Fix’er Up

I spent some more time over at N6RO with Ken, N6WM and N6ML, replacing the 20M rotor. As we got to talking, I decided to voice some of my problems, since I am still a bit lost when it comes to troubleshooting some of the ongoing problems I have in the shack. The first and most important was the RFI that bit me a few weeks back at about 500w. While I have added some ferrite toroids to the NID that AT&T has their equipment in, this has not solved the problem of about 500w of power reflected when I have the Alpha 76PA on.

One of the first adjustments I made was to move the hex beam (again!). Thanks to N6WM, I now have it mounted close to 20′ when I am operating, but it is closer to the shack. Actually it is mounted on the exterior wall off the shack. I need to upgrade the stock RG-8 coax and solder on some good silver PL-259 connectors, as K3LR does at his station. I also need to added some tinned copper braids as grounds from the amp, rig and power supply to the copper grounding bar.

I finally measured the SWR of the hex beam and the measurements were relatively flat across each band, only starting to climb above 1.5 near the edges on a few bands. I know I am loosing quite a bit with the bad cable, but I am not able to use the LMR400 I have on the SteppIR, since it is buried in conduit. I figure 35-40′ should work.

All this work and adding more 33′ long radials to the BigIR are on the list of things to accomplish before SS SSB in about 2 weeks. I am hoping to get the coax on Saturday and add the PL-259 connectors to it and test it. The ground straps won’t arrive until next week from DXE. If I am still having reflected power issues, then I will have to call in “the experts” to stop over and see what else is incorrect in my shack set up.

If there is anytime I need the amp to perform it is in a SSB contest. Sure I could go < 150w, but I want to push legal limit. I am still reviewing my performance during the CW portion of SS and wanting to implement some changes. While I am still going to set my personal goal high, there are a few things I want to accomplish. One of those things on the list knocking off the states I need for 20 and maybe 40M WAS. I would like to really push for the “clean sweep” since I missed out on it for CW. I was 10 sections short and outside of 2 of them, I probably could have worked the other 8.

Speaking of fix’er up, I have finally updated the Contesting page. While my claimed scores are nothing worth of recognition, I have listed all the contests (outside of a few) I have participated in. I am hoping to use these as a baseline and work on improving these scores. Some of the scores…well many of them are not worth even mentioning, but a contesters has to start somewhere. Since I don’t have weekends off and time to dedicate to 24-30 hours of straight contesting, I will take whatever I can get, whenever.


While I am not disappointed with the SteppIR BigIR Mk III, I am probably at a bit of a disadvantage due to the length and number of ground radials installed. Currently there are 58 radials of varying length (21′ to 48′). While this might have been good enough for the Hustler 6-BTV, it is maybe half of what I should have installed (from what I have been reading). I have read that 108 is about the number of radials that should be installed from the SteppIR Yahoo Group.

While I am pleased with the performance so far, mainly on 20m, but have been working 40m with regularity. I even got K4M on 80m yesterday morning! But, with that said, I am still looking to improve my antenna situation. Of course 5 acres with no neighbors, sitting on a 2000 foot peak would be optimal, I will have to wait for retirement for that situation.

Currently I am in an HOA controller community that does not allow antennas, thankfully I have received an exemption from the management company, which has allowed me to erect the vertical. I decided on a new antenna, a hex-beam, based on the G3TXQ design and information from K4KIO. I received all the pieces last night and began construction. What is nice about this antenna is that its simple to build and has a smaller footprint than say, a 3-el beam.

I am planning on using a pressure treated 4×4 that will be set in concrete in the backyard. I will then add a Rohn H50 (2″ OD) mast, which can extend to 50′ but will be limited to 25′. When the antenna is stored it will sit about 8′ off the ground.

I would like to add a rotator to the antenna and have been looking at a Yaesu G-450A ($295), which would be mounted at the top of the mast, which would not require me to add thrust bearings if I were to mount it at the based, which might be easier for maintenance.

With any luck I should have the beam up in time for the CQ Worldwide DX Contest, SSB on October 24-25. This should really provide me a good opportunity to try to the hex-beam in contest conditions. It is a great time to be building a new antenna.

The BigIR has Arrived!

I was actually preparing to show when I heard the doorbell ring and then a UPS truck drive away from the front of the house. A fleeting thought went though my mind, “wonder if that was my SteppIR being delivered?” I sort of wrote it off because I had not received any confirmation e-mail from LeAnn at SteppIR regarding processing my order for the actual antenna.

I was surprised when the XYL came into the bathroom and told me I had just received two big boxes. Hot damn! My antenna arrived! I told her I had upgraded the current antenna and was selling the 6-BTV. I have a nice starter setup to sell with an IC-718, Z-100 tuner and the 6-BTV. Any takers?

I have been thumbing through the instructions I printed off their site for about 2 months now, as well as referring to other installs by hams who own the BigIR MkIII. I spent two days a few weeks back finishing up the mounting post and radial system. Unfortunately, I am trying to figure out the best way to bury the control cables and the coax. Eyeballing the run distance, it’s approximately 50-70′ depending on the direction I go. Not sure I can make a straight run, as some of the conduit would end up under (or on top) of the patio.

