Antenna Philosophy

This website is a collection of ham radio antenna projects and ideas that I have used, built and/or designed over the last 50+ years, along with supporting theory and construction practices. It reflects my personal interests, particularly portable antennas, antennas for emergency communications, and for radio direction-finding. It also reflects my personal philosophy of antennas, including:

Pragmatism

I take a pragmatic approach to antennas: sometimes you do whatever you need to do, using whatever materials are available, to get on the air, even if it isn’t “perfect”. That doesn’t mean ignoring theory and good engineering practice, but rather taking them into account when one makes trade-offs, so you know what potential problems you may encounter when it is more expedient to do it differently.

We are all beginners at some point

Most of us didn’t understand antennas until we started using them. There is nothing wrong with being a beginner: I’m working to make this site more accessible for newcomers. I think of antennas like an onion, with different layers. As you go deeper, you realize that some of those “truths” that you learned about antennas initially might have worked to get you started, but aren’t really the whole story. There is always more to learn.

There is no one right answer

Hams use antennas for a wide range of purposes in many different circumstances. Sometimes I see hams recommending their favorite antenna for every situation, without considering whether it really is a good solution in each specific case. You’ll find that I tend to be more non-committal: I encourage readers to analyze their situation and choose an antenna accordingly. When I describe an antenna, I’ll try to discuss the specific purposes why I choose that approach instead of another, as a means of helping readers decide whether it might work in their situation, or if there might be a better option. The truth is, there are many cases where several different antenna designs may work about the same, and it really doesn’t make much difference which one you use. That’s important to know, too.

Theory or Practice? Both.

I don’t expect all my readers to be electrical engineers, but some understanding of theory is important (particularly to help protect you from some of the many falsehoods and misconceptions one often encounters). I’ve tried to provide some of the basics, especially the useful bits that you don’t find elsewhere. I also strongly recommend experimenting: put up two antennas and see which works better for your specific needs. That’s one reason I focus on antenna construction methods that are easy to put together, and then to recycle the parts later for a different antenna.

Base your choices on your specific needs, not those of someone else.

I also encourage readers to be intentional. That is, to choose or design an antenna to meet their specific needs. So one first step is to identify those needs / requirements / constraints and work from there, rather than choosing an antenna based on advertising alone, or someone else’s operating interests.

Don’t worry about copying my projects exactly.

Unlike some other web sites, I don’t expect readers to copy my projects exactly as I built them: I try to provide a number of options for how they can be built, so the builder can use whatever materials and skills are available to them. You can probably find a better way to do something than I did!

Making mistakes is a good sign.

It shows you are trying something new. Hopefully you learn something from it.

You never learn less.

R. Buckminster Fuller

I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years: antennas that didn’t work as expected; antennas that didn’t work at all; antennas that fell apart while driving down the road; getting sunburned while trying to untangle a rope; burning my finger on the hot coil in my antenna tuner; getting wires stuck in trees; getting myself stuck in trees when trying to rescue my wire; collapsing on the ground laughing that the spreaders for my cubical quad were too limp to hold themselves up… Just today I was tuning an antenna and, after cutting some wire off each end, the resonant frequency went down. (I had forgotten to raise the antenna back up to the proper height.) Some mistakes are more public than others: when you have 6 hams helping you put up an antenna, it is more embarassing that it doesn’t work. Or when it radiates the wrong direction. But making mistakes is an important part of learning. Acknowledge them, laugh at yourself as you figure out what is wrong and fix it (or start over), then go on to make different mistakes next time.

No antenna is permanent.

All antennas are temporary, whether on a scale of hours, months, or decades. Of course, sometimes your “temporary” antennas stay up longer than your “permanent” ones. Assume that you will take your antenna down periodically for tuning, repair, maintenance, or to try something else. Then design your supports to make that easy to do. Where practical, use a halyard (like a flag pole) to hang your antennas rather than attaching it to the top of a pole that may be difficult to reach to lower the antenna. Especially, don’t install your supports an exact distance apart based on the length of a particular antenna, if that means that you can’t lengthen it a bit if needed for tuning (or to work a different band). And don’t worry about choosing the “perfect” antenna the first time you put one up: it takes time to develop a feel for what aspects of ham radio you might find of most interest (and that changes over time), so your choice of antenna may change as well. I encourage hams to put up temporary antenna to see how a particular design will work for them, then build a more permanent version if it is a success.

Feel free to modify these projects, adapt the ideas for different bands, or develop your own designs based on this information. That’s my purpose for writing all this in the first place.