Friday, January 22, 2021

2021: The Final Stretch

For most hams 2021 promises sunspots from solar cycle 25. For me 2021 brings the final push to complete my station. This project began in late 2016, with planning beginning almost two years earlier. By fall of this year my station should be active on 160 through 6 meters with high performance antennas and operating positions. There's a lot of work ahead to get there.

As I do every new year I recap the year that was and my plans for the year that is. It's my way of keeping myself honest and to track how well I'm keeping to plan. I have yet to execute or complete all the projects planned for the year. However, I usually come close. That's pretty good. You can check on how I'm really doing by reading those past articles. For example, here's the one from last year.

To recap my own history for new readers, I have been a ham since 1972. As life goes, I was inactive about half of those 49 years. After several changes in my life I reentered the hobby 8 years ago. I started with QRP and an improvised antenna from my home in Ottawa. I started the blog soon after, partly as a diary and partly as an experiment in writing and communication.

The small station didn't last; I just don't roll that way. Soon small towers appeared and the antennas grew bigger. The countries piled up, as did my reinvigorated enthusiasm for contests. 

From the very beginning I have been an avid CW DXer and contester. It is no surprise that the urge to go big returned. Unlike most hams I am comfortable building and working on large towers, so I had that going for me. For many that is an impediment unless they have very good friends or money to burn. 

Coming from humble roots I like to do things on the cheap by building as much as possible myself and scrounging for deals. Learning how to do it is an objective not an obstacle. I approached the project with the same philosophy. The previous big tower jobs I did for friends taught me a great deal and prepared me for the challenge. I reached out and received excellent advice from other hams and from professionals.

The following is a summary of the station as it is today. All except the Beverages are visible in the above south-facing panorama. The 21 meter tower is difficult to see behind the big to the left of the 80 meter yagi central tower, but it is there. Instead of putting in links to articles about these antennas and towers you can use the blog's search feature.

  • 21 meter (70') self-support tower: T2X rotator and 3.5 meter mast
  • 43 meter (140') guyed tower: prop pitch rotator and 3.2 meter mast
  • 40 meter (130') guyed tower: prop pitch rotator and 3.8 meter mast
  • 160: shunt fed 40 meter tower with several long boom yagis and a mast
  • 80: 3-element, 4-direction vertical yagi, with a short vertical mode for 160 meters
  • 40: XM240 at 21 meters and rotatable dipole at 46 meters
  • 20: 5-element stacked yagis at 40 meters (rotatable) and 22 meters (northeast)
  • 15: 5-element stacked yagis at 43.5 meters (rotatable) and 31 meters (northeast)
  • 10-15-20: TH7 at 43 meters and TH6 at 23 meters (south)
  • 6: A50-6 at 24 meters
  • Receive: reversible Beverages NE-SW (175 m) and S-N (150 m)

If all goes very well this year the following additions and changes will take place. Antennas not mentioned will remain as they are.

  • 160 meters: same but with more radials
  • 80 meters: yagi efficiency improvements, and perhaps the return of an inverted vee
  • 40: 3-element yagi at 43 meters, and XM240 at 23 meters
  • 10-15-20: TH7 at 22 meters (rotatable)
  • 10: 5-element stacked yagis at 43 meters (rotatable) and 33 meters (northeast)
  • 6: longer boom yagi
  • 2: something for contests and DXing
  • WARC:something, maybe
  • Receive: reversible Beverage E-W (160 m) and possible SE-NW (150 m)

Trap tri-band yagis are lauded by some and derided by others. Traps do dissipate significant power, though how much is difficult to measure other than by precise field measurements. I like the TH6 and TH7 for their utility: reasonably long booms and decent performance. In comparison to the competition Hy-Gain traps are pretty good.

Now that I have these antennas in direct A-B comparisons with the mono-band 20 and 15 meter yagis at similar heights I admit to some disappointment. The difference is only partly due to the shorter boom lengths and the number of active elements per band. Performance lags, probably due to a combination of trap loss and compromise element tuning and spacing. 

Although they will remain in use this year I will investigate alternatives. Having tri-band yagis at a lower height in fixed directions or rotatable is beneficial in contests to snag multipliers or to rapidly alternate between working DX and North America. I will think upon the matter while keeping in mind that their replacement will be low priority for some time.

