The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Radio - Adventure with a New Antenna

Hello, Frank here.

Hi Everybody, hope all is well. Once upon a time, before the realization that ham radio was achievable, there were pursuits to communicate 30+ miles by radio. Okay, let me switch to real time here. When Fern and I moved to Oklahoma, we worked about 25 miles from our home. I put a CB radio in each vehicle, and one in the house. Well, I like CB radio, but being the nature of what it is, and living in hill country, CB just would not do the job.

Then I discovered another citizens band radio called MURS, which is around 151 MHz, and by the way CB is around 27 MHz. But, back to MURS. We picked up a few handheld commercial radios, which are programmable, and I put the MURS frequencies in the handhelds. Got a couple of mag mount ham radio antennas, which are built to function between 144 - 148 MHz. I thought, well 148, that's pretty close to 151, and this little set up worked pretty good. We also use these same handhelds to communicate around the farm here.

But, getting back to the theme of tonight's post, I decided to go big time. Now, remember, at this time I did not have a ham radio license, and the stuff I'm doing here really had nothing to do with ham radio. So, I devised a little system. I engineered a way to raise and lower an antenna pole, which I'm still using today, by the way. I still think that it was one of my more creative moments. But, on top of this raising and lowering marvel, I put a 16 foot Comet antenna. Except this antenna was not made for ham radio, it was made for 151 MHz, the commercial frequencies, and it worked great for the MURS frequencies. So now Fern and I can communicate from home to work, depending on whether or not the car was in a low spot or a high spot, it worked quite well. But, as fate would have it, our little newspaper had a little, bitty, teeny article about a ham radio class starting. And the rest is history, especially when I found out that you don't have to learn Morse code at any level of ham radio any longer.

 So I tried this radio, I tried the Alinco mobile VHF/UHF, and it worked more than adequate. Good radio. But it's a ham radio. What I wanted was a commercial radio, which is 100% legal on the ham frequencies. Now that I am spending more and more time on the ham frequencies, I needed a different antenna. Well, once I discovered the ham world, I put a couple of different antennas on the vehicles, and they work great. Then I decided I would take that same antenna, which is a CA 2x4 SR, CA means Comet. I connected it to a TRAM 1460 ground plane kit. 

Fern and I took the time to put it up on the pole today, and it doesn't quite work as well as it does on the vehicles. I have two friends that
have this same type of antenna system, each one mounted in a base configuration. With two of my meters, their SWR checks okay, not
great, but okay. Well, here a few days ago I bought a new SWR power meter and mounted it permanently connected to my HF and VHF/UHF radios. It shows my SWR on the VHF to be unacceptable, not horrible, unacceptable, but still usable. And I can't figure out what the problem is. I have three different SWR meters, these things kind of grow on you after a while, then you forget you have one and buy another one. Here's the problem. My two portable SWR meters read high, but acceptable. My higher dollar SWR meter reads unacceptable, but still doable. Not the results that I wanted. So is my brand new higher dollar meter just a cute piece of junk? I wish I could tell you.

For you ham folks, my antenna analyzer shows high but acceptable SWR and the antenna tunes perfect at 161 MHz, you know, up by the railroad frequencies. But it shows about a 2 or a 3 from 144 - 156 MHz. I guess I need to reconsider my new high dollar meter, don't I? But it's up and it's in the air, and it's the first time I've done anything really strenuous since my back surgery. And at this time, I'm still walking. 

We started about 2:00 in the afternoon, I guess, and finished at about 6:00pm. Fern took a bunch of pictures. And you might ask yourself, why did it take so long? Well, I had to cut the coax, solder the connectors, doctor the burn from the soldering iron, it never fails me that I will touch that hot tip.



I had to get out my fingernail polish that I use in place of lock tight. 

I put Stuff on the new connections. Stuff, let's see, it helps keep out moisture, that's the main reason I use it on the connectors. And I used a new type stretchy tape to help seal the outside connectors.

Attaching ground plane

Putting Stuff on the antenna connection

But what took so long was getting the old antenna off of the pole. And it's cold, my fingers didn't want to work at 45 degrees with a cold northwest wind. I know that's not cold to some of you fellas, but I'm sensitive. I had to move my cell phone booster antenna, and I also removed an 80 meter dipole that I had constructed. I really wish that they would not use metric on these antennas, but that's another story.

