Welcome to the sixth exciting, thrill-packed issue of Condo Communicator, a newsletter devoted to those amateurs who, for various reasons, must configure their stations to operate from restrictive areas such as condos, apartments, townhouses, neighborhoods with outdoor antenna restrictions, ships/boats, mobile homes, or wherever they fry their burgers and call QTH.
Based on my personal experience and from your reports, it seems that living in a condo or in a "restricted" neighborhood isn't much of an impediment to ham radio activities. In fact, it can be used to your advantage, especially if you live in a high rise where you can put up an antenna without having to install a tower!
Let's take a moment and compare shacks...those in a condo and those on a city lot. How do they compare?
HF Condo/Restricted City Lot -------- ---------------- -------- Antennas Bent dipoles & end- Same + rigid-metal beams. feds, wire beams, DDRRs, loops. EMI Since few places for Probably more folks with TV antennas, most outdoor TV antennas, so folks use cable. TVI can still be a Those using rabbit problem. ears are a problem. Telephones a problem, Ditto. as are stereos & other appliances. Grounding Lack of good gnd means N/A using artificial gnds or long runs for true RF gnds. Can mean lots of RF in the area and coupling into power mains for common mode EMI problems. VHF/UHF Antennas 28-144 MHz, lower Can be put high on towers. gain antennas fit nicely in attics or in outdoor nooks and crannies. >144 MHz, attenuation N/A of signals trying to penetrate wet shingles, etc. High-gain antennas N/A won't fit (EME dishes, ATV antennas, sat- ellite antennas) so must go temporary, portable, or work a deal for outside installation.
You get the idea. Unless you're into the exotic modes in the VHF+ parts of the spectrum, or have notions of making the DX honor roll in record time, then you won't have too much trouble enjoying most ham pursuits. You're going to have to work harder than most folks to keep down RFI. And if you live in a garden-level or basement apartment with no windows, then a deep- cycle battery, a good transceiver, and a mobile antenna affixed to a used van make a dandy portable shack.
The true old timers out there will remember when a radio shack was a shack...usually out in the back yard. So what's so horrible about putting your station in a van or some other mobile/portable setup? If for no other reason, it would give you ATVers a chance to show off something besides the same old views of your den! And if you want to operate 10 meters without TVI problems, it's not too difficult to roll that mobile rig over to a park and operate. In any case, the FCC lets us use the airwaves mainly because we're handy to have around in emergencies, and that means practicing emergency procedures and putting together a good, portable station. So get with it! Travel light, operate quiet.
Time for me to jump off the soapbox and let a few of you describe your station setups.
Alan Brubaker, K6XO, of Draper, UT has a couple of interesting descriptions.
A few years ago we lived in a condo in California. The usual situation - no antennas allowed. Fortunately, each condo had a small backyard with which you could do more or less what you wished. I decided to try a loop antenna in the small backyard. One corner of the loop was hung at the roofline of the two story building, and the corners of the loop were attached to the 6 foot fence on either side of the backyard. I cut the loop for 20 meters (about 68 feet), and it just fit - it was roughly triangular, and sloped away from the building at about a 45 degree angle. I fed the loop directly with RG-8 coax with no balun. We had cable so no TVI problem. The antenna tuner in my TS930 could tune this arrangement 40 through 10 meters, and I was able to make contacts on all of those bands, but of course it worked best on 20. I used #24 speaker wire which was nearly invisible. Never had any complaints from the neighbors either, but they probably did not know that I was even on the air.
About 30 years ago, a friend of mine, K6RU (sk), then W6HJT, made frequent trips to Hawaii. While he was there, he stayed at the Surfrider Hotel on Waikiki Beach, and he always got a suite on the top floor. He ran a KWM2 and a 30L1 amplifier to a "Fishing Pole" antenna. He had a deep sea fishing rig, and wound on the reel was bare copper stranded wire with a 2 pound lead fishing weight tied on the end. He hung the fishing pole out the window and reeled out the appropriate amount of wire for the band that he wanted to operate on. (He had measured the wire before the trip and marked it with tape for 80 through 10 meters). He clipped the center conductor of the coaxial feedline near the reel, and he clipped the shield to a pre-cut counterpoise which was run along the baseboard of the room. The wire fishing line and the counterpoise thus formed a kind of dipole antenna which worked surprisingly well. The combination of being 150 feet above the beach and the 600 watts was enough to overcome the deficiencies of the antenna system and he got out quite well. This approach could also work from a high-rise apartment building, if you are not on the ground floor, that is.
Alan reminds us that it's pretty easy to be heard, even with low power and a less-than-ideal antenna setup, given a clear frequency and good propagation. He says to continue experimenting. Alan continues:
I have talked to countless operators, mostly on 10 meters, who are using all sorts of indoor and clandestine antennas. I even talked to a fellow in Florida one day who was using a ground mounted DDRR and he had a surprisingly good signal. AEA and MFJ have come up with their compact loop antennas which are also useful in restricted situations.
Walt Spector, KK6NR, of Sunnyvale, California, operates most of the ham bands from his condo. At the time of his first installation, he was on the board of his homeowners' association and had helped reduce some TVI from the community's hot water heater by putting some ferrite around its power line.
I first installed a 120' long wire and used a tuner. It was invisible, but living on the second floor I could not get a good ground. Thus, it generated a lot of RFI and I did not use it.
My second antenna was a Cushcraft Ringo half wave for 10 meters. This was cheap ($40) and I figured it would test the waters for a more extensive system. I ran the coax off the roof and into my upstairs window. Almost no one noticed.
Buoyed by this success, I bought a Cushcraft R7. Again no one noticed any major difference. First QSO on 40 meters was a local, second QSO was in Italy. I was now on 7 bands!
