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Issue #15: Great Ham Radio Products from Eastern Europe

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ


I read a news report the other day about the growth of amateur radio in Eastern Europe, most notably in Poland (see March 26, 2023 edition of The First News). It turns out that there has been a significant increase in the number of hams across the region; their first wave was due to the pandemic, which of course increased numbers in many other countries as well. But there’s another factor impacting the Eastern European mindset . . . the war in Ukraine. People start thinking about emergency communications when tanks are rolling just a few hundred miles away.


As those Russian troops began massing on Ukraine’s borders, I’m sure that my fellow hams joined me in thinking about companies that produce great radio gear in that region. And so, in my column this month, I’ll discuss personal experiences with ham gear from Ukraine, Poland, and Bulgaria. An Eastern European special edition of Trials and Errors!


Caught in the Middle of the Storm


Rig Expert is a Ukrainian company. Although they weren’t the first to market antenna analyzers, the Rig Expert brand has succeeded in building a global market for high quality, user-centric antenna analyzers. One of their founders (Sergei Litvinov, UX1UA, a familiar call sign to many) resided in the Gostomel suburb of Kyiv. In the early days of the conflict, he lost a lovely home, a great shack, his dog, and hundreds of thousands of QSL cards. The fellow now lives in Austria and appears to have had a very close call escaping with his family. Luckily, he’s now back on the air with a remote station.


At one time when the fighting was near Kyiv, Rig Expert moved their warehouse and shipping location to Western Ukraine and much closer to the Polish border, but they are now back in their original facilities. The company has made it through the war with only two months of supply slow down for their dealers in the USA. My purchasing department contact at DXE, Scott, tells me that they never even noticed that delay, "We wish them well, but they did a wonderful job of keeping us in stock. It's a great supplier."


I always wanted a Rig Expert analyzer. Lo and behold, along came the AA-55 Zoom from my XYL last Christmas (and to think, I gave her a new coffee maker. Ugh!). In this issue of Trials and Errors, I used my trusty Rig Expert to get SWR readings for the six different bands covered by a new antenna you’ll read about. Suffice it to say, that Rig Expert is now a valued part of my shack.


The Folded Dipole Antenna


That new antenna I mentioned is from a supplier I found in Eastern Europe, and it falls into the category of a 'folded dipole.' Let’s call this newest antenna my “Polish Cobweb.”


Many months ago, I read about the folded dipole design that most hams call the cobweb style antenna. This design originated with Steve Webb (G3PTW), a ham referred to in several locations of the ARRL Antenna Handbook. Steve is an inventor for far more than ham radio antennas. When you talk to Steve about innovation, you can envisage sparks flying around his head as he talks . . . ideas popping and snapping in the air. This guy knows his stuff!


I spoke to Steve about the advantages of the folded dipole and the conversation quickly went far deeper than I can go in antenna design, physics, and RF propagation. But the parts that “stuck” meant this could be a good topic for many of my readers:


“The folded dipole design is perfect for HOA restrictions, height restrictions and so on,” G3PTW told me. While he is presently retired, he did spend years selling these cobweb antennas throughout the world. There are lots of his Cobwebbs still out there (note his take on the name) and others produced in China or by USA companies like MFJ. They are also popular in Eastern Europe, which ties into this column.


“You can take an antenna like this, fold it up in about three minutes and stick it in the boot of your car. While it’s not a backpacker’s antenna, it certainly works well for events and days in the field. It is a very omnidirectional antenna,” advised Steve. I can also imagine an HOA homeowner picking it out of a closet and putting it outside on a short mast whenever it's time to "ham it up." Simply drop the arms, plug in your coax, and you're on the air.


The Polish Cobweb Connection


After my curiosity became aroused about the folded dipole design, I found a fellow on eBay who sells several versions of this antenna through his company, AWK Antennas. The 6-bander that I bought was around $250 USD, and the seller is rated at 100% on eBay. It was a quick and easy purchase and showed up in about two weeks.  I found Pawel, who builds these antennas, to be an easy guy to reach and quite cooperative. When It arrived, I was surprised at how well it was built despite its light weight, and I set about getting it into a temporary installation. I'd be surprised if this cobweb weights much more than 7-8 pounds, so it's easy to get up and operational.


This product is a horizontally-polarized resonant antenna covering 6m through 20m (AWK model 6-20) and with a Kilowatt of PEP power handling capability on SSB. After my build and installation, I can state for a fact that the AWK cobweb antenna meets that description nicely. It consists of 6 dipoles folded into a square and mounted on a support structure made of lightweight fiberglass poles with an impedance transformer at the center (an SO-239 connection). The aluminum center piece allows the stretcher arms to fold up for easy transport. I thought the wires would become entangled when folded, but that did not occur.


This antenna appears to have some advantages over verticals, and certainly a lower noise floor. I took some SWR readings from my temporary installation, just 10 ft. off the ground, with the new Rig Expert. These were taken mid-band, and while the rise is steep on the band edges (especially on 10 meters) the trimming is easy if you need to do that. I was impressed that Pawel at AWK had pre-tuned the antenna for me, allowing me to achieve decent results just 2-3 hours into my completed (but temporary) installation: 


6M - 1.39

10M - 1.30

12M - 1.09

15M - 1.63

17M - 1.31

20M - 1.26



Because it's so light, I plan on using an inexpensive chimney mount permanent installation. 


First Steps with the Cobweb and My New Bulgarian Antenna Switch


While I assembled the cobweb, I had it on a mast about 10 feet tall and a tripod to hold it so that I could assemble it at eye level. Upon completion, I was so excited to try it out that I took this temporary setup out to my yard and planted it there to get on the air.  I enjoyed a number of QSOs at just 20 W into the antenna (it's rated at 800W - 1000W for SSB). Here's a photo of a two hour WSPR test with less than 1/2 of one watt, and you can see it gets out fine at only 9 or 10 feet off the ground! My friend Chuck Minerva (K6CWM) also has one of these "Polish Cobwebs" and he's mounted it on his rooftop. (See his photos in the Forum that you can link to below.) Chuck has sent me some great updates of his DX'ing success with the antenna.


But now that I have a number of antennas out in the yard, I needed a tool to help me quickly select the antenna of choice. And, I wanted it to be remote-capable via a web interface in case I decide to someday go remote. I found the perfect solution with the MS-S6A switch produced by Anteni out of Bulgaria. Another great Eastern European product!


This switch was designed and built by Miroslav Ionov (LZ2RR) and it is as solid a build as I've ever seen for this kind of product. It's capable of handling up to 2000 Watts as long as you can keep the SWR below 3:1. Miro was easy to work with, and his instruction manual (while a bit confusing) still got me through the easy set-up. Most importantly, the outdoor part of the switch is bullet proof.


You can buy switches from Miro's company for 3 antennas or as many as 7, and they all work with this nice little box that you can either use manually or via your cell phone or laptop. I had it hooked up to my WiFi in a matter of minutes.


I plan to use all of these items again in future columns, and will keep you updated on my experiences. In the meanwhile, I'll be praying for peace and prosperity in Ukraine.








Have a comment? See what others are saying now in our Forum discussion! There are additional photos of the antenna and other installations in the forum as well.




Please see the new "Short Takes" product review column publilshed this week as well.










Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.

Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated April 9, 2023 18:42