Sunday, March 24, 2019

Part 4 Lets look at some condo antennas

At our old condo the loop loops like a covered piece of furniture.
Good afternoon everyone, it's time to have a look at getting on the air from a condo. I have been living in a condo for about 6 years now and really have only had one antenna BUT I have tried some that really did not work at all and some that did a so so job. Operating from a condo does have it's challenges:
- most likely you are in a highly populated area with other large condo's around you.
- very small foot print for an antenna.
- In some cases the condo unit is small which limits your space for the ham radio "stuff".

Well now that I have you listing your radio on QRZ.COM for sale lets look at some of the advantages of being in a condo.
- In most cases you are high up as for me in one condo I was 60 feet up and in this one I am 160 feet up.
- Your balcony as most are made of metal make a good ground plane for some antennas.
- Your ham skills are challenged with regards to antennas, power output and mode of operation.
OK the last two points above I was really stretching for some positives but for sure height is in most cases a major advantage.

In this post lets look at some antennas that may work from a balcony. The antenna I use as you may already know if you are a regular reader of my blog is the MFJ 1788 mag loop. Now I have had many comments as well as emails saying that the mag loop is pricey. It's very true it is and most mag loops are not cheap as I also have the Chameleaon CHA P loop 2.0 mag loop for portable op's which also is a pricey antenna. I did save my pennies and spent some coin on the MFJ 1788 and not to turn this post into a review of MFJ but quality is not noted on the Eham review site with regards to most MFJ products. I did have a small issue with my loop but I repaired it and since that time (6 years ago) the loop has given me no issues at all. In no way am I saying that the mag loops are the only way to go.
A very unique looking antenna that is great for balcony operation is the Isotron antennas  these antennas get a very decent review on Eham and I know of a ham who uses one and has had great success with it. These antennas are small, no ground plain needed and they can be purchased as mono band or multi band. Also they really don't look like an antenna. With antenna when you want to use it you put it out and when done take it in. In the present condo I am in this is how I use my MFJ loop it's only out when I am using it.
The loop at our new location 
Another antenna worth mentioning is the new Elecraft AX1 for 20/17/15m and rumors are they may be extending the band coverage soon.  It comes with a 13 foot radial wire and has a max output of 30 watts.
Depending on the size of your balcony a wire antenna dipole antenna can be used. When we were looking at condos some balcony's were huge and could support a homemade wire dipole antenna. Two antennas I have tried that did not seem to work for me is a mono whip antenna mounted vertically  with pre-cut radials...did not work at all. I also could not get the MFJ 1788 to work horizontally at my new place I had to mount it vertically. I also tried mono whip antennas in a dipole configuration and it did work but way to large for the balcony.
In my next post I am going to talk about what modes of operation I found to work best for me and how it opened a new door for me in ham radio...........oh and by the way from my condo setup as I was writing this post I was able to make contact with IK4UPB on 20m.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Part 3 of ham radio and condo life

Failed Hy-gain tape dipole
Good Saturday afternoon readers and sorry for the tardiness with regards to finally getting around to part 3. Work has been very busy and not much computer or radio time! In this part I am going to look at the antennas I have used and I have used a lot of different configurations. I had some responses from those who live in condo townhouses I too have lived in a condo townhouse and had great success. Most townhouses up this way are of wood construction which is good news for the indoor antennas. If you have a multilevel townhouse you most likely have access to an attic. There may also be a back deck and or a small to medium backyard.
Let me begin by saying this segment on antennas assumes you are looking for something that is either hidden or looks like something it's not.
Most (but not mine) town homes have a garage and driveway to-which you park a car in. I have found a very simple way to get on the air is to put an antenna on your car and run coax out to it. Now having said that you don't want to run around town with a huge antenna on your car (maybe you ...but not me) There are many fast connect/disconnect mounts on the market. As for the antenna I have seen and did have a multi-band HF antenna. I did operate my home HF radio with a multi-band antenna.....yes I did say I had no driveway or garage but more on that in a minute. The antenna I used was something similar to the Comet UHV-6 mounted on my car. There is also the Hustler triband adapter to allow 3 Hustler resonators to be used at the same time. With these types of antennas or similar ones you can run coax out to your car in the driveway connect to the antenna and your on the air.
In my case my townhouse at the time did not have a driveway or garage it was a common car parking lot. So what I did was I buried LMR 400 in plastic tubing out to where my car was. I terminated the coax to an SO-239 in a small plastic box. The box was in a small bush and unseen. When I wanted to go on the air I connected a small jumper of coax from the box to my car antenna. I was able to use this for about 3 years.
Attic DX-EE
If you have an attic and I did in one of my town homes the best antenna for me was the Alpha Delta DX-EE. I mounted this antenna in my attic is a "Z" configuration. To mount it I used stand off's for electric fences. This antenna was very close to the roof and other wood 2x4 rafters but surprisingly I had no real issues with SWR. My Elecraft K3 radio has a great tuner in it when needed.
DX-EE stand offs
Another antenna configuration I tried in my attic was two mono band whip antennas set up as a dipole. This antenna was tricking to mount in the attic as it was very rigid and required room. It worked well but do to the space this antenna needed I was only able to get two separate
Weaving between rafters
antennas of this kind in the attic.
Backyard side kick
One antenna I had and tried in the attic but could not get it to work was the High Sierra sidekick antenna. I tried various ground radial configurations but could not get it to tune at all.
I did end up mounting the High Sierra sidekick antenna in the backyard close to our deck. It was in a very hard spot to see and I was able to remove the antenna when not in use and bring it in the house. I was able to conspicuously bury some radials and was able to get a decent SWR.
High Sierra attic attempt
Because our condo town home was mainly wood construction I was also able to setup my Alex Loop in the living room by the patio sliding glass door and make some decent contacts. 
Mobile whip dipole

