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Short Takes #24: Antennas, Tuners and a Miniature CW Paddle

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

One of my ham friends recently wrote me that he remembers the days when hams would have to dig out a calculator, get a measuring tape, and actually cut a resonant antenna. Yes, while crucial to being a ham, that antenna knowledge does sound like the good old days. Today, with as many plug-n-play operators as we have out there, you're more likely to find that all you need for your antenna installation is a credit card. (I shouldn't knock that, as my favorite wire antenna right now is one that I bought from DXE years ago.)

It's just a sign of changing times that we have so many people buying -- rather than stringing up their own -- wire antennas. I have both around my yard, and it's often an economic decision. It's far cheaper to build your own! If an antenna I own doesn't cover 15M, it's easy enough just to string up a wire to match.

Circa 1966 or 1967, at my parents' home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio . . . It was easy to get on the air with zip cord or speaker wire and wire clippers. I had a few crystals and I cut matching antennas. Easy peasy. While I remember some hassles with Mom and Dad about getting wires out of my bedroom and into the front yard, we had enough big Oak trees to get all the height and camouflage that I needed. (The hassle came because I used a hammer and pipe on the window surround to make nice little channels for cables to pass through. Kids do the darndest things.)

Now, the antenna market seems to be about "compromise" antennas, easy of use and low-SWR across as many bands as possible. And, it's created an entire market for "antenna tuners," or what should really be called "antenna match boxes." 

Antenna Tuners - Big Revenue Stream for Manufacturers

I don't remember having an antenna tuner in those good-old-days. No, we cut them for resonance. Now, you just slip a tuner in the lineup and make a few adjustments - BANG, you're on the air with your compromise antenna.

Yes, I love my tuners (I have three of them, all reviewed in this column) but I am honestly embarrassed that I spend as much money and time with them as I do.  Even one of my "Trials and Errors" experts who builds and sells a beautiful tuner tells me, "Tuners are a bandaid. The whole point of an antenna tuner is to touch up the SWR, and not to create an antenna out of a cattle fence." Well, tell that to the guys on one Facebook forum I follow who brag about "tuning up the gutters" on their home.

Will there be any radical new developments in the antenna tuner category that will improve our shacks and truly make a difference in our ability to get out? Of course, tuners will continue to be big sellers as "convenience" often drives the modern consumer. But I don't see anything innovative coming in the tuner space, except for new and better algorithms to speed our tune and perhaps eliminate the crutch that we call "memories."

Sometimes marketing departments make it look like there's a heck of a lot more innovation than there really is inside a little box, which is why I appreciate a company like Emtech and their little ZM-2, a QRP tuner extraordinaire. Products like that prove that much of what we pay for on some ham products is gloss . . . (correction: gloss and power handling capabilities).

A Micro-Minature CW Paddle

We have a local group of hams who get together for lunch every Friday and that group of 8-10 people will sometimes pass around a show-and-tell item to get the conversation started. Yesterday, I took along what has to be the world's smallest paddle. It was a hit and caused quite a lot of discussion.

It's made by Ara [N6ARA] and it is almost non-existent in weight, plugging directly into the CW key input on your QRP radio. It's a fun little product, not really meant to be used as the main key because you can't hit your top speed with it. BUT . . . have you ever (as has happened to me multiple times) wanted to throw a paddle into the woods when it starts acting up or continuously falling out of adjustment? I've now got a spare that costs me nothing in weight or inconvenience for "just in case." Less than $30 bucks.

Ara also makes a version with a little cable and case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Shout-Out to Authors

You might have seen that "Trials and Errors -- Ham Life with an Amateur" has featured on several occasions articles written by hams that don't have W7DGJ in their call sign. I love it when this happens, and please tell your ham friends the opportunity is here if they have something to say. 

Of course, we're selective as any 30-year classy website should be. But you'd be working with me on the idea and I can help review and edit your piece to make it reflect exactly what you want to say. We have a great readership, and (did you know this?) QRZ.com sometimes gets a million hits in one day? Your article will be featured right on the front page, and I promise to take away that weird artwork of me when we put up your article as a Guest Columnist. 

73 for now,

Dave W7DGJ

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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 March 8, 2024 19:42