net

Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.
WB2WIK
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« Reply #8 on: June 01, 2010, 10:03:51 AM »

Timing.

And a poor antenna, often used by someone willing to learn, can help make a great operator who can do the most with very little.

I worked over 100 DX entities in 2 days on 10m using a Radio Shack HTX-100 and a 98" whip on my car in the ARRL 10m Contest, 1989.  That must be ONE GREAT WHIP.

Or maybe it was sunspots, plus a contest!  And I cheated a bit by parking on a very clear hilltop for half the weekend. Wink
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N5YPJ
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« Reply #9 on: June 01, 2010, 10:21:56 AM »

Timing.

And a poor antenna, often used by someone willing to learn, can help make a great operator who can do the most with very little.

I worked over 100 DX entities in 2 days on 10m using a Radio Shack HTX-100 and a 98" whip on my car in the ARRL 10m Contest, 1989.  That must be ONE GREAT WHIP.

Or maybe it was sunspots, plus a contest!  And I cheated a bit by parking on a very clear hilltop for half the weekend. Wink
I don't think it was the sun spots or the antenna but that you were driving a cool car with chrome wheels pint stripes and white wall tires - that cool ground plane is what done the trick. LOL

Seriously timing and learning your equipment to make the best of what you do have will put a lot of entries in your log book. I've found that I can usually work some DX on 20 or 40 even though the band may be lousy during the day right before and after sun down. Gray line propagation brings the band alive very often - it just pops in and then fades out pretty quickly but if you are there something frequently can be working with minimal equipment. Checkit out.
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K0BG
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« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2010, 02:52:27 PM »

Steve and Richard are dead on, and I believe they'll agree with me, when I say...

Just because I can hear the DX station well out of the noise, I still listen rather than calling the DX station endlessly as far to many do. As Richard alluded to, propagation changes much more rapidly than you actually notice 95% of the time. When other stations as giving the DX 59 +20 dB (whatever that means), I just wait. Not always, but sooner or later, the propagation changes, and the DX is 20 over at my location. Then I call, and that my friend, is the timing part!
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PA3GMP
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« Reply #11 on: June 03, 2010, 04:40:07 AM »

My point is this, I read all these reviews of antennas here on eham and many are of the opinion that they have a truly extraordinary and special antenna. I read these reviews and think of how I worked the world with the antennas I described above. So what am I missing here, am I missing out on a lot of great DX that I would not other wise hear because I never purchased one of these antennas?

Frankly, Pete, I don't think so.

The main thing to keep in mind (and the main reason for the endless debates about antenna's and how they compare in terms of performace) is that any antenna is part of a system, that does not only include feedlines, matchers, radio's and what not, but also the environment. Antenna X may work great for one ham (who lives in a pastoral area with excellent soil and few hills) but be a major disappointment for another ham (who lives in a rocky part of the world with poor soil and lots of hills). So comparing antenna A to antenna B is utterly useless. The only comparison that makes sense is the one between situation A and situation B, which not only includes antenna's A and B, but also all the other factors. Antenna specs look great on paper, but in the real world there is no guarantee whatsoever that a $1000 factory-built miracle will give you better results than a piece of wire hung from a tree - it depends on so many other things as well.

Having said that, I also believe that you have answered your own question at least in part: you have worked DX with a wide range of antenna's, and you've had fun doing so. Honestly, I don't see how spending a load of money on a "miracle" antenna is going to significantly improve on this, at least not in terms of enjoying the hobby. At least, that's my opinion - for what it's worth. ;-)

73 de Frank ZS6TMV / PA3GMP
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PA3GMP
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« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2010, 05:08:55 AM »

Some of them are new people with no expectations, and their 5/5 reviews just reflect how cool they think ham radio is.

Not necessarily... But you do raise an interesting point here, Dan: the reliability (or lack thereof) of the reports that we hear these days. There used to be a time (or so the real OM's tell this youngster) when a signal report was given on the basis of the operator's honest assessment of the signal received. These days most hams just read their S-meters. On my Yaesu FT-100 the digital S-meter has two positions: S1 and S9. Yes, there is a scale in between, but the darn thing never seems to use it. So on the basis of that S-meter (I call it a lie-detector) my S-reports are either 51 or 59... because being a lazy, modern-day ham who grew up with music on FM and is now used to 3G cellphone quality, the readability of a station is either very good, or I don't bother trying to work it! (OK, I'm exaggerating here: I'm not that bad... But you probably get my point.)