We put the connectors on the ends of the coax in a bucket to keep moisture out.

Stainless steel scrubber blocking coax entry port into the house.

Attaching the new antenna to the pole.

Dusk is fast approaching as we prepare to lift the pole back up.

Wire has been run back into the house and hole blocked with a scrubber.

Finishing up by flashlight

The kitchen was a mess, but the new antenna is up.

Reconnecting all of the antennas

Fern took some pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy them, because here one of these days, if this experiment works okay, I'm going to put up a couple of new towers and try to improve my communication system. The new antenna works fine. I called a buddy down the road to see if we could still contact each other on simplex. You see, he lives closer to the highway than I do, and when the buses come to relocate us they will stop at his house first, and I want to know when the buses are coming. You should, too. Because the buses are going to come someday. Don't get on the bus.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank

P.S. Tuesday, December 30th is book bomb day for James, Wesley Rawles new book, which is a guide to the selection, use, and care of tools. Here is the link for your reading pleasure. We are looking forward to his latest publication.



  1. "Don't get on the bus." Will be the best catch phrase of 2015!
    I'll be using it often ha!
    In the world of radios and antennas you just never know what to expect. Hope you got the gremlin caught and everything worked out.

    1. "Don't get on the bus." OP, it's more than just a catchy phrase, bud. Don't get on the truck either. It would be nice to know when the bus or truck was coming. It's much easier to avoid something before it gets there, than to have to deal with it when it's looking you in the face. At that stage, your options are very limited. Take care, we'll talk later.


  2. Ya, "don't git on da bus". lol, my new middle name.

    1. Cuzzin, thank you for reading and thank you for the comment. The buses have been rolling up and down the streets for thousands of years. Avoid the bus at all costs.


  3. Thank you Frank , great tag line "don't get on the bus ". I don't want to see the business end of a M4 and hear the words "Get on the bus" .

    1. I don't want to be on the business end of an M4 anytime. That's part of the reason why we need to know what's happening around us. When the day gets here that we need it, it will be too late. Let me say that again. It will be too late. We need to prepare ahead of time. Thank you for the comment.


  4. have the same radio icom 718 modified for mars. here in ky up on a small mountain just getting set up for my vhf radios. road to the house is one way so bus will have trouble getting here.keep up the good work and god bless. don

    1. Hi Don. I always loved the Kentucky area, especially eastern Kentucky.

      I like my IC-718. It's not a fancy radio, but it works. It's what I use for shortwave, and I listen to the CB frequencies on it. I wish everything in life was as simple and worked as well as it does.

      Be watching for the bus. Take care.


  5. Great blog !!! You should consider expanding your experiences into a book..... most of the "stuff" out there is theoretical and not real life trials and tribulations.
    73, Bernie-N3EFN (Past ARRL Atlantic Div Director)

    1. Bernie, thank you for the kind words. Mostly everything I do is trial and error, and I seem to spend more time on the error side. I keep a big box of fuses handy all the time. I really enjoy ham radio. I don't contest, but I believe that we are going to have hard times soon. And I believe that radio communications will be critical. Not just ham radio, but all types of radio communications. Again, thank you for the kind words.

      May God be with you, Frank

  6. your antenna SWR problem could be that two ok the bridges are for VHF antennas and the other for HF? Your comment on ALL commercial radios okay on ham bands is not true. Radios for ham bands have to be type accepted (if they are not home brew from the git-go). Some of us did actually build our own from scratch. Learned Morse Code too, so someone would have the ability when most don't. Also, there is a built-in SWR bridge in the IC-718. The manual shows you how to use it.

    1. Hello, thank you for reading and thank you for taking the time to comment. It is certainly appreciated. I'm going to address your concerns in no particular order.

      Yes, the IC-718 does have a built in SWR meter, and it works quite well. I use it frequently. And, yes, the manual does point out how to use it.