Alex loop in living room
Another failed antenna for me was the Hy-gain  tape dipole and I am not sure why it did work and the DX-EE did but it was worth a try. I had this antenna for some time so there was no money outlay but it just did not want to tune. Part 4 will be dealing with Ham radio in a condo apartment building and how I have successfully made it on the air for the past 6 years.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

PART 2 of ham radio and the condo life

Roll-top open and it's a nice station setup
Good afternoon everyone.........today lets look at the condo itself shall we?  Mixing ham radio and condo living does not mean you have to start looking for a new hobby! It's true there is no more tower with a Yagi on it but with condo living you may gain height anywhere from 30 to possibly 400 feet up. In my case I am at the 180 foot level in my previous condo I was at the 60 foot level. Most condos have a balcony of various sizes which can serve as a spot to place an antenna. In my case because this place is built like a brick you know what and there is some type of glazing on the windows that just does not allow me to operate with an indoor antenna. I have tried the loop indoors and I get no hits from reverse beacon network and no answer when operating FT8 and no digi reports on WSPR. In the past I was in a smaller wood construction unit and I had no issues placing my mag loop indoors and operating QRP. Also the smaller wood construction units may also give you access to an attic. This was the case for me and I did very well with multiple antennas in the attic. More on antennas in up coming condo life posts. Indoor space is also another consideration as you have to incorporate your station in a smaller living space. My solution to this issue was to use a nice roll-top desk. I am able to have all my radio equipment under the cover of a nice piece of furniture and when I roll the top up it's my station. Running coax out to the antenna can be a challenge, in this unit my roll-top is in the spare bedroom. The coax leaves the room under cover of a Persian run in the
Ham radio gone under cover
hallway. Into the master bedroom (under the baseboard at the doorway) then behind the dresser (out of site out of mind) and then onto the balcony as we have 2 sliding glass doors onto balconies. How might you ask does one get the coax out the balcony door?? More about that in a followup condo life post. So in a condo you may have an attic to use, if wood construction indoor antenna may be a possibility? Even in a solid concrete condo give an indoor antenna a go you may be surprised. You can take full advantage of height depending what floor you are on. Finally you may have a balcony were you can allow you mind to percolate as to how and what antenna to use. Speaking of antennas the next "Ham radio and the condo life" I will be looking at my experiences with antennas some failures and other successes.    

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ham radio and the condo life

Ham radio from a city condo.......I have been doing it for close to 7 years now and it does have it's challenges. I have had great success with some cool world wide contacts. In Canada it's tough to get into the housing market right out of the gate so many younger ham's are getting their foot into the market with condo living. Then those ham's who are retiring and want to downsize are considering condo life as well. I am here to say that in condo life there is also ham radio!! 

Before we talk about the nuts and bolts of condo ham radio lets deal with some of the basics. I have always found it avoids condo board letters if you read and understand the rules and guidelines of your particular condo. Yes get used to it if you are going to move into a condo there are rules and expectations. What does this have to do with ham radio.........well if you are seen as a respectful owner (or renter) of the condo board, residents and property it can go a long way. For example most condo guidelines (nice condo word for RULES) do not allow "permanent antennas" on the balcony. This rule is yes for Amateur radio antennas but I believe the condo is concerned about the mini satellite dishes springing up or HD antennas. Just one of many challenges a condo radio op has to creatively deal with. In my case I have the MFJ 1788 mag loop and in my newest condo (6 months now) the antenna is portable and it not  "permanently" mounted on the balcony. In my humble opinion having a low key antenna is important. Having whip antennas extending over the balcony or wires making their way down the side of the building just invites a letter from you know who from the office of your know where!!  Like it or not we are all human and once this happens you have the microscope on you.....not a very nice situation to be in.
In a condo your fellow "condo-ites" are very close to you and that means RFI on your part but also on their part as well with all the unfiltered electronics on the market today. The positive outcome to this is you will become very knowledgeable on dealing with RFI. Oh and a word of advise.....I have read this in the past "go see your neighbor and suggest installing filters on their electronics" Up here in the land of snow and proverbial "thank you" we always say to apparently to everything......there is no thank you response from someone you are asking to tamper with their electronics. Rigs these days have excellent filtering and that are some accessories you can purchase to knock out the worst of offender.
Well that is enough for today....in posts to follow I am going to look at RFI, power output and no as a condo dweller you are not a QPRer for life...........nothing wrong with that either!! What antennas I have had that work, some of the better modes (not just digi either)  to work and last but not least what happens if your in a situation were absolutely operating is possible, well I am here to say that you will still be able to get on the air in you condo on HF working DX!
Stay tuned.