Setting Up a Shack and Some
Lessons Learned
by Alan W2NIR

This past summer Chris, W2NQB and I (W2NIR) assembled a 24 foot high Hustler Vertical 6BTV Antenna covering 80-10 meters with a factory add-on kit for 17 meter operation. This vertical replaced a previous one which had seen its better days and now is in the hands of another owner. It is a quarter wave trapped vertical design and weighs approximately 20 pounds with the one add-on kit. There were some who said we did not need radials because it was mounted about a foot off the ground but that proved to be a fallacy. I should add that there were no obstructions in my back yard, no trees or houses within 100 feet.

The radial solution came from DX Engineering, a flat radial plate with pre-punched holes along with plastic staples for securing the radial wire. The wire used was 12 gauge bare copper and we planted 24 wires broken into 24 foot lengths for the higher bands and 32 foot lengths for the lower bands. The wire was purchased from Home Depot. In the beginning we measured and cut the wire ourselves but when I needed more radials. The Home Depot worker obliged me by cutting the wires to the above dimensions. This turned out to be a big time saver because of the heat of the day putting down the wires when the temperature was in the low 90’s was a chore. Chris crimped and soldered each ground radial wire to a ring terminal which was screwed to the outer circumference of the plate (Photo 1). The 17 meter appliqué is shown at Photo 2. Once completed, we raised the antenna and started the regimen of checking the SWR for each band by checking numerous frequencies with an SWR antenna analyzer. Chris called off the frequency and I recorded the data. We did this until we were satisfied we had the best reading(s).

Before we raised the antenna to the vertical position, we applied some anti seizing paste around each section so that we could adjust the antenna if the occasion ever called for it. Also while the antenna was down, we attached three parachute cords (550 cord has 7 internal nylon strands) for guying purposes. From previous experience, I purchased one rebar from Home Depot and asked them to cut the piece in three. They then bent them for me in a U shape. I used these three pieces as anchors for the guying. Believe me when I say this but it works much better than any tent peg.

In order to tighten or loosen the guys, Chris attached campers’ clips Aluminum Rope Adjuster (Photo 3) which works very well for adjusting the parachute guy cords. Once the antenna was raised and all nuts and bolts tightened the ground radials were held in place using plastic staples (also from DX Engineering) so that the rotary mower would not cut the radials. Staples were pounded down with a small mallet so the staple was well into the dirt. Three lightening rods had been previously set in the ground just outside the shack. Once inside the shack, Chris noticed a ground loop with the transceiver, antenna tuner and amplifier and corrected it using single leads and establishing a bus strip with the 12 gauge wire to each component in the shack. Each ground wire was set in place with strip’s screw terminals. It is a very neat looking design. Once everything was in place, Chris checked the SWR’s using a new computer program he had just acquired, a USB dongle with BNC connector from Fox Delta. The program sweeps across the entire amateur HF band or specific start and stop frequencies. The results are displayed as a graph (Photo 4) Most of the measurements we did outside using a manual analyzer did compare favorably with his findings. It’s always refreshing when results agree using different methods.

When I turned age 80 my family knew that I always wanted an amplifier. To my great pleasure they bought me a 600 watt Ameritron ALS-600, accompanying power supply and an ARI-500 automatic band switch for the amplifier. This little device automatically selects the correct frequency range on the amplifier by reading the frequency information or data from my ICOM 7000. To make it compatible with this device we had to slightly modify (ICOM recommended) the radio with a simple solder joint. Lastly the ARI-500 had to be adjusted for 10 meters and as luck would have it, I had to buy a mod kit for 10 meters for the amplifier. Ironically, I have found 10 meters to be a dead band most of the time. With the improvements being made to my station, I had to purchase the MFJ 994B automatic antenna tuner. This tuner is rated to handle 600 watts Peak SSB, but only 300 watts in CW mode. This is fine as in truth I likely will not run the amplifier at maximum.

Finally, and perhaps most important is the fact that I had to upgrade the electric outlet service for my ham radio outlet from 15 to 20 amps to handle the increased load. Before that I shared the same circuit with our microwave oven which was in the kitchen just above the shack and the rest would be history. The results so far have been dramatic. International contacts have been made to Italy, Aruba, Slovenia all on 20 meters and then domestically Florida and Texas. And this is when band conditions are at a historic low. The rest of the time I just listened to see who might be out there. All signal reports so far were great.

I personally want to thank Chris who without his great help and intuitive knowledge I would not have been able to foresee many of the problems that could have evolved.

Lessons Learned

1. The advice that ground radials for a multiband vertical seemed to be wrong, at least in central NJ with ground soil that is low in moisture. Had this been an installation in or near a swamp, perhaps no radials would have been necessary.
2. Careful reading and understanding of the instructions are necessary. Ameritron was rather vague about setting a jumper in the ARI-500 for 10 meter operation.

3. Marking the U shaped rebar used to hold the guy ropes with bright color paint or fasten a bright color ribbon to it to find it when threading the guy rope through it. Otherwise it gets lost in the blades of grass and consumes much time in trying to find it without a metal detector!
73 Alan, W2NIR