      Next. I'm happy that there are still people that still build their own radios and know Morse code. But, to modernize and keep the hobby alive, the Morse code requirement was removed to attract new users. Life changes and rules change. I know there is a divide between the older operators and the newer operators over Morse code. I'm happy that you know and use Morse code.

      The SWR meter will read VHF and HF, it has separate connections for each, and it is hooked up correctly.

      The comment about commercial radios not being able to operate on ham bands, and that radios for ham bands need to be type accepted - I cannot find that regulation in Title 47, Part 97 of the FCC Codes. Could you please send me that regulation? I have been wrong more than once, and I like to put out correct information.

      Regards, Frank

  7. Frank, Hi from N. Idaho.

    Don’t panic about the different readings from different vswr meters. The more expensive one is probably giving you better info at the point where you inserted it. But as long as the radio is working and the antenna is in the air, don’t worry. Just move on to the next project. The ideal place to put the tester is at the antenna feed point, and then at the connector that goes to your radio. (its radio theory stuff)

    I just retired last year as a RF engineer (I have 3 antenna patents, and a 4th in the works) and moved to the mountains to raise chickens, grapes, nuts, and make beer.
    Now I have the crappiest antennas ever since getting my Novice back in 1966 because there is so much to do here to prepare for retirement and to keep off the bus.

    Look into making a J-pole for the MURS band. I’ve made them out of wire, hanging from the end insulator, to out of copper pipe. We could talk about that some time.

    Getting ready for “12 inches” of snow tomorrow. the chickens are asking what the heck is this white stuff ;)

    73 [Name omitted]

    1. I pretty much have the philosophy, if it works, leave it alone. And so far, most things have worked. I'm just trying to make some refinements. What I'm trying to do is have one VHF antenna that will cover from 144 to 154 MHz. I know this is not possible without some serious power sacrifices. But, I'm going to keep trying and I will settle for poor SWR, 2 to 2.5, on the ends of the bands if I can just use one antenna. What the YL recommends is putting up a standard ham VHF/UHF, and a separate antenna, something similar to a J pole, for 150 through 154 MHz. But, like all of us, or most of us that is, I keep trying to do the impossible over and over.

      Get your snow shovel ready, Buddy. I have removed your name and personal information, and included this email as a comment on the article, Radio - Adventure with a New Antenna.

      Thanks again, Frank

  8. The main reason your Comet 2x4SR has high SWR on the 2 mtr band is that you haven't got it tuned for that frequency.

    Just because the antenna specs say that it will cover 140 to 160 MHz, that doesn't mean it will cover that range with a flat low SWR across that spectrum. At best, about all you can expect from this type of antenna is a low SWR for +/- 2 or 3 MHz from the tuned frequency -- and the SWR will go up as you deviate farther from that frequency.

    Right now your freq analyzer says that the antenna is currently tuned to 161 MHz -- which indicates the antenna is 1+ inches too short to be tuned correctly for 146 MHz (the middle of the 2 mtr band). (Trust the analyzer -- it's a better indicator than the SWR meter at this stage)

    I checked the specs on the 2x4 SR and IT IS adjustable. You need to loosen the screw holding the whip, and lengthen it till your analyzer shows its tuned point is at 146 mhz. Do this on the ground first, then verify it doesn't change when antenna is raised (it may ).

    I would start with adjusting the antenna to be 1" longer than it presently is (that should get you somewhere into the 140's), and work from there. Note that the antenna analyzer should be connected to the antenna feed right in "the shack" (the connection point that would normally go to the transceiver) so that it can take into count any transmission line "issues". You also need to make sure all the ground plane radials are 19-1/4" long -- the proper length for 1/4 wave at 146 mhz.

    Personally, I use an analyzer to tune the antenna to the desired frequency, then use the SWR meter to monitor that the antenna stays there -- since the SWR meter can stay in the transmission line in use.

    And be aware, once you set the antenna to be tuned for 146 MHz, if you try to use it at higher freqs (MURS), the SWR will not be optimum for those freqs

    Hope this helps
    (from a ham for 50+ years)

    1. Thank you for taking the time to do the research. Let me give you a little more detailed explanation of what I am getting. All readings included here will be at 50 ohms.

