Grounds for Improvement

As I write this post my sophisticated home weather station shows the temperature has just edged over the 30 degree Celsius mark. I call it sophisticated because it synchronizes with the US national time standard in Fort Collins, Colorado by receiving VLF (Very Low Frequency) radio signals – without an antenna!

Wait a Canadian corn picking moment; what the hell? Military commanders communicate with their nuclear armed submarines using VLF. The transmitter uses an antenna array with more wire than even I, a prolific consumer of reels of wire, will use in a lifetime. Submarines have to unreel a long wire antenna to receive the signals. But, my humble, cheap weather station can receive VLF signals from thousands of kilometers away without any antenna at all? I wonder if my weather station works in a sub-marine environment (which is where I found myself the last time I tried kayaking)?

But back to my point; as I sit perspiring under a late July sun, my mind is drawn back to the day, just a few short months ago, when I hauled my portable radio kit, on a sled, onto the beach at a nearby Conservation Area. In the summer it is a lovely sandy beach on the shores of Georgian Bay just outside my home town of Owen Sound, Ontario. A few months ago it was deeply covered in well over a foot of snow.

Moving My Mukluks
At the time I was using my portable loaded vertical antenna with a single raised counterpoise. I tuned up on 20 meters and made some contacts, then I wanted to try 40 meters. That entailed lengthening the counterpoise wire – an easy job in summer, but that day in late winter it meant I had to move my mukluks through deep snow. It was a very tiring exercise. I resolved to seek “a better way”.

Here’s the Rub
Back to today and 30 degrees Celsius. After a lot of experimentation that consumed another couple of rolls of wire, I had an idea that just might work. If I replace the single raised counterpoise wire with a set of ground-mounted radials, would my antenna still work as well? Here’s the rub (as Shakespeare was fond of writing) ground-mounted radials are slower to setup than a single raised counterpoise wire.

Radial Wires for Rapid Deployment Portable Ops

Armchair Experts Say …
How many radial wires are needed? “The more the merrier” as online armchair experts might say if they were a little less intense. But I am not interested in creating “the perfect antenna” out in the field (“no such animal” – online armchair experts). Surprise! Only 4 radials, each 10 feet long work hunky-dory – on both 20 meters and 40 meters with a vertical antenna raised just 3 feet above ground. “Inefficient” – online armchair experts. “I’m making contacts” – me.

How to keep the radials in place? Especially if the ground is covered in deep snow? Instead of pegging the radials into the ground with tent stakes (as I usually do) here’s an interesting idea. How about tying one of my unpatented sand-filled balloons on the end of each radial wire and tossing them out? Okay, that works!

Sand-filled balloons make excellent weights to hold radials in place

In the summertime, when the weather is hot, radial wires lay directly on the ground. They work better on grass than concrete so will they work on snow? I am going to have to wait a few months to find out. It almost makes me look forward to winter again – no not really.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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