In early 2018, I took and passed the test for a first ham radio license (Technician class). My thought at the time was that the license would allow me to do interesting work-related things with unmanned aerial vehicles (e.g., sending and receiving telemetry and image data), but nothing really happened with that. While I was studying for the exam, I recognized that being able to operate a radio is an important skill in times of emergency, so that motivates me to be proficient with these radios.
In these 3+ years, I haven’t learned much. My hand transceivers (HTs) are great but complicated. I can barely program in frequencies and offsets and tones to get them to work with local repeaters. And I go so long between learning sessions that I forget what I learned the last time!
When I learn about new things (e.g., brewing beer), I like to learn with others. But I just haven’t connected with people who are interested in amateur radio. I’m thinking about why that is. From my perspective, the amateur radio community is full of old, grey men. And it is not growing. If amateur radio is an asset to American society, then I think it needs some help. But I’ll write about that more later.
My own few radio-based accomplishments include putting an antenna on my truck, using the radio when I’m in the field doing research (e.g., to listen to NPS rangers), and getting my truck a license plate with my call sign, KM6PSZ. This summer I have a bit more disposable time, so I’ve trying to learn to use my radio effectively. This week, I was thinking about antennas.
You can’t do much with a radio without an antenna, and the whip antenna on a handheld transceiver doesn’t give it much working range. Home Owners Associations (HOA) are notorious for having rules (also called Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs)) that limit what an owner can do to the home that they own. On the surface, these rules protect the value of homes in a neighborhood and preserve the character of a neighborhood. Historically, convenants were a tool of institutional racism and white supremacy used by governments, financial institutions, mortgage lenders in a process called redlining. CC&Rs often contain more innocuous rules like the prohibition of antennas1 on the home.
My HOA is unpredictable. I know that if I put up something that visible, someone is bound to complain and I’ll get a letter. I want my first antenna to be subtle. I don’t want any trouble from my neighbors. So the other day I posted a question to the “So-Cal Amateur Radio Group” on Facebook.
Can anyone suggest a low-cost idea for an antenna I could mount in (or on?) my house that would give my HT a bit more reception range? I'm in a neighborhood that has a dumb HOA, so I need to be sneaky if it's outside. TIA.
The next morning morning I had several helpful responses, and no snarky responses. Score one for this group of hams! (Other subject-groups on Facebook have a high jerk-to-kind ratio.) Here are some ideas that were shared by those who posted:
- look at a Slim Jim (and here)
- look at a JPole Rollup
- consider the VOIP AllStar network
- there are always your aluminum gutters.
Someone recommended N9TAX Labs for their Slim Jims. I took a look, and their offerings look perfect for me to start playing with. I could find a way to mount it outside or on my rig (e.g., along a whip antenna I picked up for a run at Oceano Dunes a couple years ago).
The instructions for constructing a JPole antenna (linked above) get me excited about doing that as a project, and maybe designing a project for a club of young folks (e.g., at the University). I could put one antenna in my (tiny) attic, keep another rolled up in my truck, etc. Cool stuff!
Gutters as an Antenna
My web surfing led me to the idea of using gutters as an antenna. It was easy to find several write-ups on the idea (1,2,and 3) and they make it sound so reasonable. Some things I’m need to figure out:
Tuning. Using the gutter as an antenna would teach me about tuning and accessing different frequencies. Would I need to buy a specialized tool (coupler or analyzer)? Can a person use a gutter antenna with a HT? (Desktop rigs sometimes have built-in tuners. Do mobile transceivers?)
Grounding. I’d need to learn how to ground the gutter antenna, or if it was even necessary.
Connections. My ‘radio shack’ is my home office. How do I run the coax from the outdoor antenna to my indoor transceiver? If I can get coax to my telephone ‘box’ upstairs, and I use internal wiring that’s already been run to get the coax to my office? Or will I need to put something through the wall (and find internal and external coax connectors I can use.)
Running my gutters as antennas may require a bit more homework on my part, but it will certainly be another fun project.
A day or two or researching antennas turned up some good options for me. I have the friendly group of hams who responded to my FB query to thank for that. If only I had a friendly group nearby that could meet face-to-face once in a while. I’m sure I’d learn more and learn faster. It takes more than a license to know how to operate an amateur radio, after all.
If your HOA’s CC&Rs prohibit satellite dishes from being mounted on homes, then they are in violation of federal law (Civil Code Section 4725 and should be revised. There have been efforts in Congress to amend the Civil Code to give amateur radio antennas the similar privilege, but that effort has stalled (see H.R.466 - Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2019). ↩