Almost 4 years ago, we bought a new house. At the time, the last thing on my mind was whether or not this homesite would be a good QTH for ham radio. Why? Because I'd let ham radio go. I had been originally licensed as a novice, WD4LJJ, back in '76 or '77, never upgraded, and aside from 2 or 3 feeble attempts at getting back into the hobby, I'd lost interest. Life had taken a front row seat.
But midway through last year, I was bitten again by the ham radio bug - and this time it wasn't a passing fancy. So, in order to prove my seriousness (maybe more to myself than to anyone else), I upgraded from novice to technician. And then from technician to general. And, yes, I fully intend to go for my extra - soon.
But there was this simple matter of getting back on the air. Why just throw an antenna up - a dipole, nothing more. OK, well, that didn't really lend itself very well to my lot. See, my house is in a typical development where the builder knocks down every single tree and leaves one or two of the worst looking specimens. I didn't have anywhere to attach a dipole to, not easily. OK, on to 'plan B' - a vertical. I'd had wonderful success with a vertical when I was first licensed. An old HyGain 14AVQ with nothing more than a single ground rod. Yes, I now know that I should have had radials, but when your parents rule the roost, you settle for what's available.
I did a little research, didn't want to spend a lot of money, and settled for a Hustler 4BTV. Little did I know but the comedy of errors was just beginning.
I drove a 4 foot length of pipe into the ground just outside the window of the room that had become my shack. Drilled a hole through the wall, ran my coax, connected everything up...voila. I had RF everywhere. As soon as I punched my keyer it would lock up, produce a steady tone, and I was transmitting, only not how I intended. Not good.
OK, I tried a few hastily placed radials. No help. I figured that I needed to move the antenna away from the house/shack. No problem. I moved it about 30-35 feet from the house, ran a few radials. It worked horribly. Reports of 339, 439, and 539 were pretty commonplace, and that was on 40m CW working stations on the East Coast! Calling stations west of the Mississippi proved fruitless. Something was wrong. My SWR was all over the place, but at least 10:1 in places that I needed to use. I followed the directions provided by Hustler to tune the antenna. I followed the directions provided by DXEngineering, which didn't always agree with Hustler's view. Up and down, Up and down, the antenna went.
No change. No matter how long or how short I made the antenna, no change. Changing the position of the traps - no change. I concluded that I'd bought a piece of junk, despite the fact that it seemed relatively well-built. In the back of my mind I kept hearing a voice saying, "You need an antenna analyzer." I asked around, wrote to a few nearby clubs, but struck out.
I was getting pretty discouraged. I bought a G5RV and threw it up in the trees on the unbuilt lot next to our's. It worked OK, but not great. Yeah, I remember my first words, "just throw an antenna up", but by this point it had moved on to more of a challenge.
So, I went to the Morristown, TN, hamfest. Walked back and forth before finally purchasing an antenna analyzer. Got it home, hooked it up, and what did I find?
A loose connection on one of the PL-259's.
I couldn't believe it. I'd just spent $250 for an analyzer and during the course of hooking it up I'd found a poor connection. Checking my SWR, it wasn't perfect, but it was 1.4:1 where I wanted to use the antenna the most, 40m CW. I felt confident that I could probably retune the antenna a bit and improve it even more.
Lesson learned? Yes. Look under your own rug before sweeping the dirt on others. Sorry, Hustler, you don't make a piece of junk.