Ham Radio Antennas: Everything You Should Know

ham radio antenna
10th May,2019

Ham radios are full of experimentations. That makes penning an article with precise details hard, especially when words can only illustrate so much. But no matter how broad the field of amateur radio or DX engineering is, there are still specific stereotypes that you might be interested in. If you haven’t got a ham radio yet, you can head over to our list of the 5 Best Ham Radios around.

Let’s start with a quick analysis of what you want.

What do you want to achieve with your amateur radio service?

The answer to this question might not be easy but will tell a lot about what your antenna should be like. Ask yourselves these options:

  • Monoband or multi-band transmission: Monoband is cheaper, but multi-band offers more room for experimentation with your antennas.
  • Vertical or directional: Vertical antennas are omnidirectional antennas. In a directional antenna, you can direct the RF energy towards a specific direction which means that the coverage distance will increase (as you increase the power gain) with the reduction in effective coverage angle.
  • Base or mobile: Are you going to set up a base station or are you going mobile? Note that many antennas can be set up as base antennas but then plugged out and then moves across regions in a car.
  • Transmission or reception: Are you focusing on transmitting or receiving only? Then it might interest you to know that there are antennas which specialize in either one of them on the market. (If you’re looking for ham radios that can provide this, read this quick review of the TYT MD-380.)

A few common details you need to know about

Right off the bat, you should know that lower frequencies have longer wavelengths. We won’t be delving much deeper into the science aspect, but suffice to say that you need to learn a thing or two about radio waves. In any way, the longer the wavelength (and thus, lower the frequency), the larger the antenna you need. There are also CB radios which are pretty known, you can read more about them and the differences here: https://www.ratedradardetector.org/radio/ham-vs-cb/.

Portability is an issue you want to get sure about early on. When you are investing in an antenna, you should know that most of these can be fixed onto vehicles and moved along. But not all of them. It might be due to their build and your vehicular limitations. So, check that off the list first off.

Where should you be placing your antennas? Well, the wire antennas in trees don’t look so bad, but they can’t get the job done if you are going to be regularly transmitting low-frequency signals. So, figure out your accurate purpose and then find a suitable antenna (or build one using nothing but wires around a tree).

You should also know that many antennas come with built-in lightning rods. Depending on the region of operation, your antenna might or might not need one. So, check for it.

Components you should know about

Amateur radio might have the word amateur in it, but it’s a field with many professionals who manage to learn a lot about transmissions and survival radio communications in general. Hardware, however, remains to be an area that’s not touched upon in most general discussions.

Let’s see what you must know about ham radio antennas when it comes to their components.

  • The wave radiating elements: these are responsible for the radio wave emission at different angles. This helps define the far-field region of your antenna.
  • The wave phasing stub: these are essentially transmission lines that help you fix out of phase elements by adjustments aimed towards producing desired phase relationship among those connected elements.
  • DX engineering essentials: brackets, tubing, structural supports, brackets, nets, etc. might not be the high priority stuff, but depending on your conditions, you might need to purchase or build some of those. They make things more effective.

Things that matter in an amateur radio antenna

There are a lot of factors that you need to pay attention to when it comes to having a ham radio antenna for yourself or setting up one for someone else. Although we cannot get into the details of every aspect that’s at play in a situation of a functional ham antenna network, here are a few things to always keep in mind:

  • Gain: Gain is also called power gain. Power gain is the primary performance statistic of an antenna. It couples the directivity (where the antenna is directed to focus for better transmission and reception) along with the electrical efficiency.
  • Wind load: The wind load is more about aerodynamics than about transmission. You see, wind travels from high pressure to low pressure. The pressure difference is, in a layman’s term, wind load. We won’t go into technical details as that’s a scientific realm we’re not concerned with. Now, antennas of the modern-day have a good deal of structural integrity but still, they need adjustments. The antennas at work for more powerful transmissions (like base stations) are complex. With the growth in data transmission aims, there is a growth in the wind impact on the exterior of the antennas.
  • Mechanical integrity: This is somewhat connected to our last point, but not entirely. There’s a lot of stuff that can go wrong, from a falling branch to a storm. Mechanical integrity is therefore extremely crucial.
  • Coverage range: This is simply how much range can your signal cover. Directional antennas can be used to focus the RF energy in a specific direction, thus increasing the coverage range. Often, a radio comes with its own antenna, but only few perform excellently to maximize the range. See Icom 718 review for a good example.

Now, how should you work with these seemingly puzzling traits? Let’s see.

Working with the various factors involved

You now know the various factors that are at play in ham radio antennas. Now, let’s see what you should aim for when you are setting up an antenna for amateur radio service.

  • Gain: Know the legal upper cap of power in your region. Also, don’t invest in high-end technology if you don’t need it. What good is the gain that’s ten times more than you would regularly use?
  • Wind load; If you are thinking something big, do your research on your region’s wind loads and how can you best cope with those.
  • Mechanical integrity: If you are setting up your antenna in a windy place, more structural integrity is welcome.
  • Coverage range: If you don’t mind a drop in effective coverage angle, then a directional antenna will help you reach a huge distance.

For more portable radio device, check out these reviews of the top handheld ham radios for your next communication device!

Haven’t got your license yet? You can check our comparison of the best ham radio courses online.

William Johnson

William Johnson is the owner and founder of RatedRadarDetector.org. He writes about car accessories, with his passion stemming from a deep enthusiasm for all things automotive. His website, RRD, focuses on in-depth reviews of car accessories to help people find the best and latest products in the market.