      My first reading is at 165 MHz, and it is 1.2.
      At 158 MHz, it's 1.2.
      At 150 MHz, it's 1.3.
      At 149 MHz, it's 1.8.
      At 143 MHz, it's 1.8.
      And at 140 MHz, it's 2.3.
      Anything lower than 140 MHz is 2+.

      As you notice, at 150 MHz, I get a decent SWR. I did not check the ground plane when I put the antenna up. I believe ground planes should be 1/4 wave length for the antenna setting? It never dawned on me to check the ground plane.

      Since one antenna won't do the job that I need, the I will probably take my wife's advice and put up a separate antenna just for the ham bands. What is perplexing though, is using an SWR meter and not the antenna analyzer, I get a good solid low SWR on my mobile setup. One is on a pick up with a hood lip mount, and the other is on a Jeep Liberty, on the back right corner about half way up. In the following days I will check both vehicles with the antenna analyzer, and give thought to adjustments for the base antenna.

      I understand the 4 MHz width. I was just trying to push the boundaries of physics a little farther, and extend it to maybe, 8 MHz.

      Thank you a great deal for your contribution. I have included this email as a comment on the article, Radio - Adventure with a New Antenna. Thank you again. Please come back anytime.

      73s, Frank

    2. Frank--

      Getting 1.8 in the 2mtr band with what you presently have isn't real bad -- and is something you can work with if you didn't want to change any thing - but from your own data, you can see that that can be improved if you shift the "tuned freq" of the antenna to be lower.

      I'm assuming (??) from your on-line write-up, you only want to use the antenna for 2 mtrs (144-148) and MURS (151). If so, a workable compromise to be able to use the same antenna for both, would be to tune it (via the analyzer) to 148. That should give you a decent SWR on both 151 and 145-148 (the 144 part of 2 mtrs is rarely used for voice anyway). And no need/expense for an additional antenna/coax/etc associated with setting up an additional antenna.

      I'm just guessing here, but from the readings you listed below, I think this "compromise" will result in a SWR of no higher than about 1.4 on both the 145-148 frequency and the 151 frequency -- and while the goal is to try for a 1.0 SWR -- any time you can get below a 1.5, you've got a decent antenna.
      (The real issue with high SWR (other than antenna inefficiency), is that most solid state transceivers are not very forgiving of high SWR. The limit varies, but higher than 2.5 -3.0 can cause some transceivers to shut down, or at least significantly cut back their transmitting power. Obviously not a good thing !)

      This compromise is what I'd do in your circumstance.

      As for the ground plane radials, without getting too technical, all antennas have "2 parts". How they "get there (ie: get these 2 parts) " varies significantly. A vertical antenna (such as what you're working with), is really just a dipole turned from horizontal to vertical. The "Comet 2x4 " portion is the top 1/2 of the dipole, the "ground plane" underneath it is the bottom half.
      When it's mounted on a car, the sheet metal it's attached to is a very good "bottom half" of the antenna. On a tower/mast mount, the radials form this "other half".

      As for the ground plane length -- yes, ideally, it should be 1/4 wave long, but in practice, it is somewhat tolerant, and a reasonable compromise is 1/4 wave at close to the lowest frequency you plan to use. For the "compromise" outlined above I'd just cut the radials to 19", and leave it be.
      Now, I hesitate to add this, but I will anyway --
      The Comet 2x4 antenna you are using is a "Omni-directional" antenna that (theoretically) sends its signal out in uniform strength in the full 360 degree direction around the antenna.

      If your usage on 2 mtrs (talking to the "Paul Revere" early warning neighbor (to stay off the bus (!), and to your car in the direction to work/town/?) is mostly in one general direction, then a 3 element 2 mtr beam antenna (mounted with the elements in a vertical direction) would significantly increase your signal strength IN THAT ONE direction over the omni antenna..
      Something like this one-

      You can, of course, get them with more elements for increased signal strength, but 3 is about you could safely mount on the mast you're using without worrying about possible high wind damage to the mast

      Just something to think about. Hope this is of additional help --If you have further questions - don't hesitate to ask.

      [Name Omitted]

  9. Your metal pole is interacting with your vertical antenna. Try putting a 3-4 foot piece of PVC pipe between your mast pipe and your antenna. Don't ask me how I know.