So. Having established that S-reports are often to be taken with a grain of salt, the next question is how hams quantify the performance of their antenna. Hearing a ham gushing about how"This antenna is great, the best I've ever had" sounds wonderful... but why does he feel it's a "great" antenna? Does it really outperform the proverbial random length of wire when that wire is installed, tuned and loaded up properly? Does it really pull in more DX than other antenna's that are a lot simpler or cheaper? Does it consistently perform spectacularly, or just when activity and conditions happen to come together, at which time owners of other antenna's will be raving about how much fun they are having, too?

Yes, you are right in that expectations are a major factor in subjective judgements. But perhaps more important is the totally uncritical attitude with which many modern-day hams shower down their praise of any equipment (not just antenna's) down onto the masses. Is it a great antenna just because the first time you tried it you immediately had three DX contacts with arm-chair quality copy? Well... I had that with the first piece of wire I hung from a tree (and I'm not joking here). Simply because I happened to try it at the right time, on the right bands, and because I had been living in apartment buildings all my life, where a 6 meter piece of wire hanging from the balcony was the best I could do, only to be "rewarded" with S9+20dB of QRM - on a good day.

Let me give you a practical example. I have here one of the most praised and maligned antenna's, a G5RV. I also have a simple folded dipole for the 20m band. I find that the FD outperforms the G5RV. So the easy conclusion (which indeed many hams have made and propagated over the years) is that the G5RV stinks. However... The FD is strung up tight between the edge of the house and a tree from east to west; fed through a toroid Guanella balun, and needs no tuning. The G5RV is strung between two trees at opposite ends of the garden in a north/south direction, and due to its length sags quite a bit so that the feed point is much lower than I'd like (less than 7 meters, I'd guesstimate). At the feed point of the tuned ladder line it's fed via a coaxial cable that is buried, has a choke in it to keep shield currents in check, and the whole thing is matched to the radio via a Kenwood AT-230 tuner.

Comparing these two antenna's "as is" would be foolish. One is a monobander, the other a multi-bander. One is a folded dipole, the other an open dipole. One has a matching section, the other is resonant. One has a choke, a buried coaxial feed line and a rather elaborate antenna matcher between it and the radio, the other has a toroid guanella balun and a free-hanging coaxial feedline. Apples, oranges... fill in the missing words.

Also, a problem that I keep running into is that I can hear lots of stations - but they can't hear me. Surely my antenna's must be terrible! Or not? Consider: I've got a Yeasu FT-100 which is known for its excellent receiver. I'm also working "barefoot" with a 100W output - 100W on paper that is; in practice it'll be closer to 80W, I suppose. The guy on the other side may be in the US or Canada where the legal limit is in the kilowatt range, or in Eastern Europe where amateurs use two and a half kilowatts just to tune up their antenna's. And he or she is probably surrounded by other hams who are withing shouting distance and can generate quite a pile-up that I will never be able to punch through... because I'm out here in South Africa, and I can hear the other station only because there's very little else going on in these parts.

So. Before blindly accepting the rave reports or tar-and-feathers treatments that some hams give some antenna's, it's probably best to keep in mind that a lot of factors come into play, and unless you know them and take them into account, you simply, and sadly, know nothing.

73 de Frank ZS6TMV / PA3GMP
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N8UW
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« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2010, 04:25:28 PM »

I take it price, simplicity, and utility are part of the ratings. My 5 for my old G5RV was a rating for a beginner's antenna, not a comparison to a SteppIR. And, yes, I've noticed the improvement with new antennas here. Having the Hexbeam on a rotator and at a decent height is a big difference.
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N3QE
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« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2010, 05:23:18 PM »

When I was a kid, I worked JA every day after Junior High school on 15M using a folded dipole that was literally $3 of TV twinlead stapled to the side of the house about 15 feet up.

It undoubtedly helped that most of the JA's had beams pointed at north america!!!

There's a lot of fun to be had in ham radio without putting up super-duper antennas and running kilowatts. But there's also a lot of fun in putting up the super-duper antennas and running kilowatts. Trust me, there will always be guys with bigger antennas and amps than you or me. There will also be those working the world using QRP. Room for us all.
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