Summer 2009 Issue

Beginner’s Guide

It’s Summertime . . . Antenna Time!

By Rich Arland, K7SZ

Photo 1. This is the five-pack of colored vinyl tape available for under $2.00 at Wal-Mart. This stuff is great for labeling large coaxial cables using a color code of your choice. Writing the desired cabling info on the tape using an ultra-fine tipped black “Sharpie” permanent marker yields a fool-proof method of keeping track of your cables inside the shack.


Summer is here, and about time, I might add! Man, I don’t know about you, but there is something about this time of the year that inspires me to do a number of things around the shack/antenna farm. Coming out of the winter doldrums and the torrential spring rains, performing some antenna maintenance or rearranging the shack seems somehow the “correct” things to do.

In the spring issue of CQ VHF we discussed the shack, the ops bench, and a generalized list of things to do to get ready to operate. I had some excellent shots of my new shack ops bench, both uncluttered (shortly after I built it—about 3 hours later) and overrun with “stuff” (about 31/2 hours after I built it!), which serves to emphasized the FSS (flat surface syndrome) that accompanies a new piece of shack equipment/gear/furniture. Unfortunately, I managed to either misplace or delete the images in the camera! I hate when that happens!! However, you’ll be relieved to know that I have conquered FSS, at least temporarily.

The emphasis of this column, to date, is to set up a new shack with the idea of using (and/or reusing) items from the old shack, or, if you are just starting out, guide you through the minefield of spending money when not really necessary. Frugal is the password in this endeavor. With today’s economy in a shambles, taking a tight-fisted approach to a new shack is not only a sound idea, but one that should secure easy approval from the rest of the family.

On a recent return trip to our old home in Pennsylvania, I spotted my old shack operating position—a computer desk from the local Ikea store. It wasn’t being used, so it made the return trip back to Georgia with us. This desk is quite roomy, in the way only the folks at Ikea can visualize, design, and manufacture. The reacquisition of this ops bench meant that the bench I procured at Wal-Mart earlier could be used as a workbench, thereby allowing me to keep an uncluttered operating area while doing maintenance on a rig or building a new piece of gear for the shack.

Coaxial Cable

One idea that struck me early on in planning phase of this new shack was to be able to route the RF coaxial cable and ladder line via a patch panel mounted on an inside wall of the shack. This idea turned out to be very simple to implement. I brought each coaxial cable from the outside antennas in under the eaves of the roof via holes under the eaves. From there each cable was routed across the inside of the attic and down the inside wall of the shack between the wall joists. An 8" ¥ 8" square hole was cut into the sheet rock on the inside wall of the shack and each cable was brought out for prepping (affixing coaxial connectors) prior to drilling and mounting the aluminum patch panel to the wall. The patch panel, a 9" ¥ 9" ¥ 1/8 " piece of aluminum stock, was drilled for various coaxial feed-through connectors to include BNC and SO-239 bulkhead connectors. Additionally, I added a set of feed-throughs for 300- and 450-ohm ladder line. The patch panel is attached to the wall via some sheet-rock mounts and makes for a very neat, professional antenna installation.

Each antenna is separately routed either directly to or via an Alpha Delta coaxial switch to the radios. This adds a lot of flexibility to the shack while keeping the rat’s nest of wires/cables to a minimum. With the addition of wire labels (both on the input and output side of the patch panel) you can accurately grab the proper RF feed line if the need arises.

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