    1. Thank you for your observation. I was looking at a J pole a couple of days ago, and in one of the assembly pictures, they used a piece of PVC for this same purpose, but the write up made no reference as to why it was there. I'll look into it. Thank you very much.


  10. It is operating under the same principle as a Yagi antenna. Sympathetic resonances set up in nearby conductors will upset the impedance of the driven element. (Here, your antenna). Especially important as one goes higher in frequency into the VHF/UHF ranges.

    1. Thank you for the comment and thank you for reading. There are so many variables, it's difficult to try and put them all in place. I have multiple antennas of different frequencies, at different elevations, an incoming power line with a transformer, and a metal roof on my house. I don't know where to start sometimes. I hear stories about guys taking a rock, throwing an antenna up in a tree, and working the world. Wish I had that kind of luck. Did I also mention that I have metal fence rows going in every direction? Do you think the metal plate in my head will make a difference, too? Just kidding. Thanks for the comment.

      73s, Frank

  11. Hi Frank, I too have my GMRS license (renewed again, so 6 yrs now.) There is a GMRS repeater not too far from me that is only open to license holders. I also believe you can run higher power radios than the little bubble packs, although I haven't tried. I have dozens of the little bubble packs (amazingly, I buy them for around $1 at yard sales all the time.)

    I have a BaoFang UV5R as my first ham radio, and have my General license. I picked up a yaesu FT 847 at a yard sale for my base, but haven't yet connected it to the big cushcraft R8 I got at a hamfest trading for a $20 guitar amp. I finally have the heavy coax to do so and it's near the top of my project list. I got a couple of wire dipoles at an estate sale for pocket change, but still haven't connected them either.

    I just upgraded to a yaesu FT60 HT and love the sound quality and sturdiness, but it seems to eat battery much faster than the Baofang.

    I picked up an ICOM dual bander mobile for $5 at another yard sale for my truck. It needed a mic, but otherwise is great. $25 total for a radio that is only a few years out of date.

    I got an alinco 2 meter mobile for $10 at an estate sale that I'll use in the garage to monitor one local repeater.

    I have the exact same bearcat scanner you use and it is on constantly in my garage, and in fact is my primary listening radio. I might have paid $5 at a sale. I have weather, and a few local repeaters in it, but primarily listen to our metro area repeater. It is often connected to the winsystem repeater network, or one of the allstar reflectors that host some of the nets I participate in.

    I have a handheld GRE scanner for those 'what the heck are all those sirens in the neighborhood doing???' moments.

    I've got a variety of CBs that I bought for less than $10 each at yard sales. People think they are useless now with smartphones, etc, and mostly filled with truckers looking for sex, but I believe they will make a HUGE comeback when SHTF. Tons of people will suddenly remember their old CB and will get on the air.

    My point with listing all my cheap gear is for anyone else reading-- it is possible to build out a really thorough shack without spending much money. My biggest single expenses were the GRE scanner (bought new) and the FT847 (yard sale but still $600). I jumped on the 847 so that I can start exploring NVIS and some longer range comms with HF. There are so many other useful radio things available at yard and estate sales, that I'm stunned that people don't consider them as a source. I've got a box full of weather radios, and small short wave radios too. Everyone thinks they are worthless cheap junk transistor radios and sells them CHEAP!

    I'll second your suggestion (in another radio post) that anyone testing for a Tech license should study for and try to get their General the same day. Once you pass the Tech, you can take the General for no additional cost. It could save you another trip to the tester, and the fee, and when you are ready to try HF, you'll already have the license!

    So thanks for your radio posts. I'm finding them interesting!

    [no call signs for OPSEC]


    1. Hi Nick. I couldn't agree with you more. Let me start down the list, though.

      The humble CB radio, as I generally call it. I believe you are right, it will make a HUGE comeback. I look for sales on RG59 with connectors. I find those on sale occasionally, 18 feet with two connectors for $3.00 to $4.00. Many of the old CB radios guys have in their trucks, that they haven't operated in years, will probably need a new coax connection. I've also picked up a number of inexpensive mag mounts with 18 feet of coax and a connector. And, I've also picked up a number of five to seven watt solar panels, with a cigar type plug in. Take a solar panel, a cigar plug in with a splitter, an inexpensive mag mount, and old CB radio, and if the battery in the automobile is not just shot, then you have a communication center. These are the thoughts that run through my head anyway.

