Rules? It has been said that rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools. Sounds a bit harsh but it may have some truth to it. In our hobby it might be better expressed as “rules are for the guidance of experts and the obedience of novices”.
What is an “expert” anyway? I once heard this definition: “x” is an unknown quantity and “spurt” is a drip under pressure”. Experts come in two flavours: the armchair variety who authoritatively uphold the rules, and those who ignore the rules in favour of learning by experiment.
When we need to erect an antenna such as the humble dipole and we only have one support available, experts say we must use an inverted-V orientation. This puts the antenna feedpoint at the apex. And the feedpoint of a dipole is a current maximum, ergo the point of maximum radiation, which should be as high as possible.
The problem with this, or any, rule is it becomes etched into the modern equivalent of stone tablets and becomes indisputable conventional wisdom. Trying to offer a contrary view is likely to ignite a flame war with the armchair experts in online forums. Believe me, I still have a charred posterior from daring to defend contest-style QSOs in a forum inhabited by fervent rag-chewers.
Another etched-in-stone commandment is thou shalt erect thy antenna as high as possible, preferably a half-wavelength above ground. Oh really? In a similar vein, a long wire antenna (meaning at least one wavelength long) erected close to the ground (e.g. a Beverage antenna) shall be used only as a low noise receiving antenna and shall never – upon pain of online death by flames – be used for transmitting.
I may never achieve the immortal fame of Galileo, okay I’m darn certain I won’t, but I admire the man as a pioneer of the contrarian thought process. Let me shout it loud-and-proud: “I am a contrarian thinker!” Tell me it’s a cloudy day and I’ll glance skyward before believing you. Tell me I can’t transmit into a Beverage antenna and I’ll lay a wire on the ground and pump it full of watts. Tell me I must erect my dipole as an inverted-V and by Jupiter I’ll hang it upside down!
The big problem with the expert’s conventional wisdom is that only black sheep contrarians like myself ever seek to challenge it. If the majority of hams believe something to be true it is entirely possible that most of them never even thought to question it. Rules are rules!
I wrote recently about a POTA activation in which I drove 45 minutes to a park before realizing I had left my antenna at home. You can read about it here. I improvised and got a successful activation – including some DX – using … wait for it … an upside-down inverted-V, otherwise known as simply a V configuration. To add to my crimes, the antenna was … low, very low, to the ground!
Some time ago I read, with excitement, about a curious beast called a “Grasswire Antenna”. A Grasswire antenna is a long wire antenna laid directly on the ground. Heresy! Experts say all your precious RF will be soaked up by Mother Earth who will then burp and chide you for imagining any tiny slither of your transmitted power might make it up to the heavens.
I spent several weeks experimenting with various lengths of wire on the ground. One evening I successfuly checked into a 80m CW net using 5 watts into 148ft of wire up zero, zilch, nada feet above ground. Only a contrarian would think to try such a madcap experiment. I am not alone, I merely sought to reproduce what others have already done. You can ask your favorite search engine to tell you more, or read about my own explanation and experiences here.
Isn’t ham radio a wonderful hobby? Every time I key up I still marvel at the miracle of how my signal makes it to the nether regions of this planet. Heck, some of my signals were never refracted by the ionosphere and are hurtling through space, where some have penetrated over 20 light-years into the cosmos already.
So here’s a tip from a ham who is obviously not an expert because he doesn’t follow the rules: think outside the box and remember there really isn’t a box anyway. Question everything and experiment!