I think most hams know that the MOST important parts of the ham shack are actually outside of it....the antennas. If you can't hear them, you can't work them! And you can spend a small fortune on a nice receiver but it can only do so much without a decent signal. I will here go over what I currently use, why I use it and what I like or don't like and why. Hope you get something out of it. It was and is an ongoing learning experience for me. As you can see from the first photo, I am in a prime location for Antennas and DX!
Please be sure to also check out the projects section for more details on some of the home made antennas and modifications to antennas I have done.
After years of playing around with various scanner antennas and VHF/UHF stuff I made a serious move to HF. Yes, I got the DX bug. Prior to this, I mainly played around with Scanners and some VHF/UHF antennas as you can see in this photo on the left.
It all really began with a dipole. While they are great antennas, limits what one can do. How many bands, direction, etc. Even though his was a Fan Dipole from Alpha Delta and performed as expected. I no longer own this antenna. Soon I realized I wanted to work more bands and then came the Butternut HF9V Vertical with the 160m option. This actually got to me to DXCC, you can look at my pages on HF9V antenna on this website.
I have replaced now both of these antenna, 3 element 6m and 11 element 2m, but I think this is a cool picture of them being blown around in the wind with the sun behind it.
Next was KIO Hexbeam! Yes, these Hexbeams are the funny looking things which look like they are for hanging laundry....Don't try that by the way. Bad idea! I have to say, this is still my favorite antenna at least for the high bands. Simple, works, takes a beating in the wind and we do get wind here badly. Also does not need an effort to erect or require a large rotator. Mine covers everything from 6m down to 20m for the most part with a very good match.
But I felt I was missing something still and the noise can be a little troubling on 80m and 40m using just a vertical, so I figured I could use some directionality. I played around with the G5RV dipole antenna (MFJ Version). It was really intended and designed for 20m use but works on other bands with an antenna tuner. Heard good things about them, but frankly I decided it was not for me very quickly. Have to be honest, I feel it is because of the make which I had purchased. The build quality on it was inferior in my opinion, bare wire vs insulated. It looked like it was in horrible shape after just 6 months, tangles up easily on deployment, oxidizes quickly, solder connection actually came loose on one end and that was the final straw for me. I actually tossed this antenna after 6 months of use but may consider another manufacturer at some point. For now, I moved on...
So then came the 40/80m Ultimax Antennas Double Bazooka. No, nothing weaponized here, just a really cool "dipole like" antenna. Basically using coax cable and bridging the ends, it accomplishes amazing results and performance. Outperfroms the G5RV in every way and highly recommend it.
Now I wanted to go even lower, the 160m band! I already had the Butternut HF9V Antenna and it does OK on the low bands, even got me a few entities on 160. But I am in the city and there is noise so it is hard to hear. While it is rated at 1.5Kw overall, it has a 600W limit on 160m. Yes, if you like your 2 knob capacitors above the 160m coil, then keep it under 600W. So I did two things. First, I Purchased an AOR LA-800 Receive only loop and you can read more about this below. The second thing was that I Built a K6MM 160m Vertical. (Picture on the left)
Now I am in heaven on 160m! To read about the 160m K6MM Vertical Build please visit my page dedicated to it or visit John K6MM Website where he even has photos of my build as well as many other happy hams.
Now as for the AOR Loop (Pictured to the left on the FTA Satellite Dish) while it works for what I had purchased it for, it does not live up to the marketing I my opinion. It does very well on 160m and 80m, in fact sometimes I am amazed how well it nulls interference. I even got it to do OK on 60m and 40m bands.
But it claims it works all the way to VHF/UHF. Well, first I thought it was just me or perhaps I had a defective unit. No, they do well up to about 4-5Mhz, then a paperclip outdoes them. I ACTUALLY tried this on 2m. It does receive, but not something I would use for anything above the low bands. I have this unit mounted on a TV rotor above by FTA satellite dish. Overall good but specs are exaggerated.