Right now the shack is located on the second story, in a spare bedroom. Future plans include a detached shack in the backyard about 25′ across from the antenna. Unfortunately, I cannot get the shack built right now, so I must make some concessions and make the cables run to the second story bedroom.

Whatever I do, I will most likely end up pulling some 16 radials (my 40′ radials) in order to dig a trench in the grass. It would run approximately 16′ east, make a turn south for another 16′ before going vertical into the floor of the second story. Not the optimal install, but you must work with what you have.

The SteppIR has already set me back some $1300, this includes the 80m coil, which I have received mixed reviews about. Originally I did not intend on purchasing it, but if I didn’t do it now, I probably would have passed on it altogether. A new shack will set me back at least $1800 and this does not include the electrical work that needs to be accomplished or insulating the inside and putting up drywall or the famed faux wood paneling.

So the interim decision is to use the “shack” I currently have until I get the new one built. Even if the cables are run in conduit above ground I am sure I will be just fine, depending on how I route it to the radio. Regardless, I am thrilled to finally have the antenna and look forward to the next step in the process.

Good Things from the World of Radio

While I wish I could say the HOA allowed me to erect a 200′ tower with a SteppIR Dream Beam, I am happy with what I accomplished the past few days in preparation for the BigIR arrival. The shipping date is still unknown, but I am coming up on 3 weeks, so I would figure next week seems like a good window (fingers crossed). Probably better, if it came this week I would not be able to erect it in time for the CQWW WPX.

I spent the better part of Tuesday and Wednesday running new radials and soldering all lug connectors to the copper wire. What a tedious task! Originally I did not solder the connections and I paid for it the past few days. I removed all the old lugs and soldered them and will be covering them with a weatherproof coating, be it silicone or a product from 3M called Scotchkote. Right now, I am leaning towards the silicone

The radial system now consists of 52 total radials, with a minimum length of 21′ and a maximum length of about 45′. I had planned on running some radials off the north side of the radial plate, under my fence, but after looking it over I decided against this. Instead I ran 8 new radials north approximately 7′ and then turned them to the east for the remaining run of 40′. My thought process was any long radials were better than none.

I was finally able to fill in the west side of the radial plate as well, which runs approximately 22′, under my wooden shed to the property line. This was a long and slow process, as I had to pull out all the radials, straighten them and then solder the new connectors. That took most of Tuesday, but now it is done and I think I have one more radial to add in that direction if I so well desire.

There are 6 open areas on the north side of the radial plate. In time I am sure I will fill this in, but had already spent a good deal of time improving my modest radials system. Not sure what I will do with those remaining spots, maybe what I did on the other side, running them north and then turning them to the west.

Hopefully this upgrade will improve the 6-BTV, in what will most likely be the last contest I use it for. That reminds me, I need to check the 6-BTV with the antenna analyzer today or tomorrow. I did hear a ‘CU’ running a pileup yesterday on 20M, so hopefully that is s good sign. As a backup I put up the Alpha Delta DX-EE as a second option.

SteppIR: Part 1

Received e-mail confirmation from SteppIR that my cables and mounting post are in route from Washington and should arrive on Monday. Excellent! That is my Friday and give me almost three days to work on the area I plan on installing the BigIR at. I am still 3 weeks or so away from receiving the vertical, which is not a big deal, this gives me plenty of time to prep the area and run any necessary conduit to the shack and pull wires.

I am planning on digging out the 4′ mounting pole I have the 6-BTV clamped to. Half the of the 6-BTV is already removed after last week’s arcing incident. A check of damaged revealed nothing more than some scorching and the trap cap had a burn hole (melted) in it. I am not digging out the radials, I plan on peeling them back to allow me enough room to work in. I am going to remove a total of 24 radial, 16 of which are 7′ in length and will be replaced with longer radials.

Currently I am planning on using a concrete form 8″ wide and 2′ deep to set the 24″ inch mounting pole in. This pole needs to be 8″ to 10″ above the ground in which the BigIR will slide into. Prior to installing the BigIR I want to reinstall the 6-BTV for CQWW WPX – CW at the end of May. The only other upgrade prior to any antenna going up in replacing the short 7′ radials, which could prove interesting.

The positioning of the mounting post is only about 8′ from my fence in the backyard. I plan on digging under the fence in order to run 8-10 radials at a length of 40′ to 50′. The only modification I need to make to these longer radials will be the fact they are going to be running 10′ to the north followed by a bend to the east and the west, which will then parallel the fence bordering my backyard. I figure longer radials will be better even though their orientation won’t be due north. The remaining 8-10 radials will be doubled in length (at least) and point north. All of this occurring under my fence and off my property, which could potentially cause some problems, but I am willing to take that chance at this point.

With any luck I can pick up the concrete form by Monday, dig the hole and set the mounting post on Tuesday as well as cut the new radials and install them and hopefully be on the air by Tuesday night. If not, it gives me Wednesday to finish up the tasks I had yet to complete. looking forward to the new install.