Nocturnal Emissions

Or How a Temporary Antenna Became a Symbol of Defiance


by Steve, WB3HUZ


Sometimes an antenna is more than an antenna. During 1990 and part of 1991, I was living in a two story town house (aka row house) in Columbia, MD. Columbia is one of those planned cities started in the late 60's where almost everything is controlled or approved by something called the Columbia Association. Even things as small as changing the color of one's front door has to be approved by your local architectural committee. The color of your car also has to match that of your house - no just kidding. I won't go into what I think of this except to say it's a bit Orwellian and I no longer live there (I was renting - I would never buy property there).

Anyway, it shouldn't surprise anyone that outdoor antennas of any type (even TV) were forbidden. Quite a good deal for the local cable provider! But I wanted to get on the air. I started out modestly, shooting for 40 meters. Even with a good antenna, this was a much better choice than 75 meters for low power AM operation. I put a horizontal loop in attic. It was nothing more than wire stung around the perimeter of the attic and fed with 450 ladder line. The total length of wire was about 80 feet. I made a number of daytime contacts on 40 meters, running about 40 watts output from an Eico 720/722/730 transmit combination and a Drake R-4B for reception. But being a greedy and somewhat devious fellow, I wanted more.

I was lucky that my town house row was on the edge of the development property. Off the back side of the house was a small yard and a ten foot high, gently sloping bank covered with grass. This led to a 40-50 foot wide section of weeds that was the edge of the adjacent property, an old farm house that predated all of the controlled development. At the end of the weeds was a line of trees that defined the edge of the manicured yard of the farm house. The tree line ran parallel to the row of town houses. All in all, the trees were 100 feet or better from the back of my town house. Since my bedroom was on the second floor and on the backside of the town house, I figured I could string something out the window to one of those trees.

Since the farm house was old, so were many of the trees around it. Several were quite tall, on the order of 80 feet or better. I selected one that was almost directly in line with one of the windows in my bedroom. I was able to get a small sized olive drab rope over one of the branches 70-80 feet up. Then I strung a wire from that tree back to the window of my town house. The wire I used was #18 or #20 with clear insulation. It was originally cheap twin conductor speaker wire. I just separated the two conductors. What I wound up with was about a 100 foot long end-fed wire that was 15 feet high at one end and about 70 at the other. I must also point out that I did all of the installation under the cover of darkness since I was technically trespassing on the farm house property and also erecting an illegal out door antenna. The antenna system was completed with a tuner and quarter-wave counterpoise wires cut for each band and connected to the ground terminal of the tuner.

Initially, I only operated at night. During the day, I would lower the antenna to the ground and it would disappear into the weeds. At night I would pull it up to full height. It worked great, even on 75 meters. But, running 40 watts of AM at night on 75 meters, even with a half decent antenna is rough. I generally operated right after dark up till 7 or 8 PM - before the band got crowded or much later, like after midnight - once the band quieted down again.

It was after one of these late night sessions that I was so tired, I just shut off the radios and hit the sack. In the morning, I remembered that I hadn't lowered the antenna. Fearing discovery, and the likelihood of having to cease further operations, I quickly ran to the window to lower the antenna. To my surprise, as I looked out the window, what should appear but a sleigh.... no wait wrong story... I could barely see the wire. The clear insulation, and the somewhat dulled tinned copper wire blended into the sky. Not quite believing what I saw, I ran out into the backyard and looked up. From this vantage point, the wire was even harder to see. (It was then I realized I wasn't wearing any clothing - gotcha. Now you're paying attention.) Further investigation revealed it was most visible when looking back at the town house from a distance. Here the wire contrasted against the color of the siding on the town house. However, the wire was only visible out to about 10-15 feet from the house and then it seemed to disappear into thin air. I figured the odds of anyone else (who wouldn't know what it was or exactly where it was, like I did), even being at this location and then looking right at the wire were extremely low. So, the antenna stayed up day and night for several months and was never discovered.

If you happen to have issue 25 of Electric Radio (May 1991), you'll see me on page 27 sitting in front of the station described above. Although I only used that setup for about six months, I will always remember it. Not only did I learn something about end-fed wires, stealth antennas, counterpoise wires, improving the audio of the Eico 730 modulator, and seeing in the dark, I also had the pleasure of thumbing my nose at the Columbia Association and their stupid rules!


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15 June 1999