Edmun B. Richmond, W4YO
What on earth can you work with an indoor dipole?
In the June 2008 issue of CQ Magazine, I wrote about the difficulties of getting on 6 meters while living with covenant restrictions (CC&R) prohibiting antennas.1 I concocted a way to overcome these restrictions and, with considerable effort, was able to erect an antenna in the tight confines of my attic, 35 feet above the ground. Now, with many years of 6 meter activity in my log, I wanted to review the results of operating with a dipole, a type of antenna that I had not used since I was first licensed as a Novice more than 50 years ago.
I have been a licensed ham since 1956 and from that beginning have always been an avid DXer. It followed that my main activity on 6 would be to try to achieve DXCC. I’m still a long way from that goal, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of DXCC entities and great distances I have been able to work with only an indoor dipole and 100 W. There’s no doubt that my location is a significant advantage. I live on an island 14 miles off the South Carolina coast. Additionally, my house is built on pilings, which makes it 40 feet high. Without all that surrounding saltwater, marshland and high water table, my totals would probably be lower.
DXing with an Indoor Dipole
My first summer on the band in 2007 netted me 23 DXCC entities, including 14 in the Caribbean, two in Europe, three in North America, two in northern South America and two in Central America. During the summer of 2008, I added 12 more entities, including three in the Caribbean, three in Europe, two in North America and two off the coast of West Africa. In 2009, I tallied eight new ones, including two in the Caribbean, three in Europe, two in northern South America and one in Central America.
In 2010 I hit my low point for new entities with only two, both in the Caribbean. I had a better year in 2011 with eight new entities, thanks in part to the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles into four distinct new DXCC entities. I worked six new ones in the Caribbean and two in South America. This brought my (then) total number of DXCC entities to 53, all of which were made with my indoor dipole.
Making single hop Es contacts with an indoor dipole is basically no problem and double hop is reasonably easy as well. I worked my first California station on double-hop the second day I was on the band. However, it’s during multihop conditions that making contacts becomes more problematic. These openings are shorter in duration and weaker in signal strength. Often times when I am working with my dipole I don’t even hear stations that other hams are calling or working with their beams, but that is normal and certainly to be expected.
My first multihop contact was with CT1HZE at 3974 miles (6395 km) from my shack. I couldn’t believe my ears when he came back to me with a 559 report. I was so high I practically had to be pulled off the ceiling! That was in 2007, my first year on the band. Since then, I work him at least once every year just to say hello.
From that point, I started to seek out multihop DX. The most distant stations I have worked are EA7KW at 4120 miles (6631 km), ZB3B at 4185 miles (6735 km), EA7RM at 4206 miles (6769 km), ON4GG at 4299 miles (6918 km), ON4IQ at 4300 miles (6920 km) and PA2M at 4306 miles (6931 km).2 Within a 30 minute period during the 2008 summer sporadic season, I worked CT3FQ and then worked EA8/DL6FAW, who exclaimed “Boy, are you loud...” and wanted to know what I was running. I told him and explained it was only conditions. He couldn’t believe I was using an indoor dipole. The day before that I nabbed CU2JT, who gave me a 529 signal report. Ah, the vagaries of 6 meter propagation!
During the 2009 season, I worked a half dozen more EA8 stations on SSB and CW with no difficulties and was surprised to work both PV8AZ and PU8TEP in FJ92, north-central Brazil, with large pileups in both cases. Four days later, we had a good opening to Europe and I worked F6KHM along with the aforementioned ON stations and the PA2. Unfortunately that was the end of the long-haul conditions. I heard no other European stations for the remainder of the summer. That season there were also several openings from the northern tier of South America and Central America, but their signals seemed to skip over me and land in the northern reaches of the US and Canada. I did manage to have short contacts with both TI2KI and YV4AB, who briefly came up out of the noise, exchanged reports with me and faded out a couple of minutes later.
My worst year for working new entities was 2010. I was able to work only two, French St Martin and the San Andres Island DXpedition, 5JØBV. The San Andres Island DXpedition never had a strong signal. I had to keep the second VFO on his frequency and check back regularly or just sit on his frequency for hours waiting for him to build enough for me to call him. I finally got enough signal to pull him out of the noise.
I had better luck in 2011 with eight new entities, six of which were in the Caribbean. The other two were contacts with Colombia and Ecuador, made in September, which is outside the sporadic E season. They were most likely via F2 propagation.
January 2012 proved to be an exciting month. The evening of the 27th (Zulu day 1/28) produced a huge TEP opening here in the southeastern USA. I had just checked the DX cluster and found many hams in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, logging TEP from deep within South America. I decided to try my luck, even with my indoor dipole. I couldn’t believe it, but I worked three PYs, two LUs, a ZP and a CX, before the signals faded. The opening lasted over 2 hours. After it was over I had logged three new entities on 6, giving me a new total of 56. All of these stations were more than 4200 miles away, the farthest one being CX9AU at 4910 miles. Since starting on 6 meters this was my first TEP opening into southern end of South America.