I then happened to need 80 meters. I built a 130' dipole and fed it with twin lead, running the twin lead into the same window as the coax. Things were starting to get visible, but no one said anything. This antenna also seemed to work ok on 160 meters. (First QSO was Los Angeles, 500 miles.) All 9 HF bands - great!
Then our complex needed a new roof. The president of the Homeowners Association asked me to take down my stuff to get it out of the roofers' way. (The timing was perfect because we needed the R-7 for Field Day.)
When I went to put it all back up, I was stopped. By this time I was no longer serving on the board. There was an objection to my coax going off the end of the roof, and also my walking on this brand new and very expensive shake roof. So I proceeded to enlist the support of the two board members (of 3) who did not object to the antennas. I wrote a letter to the board explaining how I needed the antenna for my volunteer participation in the local ARES/RACES organization (which is true - our nets are on 10 meters). I also got the president of the local organization to write a letter confirming this. The letter asked for 'temporary authorization' so as not to conflict too badly with the covenants.
The board finally approved the antenna with the provision that I run the coax through the attic and a vent pipe. (The roofer and I had discussed installing a vent pipe at a certain strategic spot...) Since I live upstairs, I could run the coax into the closet from the attic.
So the R-7 is back up and I am fairly happy. But I am sans 80 and 160. My next project would be to use a remote coax switch and up something simple on 2 meters and 440, except that I will be moving soon. The house we are closing on was contingent upon lack of antenna restrictions in the covenants.
Rob Ontiveros, KC6ZTT, of San Jose, CA, wrote in to describe his station in his two-story condo. He operates from his garage and uses a 40-meter vertical constructed of PVC pipe. Rob raises the antenna when he wants to operate and then takes it down when finished. Generally he's on the air late at night or early in the morning, operating mostly 40-meter CW, at about 50 watts. At higher power levels, he interferes with his TV, and his wife gets annoyed! Rob was anticipating a six-week sabbatical when he could operate 15-meter CW.
Rob also operates VHF/UHF, using a dipole antenna on 5 feet of PVC strapped to the porch with bungee cord.
However, he has been thinking of going HF mobile so he can operate at better hours for chasing DX. Rob would like to hear from people who have used the Outbacker or Spider antennas for mobile work.
I'd like to congratulate a friend of mine, Glenn, AE0Q, of Denver, Colorado, who is soon to submit his QSLs for DXCC RTTY. It took about 2 and a half years, and he operates from a townhome, too! Glenn uses a fan- type dipole, with the longest element full size on 30 meters. The antenna is fed with heavy-duty twin-lead and a tuner. Glenn's favorite mode is digital stuff: RTTY, AMTOR, and CW.
The ARRL has a pretty nifty electromagnetic interference pamphlet that they will send to ARRL members. It's a reprint from the February and March 1992 issues of QST "Lab Notes" and was written by Ed Hare, KA1CV, Senior Laboratory Engineer. In addition to troubleshooting techniques (always proceed from the easiest solutions to the most difficult), hints on diplomatic dealings with neighbors, and some good theory (like distinguishing between differential and common-mode interference), Ed includes a long, long list of sources for filters and components. This looks like the EMI package to get and keep close at hand, especially if you're using indoor antennas.
Reprinted from February and March 1992 QST "Lab Notes" Copyright 1992 American Radio Relay League, Inc. All rights reserved.
I dug out some old magazines and perused them for stuff interesting to us condo types. If you don't have these magazines poked away in the bookcase, call up your local public library (and those public universities and colleges, taxpayers) to see if they have back issues. If they have a copying machine, you're in business. You can also write to the magazine publishers and order back issues, too.
Don't forget to submit references you think the rest of us might find useful.
Newkirk, Rod, W9BRD. "Honey, I Shrunk the Antenna!" QST, July 1993, p. 34. A neat article on miniature, multiturn loop antennas. If you can't afford one of the commercial miniature loops, think about building one of these things out of wire. For example, the loop for 160/80 meters is composed of four turns of wire, one side 3.5 feet and the other 4.5 feet, with two variable caps and three fixed caps. One guy's been using the 40-meter design from a room largely below ground. I'm not *that* cramped for space, but something like this sounds like a dandy portable antenna. Johns, Robert, W3JIP. "How to Build an Indoor Transmitting Loop Antenna: Part I--10 and 20 Meters," CQ, December, 1991, p. 30. If you're pretty handy with cutting and fitting copper pipe, here's some more miniature loops you can build. The author operates these loops from indoors. I know I've seen part two of this article around here someplace...time to clean the shack! I assume it was in the January, 1992 issue. Auld, Bruce, NZ5G. "The Irrigator's Special: A Free-Standing, Collapsible, PVC Vertical Antenna," CQ, April 1992, p. 38. This little antenna consists of several sections of PVC pipe. Two of the sections connect together to form the vertical 10 feet of support for the helically wound wire. The other PVC pipe sections screw together to form a support foot for the antenna (shaped like an "H" laid flat, with the vertical section screwed into the middle bar of the "H"). The amount of wire is calculated from the old standard 468/freq in Mhz (half wave). String out two radials and you're in business. The article contains calculated lengths for all wire elements (including radials) and why 1/4 wavelength elements worked better or worse than 1/2 wave elements on some bands. Another nifty portable antenna, but one that most of us could squeeze into an attic for some low-angle radiation.
Okay folks, let's hear from you! Send your notes, ideas, station description, war stories, and so on to me at:
US Snail: Art Winterbauer 428 Francis Street Longmont, CO 80501
Also, listen for snippets of this newsletter on Hap Holly's (KC9RP) Radio Amateur Information Network (RAIN), heard on various nets or by direct dialup (708-299-INFO, no charge except for long-distance costs).