I have built a 10Mhz GPS Disciplined Oscillator (GPSDO) and this required a GPS Antenna, this is how I ended up installing it. Works very well and not only do I regulate my receivers with it but also set my clocks.
Additionally there is quite a but of VHF/UHF gear in the backyard as well as Satellite antennas. The antenna on the right is the satellite setup I used originally was the M2 Texas Eggbeater 2m/70cm setup. This required no rotator but still did the job. These used the Mirage Preamps with this unit. I no longer have this setup.
Below is my upgraded setup the M2 Leo Pack, also 2m/70cm with SSB Electronics Pre-amplifiers and a Yaesu G-5500 Rotator feeding into a Green Heron Engineering Rotator controller which is completely computer controlled.
The picture below is the final picture of what the backyard (Antenna Farm) looks like now for the most part.
All my antennas have baluns and perhaps therefore I don't seem to have many of the issues people complain about with current and such. Generally speaking my baluns came from either DX Engineering or Ultimax Antennas. You can easily build your own as well, in fact I have a good example of one I built when I was building my cobwebb antenna before I decided to purchase the hex beam.
Here is an example on my vertical setup, the balun sits on top of a mount above the radial plate. The hex beam even has the balun kit sold by K4KIO, the maker of the hex beam, and it worked out very well!
Since I need to be able to do maintenance on my antennas easily, I have gotten creative over the years. Implementing tilts and cranks (See below). This crank was only about $50 on eBay. Not great, but does the job!
All these cables of course need to come in somehow and I solved this with a trip to home depot and a large drill bit....and about 4 holes. This feeds all coax, rotator cables, antenna selector controller cables, Pre-amplifier power, GPS and so on. Used silicon to seal behind and on top of. The large cable on top is an LMR600 going to the scanner antenna nearby. The rest of my cables are about LMR400 specification.
Some of my electronics outside requires remote switching as well as there is a remote antenna selector. These are all fed by the box above. Then are all wired up inside this box sitting about halfway to the hillside. Left is an Ameritron switch box. The right is power distribution switched by a cat5 cable and all controlled from the shack.
Lastly, as far as antenna Tuners, they are all internal. One time I did try and use an MFJ external antenna tuner but it was yet another bad experience with the brand. It arrived, brand new, with washer loose inside. This is a legal limit external tuner! Loose washers do not mix well with that kind of power. It sounded like a baby's rattle when I picked it up. This was not due to shipping, this was lack of quality control and poor manufacturing. I corrected the problems myself, used if for about a month and decided it was not for me. It was replaced with an Internal Palstar HF Auto which is built like a tank and superior quality. I never looked back.
Antenna System & Related Gear:
- KIO Hexbeam Antenna (20-6m / 6 band)
- SteppIR BigIR Mark IV (6m-40m) + 80/60m Coil with SDA 100 Controller
- Yaesu G-800 Rotor & Green Heron RT-21D Rotor Controller for the Hexbeam
- K6MM 160m Homebrew Helical Wound Vertical with an extensive radial system
- Laird/Cushcraft A144-11 (2m) 11 Element
- M2 222-10EZ (1.25m) 10 Element
- M2 6M5XHP (6m) 5 Element w/Green Heron RT-21 Rotor Controller
- Palstar HF Auto - Automatic Antenna Tuner
- Wavenode WN2d - x2 of these precision RF Meter w/multiple probes
- Diamond D130J Discone Scanner Antenna (25-1300Mhz)
- Diamond BC920 900Mhz 33cm
- Diamond X700H (2m/70cm) Vertical w/SSB Electronics DBA-270 Preamp
- M2 2MCP8A/436CP16 (2m/70cm) Satellite Antenna w/SSB Electronics Pre-Amps
- Yaesu G-5500 Rotor for the above & Green Heron RT-21 AZ EL
- Comet CA-Super22 1.25m (220) Vertical
- Diamond F1230A 23cm (1.2Ghz) Vertical
- AOR LA800 Receive only loop
- Homebrew NOAA Satellite QFH 137Mhz
- ACE GPS timing antenna GA-1575