      I listen to guys on Channel 38 AM and LSB all over the country. Even heard a few European stations. That same CB radio will provide communication with Bubba down the road. I just don't understand why people can't see it.

      The little GMRS radios you make reference to? These things will be life savers in the future. Get a handful of rechargeable batteries, a charger for those batteries and plug them into the same system that's operating with the solar panel and the automobile battery. Do the same thing with a handheld scanner. You can also charge your Baofeng UV-5R with your once mobile radio base.

      So, let's see here. You've got CB that you can listen around the United States with, plus talk to Bubba down the road. You've got a GMRS that you can talk to Bubba down the road with. You have a scanner that will pick up most of the police calls in the area. You have a power supply with an automobile battery and the means to keep it charged, which will in turn, charge all of your radio batteries.

      And if you get the urge, get a shortwave radio. Get one of those little 17 foot roll up type external antennas. You can charge it with the same system, and most of those shortwave radios have commercial AM & FM, and you can listen to the shortwave functions.

      Imagine that. You go out and sit in your car that's out of gasoline, and with that one small solar panel, you have information from around the world. Or, you can bring your automobile battery in your house, with proper ventilation, and do the same thing. Then you can use your car for a greenhouse and start your seedlings in there, because food is important, too.

      I really do appreciate your comment. Please comment any time you feel like it.


  12. New reader found you via Rural Revolution. Great article! Thanks! Not sure if you have heard of the AmRRON Network? Glad to have found your site.

    1. Sally Sue, thank you for coming over from Patrice Lewis. Please take the time to look around. We encourage comments.Yes, I am familiar with the AmRRON network, they are an interesting group out of the northwest and I have investigated their site multiple times. Thank you for taking the time to read, and thank you again for the comment.


  13. Hi, Frank

    One other thing you can use besides "Stuf" is silicone dielectric grease, available at your local auto parts store, and a lot cheaper than "Stuf".

    The silicone grease is used on spark plug boots to keep them from sticking to the spark plug, but works a treat for adding some weatherproofing to coaxial connectors.

    I've been using it for years with NO bad effects.

    1. Hello, Dr. Jim. You are exactly right and thank you for pointing out other types of silicon dielectric paste. I've actually known folks that use regular grease and in some cases Vaseline. I don't use Vaseline or standard grease, and since I use it so seldom, I just stay with a 3.2 ounce tube of Stuf. Thank you for taking the time to share, all ideas are appreciated.


    2. I wouldn't use regular grease as some of them have metallic compounds in them, but I *have* used Vaseline in-a-pinch, and it didn't seem to hurt anything, although it does get pretty runny in hot weather.

      One thing I *never* recommend is the "Coax Seal" tape. It makes a stick, gummy mess when you take the connectors apart. I just used good old Scotch 33 or 33+ tape, and the rubber splicing tape when I need to add extra abrasion resistance.

      Lately I've been using the self-fusing silicone "Rescue Tape" stuff, BUT it doesn't tolerate sharp edges very well. Once you have a connection taped up, if something sharp scratches it, it splits wide open.

      Other wise it's great tape!

      Been a Ham since 1964, and just retired from a career in the Aerospace industry as a Communications, Range, and Telemetry guy.

    3. Hi, Jim. Again, thank you for your recommendations. I have been in ham radio for about four or five years, and my purpose for doing so is not the amateur aspect of the hobby, but the survival benefits that it also provides. I'm always looking for new, better and improved. I use a stretchy, rubber type product for tape after I administer a healthy portion of 'Stuf'.

      I'm in the process of upgrading all of my towers and am trying to become proficient with NVIS. It's a work in motion. I wish there was one perfect radio that did HF, VHF, UHF, that could be easily opened for extended frequencies, that included 11 meter, GMRS and MURS, that was relatively easy to operate, lightweight, full power, and pretty. Nobody likes an ugly radio.

      Thank you again for your comments.