I've begun clearing the bush for the new east-west reversible Beverage. Pictured is the view from the west terminal, at the middle of the north-south Beverage. The east termination is 20 meters past the tall tree you see 140 meters away just left of centre. The path is a little askew since it was difficult to cut the path straight east until most of the bush was out of the way.

In the shack the following changes are planned for 2021:

  • New transceiver to replace the ancient FT950
  • 160-6 meter kilowatt amplifier: I've picked one and I just need to order it
  • Band pass filters: the kits and parts packages arrived this week
  • Automated antenna control and switching: this one is a stretch objective
  • New operating desk for (post-pandemic) multi-op contests: 80% built then put aside
  • Improved prop pitch rotator control

Some items have been on my list for a long while. Other projects took priority and then the pandemic put preparation for multi-op contests on hold. The deferral is no longer tolerable or necessary and I believe my schedule this year allows for getting them done. I see the possibility for multi-ops this fall.

There will be no new towers this year. It is quite likely there will be no more towers ever. I am not getting any younger so I must limit my ambitions to avoid overbuilding and creating a maintenance nightmare. At some undetermined future date my climbing days will be over, and I hope that will occur many years in the future. Paying professionals for tower and antenna maintenance is expensive and my funds are not unlimited.

Beyond 2021 no major antenna projects are planned. There will continue to be refinements and improvements, and I will likely dabble with experimental antennas and related projects. I still lack effective antennas for the non-contest HF bands -- 30, 17 and 12 meters -- and for 2 meters. There will be no shortage of blogging material for years to come!

This year's summary and plan article is more bullets, less prose and therefore less tedious detail. This format will help me to review my progress at year end. I am trying to write more concisely. We'll see how that goes!


One of the disadvantages of the blog format is that articles vanish down the memory hole, hidden in the chronological archive. That's why I added a search function. Try it with terms describing projects of interest to you and the results can be surprising. I've written hundreds of articles and the laws of physics haven't changed.

Another problem is that I do not have a static page containing details of my interests, the purpose of the blog, my current activities, etc. I'll take this opportunity to speak to that lack.

  • The blog is about my journey in amateur radio. It is not a reference work. New articles may supersede older ones, and might not reference the older articles. Search is your friend. I only correct articles for egregious technical errors, and only for recent articles. There are sites that index or reference my articles, and I have no control over that. I will take steps for unattributed republication.
  • I try to get the technical matter as accurate and reliable as possible. I also vet the reliability of external sources that I reference as well as I can. I am repeatedly appalled by widely circulated or published material that is simply wrong. Keep me honest by telling me when I'm wrong.
  • I make many typos and grammar errors. Proof reading is time consuming and I have better things to do. Be patient and deal with it.
  • The blog is not a vanity project. One way I keep it that way is by excluding pictures of myself other than long shots of me on a tower taken by friends, or perhaps a pic taken by me that incidentally includes a boot or glove. In reality I am not particularly ugly!
  • All comments are moderated so there will be a delay before they appear. The reason is spam. Critical comments are welcome if you keep the language clean. I don't get a lot of comments anyway despite having many readers. To communicate directly email is a better choice: my call sign at rac period ca. I almost always reply to direct email, and far less to blog comments. Despite that I do appreciate receiving comments.
  • I do not keep an online repository of antenna model files, pictures or software. I am happy to oblige in response to direct email requests.
  • I sometimes will design or model an antenna on request. You should never expect it. It depends on my schedule, my mood and whether the project is of interest to me. If I do it, it's free and you get what you pay for. 
  • Do not assume that I've built every antenna I've modelled and discussed on the blog. If I have done so or plan to I will state it explicitly. I explore many good and bad ideas that go nowhere.
  • I aim for one article per week, a rate I've maintained for 8 years. Some articles are technical, some are not and a few are opinion pieces. Occasionally there are long gaps between articles while others appear in quick succession. Don't fret over extended silences unless and until my call sign is listed as a silent key.

With that out of the way all I can say is: welcome to 2021! A return to normalcy is on the horizon, along with the promise of improved high band conditions. It's going to be a lot of fun so get yourselves ready to take advantage of it. Now is the time to plan and build the antenna you've dreamed about. 

Amateur radio makes being locked up at home more tolerable. When you hear me on the air be sure to say hello.

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