The Grid Square Game
Although this article is about working DXCC entities on 6, I should mention that many hams on the band are interested in working grid squares. I have amassed more than 200 squares with my indoor dipole. Most of the grid squares I have worked are in the EM, EN, FM and FN areas. In the western half of the country, I have 32 grids in the DM area, 20 grids in the DN area, 8 in the CN area and 3 in the CM area. I must admit I really don’t collect grids, but if I hear one that I haven’t worked, I’ll try to nab it if it doesn’t take time away from working a new DXCC entity. My farthest North American grid is CN88, with a contact with VE7SL. To complete WAS, I still need a contact with North Carolina and Delaware in the “Lower 48.” Needless to say, I also need Alaska and Hawaii.
What Does It Take?
Aside from the usual practices used on the HF bands for working DX, I’ve had to make some minor adjustments for DXing on 6. With the indoor dipole, I notice that many times the skip can be very selective. Listening on ground wave to some nearby stations, I can tell that as little as a few miles determines whether I hear a station well or not at all. If I can’t hear it, all I can do is wait and see if the propagation changes in my favor.
Persistence is definitely a virtue. Many times a signal is so weak that one almost has to interpret the noise to copy it. You’ve got to be ready to dig down in the noise level to hear the weak ones. The ability to copy weak signal CW is a must and can really pay off.
One good thing about being retired: I have ample opportunity to tune up and down the band all day and be there when something good shows up. I’ve worked several DX stations when I was the only caller or the first caller after a CQ. If the Big Guns had been there with their multielement beams, I might not have made many of those contacts so easily. Of course, it could also have been that the Big Guns were elsewhere on the band working some rarer DX and not interested in the more common variety that was new for me.
Anyone Else Out There Using an Indoor Dipole?
I thought it would be interesting to find other hams who were in the same CC&R predicament and compare notes. I sent e-mails to a number of active 6 meter hams but received only one response, which came from Jon Jones, NØJK, of Wichita, Kansas, who has been on 6 meters since 1970 and has operated with an indoor dipole since 2000.3 He wrote back that he lives in a single-level duplex and his current dipole is over the garage, about 12 feet high. “You can work a lot on 6 meters with an indoor dipole,” he wrote. “Depends on propagation conditions and other factors. CW helps and being on at the right time. That is critical.”4 To prove his point, he mentioned that his best day was in December 2001, when he caught an Es-F2 link to Japan and worked 35 JA stations!
What Can You Work?
So what can you work with an indoor dipole? Well, I think I have demonstrated the possibilities quite well. First, I know that without my dipole, I would not be on 6 unless I move to a location without CC&Rs or the government strikes them down. From my point of view, it certainly has been fun. I have really enjoyed my time on 6. It’s full of all sorts of surprises. Even with an indoor dipole, one can get a real feel for the band.
Once the sporadic E season begins in June, I stay on 6 for weeks on end and rarely even tune the HF bands. Attaining DXCC with an indoor dipole might be a difficult task and it might take a long time. I’m waiting impatiently for the Solar Flux Index to rise high enough to make some contacts by F2 propagation on the band.
I wrote this article especially for those hams who are in the same situation as I am; that is those who are not able to erect a beam due to CC&Rs but would still like to get on 6 meters. An indoor dipole may not be the best antenna but if you have the room in your attic, at least you can get on 6 and have some of fun. You’ll be surprised what you can work. At times it’s challenging, but it’s always enjoyable. If you are in this predicament, I hope you’ll try it. Remember, if you can’t be a Big Gun, at least you can be a Little Pistol.
1E. B. Richmond, “Six Meters at Last...or How I Overcame CC&Rs and Made an Old Wish Come True,” CQ Magazine, Jun 2008, pp 36-38.
2Mileage based on information on QRZ.com.
3Jon is the editor of “The World Above 50 MHz,” which appears monthly in QST.
4Personal communications, January 2012.
Ed Richmond, W4YO, an ARRL® member, started shortwave listening in 1948 and was licensed in 1956. He has held the call signs KN4HNA, K4HNA, W8KGR and W4MGN. In addition, he has held several calls in Europe, Africa and the countries around the Indian Ocean. Ed retired in 2000 from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he was professor emeritus in the Department of Modern Languages and the School of International Affairs. Ed has always been an avid DXer and is a DXCC Honor Roll member. He presently lives with his wife, Toni, WA4XYL, on Harbor Island, SC and continues to be active on 80-6 meters. He can be reached at 11 Ocean Marsh Ln, Harbor Island, SC 29920-5002, firstname.lastname@example.org