Tech Tuesday – Don’t Discount The Dipole

You know, a lot of times, I see people post on social media and ask other Ham Radio ops, “What’s a good antenna to use?” That on the surface is a loaded question (Get it? Loaded? OK.. moving on.). It really depends on what bands you want to work, your space considerations, topography and a host of other factors, including budget! And depending on who you ask, you’ll get a ton of different answers, and there are very valid reasons why they tell you what they would tell you. And chances are no one answer is correct. But for me, and based on my experience, you can’t beat a dipole. Why? Glad you asked.

Photo: Rich, KB2MOB

For me the main considerations are price and effectiveness. Dipoles are cheap. They’re easy to build with simple scraps in the junk box, and in a lot of cases, one size, will cover a lot of bands with just a simple tuner.And if you don’t have the extra stuff lying around, you can literally make a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s, buy some dowel rod, and a roll of a decent gauge wire that will hold up to the weight of being suspended, form ball park about $40. If you have a spare SO-239 lying around, and a piece of plywood, you can build that centerpiece and get it up in an afternoon. I’ve even used a sturdy Rubbermaid food container, turn it upside down and drill a few holes in it, to make it more water resistant.

Formula for calculating the length of a dipole antenna.

You could even get a lot more fancier with PVC pipe,  a couple caps and eyelet screws like I did for my 6 meter dipole I made when I first moved into my house, or just buy the parts from DXEngineering and do a home brew that way. There really isn’t a limit.

The big factors with a dipole that I generally run into, is height above ground. The higher you can get it, the better it will preform. But that is the norm for a lot of different antennas. I built a good share of dipoles because I wanted to get on the air fast, and some have worked awesome, and some were just plain crap because I didn’t plan it out enough, or just went too cheap.

Advice: Stay away from the dollar store crap.

Another good reason for building your own dipole, is the skill you learn from actually doing it yourself. Using tools you may not regularly use, the formula for knowing the length of the legs of the wire, not to mention the satisfaction of working that first station with an antenna you bought yourself. Even if the signal is crap, you built it, and you probably learned something while you did it. Home brewing is getting to be a lost art in Ham Radio. Makers seem to be doing just fine in that particular skill, but I don’t think many are making the jump to Ham Radio from there, in as big of numbers as we would like to see, but that is a post for another Tuesday. 73.

-’nuff said.

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